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Old 10-10-2012, 08:24 AM   #241
Asianrider OP
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Joined: Apr 2010
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Côte d'Ivoire

The people living north and south of the border are clearly the same, the landscape is the same, but it's definitely a different country. First off, I can't help but notice that the road is cratered like it hasn't been maintained for years. As a matter of fact, it probably hasn't been while the war was raging and the border was all but closed. I then arrived at the first city, Ferkessédougou, which is a little run-down and not much going on except the local market and a few stands selling SIMs and top-up cards, which is what I need. Looking for a cheap place to crash I unexpectedly ran into a few hotels asking for quite a bit of money. Some of those CFA is still flowing here. It takes much haggling at 2-3 places to finally find a room - sometime, you just don't feel like camping, you'd prefer to be in town and meet people. Today I meet one French guy at the hotel who got interested at my bike. He's restarting the business at a national park up in the north-east that's been pretty much abandoned for years. The rest of the town is unfortunately not very interesting.

(sorry, there aren't many pictures from northern Côte d'Ivoire; sometimes I just don't care about carrying a camera around)

I figured a better way to meet people would be through CouchSurfing. I haven't used it since Lubumbashi, and I had a great time there. Now I've received invitations by people in Bouaké (my next stop) and Abidjan. Bouaké used to be the capital of the Forces Nouvelles, the rebels who've been fighting the government troops since 2002. As such it's seen a lot of fighting, as recently as the beginning of 2011 when the crisis unfolded, some of which apparent in the destroyed buildings. I meet Vamouyan my host, and he leads me to his home, a small flat with one bedroom which he absolutely wants me to take, him taking the sofa. This has often been the case in Africa and I've given up arguing for the sofa. There's an inner courtyard to park the bike out of sight, and running water for a shower. We go out for beers and chicken, and he shows me a bit around town: the burnt-up Gendarmerie post, the abandoned government bank, etc.. he introduces me to some friends who brag about having fought for the rebels, which seems to give them much pride.

There's big hope that now that their man (Ouattara) is in charge as President, he will the turn the tables and they will make good. But right now everybody seem to struggle to make a living. My man is doing some business with construction material. But he's got his eyes on moving to another country. I thought he would ask how to get to France, like many Ivorians, but he's actually more interested in the USA. He tells me he's already spent more than 1000$ on procedures and intermediates to secure an American visa, but he's been rejected. He's that desperate!

It's nice chatting with him and everything but it doesn't really click - couchsurfing is a lottery, you never know how it'll turn. So I move on. I would get a message later from him requesting assistance to get a French visa. Unfortunately there's nothing I can do to help him in this department, me being an alien already and without much resources.

The main road is now improving noticeably as I reach the capital, Yamoussoukro. The capital is one of those artificial capitals built out of the blue for political reasons - think Islamabad, Brasilia, etc.. It always ends up being a bland, cold city without a soul, and incredibly boring. Here late president Houphouët-Boigny just picked is home village, of all places. And he hasn't stopped there, he's also built the largest cathedral in Africa (and one of the largest I've seen)!

The total construction price is estimated at between 100 and 200 million €, "at the President's own expenses" as the guide stresses out - which doesn't mean much when a dictator's private bank account and the country's budget are one and the same. It's a knock off of St-Pierre in Rome, actually the dome is slightly larger but as it lacks the transept and the nave, it's nowhere near as impressive. In any case it looks very much out of place here.

It's massive hall can sit 7000 people under the dome and is entirely air-conditioned, a nice touch for the region, although it's not fired up anymore as it's prohibitively expensive to run and on only 1 or 2 occasions during the year does the basilica fills up. It sounds totally out of proportion for a developing country, but as Houphouët used to point out, the European countries of the middle-ages weren't doing much better than today's Africa and they built quite a few impressive cathedrals as well. Still, we can't help but think that the world has evolved since then and we should be wiser. But where religion (and one persiden't ego) comes into play, rationality takes a back seat.

Admire the stained glass window depicting Houphouët himself together with Jesus.

There's absolutely nothing else to do in this city except the visit of the basilica, so I jump on the bike and head south to Abidjan. There's a detour because of the roadwork, so at least there's some improvement going on. Arriving in Abidjan the tarmac is good and the traffic increases considerably, but fails just short of the usual chaotic mess. I call my new couchsurfing host Yves, who turns out to be a teenager who's living with his brother mostly on their own in a slum near a football pitch. He's a great guy, although I haven't really understood how he makes a living - he pretends to be studying and making music as a rap singer. Mostly, they sleep, watch TV and play scrabble (really).

The dudes are pretty cool and give me one room, sharing another. Again we go out and I buy some beers. We're in Yopougon, a very popular suburb, a long way from the Plateau business center

or even the posh Cocody residential area favored by the expats. But it's much better for what I like best, which is just walk around and watch people in their everyday's life.

The local soccer pitch sees much used by many local football teams, although it's in very bad shape, and the sand quickly turns into mud when a storm breaks out, much to the delight of the youngest. I have a chat with the coach, who tells me he barely escaped death when we was caught by incoming rebel forces who had been told he was police. A lot of people use these times of unrest to rat on a neighbor or competitor to get ride of him - literally. Yves on the other hand was a refugee in Ghana, he's come back only when the situation improved and it was safe again in Yopougo, a former stronghold of the losing Gbagbo forces.

Looking at the number of different newspapers being published, it's obvious politics is a big part of everyday's life - this is in contrast to DRC where you'd be hard pressed to find a decent newspaper, even in the capital.

The speech is surprisingly open and free, this (obviously pro-Gbagbo) paper talking about the visit of the President Ouattara to France and calling him and his staff the "putschists".

This one is an inside joke referring to famous French satirical newspaper "Le Canard Enchaîné".

On Sunday most people go to the mass, showing their best clothes

or mend their cars (bodywork is good though the tranny needs some work).

A few days in a big city is enough for me, I decide to move on. I have no other couchsurfing planned, instead I want to hit the beaches. Yeah baby!

2006-2007 Mongolia - Pamir - India - Nepal
2010-2012 Caucasus - Middle-East - Africa
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Old 10-16-2012, 05:33 PM   #242
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The Beach

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.

2006-2007 Mongolia - Pamir - India - Nepal
2010-2012 Caucasus - Middle-East - Africa
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Old 10-22-2012, 03:34 PM   #243
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Mud and chimps

This is installment 3 of the Côte d'Ivoire crossing. I hope you're still enjoying this, there hasn't been much riding in the last posts but it'll get more interesting as I move my butt off the beach and into more remote (and little traveled) territory. As a recap here's a map of the country and my track.

Burkina Faso to Abidjan through Yamoussoukro is all on tar, getting better the closer to Abidjan. The coastal road toward Liberia is the same, getting very potholed not far away from Abidjan. I don't intend to go to Liberia, I'll skip this country as well as Sierra Leone for this time - I need a reason to come back, right ?

What's interesting me now is the road up from San Pedro to Man. It hugs the Liberian border in a part of the country that is remote, difficult to drive to, saw a lot of unrest due to the presence of Liberian mercenaries, but also crosses one of the last piece of equatorial forest in West Africa that hasn't been logged to death or replaced by plantations. All good reasons to get there (except for the restlessness part), aren't they ?

As soon as I take the turn-off north, the tar stops and the road turns to shit. I've escaped the rain these previous days and it's still a bit wet but very ridable. The weather is pretty cloudy but dry and I hope it'll stay like this. Although it's the dry season, in this part of the country it only means it doesn't rain every day. That's the reason there is a rain forest in the first place.

I've fueled up and with my extra tank I'm good for at least 500 km, which should bring me to Man if I can't find any petrol on the way (nobody seems to know for sure when I asked).The forest is eerily beautiful, this is exactly what I've been looking for. Unlike Gabon, there are no logging truck to try and run you over (they crash on their own, see above), so it's just me, the bike and the nature. Oh, and the police.. it's the heaviest military presence I've seen since northern Nigeria. The west has seen some heavy fighting during the recent crisis, and they still haven't got rid of all the various armed groups and Liberia is a short distance away. I can't really figure who's manning those posts, if it's police, army, militia... but in general they seem to do their job and don't give me any trouble. It's a drag to stop, get up to them and show my papers so if they're not right in front of the road and there's no gate, I'd just look the other way and speed past them. Just saving time and trouble - although in hindsight it may not have been very smart with all these weapons still out there.. but I'm getting ahead of myself.

My goal for today is Taï National Park, which should have good hikes. It also host a sizeable group of chimpanzees. At the closest city I ask for the park entry. I get directions but I also understand it's closed.. damn it! I need to go see by myself. With a few more stop for directions I reach the "eco-lodge".

That sounds good, but it's obviously abandoned. There's nobody at what looks like the park's offices. I spot a little trail leading into the forest. It's too narrow so I have to leave the bike there. 5 minutes away I reach the camp proper, a series of bungalows, in various stats of disrepair. Some people are working (hanging out) there and tell me that indeed, the camp is closed as it's being rebuilt, but the manager should be back shortly. Another 1/2 h or so and the manager is back with his crew.

They've been out in the forest preparing the work to repair the hiking trails. While he confirms that the operation is closed to tourists, I express my disappointment in coming here for nothing. This being Africa, theres' always room for discussion. in me as he proposes to house me in the park's main office, back in town. And I could also arrange for a guided visit into the park. Deal!

The room is just that, a bare room. It used to be furnished but during the war some militia settled down here. When they fled they took everything they could with them. Since then, there has been no fund to rebuild the camp. I meet and chat with some of the rangers and a French girl who's volunteering on the chimpanzee program. The electricity doesn't come all the way to here, so at night everything turns pitch black, except for the bar who's showing the football games on TV, the only one who's got money to put fuel in a generator. By deduction, it also means it's got cold beer too..

The next morning I drive with the bike to the "eco-lodge", with my guide riding pillion, from where we will to hike a few hours to a forest camp deep in the rain forest. A gang of rangers camp there in the middle of the rain forest, their mission is to track the chimpanzee families and get as close as possible to them, so that they get used to the human presence.

In all those chimp/gorilla parks (Uganda, Rwanda, Zambia, etc..) the animals have gotten used to human presence and they don't see them as a threat anymore, so the rangers can bring tourists pretty close without them caring. It used to be the case in Taï too, until the war broke. The villagers escaped the fightings and settled into the forest. They had to survive away from their fields, of course, so they've started to hunt whatever bush meat that could get, including chimps. After a few years, they've become very afraid of humans, and now if the park wants to organize chimp tracking tours, they need to regain their trust. That's what these guys are doing: they track and follow a group all day long until dusk when they settle for the night and make a nest in the trees (they sleep every night in a different place and have to rebuild a nest). Then they mark their position using a GPS, hike back to the camp and go to sleep. Another shift wakes up before dawn, picks up the GPS coordinates of the nest and rejoin the chimps before they wake up, to follow them all day long, etc.. every single day. Even though they're not officially ready to take tourists, the deal is that I would spend the night in the camp, then join the rangers early in the morning to see the chimps.

Fortunately there is a path from the eco-lodge to the bush camp, although it is being currently worked on: they need to to rebuild some bridges and walkways over small streams to make it easier for people without rubber boots to hike.

The forrest is beautiful and impressive, with massive trees and lots of oversized insects.. I'm glad to be with a guide, if I were to hike alone it would be a little creepy. We reach the camp in 1/2 day and meet the rangers. They're spending 3-weeks shifts here before going back home for a rest. They've cleared a flat space in the thick forest and built a few A-frame log shelters with raised floors where they sleep, a table and a pit toilet. They've also got a solar panel (high upon a tree of course) to power a small radio and charge their GPS unit. That's it.

At night fall, the trackers still haven't made it back to the camp. I'm knackered so I go to bed, while the rangers wait for their colleagues. If they haven't found the group, they'll let me sleep, otherwise they'll wake me up to go see them. Somehow they also get tired of waiting and go to bed before the other group returned. Suddenly in the early morning they take me out of my sleep and rush me out: they have overslept and they risk missing the wake-up and departure of the chimps. The nest is several km away and it's pitch dark. I follow them is a mad dash across the thick rain forest, across streams, tripping over roots and dodging low branches, something they're used to do at an amazing speed but for me hard work. After 1h of this race in the forest, they get confused with the GPS coordinates, and we run in circles. It's now past dawn and the hopes of finding the chimps in the nest have all but vanished. Finally we meet another ranger who tells us the story: the previous night, they followed the chimps until a river and lost them when they crossed it (they have no boat and can't cross the deep river). Because my guide went to sleep before the rangers got back, he missed this crucial piece of information. I'm a bit angry at them for rushing me through the forest during the night for nothing, and make it clear to them that if they want tourists they need to improve their communication (like they cared). Anyway, we come back to the camp to have breakfast and rest a bit. My guide is a bit sick so we decide to immediately walk back to the bike and to the park's office. I'm happy to find his wife at home to take care of him as he's clearly not doing well.

At the end of the day I haven't seen no friggin' monkey, but it's been a memorable experience nonetheless.

It rains a lot during the night, so by the time I leave the roads have changed from solid laterite to slippery mud with some deep pools.

Notice the knobby tires that are strapped to the back? what does it take for me to get rid of those road tires ?

Most parts are quite OK, the forest is still as nice and the mud actually makes it just challenging enough to spice it up.

There's very little traffic. It's easy to see why, only the 4x4 and trucks with high clearance and good traction can make it through, and at snail pace. The bike still seems the better option for traveling. There are a few little villages on the road, and as usual there is some sort of police/military checkpoint at the entrance. They're mostly sleeping or drinking, and often too surprised to stop me before I'm gone. Except this time, when I have to slow in the village because of the traffic, I see two armed guys on a small bike passing me and shoving a rifle under my nose, asking why I didn't stop. They're not amused that some passer-by would ignore them - especially a white guy. So they're angry, they're yelling at me, and I'm a bit shaken because I just realize that these dudes have been routinely shooting each other not long ago and that they just might do the same with tourists.. I take my better "dazed and confused" stupid tourist impression, and apologize profusely. They tell me to follow them to the checkpoint, where the tension eases a bit. They take my papers, everything is in order and after another lesson of who's the boss here, they switch their attention to my bike, and how I made it here. Drama's over and I can keep going, this time a little more careful at the checkpoints.

The road starts to climb in the mountains, the air cools down nicely until I arrive in Man, the main city in the west. It used to be quite touristy, but nowadays the only visitors are the Bangladeshi soldiers from the nearby UN base. I find a hotel near the hotel that used to have several dozens rooms for tourists and businessmen. It had been taken over by the rebels who established there their headquarters, and who left it in shambles. The owner has been able to restore one floor in a somewhat usable state, but even so the city's water distribution is cut off but for one hour during the day, so the shower comes in the form of cold buckets.

Next: juggling and football
2006-2007 Mongolia - Pamir - India - Nepal
2010-2012 Caucasus - Middle-East - Africa
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Old 10-23-2012, 11:36 AM   #244
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Originally Posted by Asianrider View Post
I hope you're still enjoying this, there hasn't been much riding in the last posts
You're kidding right?
Those have been some great updates, still looking forward to more.
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Old 10-24-2012, 12:28 AM   #245
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Old 10-29-2012, 03:14 AM   #246
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Wonderful, thanks for sharing this!
I will try to do a similar one, but only for west african side!
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Old 10-29-2012, 07:03 AM   #247
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My TAT trip in 2014:
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Old 10-30-2012, 02:40 PM   #248
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Another bunch of very impressive pics!

Thank you very much for sharing with us!

Best greatings from Germany
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Old 10-31-2012, 02:07 AM   #249
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Thank y'all for the kind words. Another installment on Côte d'Ivoire is coming and I'll move into Guinea. Gosh, it's freakin' cold and rainy out there.. I've spent the last 2 winters in Africa and that sure was feeling good!
2006-2007 Mongolia - Pamir - India - Nepal
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Old 11-10-2012, 08:07 AM   #250
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The city of Man is in the main hub of Côte d'Ivoire's North-West region, an area where many different ethnical groups intersect: Yacouba, Guéré, in additions to the Lobi from Burkina who've settled here for working in the coffee plantations. This make for interesting discoveries, but unfortunately it was also here and particulary in Duékoué that many massacres happened during the war of 2002-2003 and the crisis of 2011. This has left scars in people's mind that will take a lot of time to erase. More practically, the city of Man is pretty run down, and badly needs rebuilding.

I'd read that the Wé villages south of Man are known for their very specific traditions and arts, most notably child juggling. No, not juggling performed by children, but guys juggling children. Now seriously..? I've got to get there and figure out how it looks like. In Africa, it's often difficult to figure out what is "authentic" (and interesting), and what's here just for the tourists to look at. As I've learned earlier in the trip, you have to reach far into the Namibian backcountry to find Himbas who're not there just for the show, and Mali's Dogon country is veering dangerously close to being a tourist trap (fortunately they're not there yet, and the current lack of tourism will probably put an end to some of the excess).

Naturally there are a maze of tracks fanning out as soon as you leave the tar road. I've got to stop numerous times to ask for directions, which isn't bad in itself, because it's a nice way to chat with people, sometimes having a coke or a small snack at one of the roadside shacks.

Eventually I arrive at the village. I see a parked vehicle and lots of people waiting next to the dispensary. Today an organization based in Man is visiting the village, and the villagers have come en masse for an examination.

People are pretty surprised to see a stranger here, apparently. I quickly befriend some people and get myself invited for the night. The usual African welcome. The head of village isn't present at the moment, so I'm spared a visit.

I ask around for the jugglers. Hmmmm.. yeah, there's one but he's out in a nearby village for a burial. But he'd probably be happy to come back for me. My host wants to go now to get them (on my bike - there's no other vehicle here), but it's too late so I say tomorrow. The teacher comes to see me, he's a really nice guy and of course he speaks good French. He leads me around the village to visit his parents, brothers, etc.. who of course all want me to sit down and share some food. When the falls, everything goes dark as there is no lighting. All you can see are the few flashlights and the fires lit for cooking. The options for socializing are next to nil, I'll have to wait for a nightcap. Everybody goes to sleep pretty early with the transistor on full blast for good measure.

The next morning I pick up my guide and leave on the bike for the village where the burial is taking place. Many people have gathered for a big ceremony, involving a lot of food and drinks of course - they even killed a whole cow for good measure. Some rich guys from the capital have come in a Mercedes, and they offer me to sit down and have a drink with them. Pretty boring, but you can't just waltz in in a ceremony and leave, there are certain rules and you have to pay respect to the important people there. The first one is to sit down, listen to what they're saying, and eat what they're giving you.

Finally I get hold of the jugglers. They want me to take 2 guys pillion but I don't feel comfortable with the load on such bad roads. So they find another 2 bikes for the 5 guys and off we go. Arriving at the village we discuss the plan. Forst off, the price. What he's asking for is way off charts, so I calm him down and offers what I'm ready to spend on the show, which is considerably less. He doesn't seem too disappointed, and quickly agrees, because (as he says now only), he's still in training mode and the show isn't fully rehearsed. Ah-ah, oh well never mind.

Hanging out in the village while the team prepares, I come across those two guys who''re heading for some kind of traditional party in a nearby village. It's nice to see that they keep their traditions alive.

The show isn't just dancing, it's an old tradition with a very strict program. First the juggler and his gang of young girls go to a special, sacred place in the woods to prepare. They put on make-up and special garments. Then they go out following a small band playing drums. I'm there with many other villagers, and I observe the dry run of the show.

Diourouzon from Laurent Bendel on Vimeo.

The concept is a bit freaky but nothing dangerous really, as the girls don't come in contact with the knives.

Then we all leave for the village. The first stop is at the house of a former dancer - she's now an old woman but she seems to appreciate that the show is still on. Some more tossing of little girls in the air and we continue on.

Of course the whole village knows about the ceremony and they seem to enjoy it. The next stop is at the village elder. The custom asks that I offer the old guy a shot of brandy, which is easy to find everywhere in small plastic bags. That's not going to make him no harm I guess..

Finally, we arrive a the 'city hall', well the house of the head of the village. A lot of people are already here, it seems that the real performance is going to take place here. I go greet the head of village, who starts to admonish me for not visiting him (and presumably, not having brought him some booze). Then the show starts.

Well, it doesn't really takes off, the lead juggler approaches and tells me that the girls are not ready and therefore they can't do the dance.

Instead he will do some 'magic'. Dude.....

Magic it ain't, it's just a guy inserting various foreign objects through his skin. I don't really see the point, but this guy has found creative uses for wheel spokes.

At the end of the day it was a pretty amazing experience to live the life of the ordinary people in a village far out in the bush.

Back in Man, I check back into my hotel, and head off the find a functioning cyber cafe. There aren't many, some are supposed to work, most don't. I get a tip from somebody, there's a library in the hospital and they have computers there. Indeed, inside the hospital compound I find a room full of bran new computers with LCD screens, a rarity in Africa. The internet link is kind of decent, I mean, probably worse than a good 3G cellular link in Europe, but above average for West Africa. I also clean up my air filter which is bogged down with tons of dirt. Thank god for the pre-filters and the washable foam filters.

But tonight's biggie is the final of the CAN, Africa's football cup. Côte d'Ivoire and his millionnaire Drogba is playing little known Zambia for the title. Needless to say, the shops stay open and turn on their TVs for the passer-by to watch, for most people the only way to watch the game. Most of them are smallish CRT, but there's one TV vendor on the main street who's taken a big flat-screen TV on the street and hooked it up to a SAT dish. I don my orange jersey and sit down on the floor next to the kids.

The match is dull and the Ivorians are out-played by the Zambian. It drags on through extra time to the penalty shootout, much the excitement of the crowd of course. Unfortunately, with Drogba the mega-star missing his shoot the Ivorians lose it to the Zambians and everybody go home in a deafening silence.

Tomorrow I'll head for the border and enter Guinea.
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Old 11-10-2012, 10:21 AM   #251
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Wow !

Fascinating travels . . . . . .

Wow, thanks for posting ! ! !
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Old 11-11-2012, 09:44 PM   #252
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Still amazed you did this trip solo... Just the Liberian border is notorious for bandits of all kinds. road blocks/ armed guys popping out of the forest and here is a nice occasion to kidnap a white guy for a ransom. Lived 12 years in Ivory Coast and definitely have fond memories but that region you rode through is (really) "hot" (Tabou, San Pedro, Man, etc.).

Thanks for sharing your story, very inspiring trip!
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Old 11-14-2012, 07:27 AM   #253
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Originally Posted by O-livier View Post
Still amazed you did this trip solo... Just the Liberian border is notorious for bandits of all kinds. road blocks/ armed guys popping out of the forest and here is a nice occasion to kidnap a white guy for a ransom. Lived 12 years in Ivory Coast and definitely have fond memories but that region you rode through is (really) "hot" (Tabou, San Pedro, Man, etc.).

Thanks for sharing your story, very inspiring trip!
Well, the situation has changed, and I hope it's going the right direction. So far I've heard of a few clashes between rival groups, but nothing involving white people. I didn't feel it was too dangerous to travel to when I was there. I haven't seen any tourist, though I've met some NGO volunteers and those guys usually pull out as soon as things get a little dodgy.
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Old 11-14-2012, 11:41 AM   #254
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I'm leaving behind my Ivorian friends and their bizarre traditions for Guinea. There are 3 countries named after the Gulf of Guinea: Equatorial Guinea (ex-Spanish), Guinea Bissau (ex-Portuguese) and plain "Guinea" or Guinea Conakry (ex-French), the largest of all three. I don't know quite what to expect, but I intend to drive to the Fouta Djallon, a mountain range in the west part of the country. It's been long since I've last seen some proper mountains, and I hope it's going to be fun riding it.

There is a border post with Guinea not far away, although I heard it's not very much used. Good.

The road is pretty decent until Danané, then it turns into nice laterite (gravel)..

..but not for long. As I get near the border it becomes pretty bad and I don't think normal cars get through, only vehicles with high clearance. Nor would I'd been able to clear the steep parts if it was wet. But that's the reason I've planned my trip during the dry season, and it makes for great riding. In any case there's absolutely zero traffic.

The border post is one of the nicest I've crossed yet. A small hut in the middle of the forrest, a stamp and a big book. That's all you need. The guys are very friendly and we swap a few jokes. I tentatively try to have my carnet stamped but there's no customs here. No biggies, it won't prevent me from claiming my deposit when I'm back.

The road on the other side is missing a bridge, but it's fine otherwise. Arriving at the village I pass the Guinean immigration and try to find the customs. A fat lady asks what I need, I think she's working for the customs but I'm not sure. She doesn't seem to know what to do with the carnet. She leaves me there and a while later comes another guy who manages to put a stamp and a signature on my documents. There's no non-sense, they're just doing their job. I also change some money on the road, as this is for me the first country since Nigeria that's not using CFA.

The Guinean franc isn't worth much at face value but the thing is, the biggest denomination is only 10'000 francs, worth about 1€. So the guys at the petrol stations need to move huge stacks of bills for each purchase. That's a bit better than in DRC but over there you use dollars for big purchases. Everything is pretty cheap here, cheaper than in the CFA countries. I book into an OK hotel room in Nzérékoré and manage to find a cold beer, despite most places being out of power. Guinea is one of those places where you want to hear the noise of a generator before you order a beer..

I follow the main road to the west, keeping away from Conakry. The road is partly surfaced - when I say "partly" that means not only that some stretches are gravel, but also that where there's tar, half of it is gone. The consequence is a pretty tiresome (but uneventful) slalom around (or into) the potholes. It's still much more comfortable on my bike than in a car or stuffed in a local minivan. The road hugs the border with Liberia, then heads north. After about 350 km I'm knackered and I fancy a nice and quiet night of rest, camping out here all on my own would be great. Now this is something that's exceedingly difficult to do in this part of Africa, because wherever you go it's either inhabited, cultivated, or thick forrest. I take a small track and after a fe km, before running into a village I see a spot that's almost flat and clear, right next to the road. Not hidden by any stretch of the imagination but then it's almost dark and there's zero traffic. Maybe nobody will notice me. The reason it's clear of vegetation is that it's been recently burned. No need for a tent, I set up my mosquito nest over my mattress and cook some instant noodles. As soon as it's dark (which is early here) I roll on my mattress..

..bad news: the bloody Thermarest has built a bubble again (same as 1 year ago). At least they changed it without question asked, but when it happens here, no way to send it back. I squeeze in the remaining space and fall asleep.

Second bad news: the forrest in on fire. During the dry season, the Africans use to clear up the dry high grass by burning it. The Nasa has created a very nice animation illustrating it:

I shouldn't be too worried because I picked a place that has already been burnt, and which is separated from the fire by a small stream. Still it's quite a sight and an eerie feeling sleeping in the burning forrest..

The next morning as I wake up I see a couple farmers walking to their fields. They don't seem to care too much and unlike what I feared I get little attention, just a little Bonjour (probably all they know in French). I leave for another long ride on crappy roads, not far from the source of the Niger, in fact. The river starts as a small stream around here, runs North all the way to Timbuktu in Mali and then turns South across Niger and to the Delta region of Nigeria.

This time I'm looking for a village to spend the night. I take a small track toward the Sierra Leone border and end up at a small settlement near a river. After a few words with the kids I'm brought to the head of the village. He welcomes me and offers me a bed inside his house. They're all very nice people, although few speak French.

They have built this very nice bridge over the river. Yeah, you can actually ride it on a bike, it seems to be a shortcut. Every year during the rainy season the bridge is washed out by the river, which rises 2-3 meters. So they've built another bridge higher up to use during the other half of the year.

It's held together by a complicated (who said robust?) combination of ropes and cables, and it supposed to hold the weight of small motorbike. I sure will not try and find out if it's OK for my bike.

And so every year at the end of the rains they rebuild their bridge with logs and ropes. Very nice.
The next leg brings me to Mamou, at the foot of the Fouta Djallon.

It's a very nice ride, the road surface is better and the scenery is beautiful.

I've gained quite a bit of altitude, and the evenings are cool and nice. The area is little bit touristy so there are quite a few hotels, none of which are too appealing. I have better luck a couple clicks out of town in the Ecole Forestière (forestry school). They have basic rooms for the students who come here to study, right now it's empty and they agree to sell me one. It's set in a small compound with a few trails heading into the forrest, away from the noise of the town. And there's even a satellite connection to the Internet (when the generator's running). I decide to spend two nights here to visit the town and the forest.

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Old 11-15-2012, 08:48 AM   #255
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Let me take a break and indulge the car buffs among us. In every country there's something to be said about their rides. Here in Guinea, the king is the Peugeot 505. The 504 is the myth in all West Afric (I've talked about it back in Nigeria), but here it's been steadily replaced by the more modern 505 (launched in '79). Let's head for the town's taxi stop and have a look.

Quite a few cars around, and not one single Landcruiser. Too bloody expensive. Not really needed.

My bike attracts quite a bit of attention, but this guy's assuring me it's safe to park it here. Let's see what we have.

The only 505 worth considering of course is the break (station-wagon). They add another row of seats in the boot (trunk), reinforce the suspensions and voilà: taxi-brousse (bush taxi).

Nah, this ain't no wreck, it's a fully functional taxi waiting for his passengers. There are other models too, a Merced..

Ok, make this a Renault 21. Not quite as successful as the Peugeot, but it's French, so it's got to be fixable, right ?

Ahh, here we go, the 504. Still running like new, probably between 500'000 and 1'000'000 km on the clock - difficult to say as the odometer is dead and all parts don't come from the same original car.

Not as roomy as the 505, though.

The boot is small so you can fit less people inside than in the 505 with its 3rd row of seats. The major reason for its popularity. Let's take a tour of this one, quite a beauty:


Official color scheme of the taxis, it seems.

It's a GR, so a petrol engine.

Center control lock - not!

The all-important roof rack, home made. Looks pretty sturdy too.

The ski rack is still there - just in case it starts to snow.

Some expert welder has been at work here. Quite an artist.

The fuel tank door with a fake carbon sticker on top. Classic. And a handle to hold on it case you've forgotten to pull the handbrake while you're refueling (or something like that).

- What, no window handle ?
- Power windows, stupid!

The inside is classy. Way above average.

Front seats and dashboard are quite OK, if a little dusty. Not sure the tapes like it.

Dusty it is. But who looks at the instruments anyway ? they're probably not working.

Blaupunkt car radio with tape deck. Custom gear knob.

And the final touch, the cracked windshield. Oh yeah we'll have a new spare wheel with that

Hope you've enjoyed it. Then why not rent one ?

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