San Pedro, a new plan.
Harper in Liberia, should remain the southern most point I would get to on this journey through Africa. N 4º 22' just 4 degrees and something over the equator. In San Pedro I'm back on the net, really only 10 days after Monrovia. Liberia and mind boggling Harper, the muddy roads, the repairs in the bush. Memories are still so vivid.
Researching Sierra Leone's and Liberia's civil wars and coups, I realise that I am doing what I intended to when setting out on this trip. Understand, spend time and contemplate, look back, ponder.
The heavy rains come daily, fascinating, striking, gusty thunder storms. Skies can turn pitch night dark in less then 20 minutes, then just open their gates amid constant lightening and send their tons of waters to earth. San Pedro has an amazing beach. I only go there once, only to see it.
I write up the Conakry, Freetown, Monrovia and Harper stories working long hours, it is production these days. I am pleased, I free myself of the baggage before I move on. Also 10 days in one town with a hotel room and a shower gives me space to think and communicate: Where next? Cameroon or Nigeria seem really far. And calls from Morocco to come are becoming louder. Also I have just had my adventure. Bad roads and car repairs. Summer in Morocco is too sweet an option, seeing Hasna, playing with my children, Daniel and David on the beach, eating good home made Moroccan food, a couple of fiestas are planned, Austrian friends are coming down.
Morocco may also be the right place to plan the next trip with my family, Hasna and I have had long the plan to go to Egypt, over land (Balkans, Greece, Turkey, Syria and so on). We need a car with 4 seats, the Landy has just 3.
In no way I am finished with Africa. But it is in San Pedro, in its marquis (cafes, chop bars) full of Ivorian music, eating good food, where I make decisions. Change! Maybe Asia after Egypt, Iran then India? Change! The remainder of Africa can wait a few years. Isn't liberty to choose what my life is about? So it seems after many hours writing, researching, thinking, that time in Africa is up for now, will miss it much though.
Ivorian DJ Music, diarrhoea, repairs and a mouse.
San Pedro is music at night. I find a marquis that does not play the super loud, eardrum destroying, definitely over the capacity of the sound system and speakers music. Two "super cool" night clubs at a corner in Le Cité or Le Triangle seem to run a constant competition. But where I am (now) it is relaxed, we can still have a conversation and I slowly get to know la Cote d'Ivoire. The music is DJ, usually men singing in a group, a crazy guitar, crazy drums. This year all turns around Yode et Siro and their album. Played always and everywhere.
I eat well, usually an omelet of 2 eggs, some onion added and a nescafe in the morning, sometimes authentic Vietnamese in afternoons. Some times I sit on the Asian restaurant's terrace, spicy vermicelli soup, crab and chicken meat and oyster mushrooms, fresh coriander and it is loud from just another super down pouring. Never leave home without an umbrella. In the Campofilo restaurant I eat superb Kedjenou chicken (steamed in a spicy soup in a pressure cooker) and atieke (grated manioc, cassava). I go often to Campofilo also for pasta and meat.
I also eat "end of night in/on the street" grilled fish and atieke and a lot of spice and onions always with my fingers.
Probably from shaking too many hands before right in the beginning here I am going through a bad diarrhoea, never have had one for a year and half, I am pretty resident these days. But this one here is different, first time in my life I go for Imodium. Then for a few beers. While drinking the first 3, I feel I better press my buttocks together, turbulences in my stomach are close to a catastrophe, then all goes quiet. I have another 5 or 7 (beers), then go for the same spicy fish and atieke, with my fingers, in believe I have successfully rehydrated my body. I have. All fine since. Isn't it all about washing hands when shaking many.
The repairs to the Landy are essentially what? ALL break pads need changing, even those I just changed in the jungle have again been fully eaten up by the mud. No Land Rover pads though in San Pedro, I have them made by a Lebanese break and clutch repair shop. Better, cheaper then the real thing.
On the last stretch, Harper to Zwedru the alternator stopped working. Mud inside. Diesels only need a battery to start the engine. Also I have two. That's why I got this far without a working (charging) alternator. They take these alternators apart in Africa in less then 5 minutes, check all components, clean them in another 5 minutes (all it takes is a battery, a cable and a lamp), and put the alternator back together in again 5 minutes. Just the coals were stuck.
So many other smaller repairs, too many, too boring. Radiator cleaning (mud), horn cleaning (mud), lights needed a relais (switch) cleaning (mud inside), greasing, checking the oils. I forgot to refill the back differential when I changed the hub bearings in the bush, I remember here now in San Pedro that I witnessed the oil leaking from under the wheel when the car was heavily slated to one side, in one of these mud holes in which was stuck for hours. Here in San Pedro I realise the differential is nearly dry (no more oil), I have been lucky with this one for not having done damage to the diff.
Kind of I cannot get the (central) differential lock lever working, it is clicking in and out from underneath, but I can hardly move it on the top. I am tired of this. Leave it! I won't need it in Cote d'Ivoire, it's all sealed roads.
In these many days when the Landy is just parked there it is a mouse that enjoys the quiet, she's going through the food supplies, spaghetti, beans... I see/find her droppings. One day when I fill up water, at the back of the vehicle, she dances along the upper edge inside the Landy, she comes from front to back, as if I am not present. "It would not help throwing something at her, or shouting" I am baffled. Then she realises me, turns and hides underneath the roof paneling where she has come from. I destroy the food stuff that she started eating, and clean up the droppings, all I can do.
I leave San Pedro on 6th of June 2008 after an omelete and a nescafe in a small street cafe. On the road I wonder: "Isn't the randomised Zen Creative playing a high proportion of Moroccan Gnaoua/Gnawa music today?" The fact reminds me of home, the Essaouira festival would be on in 2 weeks or so.
Sassandra, my first stop has potential to inspire, beaches/bars, but on my own? In general the small towns here have seen their best days many years ago. Subsequent exodus by the white population left many bars and hotels dangling in the wind, many closed. The shattered ruins are still there.
Fresco I cannot get to the beach, neither in Grand Lahou. Nearly all of southern Cote d'Ivoire's beaches are separated from the land by a lagoon. You need either a pirogue (boat), ferry, or bridge. All the beaches here are what we associate with paradise, stunning. Palms sticking out from the white granular sand. Shore break just a few yards away.
Tourism was strong, over many years, locals and French from Abidjan, holiday makers from abroad - but then politicians started the ugly game, denying rights, excluding opposing ethnic groups, emphasizing on "Ivority", awakening nationalism. Coups and civil war followed (wiki), dividing the country in half.
There is a bridge in Jaqueville, but when I get there late, another big thunderstorm is cooking up, darkening the skies, threatening to break loose.
What strikes in Cote d'Ivoire after forested Liberia is that there are no trees (left), just scrub or plantations everywhere.
Grand Bassam, near Abidjan.
I drive on the next morning, after a nescafe and an omelete (some Magi cube, and onions usually go with it) into Abidjan (wiki), big city with a population of 3.5 Mio, humid, skies are dark, yellowish, from rains and pollution, diesel and wood burning, breathing seems life threatening, smog and then it starts raining again, this is the time of the year Abidjan receives most of it, I drive through past its harbour, Port Autonome d'Abidjan.
Instinct keeps me going on along the coast till I reach Grand Bassam (there is a bridge). Grand Bassam now is where the well off people from Abidjan spend their weekends. But this is not the season, nothing's going on here.
It rains (again), one big mass of clouds haunts the other. The sea, la mer, a raging insidious monster, huge waves, short break on a narrow steeply sloped sandy beach. The back current has cost even good swimmer's lives. For me it's just a spectacle, beach, surf break, the raging sea, the dark rain clouds behind, huge amounts of rain go down further out. "They're coming in, look how it is coming in" enthused is my host/owner of the beach bar/cook, I am his only client and then we have another few minutes till we face horizontal rains being thrown on shore. Luckily I finished lunch, grilled chicken, onions, spice, loco (plantain), atieke just a few minutes ago. We seek shelter, still get soaked wet, I crawl in my truck for a siesta.
The rains are cooling, this is nice as I have seen a lot of cruel heat in Africa. Here at the coast the difference of the rainy and dry season is striking. This time of the year it can be very hot and humid sometimes, but usually it is overcast and cold, windy, rainy. Our brains have difficulties to grasp that.
However, comes Sunday, comes good sunny weather. The Tereso Hotel, pool, bar, Ivorian DJ, wireless internet. I work a bit, watch the crowd, have a beer, eat in their restaurant, take a swim in the wild ocean, fighting the waves and the current, have another beer, sleep in the truck.
Tereso, gives me time to reflect. Two and half of these past 3 and a half years I have been spending on the continent, since I first entered Morocco in Feb 2005, I am going to miss it. I have fallen in love with Africa, also Africa has been nice to me, I feel privileged.
11 countries, only West Africa, but ...
And the raging ocean, the Atlantic at the southern coast of West Africa, it is still called the North Atlantic Ocean. It has some significance where I am. Will I get back down here, soon? - or better, ever again?
Next morning I have my nescafe and an omelete in a little street cafe, drive off, back, cross Abidjan (no point spending much time here unless you have time, a city like Abidjan needs many month), later after midday I reach Yamoussoukro.
It's its Basilica of our Lady Peace (wiki) that attracts, roughly based on that of St. Peter's in Rome, by some measures the biggest church in the world (Guinness book of records, what a stupid book). A nice structure it is, even impressive, but really it cannot compare to St. Peters. I have been to St. Peters just a year ago, and San Pietro meant holiness, this church is well designed, but empty of people/pilgrims/nuns/priests in thousands. It cannot compare to Rome, with its crypt of dead popes, Michelangelo's frescos, hundreds of saint's statues.
However Yamoussoukro is worth a visit.
Around the basilica all is clean, gardens are being maintained, streets are swept, marble washed/wiped every day. In other parts of town money isn't available for basic road repairs, rubbish collection (rubbish that's not been collected for months piles up), running water. Such is the difference.
What else sticks out this bright morning of the 10th of June, Yamoussoukro's mosque, not the biggest, not the tallest and largest, but of eloquent white beauty.
Back to Bamako. Force Nouvelle, "Rebel" held territories. Mouse story part 2.
A street cafe opposite the mosque, a nescafe and an omelete, then I am on my way.
A street cafe opposite the mosque, a nescafe and an omelete, what else, I'll miss my omelet once I leave CI, then I am on my way. Soon the road is blocked, a large cargo truck has half slipped of the road the night before. Some 100 trucks and lorries line the side of the road. I follow the taxis and drive past them to the front. The UN has just stepped in sending a bulldozer and some 20 men.
Soon we can drive on.
Then - suddenly something heavier then a fly lands on my shoulder, I grab it, throw it out the open side window. What was that? The mouse? It felt like a mouse, size, weight, wooly, warm, alive, not cold and stiff. She is probably dead now, thrown out of a moving car, run over by an upcoming truck.
She must have been weak, lack of food, for 5 days on the road, scared to hell, fallen down, confused by her where about, for a second, grabbed and thrown out of a moving car, not nice, maybe run over by an upcoming large cargo truck, poor mouse. It must have been the mouse. She is dead now. Keeps turning my head, probably run over by a truck. Ahhh stop it! The mouse story has run its course far enough.
The South, the coast, Abidjan and Yamoussoukro is government controlled, noone ever stopped me at checkpoints despite its recent civil war. Since its end in 2007 businesses in the south show confidence, Abidjan, the coast and up till here all is lively, busy, prospering you want to say. Some areas are even booming (telecoms). Movement of goods and people has no obstacles.
Entering the North, past Bouake all is different. Some say backwardish, roads are deserted, 100kms no vehicle encounters, not many goods come through. Spooky. The 10 or so check points till the border by the force nouvelle don't make life easy. I am white, I have wit, I like people, I can easily refuse paying. And many laughs we have, they call me bandito. But Ivorians? - Better not do what I do! "Why shall I go to the north if I pay the same in bribes as I pay for the bus?" Everyone just hands in the money, no questions, no un unnecessary discussions. "I am born in the north, near Korhogo, but I live in the South, have a southern issued ID card. When I go to the north, I better put it in my underwear. Don't show it. I would pay 4 times as much. They would ask 20,000 FCFA instead of 5,000, and then you pay or get off the bus and stay, spend the night, risk rape." Force nouvelle personnel, in charge, are frustrated, demotivated by the slow progress, many think they are being taken for a ride, they have not been paid, thus don't demobilise, not reintegrate, now some just spend days drinking, smoking marihuana and seeking money from passengers. A very dangerous mix.
The more they demand the less people come their way, who can avoid it, doesn't travel.
To me everyone is cool, maybe one drunk guy with a huge stick, more a pole then a stick, keeps nagging for a bit long, wants 500 FCFA (not even 1 Euro), after 15 minutes I give him my telephone sim card that stopped working, not without telling him that it doesn't work anymore. But he is happy. He has won.
Or: the mango chewing guy. "What (present) do you bring us?", and I reply with just one word "Mangoes!" That is too much for him, there is mangoes everywhere for free, he doesn't ask another question, opens the gate. No one has ever asked me for papers or my passport, not even when leaving the country. Just money.
I spend night in Tengrella. This is already pure, much drier Savanna. However we take a severe beating by violent thunderstorms nearly all night. The morning is bright, calm, sunny, the 11th of June 2008, a good omen for my last day traveling with my 6 wheeled Land Rover. He has been such a wonderful companion these last 4 years, he has never let me down. And he doesn't today, roads are becoming difficult past the border, deep long stretches full of water. And as if he wants to say thank you, the diff lock starts working again. The diff lock lever that did stop working in Harper, Liberia all of a sudden goes as easy as always. Well in Harper I was contemplating selling him, he didn't like the idea. The idea has long been off the table. I love my Land Rover too much. It has served me too well. And it'll serve me on a future journey in Africa. It is the ultimate African vehicle.
In the meantime I have a new plan. I want to travel to Egypt with wife and children. And maybe beyond.
I arrive in Bamako, the hub, been here so many times, leave the Landy and take a flight out on June 20th 2008.