Bribes and border crossings

Abidjan Travel Blog

 › entry 23 of 26 › view all entries
May 29, 2010
Hotel: Ibis Plateau, Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire
Well our trip was coming to an end.  Today we would be splitting up, with Dean and I heading towards Abidjan and Scott heading back to Accra.. he had to head back home a few days early.  We had checked at the STC bus station the other day and learned that the Abidjan-bound bus passed around 7AM, about the same time as the bus passed through in the other direction on its way to Accra.  We arranged for a taxi to pick us up around 5:40AM for the quick ride to the STC station on the main road.  Arrived there only to learn that there's only a 50% chance of the Abidjan-bus stopping in Cape Coast!  That meant we would have to catch a tro-tro to Takoradi bus station, then buy the ticket to Abidjan from there.

Luckily we were on the main road, tro-tros were passing by all the time but many were full already.  We finally flag down one going to T'adi just before 6AM and buy the entire back seat for our bags.  I was carrying the kora which was bulky and difficult to fit in the minvan.  My other bag was shoved in the back of the bus, where they tied the back door closed, hopefully it would hold!  The fare was only 2.5cedis for the 85kms.    We waved at Scott and headed off around 6AM, arriving in Takoradi around 7:30.. just as big rain clouds were gathering.  We caught a taxi to the bus station just in time, as the skies opened and it started pouring!  The taxi pulled into the bus station and under the shelter, allowing us to get out without getting soaked.

The ticket office wasn't yet selling tickets for the Abidjan bus (the bus comes in from Accra), we would have to wait until it arrived to see if there were any empty seats!  The rain continued to come down in buckets and unfortunately the bathroom was on the other side of the bus yard.  Finally the rain abates enough to cross over.  The pisser was just a wall with an open roof.. which cost 0.20 cedis to use.  I bought some more snacks.. at this point it seemed I was living on McVitie's shortbread!  I looked around for a plastic bag to wrap the kora in, one of the vendors had one that turned out to be the perfect size.  Wrapped in a couple rubberbands I was able to protect it slightly, at least from the rain and dust.

Buses started arriving around 9:30AM from Accra and Kumasi, we hoped each one was our bus but no luck.  Finally around 10:30AM ours arrives, luckily there are seats and we are able to buy our tickets.  In Kumasi, the fare to Abidjan was 55 GHS + 8000 CFA.  Given that the fare to T'adi from Kumasi was 10 GHS, we assumed that the fare would have been ~40 GHS or so..  we had gotten out extra money from the ATM the previous night to cover this.  To our surprise, the fare was only 18.50 GHS each!  The 8000 CFA extra was still required, we asked about this and wondered if it was for bribes.. the ticket vendor sheepishly nodded yes.  You do get a receipt for 'road use', but it was a big surprise that the 'road use' costs more than the bus ticket itself!

We set off around 11 AM, taking just over 2 hrs to reach the Ghana border at Elubo.  The border was typical, lots of trucks, vendors selling food and moneychangers.  Behind one of the buildings was a pile of broken wine boxes, stinking and leaking.  That's when the chaos started.. everyone gets off the bus, goes and gets their passport stamped, shows their yellow fever card, gives the passport to the bus mate, then back to the bus to wait.. and wait..  It's pretty blazing hot here and not a lot of shade.   We changed our remaining Ghana cedis into CFA.  We still had some CFA from Burkina but also had 43 Cedis which we would not need anymore.  I'd gotten out 42 Cedis from the ATM the night before so turns out it hadn't been necessary!  We actually got a good rate for Cedis -> CFA so they were using a fairly up-to-date rate of exchange.

The Ghana formalities took about an hour before we finally get back on the bus.. still sans passports, then drive the short distance across over to the Noe crossing.  More chaos ensues here.. the customs guards start opening the bottom of the bus and rummaging through the bags.  We get off the bus to keep an eye on our bags, finding a soldier sitting there playing with my kora.  He's looks straight out of central casting, Bad-Ass written all over him.  My friend thinks he's one of the former rebels now changed sides.  All muscle, goatee, sunglasses and a tan beret tilted jauntily on his head.. I wish I'd been brave enough to ask for a photo!   Luckily he didn't give us any problems, just smiled and asked if the kora was mine.

We sat around for ages again, the passengers start grumbling, including a group of Nigerians.  Apparently one of them had to pay an extra bribe for something or other that wasn't covered by the 'road fee'.  Finally some guy comes over and motions us over to another doorway.  Then he asks us for a tip.. I'm like no, I don't have any CFA.  He looks mad, goes inside and talks to the guards inside who we can see stamping passports.  They start bringing out passports, letting people through the door.  Ours are one of the last to be stamped... but finally we're through the door.  Until Feb 2009 US citizens didn't need a visa to visit Cote d'Ivoire.. but now they do and it's $150!  A big kick in the wallet.

A bit more waiting, then finally we're all on the bus.  We drive about 500m before we stop again; my friend had noticed that they had stamped his passport 'Sortie' (exit) not entry!  Apparently that had happened with quite a few other passports as well... so we give up our passports again sit and wait even longer while the Nigerians grumble even more. That's saying something if a Nigerian is complaining about corruption/inefficiency!  Finally we get our passports back, then drive another 1km out of town before our first roadblock.  Bored guys with guns standing around with spike strips across the road.  Never a good combination.  We wait here yet some more, with doors and bags opened.  We can't see under the bus and are worried about our bags with so many people rummaging around.

Finally we leave Noe around 5PM; nearly 4 hrs after arriving at the border in Ghana and 6hrs after leaving T'adi.. I think officially this is my longest border crossing.  Even the crossing from North Korea to China only took 3 hrs!  The road was some distance inland from the coast here, going through the hills.  We passed by clearcut forests, then huge rubber tree and palm oil plantations.. quite sad and reminded me of the similar destruction of rainforest in Borneo.  We passed and stopped at several other checkpoints, each one taking an interminable amount of time, with bags being opened and money changing hands.  It's nearly 8PM by the time we reach the outskirts of Abidjan, only to have finally one more checkpoint.  I was tempted to get out here and catch a cab the rest of the way!  The area was very busy with people and taxis, the road lined with stalls, each one lit by a naked lightbulb.

Finally we cross over to Treichville, along the Blvd de Marseille which was lined by restaurants and bars.  Everything looked clean and modern, a big difference from the other cities we had visited.  The STC station was in Treichville, finally we arrive nearly 10 hrs after leaving Takoradi, and 12+ hrs since leaving Cape Coast that morning!  We caught a cab for 2500 CFA over to Le Plateau where the Ibis hotel is located.  We cross the bridge over the Le Plateau, surprised by the skyline of Abidjan.  The city used to be known as the Paris of West Africa, the economic hub.  There are lots of skyscrapers here, neon lights and crossing the bridge reminded me somewhat of viewing Hong Kong across from Kowloon.

We arrive at our hotel, where there are a couple ladies of easy affection waiting and waving across the street.  We're exhausted and just want to eat and sleep.. but have a bit of trouble at checkin.  Apparently my reservation wasn't properly 'confirmed' and the hotel is full!  We wait around a few minutes but they are able to find us a room with twin beds.  We dump our stuff then come down to the restaurant for dinner.  The hotel seems quite nice, seems to be mainly business travelers.
SmileyGirl says:
What a long day!
Posted on: Jun 17, 2010
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Abidjan Hotels & Accommodations review
Business hotel in Abidjan
The Ibis Plateau is good for business travelers. It's in a great location, just a few minutes walk to most of Le Plateau (nearby restaurants, embassi… read entire review
photo by: Bluenose