Abidjan is the former capital city of the Ivory Coast, and currently the economic capital. It is the largest city in the nation and is the third largest French speaking city in the world after Paris and Kinshasa. It is an unique city in West Africa and its nicknames, Manhattan of the Tropics, Small Manhattan, or Pearl of the Lagoons, explains the city's topography. It also has lovely beaches around the lagoon.
Docking promptly at 8.00 am, we aimed to do the one and only trip offered by Silversea. This was a full day tour incorporating lunch at a local hotel in Grand Bassam. We left the port in convoy of four coaches preceded by an official port authority vehicle, with four uniformed men. We were not only in the leading coach, but also sitting in the front seat and therefore had a marvellous view of what was going on.
Probably because there were three other coaches behind us, we left at a snail's pace, which was actually helpful for taking photos. The streets were wide, with very much of a French influence, and the road out of the port led up a fairly steep hill. We continued at this snail's pace until both our guide and the driver gestured to the port authority guys, to "plus vite", in other words, get a move on, which they did, but only marginally!
One wonders how well they knew their town, as driving down a dual carriageway; we suddenly crossed the road and returned the way we had just come! Finally on the outskirts of town, we actually drove at probably the speed limit. The scenery as we passed became less town and more little individual clusters of habitation, little more than small shacks, interspersed with shops selling a variety of different goods and offering many different services from tyres and car components to clothes. Passing a large group of people all milling round, our guide told us that this was virtually a refugee area, where many people who had come from Niger, Mali, and many other neighbouring countries, lived apparently reasonably harmoniously and that they all managed to scratch a living.
Turning off the highway by what appeared to be an unorthodox route as the surface of the road was unmetalled we were confronted by two obstacles. First a funeral cortege was heading along the narrow road that we needed to traverse, with all the mourners, about 50, walking on foot at a slow pace. Once they had passed, there was a low hanging telegraph cable which was too low for our coach to pass under. Eventually someone found a pole long enough to raise the cable, so the coaches could pass underneath!
Our first stop was at the centre “Artisanal de Abidjan”, a small cooperative which was housed in a very small clearing by the side of the river, covered with bits of corrugated roofing. There were a few workers showing how they made the metalwork, and various men actually carving objects. All very fundamental, but on sale at quite inflated prices, but a few passengers did buy the various items on offer.
Arriving in Grand Bassam, the old French colonial capital city from 1893 to 1896, we stopped for a visit at the National Costume Museum. This was packed with several groups of children in school uniform, early teens, who were obviously on a school visit, and many of them were kneeling on the floor in front of the exhibits making notes. They were quite boisterous and friendly and answered our greetings in French, both verbally and with big grins. Some of them were lined up outside in the grounds, obviously taking it in turns to gain entry into the building. Inside the unlit rooms were various figures of the inhabitants of the past centuries wearing the costumes of the period. These also included fetishes and masks. In the grounds behind the building there was a ”sales opportunity” with a variety of objects, some of which included extremely large carvings of elephants and other animals which no passenger could possibly hope to transport abroad unless by sea.
After a stop of about half an hour here, we drove through the town of Grand Bassam which runs parallel to the ocean, to our hotel for lunch, the Etoile du Sud. They had set out tables on a terrace, with the overload seated on chairs on the sand covered by an awning literally yards from the beach, which was pristine, with beautiful surf rolling in. There were quite a few locals both swimming, surfing and walking along the beach. We suspect that many were staying in the hotel. The lunch consisted of various dishes both hot and cold, from beef, chicken to salads and vegetables. It was very well organised and we thoroughly enjoyed it. As usual, some passengers moaned that wine was not included with the lunch and that the food was not ready and waiting for them, as if they had not eaten for weeks! In view of the number for which the hotel had to cater, we felt they did a brilliant job.
The planned shopping stop at the market on the way back was cancelled on a majority vote.
The highlight of the return journey was the amazing traffic which had built up in the intervening hours - it was only about 3.00 pm, but it was virtually nose to tail. Once again our port authority vehicle, with its four occupants headed the convoy. As the traffic increased, one of them, kept shooting his arm out of the window and gesticulated at the car drivers to move out of our way - indeed throughout the whole journey, should any car get in front of us, the police gestured frantically for them to get out of our path. Finally the traffic ground to a complete halt, so two of them got out and told whoever the driver was, be it car or truck to move. Finding it virtually impossible to move the traffic which surrounded us, they decided to drive onto the other carriage way facing the fast driving oncoming traffic, thinking this would be the solution!! When it became completely gridlocked, the remaining two occupants of our port authority vehicle, carrying AK 47s, got out and waved their weapons at the oncoming traffic!! Miraculously the traffic melted away and we drove off at a merry pace. As the guide said - we were VIPs’ and were treated royally. We all remarked that we wished we could do the same back home! With their help we finally arrived back at the port and home. We had thoroughly enjoyed our day, and not least the hair-raising journey home!!