The Roads to Yamoussoukro. My Yamoussoukro Experience; Planning and making it happen.
The thought of going to Yamoussoukro was on my mind for a few years before I finally made the trip. I had learned about the Basilica in Yamoussoukro, the largest Catholic Church in the world!
The Basilica of Our Lady of Peace (Basilique Notre Dame de la Paix) Yamoussoukro is in Ivory Coast (Cote d’Ivoire), West Africa and NOT in Japan as one of my friends suggested when I mentioned it to him. Yamoussoukro is actually the capital of Ivory Coast, a French speaking country in West African.
This Basilica is said to be the largest church in the world! It was built by Felix Houphouet Boigny, the first president of Ivory Coast (Cote d’Ivoire) and consecrated on 10 September 1990 by Pope John Paul II. It was supposedly controversial and perhaps unusual considering its cost, the motivation for building it and its location! I really wanted to see it.
It has variously been compared to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. I had spent a few days some years back exploring St. Peter’s. You can read about my experience of St. Peter’s at https://www.octavephotographers.com/blog/2017/3/11/looking-up-at-the-vatican-mesmerized)
There were several reasons why I had some trepidations about the trip. There was ongoing political instability in the country. I didn’t and I still don’t speak French; the official language of Ivory Coast. How would I find my way around? There was no airport in Yamoussoukro. You had to travel by road from Abidjan, the coastal old capital, to Yamoussoukro. That is a distance of about 240 km.
When I finally made up my mind to do the trip, those fears were still there. The urge however was such that I could no longer resist making the trip! I had to go. LESSON 1, whatever you want to do, do it in your own good time as long as you can make it safe. As the saying goes ‘whenever you wake up is your own good morning!’
I wanted to visit during one of the Catholic festivals so as to have some spiritual feel to the visit. Easter was my choice! I started by making a hotel reservation on line at the President Hotel in Yamoussoukro. Then I made a flight reservation into Abidjan. There were several airlines flying to Abidjan. I planned to arrange local transportation when I got to Abidjan.
Abidjan airport was small but very efficient and clean. I was impressed with the Immigration and Custom services. They were orderly, polite and professional. The information kiosk at the airport was very helpful with local hotel and transportation arrangement. I was really grateful for the invaluable suggestions made by the staff of the information desk at the airport.
I stayed the night in one of the airport hotels. I made transportation arrangement at the hotel for my trip to Yamoussoukro for the following morning. Bus transportation was suggested but would not give me the flexibility to do photography of the country side. So I settled for a taxi with a driver. The taxi driver (who spoke English) was a no-show in the morning of my trip but had arranged for a French speaking driver to take his place! One big mistake I made was not to confirm the taxi fare with the new driver before we left Abidjan. That was a really big mistake which I paid dearly for once we got to Yamoussoukro. LESSON 2, always confirm prior arrangement with new drivers, and don’t assume your old agreement is binding on the new driver!
The trip was pleasant otherwise. It took over 3 hours on a fantastic smooth dual carriage way. I was impressed by the agriculturally scenic road; huge farms mainly rubber plantations, plantain/banana plantations, Gmelina tree plantations etc.
I arrived the President Hotel in Yamoussoukro thinking I had a reservation. I intended to stay 4 days for the Easter weekend. It was a shock to discover that the online reservation was not valid. I was told that the hotel had no access to the online reservation! The hotel could provide accommodation for the first two days. It was a holiday weekend, the hotel was fully booked. I tried a few other hotels in town with the same result. Virtually all the good hotels in town were solidly booked. LESSON 3, always confirm your hotel reservations directly with the hotel!
I was not disappointed when I finally saw the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace! The environment was serene, really peaceful! The receptionists were very friendly. I paid the usual entrance fee and an additional fees for permission to take commercial photos.
My guide (Philip) was knowledgeable and helpful. He helped me to carry my tripod throughout his assignment. I realized that this was not part of his job. Perhaps, it was that innate African culture of a younger person respecting and helping an older folk! I was grateful for his help!
I have written a blog about my experience at the basilica which could be read at https://www.octavephotographers.com/blog/2018/5/2/the-basilica-of-our-lady-of-peace-basilique-notre-dame-de-la-paix-yamoussoukro
Yamoussoukro was well laid out. It seemed there was the new and the old parts of town. The roads were wide but unfortunately full of pot holes at the time of my visit. There were several lakes which I understand were man-made. The people were very hospitable. They smiled readily and were eager to help except for one taxi driver who took advantage of me! It was easy to get permission to take photographs of people and places.
There were other major attractions in Yamoussoukro such as the palace of President Felix Houphouet Boigny, the coconut farm (I had my first natural coconut water drink there), the Crocodile Lake, the local cathedral and mosque, the Foundation for peace research and academic institutions.
The country was peaceful at the time of my visit. Actually, my inability to speak French did not significantly impact my overall enjoyment of the trip. Fortunately, a lot of Ivoirians spoke English and were eager to help. I met a lot of interesting people. LESSON 4, our fears are just that, fears. If we rise above them and plan appropriately we will just be fine!
It was a worthwhile trip. I hope to be back at the Basilica sometime in the future. I feel I did not fully take in the spiritual aspect of the visit. Please enjoy some of my photos I have selected for you from Cote d’Ivoire.