Life in Abidjan

We arrived in Abidjan on 3rd January 2022 and as of writing, on 20th January, we´re still here – 18 days and counting, the longest we have stayed anywhere since we sold the cottage nearly six months ago.

Does it feel like home? Well….maybe not quite yet!

But it is very westernised, clean, seems relatively safe. There´s some interesting buildings and it´s seething with interesting residents in every tree!

It´s by the sea with a long coast line stretching all the way to Ghana. We can buy pretty much anything we want and we´ve only had the tiniest bit of hassle from the police.

So all in all we´re pretty happy with our choice of cities to get stuck in.

I thought I would take a break from talking about the long and sad saga of our convoy group and the sudden end of our time with them, and concentrate this post instead on better things – exploring everything that Cote D´Ivoire, and in particular the city of Abidjan, have to offer.

Our first few days here were taken up in the main with embassies and shipping agents. We had walked out to a shopping mall on day one, bought moisturiser and had a Burger King. Great start!

On day two we didn´t manage to fit in anything but the Ghanaian embassy and a bit of laundry, but that evening we walked out to a lovely Lebanese restaurant where we massivley over ordered, ate too much of the free pickles and ended up carrying half our meal back to the hotel for friends and feeling a bit sick! I still intend to go back to that restaurant and do it properly next time, it was fabuous!

On day three we did a two and a half hour walk, in the burning heat and humidity, all round the city to another shopping mall! I wasn´t happy! It was just like a shopping mall at home and – also just like at home – I still didn´t want to buy anything!

But the walk involved a long stretch following the old train lines. Overgrown and full of old bits of brick and concrete, they were quite tricky to walk along.

Either side were people working on wood carvings, basket weaving, it was a very industrious community.

Then a train came!

Who knew it was still operational! We dashed out of the way, everyone else just looked on and smiled.

Day four we were invited to coffee and cakes by the two friends from the group who had also left the trip. We walked out to the bakery with them then managed to find two-way radios in a nearby Decathlon – see, you really can find anything here! That evening we went to a very posh Indian restaurant with a pool no less! And security gates and guards with guns. The food was fantastic and the service perfect.

So all in all, we didn´t start off making the most of our time in Abidjan. Shopping malls, Decathlon, coffee and cakes. But to be fair to us, much of our time and mental energy was being taken up by embassies and shipping, we were in quite a difficult situation afterall and so being a tourist was not high on our priority list.

Around this time we also, finally, got our first shipping quote in. And we nearly fell off our chairs! Just the shipping was almost €5,000 with Abidjan port fees at €2,000 and Cape Town port fees at €1,000. That´s a cool €8,000 plus flights, more than double what it would have cost us to ship from the UK in the first place.

But regardless of all this bad news, we couldn´t carry on wasting our chance to see our new home properly. No matter what was going on, we were still in a new city in a new country and we really did need to make the most of it, depressing as the shipping situation was.

So the next day we headed off to see the Grand Mosque.

They wouldn´t let us in when we arrived as it was prayer time so we walked 1km up the road to the Nigerian embassy just as a fact finding mission. At this point we still had two options open to us – ship to Cape Town or drive solo the route we would have done with the convoy, hoping that two people and a Landrover would have more luck getting across closed borders than 20 people and a bright orange truck! It was a reasonable hope, the Ambassador at the Ghanaian embassy had told us as much a few days before. But it was a risk on a number of fronts, not least the Nigerian front!

We gained valuable insight into the way the tour should have secured their Nigerian visas but little else. We did have two very interesting conversations about this part of the world with two people in the waiting room at the embassy. Neither conversation filled me with joy about the thought of travelling solo!

It was then off to St Paul´s Cathedral.

Not entirely similar to its namesake in London, but with beautiful stained glass windows.

And we made a friend on the lawns.

That evening we went to a restaurant with our friends called ´Ribs´ that didn´t sell ribs and I ordered BBQ Chicken and got a chicken burger. Apparently if I´d wanted BBQ Chicken I should have asked for Chicken BBQ – now I know!

We had also had another shipping quote in which was about half the price of the first. By now we had around four or five agents actively engaged with us, so things had started to look up.

Feeling more motivated and hopeful I decided to rebel against shopping malls and Decathlons entirely and arranged to meet up with some others from the group who were still in Abidjan awaiting their flights to Ghana or Benin. There was much to see and do in Abidjan and I was determined to stop slouching around feeling sorry for myself and get out and about doing it!

We drove to the north of the city to meet them in their AirBnB and were treated to an early lunch of cheese, biscuits and crisps with white wine for those of a sturdier constitution than me on a hot and humid morning! Our washing was thrown in their washing machine (an acutal, real-life washing machine!!! Wooooow!!) and off we set to ´do the sites´.

First stop, Galerie Cecile Fakhoury. An art gallery showing installations from local artists. It was small and intimate and I loved it.

The second room was displaying work from a photographic artist who had made a mural of photos taken over 20 years charting the development of Cote D´Ivoire.

And to add to the whole ambience there were peacocks in the back garden!

And even parrots….

And a very large tortoise! Why not??

From there we headed off to the Museum of Civilisation. Initially we thought it was closed as we could only find the statues in the grounds but no actual museum.

But we found the entrance eventually and I was immediately in my element.

I love African art, I am, in fact, fascinated by it. I started reading bits and pieces about it before we came out here and having learnt more about the style and what it all means I love it even more.

There was a small shop in the grounds which I wandered into despite knowing full well there was no way I could buy anything, where on earth would I put it?? Stuck to the bonnet like a Mascot maybe??

But everything was priced in the hundreds of Euros so the issue of storage never arose!

The final stop on our tour of the art and culture of Abidjan was the Foundation Donwahi pour l´Art Contemporain. Another wonderful art gallery and very different again from the other two.

A stunning exhibition from Ethiopian photographer Aida Muluneh had me enthralled and once again regretting the lack of space in Henry!

But there were other pieces such as strange cartoons.

One of which apparently represented the COVID crisis.

And some pictures made of bits of old mobile phones.

The Foundation also has a cocktail bar and restaurant. The boys sat in the bar whilst the girls did the art! But that evening the four of us went back for food, booked a private room and had a great night.

Oh, and it turns out there is just the tiniest bit of space in Henry for the tiniest little African statue from their shop….60cm tall tiny, actually a bit of a pain!

But we´ll be popping back to the UK soon and Mr Man, now renamed Mrs Man due to features you can hardly miss, will be safely installed at Mum´s before too long! I´m afraid they wrapped it before I could take a photo so you´ll have to wait for that one!

By now we had had a number of shipping quotes in and the price was coming down bit by bit. We were definitely going through the mill with different options and plenty of challenges along the way. At one point it seemed we would be better off trying to get through Ghana to Togo and shipping from there but eventually we made a decision – we would stay in Abidjan, ship from here and take a short trip back to the UK to see friends and family whilst Henry was cruising from here to Belgium and then all the way back to Cape Town!

All we wanted at this point was certainty and certainty could only be gained by taking the simplest option. We finally had a plan.

The following day found us exploring the more natural side of Abidjan. First stop, the Botanical Gardens of Bingerville.

A lovely place full of bamboo and palm trees. We wandered around in the sun enjoying a bit of peace and quiet in the middle of the city.

And we even found a good spot for another impromptu lunch.

With a friend!

After eating we headed of to the outskirts of the city and the Banco National Park. It was a fair drive away so rather than booking expensive taxis we decided to squeeze our three friends into the back of the Landrover. They said they had never appreciated what sardines go through before but hopefully it was worth saving €7!!

The national park is 30sqkm of primary forest with various exciting species resident. It started well with some cheeky faces watching us from the entrance gate.

We walked about 2km in before the boys decided they´d had enough and went back – it was very hot and sticky and we hadn´t seen anything since the monkeys. But the three of us girls were made of sturdier stuff and carried on for another 2 km.

The boys missed out, we saw some very interesting creatures along the way!

James had given me one of our two-way radios when he turned back so we could test them. On my way back I tried him again and again but got nothing more than static. I plotted my attempts on the map and finally, 800m from the entrance gate, we made contact….let´s just hope neither of us gets lost in a forest anytime soon!

We actually revisited the national forest on our own a few days later and drove around instead of walking in the hope of seeing more of it We got quite deep but even the Landrover couldn´t get down most of the trails.

We found a mammal!

And there was a beautiful lunch spot overlooking a small pond with various wildlife around it.

This looked to me like a small African Jakarta bird but surely we´re in the wrong part of Africa for that? Any guidance from any experts out there would be much appreciated!

She even had some little ones with her – you need to look very carefully!

And one resident was making its own beautiful artwork…

But we gave it a wide birth!

It was a lovely day and you would never know you were only a kilometer or so out of the city.

And of couse, being a rainforest, it rained!

As we drove out of the gates the park guides hailed us with greetings of what a great car we had. We got chatting to them and they were fascinated by our travels and this blog. We were introduced to a lovely lady from the Ministry of Tourism and many, many photos were taken! Of couse, I had to return the favour!

As we drove around Abidjan one constant – apart from totally unpredictable driving from the locals! – is the people selling anything and everything in the middle of the road.

From bread to steering wheel covers, from bedside lamps to water, banana chips, watches, wine glasses and cutlery, face masks and tissues, children´s toys…whatever you could possibly want you can buy just by leaning out of the window of your car.

These people take huge risks standing in the middle of busy, often fast moving traffic all day every day. I watch them as we drive past, can they really be making a decent living like this?

And these little cuties had drawn a heart on our window as we were stopped at traffic lights and were thrilled to have their photo taken. They even diligently cleaned it off as the lights turned green.

We had already been in Abidjan a week by now and we were due to check out of the Ibis to find somewhere more financially sustainable to camp out whilst we tried to move forward with the shipping. The shipping process, we have discovered, is unncesssarily complicated and the industry was apparently established by pirates, taken over by the mafia and is little changed since! It was clearly going to take a very long time so hotel bills and restaurants had to stop.

We drove 80km down the coast to the pristine beaches of Assinie. Having left late in the day after downloading movies and chatting to my Mum on the Ibis´ wifi, it was already 6:30pm and dusk before we had to admit defeat. There are no campsites in Assinie. So it was another hour and a half along the dark, pot-holed roads including witnessing one four-car pile-up, back to where we started – the campsite where we visited the group for our goodbye meal on the outskirts of the city itself.

And there we have stayed ever since. With the lovely security guards – who call James either Monsieur le Blanc or Papa! – dangerous beaches, mesmerising sounds of crashing waves all day everyday and bright security lights shining directly into the roof top tent all night making it seem like daytime!

Intermittently steamingly hot and humid or cool and cloudy. Trips out every other day to the supermarket half an hour away, lots and lots of emails, calls and visits to and from shipping agents. But not much else. Quite boring at times to be honest.

We are no longer tourists, we have had to admit defeat and just be residents! Residents with the sole job of getting Henry on a ship, which includes cleaning him out, dismantling his roof and….packing!

And even getting a sun tan!

But we have finally booked Henry on a ship to Cape Town, via Belgium, leaving on 5th February. This, for some reason known only the shipping industry, means he has to be packed into his container by Friday 21st January – tomorrow in fact.

So, with our home and transport gone, there is only one thing left to do and that´s fly back to the UK to see friends and family.

We both have mixed feelings about this. We have missed everyone back home with a vengence.

But is the UK home anymore? Not really. We feel as though we have lived more vivid, more humble and more real lives in the last 6 months than we ever have before.

We are different people with a different and new perspective on life and the world. I´m not even sure I can live in a house again! Nor wear a skirt or shoes! And we are going to absolutely freeze!

But we´re excited and looking forward to seeing everyone and catching up on everything that has been going on without us.

And of course, we have to plan the third leg of our adventures – the much longed for and anticipated Southern Africa. So much still to do but we are almost there.

The blog will be on hold whilst we´re home so you can all take a breather with us. At the moment we´re planning to be back at the end of February but with the vaguaries of shipping and COVID all I can say is….watch this space!

4 responses to “Life in Abidjan”

  1. I feel for you being stuck and having to pay a lump to get round central Africa but still envious, you know you always have a place here in backwater France


  2. Great write up Jen and good news on the shipping. What did you pay in the end? Enjoiy the UK – maybe corrupt Boris-free by then hopefully.-))
    Take care,Ben


  3. Safe travels back to the UK – wrap up warm!!! It’ll be a shock to your systems!! Looking forward to hearing more when you’ve arrived in Capetown…..


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