Monsieur, Monsieur, la bathroom s’il vous plait…
It is one thing to decide to explore West Africa by road. It is another thing entirely to choose to visit a francophone country when your French is bare minimum. My trip to Abidjan, can best be described as an exercise in hilarity and I am here to share it all with you.
So I set out with a couple of friends from Accra on a fine Saturday morning. My trip to Accra from Lagos is story for another day. We drove down to Takoradi and got in around 1pm. We were going to take a bus from Takoradi to Abidjan but there was only one bus for the day and we missed it. Next option was to take a smaller car to the border and another vehicle from the border into Abidjan. Seemed simple enough.
We were told we would have to pay to get our passports stamped at the border. Stamping at the Ghana side was fine, but at Cote d’Ivoire, everything changed. First, we had to do the yellow card check. Mine was checked and returned to me but the officer held on to the cards of my two friends. We were confused for a few minutes until we were ushered into an office where a lady explained in rapid fire French that the others needed to take the Meningitis vaccination because it was not on their card.
It was a funny conversation with me trying to explain in my halting French that they had taken the vaccine in recent time but before they got their yellow cards which explained why they didn’t have it on their cards. The lady kept insisting, her words spoken in French moving at the speed of light, that if the vaccine was not on the card, they would have to take the shots. Finally, after about 20 minutes, we gave in and they paid some money to take the shots. (Side note, the injection didn’t hurt even hours later which is unusual for a meningitis vaccine but ok.)
Next, we had to deal with the immigration guys who insisted we should pay 10,000 CFA per person in order to get our passports stamped. Might I just state for the record here that it is possible to travel across these borders without an international passport. An Identity Card would suffice and you wouldn’t have to pay a dime. But we had already offered our passports to be stamped and there was no going back. The driver had told us it was possible to bargain with them since we did not know the price before then and did not change enough money at the border.
At the first point, we met this man who looked smiled at us politely and said he wanted to marry one of us. We had nice banter until we were told the price and we said we didn’t have enough money with us. We tried to bargain with him but he referred us to another officer. The second officer haggled and haggled, at some point insisting that me and one of my friends must pay the full price since we both had US and Schengen visas on our passports. The ridiculousness of his logic was really amusing. After we managed to agree to 10,000 CFA for all three of us and were about to pay, the first man showed up suddenly like something out of a nightmare and insisted that the money was too little. The smiling, joking face was gone and was replaced with this firm, mean look that was just frustrating. He took our passports and had to follow him and massage his ego for almost another 30 minutes before we finally ended up paying 15,000 CFA in total. The naira equivalent of that sum is approximately N9,300.
So you know this thing some drivers do in Nigeria where they carry an extra passenger but tell you the person will be dropping off shortly? LOL. Apparently, it’s not peculiar to Nigeria alone. We got back to the car we had chartered on the other side of the road and the driver had picked up 3 women who he said were just going somewhere in front. That somewhere in front turned out to be inside Abidjan, almost 4 hours from the border. Why are people like this?
Oh, so while we journeyed, bestie became pressed and needed to ease herself. She kept telling me in English so I could communicate to the driver in French as the official translator for the trip. Brethren, I was already tired and stressed from the entire journey and even the small French I was speaking was tired. Next thing that came out of your WCW’s mouth was, “Monsieur, monsieur, la bathroom s’il vous plait, la bathroom!” Till date, each time we recall that, we all explode in laughter. It took a few minutes but the driver eventually understood what I was trying to say and pulled over. Ps, I should have simply said toilet. But mans was tired and the posh English speaking part of my brain had been activated.
Because we were scheduled to leave town the next day, we decided to explore the nightlife in Abidjan. Mind you, we made it to our hotel around 10pm after spending the entire day on the road. On the plus side, the roads were pretty good so we didn’t feel it so much. After checking in, showering and changing, we took a taxi from the front of the hotel and the driver was really gracious, dropping us off and picking us up at intervals before finally bringing us back to the hotel. He didn’t speak English but thankfully, my French was enough to get us through the night.
What I love about Abidjan nightlife first off was that you could find food at any time of the night. Google maps was quite useful in showing us restaurants that were close by and there seemed to be a lot of them concentrated in one area. It was like a 5-7 minute drive from the hotel and even at midnight, the restaurants were full of people and they still had good food. We managed to find a waiter who spoke a little English and we ordered.
The driver had dropped us off and agreed to return for us in an hour. He refused to take a down payment as well and I was grateful first, for his trust and second, for the assurance that he would indeed return. And when he did, he took us to a club where we danced our tired feet off for another hour before returning to the hotel. I was really excited to hear a lot of Whiz Kid and Davido blasting through the speakers. Nigerian music really making the waves. Next to the Nigerian songs, there were a lot of Makossa type songs that had the girls there going wild. Unsurprising anyways because we were in a Francophone country.
The following day, since we didn’t have much time to spare, we went to visit the zoo. The zoo was fair in terms of maintenance and I loved that it was really cheap to get in- 300 CFA per person (approx. N190). I guess I would say we more than got value for our money. There were snakes, lions, crocodiles, monkeys, chimps, birds, a zebra and my personal favourite, an elephant.
Abidjan is an interesting place. In contrast to other capital cities I have visited, it does not have a grand allure to it. I would not describe Abidjan as a mega city. But I guess that would be asking for too much. The highlight of my trip was the visit to the zoo. When visiting a new country, I try to check out museums, zoos and old historical buildings. Those are my default go to places, unless something else is suggested.
When you visit a new place, where do you like to go? Plus have you ever visited Abidjan? How did you find it?