After already backtracking from one river that was waist deep, we had to cross this one.
We'd camped in a village not far beyond the border town and soon had a decent sized crowd gathered around us. Tents were pegged down in case the storm actually hit (it didn't) and cook team started setting up. Small things can excite us at this stage, like the prospect of meat for dinner after more than a week without due to weather and lack of ice but now we had ice and meat (and cold bottles of water!) and we sat around waiting. Usually there'd be more interaction with the locals but being bumped around and having to hold on and duck branches was draining so although maybe not much of an excuse, most sat quietly. Dinner was a delicious beef and rice stew and I went to bed soon after, desperate to catch up on sleep.
This morning we got a lie-in; breakfast wasn't until 06:30! But we still need to have tents down before breakfast so the alarm went off at 05:50am. A small crowd had gathered again making us walk further for ideal bathroom spots, quite conspicuous with our roll of toilet paper and shovel!
Then it was off
The air filter was removed because it was too low.
for another day of bumpity bump on the roads, barely there bridges and muddy potholes. At one river crossing the water was above the knees but we had no choice. Suse and Talbot removed the air filter which is quite low to the ground and sealed the hole with a rag and plastic and then clamped it tight. We walked across through the water, my flip flop coming apart in the thick mud and Rhys losing his altogether. I'm sure some of us held our breath as Suse drove into the water but it was all good and they were soon across.
It took a lot less time to get the air filter off than it did to put it on again and for once it was cooler sitting on the truck rather than standing in the sun. A local man helped and was rewarded with a bottle of Coke and a few empty water bottles and grinned like mad.
Along we went, most listening to iPods and looking out at the lush green scenery or attempting to sleep whilst holding onto a headrest. The road we were on was marked as a white road on the map,
meaning pretty bad. A yellow and red line means super highway, a yellow line is a primary road, red is a secondary road and then white. I hung out the window, waving at people and taking photos and listening to my iPod. Definitely a different feel here and it was only when I saw the pylons, billboards and more cars that I realised Guinea had none of the above.
And then, finally. A sealed, smooth, tar road! Yay! Suse picked up speed amid much cheering and after a quick stop for food for dinner, we were on our way to Man. A beautiful sunset accompanied us and palm trees lined the road. We pulled into a hotel at dusk and they kindly let us set up tents in their grounds but many opted to upgrade to rooms. I missed out on one with air con but the fan did a decent job. Water was delivered in buckets and many jumped at the chance to wash. Dinner was served, beer was drank and spirits were high. Now if only it wasn't so humid...
A restless night feeling sick, probably due to
dehydration so I'm drinking a lot of water today with rehydration salts. We're staying here another day in hope of seeing waterfalls and stilt dancing so I spent the morning sitting as still as possible in the humidity. It wasn't much use though.
Suse, Toni and I took a taxi into town and got a foot long baguette with steak, onion, tomato and lettuce for $US3 which was excellent before heading out to the waterfall to meet anyone else. I was sitting in the back looking out the window and bizarrely, saw a group of foreigners walking down the street. Once my head registered that it was our gang, we stopped next to them and found out there was no water at the falls! Again! So we're at 0/2 for waterfalls and will definitely stop looking for them - especially after they had to hike a mile uphill to find out.
We returned to the hotel and chilled while we waited to leave at 4pm to see the stilt dancing. After a lot of bother with the hotel staff who were organising it, we didn't have very high hopes. The sun would soon depart for the day meaning
Preparing the bridge
One of the worse bridges we came across; the guys had to find wood to fill gaps that we would've gone through
photos were less and less likely and most were frustrated, thinking it was going to be a load of rubbish. How wrong we were...
It began with the sound of very loud music coming closer and closer and at the top of the driveway, a ute appeared, the back FULL of men and boys playing drums and singing and in the middle of them all a person wearing green and gold with an ornamental head piece and their face covered. We instantly perked up and realised it was the real deal. A minivan was flagged down and 17 people crammed in (folks, don't try this at home) and followed the sounds out of town passing stunned locals and confused police at the city limit checkpoint, stopping for petrol which is poured in from glass bottles sitting on the side of the road (a common sight). Not far down the road we stopped at a village and locals starting arriving by the dozens to see the spectacle. It was absolutely amazing. Egged on by the drummers, the stilt dancer had climbed off the back of the car and began dancing around on the side of the road. Everyone watched wide
The guys sitting up top are armed and you see them on all vehicles. Not sure whether they're security, militia, passengers or all of the above
eyed while the stilt dancer made a dash at the crowds and they scattered, adults and children alike, some falling over themselves to get away. We knew this was something that was only performed on special occasions (we later found out it was last performed for the president's visit to the area!) but I was definitely in awe of how special this was. No tourists have ever seen what we saw and it's very possible it will stay that way. How cool is that?!
We were ushered down the street and into a clearing at the edge of the houses and Suse made sure that the organisers knew the locals were invited. Next thing we knew, the stilt dancer was running - running! - up a rough path to where the chief of the village and his son sat awaiting our arrival. Long wooden benches were put out for us foreigners to sit on and everyone else crowded around, the drummers and singers being directly opposite me. And then it began.
I should say here that we were still making bets between ourselves as to whether the stilt dancer was male or female. It was thought that there
Women numbering possibly close to one hundred walked past our truck carrying what looked like oil. No idea why unfortunately
was a significant chest there but I disagreed, thinking it was just folds of material. Whoever it was they were unbelievably agile and talented, moving more confidently than some of us move with our own feet flat on the ground!!
Hopefully I'll be able to put a video up for you to see as it's difficult to explain what they did. I'm sure it's some kind of ceremony but with no internet access, I haven't had a chance to look it up. This became more obvious when the stilt dancer spoke to his ... Let's call him the Right Hand Man and looked directly at us, specifically at Justice. What looked like a clump of hair held together with string was put in his lap and he was motioned up into the middle of the circle, first removing his shoes. Hilarity ensured. With the drums, tamborines, shakers and singing, Justice started dancing opposite the stilt dancer. We were cracking up and the locals cheered him on. It was brilliant; another totally surreal moment. After the dance finished, Justice was told to make a cash offering and it continued with Nico being invited in. Soon, the majority of the guys
We couldn't go anywhere in the torrential rain on these roads
had been asked to get up but Ben's was classic. I was laughing so much I was practically crying; his dance moves receiving squeals of delight from the crowds. It seemed to be only something the men did but Ben moved behind Steph and he and Suse pointed at her, trying to get them to let her up. Mr Right Hand Man looked at the stilt dancer who nodded, ever so slightly and Steph was up. Man she can move. The crowd went wild, as did we and after she was done, the others started being called up. Thankfully I was not as I'm not sure I'd be able to refuse (out of respect) but I sure as hell didn't want to dance!
It was followed up by an offering to the chief. Cassava was put in a large wooden pestle of sorts which was then placed on top of the stilt dancer who was now laying on the ground. Two men pounded it with large mortars and it can't have been comfortable. It was around this time that most came to the conclusion it was a male performer. After standing again, he picked the pestle up above his
We all got out to walk and assist Suse down the road
head and when it became to heavy and he dropped it, the thud upon landing told us just how heavy it was.
And then, it was over. Which was perfect timing because it was getting dark, ants were crawling up my legs and I needed a toilet. We thanked the chief and his son and made our way down towards the vehicles, followed by the stilt dancer and children (who were still doing their best to stay out of his way!). We squished back into the minivan and retraced our steps back to town, once again stopping for petrol. Outside the hotel premises, the performers waved goodbye and continued down the street, still drumming and singing and we walked down the driveway with huge smiles on our face and continued to discuss our experience well into the evening.
Brian and I sat up front for what proved to be a long drive day, beginning at 7am. I'd had little sleep and was feeling light-headed as we set off for the capital, Yamoussoukro. The roads were meant to be good and we were hoping for an easy enough drive. Alas, I had left
my map reading skills behind and at a Y junction we went right when we should've gone left. Crap. The road would still get us to our intended destination with only an additional 25km but as we were now on a secondary road, I held my breath in fear of dreaded potholes. Thankfully they were few and far between, mainly found near villages we passed through. On two occasions we came across groups of men who were blocking the road with tree branches, only allowing vehicles through after 'payment' was made. I think it would've been more intimidating if we'd been in a car or minivan but being in a truck our size, Suse could - and would - drive over the branches with ease if need be. Instead, I handed out the small pouches of water that are kept for situations like this and satisfied, they moved the branches and we continued on our way.
We could see the city limits coming into view when all of a sudden from above the palm trees appeared a giant dome top. It was the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace, modelled on St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City. It was a
The road conditions made it almost impossible to do anything except hold on.
bizarre sight, this massive building set on huge manicured grounds in the oddest of locations. A few of us went in and marvelled at the beautiful stained glass windows and giggled at the elevators in the pillars that take you up to the next level and outside, with views towards the coastline and city. Construction began in 1986 and only took three years to complete, with builders working round the clock. The Pope then visited and blessed it in 1998. It holds 7,000 people and the top of the dome is 320 tonnes of polished aluminium which took 17 hours to lift with a hydraulic lift. Pretty impressive.
From there we stopped in the market for lunch and dinner supplies before continuing on to Abidjan. We were pushing to get there so we could apply for visas the next morning if we were given the go ahead but got stuck behind four large trucks for ages, slowing us down. Eventually the road turned into a dual carriageway and we could overtake but we still didn't hit the outskirts of Abidjan until after sunset. Leaning out the window of the truck, I tried to flag down a taxi with the intention
of us following him. After a couple of weak flaps, I was determined to flap harder and succeeded in stopping a taxi. I showed him the address of the camping grounds (my French pronunciation being somewhat different to that of a fluent speaker's) and he told me to 'go straight. Straight, straight, straight'. Okay, so my French isn't great but by now I understand a lot more and I repeated it with hand movements and he confirmed it. Uh huh. We drove straight and within minutes hit a Y intersection. This continued until the third taxi driver who did understand we were going to follow him but didn't understand we weren't driving like maniacs in a massive truck to keep up! To top it off, he drove through red lights and stopped on the other side to wait for us! Very strange. But he got us there and even refused payment, though I insisted and he accepted gratefully. And so, with the truck securely parked behind a locked gate, we set about preparing dinner and setting up tents. I could hear the waves behind the makeshift wall of scrap metal and wood and couldn't wait to see it tomorrow.
It is humid. Humid, humid, humid and it made me grumpy. Or I made me grumpy. Either way I felt drained before the day even began and after serving french toast and pineapple for breakfast, I dragged my feet around the campsite. Not being an overly big campsite meant I couldn't do much more than circles but I managed to get it together and Denise and I decided to head into town and take a look at the most modern city we'd seen so far. I decided I might skip dinner with the gang and find something different in town - like the Vietnamese we'd passed yesterday - when Justice came over and said there was an idea going around that we might all do dinner in town! Yessss! Denise and I were heading in earlier and said we'd sort out a reservation and let the rest know and my spirits lifted immensely. I messed around half-heartedly trying to catch one of the many lizards in the area and then had my turn with the bucket shower. I'm getting used to them and the idea that we use far, far too much water when showering (which
The roads weren't exactly designed for a truck like ours!
I'm totally guilty of doing). This water was even warm, having sat out in the sun in large basins. I shared my shower with a small gecko who watched me from the rafters and felt refreshed for all of maybe a minute. The minute I put clothes back on, I was sweating again. Ugh.
And so, the adventure began. We crossed the hectic four lanes to the other side and hailed a taxi with a male passenger in the front. It's normal to jump in a shared taxi and I showed the driver the address we wanted to go to and off we went. Then less than a mile down the road, he stopped and called over another man who got in the back and asked to see the address. I was already starting to feel like we picked the wrong taxi but he said he knew and we pushed on, stopping for petrol on the way. It was around this time that I felt a tingling sensation in my hands that I'd attributed to a steam burn while cooking the previous night. But when my toes started as well, it dawned on me that it might be a reaction
to the Doxy (anti-malaria pills) I was taking. It was an awful feeling that ended up lasting the majority of the evening. Anyway.
It turns out that Abidjan is set up something like Manhattan on an island that's about 12 km long. The address I'd given him was at the eleventh mile mark. Um, no. We began trying to tell them that no, they didn't need to look at the address for the hundredth time and that we'd get out here. Eventually at a traffic light, I did just that. We'd been in the car for almost an hour at this stage and it was too much. Then the price haggling began. He tried to charge us ** which was absolutely ridiculous and after a heated debate, we paid 5,000 just to get out of there. It then cost us another 3,000 to get back to the restaurant I'd seen the night before but at least we were there. We went for lunch around the corner and were stupidly excited by the menu after weeks of basic food items. Ham and cheese croissants! BLTs! Chocolate milkshakes! We ordered it all and although it was expensive (we belatedly realised), we were
The restaurant opened at 6pm and after checking out the menu, confirmed with the rest of the gang for a 7:30 dinner. The first taxi turned up at 8pm but we soon realised the other two weren't there. Some arrived on foot having been dropped off around the corner and recognising where they were but four others had vanished altogether! We later found out there's approximately ten Vietnamese restaurants in Abidjan alone and they'd been taken to a different one. The food was delicious (and the air con divine!) and all were satisfied as we headed back to the campsite.
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