#16 – A thousand plantations in Ivory Coast
Entering Ivory Coast
“Where are you going to?”, an official at the Liberian immigration office at the border asks. “To Abidjan in Ivory Coast”, I respond. “You’re going to Abidjan with your bike?”, he asks with disbelief. When I confirm, he asks the same question again. “It’s just a short distance”, I add. “No sir, it’s not a short distance, are you sure you go there with this?”, he responded. Given the fact that I come from The Netherlands and cycled almost 10.000 km, the 500 km to Abidjan is a relatively short distance, I explain. His eyes almost fell out his head. It’s a reaction I get more and more, the longer I travel.
The border consists out of a river and had to be crossed by a small ferry. A guy with a football shirt from The Netherlands is the captain and we are both happy to see each other. The orange color of the shirt is the same as the color of the Ivorian Coast’s shirt. I entered the new country with great enthusiasm. The first one or two days in a new country are full with scanning life and habits. The country in total seems richer. The roads are good and all small villages have electricity. However, the people seem less friendly and don’t even greet me all the time. The villages look dirtier and the people seem somewhat poorer than Liberia.
I didn’t find so much public places next to the road, such as schools and churches. So I stopped at a guest house. I hoped that the quality and diversity of the food would be better than the past few countries I visited. Food is one of those things I appreciate very much, and it influences my experience in a country very much too. A sandwich with spaghetti, beans and an egg was the only vegetable food I could find. I do eat meat and fish, but I prefer to not have it from a street shop.
Ivory Coast, the land of a thousand plantations
Concrete beds and very soft, thin mattresses aren’t the best combination, but somehow I managed to sleep quite well on it. A blazing fan cooled me down and kept the mosquitoes away. After packing up everything I was ready to continue my way beside the countless coconut trees.
Planted straight in a row, the coconut trees dominated the view on my right side for a while. After a while, plantations of African oil palms and rubber trees showed up too. The rubber tree contains carvings from which white liquid drips into a collecting bucket. The substance becomes solid, but still flexible. They are picked out and new carvings are made at the same time, to provide just enough to fill the small bucket. On my way I passed trucks loaded with these rubber balls, over a stretch of an entire kilometre. The trucks were parked and nobody sat inside them. My best guess is that people were waiting to sell their stuff.
For one of the first times I suddenly saw a school on top of hill, in the last village I wanted to enter today. The president, or the ‘master’, as he called himself later, was playing football, so I waited for some time to get permission to sleep inside the school. As usual, it was not a problem at all, and they even provided me a bucket shower.
At 6 am music started playing somewhere nearby and it woke me up. The people are so full of energy here. They work hard (some of them), hang outside with loud music till late and wake up early. When I was finally ready to go, everyone was in the core business of their daily rhythm already.
What also fascinated me is the amount of cyclers on the road. Altough there are quite some hills, people seem to realize that travelling by bike is cheaper than a motor and faster than walking. In previous West African countries it was rare to see bikes on the road. Everything is done by a motorized vehicle or by foot. The quality of the bikes is incredibly low. Most of them don’t have breaks and gears. Chains and tires get repaired over and over again, probably till there is nothing left.
Since I’m travelling more to the east now, the scenery doesn’t change as fast as when I was heading south. It made it rather a boring day, in which I got the most pleasure of people reactions and their ways of greeting me. Without any warning, my dynamo stopped working. My devices were running low on energy, so I had to find a guesthouse to recharge them. Therefore I had to squeeze some extra kilometers out of my legs.
For breakfast I had a baguette with potato, onion, tomato, egg and some sauce. And for the first time in a while I ordered a coffee. I don’t trust the water they use, even when it’s boiled. But I gave it another chance, hoping for the best. Meanwhile, I watched the daily life play in front of me. Cars passed by and unloaded 50 kg bags of rice, woman in colorful dresses sat on the ground to sell crabs, people walked by and stopped to take a close look at my bike.
On the road I passed many small villages, with smokescreens of crowd. Never do I see a woman doing nothing. Either they are working on a field, walking from one place to another with heavy loads on their head or they simply sell something in a village. Men, however, are the ones who mostly move themselves by car or motorbike. Some of them work on the land, doing heavy labour. But they are also the ones who just sit with each other, doing nothing but chat and look to other people like me.
At the end of the day I went to a street food restaurant, were some men where watching to the small television. During the 20 minutes I spend here, I couldn’t see anything other than advertisement on the screen, and all the men were just looking at it. Afterwards I continued my way and found a place to camp in the semi-wild, on a big plantation of dense populated rubber trees. It was the first time camping without permission since day 133.
A few voices passed my tent. I opened my eyes and noticed that it was still twilight, so I closed my eyes again and the voices faded away. When the sun started to strike my tent, it was time to get up. A guy on his bike passed me on the nearby path and stopped, to watch me doing whatever I was doing here. He was on his way to work. A big bucket on the back of his bike revealed that he collects rubber for the trees.
Today was my last ride for a while. I cycled to the Abidjan, the countries largest city but not the capital. The closer I got to the city, the bussier ot got on the road. The last 20 km of my ride was pure city, full with crowd and cars. In one narrow street, the houses stood very close to the asphalt. They broke away a strip of 10 m of the houses along the route, to create more space. The debris was still there and people worked around it, like it was furniture.
I arrived at my host, but he went to a wedding. His maiden let me in and I refreshed myself. After a while, my host and a few friends came back from the wedding. They put a few bottles of liquor on the table and prepared to go the party for tonight. They invited me to come also, which I couldn’t refuse ofcourse. My host gave me neat clothes and in the evening we went to a restaurant. About 100 people were invited to celebrate the couple’s wedding. The woman is from Ivory Coast and the man is from France, who works as a soldier in a French army base in Ivory Coast. It was a beautiful couple and it was a great pleasure to be on their party.
Cleaning and chilling
Today was mainly about preparing to fly back to The Netherlands for the six week break. I cleaned the bike from saddle to spoke, replaces the brakes and fixed the dynamo hub.
The rest of the day was mostly about relaxing and packing my stuff together. My host Nico and I watched two movies via his projector.
That evening I took a taxi to go to the airport. My airplane left in the night, first to Casablanca and finally to Brussels.