Imagine a place, laying along the coast of the Gulf of Guinea, lost in the tropical wilderness... a place that has been home to generations of men and women who built customs and traditions on the shores of two waters: lagoon and sea. We called this place: Assinie.
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Assinie, or better yet Assinie Mafia, stands as a territory that remains largely untapped; which, to some extent, is good for the folks who desire to evade the urban stresses, noises, and pollutions that the nearby mega-city of Abidjan continues to offer. Yes, Assinie is what you would call a gateway destination; a tropical small-town distancing itself just a mere two hours drive away from the aforementioned economic capital of Côte d’Ivoire. Assinie is wild. Assinie is pure. Assinie is enchanting. Although, it’s a trip to get to the village. The new “Bassam highway”, which covers one fifth of the trip in length, offers quite the speed and comfort needed for a good road trip. However, once passed the King of Bassam headquarters, right after the crossing of the Sassandra River Bridge, the journey quickly becomes venturesome, as the road turns out to be quite perilous, at least to someone who remains foreign to the quirks of underdeveloped infrastructure. But, trust me, it’s all worth it. Especially once you come to anticipate what treasures lay ahead.
It was my very first time going out to Assinie. I had never been there before. The closest I had been to a beach in Cote d'Ivoire was when I was visiting my uncle in Grand Bassam. After I left the homeland at the tender age of 15, I had had the opportunity to swim in other continental seas. Indeed, it's truly a shame that many Ivorians have never experienced Assinie. It's something talked or heard about; but that's it. Even then many more have yet to catch a glimpse of the ocean which eternally washes the shores of the land. Surely, I hope we all do at some point.
Upon my return, my enthusiasm to swim at home grew even more. For my first experience, I had wished to enjoy the rural, in essence the countryside and its people, and come to grasp with the wilderness even; away from the luxurious hotels and resorts. And I wasn’t disappointed. First, once our car was parked, we hired a pirogue - like someone would hire a cab - to embark on a short traverse of the laguna, which was followed by a five-minute walk passing through wild trees, bushes, and herbs. To put things in perspective, Assinie is mainly but not exclusively a strip of land, spanning over dozens of miles, that comes in between lagoon and sea waters. Therefore, one has to cross the lagoon by boat, then walk inland before reaching the beach. Yes, that too is quite the experience. And on the first try, the closer we were getting to our beach-house, the louder the ocean breeze kept resonating into our amused ears. Oh, it's the sweetest music. As soon as we set base in the middle of the ideal wild life, we were already in the midst of the renowned fisherman village, that superstar artist Alpha Blondy raved about in his 1998's hit-single bearing the village's name.
The house we had rented was perfect. There were three nice air conditioning rooms, a community living space with a TV and dining table; nearby stood a kitchen with all the right appliances, and an outdoor BBQ space. The whole house was mainly built with bamboo sticks and wood, all painted in fresh coats of yellow and green, resembling much of the surrounding colours of long palm trees and juicy coconut fruits. All of which were standing tall just a few walks away from the sea shores. At last! We already felt home, away from home!
Oh man, how badly the nearby waters kept on calling us to join in for a swim. The sun was shining; the weather was sweet, making you wanna move your dancing feet... if you know the rest of this Bob Marley’s song, then kudos to you. And yes, the weather is so good, hot and sunny, all-round the year actually. True story: when it rains in Abidjan, even in the nearby city of Bonoua, the sun is still shinning and beating hard in Assinie. Beware of mosquitoes though. That’s the one not-so sweet thing you notice out there. So get some protective spray and lotion, to be extra good.
Some homestay and hotel resorts in Assinie date back to the independence days and beyond. The architecture hasn't suffered much from the raising waters, humidity, rain and winds. The sights can be reminiscent of the city of Bassam, where much of the architectural heritage from way back in the day still remains.
Most local folks travel out here by boat, like the one above. They can venture out as far as to villages and cities in neighboring Ghana. Some enchanting means of transport, I'd admit. It's quite exquisite.
Luxurious vacation homes have always been present in Assinie. Nowadays they have been sprouting up like mushrooms, for everyone who can afford a piece of land, much like "La Baie des Milliardaires" in île Boulay. The Billionaire's Bay, it's coined.
La passe, the frontier where two waters meet but never mix into one another. In fact, the lagoon and the Atlantic ocean do mingle in Assinie Mafia. You can witness the beauty, the work of God for yourself, through your own eyes or senses. In plain sight, the green and blue colors become very distinctive. Each color representing one water that's different from the other.
There's poetry in keeping up with tradition. Things change. And they do change fast. While it's good to embrace positive progress; sometimes, holding on to what's old but good and precious can go a long way. The subtle beauties of crossing waters on a pirogue are truly magnificent. The act of this man pushing his boat into the water, while his family sits inside, can raise concerns of safety for some. However, in that moment, you can sense that the trust is there. The boat has kept them afloat. The water has kept them safe. This boat - of good fortune - has sailed away and completed its journey, with plenty more to come.
It’s one thing to have an ocean close by to swim into; but, it’s another to know that nearby there’s an entire village of kind folks willing to help you enjoy a nice stay. The people of Assinie are kind and inviting. You usually hear that same old say from travel blogs or what not, but this here is true. So I’m going to say it again: the people of Assinie are kind and inviting. They are proud of their land and heritage. Each coming day, they expect an affluence of tourists and visitors, yet they remain deeply invested in their roots. So much so that the village largely remains the same. Even though some facets show a modernization of sorts: luxurious beach houses and hotels, banks, public companies, private offices and businesses. Though, clearly, restaurants for one are still serving some very affordable and tasty local food: attieke, grilled fish, chicken, “foutou banane”, “kedjenou”, etc. The local market, too, remains buzzing. It's quite the bazaar, loud with colours and noises, but only open on Mondays. From dawn till dusk, merchants will gather up on their usual spots to provide residents or visitors with fresh fruits, vegetables, rice, seafood, and other household essentials. One can literally survive and thrive on the village for extensive weeks without having to go all the way back to the luxuries and comforts of a much more populated and modern city.
Aside from the soothing beach, the tasty meals, the people’s hospitality, the coolness of the air, the sight of palm and coconut trees, the one other thing I enjoy the most when visiting Assinie is the pirogue ride. There’s nothing quite charming, native, and romantic. Some mean of transport, that has been the tradition for centuries before us. When you get the chance to, hire one, and request for a trip all round the whole “island”. Cause quite honestly, Assinie-Mafia truly is a land of unique beauty. Like many treasured places in the world, especially those that remain hidden or somewhat unpopular, Assinie will leave you breathless. Go forth and come visit us. Cheers for reading.