Bench Blog

Cote D’Ivoire June 2015   Matthew Weihs

Dec 10, 2015

More storms and walking the streets…. (chapter 2)

From Ghana I flew out to Abidjan. I was starting to worry we may be delayed because it was starting to look stormy again. I saw on the news that the subsequent storm that hit Accra was so fierce that 200 people, who were taking shelter from the rains at a gas station, ended up being killed in a huge fire that broke out.

Arrival into Abidjan was less painful than I thought. I knew arriving in Abidjan was going to test my GCSE French to the full and I was pretty sure there was little need for directions to the library or endless conversations asking people the time. However, I was able to pick up a VISA on arrival and although I queued twice to work this out, I got through.  The airport was very clean and well managed and apart from the frosty reception when I didn’t have the VISA it was clear Cote D’Ivoire was very organised.  The guys who processed my VISA even had time to have a iggle at my passport photo – which was a nice touch.

We were taken in an hotel car and I was bundled together with a gentleman who was developing road infrastructure and a Moroccan who worked for EMC (the data tech company). I learned two interesting facts – firstly the African Development Bank had just moved their whole organisation from Tunis to Abidjan – a move of 3000 people (this is a return from troubled times) and secondly, that the Moroccan’s are investing heavily in Abidjan. In fact, as you approach the Sofitel hotel you can see a huge amount of river dredging as they are building a new marina area as well as other things. As we pulled into the hotel we had witness of the King of Morocco’s entourage which was in town promoting their partnerships. All in all, in the first few hours of entering the country, there was a distinct feeling that Abidjan was on the up.

The Sofitel is a great facility – one side of the hotel (the Accor hotel) needs a facelift in places and on the other the Sofitel – separated by a long walkway.  Here you could also find the conferencing space which was being used by a large media event.   I was impressed as it was a massive space and very theatrical.

       

I was presented with a two bed apartment at the Sofitel which was very comfortable – a good product for long stay business customers.

I was told I’d have no meetings for the rest of the day – so I decided to go for a swim in what has to be one of the largest swimming pools I’ve ever seen.

  A small island!

My first meeting the next morning was to view the new Azalai hotel in the city. Fully suited, as is the case, I was dropped off at the side of the road and told to follow a gentleman (who spoke no English) into the construction. After doing my best to look like I knew what I was doing and tip toeing my away around the ankle deep puddles I was ushered into the basement of the building. At this stage I was covered in mud, looking somewhat out of place in the construction and at a loss how to communicate.

I was given a yellow bib, a hard hat and ushered into a room in the basement.  As the door swung open 30 pairs of eyes turned in my direction.  It seemed I had managed to be invited to a meeting of the construction team and was considered an essential cog of this development briefing.  I was instructed to sit down and, being in no position to argue, did so and tried to look important as we went through the schedule and notes…  It wasn’t until 10 minutes passed before my host must have realised he’d lost me and came to save me from my embarrassment.

  Up, up and away in construction lift

  Taking shape – the new Azalai

  View over the city

After viewing the new hotel we moved onto some meetings with the Ministry of Tourism. I arrived with dirtied suit and looking somewhat flustered from the odd experience at the construction site but we managed to get our meeting underway without too much fuss.

The Minister and his team were hugely generous with their time – spending the full afternoon with me.  In fact, in one of the meetings before visiting the Minister himself, it must have got a bit too much for one of the group as we heard the muffled snores before a dig in his ribs woke him from his slumber.

My final meeting was with the CEPICI – the Investment Agency for Cote D’Ivoire. In a very tight lift we scaled 20 floors where our meeting took us to the back of their offices with wonderful views of the city. The passion to be part of what we had to offer was palpable and I came away very excited about the prospect of doing more in a this great country.

This just left me time to go back to the hotel and pack.  Unknown to me but this is where the real adventure began.  I actually had some time before my flight so I checked out and waited in the bar area to leave.  I didn’t want to give it too much time to leave because another storm seemed to be brewing and there was a lot of lightning about. However, I left 3 hours before even so.  Plenty of time – or so I hought.

I took the hotel transfer bus with 4 other guests only to find the first major highway was blocked.  No matter, with some interesting reversing down the road we were free and soon were moving alongside this stationary traffic.

However, this was a false dawn and this was not the end of our traffic woes.  The rain by this point was pouring down and as we approached a small town there seemed to be some congestion. Rather than allowing this to filter through local drivers obviously feel the best way to combat slowing traffic is to overtake, undertake or generally try and find alternative routes like the pavement.  This works to a point I’d argue and sure enough with traffic heading towards us and from either direction doing all the same we met gridlock…

One hour later we hadn’t moved and guests in our bus started to get nervous about catching their flights.  I on the other hand, was starting to feel the effects of two beers before I got on the bus… Suited, albeit, with muddy legs, running across the highway, dodging motor cycles and getting some strange looks from the locals I had to sneak down an alley way to relieve myself. What I didn’t realise was that this was actually the entrance to some flats above so I was constantly passed by people including mothers and their children.  After lots of apologies and more embarrassment I got back in the car where one of the passengers had made his decision. He’d pull over a bike and offer some cash for a ride. He didn’t have much luggage so he flagged down the bike. He was, however, almost 20 stone as an estimate so, as he positioned himself on the back of the bike I could only hope he’d make it alive…

Another 30 minutes passed, still no movement, and we were stuck 10km out.  I estimated that at a fast walk I could make the airport in time now so made the decision to bail out of the bus and walk.  I travel light in Africa so only take hand luggage so it doubled up as a pretty good makeshift umbrella.

As you can imagine the pavements were a swamp and, as you weaved your way in and out of the stationary traffic, locals poked their heads out of the car wishing you “bon voyage.”  By now many other frustrated travelers joined the long walk – all hauling our bags.  We walked for around 1km  before we met a clear roadd as the stationary traffic snaked off to the left. Here there was mayhem – cars rushing by, what seemed like hundreds of people trying to flag them down. However, I was lucky that after a few minutes I flagged a cab down and grabbed the nearest two travellers with bags and we jumped in.

We were off – and, although we turned up at the airport, dishevelled and wet through we made it to the lounge for a well-deserved beer. Here I met  the intrepid motorcyclist who was miraculously still alive – it all made for a good yarn as we all shared a beer before boarding.