Friendliness Is Country's Best Attraction


Travel Weekly Crossroads' associate editor, Judy Koutsky, took a press tour of Africa's Ivory Coast. She is chronicling her adventures in regular, on-line travelogues. In this, her final report, Judy reflects on her journey and finds that, more than the attractions and scenery, the Ivorians themselves left the most lasting impression. This is the sixth chapter in the "Judy Goes to Africa" series:

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast -- It's hard to sum up the Ivory Coast experience. What resonates strongest in my mind is the friendliness and warmth of the villagers and their willingness to allow us a glimpse into their world.

From the dances to the iron extraction demonstrations, from the weavers to the pottery makers to the children who took our hands and walked us through their schools, we were made to feel special and welcome. Also, the feeling of being in Africa, the "real Africa" as the west coast is often called, was overwhelming. Sure there are pockets of tourist attractions that are well worth seeing--namely the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace--but on the whole, this is an unspoiled destination.

The lack of modern luxuries, limited urbanization and the Ivorians' simple, yet rewarding way of life, made this trip a cultural and educational experience, not your average beach-and-sun extravaganza. With more than 60 ethnic groups represented and no noticeable political or social strife, the Ivory Coast is a unique, diverse and viable destination. A trip there will not leave you any time soon.

For clients making the trek, here are some things to keep in mind:

* Bring shampoo/conditioner; most hotels only supply the soap.

* Look through your closet for bargaining goods: t-shirts, gym shoes, lipstick, perfume. You'll save a bundle at the market and will be a big hit among the villagers.

* Pack some candy for the kids, and, if you're feeling very altruistic, paper, pens and pencils will be most appreciated. Chances are you'll stop by a school, and writing supplies are in short demand.

* Take an extra bag/suitcase. Everybody on my trip ended up buying an extra carry-on for their souvenirs. Because many items, including masks, animal carvings and blankets are relatively cheap -- once you figure out how to bargain -- you'll be taking home more than you anticipated. One woman packed a suitcase full of American goods to trade and then filled the suitcase with African goods she purchased.

* Our tour guide was excellent: funny, informative, good natured and always seeking adventure. I strongly recommend contacting him: Adji Kadjou, national tour guide, telephone (011) 225 459-165.

* Change money at a bank or hotel in Abidjan, it will become more difficult the further north or west you go.

* It's not a bad idea to bring a French dictionary. Some English is spoken at the bigger hotels, but it'll be very useful in the villages.

* Film is outrageously expensive in the Ivory Coast ($9 for a 24 exposure roll of 35 mm), so buy it in the States.

Here's a rundown of the hotels we stayed in:

Golf Hotel Inter-Continental, Abidjan
(011) 225 431-044
Comfortable rooms, wonderful recreational facilities in the back and a pleasant staff make this hotel worth a visit. They are refurbishing the outside, so ignore the chipping paint.

President Hotel, Yamoussoukro
(011) 225 641-581
This was the most elegant hotel in the lot. On par with any five star hotel in the States, complete with swimming pool, golf course, and "pampering center" (manicure, facials, hair salon, masseuse). Same day dry cleaning also available. Minutes away from the basilica, be sure to eat at the rotating restaurant on the 48th Floor: the view is magnificent.

La Paillote, Tortiya
(011) 225 221-694/654
This hotel, located in the middle of nowhere, was my favorite. The rooms are clean, spacious and decorated in African motif; you'll want to buy the wall hangings. Be sure to visit the diamond mines located just a short distance away. This is a great way to acclimate yourself to village life.

Mont-Korhogo, Korhogo
(011) 225 860-400
Quaint, albeit the rooms are a little cramped. Centrally located between Fakaha and Tortiya, you can shop all day and come back here just to sleep.

Judy Goes to Africa, Part 1: "Akwaba to Cote d'Ivoire"

Judy Goes to Africa, Part 2: The Paradox of Our Lady of Peace

Judy Goes to Africa, Part 3: Forgerons, Potiers and the Dance of the Leopard-Men

Judy Goes to Africa, Part 4: Living on 'African Time'

Judy Goes to Africa, Part 5: No Electricity, but the Men Wear Levi's

Judy Goes to Africa, Part 6: Friendliness is Country's Best Attraction

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