Arrival in Abidjan
Trip Start Mar 14, 2013
20Trip End Apr 05, 2013
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The flight to Abidjan left on time and went fairly smoothly although there were some moments of hard turbulence. I was seated next to a French couple who were apparently making their first trip to Côte d’Ivoire, there was an Ivorian woman on the plane whom they knew and she would stop by from time to time and answer questions about arrival formalities, and how things would work during their visit.
We arrived on time in Abidjan and began the cumbersome process of arrival formalities. They certainly are cumbersome here, though less so that most other francophone countries in Africa. The first point of arrival from Europe or the US always takes the longest, since two or three hundred people are arriving at the same time. Inter-African flights have fewer passengers, so the lines are less long. We first shuffled by the health desk where an officer inspected our yellow-fever cards, to verify they were up to date. About a dozen Africans didn’t have one, and were directed toward a line to one side, to be dealt with later. We who continued on next faced the long lines for immigration. Unusually, there were no forms to fill out, and when our turn came the agents checked our visas took an electronic photo and right and left index print (electronically as well) after which we were allowed into the luggage reclaim area. Once we had our bags, we had to show our luggage tags to another agent to make sure no luggage was being stolen, and then we had to put our bags through a large scanner, I suppose to make sure we weren't smuggling arms or contraband. Finally we could leave the official zone and face the crush of people in the arrival hall waiting for arriving passengers. I looked for anyone holding up a sign with either my name or the hotel name on it and didn't see one. So I walked through the crowd to a place where I could have some space and still keep an eye on my luggage and also watch for the driver who was to meet me.
After fifteen minutes of waiting, I called the hotel and got an answering machine, on which I left the message that I had arrived. Ten minutes later I called back and this time reached one of the managers, who said he would call the driver and find out what was going on. About a minute later I saw the driver holding a sign with my name on it. I motioned to him and apologized for being late; he said there had been a huge traffic jam on the main street leading to the airport.
He had a 4WD vehicle in the parking lot, so we loaded the luggage and set out for the Villa Anakao in the Deux Plateaux quarter. Shortly after leaving the airport we came to a traffic stand-still. There seemed to be no movement at all. We waited 15 minutes while noticing that some vehicles were leaving the road and driving through back lots in an effort to get around the blockage. The driver looked at me. I thought I knew what he was thinking. He didn’t want to frighten me by driving off the street (did I know how things worked in Africa?), but it looked like that was the only way around this problem other than waiting it out. I looked back at him and motioned for us to go around, so we drove up and over the curb following other 4WD vehicle and even some taxis over sidewalks, through back lots, through services stations, all the while jockeying for position with other vehicles trying to do the same thing we were doing.
Finally it looked like we could see traffic moving in one lane going our direction on the main street, so we gradually made our way back toward it. We reached the reason for the jam up. It appeared that traffic had been moving slowly or had been blocked by something heading toward the airport. Taxis, always in a hurry, began driving over the double center line and making a new airport-bound lane on the wrong side of the street. Then that lane became blocked, so they took over another lane, and so on, until the whole six-lane street was a mass of cars all trying to go in the direction of the airport. Of course they met cars trying to drive into the city and there was no way either side could move, except to take to the back lots, which is what we had done. The drive said "too much indiscipline!" and I agreed.
On the way to the hotel, my cell phone rang. Paul Tia called to make sure I had arrived and to welcome me. We agreed to meet tomorrow morning at 8:00 to travel together to our services so we could get together with the members here.
I had a very late dinner (9:00 pm) although not very late by French standards; another guest arrived for dinner after I did. Dinner was beef brochettes and steamed potatoes, and it was very good. Back in my room, I wrote my wife an e-mail to let her know I arrived safely and then I finished work on our weekly French newsletter and sent it to our mailing list. Now I should be able to get a good night’s sleep.