The driver fixed the tyre around 3am and we got into Ganta ten minutes later. I tried to check into a hotel for a few hours, but the cheapest place wanted €25 for a grotty little room that I wouldn’t pay a fiver to stay in even if it came with a Vimto lollypop. I really don’t understand how they can justify charging these ridiculous prices, in a country where most people survive on less than a dollar a day, who the hell can afford to stay there? It’s not like there’s a ton of tourists passing through these parts. Gah!
So I headed over to the shared taxi area, asked them to wake me when the taxi was full and slept in the passenger seat. In the end, it was taking so long to find anyone else who wanted to head on to the border, I jumped a motorbike for the frontier.
Arriving at the border later that morning, I said my goodbyes to Liberia and entered Cote D’Ivoire. A quick lesson in Cote D’Ivoire current affairs: the country is split in two and has been for number of years. The north is run by the ‘rebels’ and the south by the ‘government’, but they are really just two autocratic political parties who wouldn’t know what a free and fair election was if it slapped them in the face with a wet kipper.
ANYWAY, there’s going to be an election in November, upon which the Ivoirians are pinning their hopes to, like a drowning man clinging to a rock. With any luck, one party will win convincingly and the other party will accept the will of the people.
The only feasible border with Liberia is in the Northern (rebel) half of the country.
Here goes nothin’…
I got tapped by the guy on the border for 5000CFA (about €7) but I managed to get away with just giving him 1000. The bloody visa cost me $75 so I wasn’t in the mood for being generous. Then I had to try to get to the next town. Ha. Not easy. There were less people at the border than there will be at Gary Glitter’s funeral. I eventually – after MUCH haggling – got a motorbike taxi to take me to the next town. West Africans do not have much in common with their North African counterparts – they have no concept whatsoever of the joy of haggling. They just fire an outrageous price at you and then stick to it no matter what, even if it is transparently une-tax-anglais.
So I climbed on this motorbike and blimey – I thought the road was bad on the Liberian side. This was more like the obstacle course from ‘Junior Kick Start’ than the main highway between two nations. We made it through the first several checkpoints (one every kilometre, seriously) without incident, but then about halfway to Danané the police pointed out that the back tyre was flat and so the driver went off to find a mechanic.
Getting tired of waiting, another motorbike taxi came by and the police suggested that I get on the back of it. The only problem was that there was already a rather large lady passenger. By now, my behind was already hurting pretty badly but after a quick argument between my original driver and this other guy, I was sitting behind this lady on the metal luggage rack, carrying all my bags which were as heavy as hell. Every time we went over a pothole, I winced. And there were a LOT of potholes. It wasn’t until later when I got to the hotel that I realised why I was in so much pain… I had two HUGE ant/spider/snake/something nasty bites on my bottom.
But for now, I just had to grin and bear it.
I got to Danané around 3pm, keen to press on to the capital (in all but name) Abidjan. I was told that there was a bus going at six, and was mighty excited. Then I found out that it was leaving at six in the morning. Normally, I would find some other way of getting on, but hell, I’m in a rebel-controlled bit of a country. I thought it best to wait until morning.
The guy at the bus station was incredibly helpful. He sorted me out with a ticket and took me to the hotel down the road in the bus! He chatted with the hotel owner and got me a really good price. Top bloke!
I should mention at this point that Lonely Planet have sent me a new camera op. His name is Rocco and while I doubt he will be as sexy as Laura, I’m sure he’ll do a good job. The thing is he’s in Accra, the capital of Ghana. He arrived today. I’m kinda a little off schedule because I didn’t breeze through Guinea as quickly as I had hoped, so I could catch the Sierra Leone embassies before it got to the weekend. I wanted to arrive in Ghana tomorrow night, but now that I’m staying in Danané, I guess I’ll be getting in on Saturday.
I also intended to spend this afternoon catching up with my blogs and maybe – maybe – actually getting some video editing down. As it was, I sprayed a ton of liquid Germoline on my oh-my-god-my-skin-has-gone-black bum bites, winced like a rabbit getting a paper cut and fell fast asleep.
I. LOVE. COUCHSURFING!!!! Sorry, just had to get that off my chest. Now, where was I?
Oh yes, Danané, Cote D’Ivoire.
Got to the bus station for 6am. The minibus didn’t leave until 7.20am, but for West Africa that’s LIGHTING FAST. We headed out along some of the best roads I’ve seen since Morocco – DUAL CARRIAGEWAYS! Armco Barriers! Road signs that TELL YOU WHERE YOU ARE!! My word. They weren’t joking when they said that Cote D’Ivoire was once one of the richest countries in the whole of Africa.
Not now it isn’t, though. Too busy fighting over who gets to squander their country’s future on flashy German cars, holiday homes in the Azores and sending their kids to Oxford. The life’s ambition of horrible men with diseased minds who don’t care how many children have to die as long as they get to show the world how much tasteless jewellery they have bought their wives. The more I travel through Africa, the more that I see the human beings who live here are nothing more than an inconvenience for the governments that purport to serve them – a nuisance that has to be put up with while the natural resources are plundered and the environment raped for all it’s worth. It’s no wonder that so many of them want to leave – nine people today asked me for my address so that I can help them with their visa – but, like I said in ‘The Brain Drain’ blog, it’s the worst thing they can do, for themselves and their countries.
But that’s another story.
Incidentally, I have encountered remarkably little rain in West Africa, which is surprising considering it’s the rainy season. It should be monsoon central at the moment. I had an umbrella for a bit, but I didn’t use it, so I wasn’t too bothered when I lost it the other day. Next time somebody WHO HAS NEVER DRILLED AN ICE CORE IN THE ANTARCTIC or NEVER ANALYSED A WEATHER BALLOON IN THE MESOSPHERE tells me that all the ‘evidence isn’t all in’ for climate change, I may find myself strapping them to a balloon and sending them up to the edge of space to choke on the excess CO2 themselves.
Mutiny, I promise you.
Right, back to Earth… I got to Abidjan at about 7pm – remarkably close to the time I was told we would arrive. Mandy had once again been weaving her magic on Couchsurfing and had secured me a friend for the evening. Aya was a wonderful Ivoirian who spoke remarkably good English (better than mine, to be honest). She had an amazing flat in the Riviera area of town and had a high-powered job working for a mobile phone company.
After delighting in the (wonderful, wonderful) hot shower and carefully examining (and filming) my insect bites – Matt’s going to have a bit of a shock when he uploads that tape to his Mac… hope he hasn’t just had his lunch – we hit the town for a bite to eat. I guess that if you just flew in from New York or Melbourne, you wouldn’t think too much of the Abidjan’s sky-scratchers, but after spending the last two months in West Africa, I felt like Crocodile Dundee.
Wow. A city. A real city. Remarkable!
Aja brought her sister along for the meal, which was scrummy-delightful, and Aja insisted on picking up the tab. Did I mention how much I love Couchsurfing already? One of my ambitions is to make a friend in every country, and so far I’m doing rather well. That night, I got the spare room all to myself – a double-bed so comfortable that I fell asleep before my head had hit the pillow.
Aja and I had a good chat over breakfast about the future of Cote D’Ivoire. She says that she’s as optimistic as she can be about the elections in November – it’s as if the whole country is holding its breath until then.
As for the ‘What The Hell Is Wrong With Africa’ question, her take on the matter is that most people who want to leave (which is like pretty much everyone) have no realistic concept of what Europe is like and so it can – and does – take on an air of a fantasyland in which you can pluck money from the trees and the streets are paved with gold. The Big Rock Candy Mountain. Of course, the reality is very different.
Aja was lucky enough to visit London a number of times when she was younger so she could see for herself it was no Big Whoop. She was quite blunt about the subject – why on Earth would I want to leave my home, my family and my friends and work every hour that God sends to live in a cold flat in a cold city when I can work fewer hours and have a much higher standard of living by staying in Cote D’Ivoire?
All we have to do now is explain that to the rest of Africa.
After wishing Aja all the best and thanking her profusely for her hospitality, I got a taxi over to the eastern Gare to get transport to the border, which was provided in the form of a minibus. We reached the frontier with Ghana in heap good time and my border crossing was remarkably smooth.
Once on the Ghana side of things, I managed to squeeze onto another bus for the capital – Accra.
At last. I arrived about 7pm and headed over to the Novotel hotel where Rocco the Cameraman was lurking in room 605. It was like arriving on another planet. I’m not one for Proper Hotels at the best of times, and so far on The Odyssey, when I use the term ‘hotel’, it is in the loosest possible meaning of the word. It’s usually a euphemism for ‘guest house’, ‘B&B’. ‘youth hostel’, ‘backpackers’ or ‘cockroach infested hovel’.
But at least all the places that I’ve stayed in so far had a bit of personality. You’ve got to have a bit of The Bad and The Ugly to really appreciate The Good, but these homogenised chain hotels really break my heart. It’s the lack of humanity – I experience a similar kind of melancholy in airports, supermarkets and shopping malls. A place where nobody gives a damn about you, who you are or what you do. They just don’t want you to complain. Or sue.
After leaving Mandy in Australia in June 2002, I headed over to New Zealand. I arrived in the Backpackers in Christchurch at around 7pm, blue as hell and in the mood for going straight to bed and having a little cry. By 8pm, I was with ten new-found mates in an Irish Bar, watching that Ireland v Italy game. By 10pm, the bartender was dispensing free drinks and I was dancing on the bar and hugging strangers.
Has this sort of thing ever happened to anyone turning up on their own in a chain hotel? Of course not, Hilton would have a pink fit at the very idea of a bunch of guests getting together and going out on the lash, I mean, really – could you imagine! But that is not the only time that has happened – every backpackers I stay in will generally result in a mini-adventure, usually involving beer, dancing and a good time had by all.
But I wasn’t paying, so tonight I will not complain. Or sue.
Rocco the cameraman reminds me of Scott Jones (which is proper odd as Matt the Producer reminds me of Stuart Lanceley). He is classic Aussie stock and his level of humour is just as low as mine (and Matt the Producer’s), which means that we should get on just dandy. I could think of nothing worse than being lumbered with a sourpuss who didn’t think Michael Jackson dying was the funniest thing that’s happened for ages. Oh don’t look at me like that, I’m not the one who put wine in Coke cans, gave it to small children, called it ‘Jesus Juice’ and then…well, you know.
After a quick shower (two in a row, my word – I might actually be, you know, clean if I keep this up), Rocco and I met up with Tanko, the legend to end all legends. He had brought with him, my other passport (thanks Dad!), a replacement sleeping bag (thanks Mum!) and an emergency GPS thing (thanks Alex!).
Tanko and his brother then took us out for a bite to eat. I asked for classic Ghanan fare, and that’s what we got – a ton of meat for ‘starters’ and what I can only describe as SPECIAL CHILLI FROM THE NEW PARKGATE for mains. I don’t care that Special Chilli means nothing to most of the people reading this… THOSE IN THE KNOW will know EXACTLY what I’m on about. Just goes to show you that great minds (in this case, those of Ghana and China) think alike. The great thing is that I was pining for Special Chilli the other day – I didn’t get to grab some while I was in Liverpool. By the time that I had finished it, I was fuller than Gilbert Grape’s mum’s left welly.
Tanko Hamza – you utter legend! I retired, sleepy, full and happy. I slept in my Novotel bed, not caring one sot that they had probably folded the end of the toilet paper into a little triangle and placed a strip of paper over the toilet seat to let us know it had been ‘Sanitised For Your Convenience’.