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Back in French West Africa, the CFA currency zone and French cuisine and in a country next to Ghana I felt almost at home. Unfortunately, the north of Cote D’Ivoire is still a no go zone due to issues with the rebels, so we had to stick to the south. It is a country of contrast between the rich and the poor and more than once I just had to shake my head at the ridiculous of it all.
Once we reached Tabou it was an easy bus ride to San Pedro, the city we had chosen to stay in for the night. The road was paved but had a good amount of pot holes, so it took some time; we arrived in San Pedro in the afternoon. It unfortunately started to pour rain and, so we stayed around the hotel, this was the first time it really rained on us and luckily, we were inside. We sat in on of the cafeterias that are common in the French West African countries, basically just a bar and tables with some seats, and I had steak and chips. The food is one reason I don’t mind coming to the French zone.
There is a very interesting nation park near Liberia, it’s called Parc National de Tai and houses some chimps that have learned how to open nuts with rocks. Unfortunately, due to the conflict that is currently ongoing in Cote D’Ivoire the park is closed so we couldn’t get.
In the morning we got a bus to Abidjan, the largest city in the country, the road got better and better and we were there in about seven hours. Abidjan shows the wealth that the agriculture sector has given Cote D’Ivoire. The skyline of skyscrapers could rival many North American cities. The architecture ranged greatly and walking through the downtown area you got to see many types. There was a particularly interesting church (I have put pictures of it up) with a unique style and beautiful stained glass. Most of the churches I have seen in Africa have been very square and sterile, maybe due to lack of money to build them. Usually I find myself very impressed by the mosques but quickly forgetting the churches.
We found the cheapest hotel in the part of town we wanted to stay in, according to the guide there are some places you need to watch out for. It was a bit pricey and kind of out of the lively area which was a pity. We spent the rest of the day exploring the city and then we took to the seas. Abidjan has a water taxi which connects various sections of the city, so we did a circuit. It was a really nice way to see the city and we got to watch the sun set on the city.
Now Abidjan may be the largest city in the country and where most of the business and administration takes places buts not the capital. It used to be, but it was moved to the small farming town of Yamoussoukro the village of the country’s first president (how ruled for 33 years). Abidjan with a population of over five million compares to Yamoussoukro with around 300 thousand. It is located about four hours to the north, so we decided to do a day trip to it because staying there seemed pointless.
We hopped a minibus to Yamoussoukro and started the trip on a four-lane highway that unfortunately it didn’t last but the trip went quickly. The sites of Yamoussoukro are a bit limited, city has not grown a huge amount and there is still a huge amount of field and swamp. There is the old president’s palace, but this is off limit unfortunately, it contains a pond of sacred crocodiles. There are a few larger buildings, but most are just the standard one-story shacks and sheep are still roaming around the place. The old president built a six-lane highway that leads to know where just because he wanted some large roads in his capital. The whole place is a bit ridiculous and the cherry on the silly sundae is the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace of Yamoussoukro.
The Basilica is the tallest church in the world, cost 300 million USD to build in 1990 and took only three years to build with 1500-2000 people working round the clock. It can seat 7000 people in the pews which are all made of wood that was sourced in Cote D’Ivoire then shipped to Italy, carved and then shipped back. The pews are all air-conditioned with vents positioned at every seat and adjustable for each person’s taste. This system has only been used twice; when it was consecrated by Pope John Paul II and for the funeral of the architect. It is modeled after the Basilica of Saint Peter in Rome but is larger and not the same. There is a 7200sq foot of stained glass which is spectacular and some of the nicest I have ever seen. In one of them depicting Jesus riding into Jerusalem on the donkey the worshipers are people who were involved in the construction such as the architect and the president, there is a picture of this in my gallery.
There are four elevators house in massive columns which take you up to the gallery overlooking the church. The dome is enormous, and the stained-glass ceiling is spectacular, centered with a dove with a seven-meter wingspan. It is made of marble from Portugal, Spain and Italy, the stained glass is from France and the crews that worked on the project varied nationality just as much.
The whole thing is does make you go “Wow”, it is a huge building with an amazing design and spectacular features. It would be impressive anywhere let alone in Africa. It is a bit odd to see a western Renaissance styled church in the middle of the African bush Of course it was paid for by the people (doubled the national debt apparently) and when you look at the issues in the country you can see a lot better way the money could be spent but I tried not to think like that. Yamoussoukro was a city of contrast and the whole place was a bit surreal.
So that was basically Yamoussoukro and, so we headed back to Abidjan without much trouble, we did get a flat tire, but this is common and was fixed without much trouble. We had a beer and then headed to bed.
In The morning we took a shared taxi to Grand-Bassam located on the coast about an hour to the east. This was the original French capital but only held the title for seven years until a yellow fever outbreak caused the French to move the capital to Bingerville. A lot of the French colonial infrastructure is still intact as well as houses and there are a few monuments. There was one commemorating the landing of the first missionaries in the area and the second honouring the Frenchmen who fell because of yellow fever.
It was another city where you felt like you were stepping back in time and as you walked around the empty streets past the old buildings you could picture how it once was. But like the others there was not a whole lot to do and so after taking in the sites we walked back up to get another taxi to the Ghanaian border.
The trip to the border was simple; the road was in very good conditions, so the trip was quick. It took about three hours and required changing in Aboisso to a car the final leg to Elubo. We crossed the border without any trouble and I was home.
Cote D’Ivoire was, other than Gabon, the most modern of all the African countries I have visited. There were a lot of expensive cars driving by locals, the cities where modern and they had ok infrastructure. There was however a big difference between rich and poor and these stains were plain to see.
The troubles between the north and south have taken their tolls and unfortunately the north of the country is basically out of bounds. When we were there we saw newspapers with pictures of rebels in the north with various types of large arms. The hostility towards foreigners seemed to mainly be directed towards the French, people smiled more at us after they learned we couldn’t speak French and thus were not French. This may have just been a coincidence though.
It is a country that had its expensive parts (Abidjan mostly) while other were good value. I wouldn’t mind getting to see a bit more of the country once it has completely calmed down and the rest of the country opens.