May 20, 1998

Cote d'Ivoire: Hamburger House, Abidjan

I have happily flung cultural authenticity to the wind and devoured a top-notch burger/fries/Coke. Am now the picture of contentment.

Abidjan, "the New York City of West Africa," is a fun if schizophrenic city - the Treichville near-shantytown slums and the am-I-in-Paris? Plateau downtown. Supermarkets and Citibank and skyscrapers, with rivers of sewage (from this morning's colossal downpour) and afterthought electrical wires hanging over tin roofs across the river.

Took the train from Ouaga five days ago, country getting greener and greener, some nice ridge-and-rolling-hills landscape as we approached the border, "Yield" and a lunchtime chicken passed through the window. A horse's head plopped in a bowl just outside the train's toilets. A no-hassle hour at the border drinking beers with two French guys, until... Disembarked at Ferkessedougou, no Mathias, slept at super- cheap-and-with-reason Hotel La Pailotte, ate at a maquis and drank with a Peace Corps chick 'til midnight.

Next day, hunted for transport to Abidjan, surprisingly difficult. Ate at a black-tie maquis, fear of a huge bill misplaced. At 2PM saw Andrea & Ali walking towards us - not truck, just a many-person expedition off it. Ten of us in a share-taxi to Yamoussoukro.

Which is a truly bizarre thing, a European town and national capital plopped down in the middle of the bush like it was dropped there accidentally. Hotel with air-con and American-diner restaurant. Pool of sacred crocodiles - like statues, especially after eating, but unnerving nonetheless. Wide empty boulevards going nowhere. Gleaming presidential and Congress palaces, deserted but for the gardeners. And the Grand Basilica, an oh-my-God edifice of gleaming marble and stained glass, a mindfuck anywhere but especially here. "The Pope's house" behind. Bock Solibra, drunk by the artificial lake.

Yesterday to Abidjan, a city nowhere near as appalling as its gare routiere suggests. Treichville used to be dangerous, I think - grilles and locks everywhere - but feels perfectly safe now, vibrant, colourful, comes alive after dark. Decent hotel (Le Prince) too. Ang was sick, so Ali & I wandered up to the lagoon, watched boats for a while, checked on the patient, ate & drank with Jo & Jorge & Gavin. Pleasant day, especially considering it started off looking like a disaster.

Today, roved around Plateau, took Beijing-esque bus back to Treichville for stuff, came back here with taxi driver who accusingly pointed out that les blancs own everything in this African city and c'est pas bon. Washed the guilt down with the burger. Now off to meet the truck again.

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