Togo – the fetish delights of Lome

Warning – this post is NOT for you if you don’t want to see photos of decomposing animals

I arrived in Lome early and had a seamless border crossing in 20 minutes with no bribes. I have my ‘thank you sir’ and ‘how you doing my friend?’ chit chat down pat now and had no problem with immigration. Likewise I have my ‘in the zone’ face sorted so largely the moto-taxis and money changers don’t give me much more than cursory harassment.

Lome cathedral
I walked from the border to the hotel, it was only a km and then I started what was to become a love affair with Lome, or at least the food!  I had a stonkingly good cheeseburger, which was the start of the best meals I had in West Africa.  In the two days I was at the Belle Époque,  I revelled in warm buttery croissants, homemade jam, proper espresso, outstanding pizza, homemade icecream, steak, chocolate mousse and a stunning vacherin with salted caramel sauce …. sigh, so good compared to the food in the last month!

There were lots of warnings about muggings and theft in and around Lome.   I walked 15k in the first day and had no problems.  The grand market was positively zen relative to others I have seen in the region!   I also checked out the monument to independence and the national museum.

Christmas presents in the grand market

Lome is a city of mototaxis, and they are so cheap that normal taxis no longer exist.  But all the guide books advise against using them – too dangerous. Normally I walk everywhere, but the fetish market wasn’t on the map and was at least 8k away and I wasn’t sure where it was.  So, I took a deep breath and found a chap with a bike to take me there.   He took my request to ‘Allez doucement’ (go slowly) as a challenge to go the wrong way down one way streets, cut off cars and go at high speed. Then he had the nerve to ask for my phone number when we arrived – so ‘we could keep in contact’

The Fetish market was small but well organised. By local standards they charge tourists a lot – about 8 euros including right to take photos, but on the upside there is no hassle and you can take as many photos as you like.

It wasn’t as gruesome as I expected and quite interesting to hear them describe what they do with the ingredients – making powders, potions and things to wash with. I don’t really like looking at dead animals, but I prefer it to the markets in Haiti where the animals were still alive and not well treated. Locals come too and I was heartened to see the vendors yelling at them as loudly as I feel like I get yelled at in the markets.  
On the way back I carefully picked an older driver, who I hoped had reached this advanced age by driving sensibly and safely.   I tipped him generously for driving slowly!

Time for another stroll along the beach to watch the fisherman pulling in their enormous nets (it takes at least 20 people to pull one in)…. and then off for some more food.  Benin tomorrow!

Lome, Togo, December 18-20, 2016


Ghana – Cape Coast and cleaning

We started the morning sweatily scrubbing 5 weeks of grit and grot off Aminah (the truck) and her kitchen equipment so she will be all clean for the next leg which starts in Accra in a few days. We all pitched in to scrub and mop. It is amusing to watch a bunch of overlanders ‘flapping’ the dishes to dry then, as tea towels are a luxury (and a hygiene risk) not permitted on the truck.

Cape Coast castle

Once the truck was clean, we headed off to Cape Coast to see the British slave fortress, allegedly one of the largest slaving holding sites in the world during colonial times. Interestingly, the custom of slavery was well established amongst the Ashanti tribes prior to the British arriving, but of course the British paid better and in alcohol and guns.   

School kids in the castle courtyard

The fort was similar to Elmina yesterday except, if possible, the slave chambers were even smaller. The chambers were ventilated with 2-3 tiny windows each and had no drainage…. apparently it was not uncommon for slaves to be knee deep in human waste.
Our bossy guide in the dungeons next to the shrine
The chambers were adorned with a shrine and bouquets from locals and the diaspora to remember their ancestors.   

The ‘door of no return’ has been widened here – it would have originally been person width size, and slaves were forced to turn sideways to pass on their way to board the ships. Symbolically, the door has been renamed the ‘door of return’ as some of the descendants of slaves have returned and passed through the door.   

The door of no return

Again, ironically there was an anglican church on top of male dungeon – they must have heard the singing in the dungeons. The governors quarters were at least the same size as the entire dungeon space.   

Original canons on the castle walls

We were invited to spend some time in the cell for the rebellious slaves who were left to die without food or water but I couldn’t bear the heat or the smell (I suspect some of it was from the 60 school kids who had just passed through), so I escaped to stand outside in the shade.   

Our mildly karmic tour guide – who was a bit of a slave driver – was very bossy, and herded us around like naughty cats.

View of the beach from the castle

Around the castle there is a bustling fishing community with all the associated smells, especially in the midday heat. We retired to the nearest place we could find that served burgers and waited on African time for burgers and fries – the fare of overlanders. We then made haste to the only store in town with a freezer to buy icecream.   

Fishing boats under the castle

After that back to the beach. A nice run as the sun went downalong the waters edge past the local fishing village, ignoring the calls from the locals ‘hey white lady – where you going?’. A few of the younger ones were more persistent and tried to run along with me but eventually gave up either when I sped up, or when I told them I was old enough to be their mama!

I am leaving the truck tomorrow, as they are headed to Kumasi and I am keen to continue on to Togo with my limited time left in west Africa. It will be weird not having 18 other people with me everywhere I go!   
Cape Coast, December 15, 2016

Ghana – slaves at Elmina

I had a sobering morning visiting the slave fortress – St George’s castle – at Elmina. I had the whole place eerily to myself. Originally built as a Dutch fortress it is the oldest colonial building in Africa.

St George’s castle

As expected it was grim, made more so by the guide’s descriptions. Mental pictures of 150 women cramped in any airless dungeon, unable to move, covered in their own vomit and excrement. Worse, the governor’s viewing gallery above the women’s area where he hand picked women to rape.

The gallery from the governors quarters where he could hand pick women to rape
The original floor the female slaves slept, ate and went to the bathroom on

The door of no return, which was the access to the ships, was harrowing. The death cell where ‘rebellious’ slaves were left to starve to death was worse. The irony of having both a Catholic and a Protestant church in the fort did not escape me – unfathomable to me how slavery could ever by congruent with the ‘love thy neighbour’ tenets of Christianity. The Ghanaians are pretty forgiving and like to talk about Elmina more as a reminder to humanity to not let similar events happen in the future.

The door of no return

The death cell
It was nice to be myself for the morning and to have the castle to myself. I had left my truckmates to go to Kakum national park for the morning without me, as I was not inspired by the reviews, nor of the thought of doing a ‘peaceful’ canopy walk with 15 others. Instead I caught a ‘dropping’ (shared taxi) into town and had a chat with a nice lady heading into town to sell her veges.

After the fort, I went for a wander around town. Elmina these days is a bustling fishing village with all the smells and activity that go along side that. People were largely friendly. A few kids shouted ‘Obroni, obroni’ (white person) at me, and when I responded with ‘bebeni’ (black person) they laughed. I went on a futile search for wifi and gave up to have a coffee with milk (half of the milk I shared with a persuasive cat) and watch the goings on at the market.

The persuasive cat

Like most places in west Africa the market was loud, vibrant and frenetic…. but cameras are not welcome – you need to come experience the smoking fish, frying plantains and ladies sales songs for yourselves.

It took me a while to find a cab back to the beach as the public trotros didn’t quite go that far (I would have needed three separate rides minimum to get close) and all of the offers were exorbitant for an individual taxi. In the end I hopped in a ‘dropping’ and waited for everyone else to get out and then persuaded him to take me back for half the lowest price I had been offered in town. Time for the hammock!

Elmina, December 14, 2016

Ghana – Ankasa to Akwidaa to Brennu

We had a quiet night’s sojourn in Akwidaa after a five hour drive from Ankasa. It was lovely and it was great to run along the beach this morning. The hotel was run down, but in a stunning location….  and am not sure anyone had stayed there for the past six months.

Akwidaa beach
We got to check out Ghanaian village life en route. This is a country with a deep love of god. The business names are wonderful – ‘obey gods will and live ventures’, ‘Christ the king photos’ and ‘jehovahs blessings’. My favourites were ‘god rules internet’ and ‘clap for Jesus fashions’.

Obey gods word and live

All powers belong to Jesus

The lord is my shepherd

Abundant grace
The obsessive fascination with celebrating the deceased is impressive – the coffins are richly decorated, special funeral fashions are required, and you show love to your family members by making huge photoshopped posters of them in commemoration.


Coffin making at the village edge

After Akwidaa we headed off to Brenu. We spent two hours faffing about en route in Takoradi – a side effect of group travel. A half hour pee stop as we all queued for the one loo at the petrol station, then a 20 minute ATM stop, then a 45 minute grocery stop, and finally a 35 minute fresh fruit and veg shop. More credits for my PhD in waiting. Amusingly (or not) it is always the same offenders who are late or last back to the truck, so there are always a few muttered insults when these guys eventually get back.

The pee queue in the shade
There wasn’t much to see in Takoradi but the ladies in the market were friendly and we had a bit of a dance with them to the thumping beats – I think they were celebrating the election results.
We arrived at Brenu beach around 3 and were delighted to find rooms with aircon, fridges and hot water – a trifecta of luxuries unheard of so far – and for only $25 a night each. Bliss!!! Looking forward to three nights in the same place and chilling out in a hammock. (Postscript: for the first time ever we had our room cleaned during a stay – bonus miracle :-))

Excellent mashup of Michelle and Barack
I had my last cook group this evening, chickpea burgers as we hadn’t found any decent meat. They were surprisingly delicious…. though most of the truck did ask where the meat ones were…. and as a treat, we had the old school favourite of bananas and custard. Thrilled to not have to wash pots again after this!

Wherever you are in the world there is football
it is quite a lovely location here, will be hard to summon up some energy to go check out the sites.

Brennu beach, December 13, 2016

Côte d’Ivoire – not so Grand Bassam

We arrived in Grand Bassam without a place to stay as none of the hoteliers had been responding to Zoe’s emails (west African customer service).  My heart sank slightly as we rolled down the lovely quiet shady street past some very nice guest houses, and continued to the less salubrious end of town. 

Jason snoozing while Zoe looked for a hotel
 We waited for a couple of hours while Zoe went to hunt out a hotel willing to let us pitch tents on their lawn. Some people waited in the truck sweating in the afternoon sun, others retired to the dodgy bar next door. The first hotel was willing, but they only had two nasty loos and were in the process of hosting a wedding party….. so Zoe kept walking and talking….

Derelict building

While we waited, the truck banter meandered, as per usual. Today’s topic – one of the younger men on the truck is considering becoming a gigolo (which he pronounces like giggle-o with his accent). He received significant amounts of advice from the women on the truck about the physical changes and personality shifts that would be required for him to be successful. ‘It’s not about the thrust count’ was helpful advice. We considered running a silent auction on the truck to see what type of fees he could earn, but none of us were necessarily keen on executing on the contract.

Reggae central

Eventually Zoe negotiated us rooms and camping at a hotel that appeared mostly derelict from the street side but slightly better beach side, with more than it’s fair share of rubbish. Given the pitch site was tiny and 19 of us would share two bathrooms, Becky and I invested $20 each per night to ‘upgrade’ to a room that was vaguely clean but did have working arctic aircon and a burny hot shower

Maison des artistes

Grand Bassam is a sleepy beach town, the former capital and is described as having a ‘faded grandeur’…., ‘faded’ is perhaps an understatement. The buildings were definitely grand at some point but now appear abandoned and mostly derelict, albeit lovely in the morning light.

I like big butts and I just can’t lie

Maison des artistes

However, almost every building had people living and working in the ruins, including the wonderful Maison des artistes. The art here is vibrantly African. It looks great en situ, but would look terrible at home in the grey london light. We had a relaxing wander around town, chatted to some groovy Rastafarians and even had some young students ask for a photo.  

Wall mural
Wall mural

We wandered up the beach to see the fishing boats and the very cool kids body boarding, literally on boards of wood. Sadly the fishing village rely on the sea for their ‘bathroom plumbing’ so there were abundant and smelly piles of human excrement awaiting the morning tides for disposal. 

Fishing boats near the human sewer

Hot and sticky in the midday heat I retired to the shade next to the pool to read and profit from the sea breeze. I opportunistically took my laundry with me as it dried better than in the room. It was nice to have a lazy afternoon followed by a long walk along the beach.

Colonial building with washing drying

Grand Bassam, December 8&9, 2016

Côte d’Ivoire – Ahouakro genies in the rocks

A couple of folks on the truck are Unesco obsessives, and as we had a spare day, yesterday we headed off to Ahouakro – a tentative Unesco site between Yamkro and Abidjan to check it out. There was remarkably little info on the internet and none of the locals seemed to know about it, but apparently it is an area of large rocks with the local tribe believe have spirits or genies within them. 

Village kids in new Ahouakro

We stopped at the village to ask permission from the chief to visit the site. The chief asked for a sacrifice of a bottle of gin and a chicken, and given we only had gin (which no one wanted to forfeit) and no chicken, he agreed to accept 10000 CFA’s instead (about €15).

Local ladies hauling logs
 While Zoe was discussing things with the chief I had a chat to the village girls, the eldest ranging from 10-13 about school and life. They were pretty smart and are still at school and enjoying French lessons. Amusingly they asked me how old I was, and when I told them, one of them rushed off to get me a chair to sit in. Adorable!!!! I was old enough to be their granny and they were clearly worried I would fall over.  

Sunrise over the quarry

Unfortunately the guide was working the fields yesterday, as he didn’t know we were coming. So, we were given permission to camp by the quarry which is filled with water. Most people went for a swim, but the presence of ample amounts of cow shit put me off. I had a chat with some local ladies who told me they don’t swim there because there are genies in the rocks. We also managed to disturb the local rhythms as when the cows came for water they didn’t want to go past the truck so the herder had to take them another 30mins around the corner.

Local lady carrying water from the quarry (50kg)

We were on cook group last night, and given the paucity of supplies available when we shopped, we had chickpea and pumpkin tagine with couscous which was very well received. It was a humid humid evening and most of us were sweating in the shade and drenched in our tents.
Ivor and Christian

This morning we had an early breakfast, packed up and headed up to the site after picking up our entourage in the village. 

Our sacrificers – the one on the left is holding the chicken and chanting
 We had three guides, two sacrificers and a couple of hangers on. And yes there was a bottle of gin and a live chicken. Happily the chicken was not killed, she was just released after the ceremony (she was too shocked to go anywhere). Apparently her stillness was a good thing as it indicated all was well. If she had run away immediately we would have had to leave the site. After the libation sacrifice, the gin was shared but just among the men (no women allowed). 

The primary male dolmen

Then we were allowed to visit the principal male dolmen which will apparently protect us now as we have made an offering. His female rock is some distance away, so the villagers say that they often see him in spirit form heading off to visit her. 

Our guide describing the rocks
The rocks were lovely, even if I didn’t feel the genies! I doubt they get many visitors here, but if you are in the hood it is worth popping by
Balancing rocks

Ahouakro, December 6 & 7,  

Côte d’Ivoire – bonkers Yamoussoukro

Yamkro is a bonkers town! It is officially the capital of Côte d’Ivoire but isn’t really as all business, embassies and ministries are in Abidjan! It was built by the first president who was in power for 33 years to become the capital in 1983 on the site of his home village. It is the home of the mad basilica and several empty six lanes highways.

Yamkro Basilica

We started by visiting the worlds tallest basilica -modelled after St. Peter’s, but higher. The windows – the largest area of stained glass windows in the world – were made in Bordeaux. The chandeliers were made in Murano. The marble entrance walkway is 1km long. The garden is modelled on Versailles (but doesn’t really look like it).

Two of the few worshippers at the basilica
The building is air conditioned. The building seats 20000 people, but given most people in Côte d’Ivoire are Muslim, peak service is 400-800 people on Sunday.
Picture showing the relative size of Yamkro versus St. Peter’s
Apparently it was ‘gifted’ by the president to the people of Côte d’Ivoire from his own ‘personal funds’ (which no doubt were ‘legitimately earned’ from the populace). The largest attendance ever was for the presidents funeral where 200,000 people filled the gardens outside). One nice touch is that there is a statue of an African Mary. I also like the electric candles which you illuminate by feeding coins into slots. And hilariously the president had inserted himself into the stained glass depiction of Palm Sunday. Amusingly there is a small exhibit comparing the size of the basilica with St. Peter’s and the Notre Dame, to fully demonstrate this is the biggest in the world.  It was quite an experience but hard to comprehend why all this money was spent here versus on all the other things that could have been invested in.  

The dome of the basilica

After a quick stop off for supplies in the piss-reeking downtown, we retired for the afternoon to the hotel president (the poshest in town) in search of coffee and lunch at the ‘famous’ panoramic restaurant. The view was great but did highlight that Yamkro was bizarrely empty. I would have taken some pics of the view but the windows were filthy. We were successful on lunch and chocolate cake! They eventually asked us to leave the restaurant when they closed at 3pm as we were still freeloading on the wifi, but did invite us to relax on the couches in reception and keep using the wifi. We finally abandoned our ‘office’ at 6pm, but were amused that not once did anyone question our right to be there….. something that would have certainly happened elsewhere.  

Hotel President! The UFO of Yamkro

A few of us skipped dinner with the whole truck as it can be irritating to wait a full hour (or two) for most restaurants to cook 19 meals, and then dividing the bill always seems to be a nightmare. Instead we headed out for a ladies night to La Brise, are pizza and steak and confined ourselves to topics that did not involve moaning about anyone or anything to do with the truck.   
Yamoussoukro, December 5, 2016

Côte d’Ivoire – stilt dancing in Silacoro

The pigs started snuffling at the tent door at 3.30am, the roosters started at 4, and then the rhythmic drumming of the village women pounding sorghum started at 5, so not much of a lie in. We gave up trying to sleep at 6, and packed up the tent and went in search of coffee. There was already an attentive audience of kids watching the cook group preparing breakfast

Dawn in Silacoro above the hut roofs

The village had organised some dancers for this morning as there wasn’t enough time to do so before nightfall yesterday. 

Village girl checking us out
Like all things in Africa, it took time for things to get moving. The first half hour or so was warm up. The younger kids did some back flips. The older men did a sophisticated shuffle. The teenage boys adorned their legs with bells and did aggressive and sweaty spins.  

Teenage boys dancing with bells

Throughout four tireless drummers kept a rhythmic beat accompanied by the chanting of most of the village women and girls who had turned out in their Sunday best to watch and support. 

Friendly chanting village ladies who asked for a photo
 The main event for the day was a stilt dancer, who was likely still a novice. He also did some creative spins, but didn’t quite manage to nail his back flips. The highlight for me was watching the women and kids enjoying the performance. 

The stilt dancer
More lovely village ladies who asked for a photo
 We donated some money to the chief as a thanks, but managed to get out of giving him the soccer ball he had eyed on the truck and wanted for the kids.

Village ladies dancing before the stilt dancer arrived
Grooving village lady

We then headed back to Man to buy supplies for the next couple of days. Man is a pretty sad and dirty town with an uninspiring ‘supermarket’ and a limited supply of fly blown fresh produce in the town market. On the bright side I found some hot bread and yogurt….. a nice change from eating the bread we buy, which we always eat the day after purchase (in France we would only give day old bread to the cows).  

Young village ladies who led the chant for 2 hours – Silacoro

We are all happy for the extra space on the truck today to stretch out and the tensions seemed to have diminished somewhat today after yesterday’s short fuses. As my favourite truck introvert reminded me yesterday – she wouldn’t willingly spend this much time with her best friend, let alone with a bunch of strangers who she didn’t choose. 
 We were told last night we will spend two consecutive nights in Yamoussoukro (‘Yamkro’), and that is a huge gift! A day not on the truck is fabulous!!! We all love the truck but we have spent a few too many long days thus far. No doubt a couple of days off will continue to alleviate the pressure.  
Tonight we were planning bush camping en route to Yamkro just passed the town of Daloa but when we couldn’t find the bush camp site at 5.30pm we all voted to continue the 120km to Yamkro. Fingers and toes were crossed on the truck for hot water and wifi, the ever present hopes of the grubby overlander.   

Kids where we filled up with jerry cans
We rolled into Yamkro after eight and saw the basilica next to the six lane highway but apparently they can’t afford to light that section of town right now. In the middle of town there was a section of well lit streets and numerous kids were using the streetlights to read and do homework.
Bonus shot of the dancing village ladies
 My tentmate and I decided to make the huge investment of $15 each to upgrade to a room rather than camp in the garden (best use of $15 ever! I even did a victory dance in the room). And I was shocked when some weird hot stuff came out of the shower! What a night!!!!!

Yamoussoukro December 4, 2016 

Côte d’Ivoire – from Gbapleu to Silacoro

I slept like a baby in spite of the chainsaw sounding snoring coming from the trucks chief snoring offender until the roosters woke me up at 5.30.   

Kids saying goodbye to the truck in Gbapleu

We left Gbapleu and meandered along the bumpy road to Danane, probably averaging 4km an hour. we hadn’t seen a vehicle for the last 24 hours, just the odd motorbike. Like much of the countryside we have traversed, this is ‘real Africa’, no electricity, no mobile signal, neat mud huts, village wells, and latrine blocks of 4 shared by the whole village (normally with an Aid sign nearby saying something like ‘fin de defecation d’aire libre’ i.e. ‘stop crapping in public’ with a suitable cartoon illustration). All available surfaces are festooned with pristine clean rows of laundry (unfathomable to me how the get the laundry so clean). Small bamboo stalls with tiny piles of the limited merchandise available are kept in business by the brightly attired women swaying effortlessly down the streets under heavy head loads while carrying one baby on their backs and at least one more kid by the hand. Men in out-of-date premier league shirts lounging round on motorbikes and lots of kids, goats and puppies running about. Most of the villages we pass are very friendly, although there is the odd person who shouts and demands some cash or food.  
Kids welcoming us to Silacoro

Truck dynamics continue to evolve, and the morning seating routine is analogous to solving a complex set of simultaneous equations i.e. If a wont sit next to b, and c can’t abide d, and e has horrendous BO, then where should f,g and h sit?……I normally avoid these complications by sticking to sitting with my tentmate who is blissfully quiet on long journeys. However, occasionally the ‘seat reservation’ process does not work seamlessly, e.g. today one of our bags was mysteriously moved even after we had ‘German beach towel’ reserved our seats by placing our day bags on them. To avoid any acrimonious debate I moved across the aisle and had a free seat next to me during boarding. It was a tense few moments as the others boarded the bus ….as there are four people I resolutely will not sit next to – 3 for personal hygiene aka stink reasons (oddly these are also the same three I won’t tent near as they all snore and as two of them have been known to start drinking before lunchtime, the odour and snoring is not surprising) and one because he is clueless and inconsiderate (the aforementioned offender who won’t bury his loo roll and takes photos at borders who has been nicknamed ‘the idiot abroad’ by one of the guys on the truck). Fortunately I was saved from 8 hours of smell or rudeness by one of the other ladies on the bus who sat down next to me. It would seem that everybody rubs somebody else up the wrong way at least once a day, inevitable given the close quarters and long days. Tempers flare and sharp words are exchanged frequently. This continues to be an interesting anthropology experiment in forced group living. Most days I am fine provided I get to go for a run and get enough sleep, and then I find everyone else’s antics amusing.

Kids loving the selfie feature
After Danane we were on the tarmac, which is cause for great excitement as it means natures air conditioning starts working (and there are less bumps). Most days we are in the high 30s with lots of humidity. You sweat lying down in the shade and positively melt standing in the sun. On the truck when we are on slow roads the air is torpid and slow moving and every occasional gust of air is a blessing. On the fast roads I am like a puppy dog with her head hanging out the window enjoying the breeze.

Pounding the sorghum

Three of our number hopped off the truck at Man today to take a bush taxi direct to Yamkro, where we will all be arriving in three days time. Robert’s heat rash has evolved from something mild into a horrendous pussy mess on his foot, and even though he has started on antibiotics, it isn’t a great idea for him to be bush camping for two more nights with no running water. Eva is joining Robert and his wife Vicky as after six weeks on the truck she has decided a time out is required. 14 vs 17 sweaty bodies on the truck will undoubtedly be an improvement.

Rob’s foot

We arrived at the village, and we had tried to call them to arrange some stilt dancing but they hadn’t answered. So while they were pleased to see us, they weren’t able to arrange any dancing until tomorrow morning. 

Kids wanting photos of themselves
 The village is lovely but we were quite the entertainment. The men and kids took up residence on our stools and were entertained by cook group prepping dinner. The kids were delightful and were obsessed with getting their photos taken.  

Pitching tents in the middle of the village

We are camping in the middle of the village among the houses. They apparently don’t have latrines which seems odd for a settlement of this size, so we will be digging holes. Cook group 1 made us soup, salad and French toast for dinner. And we are with a loud and chatty audience who watched us until the last person went to bed. That much scrutiny is fun for the first hour but gets a bit wearisome after five hours. 

An attentive audience watching dinner prep

Silacoro, December 3, 2016

Guinea to Côte d’Ivoire – Sleeping in the customs post at Gbapleu

I started the day with a misty run through Nzerekore, watching the town wake up at 6.30. Families washing in the street, kids starting the long trek to school, vendors setting up their stalls for the day, young kids starting to make their water selling rounds, goats and chickens wandering around for food and the very persistent drone of the mototaxis taking people to work.  

Kids chasing the truck in Guinea to say hi

While having no internet, running water, electricity, or toilet is fine for me for a week or so, I am reminded every day that this is life for 99% of the people we pass in the truck. In most of these countries, literacy rates for women are less than 30%, genital mutilation of young girls is up to 98% (e.g. in Guinea where FGM he is technically illegal), and life expectancy is about 50. Most people here only eat once a day, and it is rice and oil. If I had been born an ordinary woman in most of the countries I have visited I would never have made it through primary school. It puts into perspective how wonderful and easy my life is, and does stop me moaning (sometimes) about having not enough food. I am grateful every day for the amazing life I have, and that I was born where I was.  

Curious kids staring at the truck as we approach the Guinea Liberia border

We backtracked to Lola and Gogota and found the dirt road to the Ivory Coast border. We passed a few villages were Babus were clearly in short supply as the kids chased the truck waving and smiling as we drove through. We stopped at immigration and we’re surrounded by a ‘plague of children’! Guinean exit was relatively straightforward as Zoe had come up a few days earlier to check we could pass, as there are very few tourists coming this way. 

Kids who emerged from bathing in the river to check out the truck

Kids in Gbapleu

We were aiming to make camp relatively close to the border as the area further into Côte d’Ivoire (Danane and Man) is a bit sketchy and was a rebel stronghold during the wars. We will go through there tomorrow but won’t be hanging about. Once we passed the border and got to the customs post 3k later, we asked the local village if we could camp there. We ended up being welcomed into the customs agents staff quarters and having water heated up on the fire for hot bucket showers with the village chiefs’ blessing, and pitching our tents in the covered living rooms (no glass in the windows and concrete floors) between their bedrooms (putting the tent inners up so we were protected from mozzies). 

Village kids checking us out at the customs post in Gbapleu

 We had an incredibly warm welcome! I can’t imagine sleeping at a customs post anywhere else in the world! This for sure is part of the magic of overlanding! The customs chief was extremely friendly and gave me his address. I did assure him that I was married and not interested. He assured me he was married but had room for more wives. Hmmmmm.

Very curious audience watching the tents go up at the customs post

Gbapleu December 2, 2016