Thursday 22 August 2013

Viven : How we crossed from Ghana to the Ivory Coast

Dear Viven,

Our visa application stop in the desolate city of Conakry turned out to be serendipitous: it was there we felt (at the time) ripped off for only being able to apply for the more expensive 90-day multiple-entry Ivory Coast visas being issued.  In the end, because of a visa issue with the DR Congo, followed by a car accident, our original route changed.  This meant not only a longer stay in the Ivory Coast, but a need to enter a second time.  Because of this fortuitous rip-off, our crossing from Ghana to the Ivory Coast instead formed the last stage of a circular route we took from Abidjan, through Burkina Faso to Benin, and returning via Togo and Ghana.  By being able to return, we were able to make this two-week circuit with only a couple backpacks, while keeping our mass of belongings in a hotel storage room in Grand Bassam.

A long-haul bus to Abidjan that we caught in Lomé took us across from Togo to Ghana prior to crossing from Ghana to the Ivory Coast.  Our crossing previous to the bus was by taxi from Benin to Togo.

We are one British and one Canadian.  This letter is accurate as of the day we reentered the Ivory Coast, on Sunday 11 August 2013.

Our 90-day multiple-entry Ivory Coast visas, acquired in Conakry, Guinea, were still valid for this second crossing into the country.  For how we originally acquired them, see my previous letter, How we crossed from Liberia to the Ivory Coast.

French is the official language of the Ivory Coast and it is widespread, moreso than most other countries in West Africa, where tribal languages are still commonly heard.

The Ivory Coast uses the West African franc (CFA).

The Route
We took the STIF bus from the station by the beach in Lomé, Togo (where we were dropped off by a shared taxi from the Benin border), direct to Abidjan.  The bus called at Accra, Ghana, around 1am, was stopped at the Ivory Coast border between 8:15am and 12:30pm, and dropped us off on the highway in Grand Bassam at 3pm, which implies it would have arrived in Abidjan between 3:30 and 4.

Our Means of Travel
This section is repeated in my previous letter, How we crossed from Togo to Ghana, from 16 August.

Though we planned to spend a night in Lomé before rushing back to the Ivory Coast, we found out the schedule of the direct buses to Abidjan on the afternoon of our arrival and decided to get tickets for the 24-hour journey.

STIF buses from Lomé go to other cities on the Abidjan-Lagos corridor, and there was a list of prices behind the desk at the station.  They were as follows:

Lomé to Abidjan: CFA 24,000
Lomé to Noe (the border with the Ivory Coast): CFA 17,000
Lomé to Accra: CFA 6,000
Lomé to Cotonou: CFA 5,000

We arrived at the STIF bus station at 2pm (after a one-hour back time change from Benin) were told to be there at 3 for the bus, which was to leave at 4.  There was no bus in the courtyard until 6:15, at which time other passengers rushed on to claim their seats (we weren’t as quick).  The bus departed at 6:45. 

After only ten minutes of driving the bus arrived at the Ghanaian border, and was off again by 7:30.  The bus crossed Ghana through the night, passed through the arduous, heavily delayed Ivory Coast border in the morning, and arrived in Abidjan in the afternoon.  Total travel time (from arrival at Lomé station) was 25 hours; total time on the bus: 16 hours; total waiting around and border shuffling time: 9 hours.

The sheer inefficiency and timesink of the STIF bus should give some impression of the journey, but let me make it a little clearer.  The average-sized bus, raised to store baggage underneath, had five seats per row (two on the right side of the aisle, three on the left) and for our trip it was mostly packed.  The awful sounds of the wheels on all right turns would have been horrifying had it not been for the relatively straight roads all the way to Abidjan; but there was little further consolation in that none of the doors could close without a wire or rope holding it in.  Toilet breaks were limited to just two ten-minute stops along open stretches of road.  Meanwhile the seats were very small, both in width and length (I am of average height, which means below average in much of Africa, but could not create more than one and a half fingerlengths of distance between my knees and the seat in front of me by sitting back) and there was a screw which stuck out from the wall that I had to avoid being cut by.  How fruitless is it to mention, that it was hard to sleep?

The Border
This was the longest border crossing of our trip, but certainly not the hardest or most painful.  The duration was presumably the result of the border officials having not only to inspect the passport or identity card of each passenger on the 60-seat bus, but also (as usual in bureaucracy-loving francophone Africa) copy outinto a logbook the details of each passenger on the 60-seat bus.

At 7am on the day of crossing the bus conductor walked up and down the aisle to collect vaccination certificates for both Yellow Fever and Meningitis, plus CFA 500 each for processing.  Because we were to be processed separate from the other passengers, the rest of whom were all ECOWAS citizens, the conductor did not collect our certificates or the CFA 500.  He did, however, warn Al that she would have to explain herself to the border officials, as she did not carry proof of a Meningitis vaccine, and only held a photocopy of her Yellow Fever certificate.

We arrived at the border at 8:15am, and Al and I got off the bus in advance of the others.  The Ghanaian officials sat behind windows in an air-conditioned room, with computers and cameras.  As upon entry into Ghana, we filled out the same simple one-page form, had our headshot photos taken digitally and our visas checked over, and then received an exit-stamp.  To fill the forms we required a pen, and had forgotten ours on the bus.  It sounds ridiculous in this little nucleus of African bureaucracy, but nobody would lend us a pen.  It took a couple minutes before a friendly police officer gave us his – and he made sure to hound us for it back.  We were clear of Ghana by 8:30.

At 8:45 we were taken into the office complex of the Ivory Coast border officials and gendarmes.  We had our details entered by hand into a logbook at one end, then we returned to the front to get checked out and stamped in for entry, and then by 8:55 we returned to the bus, still between the Ghana and Ivory Coast sides.

All the passengers waited by the bus until 9:30, when Douane officials inspected the luggage both onboard and stowed beneath.  A crowd gathered to watch the procedure.

At 9:45 we were all escorted through the Ivory Coast border, with the first barrier to check for Yellow Fever and Meningitis vaccination certificates.  Al explained that her original certification for both was at the hotel in Grand Bassam (which was only half true: Al did not have a Meningitis vaccination at all), and the white-clothed health officer waved us on.  The other passengers waited in a queue while their names were called out, and one at a time their certificates were returned to them (they had been collected by the bus conductor).  Those who did not hold a certificate had to go into a building behind the barrier to get their injections for a CFA 2,500 fee.

Al and I walked through the Ivory Coast border offices, having already been cleared and stamped, while the other passengers handed over the identity cards after inspection.  We all waited on the side of the road until 12:30pm, when the bus came to pick us up.  Once on our way, the conductor called out the names of the other passengers and returned their identity cards or passports.

The whole process from arrival to departure took four hours and 15 minutes.  Again, as with every border crossing since Burkina Faso, there was no mention or hint of a bribe, gift or cadeau.

What We Needed

In Dakar

See information on acquiring our 90-day multiple-entry visas in my previous letter from 4 July.

For the bus
  • CFA 48,000 (24,000 each)
  • 24 hours from the supposed boarding time to arrival in Grand Bassam
  • Some measure of mental toughness

At the border
  • Passports with Ghana and Ivory Coast visas
  • Yellow Fever and Meningitis vaccination certificates
  • Four and a quarter hours

I’m not aware of any other border (and had not been aware of this one) which requires a certificate of vaccination for Meningitis.  Perhaps this requirement is on the rise, so if you’re traveling to Africa I would recommend you get your shot and bring the proof of it with you wherever you go.  Oh, and one more thing which should by now be clear: whenever you find yourself in or near the thrall of French or French-inspired bureaucracy, get ready to sit around and wait.

Happy trails,


Welcome (back) to the Ivory Coast