Known as the city of 18 mountains, the unusually named city of Man on the western border of Côte D’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) is sandwiched among jagged verdant mountains popular with visitors for trekking and rock climbing.. A swim at the elegant terraced La Cascade waterfallshidden within a bamboo forest is a reward for a walk from the city centre.
As in much of West Africa, the highlight for me is the market. The first few minutes are a full scale assault on your senses. Noise of frenetic activity, multiple languages (French and local tribal languages) and smells both pleasant and odorous waft through the market.
Stylishly dressed in vibrant patterned outfits and often assuredly balancing precarious large baskets or bowls on their head, women carefully peruse the rich variety of local foods produced from the rich succulent soils. Aubergines, tomatoes, okra (a stubby finger of gooey green vegetable used in gumbo – not my favourite!), soybeans, hot peppers, plantains (like bananas) potatoes, grains, cassava and manioc all sit in small piles (ideal for one day’s cooking) on wobbly wooden trestles or across large sacks. Live chickenslet out an occasional mournful squawk, seemingly resigned to their fate and overwhelmed by the manic activity. Tired, stained banknotes from years of being scrunched up and unfolded repeated reluctantly change hands.
Behind one table, women flourish razor-sharp knives with the skills of a surgeon nip the woody ends from the hardy white flesh of maniocto prepare them for sale.
On another table, strange balls of what appear to be animal innards look decided unsavoury. Alas, it is small rolls of raw rubber around the size of tennis balls and sold equally enthusiastically for shoes and a host of small rubber components. Ivory Coast is a major rubber exporter to the tyre manufacturers around the world.
Large sacks of grassy threads are sold as traditional medicines. One cures headaches while another assists with malaria. Trying to interpret in my broken French, some are swallowed, some are brewed into teas while yet others are rubbed into the skins. Keen buyers gently roll the strange smelling concoctions between their fingers deciding on the best combination to aid their ailments.
A few metres further along wooden masks, exquisitely carved and bedecked with beards of string and grasses stare angrily down at passers-by. Small voodoo dolls in grass skirts and stiff straightened legs stare out from another stand. What appear to be dried bats, animal heads, skins, snakes and plants and any manner of other weird and wonderful fetish ingredients all sit as a pot-pourri on a table, being sold by traditional healers and medicine men for use in the preparation of magic charms, miracle potionsand cure-alls.
Markets are a melting pot of frenzied activity and a highlight of a visit to any West African town.