Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Travellers, backgammon and beer

The Elephant's Nest

Rear courtyard
Chloe Grant is an extraordinary woman. She earns a living as an aviation consultant, is founder of a charity which rescues children from cocoa farming, speaks Japanese and French and curates the invaluable West Africa Travellers WhatsApp group. She also created the wonderful auberge we are currently staying in.

Part hostel, part campground, it also has 'luxury' rooms complete with (cold) showers and air conditioning. It's a magnet for overlanders in the region and Angelika and I have revelled in being here and meeting them.

Willow's bicycle
They include Jacques, Michael, Nicole, several other intrepid motorcyclists, campervan dwellers and those using public transport to get around. Most have been away from home longer than us. Most have travelled further. One Australian, Willow, is riding a bicycle. He pedalled through the desert sleeping in his tent or hammock as he went. Extraordinary.

Jelle, leaving for Nigeria and beyond
We've heard tales of vans and motorcycles stuck in mud, drunken policemen demanding bribes, breakfasts improvised above waterfalls and fellow Elephant's Nesters taking themselves to regions that security advice would very seriously frown upon.

It all puts our trip into perspective and I love that it does. Finding that we are a modest part of a greater, adventurous community somehow excites and warms me.

Inside the compound
Jacques and I have, for the last several mornings met at 06.30 on the veranda in the rear courtyard for a daily conversation. Born in France, he has an interesting history having spent 20 years as a Hindu monk. Amongst other things he taught mediation. His insistence that it must be a practical life tool and his ability to explain this clearly caught my attention.

He intended to leave several days ago, but stayed to talk with me because I asked him to. I'm very grateful. He has left now to continue his project to teach cross-cultural understanding to children in schools in the region through the medium of the novel The Little Prince.

Jacques leaving for Mali
A young Australian backpacker arrived a day after us. Michael is 26, has been travelling for over a year and is planning next to go to Mexico. He's a keen chess player and was interested to learn backgammon. We've had several intense sessions in which I probably learned more than him. He's a very able young man and will be good at the game if he chooses to be. His 'friend', a young lady he met in Europe on his trip, flew in yesterday.

West Africa produces 67% of the world's cocoa. Côte d'Ivoire (CI) produces the greatest share of that. Nicole works for a American consultancy carrying out research into the industry on behalf of Mars. She came here under her own steam to gain insights. Chloe arranged for her to visit the hostel she runs housing children rescued from effective slavery on cocoa plantations.

Chloe will take Angelika and me to visit tomorrow. We'll see some of the farms as well.

We've also met Quirin, Lara, Max, Chris and others. They're from Germany, Switzerland, Australia. They're travelling by motor cycle or campervan and have been to Liberia, Guinea, Mali and elsewhere. They're going on to South Africa, East Africa and all points of the compass.

For the erstwhile Pillion and Pilot, people who love people and their stories - and love to share our own - it's been a huge pleasure.

Christmas in CI
It's much warmer and humid here than in Senegal. Spending the 25th of December in shorts and t-shirts drinking beer to rehydrate is a novel experience. We had a great day with our travelling auberge-mates.

The Christmas party
Chloe's one time cocoa-farm-working adoptive son was delighted with his festive day gifts.

Abidjan and Grand-Bassam
While Yamoussoukro is the official capital of CI, Abidjan is the de facto functioning driver of the country. Grand-Bassam was the actual capital under the French.

In three visits to Abidjan, I've found it hard to warm to the place. It's sprawly, doesn't invite sauntering and lacks charm. Tellingly, I have few photographs of it.

Grand-Bassam sidewalk
However, Grand-Bassam, where we're staying, is characterful, energetic and has a great Atlantic beach.

Christmas eve...
... on the beach
Since we've been here, three guests have been treated for malaria. We're taking the tablets.

We applied for our Ghana visas a few days ago. They start on 4th January and are effective for one month. We will almost certainly be on our way home after this.


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