We leave at 06:30am local time.
We have been on the road from Guiglo to Tai for nearly two hours. We are moving in a UN convoy for security reasons so it is a bit slow.
The road is painful, bump after bump on a dirt road. It is uncomfortable and we are moving at 30km an hour.
It’s no surprise one of the vehicles suddenly has a flat tyre.
The first hint of what kind of day this is going to be.
We are heading to a place called Para in Western Ivory Coast. It is a place where seven UN peacekeepers were killed in an ambush by armed men said to have come from neighbouring Liberia.
Ivory Coast was plunged into a civil war in 2010 after former President Laurent Gbagbo refused to concede defeat. The UN estimates that 3,000 people died in the conflict. More than 60,000 Ivorian refugees remain in neighbouring Liberia.
This part of ivory coast is hard to reach. We are now on the worst part of the road – leaving Tai heading to Para. It is bad. We are now moving at 20km an hour.
A truck is stuck in the middle of the road. Everyone in our convoy quickly realises the only way we are going to get through is to help the driver of the truck.
So the UN troops help him jumpstart his vehicle.
Twenty minutes later the truck drives off and we can carry on with our journey. I look at our GPS. It says we are a few metres away from the Liberian border.
Perfect for an ambush
On either side of us, the thick rainforest towers above. It’s beautiful but gives us a sense of how dangerous the jobs of the peacekeepers and aid workers are.
It is perfect terrain for an ambush. That’s how the seven peacekeepers were killed a in early June. You can’t see who or what is in this thick foliage.
Now we are doing an average of 10km an hour and the road is getting worse. We get to Sacre, attacked on April 28. A helicopter hovers over air surveillance we are told. They are making sure the road ahead is safe for us to travel.
Some of the peacekeepers look nervous. We stop at a nearby base and get more military cars to join the convoy.
It’s now 12.30pm and we push on to Para. At 12:35pm the UN truck leading the convoy gets stuck in the mud. Another vehicle arrives to assist and at around 13:00pm we head on.
We are now in Ziriglo, and it is the first village where we see a lot of people. Families are returning slowly. Women and children are receiving medication from the French Red Cross.
Difficult to imagine
People seem so calm. It is hard to imagine they were attacked on 8 June.
We get to Nigre and decide to push on to Para.
Fifteen minutes into our journey we meet soldiers from the Ivory Coast.
This is where the UN peace keepers were killed. One Ivorian soldier also died as well as a few civilians.
They are edgy, angry and not happy we are there. Behind us is a homestead that was burnt – nothing is left. The village seems deserted, with no civilians around. The soldiers do not want us to film them or the place. We try to reason but they say they will arrest us if we disobey orders.
UN troops try to intervene but the soldiers won’t budge. They are concerned about the image the pictures will portray.
We are frustrated, but so is the UN.
All is not well
Any hopes of assessing the situation closer to the border with Liberia have been dashed for today. The UN peacekeepers have to manage their relationship with local officials, so for now they pull back and try again another day.
It is a combination of the road and difficult officials at one check point.
As we head on, we get an idea why perhaps we were stopped from going further. A large group of women, children and men are moving away from direction in which we were hoping to go. They say Para is dangerous, people are dying, and they want to get to the UN base in Tai for safety.
We realise now that all is not well in Western Ivory Coast.
It will be dark in three hours. Its not safe to travel at night we are warned. We have been on this road for 12 long and bumpy hours.
Everyone is exhausted. Its frustrating work for the peacekeepers and humanitarian agencies who do this every day the constant insecurity only makes their job more difficult.
On the way back we have something to smile about. Villagers along the road give the peacekeepers oranges to eat along their journey.
It’s their way of saying thank you to the blue helmets for trying to keep them safe. It’s made their day and ours a little less painful.
Oops, spoke too soon: It’s raining and our car is stuck in the mud. We are still two hours away from ‘home’ and it is getting dark.
Time to roll up our sleeves and try to push our way out of this mess….
Just another day on patrol in the muddy and wet Western Ivory Coast.