Day 212: Wined and Dined in Cote D’Ivoire

31.07.09: I. LOVE. COUCHSURFING!!!! Sorry, just had to get that off my chest. Now, where was I? Oh yes, Danané, Cote D’Ivoire. Got to the bus station for 6am. The minibus didn’t leave until 7.20am, but for West Africa that’s LIGHTING FAST. We headed out along some of the best roads I’ve seen since Morocco – DUAL CARRIAGEWAYS! Armco Barriers! Road signs that TELL YOU WHERE YOU ARE!! My word. They weren’t joking when they said that Cote D’Ivoire was once one of the richest countries in the whole of Africa. Not now it isn’t, though. Too busy fighting over who gets to squander their country’s future on flashy German cars, holiday homes in the Azores and sending their kids to Oxford. The life’s ambition of horrible men with diseased minds who don’t care how many children have to die as long as they get to…

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Day 211: Into Rebel Territory

30.07.09: The driver fixed the tyre around 3am and we got into Ganta ten minutes later. I tried to check into a hotel for a few hours, but the cheapest place wanted €25 for a grotty little room that I wouldn’t pay a fiver to stay in even if it came with a Vimto lollypop. I really don’t understand how they can justify charging these ridiculous prices, in a country where most people survive on less than a dollar a day, who the hell can afford to stay there? It’s not like there’s a ton of tourists passing through these parts. Gah! So I headed over to the shared taxi area, asked them to wake me when the taxi was full and slept in the passenger seat. In the end, it was taking so long to find anyone else who wanted to head on to the…

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Day 210: V is for Visa

29.07.09: Shadi woke me up at the reasonable time of 7am and I made ready to do my thang – first off to the bank for readies (which I couldn’t get for love nor, indeed, money). I ended up converting my emergency CFA, the currency that most countries in West Africa use (except for the awkward Anglophone colonies that insist on printing their own money (sound familiar?)). Then, off to the Cote d’Ivoire embassy – which had recently moved – so I spent a good couple of hours walking about trying to find the damn place. Monrovia, like Freetown, is devastatingly impoverished – everything is in a state of half-repair – the roads, the buildings, the people. Most of the small businesses in the embassy area are shacks at the side of the road and many, many people listlessly stand about, as if waiting for the…

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Day 209: His Darkest Days

28.07.09: The popcorn was sweet. Just like Sierra Leone. I sprung out of bed at the unholy hour of 4am, because that’s when I heard that the bus left for Monrovia, the capital of Liberia. When I got to the ‘bus station’, there was no bus, but to be fair, there was no station either. So I paid for a spot in the bush taxi for the border (I was the first to arrive and so I bagged the front seat) and waited for the damn thing to fill up. It was after 9am before we left. I could have had a lie in. Ack! But none of that matters, because I bought some popcorn from a lady sitting at the side of the road. Homemade and in a polythene bag, joy of joys: IT WAS SWEET. And fresh. Oh yeah. I decided there and then,…

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Day 208: The Brain Drain

27.07.09: It was an early start as I left the comfort of Paul and Helga’s place, said my hearty cheerios and headed to the Liberian embassy to buy myself a visa. I arrived at 8am and the Liberian embassy (it was literally someone’s house!) wasn’t quite open, and I accidently managed to wake everyone up. In the Lonely Planet guidebook, it indicated that it would take fifteen minutes to get my visa, but they asked me to come back at 2pm. I explained that I was in a bit of a rush and asked if they could ring me when it was ready, which they said they would do. Nice chaps, actually. If some ginge had woken me up at 8am on a Monday morning, I would have made chips out of him. While they were processing my passport, I headed into town to see how…

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Day 207: In Tidy Attire

26.07.09 Had a bloody superb Sunday. Nowt to do, I slept in, uploaded my videos, wrote some blog, chatted to Mand, HAD A BATH! Oh yeah, this is my kind of Sunday. Helga rustled up some ‘scouse’ for me to eat and it was bloomin’ marvellous. Early to bed, a perfect day of doing perfectly nothing. Ahhhhh.

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Day 206: Drunk n’ Laughing

25.07.09: I was reading a book recently about a deaf guy who worked for the Peace Corps in Zambia. It was a ripping yarn, but one thing that he said stuck with me. The joke is that Peace Corp-ers who get sent to South America come back politicised and radical, people who get sent to Asia come back holistic and spiritually aware, and people who get sent to Africa come back drunk and laughing. I can see his point. There is no other way to deal with this place. Sierra Leone is the poorest country on Earth. That is, obviously, not a title to be proud of. With unemployment running at 80%, one of the lowest life expectancies and levels of education in the world, it’s staggering that this little country cannot figure out how to make any money for the people from its vast natural…

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Days 202 to 205: The Roast

Day 202: The Wheels On The Bus Go FWAP FWAP FWAP 21.07.09: As the dawn was breaking ahead of us (myself and two guys from my shared taxi) we crossed over the bridge (there’s ALWAYS a bridge!) into Mali. It was a Kodak moment, I wish there had been a camera op there, Matt would have loved it. From there, we walked to the place from whence we get the bus to Bamako, the capital. The bus was sitting there waiting for us, ready to leave. Although good old WAWA was on hand to ensure things didn’t run that smoothly. The bus waited for HOURS before it was quite ready to leave, thank you very much. Isaac, one of the guys who had shared the taxi with me from Tambacounda, translated that many of the people already waiting, had been there since yesterday. This did not…

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Days 198 to 201: The Odyssey Reloaded

Day 198: The Approach 17.07.09: Wawaweewa. Friday! Are we still at sea? It would appear so. No sign of Dakar yet, but the GPS was insisting it was less than 100 miles away. I was particularly worried that Mandy and her over-active imagination would be concerned that I had been attacked by a giant squid, swallowed by a whale, consumed by the ghastly Kraken or frantically lopping the heads off the great Hydra only for more to grow in their place. No such excitement, I’m sorry to report. The day sluggishly went by as we yakked and played cards. That night, there was a CRACKIN’ thunderstorm over yonder, flashes in the distant clouds every couple of seconds. I hoped Senegal hadn’t descended into war, but with no radio and absolutely no human contact for a week, who’s to say what was going on in the real…

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Days 194 to 197: Dolphins and Doldrums

Day 194: Ray The Ray 13.07.09: Wow! I can honestly say that I have never seen anything like this before. There was not one iota of a smidgin of a skerrick of a sub-atomic particle of a whisper of a wind. The sea was as flat as it could be – more like a lake than the second biggest ocean in the world. There were no waves at all – just a swell bobbing us up and down, but that was little more than moving sand-dunes. In fact, it occurred to me that the sea is not that different from the desert. Nothing to drink, the sun bearing down on you, no shade, no trees, no escape. Just a vast undulating landscape. Food can be found, but you need specialised equipment to catch it. We had no specialised equipment. Just a plastic line in the water…

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