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…

Jan 262016
 

Fortunately, my adventures on the RER were much less of a problem today – and not only that – I managed to catch and express train and was at the airport barely 45 minutes after leaving my hotel…which gave me 3.5 hours to spare. I was going to need it, however, to figure out my way through this maze of an airport.

Leaving the RER station, there were a bunch of Air France kiosks, which made checking in and getting my boarding pass easy. So far so good. Rather long walk, but eventually navigated my way through the sea of checkin counters and found the area for departures. Exit immigration was a breeze with no line at the business class counter, and priority security was also rather empty…save the woman with about 200 metal bracelets and trinkets all over her body. Seriously, do people not thing ahead when they are flying?

Regardless, found my way to the lifts underground, and to the Air France lounge with plenty of time to spare. To top it off, my flight would be leaving from the main terminal 2E building, meaning a short walk from the lounge. Looked like everything was going well today!

Since I’d only grabbed a quick coffee at Starbucks, I decided to find out what my food options were in the lounge.

A lounge with real cheese and not Tilamook? Score!

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Main course of a chicken and mushroom stew of some sort, and cheese wrapped in ham…with an apple tart for dessert. Not at all bad for lounge food Air France. Not bad at all!

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Since I had plenty of extra time thanks to the RER running well today, it left me a few extra hours to get some work done in the lounge before it was time to take the short walk to the boarding gate.

Air France flight 770
Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG) to Freetown, Sierra Leone (FNA)
Depart 13:35, Arrive 19:10, Flight Time: 6:35
Airbus A330-200, Registration F-GLCB, Manufactured 2001, Seat 5E
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 9,374
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,176,412

As soon as I was seated, pre-departure champagne was offered along with amenity kits. I decided to fit in this time, and when I wasn’t offered a blue one on the tray, asked if they might have any blue ones. The flight attendant apologized, and immediately went off to fetch one. Hah!

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Today’s menu…rather tasty looking once again!

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Today’s flight was the same number as my flight from Conakry two days prior, and apparently it does a circle Paris-Freetown-Conakry-Paris every couple of days. Worked out perfectly for me, and obviously lots of others because today’s flight appeared to be completely sold out in all classes. Everyone I could see in business had either American passports of Chinese, leading me to believe it was largely a mix of development workers and the usual Chinese “infrastructure” people. Tasty snack of cashews and cranberries along with a creamed pea mousse:

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Shrimp starter, along with more fois gras. Looking around – I found almost everyone poking at…and then refusing to touch the fois gras. Next time I’m on Air France I’m going to ask for them to take double helpings for me from all those who can’t or won’t appreciate it!

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Extremely tasty risotto, and cheese! I’m branching out from my usual beef offerings this trip with vegetarian risottos, scallops, monkfish…what is this world coming to?!

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Trio of desserts. It’s no Jeff Sundae, but it’s way tastier!

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My impression after two medium-haul flights on Air France: nobody can beat them for business class food. Sure, Emirates and Singapore can try and be “fancy” but they save the truly impressive stuff like lobster and caviar for first class anyways. Air France serves good, solid, high quality food in business class that doesn’t taste and look like it came out of the dollar bin at your local WalMart. Normally I’m the first to find airplane food boring and meh, but I can honestly say the Air France meals were things I would order in a restaurant. Well done Air France!

…and as a nod to Air France, my seatmate was displaying extremely Haute Couture – a bedazzled New York Yankees sweatshirt:

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This is where stuff got interesting. After a great flight, we landed at Lungi International Airport where the passport queues were extremely slow and sweaty. Country #189 visited! Now, Lungi Airport is rather interesting. It’s about 10 miles or so from the capital of Freetown, but those 10 miles are if you can walk on water. If you can’t you take the long way around the bay by car, which usually takes 3-4 hours. Yes, that’s right, hours. So, what most people do is take the ferry.

I had read nightmares about the ferry, and the process of procuring tickets, which were approximately $35-40. For $60, the Radisson would send someone to meet you at arrivals, transfer you to the ferry, give you your ticket, and pick you up on the other end. Sounded like a bargain to me…and I went with it.

My driver was waiting for me in the arrivals area, and handed me my ticket. He took me to the bus area, where I would wait for the bus to the ferry. Yes, that’s right, first you need a ferry ticket. Then the ferry company drives you to the pier. Then you take a ferry. Then you need transport on the other side. Well worth the premium I paid.

Fortunately, the ferry company’s van had awesome air conditioning, and soon we were off. About a 10 minute drive to the pier in complete darkness, but it didn’t matter, because once we got to the pier we waited nearly an hour to board the ferry. No answer why, other than soon soon. Eventually we boarded, and it was clear they were going to cram an entire A330 of passengers on a ferry which was marked “Capacity: 55”

I personally counted at least 80-90 people, and there was lots of yelling and complaining about the boat being overloaded. But, see, there’s a problem. It had one deck. With one door. In my foolish rush to board I had moved away from the door, and if this thing sank, there was absolutely no way I was getting off on time. I was hoping reason would win it, but no, they just slammed the door. A staff member gave some half-hearted safety demonstration that included comments about life jackets and the easter bunny…not sure if either really existed..and the motors sputtered to life.

Fortunately, it was pitch black outside, and we couldn’t feel the terror we were about to embark on…the first five minutes weren’t too bad, but then the waves started, and the boat started pitching pretty hard side to side as the waves would hit the boat which was loaded down worse than a pregnant woman well past her third trimester. I tried to strike up a conversation with the local couple seated next to me (we were some of the lucky ones with seats) but that didn’t work when they told me they’d taken this ferry dozens of times…and it had never been loaded down this badly. They were clearly worried.

I started looking for small and weak people between me and the door, deciding who I would trample when we capsized. I also started practicing holding my breath, trying to figure out how long I would have to get to the door once the water came rushing in.

Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, that’s when it started. Now, Sierra Leone had recently been declared free of Ebola, and to do so they constantly reminded people of the way it spread: avoid bodily fluids of sick and dead people. Well, that’s when the first woman lost her cookies…all over a couple of people also standing in the middle of the boat.

A couple of minutes later, it happened again with another person. All told four people threw up all over other passengers. While it made the time pass by quickly, if a sinking boat didn’t kill us there was a reasonable chance Ebola would. Eventually, we made it to the other side…the air heavy with the smell of vomit and fear.

True to their world, the Radisson shuttle driver was waiting for me, and soon we were off to the hotel. Quickly messaged Jordan and Dan that I’d arrived, and that they were free to meet me in the hotel bar/restaurant as after checking in I would need something to make me forget my near death experience.

This item on the menu didn’t reassure me:

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Yes, you may have a beer, but only after you sanitize your hands:

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After a couple of beers and some food, it was time to head to bed so I could get up at a reasonable hour and maximize my time in Sierra Leone. Unfortunately, the room air conditioning in no way met my standards, nor did the internet which only reached about a foot into my room. I was too tired to care, and had good data service on my cell phone, and eventually passed out for eight solid hours of well-needed sleep.

Got up to have a bit of breakfast before heading out, and was surprised to run into Dan and Jordan there. They had some sort of buy one get one free rate that didn’t include breakfast, and given the hotel wanted over $25 for it I hadn’t expected to see them. The buffet was rather basic, but enough to do the trick, and certainly better than several we had had on this trip.

They had arrived the prior day, and agreed to show me around the area near the hotel so I could maximize my time before leaving. We headed down to Lumley Beach, which thanks to “National Exercise Day” on Sunday, was packed:

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I was doing my best to “STOP the EBOLA Virus” but given all the vomiting on the ferry the night before, I wasn’t overly confident.

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The beach was packed with people playing football, lots of people just walking, and vendors selling water and other drinks in the incredibly hot sun:

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I spotted one football team getting ready to take a picture, and rushed over to ask if I could take their picture as well. This got them to do their championship pose, and I found out they had just won the beach league tournament of some sort. Given the dozens of games going on at the beach, there seemed to be tons of different leagues and casual games going on, and most of them even had referees. It was a rather large affair and apparently THE thing to do in Freetown on a Sunday.

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After a while of walking around we eventually headed back to the Radisson to try in vain to cool down ever so slightly with some cold drinks before heading to the airport for our onward flight to the final new country of this trip: Liberia!