A Travellerspoint blog

January 2020

BREAKDOWNS, DANCES AND RIDING WITH LOCALS

HAVING THE MOST FUN IN THE MOST UNUSUAL PLACES

sunny 35 °C
View Benin, Togo and Cote, Ivory on curlygirl's travel map.

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It is a two-hour drive from Man to the Selakuru village where we will watch the famous stilt dance performed by the Kongnaka people. We are a little apprehensive when we see the sign to the village stating “touristique village”. I had really wanted to see this ( dance de Echassier) but we are so spoiled from our Benin experiences that the thought that it is done mostly for tourists disappoints us. You could sense that. The kids all came running but unlike in Benin, they beg for money and candy. We had some fun for sure and the dance was cool. The large black mask is for the man who protects from evil while the stilt dancer is just having fun.

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One of the nicest moments, was at the end when they thought we had left and the village all began to follow the masks and sing and laugh.

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Perhaps the highlight of the day was our return trip where we broke down. First, I will explain, that we have yet to be in any vehicle that does not have at least one check engine warning illuminated. Today was no different. While the roads seem better here, there are still huge holes everywhere. Well, we hit one and that was the end of the car. 35 degrees, full sun, and we are standing on the side of the road hoping a local transit van will come by. We see one, charming, painted with Bonne Chance ( good luck) and we think we are lucky but he continues. After about 30 minutes, I remember my voodoo fetish for good luck with travel. I perform the ritual and immediately, our ride pulls up. We both love the experience of local transportation. So, with two huge smiles, these two white chicks, and our guide crawl into the back of a decrepit, filthy, dusty, van, packed with people, and everything else. A video screen plays up front blasting Afrobeats. We greet everyone with a “bonsoir” (anytime after noon) and settle in for the 70-minute ride that stops frequently along the way. We stop for bananas and pile a large bunch in the back with us. Loved it.

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On arrival back in Man, we jump in another dilapidated vehicle, a taxi, and head to a small village called the zélé with the Gbâ people. This was very cool and although Voodoo is not practiced in Cote D’Ivoire, there were similarities. First the men with sticks danced and chanted through the village before going off into the woods to search for the “masque”, he arrives and we walk through the village following his antics. Everyone gathers to follow and watch.

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We end our day by spending a couple of hours walking through the Man market. We both agreed that this was very interesting. Really too busy and crowded in small spaces for photos but so great. I loved the alley with the traditional medicine. Really beautiful. I will say, there is way too much garbage around and the air quality is brutal. When we get home, we are exhausted, completely filthy, we, and our cameras, are completely covered in dust. Our lungs hurt and our noses are filled with soot. And as we scramble to see who gets the shower first I win) we remark on what a great day we had….and that we are probably a little weird.

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For the first time this trip, we had the opportunity to have the hotel do laundry. Everything needs to be washed daily but we do it in our sink and it is hard work. Hard to believe, people do this every day here but I have noticed how much better they are at it than me. All this to say, we were delighted to drop some pants and shirts to be washed. That was until we went to get them tonight and we learned because we are VIP guests (hmm), they decided to lock them in a locker and they only guy with the key had gone home for the night. But Inshallah, he will return tomorrow before we leave.

We finish the evening in typical style waiting 1 ½ hours for dinner but in the end, it is amazing. A fresh avocado salad and the local speciality, chicken in peanut sauce. Spicy and full of flavour. Mmmmm

Posted by curlygirl 14:46 Archived in Cote d'Ivoire Comments (1)

WALKING INTO CHAOS

ONWARD TO MAN

sunny 35 °C
View Benin, Togo and Cote, Ivory on curlygirl's travel map.

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We continue to enjoy our modern hotel this morning with a hot shower and a great breakfast, even cheese. It is a nice change from bread, jam and an omelet.

Our driver from last night arrived promptly at 9:30 am and took us to a local market. Not just any market but the largest local market in Cote D’ivoire. There are NO tourist here. He explained that in the past it might have been dangerous to come here but now, with the police presence, and an African by our side, we need not worry. We trust him and we descend into the increasing chaos. It is massive and endless. For as far as the eye can see in every direction, there is more. You can buy absolutely anything here. It is difficult to photograph but occasionally we try. The sun is too strong and there are people, carts and produce everywhere. Nothing and no one stand still. People are apprehensive initially, trying to understand why we want pictures but our lovely African tells them we are not French and we want to show the world that the Cote D’Ivoire is changing and it is beautiful. When we take a picture, we generate much interest and are often swarmed by people. We don’t linger. We move on, while people laugh with delight at the images on the backs of our cameras. This morning I feel like a florescent light in a sea of black, orange, green, yellow and blue.

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Our Air Ivoire flight departs from the tiny domestic part of the airport. Our new guide, a photographer and videographer promoting the region, meets us here. In one hour, we are in Man. After a lengthy wait for our bags, we go directly to our first village and first tribal dance of Cote D’Ivoire. This is the Wê (pronounced whey) It does not disappoint. It is referred to as the dance of the youth and it is 6 young girls who dance with one of the older men. Their costumes and make up are incredible. They tell us the girls volunteer for this dance in attempt to preserve the culture. Traditionally, it is a celebration dance but today, it is for us. Still, the whole village comes out. The sun is bright so photography seems impossible but we don’t care because it is fascinating. The girls must not smile, must be in motion always, so if the feet are not moving or they are high in the air, their heads shake like a bobble on a bobble head doll. We shriek and cover our eyes when we see him swing one girl’s head inches from a stack of clay blocks and another, inches from a metal pole. But it is part of the dance. It is beautiful and we love it.

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As we often do, we reflect a little after on the experience. Particularly when we smell alcohol on the male dancer. We understand that we had to offer alcohol to get the dance but didn’t understand until later that it is the alcohol that “inspires him to dance”. I mean, I get the concept, having felt the inspiration from booze myself at times, but I am disappointed. We question the power and inequities. But this is how it is.

Once again, Man is known to be a tourist area and once again, this comes as a shock.
We stay in the best hotel in the area but we think we may have reached a low. While there is hot water, the rooms are dark, dingy and the floors quite dirty. There are plenty of other toubabou (white people), perhaps 20, at the hotel but that is the extent of what convinces us it is a tourist town. At least so far.

Our new guide launching his drone.

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Posted by curlygirl 11:40 Archived in Cote d'Ivoire Tagged man adbijan Comments (1)

IVORY COAST – ABIDJAN AND GRAND BASSAM

SAME SAME BUT DIFFERENT

sunny 39 °C
View Benin, Togo and Cote, Ivory on curlygirl's travel map.

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We arrived on time to Abidjan airport but had a pretty slow start to our trip. Alex only had the pre-approved e-visa so she had to wait in line for about 40 minutes to get the actual visa. After immigration, we decided we would get sim cards for our phones, in true West African style this was a painfully slow process and took about 45 minutes.

The heat and humidity continue.

We had pre-arranged a driver who we probably paid too much because we were promised a good air-conditioned car. Instead we got two guys (because even the simplest tasks involve more than one person), in a car that kept cutting out and who tried to charge us double. Of course, we did not pay double. The first clue should have been his chivalry, when he offered to carry Alex’s small rack instead of taking one or more of our bags.

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Our hotel here is lovely but very expensive. About $300 Canadian a night. But West Africa is not cheap as you might expect given its economic state. It is nice to have some modern luxury in the middle of a trip like this but we head out tomorrow and although I have booked the top hotels, I expect it will be much less, money and services.

We hired a driver and guide for the afternoon. The guide turned out to be terrible. Nice but knew nothing (so much so, we didn’t pay him). The driver was amazing and he quickly understood what we were looking for. We ditched the museums, went to a quick shop in a market and then directly to a local market in Grand Bassam, a beautiful beach area and pre-1900, the capital of Cote D’Ivoire. We bought these lovely brass weights, that are little animals, that were once used to weigh gold.

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The local market was bustling and we loved it. The textures and colours were amazing and the woman and children were happy to have photos taken. It was challenging because of the traffic and volume of people but I love some of my shots today. Of course, not everyone is friendly. The woman carrying their fish trays on their heads were amazing but unwilling to have a shot. Most men were not obliging at all. We learn that they believe most white people are French and they do not like the French. There is much bitterness about the past and they way they were treated under French colonization and perceive continued interference even today.

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Tomorrow we fly north to Man.

Posted by curlygirl 23:26 Archived in Cote d'Ivoire Tagged cote d'ivoire Comments (3)

LOME - HANDICRAFTS AND THE FETISH MARKET

WARNING CONTENT MAY BE SENSITIVE FOR ANIMAL LOVERS

semi-overcast 34 °C
View Benin, Togo and Cote, Ivory on curlygirl's travel map.

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This is the end of our time with our guide. Nikki leaves tomorrow evening and so we are just resting at a hotel on the beach for the part of the day and all day on Tuesday.

On the drive back from Kpalime we had 10 police checks but didn’t pay at all. When we arrived in Lome we made two stops. The local handicraft market and the fetish market

The handicraft market has the most amazing woodwork but I am always leery of having it taken by customs and managing bringing it back. It is the typical foreign market where we are pestered to annoyance and as we walk we build a parade of people trying to sell us anything we looked at previously.

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The Fetish market was brilliant and bizarre all in one. Fetish doesn't mean quite the same thing here. Fetishes are more tailisman's amulets or healing tools used in traditional medicine. Animals provide an incredible source of healing and are a necessary part of staying healthy with good strength. They tell us the animals only arrive when they are dead but it is a hard sell given what we have seen on this trip. Plus, we saw two caged snakes and a cage of giant rats.

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After browsing, Nikki and I went for a fetish ceremony with the local voodoo priest. It was completely bizarre but I loved the experience. Alex went to the car because she couldn’t stand the smell or the sights, though she also found it fascinating. I ended up finding out I was lucky and got fetishes for love, improving my memory and for safe travels. Seems like it could be promising.

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We are looking forward to relaxing tomorrow but sad to see Nikki leave us. We have had the best time and to share it with two amazing, professional, kind, funny and accomplished woman who are also photographers has been the best!

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Wednesday, Alex and I head to Cote D’Ivoire for another week of adventures.

Posted by curlygirl 05:07 Archived in Togo Tagged togo lomé Comments (0)

THE ROAD TO KPALIME

BRIBES AND BATS

sunny 35 °C
View Benin, Togo and Cote, Ivory on curlygirl's travel map.

I will admit that after the extreme beauty, warm hospitality and endless photographic opportunities of Benin, Togo has been a bit of a disappointment. It is always interesting to see a new place but the difference in these two countries is significant.

We decide to come to Kpalime, which is considered to be one of the most beautiful areas. It has a completely different landscape with mountains, trees and lush vegetation. Certainly, deserving of its reputation. However, the drive was quite sad. In two hours, we were stopped at least 8 times by the police or army for bribes. Well, on some occasions we were not asked to pay, maybe because we, the tourists, were watching, but other times, the guide was asked to go to the back of the vehicle to pay. Once we had to get out and walk through the check point. It is not scary just sad. The guide had prepared us for this. The typical bribe is 500 – 1000 CFA so about $1-$2 dollars. We are told if you don’t pay, they search cars and delay you and in the end you pay any way.

Here, we have a really lovely hotel and it is very peaceful and owned by an Austrian lady so the food is decent, albeit very salty. Sadly, the promise of hot water turns out to be almost no water at all.

In the evening we walk through some mountain villages but they are most desolate and people not overly engaging. I get that to be honest. They must feel like they are in a fish bowl. But such a difference from Benin.

Of course, some are very friendly

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In the morning we visit the Sacred Bat Temple. This isn’t really a temple although they have a temple created in the treat for worship and sacrifice. Really it is a highly populated area of bats which is insane. Very cool to see.
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Posted by curlygirl 04:34 Archived in Togo Tagged togo kpalime Comments (0)

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