Some good rest in Yamoussoukro and 10 Chinese spokes for 1 € later, I leave the capital towards Ghana, to the east, without testing the traffic mess in Abidjan.
I am lucky that the highway is almost finished but not opened yet for the public. I was warned that there might be coupeurs de routes on it, the road bandits, since it is empty and easy to hijack a motorbiker.
It is Sunday morning and I can hear the mass and the songs in every village I cycle through. The kids are well dressed. I learn that the first rain of the year fell here two days ago. Only? The rainy season is supposed to be from May to July and from October to November. So it seems Ivory Coast completely missed the main course of rainwater. That explains why I feel quite lucky not having been stuck watching rain pouring for days in a row.
I notice small footsteps revealed in the dust on my panniers. I had heard in the night something moving around and on my bed. It could have been a mouse or a big lizard. Even when sleeping in a house of someone or a cheap hotel, it is recommended to seal all bags, especially the one carrying food. The ants and all other kinds of animals would be too happy to have a look in it.
I complete a special collection when a kid by the road call me Lebanese. It is the collection of all the white things on legs that kids can identify me with. Jesus, White man, American, Chinese, Osama, Rastaman, …
At a refreshing stop by the lake in Bongouanou, I am invited to sit at a table of men discussing issues and politics. It seems this area doesn’t support the same president as in the West. Ouattara is not welcome, just like the Burkinabés accused to steal the land of Ivorians (and to make things worse, Ouattara would be a half-Burkinabé who removed the Burkinabé-ness of his name). France is once again accused of controlling the Ivorian economy and making things difficult.
I don’t understand how is actually possible, but it is not the first time I hear that any good imported to Ivory Coast must pass through France first, making them much more expensive than they should be. They give the example of Japanese cars, preferred because easier to repair and find spare parts (something that Peugeot and Renault are not popular for …), that used to be cheaper before.
About France, they also say they were surprised when they saw on TV that a French minister was living in a rented flat, not owning it. A minister? Tenant? How could it be possible? Politics are different over here, where it seems widely accepted that the positions are made for becoming instantly rich and not to serve the country. Becoming a minister means building oneself a castle and buying expensive cars for the children. This ends the eternal “so why are Africans poor?” discussion, after recognizing that any citizen accessing high positions, even the honest and hopeful ones, would stat building themselves a castle and abusing their position. It sounds impossible for the wealth of the country to cascade down the pyramid until the majority of the population.
I manage to reach Daoukro after a second 100+ km day on the good roads, where I meet Jean, put in touch by Jonas in Bouaflé. Jean is a high-ranking policeman and tells me that a truck driver was shot two weeks ago nearby, in an attack by the coupeurs de route. Fortunately for cyclists, they are apparently organized and attack mostly on indications from informers in the cities, after identifying convoys of traders likely to carry big amounts in cash (happening on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays).
We eat a double dinner of futu banana and attiéké with agouti, which is hard to finish even for my stomach. We then walk around. Daoukro has a UNOCI camp (the UN mission in Côte d’Ivoire) and is the home of Henri Konan Bédié, the president who ruled during two half-terms, succeeding to Houphouët-Boigny at his death but overthrown by Robert Guéï six years later. His residence is huge and there is a pétanque tournament called after his name.
The light rain sends me off east of Daoukro towards the Ghana border. The villages are well signposted, starting just where the previous one ended, and almost all of them end with -KRO.
The day is going well at the exception of my sore legs, probably suffering from the long distance covered in the past two days. The road is nice but uneventful. My major “interaction” was when eating lunch, another big portion of attiéké, next to a group of friends midday-drinking and listening to a drunk man convincing them I was a spy. My GPS would be a microphone recording all (the bullshit) they say and I would deliver it to France24 and TV5 to make biased news. I was accused of being a liar even without saying anything.
The drizzle changed now into big and heavy ice-cold raindrops, that are really not welcome in my sweaty warm neck. Fortunately it doesn’t last and I reach Apprompronou, where the roads are tarred again, with a dilemma: it is 5 pm and Agnibikékrou is 22 km away. I could make it but it would be almost dark.
As I am already well tired, I settled for a cheap hotel in Apprompronou (after all it has a cool name). It is better like this, since the people say even the motorbikers don’t drive at night on those roads, scared by the hijackers.
I have attiéké again for dinner. It is time for a change! Attiéké, grated kassava looking like couscous, is quite good, but as I have it for lunches and dinners, almost always with fish, I am looking forward to Ghana and new kinds of food.
The road to Agnibilékrou is full of potholes and the tar is kind of disappearing. I have the same speed as the trucks, so it is good I didn’t try it yesterday evening. The reason I am going there is to pass to Ghana via a small border post, the one in Abengourou catering most of the traffic, I was said.
After Agnibilékrou, it can’t be more correct to say that the road has little traffic. It is a dirt road through plantations and chicken farms, very quiet.
The border post is in Gonokrom. At the last Ivorian police checkpoint, the officers are busy negotiating a fine for car passengers. They also want me to unpack all my luggage, I know why and they know what for, but I manage to avoid it, still without giving any bribe, as I have always done. Further on, the customs are friendly, and at the third checkpoint, it’s already Ghana. I didn’t notice until people started to speak English, because the sign read “Bureau des Douanes” and “Akwaaba“, which is “welcome” in Twi (the language of the Ashanti) but also used in Eastern Ivory Coast.
Actually, Africa is great to travel for the fact that only 3 languages (English, French, Portuñol) are enough for breaking any language barrier in the whole continent. If not mastered all the times, there is always someone in a village to speak one of those three.
The Ghanaian immigration is very cheerful and there is no luggage check. I will start to think what some travelers have said, that the officials in ex-British colonies are friendlier than in the ex-French ones.
And instantly, the dirt road changes for a good paved road. The foot pump changes for the hand pump. The CFA franc is out. But the people have the same activities, carrying logs on their head through the maize fields.
One of the broder-crossing surprises is that I see tiny cars, the yoghurt pot type (Daewoo Tico SX), as taxis. The roads must be really good here then, because I have not seen so small cars since Morocco.
Another surprise 10 kilometers later in Dormaa, the first town, is the first junction: traffic lights! And people respect them! Except for the brand new ones in Sinkor, Monrovia, traffic lights have been non-existent since Morocco.
Ghana is more expensive than Ivory Coast and I find the cheapest hotel for 15 GHC (2 GHC for 1 USD). The notice reads that persons of same sex are not allowed to share a room. Homosexuality is illegal in Ghana (criminal code, section “Unnatural Carnal Knowledge“).
One of my first questions is “What do you eat that is not attiéké?“, and the answer is “banku”, the most popular dish of Ghana. It is a ball of mashed maize and kassava. It is good for a change, but two weeks of this every day won’t be better than two weeks of attiéké …
For a first impression of Ghana, everyone seems kind and smiling. Except one. I am hooked by a drunk man from Mali who insists to walk through the market holding hands (in Muslim countries, men can walk hands in hands but not couples) with me, so as to be seem with “his white man” and gain respect. Even without trying, we met enough people to whom he owes money to make me think this is a quite stupid idea.