Sep 182015
 

Headed to the airport, and check-in was surprisingly easy. We volunteered to check our bags rather than deal with what was sure to be a mess, and headed off to try and find security/immigration/lounge/gates. That wasn’t easy, because it was down a makeshift corridor that wasn’t marked. We did finally find it, no trouble at all with immigration, and soon were off to the luxury lounge. On the way, we passed this sign warning us about Ebola:

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At least the lounge had AC, and the usual amusing variety of expats, and strange local beers, which predictably were awesome. I mean awful… ūüėČ

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About 45 minutes before the flight we left the lounge and headed to the gate. There we found Jordan who had apparently survived the Ibis Douala. However, we were chastised by the gate agents for leaving the lounge, and they told us they would come get us when it was time to board. So, back to the lounge we went. About 15 minutes later they finally summoned us, and it was time to board.

TAAG Angola flight 527
Douala, Cameroon (DLA) to Bangui, Central African Republic (BGF)
Depart 14:20, Arrive 16:00, Flight Time: 1:40
Boeing 737-700, Registration D2-TBD, Manufactured 2006, Seat 1C

Interestingly, this was the same plane that Jordan and I had taken about 18 months prior from Sao Tome to Cape Verde. I guess TAAG doesn’t have many 737s so it’s not that interesting, but was still mildly amusing to me. The crew was their usual TAAG indifferent, but at least this time they didn’t eat our meals before they could serve them to us.

Shrimps on a plane…no way. I pecked at the rest (and of course at all the cheese and wine), and had to beg for a wine refill. They apparently ran out after my refill, however, because they went into hiding and refused to give Ian one.

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Landing was right on time, bus gate minus the bus, and we were directed to the medical quarantine tent:

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Taking temperatures:

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While waiting for medical check, we got an up close view of “In God We Trust Airlines”

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Immigration was easy, no questions at all, and our bags came out in maybe 10-15 minutes. So far, CAR was seeming very anticlimactic, which was a good thing. Just like getting the visa in DC, it seemed like as long as they got the money they were of the attitude of “whatever you do you do, it’s not our problem.” I like this approach! It’s not like CAR gets many clueless random tourists I’d expect!

As promised, our hotel the Ledger Plaza Bangui was waiting for us, and we were off in a nice chilly air-conditioned van to the hotel. This is where the drama was really to begin. The moment we entered the hotel, the skies opened up, and it was a majorly fierce thunder and lightning storm outside. The hotel lost power several times while we were checking in.

Jordan seemed to have a relatively easy time of it, but despite my printed confirmation, they couldn’t get their minds around the idea of one room, two people, two beds. I get it…people who come to CAR and stay in the nicest hotel are all NGO workers and all want their own room. Well, that’s not us, and that’s not what we reserved, so we want what we reserved. First, they claimed no rooms available with two beds…which was apparently true at least for the first night.

Then, they claimed there was a 50% surcharge for two people in a room. I showed them my printed confirmation, but they could care less, they weren’t going to budge. After nearly an hour negotiating (100% in French because their English was non-existent), we decided on two rooms for the first night and the second night they would give us a room with two beds, but at a 50% surcharge. Ugh. At least they did us the “favour” of giving my corporate rate to Ian as well. What a mess. There was also a price list at the desk, which indicted only about a 15,000 CFA surcharge for a “double” room. But that’s on the “normal” rate. On the corporate rate (which was, in fairness, quite a bit less) they demanded 50%…which was well over 15,000 CFA…and was closer to 40 or 50,000!

So, we went up to the rooms to unpack, and oh, apparently the AC and the internet aren’t working today. The internet has been out for days/weeks, and the AC doesn’t run when the generator is on…which seems to be most of the time. My room the first night eventually cooled to 23C which was acceptable for sleeping, but I don’t think Jordan’s room got below 27 or Ian’s room got below 29. Ugh. Felt bad for them, but at least they had fans?

We met downstairs for some beers and dinner to try and forget the heat and annoyance (TIA afterall) and eventually crashed so we could try and tour the next day. I say try, because despite asking several times, they were unable to locate the hotel driver to know for sure if he would do it. But, “don’t worry, he sleeps in the hotel.” Uh, great, so where is he?

Went to bed semi early, looked out my window in the morning, and saw the convoy of aid workers getting ready to leave the hotel for work:

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Breakfast in the hotel was actually quite good, with eggs cooked to order, a great spread of pastries and breads, etc. It was actually really impressive considering where we were. All in all, the hotel definitely did a great job with food.

Going to skip around here a bit, and ignore our day in CAR for now. When we moved rooms the second day to our shared two bed room, at least we had a great view of what looked to be a quite nice pool:

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Dinner both days was in the hotel cafe, which actually had a good mix of French bistro food along with some various international stuff like pasta/etc. I had a croque madame both days which was really quite tasty:

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So, overall, taking into account you’re in a developing country just emerging from a brutal and nasty war, the hotel really does quite good. Is it worth the price? Absolutely not given the lack of AC and internet, but the rooms were clean, the food was good, and the complex was quite safe. Overall, it’s the place to stay in Bangui, but don’t get your hopes up for luxury. There will be serious inconveniences, annoyances, and probably boredom if you travel alone, but hey, it’s all part of the adventure! Next up…what we actually did in CAR!

Jan 302014
 

We’d planned to leave my hotel three hours before the flight, allowing up to an hour to get to the airport, and wanting to be there two hours early since we’d already checked in online. The taxi driver from the night before told Jordan he “didn’t start work” that early, but would 2.5 hours work? Eh, it would be close, but good enough. Jordan showed up at my hotel a little in advance…and we waited…and waited. We were down to 2:15 before flight time and started to panic. The hotel doormen were completely non-phased, and called their taxi contacts. See, you can’t just flag down a taxi in Luanda, because they largely don’t exist.

Eventually, just about 1:45 until flight time, a taxi showed up that the doorman had called, and he wanted $50 to go to the airport. Sigh, no choice at this point, and we paid…and he made fast time of it, getting us there maybe 75 minutes before the flight, and 15 minutes before luggage cutoff.

The problem? The business class line was over 10 people deep once we finally found it (since it was unmarked) and we waited. Eventually I started pressing the guy manning the line to let us to the front, because we were running out of time. He spoke passable English, and told us “no no, we must process all the Havana customers first, their flight is 90 minutes before yours!” Um, we were barely an hour before flight time, so Havana was 30 minutes late and not everyone was checked in.

Knowing never to trust the first thing a semi-official person tells you in Africa, I kept pressing him. Are you SURE you are right. He points to a long line of 100+ people in the terminal. “They all go to Sao Tome too in economy, not to worry.” In the end, he was right. We checked in about 45 minutes before flight time, and no problem at all. ¬†We did get probably the most festive lounge invite I’ve ever gotten before:

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Security was next, and it was a big nonevent. ¬†Well, except for nasty angry agents who made the TSA look pleasant. ¬†They were yelling at passengers who didn’t know the procedure, and being generally rude and condescending to them. ¬†Then, it was time for exit immigration. ¬†They had a bit of a hard time finding my entry stamp, then when they did they seemed surprised by Cabinda, but it was no big deal and got stamped out without a problem.

Then, on the other side of immigration is where the fun started. ¬†There was a room with a closed door, and a long line leading into it. ¬†I ignored it and tried to head up to the lounge. ¬†Nope, was told I had to stand in line. ¬†What goes on in that room? ¬†They bring people in one by one, and search their luggage for cash. ¬† Since they “forget” to remind you to declare money when you enter Angola, of course, any money you have is undeclared…and subject to confiscation. ¬†The Chinese guy in front of me told me that his first time in Angola he lost nearly $2000 this way. ¬†OUCH. ¬†The line was getting too long for the room, and the security goons were at a loss where to put the people who were clearing immigration. ¬†They picked the two big white guys and said “YOU GO” and pointed to the escalator. ¬†Score! ¬†I’d already well-hidden my cash since I’d been warned about this online, but it was nice to not be subjected to it. ¬†I guess their logic was that we were more likely to either be onto their scam, or put up a fight, so they let us go?

Up the stairs, and into the TAAG lounge to wait. ¬†They said they’d call our flight since it was (obviously) late, so we had time to relax a slight bit:

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