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!

Sep 302015

After unwinding in the hotel for a bit and relaxing, we decided to head out and get some dinner. Ian had found a place recommended by a friend that promised to be really interesting. It claimed to be “kind of ” German food, and the online reviews called it a fascinating cultural mixing pot…so we had to go! Took a taxi towards where google maps said it was, and it turned out to be a little further walk than expected, but eventually we found Alt Munchen. It definitely had a bit of that beer garden feel, and even some semi-authentic sausages and sauerkraut:


…and flaming bananas for dessert!


Next morning we were up early for breakfast at the hotel before our driver picked us up. He was right on time, and we headed east on the road out of Lomé to the Togolese border. The border was a pretty lively place, but there was absolutely no hassle. Usually at west African borders like this there are dozens of touts trying to sell you pens, arrivals cards, whatever they think they can get a little money for. Here, it was super easy. Stamped out of Togo no questions asked, and then onto Benin.

We already had our Benin visas, and got a few questions about where we were going, how long we would stay there, etc. They spent a lot of time writing down all of our passport details in some big books, and eventually started asking more and more questions. The conversation turned to what seemed to be the “you’re missing something” direction, but then the customs officer asked about my tattoo. I had to first explain to him what an octopus was, and then why I had one. He didn’t seem to grasp it, until I made up a really wild story about being attacked by an octopus as a child, and then he let us go.

There’s a theory that when dealing with corruption there are three ways to approach it. First, you can give them “power” and you will always lose. Then, you can interact with them as an “official” or a job-related approach, but they could come up with some technicality that they think they can get you on. However, the third layer if you can get there is to have a one-on-one personal interaction with them, and then graft is almost impossible. Seems to have worked in this case when we had a long chat about the tattoo, and he soon sent us on our way. Our driver was already waiting for us on the other side, and we set off to the town of Grand Popo, Benin:


Up until this point the road was pretty good, and we were making good time:


But when we turned to the north, the road became dirt, with giant car-swallowing potholes to avoid:


Village woman selling bananas:


Eventually, after a long drive we arrived at the Royal Palaces of Abomey. These were built by the Fou people from about 1650 to the late 1800s, and each king would build a new palace when he took over. There was a tour just starting when we arrived (French only, of course), so we joined in with some local families. We were definitely the only tourists from abroad today. First stop was the palace of King Glele:


The courtyard, and entrance to the palace museum:


This was the structure where they buried the king, with animal sacrifices scattered around:


Photo of Ian in the courtyard:


Inside of the burial structure:


In total the tour was about two hours, and was a good introduction to how the kingdoms and tribes of the area had not only resisted colonialism, but had cooperated with colonialists to resist each other. In the end, of course, the colonialists won and everyone pretty much got screwed over.

On the way back, given the condition of the road, we decided to take the other route back to Togo. This involved heading west to the border, before shooting south to Lomé. We thought it was a good idea initially, and the terrain was quite lush and the road quite good:


However, after about ten miles, the road got much, much worse than that we had come in on:


Huge trucks stirring up dust on the heavily potholed road:


At this point, we came across a police truck having pulled over a truck searching for contraband. We never did find out what they were looking for, however, they got several of the big trucks off the road which were blocking traffic, so it sped up our journey at least slightly.

Then, we finally got to the border. In contrast to the southern border, this one was super quiet and deserted. Nobody in sight. Getting stamped out of Benin took much longer than it should…the official invited us into a small building, asked us to sit down, and took what was nearly an hour to fill out his log book and apply all the various stamps he decided he needed to to both the logbook and our passports. Then, it was time to walk a small bit before the Togo border.

At this point, we weren’t sure our visas were good for a second entry, so it was time to play it by ear. We were standing outside at the Togo border, goats and chickens walking around, and he started to write our details in the logbook. He seemed happy with the visas, and then…the question came again. What’s the story with the tattoo. It took a while, but eventually ended in the same way. No hassle at all, and we were allowed back into Togo. Our driver, however, did have to pay a small bribe of around 1,000 CFA to get the car across. Also, while we were waiting to have all our details recored, a few people walked through the border, just handed the border guy a little change, and he waved them through. Seems that if you’re local, you just pay a small sum, and cross. Kind of sad.

We got back relatively late, and were absolutely exhausted after a full day of driving on rural African roads, so decided to stay in at the hotel and eat. Solid meal in the hotel restaurant, and got a good long night of sleep to catch up.

The next morning, our driver picked us up again to take us to the Marché des Feticheurs – basically the voodoo market. I’d visited there before, but thought it was something quirky and local Ian should see. It had become a bit more touristy since my previous visit, and even had signs posted offering tours and English-speaking guides. Bonus. The guide took us around and showed us all the “ingredients” for the various things…starting with miscellaneous owls and birds:


…moving onto bats, starfish, and other assorted critters. The porcupine quills are for cutting a gash in the skin. Then, after the ingredients are ground up they are smashed into the bleeding skin to let them work their magic. Sounds hygienic, right?


More birds, all for various ailments:


Overview of the market stalls:


After the tour, we got taken to see the local witch doctor, who unfortunately wasn’t in today. But not to worry, his son was, and was happy to try and sell us all sorts of trinkets. Ian bough a talisman that was supposed to be for safe travel (they know their market) and soon we were back to the hotel to pack up and head to the airport. It was time to head on to Chad!

Sep 262015

Hotel shuttle was right on time, and in no time at all we were at the booming Bangui M’Poko International Airport, where Jordan decided to do his best imitation of one of the big five since we were in Africa, but fortunately nobody mistook his flowing mane for a lion….


Check-in was pretty easy, and there appeared to be several paramilitary types on our flight checking large gun and ammunition cases. Central African Republic is known to have lots of “private military” activity, supporting both the government and the rebels, so I guess they have t0 fly in and out somehow. Ian and I managed to secure the exit row, which was extra nice because it only had two seats while all of the other rows had three seats. Score! Immigration and security were pretty easy as well, and the agents were reasonably friendly, chatty, and efficient. One lady kept trying to sell us “VIP lounge access” for like $20, but we decided to resist. Spent our remaining Central African CFA francs on some waters in the departures lounge, and soon it was time to go.

ASKY flight 35
Bangui, Central African Republic (BGF) to Douala, Cameroon (DLA)
Depart 7:55, Arrive 9:45, Flight Time: 1:50
Boeing 737-700, Registration ET-ANG, Manufactured 2007, Seat 15J

Flight to Douala looked to be quite full with most seats taken, and a small snack was served. Since we’d left the hotel too early for breakfast, was at least nice to get some bread and cheese to hold over until lunch:


Arrival into Douala right on time, where almost everyone on the flight got off. Since this is one of very few flights into CAR, and Douala is a much larger airport than Lomé it made sense people would be getting off. We said goodbye to Jordan who was headed straight home (just a long weekend for him) and waited for the other passengers to board for the continuation of the flight.

ASKY flight 35
Douala, Cameroon (DLA) to Lomé, Togo (LFW)
Depart 10:25, Arrive 11:10, Flight Time: 1:45
Boeing 737-700, Registration ET-ANG, Manufactured 2007, Seat 15J

Flight was maybe 75% full on this segment, mainly with connecting passengers. Lomé is a quasi hub for ASKY, so many of the passengers were headed from Douala to other points in Africa. Choice of sandwiches on this flight, cheese or tuna. The cheese was actually reasonable, and for a rare change I decided to risk the airplane sandwich…with a glass of semi-reasonable red wine to wash it down:


This was the third trip I’ve flown ASKY, and overall they’re a pretty classy operation. Planes are leased from Ethiopian, which I believe has a large ownership stake in the airline as well. Flights have been completely on-time in my experience, staff reasonably friendly, and the planes inspire at least reasonable confidence in their maintenance. Definitely the jewel of west African aviation for now!

Arrived into Lomé on time, and immigration was a big of a challenge. You would think they almost never saw tourists, and even more rarely had ones that wanted visa on arrival despite all the prices and instructions being clearly posted. I asked the agent if the visas were single entry, as we would be making a daytrip to Benin the next day. “Oh no no no, they can be, but you need to go get them endorsed at this office somewhere downtown and then they are good unlimited.” She seemed pretty unclear, and after finally getting the visas she let us go.

The driver from our hotel was waiting in the parking lot, and we were soon on our way to La Résidence Océane – a small boutique which got great reviews on tripadvisor. The rooms inside faced a charming little courtyard:


Stairs up to our rooms:


Overall, the hotel was quite nice. Clean, quiet, very reasonably priced, good WiFi, ice  old air conditioning. They upgraded us to two-level “suites” as well, which was a nice bonus. We grabbed lunch at the hotel in their brasserie, which made a good variety of French staples and could have been anywhere in rural France. The staff were super nice and helpful, and although there were never more than 10 people eating, they always had everything on the menu and were quite quick

The hotel also had a small bar/lounge area which was pretty popular with locals and expats during the evening…staffed by the same people who worked in the restaurant, and occasionally at the check-in desk. Sometimes you win with smaller hotels, and sometimes you lose, but this was a definite win! The only area that could have been improved a little was the included breakfast, which was pretty much limited to croissants, crepes, some nutella, and laughing cow cheese…and plentiful coffee…so what more do you really need?


We kept Jordan on the trip in spirits at least, finding a bottle of Château Jourdan at the local grocery store. Off relatively early to bed because it would be a super long day of driving to Benin the next day. We had negotiated with the driver who picked us up at the airport, and he said he had all the necessary permits to drive into Benin, so it would save a lot of time over hiring taxis on both sides of the border.

Nov 012013

My driver showed up right on time in the morning, and soon we were off to the airport. About one or two miles into the drive, the car started going slower and slower…and slower…until it completely stopped. I asked what the problem was, and the driver said he didn’t know…but it seemed pretty clear to me that this had happened to him before. He just pulled over to the side of the rode, and flagged down a passing taxi.

He loaded my bags into the new taxi, and said we would go together to the airport. I am guessing since I was paying him a good rate, he wanted to settle at a lower rate with the replacement driver, so he came along.  Clearly, the new driver was pro-America:


No problems at all, and soon we were at the airport post office to mail my post cards.  After I got them mailed, the original driver walked me over to the terminal so I could check in.  I settled the bill, got a passport check by a security guy, x-ray of my bags, and was in the check-in area.  While I was waiting to check in, there was a very loud (and apparently drunk) man yelling at the security officers.  It seemed, he was claiming, that someone had planted drugs on him and security found them.  Of course, they were asking him to pay a fine on the spot or turn him over to the police…

Finally got to the front of the check-in line, and they said the flight had some problems, and was not open for check-in.  Please step aside for 15 minutes.  ut oh…are we going to cancel?  I went back up to the counter 15 minutes later, and checked in no problem.  Who knows what the original drama was about.


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Oct 312013

Originally, I had planned to take a shared taxi from Accra to Lomé, but when I found out my friend’s driver wouldn’t be doing anything during the day while he worked, I asked if he might be willing to drive me to the border…of course he would. He was paid by the day, so as long as we paid the gas he would be happy to. Certainly more comfortable than a couple of hours squished into a small space!

We got on the road just before 9am, and traffic really wasn’t all that bad.  We stopped around an hour in at a toll, and I snapped this picture of a street vendor working the toll plaza:


About 30 minutes before the border, we stopped at the bridge over the lower Volta river to get some pictures:


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Sep 162013

I know, I know…I’ve gotten way behind.  A few weeks ago I was in Nigeria (country #137 visited) for a few days with a friend and I owe a trip report for that one which I promise to get done soon.  All in all, it was a great trip!

Next trip is coming in just a couple of weeks.  It started as a trip to see the same friend while he does work in two more countries (Benin and Ghana) and I figured, while in the neighbourhood, I’d see a few more places.  Now, it’s turned into a six country trip adding Togo, Cote d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, and Niger to the list.  The rough plan is:

west africa map

One major challenge will be that a couple of the tickets can only be bought locally, so we will see if I manage to sort out all the plane tickets.  Of course, there’s also the issue that flights in this part of the world don’t always run so on time, so there will be that too.  Also, this assumes I manage to get all six visas on time.  It’s also the most number of airlines I’ve ever taken on one trip I think:

  1. Air Canada
  2. Lufthansa
  3. Brussels Airlines
  4. Air Cote d’Ivoire
  5. ASKY
  6. Air Burkina
  7. SWISS
  8. United

Of course, assuming everything works out….that will bring the total country count up to 143 visited…only 53 to go!

Mar 092012

Count stands at 109, and in May, I have a trip to get five more countries already booked.  Nepal, Bhutan, Seychelles, Sudan, and Bulgaria (strange combo, for sure) are already done.  That marks 114.

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