African Anecdotes #8: Welcome To Abidjan – The Real Capital – Abidjan, South Africa

Welcome To Abidjan – The Real Capital

I suppose this story wouldn’t be complete without a few words about Abidjan. Despite what you might read in guidebooks about Abidjan being the pearl of West Africa, it is more or less just a big dirty, smelly, polluted, rubbish-strewn, crime-ridden shit-hole of a city.

It does have some nice areas, or rather one nice area – Cocody (to the east), with its luxury hotels, big villas and golf courses. Les Plateaux is the main centre, and is a bit like Manhattan in that it is the central district of the city, it is similar in form and setting (being surrounded by water, except to the north), and it has numerous skyscrapers. Compared to the other areas, it is a bit cleaner, and has a few Western-style restaurants, banks, shops, etc., but on the whole it is still pretty shabby. The other districts (from what we saw) are all pretty grotty.

The worst example being the district of Adjam� which should be avoided at all costs (although this is kind of difficult since it’s where all the buses leave from). These places are called gare routi�res bus stations, but most of them are just stalls selling tickets, a few chairs for people to sit and wait on, and a bit of space for the buses to park. The stations are so difficult to find and to access on the bumpy hole-ridden dirt-tracks, among all the other chaos, that the practice is for young lads to guide people to the station which has a bus going to their destination (in exchange for a few hundred francs). They run alongside or in front of your taxi, and guide the driver through various obstacles to get there.

The whole area is a nightmare – people selling stuff everywhere (either at market stalls, small cabins, or just with their vegetables or other products on the ground, or in bowls on their heads). There is rubbish strewn all over the place, human / animal faeces, large puddles of water, children urinating. The smell is really disgusting. We were told it was also dangerous, to remove all jewellery, to watch out for your belongings at all times, that people had had watches stolen off their wrists, etc. We didn’t have any problems and most of the young guys that helped us find places were just aggressively friendly, although I could believe some of the stories about people having necklaces ripped of their necks, or their wrists broken as someone wrestled off their watch.

Adjam� is so bad, that it leaves your clothes and shoes smelling – basically you’re glad to get away from the place, and dread going back.

Central Abidjan (Les Plateaux) is expensive, although you can find reasonable hotels for around 30,000 FCFA (which was what we payed at the Grand hotel). For eating it’s a lot cheaper to go to say Treichville or Marcory, where you can find loads of cheap Maquis.

The Cathedral to the north of Les Plateaux is worth a visit, as is the March� de Treichville, where you can see skilled wood-carvers at work (and buy carved masks, elephants, jewellery made from shells or cooked earth, and loads of other stuff – food, clothes, etc.). Cocody lets you see the huge difference between how the rich and poor live. Other than that though, Abidjan doesn’t really have much to offer.

Luckily, it has the redeeming feature of the beaches of Grand Bassam, 30 km or so to the south east. You can get to the town quite cheaply by taxi-collectif (about 700 FCFA a head); the beaches are about a 20 minute walk from the town. They’re not as nice as San Pedro, but still pretty cool and fairly deserted (at least if you go during the week). The waves are massive (and currents are supposedly dangerous), so I could only swim quite near the shore.

On the road from Abidjan, a few kilometres from Grand Bassam, there is a huge artisan market, selling a wide variety of painted tissues, tablecloths, tam-tam drums, wooden sculptures, even chairs, cupboards and beds made from wood and bamboo. There are a lot of beautiful objects, but you need to bargain hard to get a half decent price. We bought some painted tissues, masks, and other small wooden sculptures as souvenirs.

That’s All Folks
So we made it back to France, on an overnight flight leaving Abidjan on the 19th August. It was definitely an experience with enjoyable moments, tough bits, and parts where that I was so bored or pissed off that I asked myself what the hell I was doing there.

People there are, in general, a lot poorer than us here in Europe, but they have a contentedness, and a sense of community and human contact that I would say makes their lives much richer. Life in the village is slow, but hard-working – people get up with the cocks crowing at about 5 a.m., and work all day till sundown around 6 p.m.

I think we saw the real Ivory Coast, not just the beaches, hotels, golf-courses, and safaris of some package tour (although I do regret a bit not having the cash available to go and see some wildlife for a day in one of the national parks – oh well, next time!).

A bientot, Cote d’Ivoire,