Jan 152017

So, yeah, it’s been a long time since I’ve written a travel blog. I think after Iceland I was a bit exhausted, and combine that with the fact that October-December are always my busiest months at work it meant I really didn’t have much time for travel – or for writing about it.

If there’s any interest, I can put together blogs on two trips I took in the past few months to Zagreb and Bangkok, but you’re not going to see too much outside of hotels and tons of airplane pics because it was long work days without much time to get out and about. However, if you want to see more Lufthansa First as well as my impressions of the first day of United Polaris service I’ll be happy to put those up.

February is going to be an interesting month. I had originally planned to stay closer to home and enjoy the car I make payments on but never seem to drive and take a long roadtrip through the Southern United States to visit four of the eight states I haven’t been to.

However, travel has a way of pulling you back in, and so I started looking at what I could use some of my miles for…and managed to piece together a crazy 17 day round the world with stops in some of my favourite cities: Hong Kong, Bangkok, Cape Town, Paris….oh, and it would involve first class travel on ANA longhaul, Thai on the A380, Qatar on the A380, Emirates on the A380, and yes, more Lufthansa first. It’s pretty hard to say no to, even though I should be a bit fiscally responsible…time will tell!

I recently did an interview for another website which will be up shortly, and I’ll link to it when it’s live. As part of it, I was asked to pick some of my favourite travel photos of myself, which was fun going back through memories. So, my favourite are below. Promise I’ll write more regularly again!

Top of Huayna Picchu near Machu Picchu, Peru


Crossing the river from Rosso, Senegal to Rosso, Mauritania:

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Jumerah, The Gambia


New Years Eve stranded in Gabon, due to a coup in Democratic Republic of Congo:

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Darvaza Crater, Turkmenistan


Koala cuddling in Brisbane, Australia:


Cuzco, Peru:


Hanging out with the Wrestling Cholitas in La Paz, Bolivia:


On the equator in where else, Ecuador:


Waiting for the tube in London, UK:


Friendly lemurs in Madagascar:

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Inland lake in Comoros:


Pyramids of Giza, Egypt:


Leptis Magna, Libya:


Jan 162014

Check out of the hotel…for the third time…was easy and hopefully this time would be the charm and I’d actually get to start resuming my trip. Then the hotel informed me…there was no driver. Excuse me? I just confirmed the time last night…finally they raised him on his cell phone and he was on his way to pick me up. He drove somewhere around 200 kph down city streets, practically running people off the road, but eventually we got to the airport safely.

Only one problem when I finally arrived at the airport – there were no obvious check-in desks!  After asking several people, I learned that they didn’t let you into the check-in area until 90 minutes before flight time, so you had to wait in the arrivals area.  Eventually I found the line to get in, and ended up chatting with an American guy and his daughter, who were lost and had no idea where to check in.  We solved it together, and made it in at T-90, and check-in was a breeze.

Through security and immigration, and into the waiting area.  The “alcool” store was still closed – probably still hungover from New Year’s Eve the night before.


The Christmas trees were still up in the waiting area, and this called for a selfie:


Oh, and Santa and his reindeer were hanging out with the trees too.  Gabon was certainly feeling festive!


Boarding area was empty, less than 50 people, and this despite the fact that two flights were about to board.  First they boarded the CamAir flight to Douala, and then there were only 12 people left.  I was pretty sure they had downsized our plane.  Soon, it was time to walk across the tarmac to our plane.  A look back at the terminal building:

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…and there’s our plane!  It really was a 737 for just 12 people.  Maybe there were through passengers already on board?  Nope!

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RwandAir Flight 211
Libreville, Gabon (LBV) to Brazzaville, Congo (BZV)
Depart 10:35, Arrive 12:05, Flight Time 90 minutes
Boeing 737-700, Registration 9XR-WK, Manufactured 2007, Seat 10A

Was easy to move around on board, since there were a total of 12 people for a plane that seated 150.  I asked the flight attendant if it was ok to move to the exit row, and he gave me a puzzled look.  Turns out, he didn’t speak French.  Despite Rwanda changing its official language from French to English less than 10 years ago, it appeared this guy in his 20s didn’t speak a word of French.  Curious.

The plane felt very new and comfortable, and was in great condition inside.  The crew took their jobs very seriously, carefully doing the exit row briefing and all.  Flight was short and comfortable, and there was even a small snack served.  It was a semi scary looking sandwich, and given the fact this wasn’t a RwandAir hub I was pretty sure it had been on the plane a while, so I didn’t partake.  I was tempted to have a local beer or glass of wine (all complimentary) but opted just for water at this hour.

All in all, I was seriously impressed with RwandAir.  Certainly better that your average domestic US flight with newish planes, professional crew, and even free food and drink!

The Brazzaville airport was very clean and modern as well as being well air conditioned!  Quite unusual for Africa!  Immigration was reasonable quick and friendly, and my bag was already waiting for me when I got to the bag claim.  Even the taxis were honest, only asking 3,000 CFA for the 15 minute ride to my hotel.  So far the trip was starting to look up!

Jan 102014

I already posted about the Le Meridien I stayed at in Libreville.  I arrived there a bit after midnight after a long delay, and was supposed to have one full day in Libreville, plus the next day until around mid-afternoon.  Unfortunately, not really enough time to get out of the city, so I focused on seeing as much of the city as possible.  As it turned out, I had three full days there due to some unfortunate circumstances, so I definitely would have had time to get out had I known.  Oh well!

December 29:  This was to be my one full day in Libreville, so decided to walk as much as possible before melting in the heat.  The centre of the city was only about 1.5 miles from the hotel, so I figured it would be a decent walk to see some stuff.  After all, it was 85F but cloudy so how bad could it be?

A view of the Le Meridien from the road:


About halfway to the city, I found oil!  Big oil!


A little further down the beach, an interesting statue:


Park bench on the beach:


After absolutely melting, I arrived at the cafe I’d been looking for a hot sweaty mess.  Oh well, I was rewarded with pain au chocolate, pain au raisin, and espresso.  Life was grand!


After refueling, I continued the hot hot hot walk.  Next up was the Cathedral of St Marie:


…the first of many places I was to see on the trip where Pope John Paul II had visited.


Walking another 15 minutes or so, I came upon the restaurant where I was considering dinner that night, a place that did local food called L’Odika.  They had reservations, and the menu looked good, so I reserved for later that night.  Lovely outdoor setting in the gardens:


I’d been told by colleagues that the Port was one of the most interesting things to see, but unfortunately it’s completely under construction, part of a huge hotel / mall / marina / port complex scheduled to be finished in a few years.  So, unfortunately, it was a bit of a mess at the moment:


I was roasting at this point, so decided to seek refuge in what I think is one of the most fascinating parts of any city:  the local markets and supermarkets.  They really tell a lot about the place, and Libreville was home to the largest Casino supermarket I’ve ever seen!


Walked all the way back to the hotel through some back streets, but was too hot to take any pics along the way.  Eventually got back and cooled off for a while before grabbing a taxi to L’Odika for dinner.  Only took a pic of the first course, a delicious carpaccio of capitain fish.  Yum!


December 30:  little bit more than a half day, so I took another route through the city, and along the beach, to grab pastries and coffee at the same cafe.  A view out onto the ocean:

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Was reading my e-mail on my phone at breakfast, when a friend texted me:  “Is what’s going on in Kinshasa going to affect you?”  Now, keep in mind, I had an afternoon flight to Kinshasa.  I quickly started googling, and the news wasn’t good.  Armed “terrorists” (the government’s words) had tried to take control of the state tv station and airport, and dozens were killed.  Kinshasa airport was closed, and it appeared flights were being diverted.  My flight, however, showed on time still.   The funny thing is, my first thought wasn’t “shit, it’s not safe to go there now,” it was “how am I going to salvage my trip.”  I swear, if ASKY was going to operate my flight, I was going to go!

I hightailed it back to the hotel to call my travel agent, who had the semi-reassuring words:  “it looks like your ticket has been changed.  Your flight is not going to Brazenville.”  Um, do you mean Brazzaville?  “Yes, that place.”  Ok, so they were going to still operate the flight, just to Brazzaville instead.  Hmmm, I would be missing my stop in Kinshasa, but at least it wouldn’t throw off my entire trip.  Decided to quickly check out, get to the airport early, and pray.

Took the airport shuttle to the airport, but checkin for ASKY airlines was nowhere to be found.  Asked several dozen official-looking people, and they all heard the flight had been canceled.  Hmmm.  Kept asking around, and eventually one very helpful lady told me she knew where the ASKY office was, so let’s go ask them what’s going on.  Upstairs, bang on their door, no answer.  So, she just walked right in…where we found ASKY’s airport manager hiding from the public.  Yes, the flight is canceled.  No, we don’t have any others for three days, yes, you’re out of luck, GO AWAY.

Just as we walked out, the manager of “Trans Congo Airlines” walked by, and he had a flight at midnight to Brazzaville.  Um, yeah, I don’t think I want to fly something called Trans-Congo at midnight and hope I get where I really wasn’t planning to go in the first place.  Back to the hotel to plan options, and fortunately when I told them earlier my flight was uncertain they’d held the room for me.  Great!

Planned and planned, and everyone was right.  There was just nothing at all I was finding.  Nothing today for sure, and nothing to either city on tomorrow the 31st either.  I was stuck in Libreville another two nights it looked like.  Rebooked myself to Brazzaville on January 1 instead, turning two nights in Gabon into four.  Called it a night, and got some sleep.

Woke up early on the 31st, and went back to the grocery store to stock up on supplies, including the champagne from the previous picture.  I was going to have a decent New Years Eve even if it was just me!  Hung around by the pool much of the day, which was nice and relaxing.  An amazing final sunset of the year from the pool:




To bed a little after midnight, since I’d have to be up around 7am to hopefully catch my flight to Brazzaville, and get my trip back on track as much as possible!

Jan 092014

After a late lunch, the hotel shuttle dropped me at the airport early evening, about 3 hours in advance of my flight. The airport was absolute chaos, with lines that weren’t lines, and it was incredibly difficult to figure out where check-in was. Finally I found the South African counter, which seemed to just have a disorganized mass of people congregating in front of it. I pushed my way to the front of the scrum, saying “Classe Affaires, Classe Affaires” and that seemed to do the trick. Soon I was checked in, and off to the gate.

Or so I thought.

First I had to get past the immigration folks, who kept saying “stamp, stamp, stamp.” Seems there was a booth in the check-in area where you had to by an airport tax stamp, which got put on your boarding pass. 10 minutes and 10,000 CFA later I had my stamp, and it was off to try and find the lounge. Managed to find it without too much trouble. A few sad sandwiches and cookies on offer, but also a decent bar selection. I ended up having a couple of Castels over the two horus I was there, and found a power outlet which was nice for keeping the i-Devices charged up.

The amusement came about an hour in, when a small group of American oil workers (Louisiana based on their conversation) came in. One of them loudly announced to the whole room and the bartender “I ain’t seen women in months” followed by “throw down that whole bottle of Johnny walker!” They were refused the entire bottle, but pretty much polished it off shot by shot in the next 15 minutes. Keep it classy Amurika! Soon, it was to the gate, security, and time to board.

South African flight 87
Douala, Cameroon (DLA) to Libreville, Gabon (LBV)
Depart 21:20, Arrive 22:20, Flight Time 1 hour
Airbus A319-100, Registration ZS-SFN, Manufactured 2005, Seat 2A

Boarded right on time, and South African has an odd business configuration on these birds – 2 seats on one side of the aisle, and three on the other. Seriously, middle seats in business class? There were 25 seats, but only 4 of us in business for this short hop, so didn’t make much different. Fantastically friendly crew, but then things started to go tits up. All the captain would tell us is we were waiting “for a technical reason.” This stretched on for over two hours, and I was convinced we were going to cancel. They cycled the power completely on and off at least three times, and finally around midnight announced we were ready to go. It didn’t fill me with confidence.

But, no problems.  Flight was short and uneventful, maybe an hour.  There was even a small snack:


This is where things got fun.  I’d asked for the hotel shuttle, but of course being nearly three hours late it was nowhere to be found.  Got a cheap taxi to the hotel no problem, and arrived to find out I’d been upgraded…to the Presidential Suite!  SCORE!  In the end, my two nights here turned into four for reasons I’ll go into later, but it turned out to be the best upgrade I’ve ever received from Starwood.  Several shots of the suite:

The living room:


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Dec 312013

“Since I had peeped over the edge myself, I understand better the meaning of his stare, that could not see the flame of the candle, but was wide enough to embrace the whole universe, piercing enough to penetrate all the hearts that beat in the darkness. He had summed up — he had judged. ‘The horror!’ He was a remarkable man. After all, this was the expression of some sort of belief; it had candor, it had conviction, it had a vibrating note of revolt in its whisper, it had the appalling face of a glimpsed truth — the strange commingling of desire and hate.” – Joseph Conrad, the Heart of Darkness

Africa. The more I go, the more I learn about myself. But as Conrad noted, it’s just a peep. Enough to know these people are tougher than me, they endure way more that I could. I come into their world for a brief couple of days, usually via some Lufthansa first class flight, and only glimpse at the reality that is Africa. But it’s enough to know that given enough time…Africa would win most likely 😉

This trip came just 7 days after returning from three weeks in Tajikistan, Moscow, Montenegro, and Serbia. I left exhausted, to take on probably the most difficult group of countries I’d set out to do to date. For some foolish reasons, I combined many of them into one trip. The visas themselves, well, they were a mix:

Cameroon: easy, but sketchy. Made me wait around there embassy for two hours, but then $140 in cash later I had it on the spot.

Gabon: drop it off, two days later it was ready. Piece of cake.

DRC: ugh, letter of invitation, notarized with three different stamps in the DRC, etc. Once I had that, however, it was a piece of cake.

Congo: well, there’s a story here. I’ll tell that when we get to it.

Angola: eight trips to the embassy. Lots of confusion, forms, cash, stamps, emails, angry people. But I got it. I still can’t believe I got it.

The rest were no visa, or visa on arrival. I’ll detail more when I get to the individual posts.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to keep up not TOO delayed. The flight routing is:

Trip Map

…first post coming soon. First thought on parts:

Part I: Minneapolis to Malabo, Equatorial Guinea on US Airways and Lufthansa
Part II: Malabo, Equatorial Guinea
Part III: Malabo to Douala, Cameroon on Ethiopian
Part IV: Douala, Cameroon
Part V: Douala to Libreville, Gabon on South African
Part VI: Libreville, Gabon
Part VII: Libreville to Kinshasa, DRC on ASKY
Part VIII: Kinshasa, DRC
Part IX: Kinshasa to Brazzaville, Congo by boat
Part X: Brazzaville, Congo
Part XI: Brazzaville to Pointe-Noire, Congo by train
Part XII: Pointe-Noire, Congo
Part XIII: Pointe-Noire to Cabinda, Angola by taxi
Part XIV: Cabinda, Angola
Part XV: Cabinda to Luanda, Angola on TAAG
Part XVI: Luanda, Angola
Part XVII: Luanda to Sao Tome, Sao Tome e Principe on TAGG
Part XVIII: Sao Tome e Principe
Part XIX: Sao Tome e Principe to Praia, Cape Verde on TAGG
Part XX: Praia, Cape Verde
Part XXI: Getting home – TBD!

I already know this isn’t how it will happen. It’s Africa. Things change, and break, and don’t happen, or go places they don’t expect to. It’s gonna be an adventure!