Ivory Coast was compared to other African countries a blank space in our heads. We barely knew anything about what to see and do and none of our guidebooks covered the country due to its recent civil war. But once again we were in for an amazingly positive surprise.
Once through immigration the track led through a beautifully forested landscape dotted with mud brick villages. We were immediately reminded about Guinea Conakry as the people were greeting us with big smiles and waves. Road blocks simply waved us through and we made it easily to the mountain town Man. Yet again we found refuge in one of the most expensive hotels where we could camp for free and explored the animated market. The higher elevation gave us a welcome retreat from the humidity of the coast and all along a hill weavers were at work. They created beautiful white and blue strips of cloth at an amazing speed and Fabian bought himself two of the armless shirts that are created out of those.
With the soon expiring visa for Ghana pushing us forward we unfortunately did not linger long and drove straight onto the capital Yamoussoukro. On the way we stopped at one of the numerous little roadside markets filled with fresh produce and amazingly humorous people and bought about 2,5kg of avocados for less than 1€. After crossing a large dam supplying the region with electricity we found a beautiful wild camping spot with view on the vast lake. A bit scary was the fact that we saw people with metal detectors scanning the area later and we hoped it was not due to mines that might have been planted around the dam during the civil war. When returning the same way the following day the police roadblock at the other end of the dam stopped us as we were apparently not allowed to cross without special permission in the first place. The officer in command had to make due with some smiles as there was no cadeau to be had.
Yamoussoukro might be the official capital but there is not much that would hint to its status as almost everything is still happening in the metropolis Abidjan further south. Huge 8 lane highways cross the city with barely a car in sight and most areas come closer to a ghost town than a capital. The arguably only attraction for visitors in the area is the large Basilica of Our Lady of Peace which we could already spot from afar. The ex-president has ordered the construction of this with 158m highest church in the world resembling the St. Peters Dome in Rome. Estimations are that 300 million USD were spent to construct this massive building which the ex-president paid out of his own pocket – obviously he had grabbed more than his fair share during his exorbitantly long reign.
Whatever one might think about spending such a sum on a single church basically in the middle of nowhere in a country where enough people struggle to make a living at all, the place is definitely impressive. We arrived in front of the area and found ourselves in front of a closed gate. Thinking that it might be closed for visitors on Saturday we sneaked some photos through the bars and wanted to head on before we found out that the entrance is at the far side of the area – oops. Once registered we met our dedicated guide who gave us a highly informative tour in surprisingly good English. Individually air-conditioned seats, speakers hidden in huge pillars and a sophisticated sound swallowing layer to fight echoes left us convinced that this was the most modern church we have ever been in – even though it was finished when we were born. On the roof of the building a group of Pakistani UN Peacekeepers came running towards us to take endless photos with the interesting white people.
On the same day we pushed on towards Grand Bassam on a freshly finished highway that does not have to fear comparison with a German Autobahn. Crossing Abidjan we were astonished about the high rise buildings and general modernity of the place and could have thought about spending a few days exploring the city were it not for our time frame. On arrival in Grand Bassam it was getting very late again and we asked at about every single hotel or campement whether we were allowed to camp for a night until one had mercy and let us stay in exchange for us eating in the expensive restaurant.
We had to leave early the next morning though before the rich weekend visitors arrived so they would not be shocked by us dirty gypsies. After exploring some of the remaining colonial buildings and some weird fish and rice breakfast we were off towards the border with Ghana where friendly officials guided us through the exit process before wishing us “bonne route!”.
In retro perspective we have to say that we would have loved to spend more time in this country with its amazingly friendly people and will have to come back to spend an appropriate amount of time there.
PS: More photos are to be found in the gallery.