November 5, 2016:
This morning we pulled into Côte d’ Ivoire along this long manmade ship canal which was quite an engineering marvel. That was probably a good introduction to this country because much about it seems much more modern, and frankly, more prosperous, than many of the other countries we’ve visited in West Africa.
We docked in the city of Abidjan, and from the ship, we could see skyscrapers in the downtown area. The port was huge and bustling, and all the dock workers were incredibly friendly; shouting greetings and waving as we got on our tour busses.
The new surprise was that we had an extensive police escort, consisting of about four vehicles representing different police forces such as the “Diplomatic Police”. All in all, there were about 16-18 cops, all fully armed, with some toting machine guns. There’s not a lot of tourist activity in Côte d’Ivoire, but we really felt welcome as our police escort blocked traffic and ran with sirens blaring!
Our itinerary for the day was to drive to the nearby seaside town of Grand Bassam, which used to be the French colonial capital. We drove along the coast road, and there seemed to be a lot of new infrastructure and modern road improvements. Although many of the apartment buildings looked run-down, most of them along the coast road appeared to have wall A/C units and/or satellite dishes. There were even miles of rolling housing tracts being constructed.
Our first stop was at the Cultural Museum which is housed in the former Governor’s palace. The main draw of the museum is its display of some of the various tribal costumes of the more than 60 tribes which comprise Côte d’ Ivoire.
This country is somewhat more religiously diverse than the last two countries we have visited, but the demographics break out as mostly Muslim, then Christian, and then indigenous religions. This is a country which has struggled to support democracy in its recent past, with a civil war taking place between 2002-2010, when the current President was elected, and required intervention from the UN to get the election recognized. He was peacefully re-elected in 2015. The literacy rate is fairly low here, with the older population only being about 15% literate, while the youth is about 55% literate.
Grand Bassam is considered a resort community, and after seeing the museum, we toured around the town, which is comprised of many decaying colonial era buildings. However, there were also some very modern buildings, and even a library!
The funny thing that happened is that our convoy of four busses had to leave the paved road to avoid some road construction. However, as we drove along the dirt roads through the village, electric lines were bootlegged to the electric poles hanging very low. Our guide kept having to jump out of the bus and find poles long enough to raise those lines so the busses could pass. Inevitably, we ended up knocking one down, and I thought the whole village was going to end up in the street. But in the end, everyone was OK. And on our meandering drive through the town, we happened upon a wedding celebration, which was very colorful.
Our next stop was at a lovely craft market where the artisans specialized in really beautiful batiks and woven items. I argued with myself about whether to buy a tablecloth, but ending up deciding we already had more tablecloths than we could reasonably use.
From the craft market, we went to a local hotel on the beach, L’ Etoile du Sud, for lunch and a chance to swim in their lovely pool. Since almost everyone on the ship had opted for this excursion, it looked like about 400 of us descended on this hotel for lunch. Let’s put it this way; it was an opportunity to practice our patience skills. Fortunately, they met us in the gardens with freshly opened coconuts and some of the local beer. While we were waiting for lunch, the hotel provided a local band/dance troupe and it was fun to get to eat lunch to such a vibrant African beat.
After lunch, I wandered around the resort and snapped photos. The local craft merchants all lined up at the along a rope edge of the property where it enters the beach, and boisterously hawked their goods. There were some young men selling horseback rides along the beach. One of the best sights I saw was a young woman wearing a traditional skirt, with a T-shirt that read “Obama Girl”!
We then headed back to the ship and stopped at one more giant craft market. I got out with only a refrigerator magnet that can be converted to a Christmas ornament for our travel tree, but the merchants were very persuasive.
As the ship sailed away, Jim and I went up on deck for a cocktail and to watch the sunset. When a rain storm moved in, I did a little more research on the county. There had been a brief mention of some terrorist activity in the country earlier this year in the port briefing, but we didn’t really connect the dots. While we were waiting for the rain to pass, I took my curiosity online and learned that in March, the very same hotel where we had enjoyed lunch had been attacked by armed terrorist who shot and killed 19 people. While we were both really glad we hadn’t known this before we set out, we felt very safe the whole day with our police escort, and we learned that the country has had a huge increase in security forces and practices. With this knowledge, another cocktail was in order, as we look forward to arriving in the much more stable country of Ghana tomorrow.