From 4th to 26th of March 2013
‘The Wife, Her Husband, His Brother & The Genuine Bushman’
Our pleasant group of four has start to make fun of each other. I obviously derive great satisfaction out of caring for the three man, like a real Wife does. Very often one of the guys lower his pace to keep up with me, except for Oliver, he keep racing ahead all of us, always arriving as first. It doesn’t matter whether he’s hungry or thirsty, those things are minor issues for him where they are primary for me and Brendan. I am slow in the morning, a Wife needs to brush her teeth (preferable with Bright Sparkling Forever Toothgel), wash her face and saddle soreness off and eat a decent meal before being able to clean her kitchen. The guys can do all without this. Bushman Yves is so practised that he can leave the campsite within 30 minutes, having had food and all packed. First Husband Oliver can do the same but faster because he doesn’t need food at all. Brother Brendan must have pity with me and most of the time choose to eat, often we eat double breakfasts. Leaving Oliver cursing us because he can’t understand why we have to eat ‘all the time’, besides, it takes about an hour of the precious coolness of the morning, is his idea.
Our pleasant group of four all make compromises. I don’t mind making my compromises because I find our little group very, very enjoyable. I just love the humor of Brendan, the mood of Oliver is hilarious and Yves his character is smooth and steady. Actually, I am spoiled by the Husbands: Brendan brings me loads of fruit, Yves present me with little handy gifts and Oliver is utmost attentive.
More compromises are that I have to wake up earlier than ever before. My system is always self-acting but never before waking at 6 o’clock. Now it does. That’s fine. Especially would I be able to go to bed around 8, that would give me 10 hours of solid sleep, something I really need after a day of intensive cycling. Thing is, never am I able to go to bed around 8. Since we are often cycling on tracks I am only capable of about 60 kilometers a day, to make it a pleasant ride. I never make 60 kilometers a day. Always more. So in order to keep up with the the Husbands and Brother I have to make use of the daylight and skip resting. The result is that I always end up as last one and completely exhausted! Each and every check-post police wonder why not one of the Husbands keep up with me? They can not comprehend that they leave a little Wife behind that far! Sometimes people would say to Yves ‘you have to stay close to your wife, you have to wait for her!’ Often I hear that the Husbands are far, far in front, sometimes hours ahead of me.
Then, one day, when I struggle through mud, when my brakes are covered and invisible by soil, I receive help. A motor-taxi guy steps off his motor, order his female customer to walk onward and he pushes my bicycle through the mud pools. I try to do it myself but am simple pushed aside. When we are on solid ground he accompanies me to the check post where he leaves me in the helpful hands of a few police officers. ‘This is not good for a woman, we get you a motor taxi and you’ll be driven to Vavoua. Now you will reach before your friends. This is not good for a woman!’
And he is right. I am by far not enjoying the ride which started great in a tick, lush rainforest, but changed into an impassable track for the Little Wife. A path of loose sand, rocks, steep descents and a lot of water pools and mud made it into a struggle for me, besides the heat of 40 degrees. At first I don’t understand what the police officer’s telling me, it seem impossible to me to put my bicycle and my luggage and me on one motorbike. But it is possible. And soon I am passing Yves. Yves who was already informed by a passerby that the Wife was coming his direction on a motorbike. Two unimaginable facts: me passing him and me on a motorbike. Soon, however, I am also passing Brendan who took his refuge under a shady tree. Eyes big, not expecting me, my bicycle and luggage on a motorbike!
It took the motor-taxi 1.5 hour for a 30 kilometer distance and the next day my whole body aches. The road being so bumpy and my body not used to such unexpected movements and high speed, I value cycling even more. Arriving in Vavoua brings me to another Catholic Mission, a room for free is offered to Oliver along with some beer. Where I collapse in a hot room onto a bed with no firmness at all, I wonder how Oliver is able to cycle this very difficult track on one coffee and one sandwich, without stops, speeding, racing, flying…
Then, the other day, the three Husbands move along further over the track where I took the decision the day before to choose the tarmac. And so the trip to the capital continues, Husbands north east, Wife east.
Oh… I am happy with these men! Sure, being a Wife can be demanding: my pace is pitched up high, barely do I have time for writing and reflecting. Our often elaborate cooking, as Yves commented, steals the hours of necessary sleep. But I receive so much pleasure from them that I happily trot almost each and every track! Our lunch breaks are so much more fun than having lunch alone. The evenings together in our camps are like a little party, makes me feel even more exhausted, leaving me feeling tipsy, like I drink continuously too much alcohol. Yet, I receive so much happiness that I choose too swap it for some hours of sleep.
Having breaks together, preparing dinner together, doing things together and being able to share the attention drawn by the locals leaves the sharp peculiarity of being a cyclist on your own behind. The novelty and specialty of being who you are and what you do is pleasantly lost in being together. On my own I am the safety net where upon the acrobat is balancing high above.
Once said before, Cote d’Ivoire is a healthy country. Cycling through each and every country, however on the surface, gives way more insight than traveling a country by public transport. And it is on these tracks that I get to see some sad things as well. The country is more advanced, way more civilized but not yet fully aware of how to protect their resources. Cycling through the rainforest shows it is not untouched at all. Here I find the source of our demands, here are huge trees being cut to accommodate our luxurious needs such as ceilings and furniture. Every day heavy loaded trucks with meters of immense tree trunks are transported and here in the forest I am at the source of transportation. Where drivers from Mali need strong arms to keep the balance on the roads, where young Ivorian apprentice boys are to learn for their future. Where villagers start the day at an early hour, carrying no more than a machete and a jerrycan of water to go to the spot where the trees are being knocked down. Sounds of sawing machines rustling from afar, sad sounds of an almost crying forest. A forest where no wild animals are being saved. Cycling along the highway I often see animals for sale, beside the agouti (a giant rat) there’s also a beautiful furred wild cat for sale. A wide tail, a long pointy face, and a black and white striped pattern. I stop and keep caressing it, how long ago did I stroke a cat? Never a wild cat though, a miniature tigress…
It takes me 200 kilometer, two full days to reach Oliver, Brendan and Yves again. I cycle through nature which is not less impressive then the environment surrounding the tracks. I am full in the bush, although on a tarmac road. I am happy to hear moderate voices saying ‘bon arrivee’ when I enter a town or little settlement. I am surprised by the many attended, fully tiled graves and feel at easy with the countless bicyclers along the road. Poor man who attends the fields, a machete and a jerrycan is all they carry on their one geared bicycle. Always they’re stepping off their bicycle when a descent comes up, pushing their bicycles, or not, then trying to pass me, impress me, wave at me and talk to me. Some men just cycle with me for some time and each and every one seems to find it pretty normal that I am among them. There’s no hysteric screams and no begging, but a mood of acceptance, like it is completely normal that I cycle here. People are genuine relaxed!
This is particular evident when I choose to spend the night in a cacao plantation. By now I am fully confident with wild camping and there’s no trace of worry nor fear. I suspect the only fear is to be found with the cultivator of the cacao plantation. He finds me in the middle of the fruit carrying trees, a white woman on her own! Yet, he act like it is a daily happening and in the morning when I prepare to leave, he offers me to guide me back to the road.
People sometimes seem to be afraid. I get the impression that white people still stand for some kind of colonists. White people may be more confident, or at least I feel that way. Maybe it is a more open confidence, almost arrogance in the eyes of black people. Maybe black people are overwhelmed by this arrogance of ‘le blanc’. Black people seems to carry a certain acceptance of what’s happening. White may be more stubborn, fighting against wrong doing, standing up, demonstrating, overpowering. Thoughts run through my mind, mostly happily thoughts in a country where people are so positive, heart warming and genuine.
The first country I love after Mauritania!
Where are you going to find people who cycle along with you, while singing ‘twinkle twinkle little star’? Or how often am I pushed up a hill, answering an older man with ‘Ah, je suis tres fatigue, c’est lourd‘ where after he starts to run behind me and make an easy climb of a rocky, steep uphill. The man are flirtatious and police man often use their uniform to stop me, talk nonsense and spray me with compliments ‘Vous etes un femme extra ordinateur! Do you have baby’s?’ The man are straight forwarded, utmost direct and in for whatever excitement I can offer. None. I am dotted with business cards, always asked for my contact number and often requested to stay, leave my husbands behind and come over forever. The men are overwhelmed by my act of cycling, they can’t comprehend, find a distance of 100 kilometer unimaginable, ask me whether my legs are in pain, must be exhausted, ‘cest une bonne sport’ is my reply.
We all have a mobile phone and we use it a lot. We constantly text each other. I have never been much of mobile phone text person but now it comes in handy and it’s just so much fun. I feel like a schoolkid, like a high school girl, speeding over the road, receiving a message. Dancing in my hotel room on the newly downloaded music of Yves’ excellent choice and text deep into the night with the husband next door. I know this pleasant position will end one day, but for now I do enjoy and so I maneuver towards a huge mango tree where the men are laying, sitting, waiting for me to arrive. Hours. The relaxing mood of Brendan, the happy, content feeling of Yves and the playful approach of Oliver. I am happy to see them, laying on their tarps, breezing in the grass. What a great feeling to be part of these three other cyclists!
We hoped to spend the night at the lake near Kossou but that’s impossible. We end up at a schoolyard instead. Slightly less tranquil. Where Yves’ being social and polite to the teachers I start to chase goats with the schoolkids. It leads us through half the village and we do catch a baby goat, panting heavily, screaming in terror. Later on, of course, we are the life television program of the evening. Many, many children make themselves comfortable and position them so that they have the best view, kids in front lay around us, face being cupped by their hands, stretched out, laughing and running when Yves playing awful monkey. I do the cooking, as a Wife ought to. Attentive Oliver goes to a little boutique and always comes back with interesting items, this time sugar cubes and oil in a plastic sachet. Meanwhile Brendan precisely cuts a papaya and a few bananas into very small pieces, cover it with wild honey and a hint of cinnamon. He cuts it so tenderly that I almost not dare to eat from it, like Japanese sushi. Surely we are a show. A show way more interesting than the funeral going on until the next morning, where hideous music is loudly played.
Staying at a school is an interesting experience, if only for the many goats, pigs and the lovely mango tree showering us with not yet ripe mango’s…
Next morning Brendan and Oliver start the day early and Yves and I follow a bit later, into Yamoussoukro. When Yves and I stop for a drink at a tank station and I watch my bicycle through the window from the cold environmental area I am in, I am still so amazed: all the way from the Netherlands!
Yamoussoukro is built as a show-off city. A big shiny white dome is dominating the city from whichever angle you approach it, where the many unnecessary broad roads are being built around and never used. The city exist, that much is an evidence, but where are all the houses? Shacks and tin roofed residences are centered together, and in such a pigeonhole, right in that very center is where we settle for a few days. When we eat together, we do so at the food stalls on the pavement and because Yves’ French we got to hear some of the locals point of view. They are simply delighted and surprised that we choose to eat where they do. They are stunned and happy to see that we like their local food and eat on a pavement. The men tell Yves that white people usually eat in fancy restaurants inside. For me the local food is normally better than what the real restaurants offer, and if restaurant food is very tasty, you pay at least 5 times more. What the men don’t realize is that we are not working in the development sector, but traveling for our own sake. And that’s the big difference.
Strolling through the streets and paths of the tin roofed area is surprisingly refreshing, not only because people pay for my order. I just like to sit down at the wobbling wooden bench, drinking tea at the busy coffee stalls, and eat pastries after I had a double sandwich with omelet. I like it when the person next to me excuse himself when he’s about to leave so that I replace my seating a bit to the middle of the bench in order not to collapse. I like it when I discover huge snails so big I can’t comprehend. I like it to see the stalls selling flimsy cartoon magazines which tells soft porn stories carrying titles remembering subjects my colleagues and me talked about. I like to shop for little food items like pepper and oil and be able to find it all, for the right price, that is. I like it when Oliver cuts the mango in precise little cubes ready to slide in my mouth, when he brings back young coconuts it’s flesh so fresh it melt where it should melt. I like it when Yves tells me Emily, the lady who’s running the hotel, doubles as a prostitute, offering her massage services to him.
There are quite a few ladies walking in evening time, searching for a willing man to earn some extra money. Oliver is pulled on his lush chest hair by a lady at the white domed basilica, saying how exciting that is while singing a gospel. She must have been elevated by his sexiness, which much African are men lacking. But that’s my point of view, where I prefer lush, bearded, charming yet unsmooth men… and the more we cycle, the more we become. Even me.
Brendan has cycled onwards to Abidjan. Oliver follows a day later. Yves and me a day after. I compromise and wake up very early. I always found this almost unbearable uncomfortable but have to say that I am elevated to see how cool the mornings are with it’s 25 degrees, and how much kilometers I have peddled before 12 o’ clock, 70 kilometers already! I must admit this is the way to go, something Oliver annoyingly try to make me understand day after day.
To be continued by Ivory Coast III