As soon as I reach the first town into this new country I feel a great change. The people are having a refreshing mindset where none is asking, all seem to working and a few are even giving. A real nice change after Senegal, Gambia, both Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia where most people where asking only. I feel a pleasant sense of easiness over the people.
The Ivorian give me a feeling that it is normal that I am among them, even though I am a woman on my own, cycling through the country, sleeping in the bush, hauling a bicycle or being far behind three other cyclists. People are friendly, hospitable, warm and welcoming. This country is, oh so wrong to say, civilized. I receive a feeling that I am one of them and I am not disturbed by loud screams, staring and receiving a feeling of a complete outcast.
A great new feeling
Having said that, after leaving Danane, the first town in Ivory Coast where there’s tarmac again, we decide to spend the night next to a water put. Because we’d run out of our water supply, but need water to cook and to start the following day, we end up in a small village. It’s terrible! It’s just so terrible annoying! The whole blissful feeling of this new country is completely killed by an overdose of audience!
Now we are with four people and this being our first camping experience into a village we must seem madly insane for the locals. Three white hairy man and a lone female, erecting their synthetic sheets as their house for the night, all bundled on to their bicycles. There’s no hierarchy among these four white people who are staying the night beside a water put: where one white hairy man is preparing a fire, another hairy and even whiter man is cutting onions while the third hairy white man is fixing his puncture and the lone woman, she’s clearly disturbed by all the audience’s noises and lack of personal space.
I have the unfriendly habit of asking an audience to stop watching, after an hour or so. When the show’s not madly changing it’s ongoing I think audience must know where to step back and give some privacy. Privacy, of course, is something unknown to Africans. Personal space is ridiculous, non existing and weird. My unfriendly habit of asking for leaving the stage of where the show’s going on comes forth out being in India, where I would sometimes just cover my whole face in order to have that personal space and feeling of privacy. All covered up, no one sees me. A very different way of doing things, but it helps. Here, however, I can’t cover up my whole face with a non-see-through cloth. I have to do things; put up my tent, gather water, prepare food and tea and having recently acquired ear problems all sounds are coming to me as a bundle of pressured sounds like hundreds of truck horns.
The audience is having a little party where we are the center of. When we eat -yes, quite elaborate- we are being watched and when we go into the bush to unload our belly’s we are being watched. And when we eat a dessert -yes, luxurious- we are being watched. And when we do the dishes we are being watched and when we wash our face we are being watched and when I change my dirty cycle clothes for less dirty sleeping clothes we are being watched. Thankfully, Yves, aware of my tired state of being, my ear problem and my desire for some time with the three white man alone, ask the audience to go back to their houses and leave us some privacy. Apart from a couple of teenage boys we are left by ourselves. Finally. Time to sleep. And only once to wake up by rain, four white bodies erecting out of their mobile homes to spread an extra synthetic layer over their tents…
Cycling on to Man we do it in a relative easy-going pace, except for Brendan. His rim is now so much cracked that he speeds up quick and far in front of us. Ever speeding brother Oliver decides to take on the turtle pace and I see him often cycling alongside me. Talking, discussing interesting subjects where I have too little breath for, the route is still going up and down and I have long, long stopped wishing for an even earth. I am tired… sometimes it’s bothering me, this high paced life style. I have to do everything on the go. My Ortlieb bag is broken but have no time and place to fix it. I have no rest. Where the guys are fine with leaving the campsite without washing themselves, I want to wash my face, at least. And eat a decent breakfast too. By now, my bicycle is smeared with dirt, my bags broken, my legs scratched. I look most wild.
Man is a nice city. People seem to be more prosperous. Positive. In comparison with Liberia the people of the Ivory Coast seem to be happy, uplifted. I see a lot of motorbikes, bakeries and places to sit down at actual tables and real chairs. Instead of warnings against drugs, alcohol and aids there are a lot of big advertisements, promising an overwhelming capital, where drinking the right fizzy drink and being white is important. Many supermarkets are run by Lebanese, more money can be spent. Pharmacists are stocked up with western items. People sit down, drink coffee made by serious espresso machines. Women are done with their sweaty wigs and a lot of very short-haired heads are to be seen. Beautiful, round skulls where the features of those women express themselves more strongly. Men are straight-forwarded, friendly and flirtatious (ranked as the third most unfaithful man in the world!) but never annoying. Ah… it’s good to be here!
Eating, washing and no rest
I treasure Yves, he’s a man more in synch with my rhythm, blessed with a slower general pace. I am in need of some good rest, and although I can not have rest in city’s where the energy level is lifting me up, swirling me through the air and leaving me more exhausted than at arrival, I do need to unwind. We stay two full days and I clean the chain of my bicycle, rinse my tent for the first time, clean the Primus stove, wash all the laundry while the boy of the hotel washes my stinky Keen sandals. I did not ask him to do this, he just did it. Nursing little wounds are to be done, a lot of eating, preparing tea and finding internet which works.
What I treasure most is our communal food intake. Can’t call it eating anymore. The way we eat is absurd. The quantity we shove in is more than double. One table is not enough, we need two to give room to the many plates we order, one after another. The mango’s brought in by Brendan, the fish I bought to go with the omelet, the avocado’s from Yves, the bananas from Oliver, all this as breakfast. While we eat I watch, and I see four nearly starving creatures, fingers dripping with oil, food splashing around, hungry, without manners. I image the four of us being invited by one of our parents and I have to laugh, because we would be a show!
I discover the town on my own, walk through the unpaved, uneven lanes where massive warehouses full of certified cacao and coffee are being prepared for export. Most warehouses are run by Lebanese, one of them is Hamade Hussein, his name in a beautiful lettertype printed on a velvet business card: I am in search of water and when I find out the bottles are only sold in large quantities, I go across the street to get a 500 milliliter sachet. But before I can pay for it, a man from the Lebanese warehouse comes up to me, ask me to go to his boss’ office. I do so and in his air conditioned office I will accept his invitation for the night, only if I can take my three man with me.
I enjoy the view of the green mosque, while my hands are filled with cacao beans, ready to eat. Strolling back to the main road I discover Brendan sipping espresso with many man surrounding him. At a pavement stall I am eating cassava and fish with piment, and I acquire over the phone where Oliver hangs out, with my new SIM card, being presented by Yves. All of us spreading over town, the very few white people in here all know each other and all come together. We blend in perfectly, I do not feel different than the people around me. I let myself sink into it and later we do receive compliments from locals who are happy to see that foreigners are choosing to eat what they eat, to sit at pavements where they do sit, to be equal.
Although there’s not much UN presence, there are a few large camps, mostly Bangladeshi military. Besides the Spanish Fernando who’s traveling by public transport, there are not many, or no travelers at all. Most travelers get worn out by the sept taxi’s where people are smashed together in a car, bumping unpleasantly and lacking any comfort whatsoever. Really, cycling is the way to go here, but cycling on these tracks is also one of the hardest in Africa. Most people traveling overland in public transport in West Africa give up.
That’s why most white people who are in this country are here for a reason, with a mission. Therefor I find cycling through this country surprisingly pleasant because people don’t treat us as being different. Friendliness and a relaxed approach are soothing, even passing the many military checkpoints and the many guns slung over the man their shoulders. Men at the check posts are dressed in a big variety of textile, always blue camouflage but in many different patterns, and always inviting me to be their first or second wife…
We all love Yves, the Genuine Bushman
Yves loves tracks and we love Yves, so we all decide to follow him on a different route to the capital Yamoussoukro. I sometimes feel like a doll without my own opinion, and I must admit this does feel refreshing liberating at times. When I am being asked which route I want to take ‘the tarmac or the track’, every one knows what I would answer. But I mimic a typical undecided Japanese-style look and Yves fills me in: ‘The Wife is coming with me!’ and so we all take the track. This route is not on Google maps, neither on the Michelin map. Great. Exciting. Not knowing how exciting it’s going to be…
We are leaving Man, cycling to Kouibli to take a boat across the Sassandra river to reach Piebli. Yves has asked around and the tracks should be fine. After this the track is only doable by motorbikes. Knowing that my legs are like a four wheel drive, I am looking forward to it.
Brendan stays relatively close to me but because he’s way faster than I am, we split after we have been led through a village where a mask festival is being held. Later on, eating a croissant on the track, I am held up by Isaac Forever. He’s selling ‘Forever’ products and Ivory Coast being a country with very decent cosmetic products and he dripping in sweat to get a hold of me, I decide to buy Forever Bright Sparkling Aloe Vera Toothgel. Sure, six euro for a tube is a bit overrated but I am impressed he actually works and does so much efforts to sell his products.
People in this country, in general, work. I reckon the average income is higher than the former countries and this has a great impact on the whole. Never have I seen a country with so many crops. People know their soil is fertile and they use it accordingly: besides cacao, coffee and rubber there’s loads of papaya, mango, banana’s, all kind of roots, avocado’s, coconuts, corn and pineapple. There seems to be more than the country can consume, cycling past hills of fruit is a delight for the senses. The hills where the road is being build upon keeps rolling up and down…
From 4th to 26th of March 2013