Wednesday, April 18

A new route from Guinea into and across northern Ivory Coast

Brett: We filled up with fuel in Kankan and took the dirt road to Mandiani. At the manual pontoon we negotiated the fee down from $35 per car to $12 per car. We didn’t have tracks on our GPS for the next section and the Michelin map is fairly out of date, so we were winging it. Every local person we asked for directions towards Ivory Coast pointed towards Mali – we think there may have been a newer road or the roads are just better via Mali,and it is easy for the locals to just drift over the borders, but our Mali visa had expired and we didn’t want to go that way. We followed the old roads anyway which matched up with the map – they started off as roads and slowly became overgrown tracks through the forest that appear to have been used only by motorbikes in the last 10+ years. At points we felt like we were just following footpaths through the forest, but occasionally we would see signs that this was originally the road. After some 4x4ing, we came to a collapsed bridge – luckily it was the dry season and we could backtrack and cross a dry river bed. We only managed to travel about 1/4 of the distance we expected to and found a grassy, dried out swamp to free camp (N10 15.514 W8 10.568), which was one of the nicest free camp spots we have had in a while.

We got an early start and finally reached the Guinea Exit Customs at Bougoula. They weren’t open yet so we had breakfast in the village. We were so interesting to the local kids that school was postponed for an hour, while they came to check us out. They were really polite and just excited to see our photos of them on the camera. The customs guy was clearly very senior and apparently had been good friends with the previous president – the Guinea immigration guys at Noumoudjila were also nice.

Mike fixed his second puncture in no-mans land before we rolled through to the Ivory Coast checkpoint where we found a rope strung up across the road. We met a rag-tag bunch of guys sitting under a tree with only a hammock and a desk. They were all carrying AK-47s but mostly were in plain clothes (except one had cammo-trousers and another had a small Police logo on his shirt). There were a bunch of passengers from a truck which had been stopped sitting patiently in the shade - they had clearly been waiting a long time and were made to wait a bit longer so we could be processed first. They took just over an hour to take down all our details and offered us cashew nut fruit (bitter and acidic) while we waited, and just generally being over-pally. When they were done, they wandered over to inspect the cars, then told us we would have to pay them, while holding onto our passports. They claimed for some time that it was the official fee, but after some discussion they admitted it was just for them – they made it clear that if we didn’t pay them, our only choice was to go back to Guinea. They weren’t particularly aggressive, but we didn’t trust them and we decided as a group that they weren’t the kind of guys we wanted to spend the whole day arguing with, so we paid and moved on. Having very little information on the security situation in Northern Ivory Coast and a bad first impression, we really didn’t know what to expect going forward, but Mary was not a happy camper.

The roads were worse after the border and we eventually reached the Customs just before Minignan where we easily and quickly got our Carnet stamped. Within 30m of customs, we passed an army checkpoint, then a gendarmerie and finally a police checkpoint – each of which wanted to check all our paperwork. The first two were quick by Ivory Coast standards (about 15 minutes each), but the last one took an hour. The main official was trying to show his younger colleagues that he was boss kept telling us that we were missing the “Tourist document”. He was getting very annoyed with me coming to Cote d’Ivore and not speaking French. The younger colleagues were stood behind him looking embarrassed and supressing sniggers as the older guy got confused by the steering wheel on the right – he also couldn’t read, so it took some time to explain that the Carnet was the document he was looking for without him losing face. There were 3 more checkpoints on the way out of Minignan which took another 40 minutes – they were ok, just curious and wanting to chat and go through all the documents again.

We reached Odienne in the afternoon of the second day (where we originally, naively expected to have lunch on the first day). At the checkpoint on the way in to town they really didn’t know what to do with us, so kept us sat in the 38 degree sun for 45 minutes. There was a mix of gendarmerie, army, police and customs in one checkpoint. They asked Mike for money, but he refused – then they asked us and we just blanked them. Eventually they got hold of the police chief in town and insisted that we check in at the police station in town, despite the fact that we were not staying in town. One of the policemen insisted on going with Mike and Emma – apparently the president’s wife was visiting town and they were all being cautious. Eventually the chief arrived at the police station and was quite apologetic about our delay – he was actually a nice guy and he just wanted a photocopy of our passports so they would know our last location and keep us safe (similar to Mauritania). We bought all the cold cokes the local supermarket had, filled up with fuel and headed onwards. The police chief told us we could make it to Korgogo (200km away) before dark, haha, but we ended up covering only 70km in 2h30 driving fast and being harder on our cars than one probably should have. We hadn’t seen any hotels in 2 days and somehow found a really awesome spot right at sunset. The Hotel Campment Mandinani (just on the way out of Mandinani – N9 35.647 W7 04.182) was a paradise to us – it would make a perfect place to camp, but we decided to take the spotless rooms instead ($12). They had 24h electricity, fans in the rooms, ice-cold beers, 75 litres of cool water for a bucket shower (we are used to 5 litres when extremely dirty, so 75 litres was pure luxury). The lady that runs the place was great and she cooked us a great guineafowl and rice dish.

Mary: We woke up early again, keen to cover as much distance as possible, but Emma was feeling very sick. We continued on through Boundiali – the roads in the last 50km became even worse with massive potholes and big puddles covering the road (it would be very tricky in the wet season). The scenery was fantastic, with huge tracts of lush indigenous forest and grassy swamps surrounded by rocky mountains. At the checkpoint before Boundiali, the made us wait in the sun for ages before they waved us forward for them to deal with and made a big show of taking their time about everything. In response, I made a really big show of being irritated and stomping around throwing my hands in the air and shaking my head. I suspect they also had no idea what to do with us, but a couple of the many armed officials were leaning in the cars looking at our stuff and trying to get us to give them things. After some time, they radioed through to the police chief in Odienne and then waved us through quickly looking very embarrassed. The road became perfect tar from Boundiali and we made good time with no traffic. We checked in at Hotel Mont Korgogo so Emma could get some rest. The hotel was pure luxury and amazing value for $30 a room – the pool alone was worth it and we spent most of the afternoon in it.

In the morning, Emma was feeling better, but Mike wasn’t feeling great. We decided to split up and Mike and Emma opted for a rest day while we headed out towards the border – it wasn’t good for my mental health to stay longer. We drove on towards Burkina Faso and the roads deteriorated into badly potholed tar, but the checkpoints we encountered on the way were easy and friendly. I reckon eastwards from Korhogo they have had a few tourists and so they seemed used to us, whereas very few Europeans seem to have passed through the more remote north west, resulting in the confusion and subsequent displays of ego that we experienced. In retrospect, I reckon we were safe in Ivory Coast, but the combination of my fears, the first bad checkpoint, and the other just-frustrating checkpoints made me just want to get out of there. It’s a pity, because the country is beautiful, the (normal) people seemed lovely, and  our unusual route from Guinea was the kind of off-roading adventure that we think overlanders would love, if it weren’t for the Tourrettes-inducing *&%”!@# checkpoints.

For Overlanders:  at the Ivory Coast/Burkina Faso border, Ivory Coast customs is about 25km before the border. Immigration for Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso are both near the border. Burkina Faso customs at Niangoloko – all were easy.

1 comment:

  1. Is that a beard i see? Claire