Breakfast at the Onomo Hotel was quite good with the widest selection of food we’ve seen, excellent pastries, yogurt, and an espresso machine. We came down early at 0700 and then I wrote on my laptop for about 20 minutes, posting two blog entries.
The cadets trickled in and seemed happy with breakfast and their night’s sleep. Everyone now seemed to be near 100 percent with the possible exception of Evan who still needed some Imodium.
George was on-time and we left just after 0800 after retrieving the Imodium from the medicine bag.
We drove through the main part of Abidjan and we're amazed how relatively clean and modern it looked compared to the other cities we’d visited. You could’ve told me we were in a European city and I would’ve believed you.
First, we stopped in a shopping center to get water and I was amazed at how clean and modern it was. We walked into the entrance of the Carrefour Hypermarché and it was identical in most respects to one in Toulouse or Paris. We bought four 5L bottles of water and returned to the bus..
We next went to the striking modern architecture Cathedral d’Abidjan with it’s huge abstract white elephant head spire and suspension wire ropes. It was just as striking on the insdie, seating 5000 with stained glass scenes that includes one rather interesting panel that appeared to be a owing white colonialists in hard hats arriving on the shore s to greet (and presumably save) black natives. The cathedral was built in the late 1960s, designed by an Italian architectural firm.
We took plenty of photos and walked around the exterior. We had a guide for a short amount of time, but he seemed most interested in just selling us a book about the cathedral. Becky deftly deflected that one by saying that we just did not have enough room in our luggage to carry home books.
From the church we drove on the highway past many government and office building to the east side of the center 'Plateau’ part if the city, to a town called Bingerville. En route, we passed a large University named (as is the airport) for Boigny, the father of independent Cote d’Ivoire and their first president. It look large and sprawling like a western University and even had athletic fields. We also passed national police and gendarme academies and their military academy before arriving at the gates to the Bingerville botanical gardens, established in 1904.
We entered through the main gate to find two soldiers (two chevrons each) sitting on white plastic chairs and a guy in T-shirt and long pants man-spreading over two chairs in civilian clothes. George began to speak with him, then turned to us and said that it would cost us 25,000 CFA (about USD $45) apiece extra for whomever had a camera and was taking photos. I said that that was outrageous and suggested that we leave. George turned to ask the guy again, and I clearly heard him repeat the charge. There were no signs anywhere announcing restrictions on or charges for photography, so I knew this was a shakedown. Again I told George that we wouldn’t pay it and then the guy spoke up and asked George to ask us what we were willing to pay. I said in French that we would be willing to pay 5000 CFA (about USD $9) for the whole group. Now we knew it was a shakedown. He said no and then that it would be 15,000 CFA apiece. At this point I told him, in pretty good French, that that was crazy and that we were leaving. George stepped in and he and the guy went into the little ticket shack. About a minute later, George came back and said we could all take as many photos as we wanted. He didn’t say if or how much he paid them and I didn't ask.
The park wasn’t worth 5000 CFA. It was really just 100 acres of jungle with dirt roads/trails on it and some labeled trees. We saw one area deliberately planted in flowers near a small archway that, with rust coming through the white paint on most of it, would’ve looked appropriate for the site of a hurried second wedding ceremony.
The only really interesting part of the park was the large, tall stands of bamboo and a couple of very large fromager trees. We also saw several giant millipedes, beach almost six inches long. We walked from about an hour, establishing our first really good sweat of the day. Luckily, most of it was shaded.
When we returned to the entrance, our man was still there, still covering two chairs, checking his mobile. We made eye contact for a few seconds until I noticed some nice hibiscus flowers nearby. I took more than the usual amount of time composing and taking the two photos, then gave him a look and a smile on the way out.
From there we went up the road a little farther to the former colonial governor's mansion which is now the national orphanage for boys. Again George started to talk to the security guards at the gate who informed him that photos would cost 5000 CFA. At this, I told him that I wouldn’t take any photos and returned my camera to the minibus.
When I returned, the director or someone with some power was talking to George about the photo privileges. George told us to go on and we walked towards the mansion. He joined us a few minutes later and told us that we could return to the bus to get our cameras because photos were now free. I told him that I was content taking photos with my mobile and we kept walking.
Just past the mansion, we came upon an athletics area with several basketball courts an a large, mostly dirt soccer field. A game of pretty high quality was going on. The players had personalized, matching jerseys, there were three referees, and several spectators watching from the shade of a giant mango tree--there we're no bleachers or other seats. We watched for a few minutes and were impressed with the skills we saw. It was at the level or beyond a good American high school game under much tougher conditions.
There three little boys shooting baskets and Matt, Evan and I joined them for a few minutes. They were pretty shocked when I accidentally drained back-to-back three pointers through the netless rims.
We continued to walk around the school and chat until returning to the entry. We expected to meet the director, but she was apparently busy with an event in a large covered Cabana at which most of the students seemed to be.
We loaded back into the minibus, but Becky and George did meet the director, who told them that there were 217 boys at the orphanage and that they were eligible if: both parents had died, or one had died and the other could not support them, or if they were abandoned or not supported by their parents. The school was heavily supported by donors, including the first lady of Cote d’Ivoire.
We then left for Grand Bassam, which was only about 10 km away by straight line, but a nearly 50 Km drive due to the lagoon. The drive took us just over an hour.
We arrived in Grand Bassam and passed a center roundabout that had a white plaster statue of three women, all in postures of protest. George explained that this was a memorial to women who came from Abidjan and all over the country to protest the fact that their husbands were being held by the French in prison in Grand Bassam for their pro-independence views in the 1950s. Ultimately, their protests played a role in the French granting Cote d’Ivoire independence in 1960.
We then crossed a bridge that took us to the old quarter of Grand Bassam, an area the locals called, “France.” From there, we went to “La Taverne Bassamoise,” a bar and restaurant on the beach for lunch. The menus were only in French, so Becky and I helped translate for the team. Our waiter was a very friendly guy in his 50s who was happy to be serving his only customers of the day. Becky and I shared an avocado salad and fries, while the cadets tried various dishes from filet de boeuf to calamari and a salad nicoise. While waiting for our food, we all walked out to the beach for a few minutes, but it wasn’t all that interesting, dirtier than the beaches in The Gambia, and not very deep. The waves were breaking very close to the shore, indicating a steep drop off. The beach was VERY long, however, with barely a turn or curve visible in either direction as far as the eye could see through the coastal haze. The beach did appear to be lined with resorts, though, for just as far.
Lunch was good, but strangely served in the sense that the lone waiter brought out two or three plates at a time and placed them on a table near ours. We watched as the flies sampled our food and he would return for more plates. Finally, when all eight plates were ready on the table, we were served.
The food was good and the beer was cold, so we enjoyed lunch. The cadets (and, I admit, we too) have had a little trouble with the pace of service in Cote d’Ivoire and the other cities as it seems to take almost forever to serve some of the simplest dishes. However, break seems to come quickly and the cadets like that a lot.
From the restaurant, we drove a short distance to an old colonial building that was the governor’s residence, now converted into the National Costume Museum. This humble, two-story museum had a very passionate guide who was extremely knowledgeable. He reminded me instantly of our friend at the Gambia National Museum. He led us around the sweltering little museum giving us descriptions of all of the many costumes and village dioramas with amazing animation. He spoke about colonial times, forced labor, tribal insurrections, and French deceit. There were photos from the era, too, showing French generals being carried everywhere in hammocks and carriages ported by groups of four or more indigenous people. I enjoyed hearing about the French interaction with northern, Muslim tribes from the regions that are now Burkina Faso and Mali and how the French used them to have access to the traditional trade routes across the Sahara to Timbuktu and on to Algeria and the Mediterranean coast.
I gave a nice donation to the museum as we left and we thanked our guide. From there we went to the adjoining craft market where Charlie, the star shopper on this trip, bought a mask.
George then led us on about a three miles walking tour of the colonial quarter that we all enjoyed. By now we’d come to embrace the sweat as we had just been dripping wet for hours, with alternating times that it would dry whenever we climbed aboard the air conditioned minibus.
George pointed out all of the building in the area--both their colonial and current (if any) uses. The locals seemed very friendly and many greeted us warmly without asking for handouts.
We stopped at a batik fabric maker’s tent and were amazed by his beautiful work. He showed us the stamps and wax he used to complete his tablecloths and runners. We asked about prices and were surprised to learn that a full-sized tablecloth that included eight hemmed napkins was only 15,000 CFA or about USD $27. The shopping started in earnest then with Austin buying the first full set for 12,500 CFA. We bought a slightly bigger one as well as a runner for 16,500 CFA, Eddie bought a beautiful round tablecloth, Matt bought a runner, and Georgia bought napkins separately, too. We were sure that we’d made this guy’s entire week, if not month. Still, they seemed to be a tremendous bargain.
We walked by the old prison, saw some 100-year-old mango trees, and other sites before leaving. Yah-yah, our driver had been tailing us and was ready to pick us up. It was now after 1700 and we were all very tired. Austin’s smart watch told us that we’d walked well over 5.5 miles during the day.
The drive back was easy and event free except stopping to buy more water and then coming upon the first car accident we’d seen. It was a minor fender-bender, but airbags had actually deployed in one of the cars (we were shocked it had airbags) and there was a discussion going on with about 40 people. There didn’t seem to be any injuries in either car.
We returned to the hotel and George told us that we would be leaving the next morning at 0800. Everyone went back to their rooms for a well-deserved shower and we rejoined at around 1900 for dinner. Several of the cadets were intrigued with the Croque-Monsieur/Croque-Madame sandwich choices and ordered the latter. Becky and I shared the medallions of white tuna which was very good and we ordered beer and water. After ordering our food, though, it took almost an hour for it to arrive. I used the tie to work on photos and we continued our discussions of the trip, music, how USAFA used to be much better (sarcasm), etc.
I went ot the ATM to get more cash and made a bit of a mistake. Instead of getting about $50 to get us through Cote d’Ivoire for the next 48 hours, I pressed the wrong button and got out a little over $500. Oops. Luckily, I went on-line to USAA via our USAFA VPN patch and made a transfer. The good news is that we won’t need anymore cash on this trip and I can used my 300,000 CFA to change into Ghanaian Cedis when we get to the border.
So ended 14 June