Ivory Coast Begins
I move South, hugging the West Coast of Ivory Coast, first bordering Guinea, and later Liberia. These borders have only recently re-opened after the Ebola outbreak from about six months prior.
At Odiénné I buy gas and food supplies, and am shocked to find myself on and excellent paved road. Even more shocking is the complete lack of cars, motorbikes and trucks. I have the road all to myself, and make excellent time down to the city of Man, nestled in the mountains. Just before town I’m treated to a massive West-African rain storm, something I have not seen since Guinea. The temperature rapidly drops ten degrees and the rain, thunder and lightning crashes down for 30 minutes, before ending as quickly as it began.
In Man I camp in the parking lot of a run down hotel, a stones throw from the bustling market and downtown. I take a rest day, checkout the nearby famous waterfalls and swing bridge, and generally just wander around town. On Sunday morning I can hear and extremely loud evangelical church gathering, the leaders screaming sermon booming over a PA system. The friendly ladies at the door assure me I am welcome, though the screaming and chanting make me feel very uncomfortable, and I get out of there as fast as I think is polite, without taking out my camera.
In the morning I pay a visit to the head Customs building, and right off the bat I speak French, which turns out to be a big mistake. My second mistake is parking the Jeep inside the Customs compound, where everyone can see it, and they have some degree of control over it – if they close the gate it’s effectively trapped. “The Colonel” is called, and after a ten minute wait I am introduced to a very smartly dressed man, wearing multiple gold watches who everyone seems very quick to please. Shortly after sitting in his office and explaining that I’d like a computerized version of the Temporary Import Permit I got at the border, he looks me square in the face and says that because I’m a white guy with money, I will give him 50,000CFA ($100 USD) for it.
Something about his attitude has me rattled right away. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m tired, or because I was not mentally prepared for this, or because I’m doing it all in French and only understanding about 60% of what is said to me. Whatever the case, I know I’m in trouble. He really seems like the kind of no nonsense man who will impound my Jeep without a second thought, and that scares me. He laughs at my request for a receipt, and he is now holding my hand-written paperwork and registration, so it’s not like I can just drive to the border and leave the country. I explain that I sleep in my car because I don’t have a lot of money, and thankfully my shirt is kind of grubby, so he believes that I have not had a shower in a few days (true). Eventually he comes down to 30,000 CFA ($50 USD), which he puts into his top drawer while his minion types up the details.
I’m really not happy to pay that bribe, but something about the whole exchange felt very wrong to me. With the immigration guy at the border and this customs guy being so dead-set on bribery, I’m going to have to really watch it here.
After the troubling morning I set off, heading South and once again hugging the Western-most border, aiming for a seldom visited National Park I have been repeatedly told is a must-visit. Everyone I talk to along the route says I’m heading for the worst road in Ivory Coast.
This should be interesting.