Tales from the bus
Saturday 5th June
Alex here...I know it has been a while since I last gave you an update on how things are going but we've been extremely busy out here.
I'll quickly bring you up to speed with a couple of high lights from the days since we left Ivory Coast.
Day four (Thursday) saw us cross the border from Cote d'Ivoire into Ghana. We, the Africa Have Your Say team, had to be in Takoradi, which is about two hours from the border, before 16:00gmt. So we hopped off the bus and took a taxi. More on that later.
When we got to Takoradi we found a lively and very welcoming town. There is profound optimism among the local people when they talk about the oil that has been found off their coastline. International banks and hotels are springing up all over the place - a clear indication that big business is rubbing its hands and chuckling in anticipation of things to come.
From there it was on to Cape Coast and Accra. Here the Deputy Minister for Energy was given a good grilling by our Africa Have Your Say audience that had gathered to discuss the chronic power cuts they face day to day.
After that programme it was back on the bus and off to the Togolese border. I actually tried to type this diary entry then but in vain. You see, at that moment, I was being tossed up and down in my seat as the bus bounced along on a pothole riddled road that had been stripped of tarmac.
Our drive out of Ghana reminded me of our ride into the country from the border with Ivory Coast. Remember I said I'd tell you more about that later? Well here goes:
Generally speaking, I found the roads we used in Ivory Coast impressive. Be it in the capital Abidjan, or those villages we visited (three hours away), the roads were good with a few square black patches showing that efforts are made to fill in any potholes.
But once we, the Africa Have Your Say team, crossed the border into Ghana, things changed. Remember, we were aboard a taxi having jumped off the bus in the interests of time.
Suddenly, we found gaping chasms in the road - some of them stretching right across its entire breadth. The driver kept swerving from right to left so much so that one of my colleagues began wondering on which side of the road they officially drive in Ghana. The roads, however, did get much better after 20 or so minutes.
Anyway, back to the Ghanaian border with Togo. After a lengthy and, in my opinion, completely unnecessary delay at the border crossing, we were finally allowed into Lome. Though for some reason, all the passports belonging to the East Africans among us were retained at the immigration office. We did, however, get them back later on at the hotel which was just five minutes drive from the border crossing.
Once in Togo, what struck me the most was the heavy, unwelcoming atmosphere. It was such a sharp contrast to that of Ghana. Some of the Togolese we met were much less willing to talk to us. They were withdrawn and sometimes even downright inhospitable. This by the way included our waiter at the hotel restaurant, a sixty something looking man who was manning about ten tables and achieving very little customer satisfaction. Every order made by a diner seemed like an irritation to him.
Perhaps the reason people were unwelcoming was because we are journalists and given the tough political times this nation has seen, the last thing people want is to talk into or look at a microphone, or a camera.
The one thing that struck us in Lome, the capital of Togo was how quickly it empties out on a Friday evening as people escape to their villages for the weekend. We also found out just before we left for Benin, that we had narrowly missed Togolese football star - and the BBC's African Footballer of the Year winner - Emmanuel Adebayor, who was in town.
Well, we were in and out of Togo like a shot, and off to Benin where much to our delight, we were warmly welcomed. We even got to meet the Minister for tourism as we drove from the border to the Capital - Cotonou and she gave us a couple of interviews.
The journey to the capital was made extremely entertaining by the antics of Gabriel, a police escort on a motorbike who proceeded to perform tricks like someone in a circus! He leaned his bike this way and that, went up on his back wheel, waving one arm in the air!
We also attended a voodoo ceremony in Ouidah village and later on, played a game of 'babyfoot'; but not before the voodoo priest predicted that an African team would win the World Cup. We will have to wait and see if that comes true!
There are more smiles and cheerful faces here. What a relief! I'll keep you posted on how things go here.
I'm starving so off to find some food to demolish.
Monday 31st May
From "Drogbaville" to Abidjan
Alex Jakana here...we've just got into Abidjan from Gagnoa, the home town of Didier Drogba's ancestral village - Nyapridioh village (Drogbaville as I've heard some people refer to it).
We received an authentically warm African welcome when we got there.
Village elders from nearby communities as well as the chief, who evoked a blessing and poured libation, were all there waiting for us...scores of people from around the village too. Men, women, and children of all ages as well as, of course, Mr Drogba - Dider Drogba's father. Drinks were not in short supply.
And what are the chances that Ivory Coast would be playing a friendly at the exact time we were there?
As you can imagine, the whole place erupted when Drogba scored his goal against Paraguay in the game.
It is rather hot and humid though and some of the guys are finding it oppressive. Luckily for them, the driver had a mechanic boost the AC on the bus this morning. The cabin is now being lashed by what feels like arctic blasts to me.
Let me tell about the bit of drama we had on our way from Gagnoa when we stopped to stretch our legs. You see, a couple of our colleagues decided to use the opportunity to take some photos of the small roadside trading centre.
As they happily snapped away, a policeman (gendarme) walked up to them out of the blue and demanded an explanation. He then confiscated one of the cameras.
Apparently, according to him, one of the people being photographed was his wife and he found that less than acceptable.
He marched off to his office (an iron sheet roofed shed by the highway) with at least 4 journalist in tow, trying to explain what we were all about.
Anyway, after several minutes of negotiations and a stern warning, he handed the camera back and sent us on our way.
I suspect this may be the first of many equally entertaining episodes.
Sunday 30th May
Alex Jakana here...we're in Abidjan finally! The bus has done its second trip, picking us up from the hotel and delivering us to our hotel in Gagnoa (Drogbaville if you like) some three and a half hours away.
Gagnoa is Dider Drogba's home town, as well as the home to one of the greatest football academies in the country.
After lunch we head to the academy.
I've got to say, it's been quite a journey so far. The morning of the 29th saw us take off from London in a feather light small craft which, after a wobbly flight, put us down in Paris. At least the cabin crew were on board unlike another European flag carrier I know.
Anyway, two hours later we were airborne, headed out of Paris and bound for Abidjan.
It was a decent flight until we arrived at Abidjan ... Where the pilot gave us a terrifying landing.
He pretty much just slammed the plane onto the tarmac ... It was almost as if the runway took him completely by surprise.
"Oh my goodness", he must have thought to himself, "who put that there?"
What's more is that three of our bags are missing. Still in Paris, I presume. (Or scattered along the runway in Abidjan after the Captain's little game of bounce the plane.)
Anyway, we are now checked into the hotel, have had our first meeting and are getting ready to get some much needed sleep.
It's my first time in Ivory Coast and I love what I've seen so far.
It's the rainy season out here but temperatures are still high making it humid and hot at night. ... But I'm ok with that. I grew up in Uganda.
The night drive from the airport told me a story of a well planned city, full of energy and vibrancy. An observation driven home by the young woman I spotted taking boxing lessons on the veranda of a closed high street super market as we drove by.
Gotta hit the sack now, I am knackered.