A Walk in Banco National Park

It’s a Sunday afternoon and we decided to take a trip up to the Parc National du Banco to get some fresh air. Sunday in Abidjan means no traffic, so we hailed a taxi and cruised on up to the park. Many people suggest getting a guide, including the personnel at the entrance, but being the adventurers we are, we decided to wing it. The path to the little village is a fairly easy 3.5km, but to save time we continued with our taxi following the line of about 5 other cars. Halfway through the trek we thought this might have been a mistake. We hesitated asking the driver to just drop us off so he could turn around, but alas the road was only made for one. While the taxi driver was cursing under his breath about how long and difficult this trip is, we were gazing around at the lash greenery. When we finally got the village we realized it was more of a “village” then a real village. Just a couple of small houses and structures, but enough apparently.

There in the village we met a group of kids here for a school trip and picnic with a local NGO. I had pulled out my phone to take a picture of a tree and suddenly they all came running towards me and standing next to me as if to take a selfie. I flipped the camera around and said “selfie” and they all replied in chorus “SELFIEEEE!!”. This moment snowballed into everyone pulling out their own phones and asking to get pictures with us. It was strange. Like I had suddenly become a celebrity or the president’s daughter. I even held a few babies! Ha! The leader of their group explained to us that they are an NGO whose goal is to take child on field trips and help them experience their “patrimoine,” or in American terms, their “patriotism” or “national pride.” The group was taking this group of school children to the forest to held teach them about the environment and why it’s essential to protect. It’s particularly important to protect the Banco, as it is the source for half of the drinking water in Abidjan!

The children talked to us for a bit before we parted ways. They were extremely fascinated by my hair, amazed how it grows naturally like “mèche”, here meaning the wigs you often see Africans wear and sell in markets. The leader further explained to us that young girls are required to hair their hair short while they are in school and once they hit lycée (High school) they can start to experiment a bit. 

Finally we broke off to start our separate programs. We picked a path and started walking. Immediately as we started walking I noticed the amount of butterflies there are. They are everywhere! It’s easy to forget that we used to live surrounded in a world of bugs.

Being surrounded by nature was a nice change of pace from the city life. Abidjan doesn’t have much greenery, not nearly enough. People will tell you that it wasn’t always like that, but now with increasing development, people will cut down all the trees and green to make space for more and more buildings. So much concrete. And I thought New York was bad. But another difference we noticed while walking under the trees was the air. A feeling of freshness and coolness overwhelmed us. Breathing was pleasant. Walking was pleasant. We sweat a bit, but nothing compared to the amount when we walk in the city. 

We spent about 20 minutes walking down until we headed back to find some food to buy. Despite what the guys at the gate will say, yes, there is food inside the Banco. Typical poisson-attiéké combo, but actually very tasty, one of the better ones we’ve had. Plus at 1000cfa a plate, it couldn’t be a better deal. 

We sat and admired the scenery while we waited for our food. Every so often we would hear the rustle of leaves, a lizard chasing a bug. In the distance we could hear the children playing music and laughing along to the beat. We ate and headed off down another trail, towards La Maison de La Nature. It’s a little house with a few signs about the animals and plants found in the forest. You can also see some animal bones and a chimpanzee skull.

We kept our eyes open and ears peeled for any signs of chimpanzees. We had read that there was only a few chimps left in the forest, about 20. At one point we saw a guide and asked him about it. He explained how there are actually around 40 now, but they hide in fear of humans, but are normally active in the morning hours. He then further told us that if we have so many questions we should have just hired a guide ourselves. A surefire way of knowing that, okay it’s time to take off. It was also late afternoon and the path to get back to the entrance to find a taxi would take anywhere from 40 minutes to an hour.

But suddenly, what was that sound??? What was that rustling of trees?? And what was that sound?? We paused and listened, followed the noise. Was it a monkey, a bird, or something in between? 10 minutes listening and trying our mysterious animal. Rien. Back to the road.

The walk back wasn’t particularly interesting, but as the path grew closer to the outskirts of the park, the sounds of the highway got louder. And louder. And louder. Until we finally reached the park gate and could see the highway in full view. Gotta love city life.

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