Grand-Bassam, or Bassam for short, is well known for its beautiful beaches and is probably the most tourist friendly place in the Ivory Coast (and I still wouldn’t call it particularly touristy). It is very easy to do a day trip from Abidjan to Bassam: the journey by minibus will cost you 500 CFA (not even £1) and takes half an hour. Bassam was also the first capital of the country, and is filled with old colonial buildings protected by UNESCO: the first hospital in the country, the first bank, and the first post office to name a few.
We were shown around all these by our friendly guide who was full of old stories of the area. My impression was that it resembled a ghost-town, the buildings evidence of a once-great place. On the tour we also stopped by an artisanal centre and a ceramic centre both of which were filled with beautiful hand-made furniture, paintings and crafts. Finally we were given a tour of Bassam’s National Museum of Costume, which features miniature reconstructions of how people used to live. I read somewhere that this was likely the “best museum of the country”, which doesn’t say much considering the limited number artefacts and information. With a guide though, a lot more insight can be gained and it was still well worth the visit to the museum, which is itself located inside an old residential home of colonial masters.
During our wander around the town we came across a number of local merchants weaving traditional loincloths (one of whom is depicted in the gallery above). I loved how passionate and smiley these young men were, and one of them even allowed me to have a go at weaving! Apparently I’m a natural, and the man proceeded to leave me for 10 minutes while he enjoyed a short break. The hand-made cloths come in a variety of bright colours and patterns and are eventually sewn into shirts for men, and dresses for women. These are cheap, yet beautiful traditional outfits worn by a majority of locals, and I am hoping to have my own dress made during my stay (photos to follow no doubt!)
We then spent our afternoon on the beach, as one should on a clear day in Bassam. The sea is perfect for a dip and to cool off on a hot day, and many choose to sit in the shallow water occasionally getting hit by waves as their children play and cartwheel along the beach. Those who visit will notice that no one goes too far into the water, due to the strong tides that one should be weary of. The beach is also the perfect place to catch a bite to eat in the shade, which is exactly what we did. Braised chicken and attiéké (a local dish which resembles couscous), yummy!
At sunset (around 6pm here year-round) we headed back to the bus station and were stuck in a nasty two-hour queue. On a Sunday evening, everyone is obviously heading back to the city, so maybe next time we’ll think ahead to avoid the rush! Apart from the ending though, Bassam was a great first venture out of the city centre, and one I hope to repeat.