The Roads to Yamoussoukro

The thought of going to Yamoussoukro had been on my mind for the past few years. I had learned about the Basilica in Yamoussoukro: 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. It is actually the capital of Ivory Coast, a French speaking West African country.

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 failed to make the trip in the past. These included the ongoing political instability in the country and the fact that I did not and still don’t speak French. There was no airport in Yamoussoukro. You had to travel by road from Abidjan to Yamoussoukro; a distance of about 240 km.

When I finally made up my mind to do the trip this time, those fears were still there. The urge however was such that I could not resist! I had to go. LESSON 1, whatever you want to do, do it in your own good time as long as it is not a matter of life and death. As the saying goes ‘whenever you wake up is your own good morning!’

I wanted to be there during one of the Catholic festivals so as to have some spiritual feel to the visit. Easter was the 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 there.

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 to the information kiosk staff for their help.

I made transportation arrangement at the hotel for my trip to Yamoussoukro for the following morning. The taxi driver (who spoke English) was a no-show in the morning 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!

Bus transportation was suggested but would not give me the flexibility to do photography of the country side. The trip 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 that the online reservation was not valid. 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 reception staff was 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 carry my tripod throughout his assignment. I realized that this was not part of his job; perhaps, that innate African culture of a younger person respecting and helping an older folk! I was grateful for his help!

I wrote 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 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 had not fully enriched myself of the spiritual aspect of the visit.

Enjoy some of my photos from Cote d’Ivoire.

Further information could be obtained here (I do not necessarily agree with some of the statements in these writings. I did my own fact findings during my visit);

1.      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basilica_of_Our_Lady_of_Peace

2.      https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/yamoussoukro

4.       N’Guessan KA et al in Procedia Environmental Sciences 2011; 9:140-147

The Basilica of Our Lady of Peace (Basilique Notre Dame de la Paix) Yamoussoukro

The Basilica of Our Lady of Peace in Yamoussoukro, Ivory Coast (Cote d’Ivoire), is a Catholic minor Basilica noted to be the largest church in the world. This magnificent edifice was built by the first president of Ivory Coast, Felix Houphouet-Boigny. The Basilica is situated on a piece of land which used to be part of Felix Houphouet-Boigny’s coconut farm in his home town of Yamoussoukro. The remnant of the coconut farm remains visible around the Basilica. Construction was started in 1985 and was completed in 1989. It was consecrated in 1990.

The approach to the Basilica is about 1 kilometer long. It is paved with marble centrally with asphalted driveway on either side circling the Basilica. There is a massive garden on either side of the driveway supposedly patterned on the gardens of the palace of Versailles in France.

The design of the Basilica is that of a Christian Cross. The Basilica is made of marble. There are two semicircular colonnades, patterned on the Doric colonnades of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, in front of the Basilica. The two colonnades encircle a large dove image imprinted on the floor of the massive forecourt, perhaps signifying peace which is the central theme of the Basilica. The two colonnades lead to a large rectangular porch or façade which forms the lower portion of the cross. Columns are plentiful and are of non-uniform design. There is a terrace on top of the porch supported by huge columns; a favorite spot for visitors.

The nave of the Basilica is round and can seat 7000 worshipers. There is also room for additional 11000 standing worshipers resulting in a total capacity of 18,000. The nave is free standing under the dome. The dome is supported on columns. The stained glass atop the dome has a dove inscribed centrally.

There are several unique features of the Basilica among which are the curvilinear wooden pews made of hard African Iroko wood, individual air-condition vent in the pews, the African design incorporated into the canopy over the altar, extensive amount of stained glass windows and doors, unique stained glass images and or names of those involved in the concept, design and building of the Basilica, a wooden sculpture of the ‘Notre Dame De Tout le Monde’ and the tallest dome in the world if you consider the huge ornamental cross on top of the dome.

My guide told me an inspirational story about the ‘Notre Dame de Tout Le Monde’. This wooden sculpture of the Virgin Mary was conceived by an incarcerated Muslim criminal in Yamoussoukro prison. Apparently, this individual had a dream in which he had a conversation with the Virgin Mary. He reasoned that if the Virgin Mary could appear to him, a Muslim, She obviously belonged to the whole world and not to Christians alone. He decided to erect a sculpture to the Virgin Mary; Our Lady of the Whole World.

There are two identical large mansions on the back end of the Basilica; one serves as the residence for the Pope and the other serves as the rectory for the rector and administrators of the facility. A 250 bed children’s hospital is located on the east side of the facility.

I am particularly grateful for the opportunity to photograph this unique Basilica which I believe is a unique gift to Christendom and the African continent. I am also grateful for the opportunity to meet with the rector Rev. Fr. Frank, his assistant Irene and the seminarian, Peter. Attending the Good Friday Passion of Christ and service at the Basilica is the highpoint of my Christian life.

 My hope is that this Basilica will become a rallying point for Catholics on the African continent and a place of pilgrimage for many more people from around the world.

More information could be found at;

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basilica_of_Our_Lady_of_Peace

www.cotedivoiretourisme.ci/.../612-la-basilique-notre-dame-de-la-paix

Great Platte River Road Archway Monument

Great Platte River Road Archway Monument Kearney Nebraska

Now simply known as The Archway, the Great Platte River Road Archway Monument is a museum and monument located over Interstate highway I-80 about 3 miles East of the city of Kearney, Nebraska. The billboard showing the direction to the monument still bears the original name!

It is located a leisurely three hour drive West of Omaha Nebraska on highway I-80. It now has its own exit, 275, just East of Kearney Nebraska but could also be reached through exit 272.

It is unlike any other monument or museum as this structure which is about 300 feet long spans the highway with road traffic running under it.

In a nutshell, it houses exhibits designed to showcase how the West was won! It does this within a two story log structure using murals, artifacts, visual and sound effects and self- guided audio tour of the trails, transcontinental railroad and highways as well as the trials and tribulations of the travelers as they headed west.  

There is surrounding greenery, flowers, shrubs and a small lake north of the entrance to the monument. On my prior visit a few years back, I saw some external exhibits of native Nebraskans’ artifacts, tepees and the travelers’ means of survival and effigy of their animals. Some of these exhibits were missing on my recent visit to the monument!   

A gift shop within the complex allows you to take home some souvenir featuring handmade native Nebraskan merchandise as well as patriotic, western and archway mementos to remember your visit to the monument.

Just West of the monument is the Nebraska Fireman museum and education center.

 

Further information is obtainable at archway.org

New butterflies

These days, everywhere I go I look for the most beautiful things, the butterflies! Whenever I see one I try to stalk it! Usually this leads me to the other ones and the most beautiful flowers. If a special butterfly garden exists in any town or city I visit, I always make the effort to visit. The beauty of these magnificent insects manifests in their colors. There appears to be some grace and skill in their flight; some appear erratic while some appear to have a pattern to their direction of flight. Some are slow while others show some energy and speed. Some keep coming back to the same spot and flower, perhaps this spot or flower offers something they want or need! Others stay briefly on a flower and move on appearing to be directionless. Yet, some make brief stops at different stations perhaps looking for something that they can not quite find. I observe some staying permanently on the spot; tired, sick, resigned to fate or have found a permanent abode? Some share feeding stations, each taking what it needs. In trying to escape the cold weather some alter their physical attributes to cope with the flight over thousands of miles to nest and survive the harsh conditions in a more comfortable environment only to come back when they think conditions are favorable in their old home! To me, all these behaviors serve as metaphor for life. Our life!

The Hills of Ekiti

Ekiti State is one of the states in South Western Nigeria. The state is located in the North Eastern corner of the South West geopolitical zone.

 ‘The state is mainly an upland zone rising over 250 meters above sea level with a rhythmically undulating surface. The landscape consists of ancient plains broken by steep-sided outcropping dome rocks’. These rocks occur singly or in groups or ridges providing a spectacularly majestic scenic view of the landscape. The state derives its name from the ruggedness of the terrain. It is a very scenic state due to its hills and ridges.

Not all the outcropped rocks are dome shaped however. The domes are mostly devoid of significant vegetation. There are multiple flat topped rocky hills forming plateaus also devoid of significant vegetation. There is a large number of rhythmic raised plains covered with dense rain forest type vegetation almost reminiscent of ‘sea or ocean waves’ as seen from a distance. Some of the ridges appear stacked one behind the other in some places. Some of the rocks appear in boulders of various sizes with multiple boulders stacked up one on top of the other and behind the other. Some of the boulders are found at the foothills.

Some of the outcropped rocks are perhaps igneous or metamorphic in nature. Most are dark, shining and smooth or rough surfaced with evidence of weathering effect. The hilly ridges provide a panoramic hilly green scenery as you drive through the state. This is probably responsible for the winding roads common throughout the state. Where the roads have been cut through the hills you could see evidence of layering suggestive of sedimentary rock formations while some show evidence of limestone, quartz or other minerals deposition.

In the rural areas, some of the ridges and hills show evidence of forest denudation probably from farming process while most continue to show evidence of virgin forest coverage. In the towns and cities, housing developments are noted to have crept to the foothills. Some hill tops have become abode for the wealthy! Foot paths are present along some of these hills consistent with human traffic to and from the top of the hills.

Some of the hills particularly the granite domes have some interesting “history” mostly related to their uses during the early settlements of their respective surrounding communities. Some are deified and worshiped with annual festivals staged for sacrifices and as tourist attractions.

I have selected some photos that capture some of the characteristics described in this blog. Posters or high definition photos of these mountains/hills are available upon request.

Lekki Conservation Center (LCC) Lagos Nigeria

The Lekki Conservation Center (LCC) is located in Lekki peninsula Lagos state. It is the flagship project of the privately funded Nigeria Conservation Foundation (NCF) which was founded by Late Chief S. L. Edu in 1980.

The vision of the NCF as presented on their website is "A Nigeria where people prosper while living in harmony with nature".

LCC is a nature park, a preserved portion of Lekki peninsula in its original form comprising a mangrove swamp and a Savannah grassland located at kilometer 19 along Lagos-Epe expressway in Lagos State. It has a 2 kilometer boardwalk and a 401-meter long suspended swinging canopy walkway through the mangrove swamp and a family pack in the Savannah grassland.

The 2 kilometer boardwalk meanders through the mangrove swamp with resting spots along the boardwalk for nature and bird watching. There is a jungle of tall trees of various types forming canopies in the mangrove swamp.

The canopy walkway is said to be the longest canopy walkway in Africa. The foliage bio-diversity in the mangrove swamp is better appreciated as you walk along the canopy walkway. At the highest viewing station, the Atlantic Ocean comes into view on the southern front of the nature park. The surrounding developments could also be viewed at this level. There is a tree house within the swamp which also allows better appreciation of the foliage biodiversity at the canopy level.  

The Savannah grassland has a family park with gazebos, barbecue stations, floor games and Tilapia and Koi fish ponds.

On the day we visited there were a few birds and animals. I was very impressed with the biodiversity of the nature park. It was a lot of fun going on the swinging canopy walkway and looking as far as the eyes could see above the flora canopy. Climbing the tree house was exhilarating for members of our group who were strong enough to do the vertical climb. It was also fun seeing the fish scramble for food as our tour guide fed them. I have a better appreciation for the original form of the land in the Lekki peninsula before the sand filling and the massive developments ongoing on this peninsula.  

We did a few photos. It was difficult to capture the excitement of walking on the boardwalk under the foliage canopies and the suspended canopy walkway and taking in the fresh scent of the mangrove swamp and the humidity. I wished I had a long sleeve shirt on to avoid the insect bites which were expected in this setting. My long pants helped anyway! I recommend a pair of hiking shoes. Please enjoy these photos. Your feedback is welcome.

Further information could be obtained at Lekki Conservation Centre (LCC): Treasure on the Peninsula, Proud ...

www.ncfnigeria.org/projects/lekki-conservation-centre

The Butchart Gardens

The Butchart Gardens,

Vancouver Island,

800 Benvenuto Ave, Brentwood Bay, BC V8X 3X4

Canada

 

The Butchart gardens is located on Vancouver Island off the coast of British Columbia in Canada.

The Butchart gardens is one of the most beautiful places in the world that I have visited. I have been there three times which says something about my love for the place. There are several ways to get there. These are provided in the link attached to this blog.

It is a serene environment that offers a breathtaking view of this once abandoned quarry now converted to one of the most beautiful gardens in the world. It is peaceful and calming. Lose your worries and smell the flowers! Slow down a little bit and get in into nature. You cannot but smile or laugh and show appreciation for the great work done here as you take in the beauty of the place. It is also on a bay offering an extended view of the blue/turquoise waters of the Brentwood bay. The layout is such that the aroma or the scent of the flowers and trees change as one moves from place to place along the paved walkways. Strategically placed benches allow you to sit down, bite into an apple, eat a sandwich, take a sip of water or rest your weary legs!

A beautiful large fountain is located in the depth of the old quarry. Several steps lead into the edge of the large fountain. There are several well-manicured lawns, smaller fountains and ponds surrounded by beautiful hedges. There are some ponds with walkways. Several sculptures are visible all over the garden.

Here below is a sample of what you can see. High resolution images of these and more images are available upon request.

 

More information about Butchart Gardens is available at http://www.butchartgardens.com/visit/location.

The Holy Family Shrine Gretna Nebraska

The Holy Family Shrine is a Catholic shrine dedicated to the Holy Family. It is located along highway I - 80 in Gretna Nebraska, about 15 minutes by road outside Omaha city limit. It is located on an expanse rolling field and consists of a visitor center and a chapel in a serene setting. The chapel is readily visible from the highway below.

It also has a grotto of the Virgin Mary. A huge crucifix spire directly faces the highway.

Recently some additional construction, although incomplete at the time of my last visit, is been done to include a walkway and Stations of the Cross on the North end of the property. The new walkway through surrounding field should provide plenty of space to wander and reflect. There were lots of butterflies this past summer around the structures. That should excite butterfly lovers to visit this serene place.

It is generally very quiet and peaceful when there is sparse number of visitors or when you are lucky to be the lone visitor. There is a gift shop in the visitor center. There was no admission fee at the times I visited in the past but donations and patronage of the gift items in the visitor center are welcome.

I visited on weekends spending a few minutes to an hour about once or twice in the year. I often took my visitors from out of town to the shrine. It is a place of solace when you are looking for specific answers to specific questions.

I have included photos taken both in the summer and fall, so you could choose when to visit!

 

More information about the project and site is available on the ‘holyfamilyshrineproject.com’.