Oct 122015

After sleeping in a slight bit, we woke up to this lovely alert from the US Embassy:


Soooo, great. Here it was, September 11th, and the Embassy was banning its staff from visiting public open-air markets (aka where we were walking around the day before) and all other public events. Aka, we think there’s a reasonable chance of some bad stuff going down in N’Djamena today, and want you to stay in secure locations. Hmmm, I’m pretty sure that traveling to the airport and getting on a plane is not what they had in mind, and we just had to hope that Ethiopian Airlines wouldn’t take this as an excuse to cancel our flight.

Headed to the airport a slight bit early, you know, just in case the booming airport had transformed since our arrivals and had some sort of luxury VIP lounge that we hadn’t seen on the way in. We took the Kempinski’s complimentary shuttle to the airport (which actually showed up this time) and I’ll admit I was a bit nervous and scanning the sides of the road for the entire drive. No problem at all, and we pulled up in front of the airport.

Baggage check to walk into the makeshift terminal, where the same security officials we’d seen on arrival were waiting. Bags up on a table, they rummaged through them a bit, x-rayed them, and let us into the “terminal” to check in. I say “terminal” because it was more like a makeshift room made of corrugated aluminum and plywood where it was impossible to figure out where the lines went. We eventually found the first one, where they checked your name off a list of people on the flight, and let you proceed across the small room to the actual check-in counter.

Check-in was no problem, then it was to the passport counter, to get officially stamped out of the country. After that, it was over to the security line (which was easy to find, because you know, metal detectors and x-ray machine for the bags). Here they checked that you were checked-in (boarding pass), stamped out of the country (passport stamp) and then they let you through security. Keep in mind that all four of these stations were in one small room that was at most 25 by 25 feet square. You can see how all the lines get mixed and it was hard to know who was going where. There was surprisingly little pushing and shoving, however, and the whole thing was quite reasonable.

After security, through a small covered walkway to the lounge. The “lounge” was filled with maybe 80-100 chairs inside another small makeshift building no more than 15×15 feet square. It felt like one of those portable trailers that schools use to add space in an emergency. There was definitely no VIP lounge here. Oh, and definitely no air conditioning either. I mean, who needs AC when it’s 100 degrees out, you’re in a corrugated aluminum room with 100 people, right?

When walking to the trailer (let’s not continue to pretend it was anything more) we saw our plane parked. But wait, what was this! When we booked, Ethiopian was promising us a 787 flight, which was actually really exciting. Unfortunately, two weeks before the trip they downsized this to a 757, which was a major letdown. But now, parked in front of us was a 777…woo hoo! Unfortunately, after 30 minutes of waiting, a 757 landed as well. Wait, what, why are there two Ethiopian planes at an airport that sees a total of maybe three flights a day? Turns out the 777 was a Hajj charter headed to Mecca…we were to have the pleasure of the 757, which fortunately boarded right on time.

Ethiopian flight 938
N’Djamena, Chad (NDJ) to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (ADD)
Depart 14:15, Arrive 20:00, Flight Time: 3:45
Boeing 757-200, Registration ET-AMK, Manufactured 2001, Seat 3L

My disappointment at getting the 757 after all was quickly relieved by some mildly warm bubbles:


I’m not a big fan of bulkheads, but the check-in agent basically refused to change my seat, which ended up not being much of a problem because only three of the 16 seats in business were occupied. For a 757, it had pretty decent legroom at least, and there was plenty of space to spread out and relax. See, don’t I look relaxed?


New airport under construction. The little tan building barely peeking up behind the bus is the waiting shack and the dark hole in front of the bus is the covered walkway into the check-in area. The rest of the “airport” appears to be just a construction zone.


Printed menus for the short flight, a nice classy touch:


View of N’Djamena just after takeoff, with the airport in the middle:


The best part of Ethiopian is that instead of some sort of nuts, the welcome drink is served with little airplane crackers:


The rest of the starter was, well, less than exciting, and tasted about as good as it looked:


The main was equally as bad, and tasted just about as good as it looked:


Fortunately there was delicious cheese (served with pretty abysmal Ethiopian red wine) to save the day:


Flight passed quickly, and soon we were arriving in Addis. There was a special bus waiting for business class, which meant we arrived at the transit counter first. Ian was headed home via Saudi Arabia and Cario (naturally) which meant finding away over to the regional flights terminal. I had an overnight in Addis, which supposedly Ethiopian would take care of my visa and hotel. I ignored the hotel part fearing they would stick me in something grim, but they insisted I take the voucher. Ugh, fine, but the voucher was needed to get the free overnight visa, so no biggie.

Said goodbye to Ian, and was off to customs and outside to meet the hotel driver. I should have looked at the hotel voucher they gave me, because they put me in the Hilton! I wouldn’t have paid $200+ for the Hilton (chain hotels in Addis are outrageously expensive) but for free it would have been fantastic. I had considered the Sheraton which is a really nice hotel, but they wanted more than $300 for the night, so I’d booked the top recommended hotel on TripAdvisor. I rarely stay in small local hotels, but this one turned out to be a fantastic choice.

Unfortunately, the driver was nowhere to be found and I had no way of contacting him. For some strange reason, Ethiopia doesn’t allow foreign phones to roam, so I had no way to email or call and find out where he was. Fortunately, an airport employee called them for me, and they claimed they were just running late because it was New Years Eve on the Ethiopian calendar. After about 40 minutes the driver finally showed up and apologized…and the airport employee asked me for money to pay for the call. Since it was only overnight, I didn’t have any local currency, so I offered him a few US dollars, since that seems to be good anywhere. He got angry and wouldn’t take it, and kept demanding local currency. The driver suggested we just walk away, so we did…

I was staying at the Addissinia Hotel, a small hotel maybe a 15 minute drive from the airport. They looked to have a few dozen rooms, and it was reasonably comfortable. As an apology for the wait on the driver, they had upgraded me to the “Presidential Suite” on the top floor. The living room:


Nice comfy bedroom, although no air conditioning. It was cool enough, though, and had a fan:


After the relatively tiny meal on the plane I was pretty starving. Unfortunately, it was after 9pm, so going out would mean it would be at least midnight before I got to bed. Lots of places were also holding special New Years events, so were full.  So, decided to explore the hotel restaurant, which made a delicious Addissiniya pizza:


Complete with Ethiopian beer and bar snacks. I loved the bottle of “Cold Gold:”


Slept great, and had a nice view of Addis from my hotel room in the morning:


Hotel was prefect for a short comfortable stay, and since I had a relatively early flight the next morning was great to be close to the airport as well and be ready to continue the onward adventure to Dubai!

Oct 082015

There was no alarm set this morning. Despite the terrifying bug on the window when we checked in, managed to sleep in a good deal before heading down to breakfast. After a solid meal, we checked with the front desk about the possibility of getting a driver for the day. We had written to several tour companies before leaving, but they all wanted in excess of 200 Euros for a day of touring. No thanks!

Meanwhile, the hotel was willing to provide us a driver for 10,000 CFA an hour, or less than $20. Sold! The only catch was that he would not be available to slightly after lunch. No problem there. Nice morning of relaxing, and we were off to see the city. We had wanted to go out to Lake Chad, but unfortunately, it was closed with military roadblocks thanks to terrorist activity in the area. THANKS BOKO! So, we would have to be content with a tour of N’Djamena. After grabbing lunch at the hotel, we met our driver, complete with air conditioned car, and we were off.

First stop was the National Museum, which was located maybe a five minute drive from the hotel. We pulled into the car park, and everything was suspiciously quiet. As we walked up to the front door, there were a few guys lounging out front just sitting around. Turns out one of them was the museum manager/guide/not sure what he did. This whole thing was seeming very informal. Yes, the museum was open, and we could see it if we wanted.

Went inside, and he had a surprisingly formal receipt book, with all sorts of official stamps. Then, he requested ID to let us visit. We hadn’t brought passports, and I could tell he was debating if it would just be easier to send us on our way so he didn’t have to give a tour. Eventually, I found my PADI scuba certification card in my wallet, and he agreed that was official enough to let us in, hahaha. Receipt stamped, and he started giving us the tour. We started in the main room which was a tour of the history of Chad.

Unfortunately the guide spoke no English, and his French wasn’t fantastic either so we more or less had to go by the signs on the exhibits, which were at least in proper French. One of the first stops was this bird costume used in ceremonial rituals:


Along with a traditional xylophone:


Ancient Islamic prayer mat:


Verses from the Koran sculpted on wood:


After spending a while touring the first floor (along with the guide, we were definitely the only people in the entire museum) he took us upstairs to the exhibit which was the highlight of the museum. The centre of the exhibit was a 6-7 million year old skull which was found in Chad in 2002 and is thought to be the oldest ancestor known of humankind, which has been named Toumaï man. The skull:


Another angle, along with another skull found in the area:


After the museum, we decided we would go see the Central Market/Grand Marché. We’d been highly discouraged from this by several sources, mainly because just a couple months prior Boko Haram had bombed the market, killing dozens. Even our driver wasn’t keen on going into the market, so dropped us off, and told us to come back to the car when done, he would go to the mosque to pray. We wandered for maybe an hour, and other than quite a lot of curious stares, no trouble at all. Perhaps the funniest moment was running into the only other white person in the market, and the WTF are you doing here?! look that he gave us, lol. In fairness, we wondered the same thing about him!

Had to be extremely careful taking pictures, however, because it was banned by the military since the bombing. One decent covert shot:


From the market we headed to the Cathedral of N’djamena, which had clearly seen better days. It was surrounded by a fence, and when we got close to try and take better pictures of it, a group of police/military guys with big guns started yelling at us. We decided it was best to go back to the car and be satisfied with a poor shot/visit:


After that, the next stop was the Place de la Nation monument to the founding of Chad. We wanted to stop and get a proper picture, but it was clearly “inderdit” according to our driver, so instead he drove around the square a few times until I managed to snap a pretty decent covert pic from the car:


After this, we headed to another market on the outskirts of the city where getting photos was a bit easier:


Hauling goods at the market:


Busy market scene:


At the edge of the market:


Really thrilled to get this picture, great example of local transport, local dress, and goats in the background!


…speaking of goats, they were everywhere:


Our final stop on the route back to the hotel was for a haircut, at the world-reknowned “Salon Obama” for men:


After several hours of driving around seeing the few sights N’Djamena had to offer it was back to the hotel just after sunset to relax and get ready to head onward the next day!

Oct 022015

After having visited the Marché des Feticheurs in the morning, we stopped back at the hotel for a quick lunch before heading to the airport to fly to Chad. I asked for some Ketchup, and apparently they’d also gotten the letter about Jeff Smisek’s resignation that morning, because they offered up this brand of ketchup!  😉


Driver dropped us at the airport, and it was a great end to a short Togo and Benin trip. We got really lucky with the driver the hotel had sent to pick us up on the first day, as he was able to take us everywhere we wanted to go as well. We definitely paid a bit more than we would have for shared taxis, but were much more comfortable and able to go where we wanted when we wanted…plus he had working air conditioning!

The checkin line at the airport was extremely long, and we’d only arrived about 90 minutes before the flight. By the time we got to the front of the checkin line, it was under 60 minutes to go, but we were assured it would be absolutely no problem. Off to passport control, which also had an incredibly long sign, and this warning poster while we waited:


Immigration was a bit of a zoo, but for once it was the Africans who looked confused. What forms do I need? Where do I go? Which line is for me? We just walked with a purpose past people who were reluctant to say anything, and managed to make it through immigration in maybe 15 minutes, and at this point we were 30 minutes until departure…and security was a mob scene, literally.

There were two machines, and a large mob of people pushing and shoving to get to them. Absolutely no sense of order whatsoever. Ten years or so ago when I first started traveling to Africa and China, I might have tried to politely queue, and likely have gotten completely screwed. But, experience is a good teacher, and being 6’4 is even better, so out came the elbows, and I joined the throngs of pushing and shoving towards the machine. A few choice blunt and snarky phases to people, all part of the game, and managed to get through in maybe 10 minutes. Which is when we found out they were nowhere ready to board.

Lomé departures is one big room, well not even that big, and ASKY usually have three or four 737s leaving all at the same time. No announcements are made either, and you have to wander around asking when yours will leave. We found we had another 20 or 30 minutes to wait, so walked over to the corner refreshments shop and spent our last francs on a couple beers while waiting.


Then, it was time to take the bus about 10 seconds away from the terminal and board our flight.

ASKY flight 38
Lomé, Togo (LFW) to Douala, Cameroon (DLA)
Depart 14:50, Arrive 15:35, Flight Time: 1:45
Boeing 737-700, Registration ET-ANH, Manufactured 2007, Seat 23J

This flight was pretty full, about 90% I’d say, but fortunately the seat between us stayed open. We’d asked about getting an exit row at checkin, but she claimed they were all full, and for once they actually were. The sandwich was a typical scary looking sandwich with some sort of mystery deli meat and mayonnaise, no thanks! I should have taken it just for the picture, but decided to pass. Flight was uneventful, and when we reached Douala probably 70% of the passengers got off.

ASKY flight 38
Douala, Cameroon (DLA) to N’Djamena, Chad (NDJ)
Depart 18:15, Arrive 20:05, Flight Time: 1:50
Boeing 737-700, Registration ET-ANH, Manufactured 2007, Seat 23J

After about 45 minutes on the ground in driving rain, more passengers boarded, and when the door closed we were about 75% full again to N’Djamena. Fortunately, the seat between us stayed open again. A full hot meal was served on this flight, including a mystery chicken that was mostly dark meat, fat, and a bit of gravy. Nibbled on the meal a little, but made a french meal of it with baguette and red wine…and some carrots.


Upon arrival in N’Djamena I was interested to see how things went. Chad has a reputation for a huge level of corruption at the airport, and our friend Daniel had been “fined” $50 when he got his camera out when getting off the plane to snap a picture. Our adventure, however, was completely uneventful, and after showing yellow fever card, visa, and writing down details of where we were staying we were through with no problems. Baggage even came quickly…but not quickly enough. The arrivals hall was filled with moths, other buzzing and biting insects, all of whom were very excited to get a taste of us while we waited for our bags.

Then, outside, where the driver from our hotel was nowhere to be found. After about 15 minutes of searching, we finally gave up on him, and searched for a taxi, which were nowhere to be found either. After we asked about, we were told there were people who would drive us to the hotel…on the other side of the carpark. Finally found them, and a guy in an incredibly beat up car offered to take us for 10,000 CFA, or about $17. Definitely a ripoff, but we were stranded there with no option, so took him up on it. After he used a screwdriver to pop open the door on his car, he used it again to open the trunk for our bags, and away we went.

Arrived at the Kempinski after about 15 minutes driving, and the minute we walked into the lobby I could tell things were about to get better. They offered a welcome glass of champagne as we checked in – a first anywhere in the world! I was liking this hotel already, and the forgotten hotel shuttle was already long forgotten.

As in CAR, they were very confused that we wanted a room with two beds. But unlike CAR, they said it was simply a problem with a booking system and they quickly had it fixed. The room was ok, and the air conditioning almost worked, getting the room down to maybe 23C or so. Tolerable, and like the airport arrivals hall, the room came with a complimentary giant bug as a welcome gift:


We grabbed a small “real” dinner in the lobby bar/cafe before calling it a night. Despite the room being slightly warm I slept really well after all the travel of the past few days, and woke up to a great view of the National Parliament outside our hotel room window:


View of the hotel from the front. Note the green area out front. The driveway was a loop, but it was blocked off with concrete jersey barriers and you had to walk the last 20 meters or so to the front door. Presumably in case someone decided to drive a car bomb up to the hotel:


I’ll write more about our day in the next post, but after a long day of wandering around the city we retired back to the hotel’s restaurant for dinner. Well, giant beers with complimentary popcorn to be followed by dinner.  …and WiFi that was actually pretty fast and functional:


After dinner, we made the mistake of ordering dessert. I’m pretty sure nobody else ordered dessert there, because “dessert” apparently was three pieces of whatever you ordered because they were trying to get rid of it. The “apple pie:”


Overall, the Kempsinki was a perfectly fine hotel. There were little things like the AC that could have been better, but considering the location that’s easy to overlook. It was cool enough, especially in the lobby, and everything else worked well. Rooms and common areas looking reasonably well taken care of, the staff were super helpful and friendly, and they had a good restaurant. The breakfast was also really good, with eggs made to order, lots of fruit, breads, pastries, etc…and actually decent coffee. Was definitely an excellent choice for a place to stay!