Stilt Dancing, Christmas & Evangelical Craziness

Trip Start Aug 14, 2013
Trip End Feb 01, 2014

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Saturday, December 21, 2013

Our border crossing into Ivory Coast (Cote D'Ivoire) was interesting to say the least, the Customs Official was so happy to see us and to welcome us to his country that he made all of us get off the truck to share some local gin with him at 8am in the morning; after a rough nights sleep on the border the last thing most of us wanted was alcohol, but we felt somewhat obliged give he was the man holding the rubber stamp that would let us into the country!!

We spent 10 days travelling through Ivory Coast, our first stop was to collect some more food supplies in a small town not far from the border.  Being a Sunday the religious were heading for church, a couple of us not on cook group duty wandered the town and stumbled across an Evangelical church service in full swing and we were invited in.   An experience is an understatement, the adults of the congregation were each in their own trance like state praying, chanting, singing, some facing the wall, others walking around, all the while the Pastor preached and the kids looked after the smaller kids.  It was a somewhat moving experience, not sure if it was more because it was so intense.

From collecting our supplies we headed out to a village that performed a traditional stilt dance ceremony.  Unable to organise ahead of time we had to just turn up in the hope they would be happy to perform for us, which thankfully they were.  The ceremony was out of this world and the best experience we've had in West Africa to date, building up to and centred around a stilt dancer, drums beating, woman dressed in white singing and clapping,  men with tassels around their arms dancing, hundreds of villagers also came out for the ceremony too and kids danced around on the edge.  Following the ceremony we were invited to get up and dance, which made the villagers laugh.  A few of us stayed back for a bit and we ended up following the women of the village who sang and clapped and sent the stilt dancer on its way to the outskirts of the village.  The party for the villages wouldn't finish there, they ended up celebrating until dawn break, as we were tucked up in our tents we listened to the drum beat and singing that lasted through the night.

From the stilt dance village, we had a couple of long drive days to get us to Korhogo for Christmas.  We spent a couple of days in Korhogo, checking out the local club in the hotel ground, dancing to Ivorian music with the locals in front of mirrors - I thought it was a bit weird to begin with but once we got into the swing of things you couldn't get Sascha or I away from them!!  Christmas evening was a hoot, Ant, Ina and Sascha took the reins and cooked up a massive feast, we managed to  find a table big enough to sit 21 of us and set it with crackers and casks of cheap red wine!!  Ina organised Secret Santa and we had heaps of fun opening the weird and wonderful presents and stealing the best presents from each other!!  Boxing Day was a drive day, so there were a few seedy feeling people on the truck for the day.

Yamoussoukro would be our next stop, to visit the beautiful but weird Basilica of Our Lady of Peace. Built by the late President, Félix Houphouët-Boigny, the basilica was inspired by the Basilica of Saint Peter in the Vatican City, and no money was spared when building it (note: the guide was unable to tell us the true cost as he did not know himself - it was a gift from God!?).

Leaving Yamoussoukro we headed for Abidjan where we spent a couple of hours stuck in traffic, and teenage guys were being paid by taxi and bus drivers to direct traffic and let them through, it was utter chaos and Al at one point had to get out of the truck and do his own bit of directing.  We only spent a couple of hours in Abidjan, stocking up on food and drinks for New Years and eating the yummiest fish burger!!

From Abidjan we found ourselves in the bohemian seaside town of Grand Bassam.  Both Ant and I were feeling a bit poorly during, me with my yearly 24 hour flu and Ant with his usual tummy bug, so we spent most of our time sleeping.  We did manage to check out some of the towns art and ceramic galleries, and very interesting museum of culture housed in an old crumbling colonial building with verandahs, high ceilings and shutters; Alice and I also were also befriended by a lovely old local man who wanted to help us buy our fruit and veggies, he rode alongside us the 1km walk to the markets and then proudly marched us through the market to find his wife's stall where he made us sit amongst the 2nd hand kids clothes, whilst he sent her go out and buy our stuff, as he didn't want us to be ripped off.  I'm happy to say that we spent less then we ever have and had lots of fun, we did however miss out on cheese and biscuits back at camp (our first in 2 months).

New Year was to be spent on the beaches of Ghana, so on the morning of New Years we headed for the border eagerly anticipating our celebrations in the evening.  Unfortunately due to someone on the truck not having their Ghana visa (you had to get it in your home country before the trip and their visa agent had stuffed up), we found ourselves delayed at the border for hours whilst waiting for the immigration official to return from his leave to grant them a visa; late over the border we found ourselves bush camping up a lonely road - so close yet so far from the beach.  A few of us did stay up though and went in search of drums beating into the night - up dark roads, through rubber plantations, the noise all the while staying in the distance.
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