Wednesday, December 23, 2009


I finally got to Abidjan, I turned up at 1am in a bedraggled taxi from Adjame with Brice who'd travelled with me since Ouaga; an Ivorian studying environmental engineering in Ouagadougou.
I had almost 48hrs in Ouaga, enough time to get my visa put into my passport for a fraction of the cost of an Ivorian visa in Europe, have a lovely lunch with old Burkinabe friends and their 4 kids.

The bus left Ouaga at 11pm, as usual it was perfectly on time with 4 gendarmes on board armed with kalashnikovs in case of bandits on the road; we were the lead bus of 4 TCV vehicles.

Burkinabe transport still amazes me - it is so well organised compared to the rest of W.Africa, large, clean, air conditioned, comfortable new TCV bus headed out on the road to Bobo Dialausso to arrive at 4am where I would have a wait of 3hrs before catching the connecting bus to Bouake, CI. What ensued was unimaginable ...

I fell asleep, at 12.10 in the morning the brakes were jammed on, what had been a great ride and a lovely sleep was broken. A few of the guys got off with the gendarmes and came back to say there was an accident. We all started getting off for a leg stretch when things became clearer and there was a bus 2 vehicles in front of us that had gone head first into a truck; possibly due to the age of the bus and the pot hole a few meters beforehand. Whilst on the side of the road a tall Burkinabe guy came up to me and asked me to help; turns out he is one of the heads of the gendarmerie from Bobo called Francis - passenger on the bus behind mine. I explained I wasnt medically qualified but I'd go and do what I could.

Arriving on the scene we found most of the passengers sitting on the side of the road in shock but no injuries to speak of apart from one or two scratches. The truck driver had died and the bus driver was being freed by a few guys from my bus along with a girl sitting behind him. Someone had called the ambulance which was on its way from Ouaga along with the firemen to cut the wreckage. The bus driver had a fractured leg and I said it needed a splint and straightening, it was an open fracture and even in the early hours it was warm but I couldnt do anything for him. The girl had a broken foot I think and dirty cuts to the base of her foot, I offered to go and get my bandages and disinfectant etc and try to clean her up; she was about 14. The traffic was going through the field to one side of the road as the accident had completely blocked the road.

I walked back to my bus with Francis and asked around for my bus driver so that I could access my pack and medical stuff, couldnt find him, just the other driver of the bus behind us who had bought me a coffee just prior to leaving Ouaga. Suddenly the gendarmes starting screaming at us all to get back on the buses, at the same time someone said 'they're firing' and I ran down the slope into the bush in the pitch dark with Francis not far behind me. The noise did sound as if bullets were being fired but then it changed and got louder and nearer but I couldn't see anything until this 10 wheeled truck pulled up narrowly missing the front of our bus.

What transpired was that the truck, Togolais, with 3 guys clandestine goods (TVs and DVDs) on board had driven at full speed right through the accident, so the noise was of the metal being hit by the truck. Someone ran up screaming at us saying 'theyve all been killed' - they had driven over all the passengers from the first accident. I'm not going to go into details, but you can imagine what had happened. It turned out later via Francis the gendarme who has been in constant touch, that 7 died, there were a few walking wounded, a few stretchered and one or two very lucky ones who miraculously survived two accidents in one night without a scratch!

We left the scene via an alternative route to Bobo having buried the dead with the gendarmes + pompiers helping out once they had freed the 2 men found in the back of the original truck - I have to say they were very professional in their job and thanked the gendarmes several times - we had all been through a lot and they were excellent and caring!

It's part of the reason I've not been able to write this blog for so long, it's taken a long time to get this out of my head. Dealing with the situation afterwards was far harder than being there on the scene, something I never want to go through again or wish others to experience.
So we continued on, changing buses at Bobo for Bouake there were about 10 of us who had come from Ouaga; we stuck together as a strong group, they really looked after me. We had arrived in Bobo 2.5hrs late which is unusual for Burkinabe transport but they had held our bus back.

We got to the Ivorian border around 1pm and the rebels were there, very much in charge and I had fun and games again. Firstly they wanted 200CFA from each passenger, I went back into 'dont speak French mode' and they gave up with me, took my passport off and I went over to the medical formalities for Yellow Fever, one of the rebels came and got me and told me to go to another hut to get my passport. This guy stamped my passport and demanded 1000CFA, I said in English; no - I paid for the visa yesterday you arent getting any more out of me, he held my passport back and purposely put it out of my reach - I demanded it back and got my phone out saying I was going to ring the Embassy (likely chance getting the number for the nearest one in Abuja, Nigeria whilst in the bush near Ouangolodougou - remembering a text when an Irish friend had arrived there after his stint in Bouake's prison as a spy!!!)

So he gave me my passport and I said; 'ok I go now', he yelled at me '1000CFA now', I couldnt go, I then noticed the hand he had been using to stamp passports now had a gun in it, handgun that looked a little old but 'useful' to frighten some blanche tourist. I told him that he still wasnt going to get the 1000CFA and he could put the gun away again which annoyed him that he hadn't frightened me. Finally 2 Burkinabe diplomats turned up heading to Abidjan and tried to help me with my non-existant French and got me off the hook. 200m away from the hut I spoke to them in French and they doubled up laughing at me that I'd managed to fool the rebels and get away with it!!!

We got to Bouake around 5.30pm and Brice and I got the same minibus to Abidjan, 'Operation Christmas' was in full swing there, checkpoints all over. Money wanted and harrassment by the customs guys to the point of which one in Yamoussoukro told me CI was still at war - I had a real go at him saying that he's killing any chance of tourism for the country.

We finally pulled into Abidjan around 12.30am after losing my temper with the military at a roadblock outside Youpougon who had decided the curfew had started at 11.45pm. The driver came back to the minibus and said it was fruitless trying to get through without giving over something, we'd have to wait till 6am After the journey Brice & I had had, I wasn't standing for it and possibly the horror of seeing a filthy dirty blanche lose her temper the barrage was opened without any money changing hands. Worse still a kilometre up the road I saw a baboon chained to a street lamp, not sure which had me more angry!

The driver dropped us all in Adjame, the worst district of Abidjan. Brice was a saint and told me that he'd find a taxi and make sure I got to my friend's place in one piece. Not having visited my friend's new place, I had our taxi going around in circles, around prostitutes and my phone battery was getting weaker whilst trying to find the address. Finally we arrived at 1am and my friend dragged me out to Alpha Blondy's 'Cafe de Versailles' bar till 3am trying to calm my nerves after a 25hr trip from hell

So, moral of the story is that I will continue to say, dont travel at night and I will respect my own rules - life is precious and I was very lucky!! I admit to being a complete hypocrite!

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