After arriving and crossing the border into the Ivory Coast, we thought the worst of the road conditions were behind us, how wrong we were! The Ivory Coast border guard warned us that the road ahead was going to be a bad one. We laughed and told him we have just crossed Guinea so we were used to some bad roads but he was right. The road got worse soon after we left the border post. We climbed a small rise and into some dense jungle and around the first corner I could see the road was not much more than a mud track that looked like it was a stream a lot of the time that would turn into a river during the wet season. We spent 2 hours battling the road, all the while reminding ourselves that we were following a bus so how bad could it be. Actually, it wasn’t a bus but rather a Land Cruiser Troopy with maybe 10 or more people in it and one or two hanging from the back. It’s a bus in these parts anyway and we followed it for 30 minutes or so until they allowed us to pass them. They were stopped at one of the many obstacles we came across that day. This one was a tree that had fallen across ¾ of the road. They had stopped to see if they could get past the tree and when I arrived behind them they moved aside to let me pass. Not what I wanted to do as I was comfortable knowing I could go anywhere they could but after a look at the tree I passed them and squeezed past the tree adding to the scratches from branches that are now down both sides of the car. That was to be the first of several things we had to make our way around and across. After an hour or so we came across a truck that had broken down. One of the trailer axles had broken away from the chassis and he wasn’t going anywhere for a while. Luckily for us it was to the side of the road and we could pass but just up the track we came across the obstacle that had broken the truck. It was another one of the log bridges like we had had to pass over in Guinea but this bridge was in pretty bad shape (as if they could get any worse…) and the logs were moved and broken and it looked like the truck had moved them all in its attempt to cross. I eyed it up and went for the crossing. Bang bang… and the distinctive twang of the Frontrunner extra fuel tank being punched in and coming back to its normal shape as we bounced over the last log and the bank back up to the track. I still have the spare tire mounted under the car and it is up against the tank so when its pushed, it pops the tank in and out with a sheet metal twang. My ears are finely tuned to any noise like that so I stopped to inspect the rear of the car. The spare tire had acted like a scoop and collected a load of Ivory Coast clay and it had moved 3 inches to one side but the little chain that holds the spare in place had done an incredible job and held against ‘car moving’ pressure. No damage done, we pushed on. We drove into the night that day as we could find nowhere to camp off the road. We made it to a small town where we got a hotel room and reflected on what was an incredible time on some of the worst roads (classified as actual roads, not tracks) we had seen.
We headed towards the coast and a campsite listed in iOverlander. It was to be a nice rest at a peaceful location, the last peace we had in Ivory Coast. The next day we drove to Abidjan which is the big city in Ivory Coast. It’s not the capital, but it’s the economic capital and its busy! We have seen some pretty bad driving during this trip but none of that prepared us for the Abidjan traffic. It was crazy, amazing and total chaos. Imagine a big city with millions of people and cars and then imagine (if you can) that none of the drivers follow any road rules at all.. impossible? Not in Abidjan. It’s the norm! The taxis were completely crazy. They would drive up on the footpath, into oncoming traffic, through red lights (even driving into oncoming traffic to get around cars stopped at the red lights) and worse. We summed it up in our minds as zero consideration for any other road user at all. They treat the road as if they are the only vehicle on them and therefore they do just what they want regardless of the rules or laws. We were at times completely amazed at what we saw. We are now in mid-West Africa and we can go days without seeing any other white people. We think that in the city traffic, we are given a small bit of consideration due to the novelty of our difference (when we are noticed) but in Abidjan its dog eat dog and everyone for themselves so let the fun begin. During one trip around the city, we came across some heavy traffic and we were just inching forward for what felt like ages. When we arrived at the congestion area, we were in amazement at what we witnessed. We were heading along a main road, 4 lanes, 2 each way. A smaller but still very busy road came in from the left. At some stage, someone had let a car from this side road cross our lanes and that opened the flood gates for the other cars in the side road to follow. This resulted in a classic case of grid lock as they then blocked the road for traffic going both directions. The thing that amazed us was the fact that even though no one was moving very fast, not one single driver would give up on the quest to get around the corner. If it wasn’t such a bad case of human nature, it would have been funny. It came to my turn to go and I had to play a careful game of chicken. As soon as I saw I could move only one inch, I took it. It was funny to watch the drivers follow so closely to the car in front so that no one could get into the space. Lurching forward and braking hard. It was aggression like I had never before seen on the road. In this instance, it was a real benefit to be sitting on the right side of the car. I put the window down and pointed directly to the driver of the car I wanted to get in front of and wagged my finger as if telling off a naughty child. Seeing a white face and being told off might have been enough to get me a few more inches but it was the motorbike that came up the right side of us and blocked the cars by squeezing into the gap that allowed us to eventually escape the anarchy and move on. It’s only driving, but it is so far from what we are used to that in some way it’s a highlight of the trip to see this sort of thing.
A lowlight was the constant police stops we were subject to. The police randomly stop cars and most of the bus/van vehicles for checks at many places around the city. I am sure it’s not to ensure safer roads but is to check people’s documents. We are going to get stopped at every single one of these and it starts to get annoying after the first 5 or 6. We are very careful to make sure we are legal and have all the documents required for travel through these countries but sometimes, like this time, our passports were at an embassy for a visa and we were therefore ‘undocumented’. We were stopped and pulled off to the side. I try to park really badly so they have to deal with me quickly but this officer insisted I move right off the road and I knew he was going to be difficult. We had Kevin and Steph in the car with us and Kevin can speak a small amount of French so when the officer realized this he started to talk to him…about me and my license and passport… Not the most professional way to start the interaction. So, we are white, travelling and have a newish vehicle so we must have lots of money and clearly, we are also completely stupid and ready to be taken for a ride by a much smarter policeman… This guy was determined to match us with a fine of some sort and this went on for much longer than it should have. I could hear bits of what was going on and he had a problem with my driver’s license and a big problem with the fact we didn’t have our passports with us. All the while he was talking to Kevin through the rear window. I could see this was going nowhere and he was trying everything to fine me but except for the passports we were clean. Eventually I got sick of this and with the driver’s control, I wound up the rear window and tried to get out of the car. ‘I am the driver and it’s my car, deal with me’ I said. ‘If you can’t speak English, find someone who can or let us go’. He wouldn’t let me get out of the car and insisted he continue the discussion with Kevin. He only had my vehicle documents and had not even asked for anything from the other 3 people in the car so it wasn’t much of a check was it! I then reached through my window and grabbed the bunch documents back from him and said for him to fine me or let us go. Oops, now I have made him mad.. Well at least it finally gave him the reason to give me a fine. It was for ‘disrespecting a police officer’ and cost me 20,000f which is about $45NZD which I paid on the spot. I never received a receipt so guess what… the money went directly into the pockets of the 2 officers we were dealing with. As we pulled out into the traffic again, we were once again stopped by another officer that was working the same road block but had not seen we had already been stopped… Like I said, we get stopped at every single check point…
We had met up with Kevin and Stephanie a few days earlier and together we had travelled to the Ivory Coast/Ghana border. We were all looking forward to driving through Ghana and taking advantage of one of the many cheap resorts along the coast. 4 star resorts are less than €20 a night and we have heard it’s a great country for overland travel. We arrived at the busy border on a 40-degree day and proceeded through the Ivory Coast side. The border official made sure we understood that we were on single entry visas and we could not return on the same visa… OK. Before entering Ivory Coast, we realized we had made an error when we got our visas and given the wrong dates so we had to get a new visa at great expense. These were single entry visas, whereas the visas with the wrong dates were multi entry visas. He didn’t look at those, only the correctly dated visa. Off we all went into Ghana and to the customs office. As we are not travelling with a carnet for the car, we had to get a very complicated insurance policy in place that insured us for the duty and taxes if we were to sell the car in Ghana. The premium was quite simply a small percentage of the expected tax and duty, but the documentation was complicated and it required us to deal with an agent (or fixer) that would bring all the parts together. What a joke… Once again we were seen as mobile ATM machines that could be tapped at will to spew cash in every direction. The fee for this service was going to be between 5 and $600USD plus we had to have each car fitted with a tracking device at $50USD.. This went on for a while and ended when the agent seriously asked me what I would be happy to pay for all the work. I went into a very detailed list of all the work that had to be done, with him agreeing on every point, all the while he was leaning right in towards me, head nodding with my every word. I pondered and looked towards the sky, looked him in the eye and told him I wouldn’t pay any more than €20.. I didn’t wait for his response, I just walked off as we had already agreed to drive around the country and we marched back to the cars and off to the Ivory Coast border again… OK so I had some fun, but I was still angry that one greedy fool has ruined it for all the 100s of Ghana people we could have directly and indirectly come into contact with but the new visa and all the cost of driving through Burkina Faso was still way cheaper than the cost to just get the car in to Ghana. Back at the border we were expecting trouble because of the visa we had shown before was single entry. We met the same guard and confidently presented our multi entry visas. The entry date for this visa was still 10 days away but he didn’t even look at the dates and just stamped us back in… So much for border security..
So, we were back in Ivory Coast and now have to get a visa for Burkina Faso. If there is one thing that we really don’t like to do here in Africa, its dealing with officials. Be they police, border guards, customs officials or embassy staff, they are all a pain. The embassy staff can be especially difficult. They are normal people in a position of authority and power, and they really know it. As white folk, we are singled out for special treatment. We are usually the only white faces in a room full of locals. One of the big problems we have is the expectation of efficiency. We are slow learners and once again at the Burkina Faso embassy we expected to be dealt with in a normal manner in a timely fashion. We arrived early not long after they opened and seated ourselves in the waiting room. We sat around for nearly 2 hours and when we asked we were told we should have knocked on the closed locked door for service. This is after the guards had directed us to wait for the woman to come and get us… OK, so we started the process and armed with our new knowledge of the process to get attention, we knocked on the door only to be told off and told that she would come for us and not to knock again. Hmmm. This woman for some reason then made the process as difficult as she possibly could. She would wait until we had completed the forms then say we need to do 2. ‘We need a copy…’ OK, we found a copy shop and copied the form in color and returned. No, we cannot take a PHOTO copy I need an ‘original’ copy (handing us the blank forms which were not offered before) Completed, now you pay, it’s this much... Nearly TWICE the amount the embassy said on the website and we didn’t have that much cash. Then she added that at 3pm she finishes for the day and we would have to come back tomorrow which would have meant yet another day to wait before we could collect the visas. It was just after 2:30pm. Off we went to the nearest ATM. Kevin and I ran from the bank back to the embassy (I could have beat him back but let him win because he’s half my age) and we managed to submit the finished applications with 5 minutes to spare and what should have taken a few hours at the most had taken all day. This is African ‘efficiency’.
The next few days we had an uneventful drive to the north of Ivory Coast and crossed into Burkina Faso. The crossing was pretty good and we were not asked for money when we shouldn’t have been. It was good to be out of Ivory Coast though and Burkina Faso was a very nice place to visit with very friendly people and no police stops. They are much like the people we met in Mali and the weather was also much like Mali, hot! Our first night in the country we stayed at a lake that has Hippos. It’s a campsite right on the lake edge and it was one of the nicest campsites we have had on the trip. We spent some time at the lake looking for Hippos and although we didn’t see them out of the water, we did see them moving around and in the late evening we could hear the roars and grunts of the giant beasts all around the lake as they called to each other. We then spent a night in the capital city of Ouagadougou which was a busy and clean city (by West African standards) where we planned to get some more visas but when we visited the office we find out they are no longer issuing them. It’s no problem it just means we have to get them at the borders which can be time consuming and means being out of the air-conditioned car…
We headed south and crossed the border into Togo. The crossing was no problem and everything was completed quickly and with a smile on both sides. On the way back to the coast, we stopped off at a UNESCO world heritage site which is a village that has been built into a cliff face. We arranged a tour with the local guides and met them at the road end. The guides were really taken with Luxy and just loved the idea that we were travelling with a cat. The tour was great. The cliff village was first occupied in the 1600’s and was only recently abandoned for a more traditional village setting above the cliff. It was nice to see the locals doing something to preserve their heritage and the site is developing into a regular tourist stop in the region. We drove down to Lomé which is the capital and attempted to get an Airbnb with Kevin and Steph. After a couple of attempts we managed to get in touch with a very nice chap who rented us the entire bottom floor of his very nice house. We wondered why this European type house with great quality finish and with Ikea furnishings and even landscaping, had ended up in the middle of a pretty typical west African city. It turns out that it is his brother’s house and he is away a lot of the time playing football in the European league. He was the captain of the Togo international side and is very well known in the area. It was the most relaxing time we have had since we arrived in Africa. We cooked, watched movies, did our washing (after 3 washes our towels were finally clean) and generally had a good time relaxing, (that is in between getting 3 more visas) and it was sad to say goodbye and head off to the next grubby hotel or hot campsite.
The Togo to Benin border was a pleasure to cross. It was no fuss and the process was easy. Its evident that Benin is a poorer country than Togo and the people of Benin were interested in getting richer any way possible. We were seen as easy targets and we were blatantly ripped off a few times on the first day in the country. We chose to view this as an isolated case but as we only spent a few days in Benin it was hard to see the country any other way and Benin was the first place we entered and left feeling like we were happy to be gone. Leaving Benin to enter Nigeria was an experience all in itself as was the time we spent in Nigeria so I will tell you all about that in a separate blog.
it's Our Epic Trip...
David & Christine are from New Zealand and are embarking on a trip around the world the slow way, on foot and by personal vehicle. This could get interesting!