Saturday, 11 January 2014

Christmas In Korhogo, Through The Ivorian Heartland And Along The Ghanian Coast...

We all enjoyed Christmas day in Korhogo with an incredible roast dinner prepared by the group: chicken, nut roast, potatoes, pumpkin, stuffing and all the trimmings, all beautifully cooked by Ina, Ant, Sacsha and helpers. Ever resourceful, we managed to find a long table, festive decorations and a fully decorated Christmas tree, which all added to the festive occasion!

Will Gets Into The Festive Spirit!
Ina carving our Roast Chicken Christmas Dinner!
Sascha Gets Hit By The Squirty Spray!
Roasting The Food On The Fire In Our Camp Oven
Sascha And Ina Dance Around The Tree
Warren Christmas Gift - Wigs!

Ali And Jane With Their Hats On For Dinner
After a Boxing day bush camp we drove a short distance to Yamoussoukro, the impressive and peculiar capital city of Ivory Coast. We visited the extraordinary Basilica de Notre Dame de la Paix, the incredible Catholic cathedral built by the former long serving post-independence President, Felix Houmphrey-Boigny. The scale and extravagance of the building was unlike anything we had seen so far on our journey through West Africa. 

We were lucky enough to be given a guided tour by an enthusiastic English speaking guide, who  allowed us all to go up in one of the lifts that was hidden inside an ornately carved pillar so that we could view the enormous dome from the upper balcony. When one member of the group asked how much the building cost to construct, our guide replied “No one knows! The only person who knew how much the building cost was the late President Felix Houmphrey-Boigny, and he said that the money to build the cathedral was a gift to him from God.” Most estimates place the cost of the Basilica around US$500 million!

Yamoussoukro Basilica, Looking In From The Entrance
Looking Down Into The Basilica From The Balcony Above
Phil Poses For Us In Front Of The Basilica
Just south of Yamoussoukro we dropped off the boxes of supplies that we had been carrying on the top of Aminah all the way from France for the charity C.R.E.E.R. Everyone in the group mucked in, carrying the boxes on their heads to their new home, and we were warmly welcomed by Paul (PC) from C.R.E.E.R. You can read more about C.R.E.E.R's valuable work here:

We stopped overnight at a beautiful garden campsite before heading into the traffic jams of the economic metropolis of Abidjan. During our time in the city everybody made the most of the French inspired cuisine, and some of the group visited the impressive cathedral and were lucky enough to hear the beautiful singing of the incredible choir. 

Market Traders Crowd Around Aminah Near Abidjan
Grilled Prawns For Sale By The Roadside
Nev Battles With Abidjan Traffic. The Road Ahead Seemed To Turn Into A Market!
Leaving Abidjan we had a short drive east to Grand Bassam, where we spent a relaxing three nights on the beach. Some visited some of the museums and the numerous artisans’ stalls. The jewellery, bright paints and the ceramic workshops were particular highlights.

Pottery Workshop In Grand Bassam
Crafts For Sale In Grand Bassam

Artist At Work In Grand Bassam

Busy Times On The Beach In Grand Bassam
Sunset In Grand Bassam

On the second night we were treated to a fantastic meal and dance performance by the “Africaba Dance” group. At the end of the performance the group was asked to participate in a dance competition. At first each table had to follow the moves of the lead dancer (at this point Al was told off for trying to “free-styling” when he was supposed to be copying her dance moves!) Then one person from each table was picked to participate in a final dance off. It is not entirely clear who won the dance off but we think it might have been Will (Arnold)!

Dancing Over Dinner In Grand Bassam
Drummers From The 'Africaba' Group
Ian, Alice Will And Carlee Join In
In Grand Bassam we sadly waved goodbye to three members of the group, Ali, Hilary and Cynthia, who were all flying home from Abidjan. Later that morning the rest of us drove along the coast to the Ghanaian border, but unfortunately were held up for some time completing formalities. Unable to make our intended destination due to the delay, we  found a suitable spot for a New Year’s Eve bush camp. Luckily the truck bar was well stocked and we celebrated New Year around a crackling camp fire, listening to the singing and drum beats of the surrounding villages in the distance. 

On the first day of the new year we drove towards Akwidaa and camped on the sea front. We spent time wandering among the boats and market stalls in the vibrant fishing town of Dixcove, and visited the imposing old fort. We hoped to see some of the nesting turtles, but sadly luck was not on our side come night fall.
Looking Out To An Island Fort Off The Ghanaian Coast
Busy Fishing Village On The Ghanaian Coast
The next few nights were spent camping at a beautiful beach near Cape Coast. This is where we based ourselves for a busy few days exploring the surrounding area. On the first day we headed to Kakum National Park where the group got to walk along the canopy walkways above the rainforest. As it was still the Christmas holidays lots of Ghanaians were also visiting the national park. There was even some well dressed ladies attempting the walk in high heels!

In the afternoon we all headed to Cape Coast to visit the old slaving castle and to wander around the fascinating town.

A Chilling Reminder Of The Brutality Of The Slave Trade
Further along the coast we headed to another old slaving fort at Elmina where the group was given a guided tour of the old Portugese castle. The group were taken into the holding dungeons where hundreds of slaves were kept for many months, and then into the death cells where rebellious slaves were punished. When we got to the “Gate of No Return” our guide, Richard, asked us to participate in a moments silence and then to gather in a circle to sing “Amazing Grace”. It was a chilling moment as we all reflected on the atrocities of the slave trade and its huge impact on Africa and the rest of the World.

From Elmina we headed back to our beach camp for our last afternoon relaxing on the coast. In the evening we all enjoyed an incredible group meal of fresh seafood. 

Aminah In Front Of Elmina Port, Taken From The Castle.
The Bustling Port In Elmina

Elmina's Busy Port,  Taken From The Castle

The Bridge Over The River In Elmina Had Turned Into A Market - What Better Use For A Broken Bridge?
The next day we headed north to Kumasi. Most of the group explored Kejeita market, reputedly the largest in West Africa and one which takes over most of the city! Many enjoyed bargaining for the crafts, woodwork, pottery and paintings, and some visited the cultural centre to learn about the Ashante culture.

A final drive day bought us to Accra, the final destination on our epic overland journey from Dakar. Some of the group found time to visit the famous coffin makers of Accra and to see some of the weird and wonderful coffin designs, including a lobster, a pineapple, a mobile phone and an aeroplane!

A Coffin For The Avid Photographer
Anyone Want To Be Buried In A Pineapple?

The Perfect Burial For An Alchoholic...
...Or Ardent Carnivore!
We ended the trip with a fantastic group meal at Mama Mias (definitely the best pizza restaurant in the whole of West Africa!), pool and drinks at a local bar, and some long goodbyes. Some of the group who were staying on for a few days after the end of the trip had the opportunity to tour a rather impoverished but vibrant and friendly suburb of Accra, with a local guide called Charles Sablah from Nima Tours, who really bought the history of the area to life.

Children Dancing On Our Tour Of An Accra Suburb
We'd like to take this chance to say a huge thank you to everybody who joined us on this season’s southbound adventure and for helping make it such an enjoyable and successful trip!

In just a couple of weeks we'll be meeting our new passengers for the next set of trips northbound towards Freetown and onto Dakar...............expect more exciting blogs in the forthcoming weeks as the adventure continues!