Jan 292016
 

Soooo yeah. I woke up much earlier than I had planned on, due to not just getting a good night of sleep. Or, maybe I was psychic. Decided to check my e-mails and such in bed while I waited to see if I might fall asleep again. It was like 7a, and I had hoped to sleep until maybe 830a or so. While checking my emails, I saw a whole slew of emails from Kenya Airways, TripIt, and FlyingBlue. Apparently, my Kenya Airways flight from Monrovia to Accra had been “re-timed” from about 3:30pm to 9pm…making me miss my connection out of Accra out of Accra at 11p.

Um, this is not a good thing. My ticket from Accra was a crazy low Accra-Chicago-Accra ticket, and missing it would mean I’d have to find another way back from Accra or Monrovia, and also likely eat the discount business fare out of Accra. Ugh.

Hopped out of bed much more quickly than I thought possible, got to the computer, and started searching. Monrovia airport only has like five or six flights a day, and miraculously there was another one to Accra…leaving in just under three hours. Now, keep in mind, the airport is about a one hour drive away, and rush hour was rapidly approaching. The flight was with Arik Air, and of course when I tried to book online it wouldn’t work.

Skyped my travel agent, and she couldn’t get Arik Air to book either. Apparently, Arik Air is almost impossible to book except in person due to the fact that…well…it’s a Nigerian airline. I was down to about 2:30 until the flight, and time to make a decision was rapidly running out. I knew if I didn’t go to the airport, chance of anything happening was pretty much zero, so after telling Daniel and Jordan I was out, it was time to get out of dodge.

Went to the front desk, and of course they had no clue what to charge me for the room, since with all the room changes who knew. They tried at first to charge me for the VIP Suite Jordan had booked, but I informed they guy that “they” told me last night it would be the same as normal rooms. I told him what I was paying, he debated it, and finally wrote me a receipt. Of course the hotel driver wasn’t available, but he did call me a taxi to get me on my way to the airport.

Got to the airport without too much traffic, and then the drama started. I hadn’t negotiated the price with the taxi, but I was pretty sure it would be less than the $20 per person that the hotel charged the three of us to pick us up. Nope, the guy wanted $60 and wasn’t going to budge. I was rapidly running out of town, so paid up and went to the terminal.

I told the lady manning the very long security line to get into the building that I needed to buy a ticket. Yes, for Arik Air. Yes, for the flight in 90 minutes. She acted like this wasn’t strange at all, waved me past the security line, and straight to the check-in counters. The line for economy check-in was nearly 100 people long, so I walked up to the business class counter and told her I wanted to buy a ticket. Right now. Just to Accra. Again she didn’t think this was strange at all, and said, “ok, let me find out the price.”

She called someone, talked on the phone for a few minutes, and then came back with a price. I suggested maybe it was a little high, so she got on the phone and said some more things. She came back with a price $200 lower. I told her to check one more time. Nope, that’s the final price. That’s what you pay. She already had my passport, and handed me a boarding pass. Then, she wanted many hundreds of dollars…so I started to get out my credit card. That’s when she started laughing. This was going to be a cash-only transaction. I was basically screwed.

Then, I remembered the ATM in the parking lot. I told her I’d be right back, took the boarding pass and my passport and baggage (?!) and headed outside. Pretty sure even though I had a boarding pass I wasn’t getting on the plane without paying, so, I had to pray. Unfortunately, the ATM wasn’t working. Nothing I could do would make it take my card. The security guard said “for a tip” he would tell me where there was another machine. Ugh, cost me $10, but he showed me another bank/ATM on the other side of the parking lot.

This one worked…but there was a catch! It would only spit out $100 at a time…at a surcharge of $5! I was going to need this to work several times if I had any hope…and that my bank didn’t find multiple $100 transactions in Liberia suspicious. Fortunately, they didn’t and soon I had the cash! Went back inside, paid at the ticket counter, and was wished a nice flight. Wait, this was going to work out?

Passport control was easy, then it was time for…security. Except, the one x-ray machine wasn’t working, so everyone and their bags got completely hand-searched. It was a pretty low-quality search, and could have pretty easily gotten away with anything. That said, I made it to the lounge about 50 minutes before the flight. The AC was ice cold:

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I was offered “a drink and peanuts or pringles” – and went with water and pringles. Salt and vinegar, mmm….breakfast of champions! I’d been in such a rush to try and get out of dodge that I hadn’t had breakfast. This was also when I realized I would miss my chance to do a day of touring in Monrovia, sigh. Guess I will just have to come back now!

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Boarding was right on time, and despite it being a very short distance to the plane, we got bussed.

Arik Air flight 303
Monrovia, Liberia (ROB) to Accra, Ghana (ACC)
Depart 10:50, Arrive 12:50, Flight Time: 2:00
Boeing 737-800, Registration 5N-MJQ, Manufactured 2009, Seat 1A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 10,331
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,177,369

My first time on Arik Air, and the condition of the seats left a little bit to be desired:

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Very large 20 person business class cabin with good room between seats…and only three seats taken:

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For a short flight, was impressed we even got a meal, and there was a choice of chicken, beef, or fish. She recommended the beef “if you like spicy Nigerian food” so of course, I went with it.

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All-in-one wine bottle and glass. Clever! First the South Africans come up with wine juice boxes and now this!

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Meal was actually decent, and the spicy beef and rice was right up there!

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Landed in Accra on time, and one last look at Arik, who saved the end of my trip! I came away with a very positive impression of them!

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At this point, I had nearly 11 hours until my connecting flight to London now, and there was no way I was going to spend 11 hours in an airport lounge. Previous trips to Accra I’d stayed at the Holiday Inn airport hotel, so decided that would be a good place to go and see if I could get a day rate and some rest.

The Holiday Inn actually has a nice cool air-conditioned arrivals lounge and shuttle, and yes, they had no reservation for me (no kidding) but were happy to take me to the hotel and try and earn my business. The van arrived about 15 minutes later, and when I got to the hotel they gave me a very reasonable day rate for 8 hours. Was happy to pay, went up to the nicely air-conditioned room, and got a nice 90 minute nap in.

Needed some caffeine after that so walked down the road to the local grocery store to pick up some Red Bull. Walked by the La Tante DC 10 Restaurant on the way. I so can’t wait to eat here when I come back through Accra again in May!

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View from my hotel room:

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Pool-view room. I decided it was a nice warm day, so spent about 90 minutes relaxing by the pool before doing a bit of work.

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Panoramic shot of the pool:

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Was a little hungry at this point, so headed to the hotel cafe to see if I could find something light to eat. What could be lighter than “Goat Light Soup?”

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Ordered the soup, and one last large African beer while I waited:

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Soon, it was time to head off to the airport having survived a very drama-filled escape from Liberia, and begin the trek home.

Jan 272016
 

After wandering around, I met my driver to head back to the airport. I decided to use the Radisson’s transfer service again since it made things much easier – no worrying about cabs, boat tickets, or anything. I was starting to feel a little Africa-d-out so easy and convenient made it worth the little extra money. Dan and Jordan hitched a ride along in my van to the pier, and Jason’s visa service, over the course of the trip, expanded its lines of businesses to become Jason’s Visa, Translation, Transportation and Foreign Exchange Services. Soon, it will be like a South Korean Chaebol controlling all sections of the competitive traveler economy!

When we got to the pier, the first thing I noticed in daylight (since the ferry ride from hell the night before had been in total darkness) was the inappropriately named boat…Blessing:

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My ship of horrors from the night before, the Sea Coach Express. Yes, those are windows, but there’s no way to open. Apparently there was a door at the front too, but that must only be fore the captain, because you couldn’t get to it from the inside.

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Apparently we were too few passengers to use that ship again (shucks), so we would be using what they called the “small boat.” He called the first group of ticket numbers right at the time advertised for boarding, and at first I thought this was our boat. One never likes to see “Good Luck” as the name of their boat after the terrifying experience from the night before. (Yes, I know Goodluck Jonathan is the President of Nigeria, but still!)

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Our boat was the same style as that one, and they didn’t pack it full this time. We all had a seat, it was open to the air (to the point I felt confident jumping and swimming for it if things went wrong) plus they made each of us put on a life preserver before leaving. Night and day from the previous ferry. (Yes, pun intended.)

Jordan and Dan, having bought their tickets at the pier, were in the second boarding group, and apparently would not be getting on this boat since we left without them. No idea if they were going to make it or not…tried texting them, but no response.

With that, we pulled away from the Aberdeen Bay ferry port:

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Plenty of lifejackets to go around today…and the ferry wasn’t crowded. I was beginning to wonder if the night before had just been some really, really bad nightmare:

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Soon, we were pulling into the Lungi Pier:

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Lungi appeared to have a very nice beach at least:

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Jordan and Dan made it in a boat maybe 10 minutes behind, and we all piled into a couple of vans to the airport. The van stopped about 200 meters from the airport, and we had to go in a tent and wash our hands. Then, we were allowed to drive up to the terminal. In front of the terminal, there was another mandatory handwashing station.

Then, you entered the terminal and had to fill out two forms. After filling them out, you got your temperature taken, and you were certified as low-risk for Ebola and allowed to check in for your flight. This form was stapled to your boarding pass, and then at the gate they took your temperature AGAIN, and wrote it on the form before allowing you to board:

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Check-in, immigration, and security were a piece of cake. Security tools asked me for a “gift” – I told them I was a tourist and that was a gift to their economy. They laughed.

I went off to find the business class facilities, which were mercifully (and frigidly) air conditioned since we still had nearly 90 minutes before boarding. No free food or beverages, but there were employees from the airport restaurant there who would fetch anything you wanted to order and bring it to you. I shared a few beers with a South African “contractor” who has “been doing some work in West and Central Africa for about 20 years now.” I didn’t ask further questions…

Soon, it was time to board our ride to Liberia:

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Air Côte d’Ivoire flight 759
Freetown, Sierra Leone (FNA) to Monrovia, Liberia (ROB)
Depart 15:05, Arrive 15:50, Flight Time: 0:45
Airbus A319, Registration TU-TSA, Manufactured 2004, Seat 1A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 9,628
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,176,666

Interestingly, this would be my second flight on Air Côte d’Ivoire, and more interestingly neither time did the flights actually involve flying to or from Abidjan. They apparently run lots of tag-on routes. First one was from Togo to Ghana, and now this one would be from Sierra Leone to Liberia. I remembered being pretty impressed with them the last time in coach, so was looking forward to a good flight. First noticeable changes, a locally-registered plane (last time the plane was registered in France), and this time a local crew, whereas last time the crew was French. Looks like they were growing local talent, so another good sign.

No pre-departure drink, and after takeoff, I was asked if I wanted water. I asked for champagne. She scowled, and said “no, only water.” Um, ok, I think I will have the water then!

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Very short flight with non-existent service, and soon we were on approach to Monrovia:

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We had arranged for our hotel to pick us up, and they were waiting in the carpark when we got through immigration. Immigration was super quick, and since Liberia uses US dollars in parallel with local currency I decided not to get any. Soon, we were heading out of the airport and on the hour long drive into town to our hotel.

On the way, we passed rubber plantations and lots of very, very green scenery. We also passed the Liberia Revenue Authority, which apparently only collects lawful revenues. Whew, I’d hate to think there was corruption!

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After checking in at the Bella Casa Hotel, I got to play musical rooms with the hotel. I hadn’t paid much attention, and knowing my princess needs, Jordan had kindly booked me in the for $220 a night VIP suite. One big problem, however, the air conditioning seemed to be non-functional, and there was nothing VIP about it. So, we tried another room. Then another room. Then a fourth room which they convinced me would be cooler when I got back from dinner. I wasn’t convinced.

Meanwhile, a friend had told me there was a great beach just a couple blocks for our hotel, so we retired there for a sunset beer and Dan and Jordan grabbed dinner. A proper Africa-sized beer:

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Last night together on the beach:

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Great sunset from the beach bar/restaurant, which was aptly named Sunset Beach:

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I left them to enjoy dinner, and met a friend from DC who had recently moved to Monrovia to work for USAID. He was picking me up in his car, so I stopped by the room on my way and found the AC still not really working, so told the front desk to find me a better room while I was gone. ugh! He had a restaurant he’d been wanting to try called Anglers Bar and Grill, so we headed there. Lovely outdoor deck right on the ocean.

We ordered a couple of Savannah Dry ciders to start along with some grilled Halloumi cheese (the proprietors were Lebanese) followed by the tuna steak with balsamic which was absolutely huge…and delicious! A great meal:

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We caught up for a couple hours over dinner, and when I got back to the hotel they notified me they had found me a room that might work better. Fortunately, it was indeed a bit better, and adequate for the night. I had no idea what they intended to charge me, or what “level” of room it actually was, but it had functioning air conditioning and internet and that was the important thing!

Headed off to bed, and tossed and turned all night, having a rather poor night of sleep. Woke up much earlier than planned at 7am due to sleeping badly, which turned out to be a good thing, because…