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Published: March 14th 2008
That's right...I went to the Ivory Coast! Was it a bit nuts, scary, sketchy and everything else you'd imagine it to be? DAMN STRAIGHT it was!!
Heather, Christina and I decided to go to the Ivory Coast for 4 days - three girls, on our own - we knew it would be a bit sketch but as adventurous as we are we were up for it! Three of our other friends were going to go with us but then when they went to the embassy (US citizens don't need a visa but Alessandro is from Italy) they were told that US citizens DO need a visa. We didnt have enough time to apply so the there of us girls decided we would just head for the border (about 5 hours) and try to cross anyways. When we got to the border there were no probs about not having a visa - they happily stamped our passports- but before that we were stopped to show our yellow fever certificates. While we all had these they also checked to see about meningitis - which we all had had but they were not written down in our vaccination card. They were dead set about not letting us pass without getting it done right then and there. Now I have experienced a lot here in Africa and have come to terms with walking in garbage, seeing feces all over, having my feet be permanently dirty, etc. but there was no way that I was about to let anyone poke me at the border in the Ivory Coast. So after a good 30+ minutes of pleading with them they let us cross.
Our next step was trying to figure out how to get to Abidjan (the capital in everything but name) from the border. There was a bus that would bring us halfway but then we'd have to catch another bus to get us the rest of the way. Not knowing what laid ahead of us in the country we were nervous about traveling after dark and wanted to get there as soon as possible - PS. The State Dept. warns against all travel to the country and State Dept. employees living in the country are not allowed to travel more than 35km (20 miles or so) outside of Abidjan without prior approval (just to give you an idea of what we were facing ahead of us). So we were told that we could hire a taxi to bring us which we decided to do. SKETCHY SKETCHY SKETCHY! He wasnt really a taxi but a dude just traveling back who had his small car full of booze and "peanuts". So what should have been 2 hours or so to Abidjan ended up taking us 5 - there were majorly armed checkpoints from the border to the city every 5-10 minutes. Machine guns, rifles (you could tell they had been made for child soldiers because they were soo tiny on the buff men that had them strapped around their shoulders). Every checkpoint he had to bribe the men with the peanuts and alcohol since we decided we were NOT going to pay for any such ridiculous bribes! We were stuck at 2 checkpoints for about an hour each since we refused..one general started arguing with me after i told him in french that i would refuse to pay the 5 cfs (about 10 bucks - he wanted us each to pay) - we would have been broke by the time we reached the border with the 25-35 or so checkpoints! We finally got to Abidjan and tried to find the hotel that we had wanted to stay in, unfortunately, any of the current guidebooks on Cote d'Ivoire cannot be trusted since no one has been on the ground to do actual research for the past 10 years or so (lonely planet, etc.). So we finally found a dump that was nasty and way too expensive but it was better than wandering the streets in the dark. We ate at a Lebanese restaurant and went to bed. The next morning we got up early to head north to Yamassoukro (the real capital). We had been told by the men at the Lebanese restaurant that it would be too dangerous for us.
We got up early the next morning and took the 3+ hour bus ride north to Yamassoukro. Nothing really there except for the basilica that is a replica of the Vatican - actually its larger than the vatican. The views from up top were amazing...though the church itself was too much for my liking - tacky decor we all thought for a church! However, it was kind of neat because it was given as a gift to the Vatican so being there was actually being on "vatican soil" and not "ivorian" since . UN cars were all over Yamassoukro as well as Abidjan itself. You ask locals about the civil war and they say its over. You ask foreigners (all with UN or NGOs,etc.) and the Ivorian military and police and they say its still going on. After visiting the Basilica we went to the old President's house where its guarded by tons of military and CROCODILES! These things would def have given any of those crocodile hunters a run for their money - I've never seen them soo freakin big!
The next day we went back to Abidjan since besides the basilica there wasn't anything else to see or do in Yamassoukro. We went to one of the expat areas cause we found a french restaurant that we wanted to eat at. After eating there we were trying to find out what we should do next when we ran into this huge muscular dude. We asked him where we could find a bar or something and he ended up driving us to the most amazing bar/restaurant where they had wild animals running around (some crazy ass deer-like animal the size of a dog, monkeys, birds, etc.). It was outside and was beautiful. He ended up being from Morocco but works for a French security firm - and when I say security I mean he was responsible for getting all the foreigners out of Abidjan when the civil war broke out back in 2004. He ended up taking us back to his house - amazing with a swimming pool and everything for only 1000 bucks a month! He showed us the videos of 2004 when he and his men went in and got the people out of their homes (they pay the security company or the company that they work for, such as Nestle, pays for this). We saw footage of the Ivorians in the streets, bodies, guns going off, fires, etc! Soo crazy! He had crazy guns that he showed us and let us wear his bullet proof vests - my friend heather held some of the guns but I've never even touched a gun and have no desire to. He then took us out for some Moroccan food which was soo good cause its all the stuff that I ate in Egypt and am missing dearly! While we were with him his radio kept going off because of stuff happening up in the north with the rebels.
I would have loved to have traveled north but with the rebels in control (I do have some sense to avoid some things!) we didn't even try. Cote d'Ivoire is an absolutely beautiful beautiful beautiful country but we were constantly feeling sketched out with all the military all over the place. The people were really nice though and were surprised but soo happy to have some tourists instead of just UN and other government and NGO people around.
Lots of crazy stuff going on here at camp but will def write another blog ...soon I promise! Ill be coming home the second week of may or so. love to all! ~D
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