#17 – Resuming my trip from Ivory Coast
I walk out of the airport and like a magnet, a bunch of taxi drivers approach me. Unfortunate for them I found a taxi driver inside the airport. I enter the taxi and he drives me to my host. While we find our way through the rain and the dark of Abidjan, my thoughts go back to the past six weeks.
For the past six weeks I’ve been at home, but I haven’t been sitting still. In fact, I came to home to do a lot of things.
Here in Africa it’s rare to find one place full with shops. Instead, shops are scattered all around every possible corner. The size of the shops vary a lot from just a few products on a blanket to a garage neatly stocked with a relatively big variety of products. Finding streetfood is therefore not a big deal, but finding a place with exotic fruits is not easy.
Two bananas cost only 200 CFA, around 30 Eurocents. When I hand over a 1.000 CFA note, friendly faces often changes to grumpy ones, since they have to give me too much change. Sometimes they even have to walk across the steet to change the money at a larger shop. I feel guilty, but powerless at the same time, knowing that soon I have to spend 10.000 CFA notes.
Eating wild animals
“They serve python, monkey and several other types of bushmeat, so do you want to join us?” my host asks me to come over for lunch with his friends. Altough I like to try new thing, I’m not sure if I want to chew on a harmless snake or on a humanlike creature. “Python just tastes like fish”, he added to convince me to come.
Curious and easy to convice as I am, we sat down at a low table and the laid back chairs which contained the colors that reminded me of Bob Marley. A fine breeze made the hot temperatures more bearable. The waiter told us that there are three available choices: python, deer and opossum. The python, however, needed 1,5 hours to be prepared, so we chose deer. Apparently, there was more choice, but not for the small group we were. A few rabbits, an alligator and a hyena were looking at us just a few metres away.
Fish doesn’t grill itself. In fact, it’s done by one of the many people who owns a tent around the central place to sit, just like you see in hipster bars these days. One large communal place, surrounded by units who all have their own speciality: a fishbar, a chickenbar, a cocktail bar, a normal drinks bar, a disco and even a hair dresser.
They stick a finger sized stick in the fish and place it in the combination of sand and ashes, like a lollypop. We ordered it, along with fried plantain, rice amd attiéké (couscous like food made from cassave). Traditionally we had to eat with our fingers, but I and my French host didn’t. However, a few Ivorians who joined us did.
Earlier this day I applied for the Ghanaian visa. I can pick it up on Thursday afternoon, which means I’ll be back on the bike on Friday.
While I’m waiting for my Ghanaian visa, I’m repairing my bike and testing all new equipment. The new AGU framebag got me real excited as this is the first small step to move to a more bikepacking kind of setup.
A bikepacking setup makes it easier to follow the off roads. Especially here in Africa it’s not always a choice to follow an off road track or not, it might be the only option. And in the near future, I would like to dance with the off roads more often, as these roads offer the untouched nature with superb views.
Without saying anything, a woman poors in coffee and a man start cooking some eggs for me. For the past week I’ve been eating my breakfast at a beach bar like streetfood restaurant and the owners know me by know. But today there was something different going on. It was the last time I enjoyed my daily cafeine and proteine boosts here. Yesterday I received my Ghanaian visa and I’m about to hit the pedals again.
Probably I wasn’t used to the local weather anymore, after spending a few weeks in The Netherlands. I found it very humid and warm, in my mind even more than before the 1,5 month break. At the end of the day, a fierce wind that made it rain leafs showed up. The clouds turned grey and looked like they could burst in tears any minute. And I was happy that it did, as it was a pleassant cooldown for my body.
I went to a primary school in a village of about 15.000 inhabitants, in order to find a place to sleep. They didn’t only allow me to sleep in an empty house, but they also gave me a shower, let me eat with the director and invited me to drink a beer with a former teacher. The teacher even brought me to a funeral party of the former chief who died two weeks ago at an incredible age of 101 years.
Touching the white skin
“Bonjour, mon mari” a woman shouts from behind a wall into my room. While I was clearing up my tent in a small house, I opened the front door to get some extra light. A bunch of kids were curious and were watching me from behind the wall as well. Yesterday evening my host let me talk to this woman who wanted to marry her. I told the woman I won’t marry her, but she could join me with cycling around the world.
During the day I passed dozens of plantations such as bananas and cacao. Lots of people work on these plantations and it is one of the reasons that Ivory Coast is relatively rich, compared the other West African countries. The price of the many plantations is that a huge part of the rainforest had to be cut down, destroying the life of many plants, trees and animals.
While I’m pumping up my airbed, some surrounding kids touch my feet, which was placed outside the tent. In remote villages like I stayed, white people are rare to see. Seeing one from just 1 meter is even more rare, especially for 10 year old kids. Curious as they are, they probably want to know if the texture of their skin feels the same as mine.
While I was having lunch on a gravel path next to the main road, two boys walked out of the bush with nothing more than a catapult in their hands. They were hunting for anything that crawls, flies or climbs. Unfortunate for them they didn’t catch anything yet, so I gave them my last chocolate bar.
I might have passed about 30 big hills today, and on about half of them I had to walk uphill due to the steepness. I’m also going north inland, which means it’s getting warmer. Even the slighest sun burned my skin, a process I have to endure to let my skin become almost resistant of getting burned.
I was heading to a school that was shown on my offline map. When I arrived I asked about the possibilties to sleep in the school. The head of the school told me I first had to ask permission from the village’s chief. I passed through a stately entrance to reach his living room. While watching football, we had a informal conversation and he allowed me sleep in the school. With the presence of many kids I put up my tent in their classroom, which they used till 9 pm to study (on a Sunday!).
Asking the chief’s permission
Sleeping in a school also means waking up very early, since I have to be out of the classroom before the lessons start. After breakfast one of the teachers paused his lesson to give me a tour around the complex. Every time we entered a new classroom the kids stood up and in harmony they sang “Bonjour monsieur”. It was all very adorable to see.
The road continued to be very hilly, but luckily the sun was less strong than yesterday. Many cars, busses and trucks passed me, often with a head sticking out of the window to see what I was doing, if they were not sitting on top of the truck or the goods they were carrying.
I entered another school to ask about a sleeping place. They too send me to the chief, and he would find a solution for me. First one man, then another three and final another two men came to sit together to discuss the matter. One of the men, an imam, told me I could stay, but I first had to register myself at the police.
Another day on the bike, the fifth day after the big break already. Time flies and days pass by like hours. And I’m back in the old routine like I haven’t been away. That means that there are also those empty moments in which I start questioning myself why I’m doing this.
On the road I pass hundreds of walking children most days. They are either all on their way to school or just finished it. Sometimes they have to walk for an entire hour to reach their destination, twice a day, every day. And it seems they are all passionate to go to school, hoping for a better future for themselves.
At my final destination I once again got the chief’s permission to spend my last night in Ivory Coast at a school. And as I walk a few minutes through the cozy village, where people look like they see a ghost, and give me a few bananas, I come to realize that this is simply amazing to experience and that I want to see more of it.
After my last breakfast – black coffee and bread with omelette – in Ivory Coast (IC), it was time to cross the border to Ghana. Exiting IC wasn’t very difficult. Entering Ghana however, became a different story. I put my visa in my second passport, while the exiting stamp of IC was in my first passport. The official didn’t like it and questioned me a lot and eventually decided to put his stamp in the first passport also.
As long as I could enter Ghana, I was satisfied. To my surprise I saw a lot of Dutch flags hanging around the first town I passed. A few hundred years ago the Dutch traded slaves on the ground of what is now called Ghana, so I couldn’t imagine they appreciate the red, white and blue striped flag of The Netherlands. After asking the story behind the flag, I learned that it was from a political party.
When I enter a new country, I’m often a bit more careful with getting in contact with locals. “Just 500 dollars” a man clearly joked when I asked him for a place to sleep at a school again, putting all careful thoughts aside. A few men brought me to the chief’s house where I could sleep, and where I saw how a local dish named Fufu was made, and later being served to me.