Nowadays, Ghana seems to be the hot destination to go for chilling out at the beach in Western Africa. A bit like when you arrive in India, everybody seems to be heading for Goa. Lots of people go there, parties are up all the time. It's popular mostly because it's got nice beaches, it's a stable country, and it's English speaking. Many overlanding trucks end up here to unload there noisy crowd. I gave it a miss precisely because it is a bit too much on the beaten path.
That one of the nice thing about riding around Africa. I've had a blast riding in Siberia and Mongolia, but I have to admit that the options for kicking back on the beach were quite thin. Côte d'Ivoire used to be quite popular, in the days before the civil war, so the beaches ought to be nice. Sassandra often comes up when talking about beaches, and in the guidebooks, so I'll have to check it out.
I leave a short day of riding along the coastal road, about half-way to the Liberian border. The buses and cars probably take much longer as the tarmac could use some maintenance. The further from Abidjan the more potholes in the road, and it's pretty amazing to see how quickly the bush is eating into the road. Leave it alone and in a few years it will have disappeared. The equatorial climate is very different from the Mali/Burkina savannah: here everything is lush and green, anything that's not built up or cultivated is thick bush, almost impassable.
The south of the country is home to the big plantations: cocoa, coffee, palm, hundreds of hectares of perfectly aligned trees. This has been a big part of the so-called "Ivorian economic miracle". Ivory Coast is still the world's largest producer of cocoa, but unfortunately the prices for cocoa have plummeted and these crops aren't as profitable as they used to be, especially so for small farmers.
Arriving in Sassandra town, I ask around for a nice beach with accommodations. I'm directed towards the single-track hugging the sea. I expected signs to campings/hotels/bugalow, like in Goa or Mozambique or.. but no, nothing. In a small village I'm directed towards Godé's beach.
Yup, that's quite the place. The beach looks great, the white sand under palm tress, there are a few bungalows but... it's empty! Ah, actually, there's a drunk guy who tells me it's actually open, he's the brother of the owner and I should wait for him. Ok fine, I manage to get rid of the annoying drunkard, kick my boots, dip my feet in the see.. yes, nice and warm! Finally Michel the owner shows up. A very nice guy, he shows me around and although there's nobody around, we start to talk business and we quickly agree on a decent price for 3 days all inclusive, fish, lobster, beer, etc.. It could be worse.
He explains to me that there used to be places like his on every beach, but with the fighting reaching here all of them were abandoned. Now he's the first one to restart a business, but things are still very slow. He doesn't own a car, so we would often go to the market together on the bike.
As usual in Africa, the sellers arrange their goods in small stacks of fixed price: 50 F, 100 F, etc..
or sold by weight, as these escargots here (I passed).
On the beach nearby the women are waiting for the fishermen to come back with something to sell.
You don't need no supermarket here, Michel calls a fisherman friend of his and orders crayfish for tomorrow, it's just as simple as that. Back at the beach we make a plan for tonight (there's still nobody around). There's no electricity at Michel's place, he's got a generator but no fuel. So tonight we move to a nearby village to watch the game, Côte d'Ivoire is aiming for the title at African Nation's Cup and football is a big thing here (like pretty much everywhere in Africa, but Côte d'Ivoire has the top-rated team).
The next morning Michel offers to guide me to a tour of the nearby plantations. The big ones have thousands of rows of trees, neatly aligned as far as you can see. Michel leads me off the main track into the think bush to visit his own plantation. We walk over the hills and under the trees until we get to a few trees of cocoa and hot peppers. How the hell does he manage to find the place, and how can he be sure it's his place ? I have no idea, it's all the same to me.
It's past the harvest season for cocoa, but there are still a few pods hanging in the trees. Michel cuts one open and gives it to me to try; I knew that the seeds need drying and roasting before being edible (remember, I'm Swiss..) but he tells me to try the white pulp that's usually discarded in the process, and it's quite nice with a distinct coca flavor.
Back in the camp Michel goes to the kitchen. This being a former French province pastis
is the order of the day.
The crayfish is quite an improvement from the usual rice/beans/banana staple of the African traveller.
Everything is great except a little boring. Actually there was a little drama with a cop. I was heading for the town - 15 min away on a very small track - when Michel asked me to give him a ride. As usual for such trips I was not wearing much more than a t-shirt and a short. ATGATT ? yeah, right.. When in town he asked me if I would like to go and see a waterfall. I didn't want to ride on the main road without anything on me but he told it was very close. OK, why not. As we crossed the main road on another track I was getting worried, but I thought he knew what he was doing. He may have thought like an Ivorian that everything was OK. But when the cop at a barrier saw this white dude arriving he knew he would have a go at him. And I knew he had the high ground. He pulled us over, started first to moan about not wearing a helmet - difficult to enforce as nobody's wearing any of course. But when I told him I had no paper - no bike paper, no drivers license, etc.. he saw he had been dealt a full house. He blocked the bike and refused to let me go away. Michel started to bitch and yell that what he was doing was wrong, it was bad for tourism, I bitched about him only pulling over white people, etc.. but I knew he had a point and I was done. I'm usually careful not to give them such pleasure, but Michel gave me a false sense of impunity. The guy wouldn't budge, and I was not ready to pay up. An armed guy was backing him up, so a runner was out of question. Finally I managed to go back to the camp and fetch my papers, using a hitch, a taxi ride and a borrowed motorbike, while Michel waited and made sure my bike wouldn't go away. I came out not too bad as I didn't pay anything, I only lost half the afternoon. At the end of the day it was my fault, really, so I'm not complaining. Michel was outraged, mainly because he embarrassed himself by putting me in such a bad position. He would talk about him being one of those "Ouattara guys" and how he would complain about him to his friends in town, bla-bla. Everywhere the same story.
The camp is still empty and the only activity are the young boys playing fusball with bottle tops. I spend a fair amount of time reading new books. It's not easy to buy books in Africa, and of course you can only carry so many books on a bike, but fortunately my girl-friend's offered me an e-book reader so now within a very small and light package I've got dozens of books to read. But the traveller inside me feels the need to move on.
The next city on the coast is San Pedro, a major shipping port.
The only worthwhile activity here is still a few days away, too bad..
. Note that even for such mundane events there's a political message: "Forgiveness - Reconciliation - Peace"
This one is about the election to the parliament, it says "You've won, congrats, tomorrow it will be my turn". Wishful thinking, the area in the west still sees outbreaks of violence, years after the end of the crisis.
As I reach the end of the tar I notice a few storms have broken before me. I still wear the road-type read tyre, so careful there. I turn toward Grand-Béréby to find a place for the night. I try a few hotels but they're too expensive and not willing to discuss. The last hotel seems a bit posh but I try my luck anyway. They have a private beach, I ask them if I could pitch the tent there. I have to push them a bit but they finally agree to let me camp for free, if I take the dinner in the restaurant. Do they have crayfish ? yes ? okay then..
Later I will learn that the owner (French) wasn't happy about the deal and they shouldn't have let me pitch here, but too late now. Anyway the beach is deserted so I won't bother anyone.
I walk around but again there's not much going on there. The hotel has running water though, so I take the opportunity to do a semi-yearly riding gear clean-up, which sheds a few kilos of dirt off my back
I ask people around about the road north leading to Man, with contradicting answers. Obviously not many people come from or go there. Oh well, I will find out soon enough.