Encounter at dusk, Odienne, Ivory Coast

Encounter at dusk, Odienne forest, border Guinea with Ivory Coast

The Renault truck was loaded to the top with no room left to spare. 30 tons of merchandise consisting of packaging materials and other goods had crossed from Gonokrom, Ghana. towards Ivory Coast, Agnibilekrou ( Agnibilekrou ).

On the first night they slept at the border to complete formalities to get transit documents. This alone was a cumbersome affair.

After they made friends with the border customs officials in order to speed up the process. The wife of the head of the customs border point invited them to dinner. Fufu (mortar pounded Manioc, plantains and yams) ws on the menu. A delicious peanut butter stew was also served.

The days that followed were in stark contrast to this. The truck transiting Ivory Coast from the north to the south, 150 km before Abidjan. Then turning right towards Yamoussoukro.

It took 3 days before Yamoussoukro was reached. Heavy rain poured down on them in the center of the metropolis. Built by Houphouet Boigny, the former president. INFO

They slept the night in their vehicle, the crew of 4 and the woman in charge of the goods. Her name was Gladys Kyei. She called herself Nana Serwaa of the Ashanti tribe.

It was a cramped space for the four. Uncomfortable and sticky hot the inside. But they had managed all through out their journey the conditions were similar.

The made an attempt to call to inform their whereabouts but no telephone was available. There was no other way to contact those waiting for news.

The next morning the truck moved north towards the regional capital of Odienne (Odienne. The driver took the decision to cross the rainforest into Guinea without knowing the road and its condition.

Being on African roads is a danger in itself. With vehicles parked in broken down condition during nightfall, blocking the roads, and without a warning triangle as the norm. Many people lose their lives this way, from passenger cars ploughing into those trucks on the road. Thousands of people die as a result but nothing is being done to alter the situation.

No government since 50 years has ever been able to control this number one cause of road accidents.

The road through the forest is unpaved, a stretch of 50 miles of green, impenetrable jungle awaits them.

Only cut by a narrow, laterite road that serves as the main route to the border with Guinea. So narrow is the path that no two vehicles would be able to pass each other would they meet.

On some areas the road is wider, and this would be the only way to allow two trucks to pass side by side. There was only inches of room left.

The truck could not move at more than 10-15 mph due to the bad condition of the road. In the afternoon the torrents pour more water on them, the jungle becoming a morass.

Visibility is reduced to a few meters. The driver does his best to continue, he is aware of the many dangers that lurk in this thick, green hell. They must make it to the border post.

The rain still gushing down on them, he was crossing a creek overflowing its embankments. The floods are dark from the soil of the rainforest, and the driver can't see the huge rock that is laying in the middle of it.

All he feels is a heavy jolt on his truck, and he forces the car to move out from the creek to stop on the other side and inspecting his vehicle. He had unwittingly damaged his radiator whilst running over a big bolder of rock hardly noticeable because of low visibility and the dark brown floods.

Desperation overcomes them when they see the damage. No way could they continue till the water tank had been repaired.

They decide to stay over the night and remove the tank the following morning. It was late afternoon close by the time they had crossed the flooded creek.

Tropical rains happen to be a regular menace to drivers and as fast as they come they will go. At 6 PM all was over and the forest was getting dark, quickly.

They prepared for the night in their cramped vehicle once again, only this time in the middle of the jungle, and without knowing their exact location.

After the rain the canopy over them turned into a lively neighborhood with green monkeys jumping from branch to branch, amidst loud screams they were protesting the human presence below them.

Dusk came and the jungle voices rising, myriads of mosquitoes, including flesh eating species descending on them. Windows could not be closed completely unless they would suffocate, so they fell prey to the blood sucking insects.

It was real hell, no food except a few loafs of bread was with them. A negligence they realized at that moment.

The night creeping endlessly, with the occupants feeling prisoners in their tiny cabin which had two bunks infested with other insects and fleas.

In addition to their already dreadful condition, the fleas attacking them in the bunks and menacing them.

When daylight comes they are relieved, move out from their vehicle and disappear in the bushes behind. The creek is now at its normal level and the rock can be seen clearly.

Nobody will move it except by nature's force. After a meager breakfast of a few chunks of 'tea bread, water from the creek, the driver and mate remove the radiator, a task of two hours.

It is near 10 AM when they depart back to where they came from, carrying the heavy tank on the drivers head, the African way.

No one knows how long it would take them to return. A pathetic thought in the middle of nowhere, only a breakdown in the desert could be of similar magnitude. So they wave goodbye and pray to return safely.

The day passes slowly, the jungle steaming with the day heat, the sun now over the canopy they melt in this near 100 % humidity environment.

They watch the monkeys over their heads, and pass the time with telling their own problems to each other. The owner of the vehicle was a labourer in London, UK and saved up in many years to be able to acquire this truck to enable him to make a living back home.

Many tales are told on this day, for there was no other means to beat the time. They wonder where their companions may have reached, their hopes are dim, knowing the condition of the road.

Afternoon brings again the daily rain. Everyone is waiting for the storm to finish before preparing for the night once again. A bucket of water is carried for the woman to the vehicle to the rear of the cabin to take her bath.

She has no choice and uses her African printed cloth to wrap it around her big bosom and cover herself from the view of the others. Sitting on the back on the top of the spare tyre, she manages to take her shower.

The water is fresh and invigorates her after the hot day. Proceeding with lotion her body, using a perfumed body lotion to smoothen her skin, she suddenly hears a sound from the side of the road behind her.

She calls the attention of the vehicle's owner and points to the shadow that comes slowly towards her. As dusk has set in she is unable to see clear, yet she notices the abnormal size of what comes towards her.

She tells Paul in the front to look at this big dog. When the remaining mate sees it he is shocked and calls in a quiet voice, she should move into the cabin, as this was not a dog, but that rather a lion.

With her Adrenalin rising in a flash, her 220 pounds of flesh moved as fast as in no time before. She jumps to the cabin like a 14 year old schoolgirl, slamming the door behind them.

They see a Forest Leopard standing behind, whacking his tail nervously, confused. The scent of perfume is an unknown odor to him, and this saves the life of the female. They see him and hear him, a few meters away from the vehicle, growling deeply, his spotted skin vaguely visible in the dark.

They had crossed the path of a Forest Leopard and escaped his attack by a margin.


The margin was the body lotion that sent the Leopard into confusion. God was on their side. The Leopard still standing, and growls one more time in a deep, catlike outburst of dissatisfaction, till he finally disappears back into the jungle.

Continuation : Bougoula border, Guinea........
Customs Scam

Customs scam in the savannah

Once dawn breaks I am up again, trying to locate the facilities of this shabby place I spent the night. The couple with the motorcycle episode still on my mind, I find my way to the washroom, and what a washing room it is.

There is flowing water however and I have my shower under the fresh morning sky. The cold water from the well helps me to clear my mind at once.

I have a difficult task ahead of me, and I need lots of luck to get my merchandise out of the customs clutches. So mad the whole story sounds.

No one would ever imagine the agonizing moments I go through with these officials. Like leeches they prey on their targets. Without remorse their approach to empty your pockets.

The night before I visited the local hawkers and to my astonishment I found quiet palatable food. Without a meal the whole day I longed for a dinner now.

And I found it in form of a decent Spaghetti Bolognaise, and some 'sauce 'd arachides' a peanut butter based sauce. All served with stewed rice. It is amazing how the dishes were of agreeable taste. The prices here are extra cheap.

The appointment with the customs officials is set to 08.00 AM. I drive up to the main junction that links the western border Bougoula.

The northern and eastern route takes you to Kankan and Niani. The customs building is a simple tin roof thatched house.

The main negotiating room is on its left of the road. Made of a raw concrete floor, some wooden chairs, and a grass covered rooftop, open to all sites with a clear view.

Whatever, whoever passes through here, is subject to pay 'road tax', in one way or another. The capital is far and here the officials can act as they see fit.

The night before I drove up to the main junction, the Customs officials on duty sitting near a bonfire. One of the huts serves to control vehicles that pass through here.

They told me to report the next morning, having no choice I will follow the order. Again the officer who we found at the entry point to Mandiana tells me that I do not have valid car papers. This adds to my already big problem..

I drive up to the inspection point. There is the initial exchange of welcoming : 'bienvenue'. The officials, three of them, begin their process. All eyes focus on the big Renault articulator, now parked at the side, under scrutiny of the customs.

They will not let go of this truck till they receive their share. The one in charge appears, with the copy of the transit invoice in his hand and tells me the amount involved. The figure is somewhat less than at the Bougoula border, but it is still beyond my acceptable figure.

I insist that the value on the invoice is incorrect. The official displays the transit documents, and I realize the blunder made by my own staff. The valuation on the documents contained an error, committed by the Ivorian Customs.

The whole crew from the truck is now assembled around the vehicle. I request the original invoice issued by our company back in Ghana.

Here the sum is completely different, and I produce the invoice as evidence. Seeing an opportunity slip by, the man in beige now tries to be stubborn.

I am now in full steam and ask him to check the load instead. Upon his instruction a few bales loaded are released and the weight is being taken. By multiplying the number of packages he derives at the figure on my invoice. This solves the puzzle and he grins. We know the icebreaker worked.

We have all settled into the straw- hut and two official in a hammock are explaining the procedures. They warn about the 'brigade', the customs flying squad. They will seize all goods that are not declared proper. All to intimidate us and to find ways to extract more money.

Once the final calculation comes out we are to pay in the region of 3000 US Dollars. Still high though much less than the previous figure. Coming to the finals, the crew is invited to have lunch with the officials. I refuse indicating towards my stomach. They withdraw behind the house to savor he local specialty 'lait cailler'.

I see the fermented milk, with thousand flies swarming around it. The sugar being added in large amounts, I return to the point of the vehicle. I rest by finding a place in the shadow under a large Acacia tree and wait for further developments.

I sense the deal is close to become done. With the meal over, the people return to prepare the final release documents. I don't tell anyone in the group that I have a most important meeting to attend in Europe. Three days from now I have to be in Prague to be precise.

How I will reach there in time I don't know. We are in the middle of the bush, no airport, only rough roads leading into three different directions. One leads towards the north to Mali, and I know that I will have to take this route.

I urge to conclude the 'business'. Already 10 days have passed since the truck has entered Bougoula border. (Encounter at dusk, part II).

With a few twitches in the final figure we agree to the amount. Now all the attention is on how much money everyone will collect from this arrangement. Smiling faces abound, I realize we have made new friends.

I am preparing to depart, handing over the cash to the woman in charge of the consignment. She has to pay against an 'official' receipt. And with the new friends made waving goodbye, I set off towards Niani, the border with Mali.

The time is 15.00 PM, and I have to drive approx 300 km through Savannah road. The township of Niani is the border town, also known to be a smuggler's haven.

Next : Niani to Mali, Barrage de Selingui

Continued : Night in the Mali savannah

Castle of St. Sabine

Chateaux De St Sabine, Pouilly-En-Auxoise, France ( Castle of St. Sabine )

It was late, close to midnight when I felt overwhelmed by tiredness. We had been on the road from Lille in northern France en route to southern France's Cote d' Azur.

When I saw the next exit, I decided to go for it. It read: Dijon 42 km, Poully-En-Auxoise 8 km. I drove through the dark summer night and passed several villages clad in total darkness. No one on the streets, no single soul. I was getting worried the more I drove on, the more villages I passed.

A faint signboard, it read : "Chateaux de St. Sabine" 8 km was all I found in the pitch dark night. I wanted to to lay my head to rest, desperate now, continuing the serpent road that finally led us to the Chateaux.

A dark silhouette became visible in front of us. By all standards this building had gigantic dimensions. No light except a faint fluous. rescent light. The doorbell was lit by a dim light. We entered the Castle's arch doorway. Sonnez. We rang the bell.

In an instance it was as if hell broke lose. We heard the heavy barking sounds of what we thought were hell hounds, eerie and powerful. The wild barkings frightened us.

We drove into the main courtyard and stopped the car in front of what seemed the main entrance to the Chateaux.

We could not see anyone, nor hear, except the barking from somewhere in the dark. Nobody made a move. We were unsure if we should stay or should continue our way. There was something evil, something scary about this place.

The curtain behind the main Entrance moved, we saw a shadow in white, staring at us in the car. In a sudden, the door flung open, the shadow appeared. A tiny old dame, her age in the seventies, appeared and asked: 'Que c'est que vouz voulez? Mancher, diner, coucher?' It meant, what did we want, to eat, dine or sleep.

We could not answer at first, our thoughts lingering to the novel of Alexandre Dumas. The Notre Dame character, Quasimodo became ever so real. There was a resemblance as from the novel itself, it made us hesitate to leave the car. Finally, with a push I opened the car, looking around as I expected the wolfhounds to pounce on me anytime now.

Part 2 St. Sabine

She introduced herself as "Madame de Bourgoise", relative of the proprietere de Chateaux. Deciding it was too late to wander around in this solitary woods, we succumbed to our fate. No one knew where we were, where we had reached.

This is what you call eerie in the utmost sense. Two terrible fangs stared at us of what once were real wolves. Two taxidermic creatures stood on the left and right of the escalier. The wooden staircase leading to the bedrooms. It gave the already scary place an authentic background.

Climbing up the stairs, Madame de Bourgoise showed us to our room. The chateaux was, I found out, a hunting castle for royalty and dates back to the 17th century. With her candle held in the right hand, Madame was even more eerie looking than at first.

To her left opened a huge door to a room. There was a bed, which could have accommodated the likes of Napoleon Bonaparte. It was a four poster covered with a canopy (baldaquin).

No longer did I care where to sleep. Opening the large window, I saw a lake only lit by moonlight. The air was fresh, pure and in the distance we heard cowbells ringing.

The eeriness had by now given way to a more relaxed feel. Leaving the window wide open, no more thoughts about the barking hellhounds, I fell asleep soon after.

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France, la Bourgogne, AFRICASIAEURO


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