October 7 to 12, 2013: Prolog
The purpose of this trip was to finish visiting all the UN countries in Africa. I had in the past had visas issued for Libya, Algeria, Chad, Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Sao Tome and Principe and Eritrea but had not been able to visit those countries for various reasons. In the spring of 2013 I arranged with Klaus Billep, Universal Travel Systems (UTS) to plan a trip to visit those countries plus some additional areas in the African area. He scheduled an itinerary that visited all those countries and we set about obtaining visas and flights.
As the planned departure date of October 13 approached we started to have difficulty in following the planned itinerary. First the Algerians held my passport for three weeks without affixing a visa so with less than a week before my departure Passport Visas Express in Washington, DC had to retrieve the passport from the Algerian Embassy and FedEx it back to California, cancelling the Algeria visit. Second, the seizure of Abu Anas Al-Libi, a wanted terrorist in Libya changed the Libyan agreement with UTS’s Tripoli Travel Agency to issue my visa upon arrival in Tripoli so I had to FedEx my 10 year passport to Washington so that Passport Visas Express could get the visa issued in Washington for the visa which supposedly had been approved by the authorities in Tripoli.
Those two events required major last minute changes in my itinerary. The first change was to schedule something in place of the visit to Algeria. I decided to visit Ceuta, Spanish Morocco and then travel on to Madrid which I had never spent time in and be in a safe place to have my 10 year passport sent to.
If I have the Libyan visa I would then fly to Tripoli to tour the Roman ruins and continue the original schedule visiting Chad, Somalia, the Sinai, the Canary and Madeira Island before flying back to LA.
If I didn’t get the Libyan visa issued then my first desire was to visit my daughter Robin who was just starting a new job in Berlin. I stayed up late Thursday night to work out the flights only to learn the next morning that Robin was going to be back in the US to attend a high level trade meeting in Washington, DC. My next plan was to visit Northern Spain and Friday UTS arranged a train trip to San Sebastian for a tour and then fly from Bilbao, Spain to Somaliland with a change of planes in Tripoli.
The details of the two alternative schedules required UTS to work through Friday and Saturday morning requiring the UTS owner, Klaus Billep to drive out to my house Saturday afternoon with the revised airline tickets and my 2 year passport.
We reviewed the itinerary and I was informed that due to the situation in Tripoli I would have to pay the local agent in cash plus several other countries required cash payments. I had not planned on carrying that much cash so after Klaus left I made a mad dash to a Wells Fargo bank in a local Super Market to withdraw several thousand dollars in $100 bills dated 2006 or later and not marked up. It was not a quick withdrawal. So many bills are marked that it was difficult on a Saturday night to find bills that would be accepted in Africa.
Cash in hand I then spent most of the night entering the revised itinerary and flights in my Outlook and Gmail calendars so my family would have them and I would be alerted on my smart phone with flight details.
Sunday, October 13, 2013: Travel to Asmara, Eritrea
I only had a few hours’ sleep before waking to do final packing and eating breakfast before the GO Sedan driver picked me up at 07:55. It was a driver I hadn’t ridden with before. He was from Columbia and spoke with a heavy accent so I rode in silence and dozed off on the way to LAX. Since it was a Sunday the traffic was light and I arrived at the United Terminal in thirty minutes. Check-in was a little slow since they have very few agents on duty and my passport and visa had to be checked before my boarding pass was issued, but the good news was my departure gate was in Terminal 6 and they had just established a TSA pre check line. I was the only one in the line and didn’t have to remove my laptop or shoes and was able to go through the full body scan machine. It was like pre 9/11. What a good start. My gate was across from the United Club where I was able to relax awaiting the departure.
The first leg of my flight to Asmara, Eritrea was to San Francisco where I would board a flight to Frankfurt. It was not a long layover but I was able to spend some time in the United Club and talked with my daughter Wendy and granddaughter Christine before I boarded the aircraft. It was close to a full plane but I was fortunate to have one of the few empty seats next to me. I was flying Economy Plus on United Miles and was very comfortable. The one drawback is United B-747-400 has not ungraded their economy seats to have individual video so if I wanted to watch a movie it had to be the one shown on the large screen in front of the economy section. I had already seen the first movie, “The Way, Way Back” and fell asleep during the second movie titled “The Interns” which I wanted to watch to see how the movie described Google’s culture.
Monday, October 14, 2013: Arrive in Asmara, Eritrea
When I arrived at Frankfurt I was surprised to find that my cell phone was not finding a connection. I had to process through security again to leave the arrival area. This time I was subjected to a full wand and pat down. The Germans don’t perform the gentle back of the hand rub; rather they grab each leg and pull down almost removing my pants. On the way to my next flight’s gate I encountered a split with the gate down a corridor to the left and the airport lounges to the right. I turned right and the first lounge I found was the Air Canada lounge and they accepted my Star Alliance Gold card and let me in. It was nice and not as crowded as I have found the Lufthansa lounges to me in my last trips through the airport.
I called Verizon Support using the Wi-Fi in the lounge and my Vonage VOIP app on my cell phone and had them activate Global Roaming. Since it was near noon in Germany I ate a light lunch in the lounge and then headed for my gate in order to process in for the 12:35 departure. The gate was one that uses a bus to transport the passengers to their assigned aircraft. When I was boarding the aircraft the passenger behind remarked to a Flight Attendant “Oh this is an Air Bus 300, my favorite plane because I work on them for United Airlines”. I turned and told him that I used to work at the United Maintenance Center in San Francisco and he told me that he worked the line at Dulles IAP.
I was assigned a window seat in the rear of the aircraft with an old lady next to me. Lufthansa has individual entertainment screens on the back of every seat and I watched the parts of “The Interns” that I had slept through on the previous flight. After that I watched “Anne Hall“ but dozed off through parts of it. I did the same watching “Criminal Minds”. I tried to read and between falling asleep I was able finish two magazines that I had started earlier in the week. The served us a hot meal after takeoff and a sandwich just before landing in Jeddah. During the re-fueling stop at Jeddah I talk with the United mechanic. He told me he was a Continental Maintenance Supervisor and was still having a headache integrating the mechanic from United and Continental. The crews are not integrated and only ex-Continental mechanics work on ex-Continental aircraft and the same for the ex-United side. They still have two separate flight record systems with the old United computer based and the old Continental paper based each with different codes. The same old union mentality that made me happy to leave United back in the early 1980’s still exists.
The flight from Jeddah to Asmara was just an hour and one half and they served another sandwich. I couldn’t even have purchased a sandwich on my hour and one half flight from Los Angles to San Francisco.
The flight arrived in Asmara and since I was seated in the back I was one of the first to exit through the aft stairs. An Australian that had been sitting near me asked me if I was a geologist because I dressed like they did. When I told him my story about traveling the continent and having difficulty obtaining visa he told me he was working in the country at one of the countries three gold mines and had difficulty getting his visa. The bus soon filled up and I was pushed back from my spot near the door as it filled and therefore when we arrived at Immigration I was one of the last to enter.
I was relieved to be greeted by a man in a Doorman’s coat holding a sign with my name on it. He greeted me and pointed to get in one of the four lines waiting to be processed by Immigration. I picked the shortest line and the United mechanic and gold miner stood with me. Our line didn’t move and we switched lines back and forth and never seemed to find a line that moved. I learned that the mechanic was a native of Asmara and returns every 3 or 4 months. He graduated from an LA Technical Collage in the 1970’s and worked at McDonald Douglas before joining Continental in Los Angeles, eventually transferring to Washington DC where it was easier to get flights to Eretria.
Both of my new found friends told me the confusion at the Immigration windows was normal. They remarked that it has not improved over the last several years. Eventually I got my passport stamped just before the Gold Miner received his stamp and just after the mechanic. The three of us stood in the exit line to have an Immigration officer verify that we received a stamp and then proceed to another window where the visa was checked again. Following the second visa stamp check I reconnected with the Hotel greeter. Baggage was still being unloaded from the plane but we I noticed that it didn’t appear that the bags that were not claimed didn’t come around on the carousel a second time I discovered that my bag had been removed and was in a group along the wall obscured from my original vantage point.
The bag had arrived in good shape and the Hotel greeter grabbed it and we exited the Arrival building and boarded a mini-bus for the hotel. Check-in at the hotel went smoothly and they gave me a Wi-Fi internet access code for the room.
Then my troubles began. I connected my laptop to the Wi-Fi but when I tried to open Outlook or Facebook or any other app I received a “This page can't be displayed” message. I then tried to connect to the Wi-Fi on my smart phone and I received a message that the User Name account was being used by another computer. I then tried to Logout of the laptop connection but could not get the screen to come up with the logout button. I was in a catch 22 situation so I returned to the lobby and requested another account so I could log into my smart phone. They would not give me one. Only one to a customer and only one device can be logged in at a time. I returned to my room and tried logging in again on the laptop and this time I got a logout button. I was then able to login on my smart phone and found the bandwidth was so weak I couldn’t do anything. I gave up and unpacked and went to bed.
Tuesday, October 15, 2013: City tour of Asmara, Eritrea
At 09:30 a driver arrived at the hotel to pick me up. He drove me to the offices of Asmara Grande Travel & Tour Service where I met the owner, Tekeste Asghedom and Rachel, a pretty young English teacher who would serve as my guide for the two tours scheduled during my visit to the country. Tekeste took my passport to obtain a permit to visit the sea port of Massawa the next day. We all left the office and Rachel started my city tour.
Asmara was built as the capital of the Italian colony of Eritrea between 1890 and 1940. It has clean wide streets lined with palm trees and Italian designed and built buildings many dating back to the start of the 20th century. During WWII the Italians were defeated and the British took control and Eritrea was a administered by Great Britain between 1942 and 1952. The British did not change the Italian feel of the city but in 1952 the UN established Eritrea as an autonomous region within the Ethiopian federation and the city suffered defacing and neglect. The neglect increased after Ethiopia annexed the region as a province. In 1962 the Eritrean’s waged war with Ethiopia for 30 years attempting to gain full independence. Eritreans approved independence in a 1993 referendum. Isaias Afworki became President and has served in that position ever since.
October 15 was a Muslim holiday and many stores closed banks and government offices including the Museum were closed. The traffic was very light and the sidewalks had few people. For some unexplained reason the city is without power every morning starting at 06:30 and ending at 14:30.
The first stop on the city tour was the Asmara main cathedral built of brick in 1923 in Italian style with a large tower 82 feet high towering over the central area of the city. The tower contains eight bells each weighing 220 pounds and large clocks on several sides. The clock is electrical so it displayed the start of the power outage at 06:26
The structure and associated buildings take up a whole city block. Rachel was surprised that the doors and gates were closed for the holiday depriving us a chance to see the reportedly beautiful interior of the church. We walked around the church area past the French Embassy housed in an 1800 era Italian colonial building, a bank in an Italian style brick building, an 1899 built building and on to the Post Office. The city is very different than other African in the area such as Khartoum and Djibouti with the clean streets and colonial buildings.
We got back in the car and rode past art deco style buildings to St. Mary’s Orthodox Church. The church was built in Red brick similar to the Cathedral in 1938 on top of a hill and can be seen from all parts of the city. It had a very large open area in front of the church. It also was closed due to the holiday so again I wasn’t able to see the interior. From St. Mary’s we rode around the city seeing more of the Italian built buildings and then stopped at a cemetery perched on a hill with panoramic views of the city. The grave markers had a tin like metal with the name and dates attached to the stone. We climbed the hill to a church on top and took pictures of the city. Several boys followed us begging. Rachael would run them off but they kept re-appearing. Finally she had them line up and she took their picture and that seemed to satisfy them and they didn’t bother us on the way back down the hill.
A funeral was taking place in a large open area at the base of the hill. It was a little different because the funeral attendees separated, male and female each lined up along the edge of the open area. I was too far away to see what was happening in the middle but when we left the area I saw a young man dressed in sacraments carrying a cross. I guess it was either an Orthodox or a Catholic funeral. We then drove to a Christian church and again the gates were locked.
Having toured the Catholic, Orthodox, and Christian church our next stop was a little out of the city at the Asmara War Cemetery with graves of WWII allied soldiers who lost their life in the period of 1939 to 1945. The vast majority was from Great Britain, mostly the RAF but I did see markers for Army and other British Commonwealth and Colonial locations. The cemetery is very well maintained with a monument up the slope at the back of the cemetery. It struck me as a little unusual because it was so well kept in an area where the adjoining property was an unpaved road, a faded sign for the Zoo and a rundown ticket building for the zoo.
From the Cemetery we rode back into the city and stopped at the central market. Because of the Muslim holiday most of the stalls were not open. Those that were open displayed the colorful straw baskets and other woven items, clay bowels, tin utensils, small charcoal, burners, jewelry, gourds, small musical instruments and paintings. The few stall keepers were laid back and no one hustled me to buy anything. I found the goods typical of Africa.
Back in the car we rode to the monument statue of the Russian scholar Alexander Pushkin who never lived in Asmara but had ancestors from Eritrea. It was the only monument I saw during my city tour. There were several squares which Rachel told once had statues or art works but they were destroyed during the wars.
We then drove past the American Embassy and past some more very beautiful colonial houses and then back to the city where we stopped for lunch at the Spaghetti and Pizza House next door to the American Bar. We shared a “Neapolitan” pizza. It was good. I had my first Asmara beer which also was good.
We walked off lunch by walking to and touring some of the fine old hotels in the city and finished at the Royal Café where we had one of their delicious pastries.
Before starting our again we crossed the street to see the ROMA movie theater. It only shows movies on the weekends and reminded me of the theaters in my youth with a large mezzanine and curved balcony. It had the look and feel of a 1940’s theater.
Back in the car we rode to see the Fiat building, an art deco former gas station built in the shape of an airplane with the wings serving as the roof over the gas pumps. Then on to a Catholic Church in the suburbs that was also closed and the doors locked preventing me to see the interior.
We visited another movie theater. This one had a movie showing to a full house. Rachel writes the English sub titles for Eritrea made movies. She told me that they love their movies but there are only ten theaters in the country. On the way back to my hotel we rode to a vista with a great panoramic view of the city above a white Chinese built hospital that looked like it was camouflaged with gray plaster covering many cracks in the walls of the building. Rachel told me the Chinese have built a number buildings and roads in the country and have a reputation of poor construction. Our last tour was a group of apartments built by the Koreans which are considered to be the best built in the city.
I had a chance for a two hour rest in the hotel before Rachel and Tekeste took me to dinner. Tekeste recommend the fish special and it was delicious. We had a great conversation about the country and the tourist attractions. Tekeste is president of the counties tourist association and has traveled to many countries. After dinner Tekeste drove me back to the hotel since he lived in the area of the Korean apartments just up the road from the hotel.
Wednesday, October 16, 2013: Tour Massawa, Eritrea and the Red Sea
We started our tour early, leaving the hotel at 07:00. The car and driver had changed and Rachel was dressed in a more modest dress. There are two routes between Asmara and Massawa. Tekeste has scheduled us to take the new smooth road to Massawa and return on the older road. I sat in from of the Toyota SUV so I could take pictures easily on the drive. The route took us north of the city and into the mountains. The road was very smooth and void of traffic. The reason for the lack of vehicles in either direction soon became apparent. After passing through two small villages we saw only animals on the road: herds of cows, sheep and goats with an occasional donkey or two we came upon the start of hair pin curves. I have seen and ridden numerous winding, hairpin curve roads in my travels but this seemed to be the extreme. We stopped about an hour out at a lookout point. I could see the switchbacks and curves but I also saw the road looking like the “Great Wall of China” since it had stone sides.
In three hours we reached the port of Massawa. Our first stop was at the Red Sea Resort of refreshments and a rest break. I had a cold apple drink while the driver had an espresso coffee.
Our next stop was the Northern Red Sea Regional Museum. Our driver left Rachel and I to tour the museum and drove off. When she and I climbed to the entrance on the second floor we found the door locked. Rachel called some people she knew and discovered the museum staff had gone to breakfast. She was able to get the driver to return and we rode off to see the bombed out buildings from the 30 year war between Ethiopia and Eritrea.
From 1952 to 1990, when Eritrea entered into a federation with Ethiopia, previously landlocked Ethiopia briefly enjoyed the use of Massawa as the headquarters of the now defunct Ethiopian Navy. Ultimately, Ethiopia dismantled the federation and forcibly annexed and occupied Eritrea. This led to the Eritrean War of Independence (1961–1991). In February 1990, units of the Eritrean People's Liberation Front captured Massawa in a surprise attack from both land and sea. Known as Operation Fenkil, the attack utilized both infiltrated commandos and speed boats. The success of this attack cut the major supply line to the Second Ethiopian Army in Asmara, which then had to be supplied by air. In response, the then leader of Ethiopia Mengistu Haile Mariam ordered Massawa bombed from the air, resulting in considerable damage.
The first building we stopped at was Haile Selassie’s former place by the sea. After his reign ended it became a government building and suffered the above mentioned bombing damage. From this building we rode around the sea port viewing many more bombed out buildings.
We stopped at the War Memorial Square which displays three damaged tanks from the liberation war. We then returned to the museum and found it open. The Northern Red Sea Museum was established in 2000 during the 10th anniversary of the liberation of Massawa. It consists of different sections including Natural History, Archeological, Ethnographic, Colonial Art and Military sections.
When I entered the first section was the Natural History Section. The Red Sea of Eritrea is endowed with more than 1000 species of fish, around 200 corals and about 800 different kinds of shells. There was a 45 foot long skeleton of a whale, a skeleton of a dugong and other samples of fishes, corals, shells, and sea turtles.
I then was routed to the Archeological Section. There they displayed The Northern Red Sea region as home for the first homo sapience. Artifacts displayed evidence that Buya. Adulis and Dahlak Islands are also places where remains stretching back to prehistory civilization where found. Included in the section were relics of around 1.2 million years old stone tools, and a large amount of fossilized bones of extinct animals. Different archeological findings from Adulis, ancient Arab calligraphic writings which are artistically engraved at tombs that include Holly scripts and details of the deceased were displayed.
Next was the Ethnographic Section. There I learned that of the nine ethnic groups of Eritrea, six are found in the Northern Red Sea region. The section, displays the household utensils, ornaments, traditional costumes, house decoration materials, traditional self-defense tools of all the six ethnic groups inhabiting in the region.
The Colonial Art Section displayed pictures of colonial buildings with Turkish, Egyptian and Italian architectural styles.
The last section was the Military Section. It displayed the hardware the EPLF fighters used to combat and route out the occupation army of Ethiopia. That part of the museum reflected the bitterness of the struggle for independence, the resilience and creativity of the liberation fighters, and the viciousness of enemy. I was fascinated with the details on the thirty year conflict with Ethiopia. When I signed the visitors book I was the first to sign since my fellow traveler, Pam signed it the previous week.
It was after noon when we exited the museum. We then rode out to the Hamassien Beach resort. A very large Resort Hotel stood uncompleted with a beautiful beach in front of it. We stopped at a small resort next door and walked to the beach. There was only had a hand full of bathers and under a canopy a group of elderly overweight woman. The resort didn’t serve lunch so we rode down the coast to the Gurussum Beach Hotel. On the way we drove past herds of camels. The beach at the Gurussum had a lot more activity with numerous sun bathers and swimmers. A young couple was riding a camel along the beach lead by its owner. (I wonder if takes care of cleaning up the camel poop.) When their ride came to an end and the camel was ordered to kneel to let them get off the young girl let out a scream of surprise as the camel suddenly kneeled. After the riders dismounted the owner tethered the camel by tying a rope around its neck and around one leg so when we left it was just standing there on three legs. Not a comfortable sight.
After having cool refreshment at the hotel we drove back to the city to a restaurant for lunch at the Luna Hotel. When we walked in the hotel’s cafe I noticed a man eating a plate of spaghetti. Since I was in an Italian influenced area I decided to order the same and it was delicious. Rachel and the driver had a traditional Ethiopian dish which the shared eating with pieces of the sponge like Ethiopian bread. They also ordered a mixed seafood plate which the three of us shared. It was a good meal.
After lunch we headed back to Asmara on the older road. We encountered more traffic, numerous trucks and rougher road surface. Along the way we drove by a Russian cargo plane that was being used as a restaurant. We stopped at a memorial for the Italians killed in 1887. It is on a hill just off the highway and is very well maintained.
About an hour out from Massawa we stopped in a small village to eat a fresh watermelon. The highway was winding but did not have as many neatly designed switch backs and hairpin cures as the newer highway we rode on in the morning. At one bend in the road with a steep hill to our right our SUV was showered with stone falling off the hill around the bend we saw the cause. A group of monkeys were swarming next to and on the road and many were scrambling up the hill dislodging small stones as the scampered after each other.
On the return to Asmara they drove me around the former Kagnew Station a radar and listing station during the cold war. It took over an Italian Military post in 1943 and housed US military until 1977.
Tekeste took me to dinner alone at the al Sicomoro Bar & Restaurant. He introduced me to the owner and chef. She was Italian and served a delicious fish dinner. Tekeste and I had some more frank discussions. He was guarded in his discussions and careful to not to criticize the government, especially the President. I did get the impression that the political situation in Eritrea is very complicated with the citizens not sure where the government is heading. On the way back to the hotel we stopped at a night club to see a dance show only to find the show had been cancelled and the mood of the club subdued because they had lost many friends in the capsizing of the boat of immigrants near Lampedusa. Many were from Eritrea. The following news article sums up the situation:
International news headlines over the last couple of days have been partly dominated by the tragedy of immigrants, mainly from Africa, dying en masse in a desperate bid to reach Europe.
Just over a week ago, a ship carrying immigrants from Libya en route to Italy capsized near the island of Lampedusa, killing at least 350 people. In the days following that incident, scores of more immigrants have died while hundreds have been rescued from boats heading to Lampedusa, Malta or Sicily in the Mediterranean Sea.
The Maltese prime minister captured the tragedy succinctly when he said the Mediterranean Sea was becoming a large cemetery for African immigrants. It is a big shame that Africans have to subject themselves to such extreme dangers in order to reach Europe, which many believe is the biblical Promised Land.
It's, indeed, a statement about how bad their living conditions are at home, that they must consider such a dangerous option. Apart from countries like Somalia and Syria, where the security situation has been understandably generating refugees, there is no reasonable explanation why a country should produce so many refugees other than mismanagement by such a country's leaders.
One of the countries with a large representation at Lampedusa is apparently Eritrea, whose citizens appear to be in a hurry to leave every time an opportunity presents itself. Yet this is not about Eritrea, as many Ugandans would jump at the opportunity to leave as well.
What is more straightforward, though, is the direct relationship between bad governance, poverty and insecurity, and a strong desire to flee one's country no matter the risks involved. Thus a country's high propensity to generate desperate immigrants says something negative about its leadership.
The head of a home whose children are always looking out for the easiest opportunity to escape is a failed parent. Similarly, the leader of a country whose citizens would rather die on cold foreign seas than stay at home is a failed leader.
Unfortunately Africa has too many of the latter, which is such a shame and a tragedy. Yet the bigger tragedy is that they won't admit their failures and step aside but they, rather, hang onto their jobs endlessly.
Thursday, October 17, 2013: Fly Asmara, Eritrea to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia via Cairo, Egypt
I was scheduled to take the hotel shuttle bus to the airport with a group of others but one of the men in the group did not check-out on time so the hotel airport greeter drove me solo to the terminal and assisted with my check-in.
Check-in was a little bit of a hassle because the check-in station’s printer ran out of paper. It was an old dot-matrix printer and the agents had trouble re-loading the paper. They moved my passport and ticket to another station and in the process they didn’t give me back my Star Alliance Gold Card and didn’t show me my baggage tag. I was assigned a Business Class seat. I had to pay a $20 Airport Departure fee and then process out at Immigration and Security. Just as I was exiting the Immigration station one of the agents ran up to me with my Gold Card. Since the group from the hotel didn’t leave with me I was solo through all the processing with no waits at any station. It was nice to breeze through like that. While waiting to board the bus that would take us to the aircraft I crossed checked my paperwork and discovered that they hadn’t entered my Mileage Plus number and I couldn’t find the baggage claim. One of the Gate Agents pulled up my record on his computer and entered the number. He also showed me that they had affixed the baggage tag on the back of my e-ticket which was folded so I didn’t see it.
I was assigned to row 9 aisle seat but there were no rows 1 through 7 on the A-320-200 so I was very close to the front. I had no one sitting next to me. Egypt Air served a hot breakfast in Business Class on the two and one half hour flight. When we arrived in Cairo I was the first passenger off and after a long walk arrived in the Immigration area and discovered I had to purchase an entry visa at one of bank counters that lined the back of the arrivals hall. A flight from Dubai had just arrived so it took me a little time to pass through Immigration and therefore I arrived at the baggage carousel just as my bag was coming through the wall.
Customs x-rayed my bags as I exited. A representative from the Airport Tour agency was hounding me to schedule a tour with his agency. He followed me out to the Arrivals Hall. I wanted to learn what the options were to visit Gaza so I went with him to the Tour Desk. There I was turned over to the manager. He told me that his company didn’t have tours along the coast road of the Sinai but did arrange flights to the sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh on the south tip of the Sinai. I thanked him for the information and proceeded out the building to catch the Novotel Hotel shuttle bus.
At the hotel I had a problem at check-in. My reservation was for the previous day so I could immediately get a room when I arrived at 06:30. The clerk was looking for a reservation starting the 17th instead of the 16th. Once I pointed that out the clerk then had a problem with who was going to pay for the room. I told them it was paid by UTS. They had the UTS American Express card holding the reservation on file. I received my room key and went to the room. Since breakfast was included and I had eaten on the plane I waited until almost 10:00 to eat so it would serve as my lunch. When I went down the desk clerk approached me to tell me they couldn’t use the UTS card to pay for the room. I gave them my card, ate a meal and returned to my room to send an email to UTS.
I spent the day catching up on email and writing in my journal. I took an afternoon nap and checked out at 18:30 to take the 19:00 shuttle to the airport with the plan to use the Star Alliance lounge food for dinner.
I was the only passenger on the shuttle bus. I was hounded at the Departure Terminal my men wanting to assist me checking-in. They were very annoyed when I refused their assistance. I know they need to make a buck and with the lack of tourist visiting Egypt they are in need. But, I needed to carefully budget my cash to pay for hotels in the countries that don’t honor credit cards or have ATM terminals. Again the lines were very short at Immigration and they don’t have a security check right after Immigration like most airports do. Rather each gate has security checks.
Egypt Air has many Star Alliance lounges located throughout the airport. The first one I entered on the way to my gate told me to use one closer to my gate. When I entered the one near my gate I was the only passenger in the lounge. Their meal was soup, sliced meat in a bun, hot mixed vegetables, rice and a chicken stew. One I picked one of buns the lone attendant offered to heat it so I put in a slice of cheese.
I was able to connect up and use Wi-Fi to call Judy. UTS responded that the hotel had the CC for their American Express card and should have used it. Klaus was going to contact the hotel and get them to reverse the charge on my card.
When time came to go to the gate I packed up and stuffed everything from my pants pockets into my travel vest so I could pass through security without too much hassle since my knee always sets off the alarm. At the gate there was already a line and first they took our board pass and then lined up for the security check. A did my cross check before entering security and couldn’t find my cell phone. Panic, I told the agent and he let me leave. When I returned to my seat in the lounge it was not there so I dumped everything from my vest pockets and found it. By the time I returned to the gate the line was empty and I thought I would breeze through the security check but they questioned the two small flashlights in my vest. I carry one in my pants pocket on flights and the other is on a lanyard in the travel vest. After showing them that each one worked they let me keep them.
They used an air bridge to the aircraft. I was in the second row of Economy and it was a full flight with a lot of problems with overhead luggage. Next to me was the most interesting seat mate; Saleh M.A. Sahboun an Ambassador in the League of Arab States. He is a Libyan and a career Foreign Service Officer and knows all the Libyan diplomats. He had just left Tripoli and thought that things had calmed down and encouraged me to visit saying the media press have blown the situation out of proportion. Although a career diplomat he was not a favorite of Gadhafi and sided with the rebels. He also is a classic car owner and active in his countries classic car associations. When I told him about the MG-TD owner I met that still displays the Libyan license plates on his MG which he purchase while stationed in Libya he was fascinated and wants me to see if the guy still owns the car and license plates and would be willing to sell either or both. He gave me his business card.
Friday, October 18, 2013: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Since Business Class on my flight was not fully booked and I was in the second row of Economy class I was one of the first off the plane when we arrived at the Addis Ababa Airport. I had to purchase a visa before processing at Immigration. I was surprised that I did not have fill out an entry card like they had required last year when I flew in and out of Addis Ababa so many times.
There was no line at Immigration and I processed quickly and didn’t have to wait very long for my bag. Customs x-rayed my bag again and then I exited arrivals. The Addis Ababa airport arrivals hall is lined with small offices for the hotels in the city. When I found the Harmony Hotel office there was no one there. A young lady called out the name of the Harmony Greeter thinking he was sleeping under the counter out of sight but no one appeared. She then helped me find a taxi to take me to the hotel for $15. The taxi driver wanted me to give him an extra tip but I told him to wait until I was safely at the hotel with all my bags. When we got to the hotel several ladies of the night were exiting and wanted a taxi so the driver was happy that he was picking up a quick fare and didn’t wait for me to give him a tip.
The hotel reservationist could not find my reservation on her computer. I waited a long time as they searched file cabinets looking for the reservation. I mentioned that I was also going to stay on November 8th and they found that reservation on another computer and then my current one on that computer and not on the check-in computer. Weird system! They couldn’t issue a key on the computer and told me the bell boy would unlock my room and to return at 08:00 to get my key. When we arrived at the assigned room we found that it had not been cleaned so the ball boy called the front desk and I was assigned the room at the end of the hall. It turned out to be very large and included a small kitchen. They had also told me that Wi-Fi was only available in the lobby but the rooms had Internet cables. I connected my cell phone in the lobby and was surprised to find it worked in my room. Apparently the large rooms have a modem in additional to the cable.
Having Wi-Fi was great because I was able to listen to the last few innings of the Red Sox – Tiger game which put the Red Sox ahead in the best of seven series with just one more win needed to go to the World Series.
After the game I went to breakfast, obtained the key to my room and returned to get some sleep. I awoke about 13:00, showered and went for a walk. As I was leaving the hotel one of the staff was leaving at the same time. He struck up a conversation and I told him I was looking for some shaving cream. He lead me to Super Market but they didn’t have what I was looking for so we crossed the street to a Pharmacy and again they didn’t have the small aerosol cans of shaving cream I was looking for. The next building had a row of cell phone stores so I entered each one to see if I could find a different style carrying case for my Samsung Galaxy 4 but none of the stores had one.
The hotel worker was still with me and told me it was a holiday and if I would like to see a native dance at a place he knew a block away. I said sure and he led the way to house full of young girls. It was a massage and brothel and he was very surprised when I left. That was not the trap I wanted to fall in.
Walking around Addis Ababa I saw a huge contrast between it and Asmara. Addis Ababa had a lot of construction, especially in the hotel area where I was walking. It was dirty and many of the side streets were full of pot holes. This not the area I saw much of on my city tours last year when I was fly out of Addis Ababa to South Sudan, Somaliland and Djibouti.
Back in the hotel I wrote in my journal and had the buffet dinner at the hotel for $15. It was a very reasonable price but I have not taken a liking to the food and didn’t eat much.
Saturday, October 19, 2013: Fly Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to Bangui, CAR via Douala, Cameroon
I had a 09:00 scheduled departure so I ate breakfast at 06:30 and took the hotel shuttle bus to the airport at 07:00. I was flying on Ethiopian Airlines which is a member of Star Alliance so I was able to use my Gold Star status to check-in at the Business Class desk, pass through Passport Control in a special line, relax for a while in the Cloud 9 Lounge and` board the plane with the Business Class passengers.
I had an aisle seat mid plane with two sisters sitting next to me. I got a lot of reading done on the four hour flight. The two sisters were boozing, one on wine the other on beer and they were constantly going to the rest room. The flight took a little over four hours and when we landed at Douala, Cameroon the chaos began. First there is no signage in the airport. There were Gate Agents checking the boarding pass for everyone to make sure that people on the flight who were going on to the aircraft’s next destination didn’t get off. Of course several people did and were told to return to the aircraft causing a bottle neck on the sky bridge with people and their hand luggage trying to pass in both directions. Next when I asked for the transfer desk they told me there wasn’t any and that I had to exit the arrivals hall and enter the departure hall to obtain a boarding pass.
I started walking the long corridors looking for a sign to direct me to baggage claim or Immigration. When I finally found Immigration I showed them my passport and told them I was transit. The Immigration Agent handed my passport, entry card and e-ticket to a woman to take it get a visa. I was protesting and repeating that I was transit when a young man came up and offered to help. He retrieved my paper work and led me to baggage claim. When I told him that my bag was checked through he led me out side and back in to the check-in area. My paperwork was checked and I was sent to a check-in agent who issued me a boarding pass. I then had to have my carry-on weighted. The guy doing the weight check was in an argument with a gentleman whose bag was overweight and I was concerned that mind would also be but I came in two pounds under weight. Then my friendly helper started to hit me up money wanting $25 for the guy who weighted my carry-on and $25 for himself. I gave him $20 for both and went on my way.
When I got to the assigned gate they directed me to wait at another gate because the Ethiopian Flight was still loading. Once they loaded the aircraft they told us to enter our assigned gate were we had to pass through security and wait for departure. There was a young lady that had sat across the aisle from me on the flight from Addis Ababa who was also transferring in Douala to Bangui. We struck up a conversation in the waiting room. She lives in Egypt working for the Catholic Relief Organization and is married to an Eritrean. She experienced the same scam that I experienced getting her Bangui boarding pass. She told me that day-to-day life in Egypt was not as bad as it is described in the media. She is also working on relief in Syria which se says is bad.
Eventually they processed us and we had to go down a set of stairs and cross the ramp to our TAGG (Angola) B-737-700. I was assigned the next to the last row on the aircraft with no one else sitting next me. The flight was only 1:30 and I was one of the last off the plane. We were bussed to the terminal and all the doorways were packed and people were not moving into the middle of the bus to let the last of us on. I noticed that there were open doors on the opposite side of the bus so I went around and found I could easily get in. The irony was the side I was on was the side facing the terminal when we stopped so I was the first off. We had to fill out an Arrival form before going to Immigration. My visa was in order so I passed through.
Again this was a terminal with no signs and I wandered up the wrong hallway looking for baggage. I don’t understand the lack of signs in these airports. After retrieving my bag I was stopped for a bag check. I put the bag on a counter and started to unlock it when the baggage check lady stopped me and marked my bag as being processed.
When I exited the baggage claim hall I ran into chaos again with no signs and do one authority looking that I could get information on getting transportation to the hotel. One man approached me and asked if I needed a taxi. I told him I was looking for a shuttle bus to the hotel. He replied that I needed to take a taxi. I said OK where do I queue up for a taxi? He told me would show me and the next thing I new he had loaded my bags in the back seat of a dilapidated taxi. I asked him what the fare would be and he quoted a price in the local currency. I ask what that would be in dollars and just then he had some of his buddies pus the cab to get started and we roared to life and was exiting the lot I kept pressing on the price and he wrote $100 on a piece of paper I told him no way and to return to the terminal. He then wrote $50 on another piece of paper and I told him $10. And away we went. It seemed to be a long drive and he was pointing out the sights of the city. When I question how much longer and the sun was setting he finally said he would show me my hotel but take me to a much cheaper hotel. I told him no way and we arrived at the beautiful 5 star hotel with a long entrance. It reminded me of a smaller size of the Kempinski hotel in Djibouti bathed in white and gold trim.
We entered the security gate a drove up to the entrance where there were three bell hops I hopped out of the taxi and asked one of the bellman what was the standard fare from the airport. He was not answering so I suspected he didn’t understand English so I rushed into the lobby and asked the desk clerk. His reply was “What is the problem?” I told him I wanted a simple answer. By then the bellman had my bags and the cab driver had entered the lobby and the manager hearing the commotion arrived. I told them the cabbie wanted to charge $100 and cut it to $50. An important looking man that had just checked in started to chew out the cabbie and the cabbie was yelling and everyone else was yelling and I was say I just wanted to pay him just compensation. He told them he had taken me on a city tour fore which I replied that I hadn’t asked for it and would only pay the normal fare between the hotel and the airport.
He was still upset and then I heard that they were going to report him to the police and he left the lobby with hotel security while I continued to check in. A short time later the manager returned and told me $20 would be fair and the matter was settled.
After settling in my room which is in a row of rooms entering out to one of the largest pools I have seen I returned to the main building for dinner. The dining room was serving a buffet for $35 and I didn’t like the choices so I went to the bar where I ordered a cheeseburger and a beer and even that cost $25 including tip but it was a huge cheeseburger and I only ate half and had the rest boxed up for the next night.
I set my alarm for 01:00 to wake up to listen to the Red Sox – Tigers playoff game and went to bed at 21:00.
Sunday, October 20, 2013: Bangui, Central African Republic
At 01:00 my alarm woke me and I turned on the TV to see if they were broadcasting the game on any channel but no luck so I tuned in WEEI on my cell phone and listened to the game which ended at 05:00 with the Red Sox winning the American League Pennant and will play St. Louis in the World Series. I was able to finish the Eritrea Tour blog and emailed it out to my travel friends.
The hotel found an English speaking tour guide named Michael and I met with him to discuss options for a tour that day. I trip to a Pygmy village would take all day and be very expensive since I don’t have anyone to share the cost of the car, driver and guide. Another option was to visit the water falls which would take less time but still cost almost as much since the three costs are for the day. A third option is for a taxi on an hourly rate to tour the city which I had already done without my asking for it on the ride from the airport the night before.
I was going to go with the third option when the wind started to blow very hard. Michael told me that it appeared a big storm was forecast. I decided that it was not worth it to drive around the area in a rain storm and we concluded our discussion with his taking me to the airport in the morning and providing a mini tour on the way. His English was very easy to understand so we agreed. Shortly after he left the sky opened up and really poured rain for several hours.
In the evening I took the half eaten cheeseburger from the room refrigerator to the bar and had them heat it up and ordered a beer. It was still delicious except the French fries were a little soggy. I really enjoyed drinking the “33” Beer and a dish of peanuts which is what was served as the local beer in Viet Nam during my tour. I used to practice using chop sticks by drinking beer and picking up one peanut at a time while getting drunk waiting for a rain storm to stop so I could return to the base in an open motorized rickshaw. Since the passenger sat in front it was not a fun experience to ride in the rain.
Since I had only a few hours’ sleep the night before, I turned in early.
Monday, October 21, 2013: Fly to Douala, Cameroon
I awoke at 05:00 and Michael knocked on my door at 06:00 to take me to the airport for an 08:10 departure. When I checked out there was a VIP checking out. It looked right out of a movie setting. He was standing at the top of the stairs talking on a cell in this ornate hotel lobby with a group of men in black sort of lined up on both sides and a row of new black cars at the bottom of the stairs. Michael called his driver and we piled in this older taxi. I wish I had been able to get an aerial shot of the scene.
Michael was able to provide commentary on the monuments, buildings and sights on the way to the airport. We had a long wait to get through the airport vehicle check point manned by heavily armed French troops. Once inside the airport it was chaotic. There were a number of check-in counters but no signs as to which airline of flight to use. We were in one line for a few minutes when Michael was able to find an agent with the airline (ASKY) I was scheduled to fly on and she directed us to another counter. The queues were not orderly and getting the bag to the scale for a tag and then leaving the counter involved a lot of bumping of people. Michael left and I headed for what appeared to be the Departure door and was told at the door I needed to pay a Departure Tax and to stand in another line. I paid $25 and returned to the door where my paperwork was checked and I stood until the line at the security x-ray machine subsided. Security had me remove my laptop but I kept my shoes on and didn’t set off an alarm when I walked through the magnetometer. Even though they x-rayed my carry on I still had to have a visual bag check which I passed and the agent asked for money. I pretended that I didn’t understand and departed for the waiting room.
We were bussed to our aircraft, a DHC Dash 8 commuter airline. I was assigned an aisle seat but my seatmate sort of indicated he wanted to sit there so I took the window seat. They served a breakfast consisting of a long roll, two small buns with meat and a small dish of fruit on the 2 hour flight.
When we landed at Douala we had to walk across the ramp and climb the same stairs I had used to board the flight to Bangui two days earlier. I know knew where to go I thought since I had just been there. This was an airport with no signs. I had to fill out an Arrival form and then presented my passport to a woman in a booth. She asked me if I was transit and I told her I was leaving in the morning. She handed back my passport and told me to wait for a policeman that would get me a Transit Visa. A small crowd waited for a while and then someone complained and soon a Policeman arrived. He told us we had to get a Xerox copy of our ongoing e-ticket. Fortunately I had an extra copy of my ticket but I had to wait while the others came back from where ever the copy machine was located before he would release us to get our luggage and then proceed to the Police Station. That required exiting the building and then entering the Check-in hall and the Departure hall. Along the way a man in a uniform started to guide us past the check points and finally I arrived at the Police Office and the Policeman with my paperwork arrived from another direction. I was told to wait with a couple from Doctors Without Borders. They were based in Amsterdam and were departing on the evening flight to Paris.
Once we were issued our free transit visa we headed for the taxi stand. The couple asked men where I was staying since they wanted to rest up before their evening flight. This time I was smarter about getting a taxi and only would talk to men in a bright vest with airport taxi lettered on it.
I was dropped at my hotel ibis near the center of the city and as I was waiting to register the doctors arrived and decided the price was right to stay at the same hotel. The ibis hotels are not the top of the line in the Accor chain of hotels which includes the Novotel hotels which are a grade up from the ibis. For a layover the room was all right and the Wi-Fi strong.
After unpacking I setup my laptop and “Googled” the city to see what sights were recommended. The only one I found was the cathedral. I went to for a walk and found the city to be crowded, busy, dirty without decent sidewalks and not a pleasant city to walk around. I did see the cathedral which was large but other than the part area it was not a city to visit. I had been here on a cruise in 2006 but took a tour to the country side for the day and didn’t spent any time in the city.
I was able to have a nice clear phone call over Vonage with Judy, wrote in my journal and retired by 22:00.
Tuesday, October 22, 2013: Fly to Bata, Equatorial Guinea via Malabo, Equatorial Guinea
I got a good night’s sleep because my flight to Malabo, Equatorial Guinea was not scheduled until 12:30. When I went to breakfast I discovered that it had rained very heavy and was still lightly raining. Before breakfast I checked with the man at the front desk to see if they had found that UTS had indeed pre-paid for my room. He replied that it had been taken care of. After breakfast the front desk was staffed with a woman who I asked to call Ethiopian Airlines to check the status of my flight. She refused claiming she did not have their phone number and suggested that I walk to their office several blocks away and ask them myself. I have never had a hotel desk clerk respond that way.
I returned to my room to access the Ethiopian Airline web site and get the number of the local office. When I found the number I saw that they didn’t open until 08:30 and it was then 08:00. I checked their flight status page and at first it said there was no status and it was past the departure time. After a few minutes the status changed and the flight had departed five minutes late and was due to land in Douala at 11:35.
At 09:30 I checked out of the hotel and was told by a female desk agent that I owed fee. I was confused and protested. She produced a copy of an email that clearly listed a visa card with the last 4 that were not mine and the name Billep. I asked her “what was the problem?” and she said she needed authorization from Paris to charge the room to that card and the manager in Paris had stepped out. She had a copy of my credit card and I gave her my email address even though she already had it since I am a member of their Affinity Club and they have my profile on file. She would email me if they had to use my card.
The ibis hotel has a free shuttle bus to and from the airport. I wish I had searched it out when I arrived but anyway they drove me to the airport. Check in went smooth because I could use their Star Alliance Gold counter. After I received my boarding pass and luggage tag I had to wind through the terminal with its minimal signage. They could use the help of an outside consultant to reorganize the flows and paths that passengers need to follow in their airport. When you do get to the right room and kiosk they check and double check your passport and boarding pass. That is the check that any old person doesn’t wander into areas where they should not be.
I knew where my departure gate was located and was one of the first to arrive. Even though my carry on was x-rayed they performed a manual search of the bag. Again they could use an efficiency expert to review the whole passenger experience. In the waiting area I was able to get a lot of reading done before they loaded the plane. Star Alliance Gold members should have a Green sticker on their boarding pass but I had a yellow and had to show the agent my card to get processed ahead of the mob.
The flight from Douala to Malabo was scheduled to depart at 12:30 and took only thirty minutes. We boarded a little late and pushed back from the gate at 13:00. We were in the middle of the safety video when the power went dead. The aircraft suffered some sort of electrical failure. After a few minutes the pilot came over the speaker requesting the technician report to the cockpit. I guess they travel with mechanics on their flights around Africa. I know we did in the military when we flew out of the country.
We were pulled back to the gate and the doors opened to let in fresh air. It took an hour to fix and test whatever was wrong. I was an hour and forty minutes late arriving in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea and missed my scheduled connection to Bata, Equatorial Guinea. In addition I had to purchase the ticket in Malabo since Cronos Airlines does not sell tickets over the internet or through the travel agents ticking services.
No visa was required to enter the country but we did have to have our passport checked, picture taken and finger prints recorded when we arrived. That process took the time it took to deliver my bag to the carousel. Great timing, I started to rush out of baggage claim when I was stopped and had to have my bags physically searched. Next I exited the Arrival Hall and was hounded by taxi drivers and I needed to find the Departure Hall to purchase my flight to Bata and back. When I did enter the hall there was no sign for Cronos Airlines and it took asking several people before someone led me through a back hall to a row of airline offices and the one with a crowd was the Cronos office. I looked anxious and was perspiring in the heat when a woman asked me my situation. When I told her I was trying to purchase a ticket on the 16:00 flight to Bata she told me it was too late but there was a 19:00 flight and I had plenty of time to purchase my ticket for that flight. When my turn came up and with a little bit of translation and my writing out what I wanted the agent told me it would be 85,000 XAF round trip but he could only take Central African Francs. I asked where I could exchange money and he pointed to a woman in the room who exchanged my $200 for XAF, paid my fare and gave me 10,000 XAF in change.
With ticket in hand I returned to the check-in lobby and looked for a sign indicating Cronos Airlines. Of course there wasn’t one but I did see one of the people that had bought a ticket ahead of me standing at a counter. I got in that line just in time as 50 Chinese or Koreans arrived to check in. When I loaded my bag on the scale I was handed a bill for 1,000 XAF ($2) which I had to pay back in the office where I had purchased the ticket. I rushed back, paid the agent with a 5,000 note, he stamped my bill and gave me change and I rushed back to retrieve my passport, boarding pass and return tick. The check-in counters were jammed with the Oriental’s and their luggage. I ducked under a barrier to buck the line to retrieve my paperwork with a guard after me telling me I had to stand at the end of the line of Orientals. The check-in agent saved me by passing me my paper work and I ducked back under the barrier and was on my way to get processed again at passport control and security.
The boarding pass was a little confusing. I could see from the waiting room that our aircraft was an Airbus 310 or 320 but my seat assignment read 22K. Narrow body aircraft generally use ABC DEF seat assignments. To have a “K” seat would be unusual lettering. When we boarded and I started down the aisle I asked a flight attendant where K seats were and she laughed and told me it was open seating. I sat down in 10C but when the Orientals came on board they wanted to sit in their assigned seats and one of them had 10C so I moved back to row 22 and sat on the aisle. We boarded in daylight but the sun quickly set and we took off in the dark for a thirty minute flight to Bata.
At the airport in Bata same country as Malabo we had to go through the same processing: passport check, finger prints and photo. Although the lines to process were long the arrival of the luggage took even longer – one hour after we landed the first bags were delivered to the carousel. Yes, it took twice the time that it took to fly there.
I took a taxi to the hotel for 5,000 XAF ($10). The roads were relatively smooth but had a lot of speed bumps. There were street lights and sidewalks but most of the way there were high walls on each side of the road and in some area the streets were full of water up to the hub caps. The center of the city was colorfully lit. The main sight was the 223 foot high Freedom Tower, the new symbol of Bata. It was built along with a new stadium for the Cup of African Nations 2012 which part of was held in Equatorial Guinea. From a distance it forms the shape of two letter “A”s at right angles. It is constructed of four triangles holding up the tower which had the counties coat of arms displayed on the square tower below a spire. Just below the joining of the four triangles is a circular restaurant. The shape of the Freedom Tower is similar to the restaurant in the center of Los Angeles International Airport. Each triangle was brightly lit and with the golden glow from the restaurant it was an impressive sight to see.
A beautiful promenade rings the ocean front. My hotel was another ibis located along the promenade. The Bata ibis was newer, the room layout similar but the bathroom was smaller than the Douala ibis. It had good free Wi-Fi in the room and the lobby.
I had a late meal and was not able to pay with a credit card. They could not process the swipe style of US credit cards at the bar. They could only process the European style chip imbedded cards.
Wednesday, October 23, 2013: Tour Bata, Equatorial Guinea and fly to Malabo, Equatorial Guinea
It was a beautiful sunny day for a tour of Bata. After breakfast I tried to arrange for an English speaking guide but the hotel could not find one so I took off walking.
A little background on the country:
Equatorial Guinea gained independence in 1968 after 190 years of Spanish rule. President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo has ruled the country since 1979 when he seized power in a coup. The previous government led by Macías Nguema led a near-genocide of the country's Bubi minority, and tried to replace them with his own Fang tribe.
The president exerts almost total control over the political system and has discouraged political opposition. Equatorial Guinea has experienced rapid economic growth due to the discovery of large offshore oil reserves, and in the last decade has become Sub-Saharan Africa's third largest oil exporter. Despite the country's economic windfall from oil production resulting in a massive increase in government revenue in recent years, improvements in the population's living standards have been slow to develop.
It appears that the country is spending money on infrastructure. As I walked along the promenade I saw a lot of construction, improvements of the road and the promenade which is one of the most impressive promenades I have ever seen. What I found interesting is that Google maps does not display the promenade in map or satellite mode so I couldn’t accurately track my walk on my smart phone. It took me a half hour to reach the tower and I was disappointed that the four entrances were chained closed. Across from the tower were three identical building on an arc facing the tower and the sea beyond the tower. They were occupied by the police, the post office and the department of education. I entered each building trying to find someone who spoke English. It wasn’t until I was exiting the Department of Education that I found someone that could tell me that the tower opens after 14:00. That killed my plan to have lunch at the tower since I had to check out of the hotel at 14:00.
My next quest was to exchange money. I walked a different route back to the hotel and stopped at several banks and a super market with no luck. The city is beautiful with pristine white sandy beaches just out of town but it is not set up for tourists.
At the super market I was able to converse with the manager who was Indian. He confirmed my observation.
When I reached the hotel after my walk I was soaking wet and it felt good to sit in the air conditioned dining room and have a cold beer and a Nicoise Salad for lunch. After lunch I returned to my room, put on a dry shirt and packed.
When I checked out they were able to process my swipe credit card but they charged me extra for late checkout even though they had told me that as an Accor Hotels Club member I had until 14:00 to check out. There was then a little learning experience as two desk agents and the supervisor looked for, found and followed the check list on how to reverse a charge on their hand held machine. Eventually they got the bill correct.
I then had several hours to kill before leaving for the airport for at 19:00 flight. There was a table in an area off the lobby with a row of power outlets where I was able to setup my laptop and charge my smart phone.
I had the hotel call a cab at 17:00. There was a gate to the highway in front of the hotel and parking lots at either end. The north lot was where I was dropped off by the taxi when I arrived but it can’t be seen from the lobby. I asked them if I should wait in the lot and the desk agents told me to wait in the lobby and the cab driver would come in and get me. By 17:30 the driver had not arrived so I asked the desk agent to check. She called and found that the taxi had been sitting in the lot wait for me. What a bunch!
The “taxi” had no taxi sign and was backed up to the luggage ramp. I member of the hotel staff opened the truck of the car and we put my bags in. The driver never got out of the car. The only words he uttered were “aeropuerto”? I replied “yes”, and away we went plodding along with cars whizzing by us. Even at his slow pace it didn’t take long to reach the airport. He didn’t get out of the car, I opened the trunk, retrieved my bags, reached in and gave him a $10 and wheeled my bags into the terminal. Check in was simple and they didn’t charge a fee for my bag being 1 kilo over weight like that had at Malabo.
With ticket in hand the next stop was the Border Police booths for document check. Three agents were working and I lined up on the left side. When the woman in front of me finally reached the window the agent informed her he was going on break. I slid over to my right at the end of that line and let the lady get in front of me. Then something happened on the line to my right and the no one step forward when the agent was free to take the paperwork so I slid over there and was quickly processed.
There was no bag check but I was given a quick pat down before entering the gate area. The room was pretty full as departure time approach but when the agents opened the door to process passengers I was one of the first to notice and one of the first to be processed. I walked across the ramp to the same aircraft that I had flown in on the night before and when I entered the plane the flight attendants recognized me. We chatted briefly. They were contractors from all over Europe. The tall one was from Estonia and she told me to sit in row 3. The first three rows were blocked off. It was open seating and as others arrived the flight attendant would not let them sit on my side of the aisle in the other row three seats until a businessman arrived. She directed him to sit in my row. The last people on board were a man with a young man that was mentally and physically impaired. They were seated in row two.
The attendants handed out bottles of water and gave me a couple of extras which came in handy since not all hotels provide free bottled water in their rooms and the small bottles they were handing out fit in my luggage very nicely.
On arrival in Malabo I was one of the first off after the man and boy who then waited for a wheel chair at the sky bridge doorway. I breezed through Border Police and obtained a cart before the locals grabbed them all to assist passengers. It took a while for my bag to get on the carousel but there was no bag check leaving the baggage claim. Outside I was mobbed by taxi drivers and I selected one that spoke a little English. It turned out he was parked close but didn’t have a Taxi sign. We loaded the bags in the truck and off we went. He was in a hurry. The roads were smooth and well lit and soon we entered a six lane divided highway lined with Oil Company and Contractor new high rise buildings on both sides of the highway. The lights were even closer together than the airport road.
The ibis Hotel was new and similar in design to the Bata ibis. My room was almost identical with the only difference being the location of the safe and a shelf in the shower stall. It was after 21:00 and the World Series game was scheduled to start at 00:30 so I had a quick meal of a tuna baguette and retired to wake at 00:30.
I was glad that I went through the trouble to visit Bata. I consider it a hidden gem and highly recommend for a visit. When I googled it I read reports that it was difficult to visit. I found that no visa was required and that foreign travelers process to be straight forward: ID check, finger print (digitally) and a picture recorded.
Thursday, October 24, 2013: Tour Malabo, Equatorial Guinea
I awoke at 00:30 and discovered that the sports channel was carrying a soccer match – no World Series on TV in this country. I tuned into WEEI to listen to the game on my smart phone. The Wi-Fi was “Fair” (two to three bars) in the room and the connections keep dropping. I missed the bottom half of the first inning and the connection returned in the bottom half of the second inning when Beltran robbed Ortiz of a grand slam home run. The station would come and go and I missed the end of the game and fell back to sleep. When I awoke at 08:00 I was able to get a connection and learned that the Cardinals finally did score in the ninth but it was an overwhelming victory for the Red Sox. Someday I hope to see a replay of the first two inning scoring.
I had breakfast and the internet was faster in the lobby. Robin sent out a message revising her travel schedule and inviting us to spend Thanksgiving in Montclair. I was able to check flights schedules in the lobby and forward the information to Judy for her desires on date and time.
It rained in the morning when I wanted to tour the island but afternoon it stopped and didn’t look too threatening. I asked the Desk Agent if she could set up a tour with an English speaking driver. She didn’t understand and got Suzann an English speaking Manager from the back office to assist. Suzann told me she had someone they use on a regular basis and she would call him. It was then after 13:00 so I ordered a sandwich and a coke. The waitress didn’t seem to fully understand my order. Twice she came back to confirm after delivering the coke. Then the Suzann came over and confirmed my order. She was relaying the order to the cooks when the Desk Agent informed me the tour guide had arrived. I told the Suzann to stop the order and charge the coke to my room. She understood and was happy the tour guide had responded to her request. I carried the coke to my room and gathered my day pack bag, threw in my raincoat and returned for my tour.
The drive/guide was named Carlos and I easily understood him. To understand what I was about to tour I had read the following description of the city:
Malabo is located just off the mainland on Bioko Island. It's an oil town these days, with some high end, expensive hotels and lots of oil platforms dotted around the harbor. Because of the oil industry, Malabo is a fairly cosmopolitan city and there are plenty of restaurants and bars to enjoy especially along the main street in town, Ave de la Independencia.
What Carlos explained to me was there was a massive buildup in infrastructure for the January 2012 Africa Cup of Nations. The change has not been reflected in descriptions of the country and the cities in the tourist guides. What I found is vastly different than the description I had read before coming to the country.
Our first stop was to visit a Super Market where I needed to purchase a can of shaving cream and Carlos needed to visit the W.C. The market was void of customers but had plenty of goods on the shelves. Carlos explained that it was lunch time and the people would be eating at home and the shops would not be busy until after 14:00. We then drove to an area under construction where a massive promenade was being constructed that would ring the bay. When finished it would be wider and possible more beautiful than the promenade in Bata. Carlos explained that this is typical of how the government is spending the oil revenues. We walked around this area and I was impressed.
Next we rode the six lane toll road (fee not collected) out to Sipopo, a luxurious area with a gated community of huge homes; a Beach Club with kayaks and speed boats moored off a beautiful beach, waiting for the week or better weather; the Parliament building; a golf course and a Sofitel Hotel. There was very little traffic, people or activity. On the way back to the city I caught Carlos closing his eyes and had to nudge the steering wheel to steer the car back to the center of the lane. He quickly apologized and mentioned how quiet it was out in this new area. As we got closer to the city we passed rows of new apartment buildings. Those still under construction were being built by China Dalian.
We approached the city from the east and initially we were in the old section and poorest section of the city. It still was not as poor looking as other African cities. The streets were void of pot holes and were clean. We saw trash being collected and it supported our observations in Africa that the Christian countries are cleaner than the Muslim countries. I relayed that theory to Carlos, he agreed and told me that he was religious, opened the glove box and showed me the Bible he reads every day. The old city section had a number of buildings built by the Spanish. The electrical wiring strung on poles to the various rooms in the buildings was an unbelievable sight. I don’t remember seeing such a mess since the back streets in Beijing.
We rode closer to the Presidential compound and the buildings were still last century Spanish built but a little neater. The President’s Palace was impressive in an area not far from the Cathedral of Santa Teresa, a massive structure with twin steeples in gothic style architecture. We did turn down one street where the houses were built in the Spanish style. Soon we came upon the back side of the hotel and the tour was over.
It was totally not what I expected after reading reviews of the city. The reviews are years out of date as is Google maps. The country has changed dramatically in the last few years spurred on by co-hosting the African Cup of Nations. I am glad I finally got to visit it.
I received the date and times from Judy and made the reservations. It extends my trip another 6 days to a total of 43 days before I can fully unpack and read my snail mail.
Since there was another World Series game tonight I ate early. Suzann asked about my tour. She recently transferred from the Douala ibis to Malabo ibis and she learned to speak English in Cameroon. She was very helpful in sorting out my orders and bills. French and Spanish are taught in the schools so to find someone that is fluent in English it is usually someone from another country or who was schooled in another country. Most of the hotel guests were speaking English around the hotel but few of the wait staff had a clue.
I turned in early so as to get up to listen to the World Series at 00:30.
Friday, October 25, 2013: Fly Malabo, Equatorial Guinea to Sao Tome, Sao Tome via Libreville , Gabon
I awoke at 00:30 to listen to the World Series game but I could not establish a reliable internet connection until the second inning and I listen until after the Cardinals scored and then the Wi-Fi dropped the feed. I dozed off and when I awoke again I moved my smart phone around the room and was able to connect and hear the last two innings. Disappointed that the Red Sox had lost I went back to sleep until 06:00 when I awoke for good, showered, packed, had breakfast and checked out at 08:00.
Carlos arrived to drive me to the airport. He guided me through check-in which was not straight forward because I was flying on Ceiba International out of a different departure terminal and there was no signs pointing the way. I bid him farewell and proceeded to have my documents checked. There was a security station but it was not manned. The Ceiba aircraft arrived it was an ATF-42/72 turboprop. As the passengers started to leave the aircraft it started to rain and it rained while they unloaded the luggage when they loaded our luggage. I saw my bag loaded in the rain.
While we waited in a gate area there was a TV on the wall and if you can believe this it showed for five minutes a man using a power weed whacker cutting grass along the side a road. I couldn’t believe it so I started to time it. They didn’t even stop the tape for a commercial break.
By the time it came for us to walk out and board the aircraft the rain become a drizzle. The stairs on an ATF are in the rear and I was in the second group to arrive at the aircraft and was held in the drizzle while the first group cleared the stairs. I took a seat in the fourth row from the rear and as others behind me boarded and wanted to sit next to me the flight attendant made them move toward the front of the aircraft. Unless you were a couple they want to distribute the weight and have just one passenger in each pair of seats.
My ticket showed a two hour flight but Sao Tome was in a different time zone so I figured it was really a one hour flight. The served a sandwich and drink and landed in one hour. I got off and walked to the terminal. They checked our Yellow Fever cards and then our passports. I showed them my Sao Tome visa which was a print of an email that Klaus sent me. The policeman appeared confused and asked me to wait while he checked the other passengers. He then motioned for me to follow him and he gave my paperwork to a Passport Control Agent and asked me to get my luggage and return. A few minutes later he asked me in broken language if I was going to Sao Tome. I said yes. He retrieved my paperwork and led me to a line that was waiting to board the aircraft I had just left.
I asked a lady in line if she spoke English and she said yes. I then asked her what the policeman was saying to me. She told me that I was in Libreville, Gabon. The plane was then flying on to Sao Tome. I was really embarrassed since I usual check for in route stops on flights but this was a last minute ticket that Klaus had delivered to the house the afternoon before I left on the trip and I had not verified the details of the flight.
The lady that spoke English sat across the aisle from me and I was able to get additional details on the flight from her. It was a short flight from Libreville to Sao Tome so they didn’t serve anything. I was in the first group to exit the plane and walk across the ramp to a new terminal. It was not setup for arrivals very efficiently. We walked up steps in to a large room with rope tape forcing us to zigzag to the end of the room to a narrow passageway between two offices with windows that faced the luggage carousel instead of the arriving passengers. A lady in a white smock was checking Yellow Fever cards and directing us to the Passport Control window. When it came to my turn the agent checked my visa, asked where I was staying and what company I worked for and then put my paperwork aside and told me to wait. The lady who spoke English was next and she told me she would find out why he put my paperwork aside. Before she asked about my paperwork he set her paperwork on top of mine. She told me that it because we had to pay for the visa.
We had to wait until everyone had been processed then with our luggage (mine was damp from the rain) follow the agent to another office where they affixed a stamp in my passport and collected $30 and I was on my way. As I left the office and headed to the exit a man came in the exit and called my name. He was from the Travel Agency and was there to take me to the hotel and will pick me up in the morning.
The Hotel Miramar is a dated Grand Hotel with a large lobby, no elevators, a large pool with an island in the middle and water falls from rock formations and is a cross the road from a promenade. Wi-Fi is only strong in the lobby. My room had twin beds with mosquito netting. There was a plaque in the lobby dating the remodeling of the hotel in the 1990s but it appears to look older.
I took a walk around the area. Their promenade is not as nice as the ones in Equatorial Guinea. Below the wall were boulders and very little beach. There was a point where stairs led down to the water. At one end of the stairs were boulders and at the other end a pile of small rocks. Beyond the stones was a short nice sandy beach but one of the men hanging around told me it was not safe to swim at that beach and thus the reason for the pile of stones.
After my walk I returned to my room and unpacked and washed my underwear, changed into my swim suit and went for a swim in the hotel’s very large swimming pool. At one point I stood under the artificial water fall which gave me a good massage of my neck shoulders and back.
After the swim I visited the hotel bar and had a cold beer (Portuguese brand Superbock) and a plate of peanuts while I checked my emails on my smart phone. The Wi-Fi in the lobby was the best bandwidth I had encountered on the trip. I was able to talk to Judy on Vonage as clear as if I was in the States.
Back in my room I set up my laptop and wrote in my journal. When I caught up in the journal I took the laptop down to the lobby to connect to the internet. I was having some problem syncing my Dropbox files from the smart phone to Dropbox to my laptop. Dropbox is confused with the date/time stamps. I wasn’t able to resolve it.
At 19:00 I went to the dining room. They were advertising a big set four course meal and I didn’t want to eat that much so I had a ham and cheese sandwich and a beer. After my meal I retired to my room. Since I had been awake most of the night trying to listen to the Red Sox World Series game I was tired and went to bed early.
Saturday, October 26, 2013: Fly Sao Tome, Sao Tome to Principe, Sao Tome
For some reason I woke at 05:00 and decided to call Judy before she went to bed to find out if there had been any problems with our pool guy installing a new motor for the pool pump. I had a strong clear connection over Vonage. She reported that there had been some additional broken parts but everything eventually was installed and working. After the call I noticed that the dining room was open for breakfast so I ate before returning to my room to shower, shave and pack.
I checked out at 08:00 and the Tour Company driver arrived shortly thereafter to drive me to the airport. When we arrived at the airport check-in counter it was a mob scene. A group of a dozen women from Portugal were being checked in by their Tour Leader and it seemed to be taking a very long time. My driver informed me the airline had a strict 15 kilo weight limit on checked bags. He suggested I try to lighten my bag and he would hold it for my return. I had foldup bag from UTS in a side pocket and I filled it with three packets and my checked bag then weighted 14.5 kilos. Finally my turn came to check-in and it went fast. I received a manual boarding card and had to stand on the scale to have them record my weight holding my carry-on bag. I was then directed to a room where a Policeman performed a visual check of my carry on and on to the waiting room. From the window I could see that we were going to fly in a high wing twin turbo prop aircraft. The kind of aircraft where they load the luggage in the nose in addition to the rear.
A Boeing 767 was parked with its tail facing the terminal. There was a blast fence between the terminal window and the plane but when the 767 fired up it engines and taxied out it shook the building. As I wrote yesterday the new terminal at Sao Tome was not very efficiently designed.
When time came to board the aircraft we walked across the ramp. I handed my carry on to a baggage handler and saw it packed in the aft compartment. I sat in row 6 on the right side. It appeared that the aircraft a Dornier 228 held about 18 passengers. We took off at 09:10 and landed in Principe about forty minutes later. When I exited the aircraft I waited for them to unload my carry on and walked across the ramp to a small terminal. My checked bag was one of the first to arrive and I started out the door and was greeted by a man wearing a shirt with Bom Bom Island Resort on it and he called out my name. He asked me if I was with a group or alone. When I told him I was alone he asked me to go to the end of the side walk and wait while he met the group. Eventually everyone collected their luggage and it was loaded into a small bus and an SUV. I was directed to seat in the front seat of the SUV with a couple in the back seat and the tour group loaded in the bus.
Off we rode on a dirt but rather smooth washboard road through the jungle. It showered a little bit on and off during our ride. We passed houses thrown together with plywood sides and corrugated metal roofs. No concrete poured or cinder block houses. The road was winding and I saw just a few crops and cleared areas, mostly jungle and a few shacks.
When we arrived at the Bom Bom Island Resort I saw dark red painted cottages with round cone shape roofs situated among the trees. The reception center was larger but built in the same style. We crowded in and we each were handed an ice cold rolled up wet towel and then a coconut with a straw welcoming drink. On the counter were a registration paper with our name and room number typed on it, a key with a whistle and flashlight attached and a small card to fill in our passport number, address and other information. I was assigned room two. The manager gave us a briefing on the layout and the time for meals. She told us they had Wi-Fi in the area but not in the rooms. Some cottage can receive it on their porch. The pool was closed for remodeling but there were two excellent swimming beaches. One beach had good snorkeling.
I was led to my cottage which was right on the edge of the snorkeling beach. It was also the boat ramp which was a set of railroad tracks that lead into the water but was mostly covered with sand up to the grass line.
I dumped my luggage and took off exploring. I discovered that I had very weak Wi-Fi in the general area around my cottage. Even the reception area did not have strong Wi-Fi. Some of the cottages are on the side of a hill and look like they were tree houses. The pool was ringed with a fence of palm leaves so it wasn’t even visible walking by. The bar and restaurant were on another island (the actual Bom Bom island) connected by a long walkway bridge over the water. At 11:30 I walked out there to see if the Wi-Fi was any stronger. I did get reception in areas around the bar so I stayed until lunch started at noon.
I ate alone in the dining room since the showers were still coming and going. It was a marvelous meal starting with a small bowl of pumpkin soup followed by a delicious fish steak. They called the fish Dorada which I had never heard of. It looked like a big piece of salmon, about 4 inches square and a half inch thick. It was presented on top of string baby peas, with small squares of squash and a mound of white rice. A half lime and small bowl of melted butter accompanied the dish. For dessert they served a hot banana crumb cake with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
After the meal I walked back to my cottage and changed into my swim suit and went swimming right in front of my cottage. The water was cooler than I expected but very clear and refreshing. I had thought of going snorkeling but the water was so clear I could see the area and I didn’t see any fish but I did see some rocks but no coral so I just swam around. When I decided to finish my swim the couple that had ridden in the SUV with me came down from reception with snorkeling gear. He swam around but he didn’t appear to be seeing anything worthwhile either.
I returned to my cottage and used a hose in the back to wash off the sand. Inside I showered and washed out my bathing suit. I spent the afternoon relaxing and updating some files on my laptop. As the sunset I packed up my laptop and headed for the Bar and Restaurant hoping to catch a picture of the sun sinking below the horizon but as has happened to me so many times before there were clouds on the horizon and I missed getting a good picture.
At the bar I ordered a beer and set up my laptop and tried to connect to no avail. With my smart phone I wandered around the area trying to find the strongest signal. When I did get a lot of bars I got a message that the Wi-Fi was too weak to connect. Disappointed, I packed up my laptop.
A young couple was playing Trivial Pursuit Board game and I engaged them in conversation. They were from northern Portugal but were playing the game in English. They spoke English very well. He was President of a Board Game Club in his home time and they were having a good time trying to answer the questions.
At 19:00 I entered the dining room and ordered dinner. For a starter I had a Chefs Seafood Medley which turned out to be a mussel, a shrimp and a small baked fish. For the main I had the lamb chops over mixed vegetables and potatoes. It was outstanding in both presentation and taste. The dessert was a lemon margarine tart.
After dinner I went to the reception and was able to connect and send an email to Judy to tll her not to expect a call Saturday. I returned to my room and retired early.
Sunday, October 27, 2013: Fly Principe, Sao Tome to Sao Tome, Sao Tome
At 05:00 I awoke and walked over to reception to see if I could get a Wi-Fi signal so I could find out who won the World Series game. I discovered that if I stood near the TV Dish I could get a strong Wi-Fi signal. Unfortunately the Red Sox lost on a freak call in the bottom of the 9th inning. I tried to call Judy on Vonage and was surprised how clear the connection was. After talking to Judy I returned to my cottage and got my laptop and returned the strong reception spot so I could download email and files to the laptop. As the downloads were completing it started to sprinkle. I returned to my cottage as the rain became harder.
After showering and shaving is was getting close to breakfast time. It was still raining so I donned my rain jacket and walked across the bridge to Bom Bom Island. I was the only one in the dining room at 07:00. I ate a hardy breakfast and returned to my cottage to pack. At 08:00 I lugged my bags to reception and connected with Wi-Fi again. `The rain picked up and at 09:00 a SUV arrived to drive me to the airport. I was the only one leaving. It rained on and off during our drive to the airport. The driver was concerned that the flight would be cancelled or delayed because of the rain and low visibility. The rain had stopped when we reached the airport and I checked in for the flight.
There was a tall blond man there seeing off a passenger. He introduced himself as Henry and asked me in English where I was from and how had I enjoyed my stay on the island. I told him that it wasn’t a long stay and he said too bad that I didn’t have time to see the town and other sites around the island.
He showed me the waiting room and I sat in there until our scheduled departure time of 10:20 when the reservation agent entered and informed us that the plane was not going to arrive until 11:30. I asked the Bom Bom driver if he could drive me to town and back while we waited. He replied that he couldn’t but he could take me back to the Bom Bom Island Resort if I wanted. I passed on that suggestion and he left. Henry was still there so I asked him if he could show me the town and he said sure and I loaded my carry-on in his pickup and off we went.
The airport is in the center of the island and Bom Bom Island is the most northern tip of the island. The town of Santo Antonio was southeast of the airport. The road from the airport to town was paved and the houses seemed to be generally a little better built and quality then on the road north to Bom Bom Island. Along the way and in the town we passed a number of houses and buildings that date back to the Portuguese colonial days. A river runs through the town. We rode around the town square, past several churches and stopped at a building with a terrace restaurant for a cold drink.
The company Henry works for owns the aircraft so he was able to call to get status of the flight. Henry was from Zimbabwe and is the Project Manager on the project to convert the abandoned Belo Monte Plantation into a resort hotel. After calling the aircraft dispatch he learned that the flight was going to be further delayed so after our drink he drove me around additional areas and stopped at his house. It was a cute little wood sided house similar to so many of the ones on the island. He had a stream forming the boundary of his property. The road from town to his house was paved but full of pot holes.
He then told me he would take me on a back way to the airport. The road got progressively worst. We rode past several abandoned plantations. When the Portuguese turned the colony over to the locals, the Portuguese plantation owners abandon the plantations and left the country. We arrived on the west side of the runway and had to drive across the runway to reach the terminal. They told us the plane was delayed until 3 o’clock.
Henry then took me to Belo Monte. It was impressive with an archway that looked like the front of the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas. It had a large bell over the entrance to a large area. To the left (West) was the two story main house. To the right was the Coco processing plant. Henry drove past the buildings to a lookout area that had a wall, concrete table and benches. Below the point was the Banana Beach and off in the distance the Bom Bom Island.
Back at the buildings there was one building that was set up as a kitchen, laundry, TV room, bar and Internet Café. I was introduced to Christo, the Construction Manager, who offered me a beer and a meal of Irish stew. He was from South Africa but had spent a number of years restoring old houses in Ireland. He gave me the password to their Wi-Fi and I was able to check messages.
We discussed a verity of things and then Chris started in on the current situation in the US about halting the government. He had some interesting thoughts on the economy. Henry got a call from Sao Tome informing him that the plane would be taking off at 15:00. I bid farewell to Christo and thanked him for his hospitality and conversations. Christo told me that they both were on Facebook and to keep in touch. I gave Henry my business card with my email and blog addresses.
The plane finally arrived at the airport at 15:30, over five hours late. Henry introduced me to the pilots and I asked them which side of the aircraft I should sit to get the best views of the two islands. He told me the left side and I bid Henry goodbye, offered to pay for the several drinks he bought which he refused saying he was just happy to have my company and to show me the beautiful island and Belo Monte. He said I gave him an eventful Sunday.
Since there was only six other passengers I had the pick of seats and sat in row five on the left side. We took off at 16:10 for a thirty minute flight. I did have good views of the town on takeoff and of Sao Tome on landing. At Sao Tome it didn’t take long to retrieve my luggage and the driver from the Travel Agency was waiting outside the terminal. He introduced me to their English speaking guide and we discussed the tour that I was supposed to take that day. He told me that it was too late to take the tour that day and it had yet to be paid for. I informed him that I was leaving the next morning and I would have to cancel. He agreed and was not happy to lose the fee.
I was driven back to the hotel and the items I had left with the driver when I checked-in for the flight to Principe were returned and we agreed that he would pick me up at 09:00 the next morning.
I found that the room they assigned me in the hotel could receive a strong Wi-Fi signal. When the dining room opened at 19:00 I went to have supper. After the big lunch and dinner in Principe I decided to eat light and had a tuna salad. It was essentially a whole can of tuna on a bed of lettuce, sliced tomato and cucumber with just oil and vinegar dressing. I found it filling and returned to my room.
I debated whether to set my alarm to wake up at mid-night to listen to the World Series game or to get a good night’s sleep since Monday night I would be flying through the night. I decided to set the alarm for 05:00 and get eight hours sleep in my last night in a hotel in West Africa.
It was my last hotel night in West Africa.
Monday, October 28, 2013: Fly Sao Tome, Sao Tome to Dakar, Senegal via Libreville, Gabon
I was awakened at 04:00 by a phone call front the front desk informing me that a taxi driver was in the lobby to take me to the airport. I told him he had the wrong room and a few minutes later he called again. This time I got up and walked to the front desk. The agent on shift did not understand English and was just calling everyone that was scheduled to checkout that day.
Just then a couple of guys can down the stairs with their luggage. The taxi was for them. I returned to my room and checked the internet and discovered that the Red Sox had just won the fourth game of the World Series and were then tied with St. Louis two games each. I called Judy and then went back to bed resetting my alarm for 06:00.
When I got up at 06:00 I had planned on eating breakfast but discovered that the dining room would not open until 07:00 so I wrote in my journal and emailed October 22 to 27 out to my followers.
Shortly after 07:00 I ate breakfast and then returned to the room to shower only to discover that there was no hot water, just air when the faucet was turned to complete hot AND no shower curtain around the tub. Eventually warm water started to flow and I had a great time having to be careful with the shower wand so as to not flood the bathroom.
I packed and checked out at 09:00. My driver arrived and drove me to the airport. He assisted with my check-in and we bid farewell. Check-in was so quick I had almost a two hour wait. I plugged in my smart phone since I was scheduled for a long time before reaching a hotel.
The aircraft was an ATR-72 like the one I fly into Sao Tome on two days before. Open seating, I selected 7A and settled in for a one hour flight to Libreville, Gabon.
Arriving at Libreville my fun began. They were not structured to process transit passengers. I guess it doesn’t occur on a regular basis. After wandering around the terminal following policemen and policewomen they took my passport and dumped me in the departure lounge with my checked bag. They had Wi-Fi for a fee and very few understood English.
I was looking at the departure screen when I noticed that my flight which was scheduled to leave at 16:25 was delayed to 22:55. A quick calculation and I determined that I would miss my connection in Dakar to Casablanca at 03:00. A degree of panic set in. I purchased some hours of Wi-Fi and called Judy and Klaus. I was able to inform Judy of my predicament but was not able to reach Klaus at first. I then went in search of an airport official that understood English and could help me. At the security check point I asked if anyone understood or spoke English. One wise guy informed me in English that Gabon was a French colony and only French was to be spoken. I told him that was well and good but I had a problem with my flight connections. He said OK and led me to the Arrivals open concourse and directed me to the Information booth. There I learned that neither Senegal Airlines nor Royal Air Maroc had offices at the airport. She wasn’t much help so I re-entered the terminal with the Security Official. Back at the check point he explained to his co-workers what had happened. A female Security Agent then motioned for me to follow her and she lead me to an office of ladies with computer terminals. One spoke English and reviewed the flight information and determined that I would have no chance making my connection. She then informed me that Royal Air Maroc had a Libreville-Malabo-Casablanca flight departing at 03:00. She called the Royal Air Maroc Station Manager and he informed her that seats were available but I would have to go downtown to purchase the ticket or I could have my travel agent purchase the ticket. She let me use her desktop to log on to Outlook to send Klaus a message. For some reason Outlook would not accept my password on her machine, so I thanked her and returned to the waiting area where my checked bag was stashed.
I set up my laptop on a check-in counter that had a power strip with a few open sockets. I then had to purchase an additional Wi-Fi slip (only one device was allowed per slip) and sent Klaus a message requesting that he purchase the Libreville -Malabo-Casablanca flight. Soon I received a response from him regarding my Libyan visa. The Libyan Embassy Consular Office was requesting additional justification to issue my visa on Tuesday (they would be closed for a holiday on Wednesday).
I found a strong hotspot in the waiting area and was able to get a clear call to Klaus over Vonage. He informed me that Royal Air Maroc Libreville-Malabo-Casablanca flight was over $2,000.00. Instead he was re-booking me out of Dakar on a 06:40 flight to Casablanca and would email me the ticket. I soon received the email and started a search to find a printer. There was a VIP Lounge near security and I went in there. There were no passengers but there was an English speaking receptionist. She told me the business center might have a printer and she called and they responded that it was broken.
Observing that the lounge had free food, drinks and Wi-Fi I asked how I could use it. She told me it was open to anyone that purchased a ticket for $26 at a booth in the entrance to the terminal. When I told her that the police had my passport she offered to go down herself to purchase the ticket. I then retrieved my luggage and set up my laptop next to a wall outlet. I was able to transfer the new ticket from Klaus email to Dropbox and down to my smart phone.
I was able to call Judy and my brother Marc, have a couple of beers and a soda and snacked. At 20:00 the Lounge Receptionist told me they were checking in my flight. I wheeled my bag down to the Check in hall and stood in line when I got to the counter the agent asked for my passport I told him the Police still had and someone told me they would had it back as I left the country. He wouldn’t check me in and a supervisor came over and asked me to stand a side. The supervisor left and in a few minutes returned with my passport and directed me to the head of the line. I had left my carry on in the lounge so I passed through security very quickly and was back in the lounge for a three hour more wait.
Thirty minutes before the listed departure I packed up and returned to the waiting area. They boarded an Air France flight to Paris and a Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt but the Senegal Airlines aircraft had not arrived. As the listed 22:55 departure approached a shouting match between a passenger and the authorities started with a number of people on both sides. At first I couldn’t figure out the basis of the trouble and then I noticed that the departure screen now listed my flight as delayed until 00:55.
I called Klaus and informed him. He told me that it would be a tight connection but he would inform Royal Air Maroc. The aircraft arrived after mid-night and I attempted to take a picture as it taxied bye to record the “tail number” for my flight log. It came out a big blur and a Policeman approached and told me no pictures looking toward the runway and watched as I deleted it.
Tuesday, October 29 2013: Fly to Tangier, Morocco via Cotonou, Benin, Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, Dakar, Senegal and Casablanca, Morocco and taxi to Ceuta, Spanish Morocco
A little after midnight they finally called our flight. I was one of the first to board the aircraft. The Police were doing a document check on everyone but since they all knew me by then they just waved me through. I chatted up the flight attendants and learned that Senegal Airlines has only a few large jets and one had broken down in Cotonou and they had to use the aircraft and crew to first fly to Cotonou and deliver the passengers in Dakar and then fly to Libreville. When I asked them when they expected to land in Dakar they were evasive but assured me I would make my 06:40 connection. The plane took off at 00:50 and made stops in Cotonou and Abidjan. I slept most of the flight.
We landed in Dakar at 06:05 and I saw the Royal Air Marco aircraft but I figured I would miss the connection. The bussed us to the Terminal and I was the first off running into the terminal saying I was transit. I was directed around the Control Check lines to a burly Policeman. He took my passport and told me it was too late for the Royal Air Marco flight but just then a woman came up with three boarding passes with my name on them. She told me to get my bag when it came off the carousel. They were holding the flight for me and two others. Once I got my bag she made out a baggage tag to Tangier affixed it to the bag and I boarded a bus to the plane. I gave my bag to a ground staff and climbed the ramp the pilot saw me and pointed to his watch. When I got on the plane the cockpit door was still open and I shouted in to the pilot thanking him for waiting for the Senegal passengers.
I settled in on a row by myself and slept a little and had a hot breakfast. I t was a three hour flight and when I landed we were bussed to the terminal. The Casablanca airport has good signage plus they have lines on the floor directing passengers to baggage claim or to transit. At the transit room my passport and boarding passes were checked and the Policeman motioned in the direction of long lines for security bag check. When I finally loaded my bags on the x-ray machine a Security checked my paperwork again and told me I was in the International Departure line and to go back. I returned to the woman that had sent me in that direction in the first place. This time she told me to follow the white line out the other side of the room.
It was a long walk to a big room with a coffee bar. They had tables and a cell phone plug in pole. There was no Departure monitor or gate agents in the hall. My ticket listed gate C18 and the gate numbers were from 1 to 10. I was concerned but everybody in uniform I showed my ticket to indicated that I was in the right place. Close to departure time a gate agent arrive and unlocked one of the doors and a bus drove up. She then announced the departure of the flight to Tangier and I entered the line, boarded the bus and was driven to the plane. I was assigned a seat over the wing two rows back of the exit. No one was assigned next to me. I slept a little on the forty minute flight.
As we approached the Tangier airport I was surprised at the scene from the air. It looked like the city was built using Lego blocks. Every building was a square or rectangle with flat roofs and square windows. There were clusters of apartment buildings, rectangular, painted white with neat square windows and flat roofs.
The airport was almost deserted when we landed. The passport control hall was huge and the dozen or so from our flight quickly processed through the four Control Stations. Once I retrieved my luggage I headed to the Information Booth in the lobby. There I found an English speaking agent and I asked her what was the best way to get to Ceuta. She acted as though she never heard of it. Even the other agent didn’t seem to know where it was. I asked them for a map and showed it to them. They immediately knew what I was referring to but apparently they refer to it as Septa. They recommended that I take a taxi and that the prices were posted next to the terminal exit. There wasn’t a Ceuta or Septh on the price list but the most expensive trip was 500 DH. I exchanged money to get 1000 DH and proceeded to the taxi stand. When I told the taxi driver where I wanted to go he told me he needed the Police permission and showed me a form that he needed filled out with my details as the passenger requesting the trip. We went back in the terminal and found a policeman. He copied information from my passport and took the driver to the Police Office. I returned to the cab and waited.
It didn’t take the driver very long and he returned with the signed and stamped form and away we went. The taxi speedometer was broken but I could tell he was wasting no time getting to the border. He did stop for gas and slowed up several times where the Police had a radar gun catching speeders. The limit appeared to be 120km when there was a sign. We were on a toll road that by passed Tangier and traffic was very light until we got close to the ferry landing past Ksar Sghir. The roads were very smooth and had very few vehicles. The terrain was very interesting with rock formations, hills and mountains. Along the ridge line in many places were wind generators. Scattered on the hill sides were small houses and some crop land. We were driving inland so I didn’t see the sea until we approached Ksar Sghir. It was a clear day and we could easily see Tarifa, Spain and at one point Gibraltar. Just past Ksar Sghir there was a huge Ferry Port with several large ferry ships in port. There were separate entrances for trucks, autos and pedestrians. It was quite a sight to see on a clear sunny day. We followed the coast for a short distance and then headed south to wind our way through the rocky terrain until we came down towards the Alboran Sea just north of Tetouan, Morocco. As we were descending the mountain into Tetouan we made a sharp left and up over a hill down to the border. The border was a sea of taxis in a large lot and a string of vehicles inline to enter Ceuta.
The taxi driver let me off and I paid him 500DHS which he had shown me on a price sheet before we left the airport. I was mobbed by men wanting to help me cross the border. I repeatedly said no but one of them begged just for money. He wanted 100DHS ($12) for just pointing me to the Passport Control office. It was a long walk across the border often along a narrow one person wide path. It was a little tricky having to contend with two wheeled bags. I had to push one in front while pulling the other behind. At one point I had to navigate a turn stile and got stuck with the big bag. It took several people to free the bag and me.
On the Spanish side I hired a taxi to take me to my hotel. The Hotel Parador was dated and the lobby was full of old folks playing cards. There were four active tables. I appeared to be the youngest in the lobby. They had Wi-Fi and as soon as I got the password I connected and saw that the Red Sox had won game 5 five of the series. As soon as I deposited my bags in the room I went for a walk around the city before the sun set. It was beautiful with building lit with spot lights, modern shops, many little cafeterias with tables set outside and a McDonalds. I walked down a pedestrian street and then along the water front. There were many statues along my walk.
After the sun set I returned to the hotel, called Judy and Klaus. After my calls I had a beer and devoured a plate of peanuts. I asked the bartender if they served a light meal in the bar and he replied yes after 21:00 when the main dining room opened. I had hoped to go to bed early so I went out again and ate at the McDonalds before 19:00.
Back in the room I washed clothes and wrote in my journal. It had been a very long day and night.
Wednesday, October 30, 2013: Taxi to Tangier, Morocco and fly to Madrid, Spain
The dining room didn’t open for breakfast until 07:30 so I got up at 06:00, showered (it had the hottest water I encountered so far on my trip), shaved and packed. I checked out at 07:20 and ate breakfast when the dining room opened.
The front desk called a taxi which drove me to the border. Leaving Ceuta was easier than entering. The pathway was wider and I wasn’t hounded by men wanting to assist. Fortunately I had picked up a Moroccan Entry/Exit form at the airport and had filled it out before I left the hotel. That was another way the men made money was to confiscate the blank forms from the Passport Control counter and then offer to fill it out for you for a fee. Since I already had the form it stopped them from hounding me.
At the taxi stand the next taxi up agreed to take me to the airport for 500DHS. When we left the lot he by-passed the road I had entered the area on and drove south to Tetouan, Morocco and into the center of the city where we stopped at the Police station so he could get a permit similar to the one the driver the day before had to get to drive to the border. I was struck by the comparison of shops just a few kilometers apart. Ceuta’s shops were stores like you see on a typical European street whereas in Tetouan the shops spilled out on the sidewalk and there were many vendor stands on the sidewalks like a typical African city/village. Culture rather than climate or building dictated the layout, look and feel between the two cities.
We had a little difficulty navigating the streets to get out of the city. The taxi driver did not appear to know the route and we turned up one way streets and almost were hit head on and up streets that had no turn into signs. Eventually we were on the road I remembered from the day before and on to the Ferry Port. At the entrance to the toll road that I had traveled the day before he didn’t take it and instead followed the coast. I was happy because the panorama views of the sea was spectacular and I found Ksar Sghir to be an interesting town to drive through and it then we drove through the city of Tangier. I had visited Tangier on a cruise ten years ago and it had grown up since then with many high rise buildings and fancy hotels.
We reached the airport in an hour and fifteen minutes, quicker than the toll road route from the day before and a much more interesting drive. When I entered the Terminal I was greeted by the young lady at the Information booth. She asked how I liked the visit.
I was very early to check in for my flights so I setup my laptop on a wide window shelf above a power outlet and wrote in my journal.
Eventually the check-in counter opened and I checked in and processed though document checks and security. I was allowed in the VIP lounge and was the first VIP passenger to arrive and an agent had to unlock the door. It was a small lounge with a few sandwiches in the glass door refrigerator and limited variety in drinks but it did have Wi-Fi and TV. Soon the lounge gained more passengers and then our plane arrived and we walked across the ramp to board a CRJ-1000.
I sat next to young man on his way to Paris with his brother and nephew sitting across the aisle. He spoke excellent English and told me his brother had gone to college in Montreal, Canada and that he had gone to college in Paris. They were on their way to visit a sister in Paris. He wanted to know what I thought of Tangiers. When I told him that I hadn’t visited Tangiers in 10 years and that I was visiting Ceuta he was surprised and then I told him of my travels. He then started to ask me about other African countries and which ones I would recommend he vacation in. He had heard that Kenya was a beautiful country. I agreed and we discussed others.
As we flew over Spain I noticed that they had a lot of wind generators. At one point I saw a very bright light surrounded by circles of objects on the ground. I wondered if that was one of the new electrical generating facilities which use mirrors to focus the sun’s rays on a tower where water is heated to drive steam generators.
When the plane landed I saw that Madrid’s airport is one of the largest airports in the world in size of land. We taxied a long way to a parking spot and there we were bussed to a large arrival hall where we processed though Passport Control and then had to walk a fair distance and take an escalator to a train station to take a train to baggage area. Even with the time all that took our bags and not arrived.
I stopped at an Information booth to get a recommendation to the hotel I had on a piece of paper. This was a big mistake. The Information clerk recommended that I take a Metro. It was easy to get to and the hotel was a short walk from the station.
I purchased a ticket and waited on the platform for the train to arrive. I waited and waited and then the train arrived and I boarded it and waited and waited. An hour after I had retrieved my luggage the train departed. My stop was four stops from the airport and when I exited the train I found only steps, no escalators to reach the street level. It was a lot of lugging with my 50 lb bag and my carry-on. Once I was on the street it wasn’t too bad and the walk was past the National Museum with its beautiful statues adorning the front of the building.
The place the Information clerk had marked on my map for the hotel turned out to be the Hard Rock Café. I had to walk around the block for the entrance to the hotel. When I checked-in at registration they had no reservation in my name. I checked my voucher and discovered that I was at the wrong hotel. I then remembered that I had asked Klaus to book me into a Marriot hotel where I figured that my Silver status would provide some amenities. They reservation agent printed out a Google map of the Marriot hotel, the AC Bristol, to show to the taxi.
The taxi ride took me through the center of the city past many monuments and beautiful buildings and park areas. On the tourist map of the city the AC Bristol was at the very south edge next to the Puerta de Atocha train station.
The hotel did not provide free Wi-Fi in the rooms for Silver status customers. Breakfast was not included in my fare and the dining room didn’t open until 20:30. The sixth game of the World Series started at 1AM and I planned to sleep and few hours before listening to the game so I wanted an early dinner.
I walked the neighborhood around the hotel and found that many of the restaurants didn’t serve until 9PM and the café menus were not appealing so I settled on a Burger King as the quickest and safest place to grab a quick dinner and it had free Wi-Fi.
As I was eating I received a message from UTS that my Libyan visa had been approved and would be ready for pick-up at 14:30 DC time. I quickly finished my burger and returned to the hotel. There was strong free Wi-Fi in the lobby and between Vonage calls and emails Klaus and I worked out the schedule for the remainder of my trip. He informed me that the flight with stops in Puntland now bye passed the cities so there was no reason for me to spend time in Somaliland. The plan had been to fly to Somaliland, spend the night and then take a flight that stopped in several Puntland cites on its way to Nairobi. The cancellation of that portion of the trip also removed the requirement for a Kenya visa.
The revised scheduled had three nights in Tripoli visiting the UNESCO sites at Sabratha and Lepyis Magna; a plane change in Mogadishu; a night in N’Djamena, Chad (which was the last UN country for me to visit in Africa); a day in Sharm El Sheik; and several days in the Canary and Madeira Islands.
Klaus then informed me that FedEx could not guarantee delivery of my passport in Madrid until Tuesday, November 5th so he was going to switch to DHL which would guarantee that it would arrive at the hotel by Monday so my flight out of Madrid was scheduled for Monday at midnight to fly to Tripoli via Istanbul.
With the schedule agreed to I returned to my room, set my alarm for 1AM and went to sleep.
Thursday, October 31, 2013: Listen to the Red Sox win the World Series and tour Madrid.
At 01:00 I awoke, purchased 24 hours of in room Wi-Fi and tuned in the World Series on my laptop. It was exciting since the Cardinal’s pitcher had been very good in previous games but the Red Sox got to him and he gave up walks and hit a batter for the first time since becoming a professional ballplayer. He left the game early and the Red Sox won 6 to 1.
As I listened to the game I revised my pocket schedule and flight log with the new itinerary.
The game and post-game activities finished before 5AM and I returned to bed and slept until after 09:30. After a shower and shave I dressed and went to the hotel Business Center to print out my e-tickets and my pocket schedule. It turned out to be more difficult than I expected. The Business Center desktops required that 1€ coins be put in a slot for ten minutes of operation. By the time I logged in to my email and opened the attachment on the emails with the revised itinerary and e-tickets and sent it to the printer the time expired but the 16 page document was in the printer queue and took a long time to print.
When I had opened the pocket schedule it came up in an Oracle Excel clone which I could not find the tools to format the document to print. After the print job completed I returned to my room and copied my pocket schedule to a thumb drive.
This time when I obtained coins for the computer I asked the desk agent if the Business Center computers had Microsoft Office installed. She said yes and I put in a coin and plugged my thumb drive in and looked for Microsoft Excel on the computer to open the pocket schedule. I couldn’t find it and I had to revert to the Oracle clone. It took some time to discover where to change the print orientation and I could not figure how to format the day/date in English. The time was expiring just as I changed the orientation to landscape and send the job to the printer. I was upset and told the front desk agent that I wanted my money back because the computer did not have Microsoft Office installed as advertised. She called the vendor and they admitted that Microsoft Office is not installed and refunded my money. Then she recommended one of the Internet Cafes down the street might have Microsoft Office installed on their computers.
I left the hotel and as I looked for the Internet Café I also checked places to eat lunch and stopped in a place where I had a nice salad and a ham and cheese on a roll. The roll was jaw breaking but the salad with lettuce, tomatoes, olives and tuna was very good. I gave up on going to an Internet Café and walked the area.
Back at the hotel they had a new desk agent and I asked him about trains to San Sebastian. He had recently visited it and highly recommended that I go, printed out a schedule and recommend that I go to the Puerta De Atocha train station a few blocks away and purchase the round trip ticket.
At the train station I had to draw a numbered slip and wait for my number to appear on a board with the number of the agent that would sell me the ticket. I drew 563 on my slip and the agents were working on 518. Needless to say it was a long wait. Eventually I was able to purchase a round trip ticket, leaving at 08:48 on Friday and departing San Sebastian at 13:33 on Sunday. I noticed they had reserved seats.
I then explored the train station. It had a beautiful botanical garden in the center of the station with a turtle farm at one end. I found a place to eat a light supper and returned to the hotel. I was tired from the four hour game in the middle of the night so I went to bed early.
Friday, November 1, 2013: Travel by train to San Sebastian, Spain
I got up at six and when I packed I moved some of my things into a smaller bag to be left at the hotel. When I arrived in the lobby to checkout I read my emails and discovered my DHL package was already in Madrid so I made sure the hotel staff would sign for it and hold it for my return Sunday evening. I stored the extra bag with them and took a taxi to the train station which was in the very north of the city center.
The station was not as impressive as the one in the south of the city. The track number for my train was not posted so I bought a ham and cheese sandwich and an iced tea for breakfast. Then I sat in front of a display board and waited for my train’s track number. It was 08:00 and my train was scheduled for 08:48. It was not until 08:30 for the track number to be displayed.
In each car half the seats face forward and half face backwards and have dropdown trays. In the center where the front facing and rear facing seats meet there is a table. I was assigned a right aisle facing forward with the table.
Between each seat were two power outlets. Initially I had no one sitting at the window seat next to me. Across from me and in all the rear facing seats was a group of slightly handicapped teenagers. The train was a local stopping every thirty minutes or so. Between two stops I had a seat companion but most of the trip the seat was open. Two hours into the trip the teenagers left and then our coach got a lot quieter.
I setup my laptop and caught up on my journal. I should have purchased an extra sandwich to have for lunch. There was a vending machine that ate my coins without delivering any snacks.
The train traveled northeast toward San Sebastian with stops in: Villaba, Avila, Arevalo, Medina del Campo, Valladolid Campo Grande, Venta de Banos, Palencia, Burgos Rosa de Lima, Brivsca, Miranda de Ebro, Vitoria Gasteiz, Alegria-Dulantzi, Agurain/Salvatierra de Alava, Araia, Altasu, Legazpi, Zumarraga, Beasain, Ordizia, and Tolosa before arriving in San Sebastian/Donostia at15:58.
I saw a lot of variety in the Spanish country side, small villages, large towns and cities, open farm land, hills, woods and wind turbines. One thing that surprised me was the vast amount of graffiti that I saw along the way. It was not just scribbling of words and sayings but elaborate scenes with multiple colors which indicated that it took some time to complete. Some were attractive works of art but for the most part I thought it cheapened the beautiful scenery along the way. The weather was clear and sunny most of the way but as we got close to the coast it started to cloud up.
I took a taxi to my hotel Barcelo Costa Vasca high on a hill above the Miramar Palace. When I checked in I asked about taking an English speaking tour the next day. The desk clerk gave me a map and circled the tourist office and told me they provided the information on daily tours in many languages. My room was on the top floor at the end toward the sea. It had a small balcony and I was able to see the surf waves breaking beyond the Palace.
After depositing my luggage in my room I left the hotel to walk to the city and the Tourist Office. The walk started with a set of stairs from the hotel parking lot down to the street and then down the hill to the Miramar Place Park where I climbed steps up to the Palace and toured the Palace grounds. It afforded great views of the city. Below was a highway that ran along a promenade. Below the Promenade was a wide yellow sandy beach. Although there was an island guarding the bay the the waves were high enough for surfing and there were dozens of surfers below the Palace Park end of the beach. I descended down the road from the Palace and crossed the highway to the promenade. It was crowded with people strolling in both directions along with joggers. There was a bicycle path between the promenade and the highway and it had a steady flow of bicyclist. Many of the bicyclists were carrying surfboards as were people on the promenade. The surfers were in wet suits and I was surprised at how many were young girls. The surfing diminished as I left the Palace end of the beach but picked up again as I approached the Center of the city.
By then the sun had set and I left the promenade when the streets intersecting it started to look interesting with various shops. As I wandered the streets window shopping I came upon the Urumea River and I turned back to the park in front of the Town Hall.
The Tourist Information Office was a half block from the Town Hall and they gave me brochures for both walking tours and bus ride tours. I continued to explore the center of the city taking pictures of the fine looking buildings and the cathedral. Starting to walk back to the hotel I deviated from the promenade and it started to rain. Eventually the streets intersected with the highway alongside the promenade. The surfers were leaving the water and carrying their surfboards back to their rooms. The young ladies would double up carrying a surfboard under each arm.
When I approached the road leading to the Palace I walked by and through a tunnel under the Palace Park and climbed steps to the Park at the west end of the tunnel. When I reached the hotel I was thirsty and hungry having not eaten since I left Madrid. The dining room did not open until 20:30 so I had sandwich and a couple of beers.
The Wi-Fi in my room was strong and I was able to call Judy on Vonage. There were no English language TV stations. It was kind of comical to see One and Half Men in Spanish. They matched the tone of the actors very well. I unpacked, washed clothes and started to update my calendar with the revised schedule so Wendy and Judy can follow were I am.
Saturday, November 2, 2013: Tour San Sebastian
I didn’t set an alarm and slept until after 9am. My room rate did not include breakfast so I worked on my computer continuing to update my calendar and my pocket schedule. When I finished I went down to the front desk to see if I could print the pocket schedule. They had a free workstation and printer but only a couple of sheets of paper. They also were using the Open Source Oracle Microsoft Office clone. I had the same problem with my Excel spreadsheet that I had in Madrid. I couldn’t determine where to change the printer orientation and to set the dates to English (In Madrid they displayed in Spanish, here they displayed in Turkish).
I returned to my room and on my laptop converted the dates to text returned to the printer. It took a while but I finally found a screen where I could set the orientation and printed the pocket schedule. It was then after 13:00 so I decided to each lunch in the hotel. They had a three course set special. I had a delicious octopus salad and a half a small baked chicken. The dessert was four macaroons and a golf ball size scoop of ice cream.
Fortified I headed to the city. It was too late to take the English language walking tour so I followed the route on my own and then followed the Tourist Tram tour route on foot. I saw the city!
It was dark when I returned to my room and my shirts were damp from the long walk. I open the door to the patio and hung my damp shirts up in a strong breeze. After calling Steve, Marc and Judy I decided to watch the last episode of the Canadian Amazing Race which I had on my laptop all of sudden it started to rain and I barely was able to get my shirts in before they got wet. The breeze had dried them.
Sunday, November 3, 2013:
It rained heavily during the night waking me several times. It the morning it had stopped but the patio was wet and there were still a lot of clouds in the sky. I showered, shaved, packed, checked out and took a taxi to the train station. At the station I had a meal at the café and waited for the train to Madrid.
On the train I set up my laptop and caught up on my journal. The weather improved as we rode south and I was able to see the same great scenery that I had seen on the way north. I was in the front coach of the train in one of the seats facing forward. Only a few passengers were in my coach until Miranda de Ebro when the four seats across the aisle from my seat filled and someone sat in front of me. She setup her laptop and watched a video.
At Burgos Rosa de Lima (the halfway point) I finally got a seat mate. The coach filled all seats at Palencia and then at Valladolid Campo Grande it emptied and the sun set. At Avila my seatmate left, the coach filled, and I gained another seatmate who left at Villaba de Guadarrama. . During the trip I watched 5 episodes of 60 Minutes that Wendy had taped for me earlier in the year.
We arrived in Madrid at 21:08 on time and I took a taxi to the hotel. By the time I checked in and dumped my luggage in my room I was starved and I left the hotel in search of food. I returned to the always open Burger King. I had spent all of my remaining Euros on the taxi so I needed a place I knew would accept a credit card.
Back in my room I washed my underwear and two shirts. I hadn’t realized how dirty on of the dark shirts had gotten until I saw the water. After rolling them in towels to ring out the water I hung the four items in the closet and went to bed.
Monday, November 4, 2013: Madrid
When I awoke at 08:30 I checked the washed clothes and they were still damp. In the past they had always dried in eight hours but my mistake was closing the closet door. The towels I had used to wring out the water were dry because I hung them over the shower door. Usually they are damp in the morning and the clothes dry. Lesson learned – DON’T CLOSE THE CLOSET DOOR with wet items inside!
I used the hair dryer to dry the underwear and rolled the shirts up tight in the dry towel, opened the window wide and laid the shirts on the bed. I then showered and shaved and rushed down to the lobby to check email. I had a message from DHL that my passport was “Out for Delivery” at 08:54. I checked the front desk and it hadn’t been delivered so I walked over to the Atocha railway station to eat breakfast and exchange money. When I returned the DHL letter had arrived. I tore it open and inside was my ten year passport with a Libyan visa. I confirmed that checkout was noon and even though my flight didn’t leave until midnight I elected to save the money and checkout. My plan was to go to the airport, check in early and hangout in the Star Alliance Lounge which would have free Wi-Fi, food and drink.
Right at noon I checked out and dragged my bags to the Puerta De Atocha train station and up to the top to the bus station and for 5€ take the Yellow Airport Express bus to the airport. I sat up front in a handicap seat where I could take some pictures. The bus was about half full and I had my big and little luggage in the rack. I kept hitting my small back pack on the back of the seat as I looked around at the sites so I took it off and stashed it on a ledge in front of me.
The Puerta De Atocha raiway station is on the southeast edge of the city and the airport out of the city to the northeast the bus route was initially north to the city center and turned northeast at Arc of Independence and soon stopped for another pickup. The bus filled to maximum capacity and a woman came on with a baby in a stroller. The young couple in the other handicap seat was not moving so I gave up my seat and moved to the back of the bus.
At the airport only about half the passengers got off at the first stop. I had a little struggle getting people to move so I could retrieve my two bags and exited the bus. I found a cart, loaded my two bags and realized I had not retrieved my back pack. It was still on the bus. I panicked and rushed to the Information booth where a woman that spoke English told me she would call the bus company and suggested I asked the driver in the next bus that arrives if he could call the bus I had just exited.
I had to wait fifteen minutes for a Yellow bus to arrive. The driver didn’t understand English but one of the passengers translated on my behalf and the driver called dispatch and told me to wait there for my bus number to return. I had the receipt with the bus number on it.
I sat on my large bag on the cart and waited an hour and one half to my numbered bus to return and there on the driver’s dashboard ledge by the door was my backpack. I showed the driver my receipt and he had me retrieve the bag. I thanked him profusely. It was a good thing I had a long wait for my flight.
The Turkish Air counter was not open so I bought some lunch and looked for a place to sit. The Check-in hall at the Madrid Airport does not have a single seat! I found that there were a few seats downstairs in the Arrivals Hall. I didn’t want to give up my cart so I went looking for an elevator. When I found one and entered with others and pushed the button for the first floor the elevator would not move. I pushed the door open button and exited. I wandered around pushing my cart looking for a place to sit when the second elevator opened its doors and two men exited wearing the elevator name on their back. I tried it and that it worked so I wandered around the first floor and saw that they had a cafeteria with many tables.
I took one of the slope escalator types that allow you to use a cart up to the first floor and found that Turkish Airlines was checking passengers in for their 17:00 flight. When there was no one in line at the Star Alliance Gold counter I asked the agent if I could get on the 17:00 flight. She told me it was oversold and they were looking for people to volunteer to take the midnight flight. Next I asked her if I could check in for the midnight flight. She replied not if I was going to check a bag. She then told me they would open the counter at 21:00 for my flight. Bummer, I had five hours to kill!
I returned to the Arrivals level and set up my laptop and updated my journal. For a fee I could purchase Wi-Fi but since California was still asleep I decided to wait until I could call Judy and Klaus to inform them my passport with visa had arrived. I spent the afternoon listening to a book on tape and reading the International New York Times cover to cover. The Times had a long article on the NSA and another on Kerry’s visit to Cairo. At 20:00 I went to the Turkish Airlines check-in counter and stood first in line reading the Times. Eventually, the agents came and setup their stations and started to check us in a little after 20:30. Security was a breeze because they had many stations and no one in line.
Passport control was something else. I used my ten year passport with the Libyan visa to obtain my boarding pass but I needed to leave the country with the two year passport that I had used to enter the country.
The Star Alliance Lounge Wi-Fi was a little cumbersome. I had to get a 30 minute card with a scratch off User Name and Password. So every thirty minutes I had to log in again with a different name and password. What a bureaucratic pain when you have two devices and two hours in the lounge.
I called Judy and Klaus to inform them that I had the passport and Libyan visa and was checked-in. The food was not substantial for a lounge of the size. Premade sandwiches of the type you would find in a US gas station food mart. It did have a variety of booze, with large bowls of peanuts, olives and potato chips.
When it came time to board the plane I walked to the gate and found long lines at every gate snaking around the departure hall which made it tricky to navigate to the correct departure gate. It appeared to be not well organized. At my gate it was not obvious where to line up as a Star Alliance Gold member so I asked an agent and she just told me to board with the first group.
There was a delay in boarding and they called the passengers by group number printed on their boarding pass. The first group to be called was business class and Star Alliance Gold so I lined up with them and was the first person to board the plane in the economy section. Every seat on the plane was taken but I was surprised that there was not the problem with bags being loaded in the overheads as is often the case with the last to board on full flights.
Tuesday, November 5, 2013: Fly to Tripoli via Istanbul
The flight departed almost an hour late. I was assigned an aisle seat in the row just forward of the exit row so my seat did not decline. I inflated my neck pillow and was able to get some sleep on the three hour flight. At Istanbul I passed through passport control quickly and then through security. I have yet to understand the rationale behind having passengers just getting off a plane that required them to pass a security check to get on the plane have them go through security after they land. Where and what could a passenger acquire some prohibited item during a flight? Oh well most airports require the second check so it is one of those things that make flying less fun than it was before 9-11.
I entered the huge Departure Hall at the Istanbul Airport. I was amazed at the crowds at 05:30. When I entered the huge Turkish Airways Lounge I found every table occupied. It was mind blowing the number of people. I know that Turkish Airlines flies to more countries in the world than any other airlines but I was surprised at the number of people so early in the day. I doubled up at a table with an open power outlet and plugged in my laptop and smart phone. Having eated a small meal on the flight from Madrid and knowing I would be served another on the flight to Tripoli, I didn’t chow down on the food in the lounge with its many food stations and variety.
The lounge is at the extreme end of the Departure Hall and I left a little before my boarding time anticipating that I would have a long walk to my gate. I was right; my gate was at the other end of the Departure Hall, downstairs where passengers are bussed to their aircraft.
When I boarded the bus a man insisted that I sit next to the door. Did I look that old and tired? I guess so. Anyway when we arrived at the aircraft I was one of the first off the bus and up the stairs. This time my seat was the row in back of the exit row so I could if I wanted to recline. I generally don’t.
I fell asleep after take-off and my leg relaxed so my knee was protruding into the aisle. When the flight attendant was pushing the meal cart down the aisle from the front of the plane the cart hit my knee and I awoke in a scream of short duration pain. It wasn’t that it hurt so much as it startled me awake. The attendant was so apologetic she gave me extra drinks, water, juice and tea which I had no room to put down on my tray table.
We arrived in Tripoli fifteen minutes ahead of schedule. I was a little concerned with passport control since I had a work visa as to what kind of questions I would be asked. The agent did take a little time scrutinizing my visa but didn’t ask any questions and stamped the passport and I was cleared to pick up my luggage.
As I exited the Baggage Hall a young man at the railing called out Edward? His name was Adnan Eshibany from Treasures Tours. He led me to his new BMW compact and drove me to the Jakarta Hotel which he explained to me was less expensive than the Corinthia, Intercontinental, Radisson Blu, Four Seasons or the Sheraton but I will be happy with the room. He was right the hotel is not large but I had a two room suite with a Jacuzzi bath and shower. The Wi-Fi in the room was free and “Good” strength.
After dropping off my luggage in the room we departed for a tour of the city. He showed me the Bab al-Azizia barracks, Gaddafi’s former residence which had been partially destroyed and other buildings damaged during the revolution. We then went on a walking tour of the center of the city crossing the Martyrs’ Square were the revolution started, showing me where Gaddafi gave one of his speeches claiming everybody loved him but also where many people were killed; the Marcus Aurelius Arch; the market similar to the ones in Casablanca and Istanbul; the fish market which was one of the cleanest I have seen in Africa with a set of peaked roofs like the Denver Airport. It was tiled and constantly washed down.
For lunch we rode out on the highway east of the city past a burned out car, the result of a gun battle between the leaders of a drug smuggling gang and the local Police, past an office building with a number of windows shot out during the gun battle, past the restaurant where Gaddafi gave another of his “everybody loves me” speech, past the former Wheelus AFB which still has a military aircraft operation, to a row of fish restaurants. There we walked past displays of fish that the customer selects and told how they wanted it prepared and served inside to the Tripolis Seafood Restaurant. We selected two fish, requested that they be bar-b-queued and some calamari which was fried with a tangy coating. We helped ourselves to a salad bar and were given a basket of fresh baked bread. The calamari was outstanding, the fish OK. To drink we had a large bottle of water and fruit flavored soda. Adnan had a red grape flavored soda and I had peach.
After lunch Adnan pointed out some more land marks on the way back to the hotel. The highway ran alongside the very wide beach which had many makeshift small structures and a few children’s parks. The beach belongs to the government which allows the parks but the other structures and just shelters to change clothes or to hang out in the shade.
I was able to take a two hour nap before Adnan picked me up for diner. On the way to the restaurant we stopped to walk to the American Solders grave site. It has high walls around it and the door was locked so I could not find out if they were graves from WWII or Wheelus.
The Libyans dine late so when we entered the Ghazala Restaurant at 20:30 we were the only customers. We ordered Libyan soup and shish kabob. The soup was very spicy but Adnan showed me that in his house they eat the soup by soaking bread in it and that seemed to diminish the spiciness. The kabob was good.
Adnan told me he had spent time in Taiwan and Hong Kong with a young lady from a Taiwanese Tour Group that he had taken to this restaurant. He also told me that he had just returned from the American Embassy in Casablanca where he was turned down to get a tourist visa to the US to visit a Muslim woman from Texas that he had met on Facebook.
When we returned to the hotel he introduced me to the owners and manager of the hotel. They were in the manager’s office discussing real estate deals and showed me a brochure of small attractive houses they were building. I was very tired from having flown all night and retired to my room where I was able to call Judy. The Vonage connection was fair. I washed my underwear and took a shower. I wasn’t able to use the Jacuzzi tub because there was no stopper. I had to just my own in the sink to wash my underwear. When I went to brush my teeth the top of my water bottle fell down the drain. It stopped just at the point the drain narrowed. I tried to figure out a way to retrieve it when I remembered that I had a small roll of duct tape in my bag. I wrap the tape sticky side out a toothbrush and was able to retrieve it.
Enough fooling around so I went to bed.
Wednesday, November 6, 2013: Tour Leptis Magna
My alarm was set for 06:00 but at the same time the call to prayer from a mosque close by awoke me before the alarm did.
I was the only one at breakfast when I arrived at 07:00. The breakfast buffet was not very large so I would not say I had a hardy breakfast but it was enough. When I checked outside the streets were wet and there were dark clouds in the sky so I packed my rain coat in my back pack. At 09:00 Adnan arrived with his brother Yousf in Yousf’s Jeep Wagon. Adnan felt that his little BMW 1 series 5-door would not be as comfortable on the rougher roads on the way to Al-Khums where Leptis Magna is located.
It was an hour and a half drive and we encountered a variety of weather from overcast to light rain to heavy rain to sunshine and back again. The road was flooded in some parts. We rode east past Wheelus along the beach and then turned southeast away from the coast inland past Castelverde until we intersected the coast again in Al-Khums. Along the way we pasted and overturned milk tanker truck with milk flowing down the street mixed with the muddy rainwater. It was an interesting sight.
One thing that I found interesting is that the pre revolution license plates spray painted over the old country name in Arabic of the “Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya” that Gaddafi had used. Some of them pasted decals of the current official name of “State of Libya” or just plain Libya in Arabic over the old name.
Adnan had told me to carry my passport and we passed through a number of checkpoints but were never interrogated. At the Leptis Magna parking lot we rendezvoused with Abraham the site care taker and guide. He was a retired History Professor and had been taking care of the Leptis Magna site for 22 years. Just as we were about to start out the rain started again. Abraham put on clear plastic rain gear. I was happy to have a hurricane jacket. The rain stopped, the sun came out and we started out.
The first site was the Septimius Severus Arch, but, the route Abraham wanted to take down a set of stairs was flooded so we skirted the Arch staying on high ground past the work area were copies of the figures were being made. We then descended to walk through the sports arena; the swimming pool; the warm room with its once heated basement; the Apodytercia; and the latrines. The male seats were larger than the female seats. It was too bad that the elaborate water flow and sewage system that existed to flow black water to the sea no long operated. It could have reduced the flooding we encountered throughout the tour causing us to deviate from Abraham’s route and in many spots wade through water up to our ankles.
We walked up the Colonnaded Street through the Byzantine Gate to a temple. There on the floor by a stone bench was carved a game board. The University of Pennsylvania performed some of the archeological reconstruction in the 1960’s and the remnants of railroad tracks to cart the excess dirt away still existed.
The tracks ended at the sea coast were we encountered very strong winds that made it difficult to walk on the uneven ground. The surf was really high from the stormy sea. When we ventured back in land we visited the Temple of Serapis; the Hunting Baths; and the Market. At the market Abraham showed me a copy of the Units Lengths of Measure based on the length of a person’s arm.
From the market we walked the Arch of Tiberus; the Arch of Trajan; trough the Chalcidicum Market Place and passed the Schola to the Theater.
To me Leptis Magna it had many of the same characteristics as Ephesus in Turkey without the crowd of tourists. Having the whole site and guide to me was uniquely mind blowing even with the flooded areas and occasional rain. The walk along the sea shore was unforgettable because of the high surf and very strong winds which made the balancing act of navigating the flooded areas a challenge to not fall over. I was especially impressed of the market and then the theater. We couldn’t stand in the point that one tests the acoustics of the theater because of high water. Abraham encouraged me to climb to the top of the theater and as I started out bid me farewell and hoped to see me again. I thought it was a strange thing to say and he disappeared, stage left as I climbed to the top and took pictures of the theater and the rest of the site and raging sea. When I finished and descended back to the stage Abraham was nowhere around so I walked out of the site on my own. He wasn’t at the office and when I told Adnan what had happened he called Abraham on his cell phone and told me he would arrive shortly. When he saw me he asked me where I went he claims he was calling my name and was concerned that I might of fallen. He continued by saying that in 20 years he had never lost a person he was guiding. I apologized for making him uncomfortable.
We all piled into the Jeep Wagon and drove to the Amphitheater, a short distance away. It was another amazing site about 80% restored. Again he encouraged me to walk around the stands and bid me farewell and hoped to see me again. I don’t think he understood the meaning of his statement. This time I kept him in sight. He and Adnan smoked a cigarette and it dawned on me that since he had gone hours leading me around the site without smoking, he most likely had sneaked off to get a smoke when he disappeared back at the theater. Our tour of Leptis Magna complete we dropped Abraham off at the site office and went in search of a place to eat lunch. Adnan said that the places he used to eat at before the revolution had closed due to lack of tourists visiting the site.
We stopped at a Libyan Restaurant with a life size statue of a camel and its baby standing in front. I had the typical Libyan lunch of a small salad, bowl of spicy soap, a lamb bone with some meat on it and boiled potatoes and cabbage on a bed of couscous.
On the way home we visited Yousf’s summer home recently built on the sea shore near the Tripoli suburb of Tajoura. The land was recently the encampment of one of Gaddafi’s son’s armies. They had confiscated the land from its rightful owner and after the revolution the government signed the land back to the original owner who sold it to Yousf. The road to his house was not paved and often needed four-wheel drive to drive through the sand. The house was yellow with a cinder block wall sitting in a wide open area with no close neighbors. Yousf is an active surfer, and ski boater and motorcyclist. His driving was nail biting as he drove the speed limit of 60mph right up to the rear of slower cars and often squeezed between cars.
He delivered me safely back to the hotel by 16:30 where I had four hours before Adnan picked me up for dinner.
He chose a nicely decorated restaurant that he hadn’t eaten in since the revolution and was surprised to find that it had turned into an Indian Restaurant. We had spinach soap and a half chicken tandoori.
Back at my room I wrote in my journal and retired about midnight.
Thursday, November 7, 2013: Tour Sabratha
The weather was bright and sunny when we headed west of the city in Adnan’s BMW to Sabratha and the World Heritage Archaeology Site of Sabratha. On the way Adnan drove me trough Gaddafi’s compound which was heavily destroyed. Along the way I saw other buildings destroyed during the revolution. One was hit by a NATO bomb. At Sabratha we meet up with Fathi a local guide. He was a young man with a beard who had been a guide for 10 years.
We started out walking past the Roman and Punic Museums, both closed since the revolution, through the Ancient Residential Quarter to the Southern Temple and the Statue of Flavius Tullus. There we had close up views of the Mausoleum of Bes, in my opinion the most stunning structure in the area west of the theater. Sabratha is known for its elaborate mosaic tile floors, many of which are intact. Sections of the tile floors have been removed intact and are on display in museums throughout the world. Common people’s homes had black and while mosaic floors while the upper class had colors in their designs.
One of the interesting designs was the picture of left and right “flip flops” on the floor of the entry way to baths. Another common design was the reverse swastika similar to the American Indian design.
From the Mausoleum of Bes we walked by another mausoleum under discovery. We walked past and through the Southern Temple; the Baptistery; the Basilica of Apuleius of Madora; Antonine Temple; Temple of Liber Pater to the Forum. Across the vast floor of the Forum we visited the Capitoleum; the Temple of Serapis; the Senate House; the Basilica of Justinian; the Olive Oil Press; and stopped for a rest and picture taking at the latrine.
We then walked past the Flavius Toulouse Fountain; a pair of Christian Basilicas; the Baths of Oceanus to the Lighthouse to the Temple of Isis at the extreme east end of the complex. Then we walked up to the major attraction of Sabratha, the three story high Theater. It was reconstructed by the Italians in the 1930s and hosted a visit by Mussolini in 1936. Fathi told me that his Grandfather attended the show to hear Mussolini address the people of Sabratha.
The theater is an impressive structure with a large stage, huge area for performer’s dressing rooms, seating for VIPs, and about 17,000 spectators. It is currently used for historical productions. The wall below the stage had many fine relief figures of gods and performers.
After I climbed to the top of the seats and took pictures of the area I rejoined Adnan and Fathi, the tour was over. We walked back to Adnan’s car and drove to the city to eat lunch. We stopped in front of a Chocolate store where Adnan bought some chocolates and then ate in a Turkish restaurant next door. I ordered out of curiosity, a Turkish Pizza and a small mixed salad. The mixed salad was a mix of Humus, tabbula, olives, mishveyya and some other things I didn’t know the name of. The bread was good and went well with the salad. The pizza was no different than the US. It had ripe olives, sliced tomatoes, sliced green pepper and lots of cheese. It was a small plate size and was enough for one person.
During lunch we discussed politics, Gaddafi’s reign, the good he initially did and the bad that followed. He was in office too long in their opinion. Fathi was one of the guides waiting for the cruise ship that Gaddafi would not let the Americans depart for shore tours. Both Adnan and Fathi had recent experiences of having the US refuse to grant them US visas to attend schools in the US. Fathi had been accepted by American University to enroll in the MBA program. He had all the paperwork for the departure and yet was not granted a visa with no explanation. Adnan had been sponsored by a Travel Agency in California to attend a tour manager’s course in Los Angeles and was in his opinion rudely rejected with no explanation at the US Embassy in Casablanca the week before my arrival. They told me that before the killing of the US Ambassador it used to take just two days to get a US visa if you had the proper paperwork. Now they told me they have to apply in person in Casablanca and the told of other rejections that made little sense. I guess my problems obtaining a visa pales in comparison.
After lunch we dropped Fathi back at the site and returned to Tripoli. Along the way I saw a lot of anti Gaddafi graffiti on the walls of buildings and walls.
Back in my room I wrote in my journal until Adnan called at 20:00. He was picking me up early because he had to quickly stop at his family’s apartment to pay his respects because his sister was getting engaged that night. It was a traditional Muslim arranged marriage by the mothers. This would be just the third meeting between his sister and her soon to be fiancée. The stopped took longer than expected. Only Adnan knew the fiancée. He got drawn into escorting him to the meeting and staying with him as he was questioned by a room full of women. Adnan came down at one point and apologized and invited me to have dinner with his family.
Adnan’s brother Anis who had recently returned from six years in Vancouver sat with me and some male neighbors on a patio. Anis was not a supporter of Gaddafi and couldn’t return to Libya while he was in power. We had a long talk about the safety and dangers in Libya and said that it is a safe country around Tripoli. He said everyone he knew did not hold any animosity with the Americans over the snatching of the terrorist out of his car a whisking him away to the US to stand trial. Anis said the attitude among his friends was the guy had it coming because he killed a lot of innocent people in the bombings of the American Embassy in Tanzania.
We also talked about the frustrations of the Lybian people that the new government is not moving fast enough to establish control of the country. There are many factions (clans, tribes, unions and militia) that are upset that they are not adequacy represented in the new government and they are causing a lot of continued unrest.
As we talked I heard gunshots but Anis said they were probably celebrations at a party fired in the air. He said one of Libya’s problems is that too many people have guns they obtained during the revolution. As the time got later I felt uncomfortable because I was dominating Anis’ conversation at the important family gathering. When Adnan and the fiancée reappeared I asked Adnan to take me back to the hotel so I could pack for the next day’s flight. This gave Anis a chance to get to know the fiancée better.
He agreed and dropped me off at the hotel. I called Judy and wrote in my journal and continued to hear fireworks in the distance. An hour later Adnan called from the lobby and asked to meet me in my room. When he arrived he told me that there were two gun battles raging in the city between the rouge militia and the police. A leader of the rouge militia had died that afternoon and the rouge militias were out for revenge. Both locations were several miles from the hotel but he was inviting me to stay at his apartment with his brothers. I thanked him and showed him that a stray bullet could not hit me in my bed since it was lower than the window and since I was four stories above the street any bullets would penetrate the window at an upward angel hitting the ceiling. He checked the windows and agreed they were not in the line of possible street fighting and left.
I wrote in my journal and went to bed at midnight. I learned later that the gun fire continued until 2AM and that two of the rouge militia were killed and 21 wounded. Reportedly no Government forces were wounded.
Friday, November 8, 2013: Fly Tripoli to Cairo, Egypt
The gun fire continued during the night but I still fell asleep and woke to the “Call to Prayer” at 06:00. The streets were deserted and after the prayer calls very quiet since it was the end of their week. I was the only one at breakfast and then I returned to my room and packed.
Adnan picked me up and drove me to the airport. He and his family stayed up until 02:30. His sister’s fiancée and his family were afraid to leave until fighting stopped since they lived in the area of the battle. He told me the people are sick and tired of the militia thinking because they defeated Gaddafi they should continue to fight and not join the new government. It is a shame.
At the airport Adnan accompanied me to the right check-in counter and then bid farewell. I wish he had stayed a little longer because the agent didn’t understand English and my ticket. I was flying: Tripoli to Cairo with a seven hour layover and then to Addis Ababa and a 13 hour layover where I had a hotel reservation and then to Djibouti for 24 hours during which time I flying down to Mogadishu and back, and then on to Addis Ababa again to spend the night before flying to Chad. My e-tickets didn’t show the places where I would check into a hotel and need my bag so the agent first tagged my bag to Mogadishu. That was the last place I wanted my bag to end up. I tried to tell him I wanted to just check my bag to Addis Ababa but he was confused because I was laying over in Addis Ababa twice. In desperation he switched counters with an agent that understood English and that and a little help with one of the men in line behind me we finally got it straight.
During the switch in agents I didn’t have my Star Alliance number recorded and they didn’t give me the pass to the lounge. The passport control was quick but the agent was surprised at the US passport. He told he hadn’t seen many of them recently.
The lounge would not let me in just on my Gold Star Alliance Card. I needed an invitation from check-in. It wasn’t a long wait anyway and the boarding announcement was made. It surprised me because the plane had just arrived and the passengers still exiting when I got to the gate. It was a very quick turn around and they started to load the plane. It surprised me and I was the last to leave the gate area. The plane was not full. The only middle seats occupied were with families or groups of men traveling together. They served a beef dinner and handed out newspapers. I read the Cairo newspaper and it was disturbing. The headline read: “Putin due here soon to restore military ties”. The article described that the Egyptian government was unhappy with the US cutting military aid and despite John Kerry’s visit earlier in the week they are turning to Russia to reestablish ties that existed in the 1970s. Other articles discussed the confusion and apprehension of the countries in the region over the changes in attitude by Obama on Syria and Iran. There were articles about: Mubarak remaining under house arrest; the status of the Muslim Brotherhood; Libya; US-Saudi relations; US-Iran relations; and the Syrian situation. None of the articles described the US in a favorable light.
At the Cairo airport they have several Star Alliance Lounges. One was closed, one was for smokers and the third was open. I set up my laptop, charged my smart phone and processed email and watched videos of TV shows I had missed since leaving on the trip. Wendy copies them and uploads them to our shared Dropbox folder.
When the time came to go to the gate I found it was at the extreme end of the G wing of the terminal. I had to pass through security at the gate. The plane was pretty full and I was assigned a seat in the midst of a group of ladies. Despite the late hour several of the ladies talked throughout the flight making it difficult to get a sound sleep. They served a meal and I think I did sleep a little but at times I wanted to tell the ladies to just shut up.
Saturday, November 9, 2013: Fly Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to Djibouti, Djibouti
When we landed at Addis Ababa and were exiting the plane the talkative ladies from my flight continued to talk and walk very slowly up the exit ramp holding up the passengers behind them. In the Immigration Hall there was a line for “Visa on Arrival” which I first got in and then flipped through my passport and found that I already had an Ethiopian visa so I exited the line and got in the Immigration line. I was again in the midst of the young ladies who were still gabbing away and not moving forward. I then noticed that there was a special line for Star Alliance Gold so I got in it and was quickly at the Immigration counter. I was rejected because the visa I had from two weeks ago was for a single entry so I had to go back to the end of the “Visa on Arrival” line. They would not sell me a multiple entry visa so I will have to pay the $20 again in two days when I return.
Back at the Immigration Agents desk I was quickly processed and picked up my luggage only to have to stand in a line for Customs check. Again I was caught up in the midst of the gabbing ladies. When my bag flowed through the x-ray machine the operator had me open it and show her my CPAP machine. In the meantime another Customs Inspector was going through the ladies bags and throwing out boxes of perfume and other cosmetics which I was surprised were not allowed to be brought into the country.
Finally I exited into the Arrivals Hall and went to the Harmony Hotel desk to see when the next shuttle was due. No one was at the desk so I decided to take a taxi. The taxi situation is not very well controlled. I found a taxi and the coordinator told me it would cost $20 to take me to the hotel I told him that it had cost me just $15 two weeks ago but he said the late hour cost $5 extra. I got in the cab and the driver wanted 20€ but when I got to the hotel and the bellman had my bags I gave him a $20 bill and he left.
They couldn’t find my reservation but the clerk remembered me from the 28th and looked up that record and gave me a room key. It was 4 in the morning and I set my alarm for noon and went to bed at 08:00 someone called my room twice so I took the receiver off the hook. There is a new hotel being constructed next door and I awoke several times to hammering and other construction noises. Needless to say I did not get a restful sleep.
At 10:00 I awoke for a bio break and called Judy. She had been out when I called before going to bed. I slept another hour and at 11:45 I called the Manager to get a two hour extension on the noon checkout. I took a shower and updated my journal.
My flight to Djibouti was not until 16:00 so I checked out and took the hotel bus to the airport at 14:00. Even though Djibouti is another country, Ethiopian Airlines considers it a Domestic flight so I checked in at the old Domestic Terminal. I already had a boarding pass from the day before but it didn’t have my United Star Alliance Gold number in the record. I put my bag on the check in belt, handed the agent my passport, e-ticket, Star Alliance Gold card and my boarding pass. I asked her to enter the numbers in my record as she was doing that she forgot to affix the baggage tag on my bag and it started moving towards the luggage room without a tag. I called out and she jumped from her counter and went running down the belt and got to the bag just before it turned the corner into the luggage room. She completed adding my numbers to my record and affixed the luggage tag receipt to the back of my ticket. She also gave me an invitation to the Star Alliance Lounge. It was a familiar lounge because it was where I watched Romney give his concession speech on TV last November.
When the time came to go to the gate it also had memories from last year. On one of the flights last year out of Addis Ababa the door to the stairs that the passengers have to take to get to their aircraft was locked and the gate agent couldn’t find the right key on a ring that had a dozen or more keys on it. This time the door wasn’t locked, it was just closed.
We walked to the aircraft and it left on time. My seatmate was a young US Navy Seaman on his way to join his first sea deployment. He was from Grand Prairie, Texas, a suburb of Dallas where I worked at Chance Vought Aircraft before I joined the Air Force. We had a good conversation during the short flight.
Arrival processing at Djibouti was a mess. They had lines for VIP’s, Nationals, Foreigners with Visa and one for Foreigners without Visa. Many of the men on the plane didn’t understand either English or Arabic and got in the wrong line or had the wrong paperwork. It took me over thirty minutes to get processed. My bag was just coming on the belt and I loaded it on a trolley and headed for the taxis. One of the locals on my plane told me the rate was $12 to my hotel. I quoted that rate to the taxi that loaded my bag and he wanted more. As we were leaving the airport I told me to turn back if he was not willing to take $12. He shut up and delivered me to my hotel. The hotel was in the center of the city facing one of the two town squares in Djibouti. I would rate it a one star. The furniture in the room was cheap and dated. It had good Wi-Fi but even standing in the hall below the modem I couldn’t make a Vonage call. I went down to the restaurant for dinner. The menu was limited and the salad I wanted was not available so I played it safe and ordered spaghetti with meat sauce. It was a big pile on a medium size plate. It tasted OK.
I retired without writing in my journal and set the alarm for 04:00.
Sunday, November 10, 2013: Fly Djibouti, Djibouti to Mogadishu, Somalia and to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
The town square was noisy and I was wakened many times and at 03:00 I got up and checked my email. The shower had no enclosure. A curtain stopped the spray from wetting down the whole bathroom but the floor was wet. I packed and checked out, leaving my bags at the hotel. They called a cab and the bellman told the cab driver to not charge more than $12. The cabs are a mix of cars with taxi signs and rundown wrecks from Japan with right hand drive. From the airport I had the wreck but to the airport a taxi with sign on top.
Entering the terminal I had to pass through security. They didn’t like the fact that I keep setting off the alarm. I showed them the scar for my artificial knee and told them if I removed all my clothes I would still set off the alarm. Finally they went into a closet and returned with a wand and confirmed that the only thing on my person the set it off was the knee.
The check in agent was not going to issue me a boarding pass without a Somalia visa until I told her I was going to be transit and return on the same plane. She was confused and took me to the Turkish Airlines Station Manager and had me explain to him what I was doing. He OK’d giving me a boarding pass and I processed through Immigration and upstairs to pass through another security check. Again I was given a hard time about my knee. The Security Agent wanted to see a letter documenting the implant. I told him I didn’t carry one and he was the first to ever ask it 10 years. His response was times have changed and I needed a letter. As he was lecturing me I put my shoes and belt back on and stood in line to board the plane.
The plane was an A-321-200 and was pretty full with passengers that originated in Istanbul. I was disappointed that all the window seats were occupied. The plane had seatback video and I watched a movie on the flight but was not able to see the end before we landed.
It was a beautiful view when we landed the airport is on the coast and parallels the beach. The ramp had several planes and helicopters with UN markings. We walked across the ramp to the Arrivals Hall on a route guarded by armed private security men with jackets marked Turkish Airlines Security on their backs.
At the door to the hall they handed us a form to fill and inside the hall was chaos. One pair of Immigration Agents was processing passengers without visas, one pair handling Somalia Nationals and the third pair for passengers with a visa. I asked several officials which window I should go to for Transit. A young man named Mohammad Ali took me to the Agent for passengers without visas. The Agent asked me how long I was going to be in country I told him a couple of hours and he handed back my passport and form without stamping the passport. Mohammad then led me to the Departure Hall and got them to unlock the door and told them I needed a boarding pass. He led me passed security and down halls , everyone knew him, and finally to the check-in area which was a bigger mob scene than Passport Control with two flights checking in and no signs of lines. Everyone was crowding the counters. Mohammad found the Turkish Airline check-in agent and pushed to the head of the line (oops! Head of the mob because there was no line) using my Star Alliance Gold card and the fact I didn’t have a bag. He duked it out with another handler that was performing the same function for a Diplomat. Mohammad won because I had no luggage to check.
After I received my boarding pass Mohammad led me to a counter where it was stamped and then to Immigration. The Immigration Agent told him I needed a visa and Mohammad lead me past the security and gate agents and exited the Departure Hall and once we were outside he stopped and said let’s wait here. When the time came for the passengers to walk to the aircraft he pushed me into the line, we bid farewell and I handed him a $10. Near the plane they were collecting the boarding passes and checking passports. They asked me why I didn’t have an exit stamp I told them I was transit and they said OK and let me board the aircraft. I would have liked to get my passport stamped but under situation of the mob scene I let it ride. I had a window seat and was able to get great views of the city and surrounding area. It didn’t appear to be as bad as was depicted in “Blackhawk Down” or in the special I saw about the recovery of the Blackhawk helicopter parts. The main city has paved streets and nice looking buildings. I guess the firefight was in a suburb.
I was able to fast forward in the movie at the seat to the point I had stopped on landing and finished seeing the movie on the short flight back to Djibouti. We arrived a little after noon and I had already filled out my entry form and rush to the line for Foreigners with visa but a group of Chinese workers were ahead of me and they were taking a long time being processed. The agent at the Djibouti Nationals window recognized me and as soon as the locals were processed he motioned me over. He was curious as why he had processed me to exit just that morning. He laughed and agreed when I told him that Mogadishu was not considered safe for Americans so I flew back.
I had no luggage and thought it would be easy to get a taxi to the hotel. There appeared to be some sort of a system of priority and I was directed to a beat-up old right hand drive Datsun. I told the driver $12 was all I was willing to pay he argued for more but when I started to get out to find another taxi he relented. He made up for it by picking up and discharging passengers along the way. Since I know the city I quickly determined that he was not taking a direct route to the hotel. I had a number of hours to kill and I enjoyed his deviations in to areas I hadn’t seen before. When he finally got close to the hotel I let him know that I knew where it was and pointed out the back of the building which made him realized that I in fact did know the area.
It was hot outside and the taxi of course was not air conditioned so I headed to the hotel Restaurant/Bar and ordered a cold St. Georges’ beer and relaxed. I used their rest room and internet. My flight was scheduled for 19:00 and I knew that I couldn’t check in before 16:00 so I had a couple of hours to kill.
When I finished the beer I left the hotel and walked all over the city. At one point my back pack came unzipped and a magazine fell out as I was walking along by some stalls. The people yelled out and I ran back and picked it up and then realized my jacket was also missing so I started to back track my route to see if I could find it. About two blocks from where I discovered it missing a man ran up and in French was telling me he found it. We had to find an interrupter from the guys sitting in the shade chewing knat to explain to me what he was saying. He wanted me to pay him to get the jacket and bring it to me. I told the interrupter that my money was in the jacket and tell him to lead me to it. He agreed and a block away a group of men sorting knat had the jacket. I really didn’t have any money in it but I checked that everything was there and gave each guy $5.
I clipped the zipper shut and started walking back towards the hotel when the man that found me started to ask for more money. I refused and our discussions drew a crowd. I asked the guy if he was a good Muslim and he said yes he was and then I said that his act of telling me where the jacket was an act of kindness that his religion taught him and that he shouldn’t be asking for more money. An elderly man in a white Muslim hat in the crowd agreed and scolded the man and the crowd broke up and I went on my way.
I had tracked my walk on my smart phone and I had walked every street in the center of the city. By the time I reached the hotel I was soaking wet and had another couple of cold beers in the air conditioned Restaurant/Bar (which led to my catching a cold). I checked email and at 15:30 I retrieved my luggage from the hotel storage room and took a Taxi to the airport for $12, no hassle.
I was the first to check in for the flight and was given a pass to the Star Alliance Lounge where I also was the only one for almost an hour. I was able to plug in and recharge my smart phone and use my laptop to write in my journal.
Remembering the hassle I had that morning going through security at the gate I left the lounge a little early. In front of me we two German Officers in camouflage uniforms. The junior officer set off the alarm and was told to remove his boots which he was not happy doing. When it came my turn and I set off the alarm they quickly padded me down and cleared me but they searched my carry-on and wanted to confiscate my small batteries. I protested and at least got my case that I carry them in returned and continued to protest telling that I needed them for my medical machine. During my protest a Djibouti doctor came through and in their native language convinced them to return my batteries.
I thanked the doctor and engaged him in conversation. He went to school in San Jose, California and now practices in Phoenix. He was in Djibouti to invest in real estate. He told me that he was getting outstanding returns on investments in Djibouti. I then had a discussion with the German Officer. He was the German Military Attaché to Ethiopia and Djibouti, based in Addis Ababa. He had recently sat next to Herb Gobles, the UTS Tour Escort I had traveled with earlier in the year. Herb told him about the Traveler’s Century Club and was escorting several UTS clients in the area including the same trip to Mogadishu that I had just returned from. Small world for World Travelers!
My seatmate was a US Naval Officer stationed in the Pentagon on a TDY tour of Naval Aviation Units. He was on his way from Djibouti to Germany. The one advantage to traveling by myself is the increased opportunities to interact with other people. When I travel in a group we often are assigned seats next to each other and sit in the gate waiting rooms talking to each other and not mixing with the other passengers.
Arriving in Addis Ababa I had to buy another single entry visa for $20. At least there was a separate line at Immigration for those that had just purchased a visa so it didn’t hold me up too long and the luggage from the flight had not arrived. When it did they had the bags with the Star Alliance tag come out on a different carousel than the others. There was also a special line at the Customs X-Ray machine for Star Alliance Gold so I didn’t have the long wait I had experienced the previous flight into Addis Ababa.
They did have me open my luggage again to show them my CPAP machine. Exiting the Luggage Hall I found for the first time in three trips that the Harmony Hotel’s booth was staffed and I was able to take the Hotel Shuttle bus and avoid the hassle with the taxi rate that I experienced on the last two trips.
The room was the same layout as I had on the previous visit but on a non-smoking floor. The room had excellent Internet cable and Wi-Fi signal so I was able to call Judy on Vonage. I washed clothes, wrote in my journal and retired.
Monday, November 11, 2013: Fly Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to N’Djamena, Chad
My flight to N’Djamena was scheduled for 10:15 so I slept until six and was able to eat breakfast before checking out and leaving for the airport at 08:00. There was a long line checking in for flights. The Star Alliance/Business Class line was very long and then one of the staff checked people to see if they were supposed to be in the line. It thinned out rather quickly when most were not eligible for the line. I remarked to the woman behind me that it is difficult for travelers who don’t read the local language or English to get in the right lines at airports. She and her husband were on their way to Amsterdam via a Frankfurt flight which was the reason for the long lines.
After getting my boarding pass the line at Immigration was surprisingly short and I breezed through without a wait and visited the Star Alliance Lounge. Outside the lounge there was a big line going through Security. I decided to leave a little early for my gate and found that the long Security line was for gates 5 to 10 and I was assigned gate 1 which was at the end of the terminal and had no long line. I did have me remove my shoes which I hadn’t had to do for a number of airports on the trip.
When it came time to board the aircraft we had to go down stairs and get on a bus. I took the escalator and a group of Chinese workers took the stairs. The line to process the boarding passes was zig zag barriers with the entrance at the bottom of the escalator. As the group taking the stairs crowded into the entrance the blocked the people leaving the escalator essentially blocking the escalator flow which backed up and people were starting to pile on top of each other and we had to physically push the people from the stairs to the side which defeated their taking the stairs in the first place. When I reached the agent to process my boarding pass she asked me to stand aside they had a special bus for the Star Alliance Gold/Business Class passengers.
The plane was packed and I had a window seat so I could see the city on approach. Unfortunately it was over the wing so the view was not that great. They showed US TV shows during the flight, “Big Bang Theory” and the Mentalist were two that I watched. Lunch was a nice poached fish and wine was served.
On arrival we had to fill out a form and stand in the different lines. I stood in the shorter of the two lines for visa holders. Unfortunately the agent was the slowest and the Chinese workers took extra time. Eventually I processed through and my bag was already there. There was a little backup at the Customs x-ray machine because someone had shipped a number of rugs that were difficult to maneuver through the machine. My bag passed without incident and when I exited and was hounded by taxi drivers I took a wild guess and said I was looking for the Novotel Bus. One of the porters showed me to the bus and I rode to the hotel by myself. I had overheard others tell the Immigration Agents that they were staying at the Novotel but they didn’t find the bus or they were being met for business reasons. I was surprised at the number of US passengers on the flight.
The Novotel is very large but old fashioned with a key lock and very dated furnishings. Wi-Fi was through a service and didn’t have wide bandwidth. As an example Facebook wouldn’t display, Vonage didn’t connect and Outlook kept dropping even though I had Excellent signal strength. There were no power outlets on the bed headboard side of the room so I had to string two extension cords together to get power to my CPAP machine. I ended setting up my laptop next to the bed to share the power strip.
I tried to hire an English speaking drive to show me the sights of the city. The front desk claimed to know one but by dark they hadn’t found him. The restaurant did not open until 20:30 so I went out to the pool and had a pizza and beer. At one end of the room there was a group of Americans and at the other end of the room a dozen French. All the French were smoking and drinking while the Americans were drinking water. I took a table next to the Americans. They started talking about per diem rates so I figured they might be with the C-130 I saw parked on the ramp when I landed. Since it was Veteran’s Day I went over and thanked them for their service. They really appreciated it because nobody had mentioned that it was Veteran’s Day all day. We chatted a while and I retired to my room.
As I walked the corridor to my room I saw where the Wi-Fi modem was and I went out and tried Vonage and was able to get connected.
Back in the room I updated my journal and then watched some videos on my laptop and retired at 22:00. I had planned on washing some clothes and had even requested a second towel to roll them dry in but when I filled the basin with hot water it was so rusty I decided against washing clothes in it.
Tuesday, November 12, 2013: Tour N’Djamena, Chad, fly to Cairo
I woke naturally at 07:00 and checked email. At 07:30 the lights went out in the room. I was in the bathroom in the dark. When I returned to my bedroom I saw that that there was still power to my laptop so I figured it was not a hotel wide power outage more likely a circuit breaker. I went down to the lobby and told the receptionist and he responded that he would send a technician. The restaurant was just off the lobby so I ate breakfast and returned to my room to find that the power was still out. Outside the room was down the hall there were a number of maids and managers I guess discussing the days schedule. I told one of the managers that I had no power and what appeared to be head of housekeeping asked me to repeat. I guess she was the only one that spoke English. She barked orders and three people arrived at my door to check the power and then left and it was soon restored and I was able to take a shower in the rusty water. That ate up my morning so I never did find a taxi driver that spoke English to give me a quick tour of the city. I was disappointed. Throughout the world whenever you visit a former French colony you find a real reluctance by the people to even attempt to communicate in English. I realize one should always respect the local language and customs but all ex-Italian and Portuguese colony’s and Arabic countries I find signs in both the native language and English and a large percentage of people that can communicate to some degree in English. Not so in the ex-French colonies whose menus, museum labels are in French and the local language. I’m dyslexic and have difficulty in English pronunciation and spelling so there is no hope I can communicate with French speaking people.
I took the hotel shuttle bus to the airport. I know people need to make money but the vultures at airports really get on my nerves. Their insisting on helping just makes me nervous. I want to control my own bags and check-in process. At N’Djamena it was worse because they didn’t understand any English. If you are going to prey on elderly tourists at least learn a few words in the tourist’s language. In their effort to help I was pushed ahead of the Economy Class line to an agent that didn’t understand English and could not enter my Star Alliance number in my record. Continental’s instance on using their identification system which starts with letters in the new United Airlines just confuses agents at these foreign airports. I was issued boarding passes for my two flights to Cairo but also for my flight to Sharm El Sheikh and she tagged my bag to Sharm El Sheikh. My plan was to stash my bags at my Cairo Hotel and then fly to Sharm El Sheikh without luggage so I asked her to correct it. She printed the luggage tags three times before she got it right.
At the airport check-in I requested a window seat so I could at least see the city from the air on climb out. Unfortunately my seat was over the wing so I didn’t have a clear view but it was more than if I was sitting on the aisle. We landed after dark in Addis Ababa and I went to the Star Alliance Lounge. When I was checking into the lounge there was a Swedish man with two women checking in and the receptionist was telling him he could only have one guest. He then asked if they could split their time in lounge and the receptionist turned to her colleague and started a discussion in their native language. A line had formed behind to get admitted to the lounge so I asked if the third woman could be my guest. The two receptionists looked at each other agreed that I had solved the dilemma. The Swedish man was very happy and praised my good deed. I told him he could buy me a drink inside the lounge knowing that they were free anyway. In the lounge I was able to recharge my smart phone and contact Judy.
Remembering problems I had had in the past with gate security I left the lounge as soon as my smart phone was recharged. To my surprise there was no line at the gate security and they didn’t perform a visual check of my carryon so I breezed through and proceeded to the gate check-in counter. There was no one at the gate counter but there was a counter with an agent in the vicinity of the gate entrance. I asked her if I needed to have a pre-check which they sometimes performed at Addis Ababa. She told me to wait right there and walked over to the gate counter and made an announcement for passengers flying to Cairo to proceed to the gate. She then returned as a line formed in back of me and processed my boarding pass and affixed a green sticker. Ethiopian uses colored stickers rather than the numbering system to control the boarding on some of their flights.
The flight was late boarding. I again had a window seat which I like on night flights so I can rest my head against the wall to sleep. Unfortunately a large man sat next to me in the middle seat. It was a little weird because his traveling companion sat on the aisle on the row in front of us and the middle and window seat on that row were vacant. I suggested that he move to that row when all the passengers had gotten on board but he indicated he was in his assigned seat and stayed there throughout the flight. They served a meal and showed some American TV shows and I slept a little.
My visits to all the countries in Africa were complete!
Wednesday, November 13, 2013: Fly Cairo to Sharm El Sheikh, Sinai, Egypt and back
We landed in Cairo twenty minutes late and I had to purchase another visa for $15. I had neglected to request a multi entry visa on my first flight through. After exiting the baggage area I know why I hate the Cairo airport because you are hounded by men. There are salesmen trying to sell you a tour, taxi agents’ trying to get you a taxi and rental car agents. My plan was to take the Novotel bus to the hotel, store my luggage and return to the airport on the Novotel bus. I had to laugh at the rental car agent that tried to convince me that I should rent a car to drive to the Novotel, the sign which you can see from the terminal it’s that close. Whereas in other airports the information booth is usually staffed by woman that are eager to assist you, at the Cairo airport it is staffed by men that appear to be constantly conducting personal business. They appeared annoyed when I asked them to call the hotel since I wasn’t sure if they were operating on their thirty minute schedule at 2AM. The bus arrived and took me to the hotel. I told the receptionist that I was going to check-in that evening and asked him if he would store my luggage until then. The bellman took the bags and I got on the bus back to the airport.
This time I processed through the Domestic end of the terminal and actually was on a level above the international level. The Star Alliance Lounge was not open on the Domestic level. Right next to my gate area was a children’s play area with the only power outlet I could find. I sat in a little kids chair and read a newspaper until my smart phone was fully charged and then preceeded to the gate which was down stairs on the same level as the International gates but separated by a glass wall.
We were bussed to our aircraft, an Embraer-170. My seat companion was Mike Phillips, an American from Miami working as a Technical Manager for the Multinational Force Organization (MFO) tasked to keep the peace in the Sinai. He had served in the US Army in Iraq and then become a contractor in Kuwait. His job was to program the e-proms on the equipment used by the MFO for the Sinai environment. Examples are the fuel the vehicles use in the region does not contain the same mixture of additives as they do in the states and have to be tuned for the local mixture.
We discussed the political situation in the region. He was of the opinion that the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood was a terrorist organization and that the Palestinians’ were their own worst enemy by their refusal to recognize the state of Israel. He told me of the challenges the MFO had covering such a large area and how Hamas and other pro Palestine terrorist groups had become isolated in the Sinai when the Egyptians shut down the tunnels they used to move in and out of the Gaza strip.
Mike also told me what to expect in Sharm El Sheikh. He told me the only place open to buy breakfast was a McDonald’s in a shopping strip not far from the airport. He also told me that the taxi drivers would try to overcharge for a ride to the city and in the city beware of the aggressive shop keepers becoming nasty when you turn them down.
When we arrived in Sharm El Sheikh we bid farewell and I crossed the street to the taxi stand. There was a sign with the rates to various destinations posted. When the first taxi quoted four times the posted rate I moved to the next taxi. I continued to bargain with different cabbies and despite the posted rate all the cabbies were united that they wanted more. Their rationale was they had waited all night and slept in their cars waiting for a plane to arrive. Not my problem. Finally the second taxi agreed to take me to the McDonald’s for $1 over the posted rate and I agreed. When were arrived he asked for a tip and since he was not a metered cab and I had no luggage for him to handle I told him it was included in the rate we agreed on.
On the road to the city it looked like a mixture of Las Vegas and Palm Springs with an ocean beach. Every major brand of hotel had a resort there, several with golf courses and many of the Las Vegas casino names had casinos there. The MacDonald’s was opened 24 hours but was just switching over to breakfast and I had to wait a bit.
When I finished breakfast I started to walk to the center of the city. Down the four-lane divided boulevard I saw a camel just slowly walking across the boulevard back and forth stopping in the grassy medium to munch on the short palm trees that lined the center of the medium.
I stopped at the Novotel and told them I was from the Cairo airport Novotel and was just in town for the day and what tours would they recommend. They gave me a map and referred me to their tour office on the beach. I walked through their beautiful property to the beach and found that the tour office wasn’t open and from the signs it appeared that they were offering just various boat and water sport tours.
The Marriott Resort was next door and their tour desk was also closed. I crossed the boulevard and purchased some drinks at the A2Z store. The next hotel resort was the Hilton and it had an amusement park situated in back of it. I noticed a sign across the boulevard that said “Sun’NFun” so I figured they had tours and they had the signs for them all discounted but again they weren’t open for business. It was only 08:00 and it appeared that the establishments didn’t open until 09:00 or later. I walked back to the boulevard and headed again toward the city center when I came upon a sign that said Public Beach.
I walked back to the beach on the “Public Beach” road and found a paved lane along the beach with no walls between resort properties. The lane was lined with open air restaurant/bars and tourist vendor stalls and shops. I stopped to use a W.C. at a “Dive Shop” which was very active outfitting their first group of the day. A few restaurants away on the lane I saw a Free Wi-Fi sign and a man setting up the cushions in the open air bar. I asked him if I could use the Wi-Fi and he said OK and typed in the password on my phone.
After checking my email, catching up on the news of the world and updating my Google map of the city, I thanked the man and walked on toward the center of the city.
I came upon an open area with a big parking lot lined with various vendors and restaurants. There was a big Hard Rock Café, next to a T.G.I. Fridays, next to a Pizza Hut, and then a KFC. I crossed the road after checking out a 1950’s era pink Ford sedan in front of the Hard Rock Café and came upon a Chili’s which had both indoor and outdoor seating. I stopped to checkout a stand with a row of power outlets when a man on a balcony over the restaurant called out a hello. I asked if I could plug in my smart phone. He replied wait and came down and unplugged a drink box and told me to use that outlet. He then sat with me and had a long talk. He was from Cairo and could find work there so he commutes to Sharm El Sheikh to work in the Chili’s. He had just one wife and three children. He wanted to know why Americans were not visiting Egypt any more. I told him that the Travel Agencies were not scheduling trips because they are afraid of the demonstrations. We talked for about thirty minutes and then I unplugged my charger, thanked him and walked on.
When I reached the main boulevard there was a large taxi parking area and a Tourist Police Station. I was hounded by taxi drivers and after waving them off was asked by a by stander where I was from and then he too asked why Americans are not visiting Sharm El Sheikh like they did before. I repeated that the Tour Agencies are not scheduling tours because they don’t think the country is safe. He argued that they get tourists from Russia and European countries but he likes Americans and wish they would return. We discussed briefly the negative impression the US has of the Muslim Brotherhood and how we don’t think that Morsi should have tried to implement strict Muslim beliefs into the country’s constitution. He agreed and hoped the political situation would get better so American tourists would return. We then parted and I continued my walk.
I returned to the hotel area and checked with the Marriott Tour Desk and discovered the one tour that I wanted to take was to Ras Mohamed National Park had already left. Bad timing – first they weren’t open then the tours for the day had left. He told me most people reserve the day before.
I continued on to the Novotel where I ate their buffet lunch. It was nice to have a salad bar with ripe tomatoes, iceberg lettuce and other goodies of my own choice. Before lunch they let me start charging my smart phone in their Business Center. After lunch I retrieved the phone and continued my walking around the area. At one point I returned to the “Sun’NFun” where I engaged in an hour long conversation with Ahmed, one of the Tour salesmen. He also wanted to know why the Americans were not returning. I repeated to him what I told the others. We discussed the Muslim religion and other religions that try to impose their beliefs on others while some of the most populist religions in the world such as Buddhists don’t. We discussed the treatment of Females in the Muslim religion and of homosexuals and how they many of the American Christian Right have the similar beliefs but don’t go around blowing up people that don’t agree with them. Extreme beliefs in any religion and any country should be between the individual and his religious leaders and not try to impose them on others.
We discussed the political situation in Egypt and I pointed out that it took the United States 13 years after starting the Revolution before it elected its first President and several years later for it to add the Bill of Rights to the Constitution. The countries that ousted their dictatorial leaders during the “Arab Spring” should not be in such a big hurry to get it right that they start fighting each other again. It takes time and compromise. Something the United States can also be impatient with.
Sharm El Sheikh is an interesting resort with lots to do, great beaches and diving but I’ll remember it best meeting and having lengthy discussions with its people. It was an interesting visit.
I returned to the Novotel and recharged my smart phone reading newspapers as I waited. The sun had set and I had an 20:45 flight so at 18:00 I took the Novotel airport car to the airport for $12. When I was dropped off at the front of the terminal a bus had just discharged a large group and I thought what bad timing I had to have to queue up behind them and then I noticed they were going in the International Departure door and I needed to go in the Domestic Departure Door where there was no line. I quickly obtained my boarding pass and processed through security. They had no Star Alliance Lounge but I was given a chit for a free drink at the café down stairs in the waiting area.
I obtained my drink and was looking to see if a small plane was on the ramp when I noticed that there was another flight to Cairo posted on the board that was earlier than mine. Looking around for someone from Egypt Air I saw two men in business suits with Egypt Air/Star Alliance pins on their lapels. I asked them if I could change my flight and one said sure and had me take an elevator upstairs and he vouch me through security to the check-in counter and to the head of the line and talked to the agent. I hadn’t shown him my boarding pass and my Star Alliance card. He issued a new boarding pass with my Star Alliance number printed on it which the other one didn’t have. I then breezed through security again and returned to the gate. When the time to board was announced I happened to be standing right at the gate trying to see the tail numbers of the plane so I was the first one processed. I was about to board the bus when the ticket agent ran down to me and told me my ticket was for a different flight. I was escorted back in to the gate counter where I explained to another agent that “yes, I was booked on the 20:45 flight but then rebooked on the 19:15 flight. The agent called someone on the phone and told me to wait. It took what seemed a very long time for the agent to appear and tell me the plane Business Class was full. I told him I was in Economy Class. Then there was a big discussion between agents at the gate counter and finally they hand wrote a boarding pass and allowed me on the bus.
The plane took off twenty minutes late because of me but landed only five minutes late. Since it was a Domestic flight I didn’t have to go through any processing to get out to the main lobby and up the stairs to wait for the Novotel Shuttle Bus. A man standing at the Shuttle Bus area asked me which hotel I was going to and when I told him it was the Novotel he told me he was the Novotel driver for single passengers and led me to his car. I said “wait a minute you’re a taxi driver and I am not paying to go to the hotel when the bus is free”. He said “no the car is free for single passengers, the want ten people for the bus”. I asked to confirm again that the car was free and he said yes so I got in and started to the hotel. As we approached the toll booths where you exit the airport the driver told me that I had to pay the toll. I told him: “no way, you told me it was free and if it is not take me back to the terminal”. He kept arguing that the car was free but I needed to pay the toll. When he realized I wasn’t going to pay he reversed direction in the toll booth plaza and started driving back to the terminal in oncoming traffic. Fortunately there were very few cars and we made it back to the terminal. I kept telling him to be honest and tell passengers the truth. He dropped me off and I went in and down stairs to the Information Booth where the men were conducting their private business and finally got one to call the hotel to determine when the next bus was due. The 21:30 bus was departing soon and they would tell the driver to look for me. When the bus arrived the driver recognized me and asked me “how was Sharm El Sheikh?” I responded that I had an “interesting day” and left it at that.
I checked into the hotel asking for a non-smoking room. They assigned me a room at the end of a very long hallway 40 rooms from the elevator next to a construction area to install additional elevators. I dropped my back pack it the room and went down to eat a light meal. I saw the chef making small pizzas and a man at a table was having a salad with tomato and iceberg lettuce so I told the waitress I wanted a salad like he had, plus oil and balsamic vinegar and a small pizza.
It seemed like it took a long time but finally I got the salad and it was delicious and they didn’t serve the pizza until I finished the salad (I would have liked to have both at the same time). The pizza was not cheese melting hot and the pepperoni was not round but red strips without a spicy taste. I had violated my own rule. Order what is native to the country. Pizza is not one of this Egyptian chief’s expertises.
When I returned to my room I found the Internet cable missing so I used my own and discovered that even though I was connected I could not get any internet apps to work. I turned on the TV and it didn’t work so I figured there was a wiring problem to my room, most likely due to the construction next door.
It had been 36 hours since I had slept in a bed so I called it a night without updating my journal.
Thursday, November 14, 2013: Fly Cairo, Egypt to Gran Canaria, Canary Islands via Casablanca, Morocco
My flight to leave Cairo for Casablanca was scheduled for 09:10. Since I had my boarding pass I knew the routine at the Cairo airport I decided to eat breakfast in the hotel and take the 07:00 shuttle. When I arrived at the airport I had a little difficulty finding the Star Alliance Gold check-in counter.
When I did find the right counter I tried to check my bag and the agent told me my reservation had been cancelled. I showed her my e-ticket and she conferred with her supervisor and they sent me to another agent at the trouble desk who then conferred with a colleague and then called in a manager who asked me a lot of question concerning the boarding pass I already had issued in Sharm El Sheikh the night before. Eventually they issued a new boarding pass to Casablanca but for some reason they couldn't figure out, they couldn't check my bag on the Canary Islands. I was getting close to flight time so I told them check it to Casablanca and I would retrieve it and check it for the Canary Island flight. With a valid boarding pass and luggage tag in hand I asked the manager what had happened. He speculates that when I changed my flight to an earlier flight in Sharm El Sheikh they recorded me as a "no-show" on my scheduled flight's record instead of changing it to the flight I took. In the airline computer systems once you don't show for a flight all the flights after that are cancelled.
Anyway I got on the flight and had a whole row to myself and had an enjoyable flight. In Casablanca I started to have trouble again. First at Passport Control where I told them I was transit but had to retrieve my bag and get a boarding pass and check my bag to Gran Canaria. He finally let me pass and I retrieved my bag and then went to the Check-in Hall and didn't find my flight listed on the board. I talked to an important looking agent and she went to a terminal and reported back that the flight had been cancelled. (That explains why the Cairo agent could check my bag through to Gran Canaria). I asked when the next flight to Gran Canaria was scheduled and she didn't know but lead me to a special ticket office in another area of the Terminal. (Terminal 1)
I met with an agent that told me the next scheduled flight was not until Saturday and would arrive after my flight from Gran Canaria to Madeira departs so I was really up a creek without a paddle. She made some calls and received some alternatives. One was spend the night in Casablanca and fly to Gran Canaria via Malaga on Friday. That sounded OK by me and she started to create the paperwork for a hotel voucher and the new itinerary when the phone rang and she told me they she informed her that there was a flight leaving for Tenerife North in less than an hour and I could then take a ferry to Gran Canaria. She printed the new ticket and told me to rush back to Terminal 2 where I found out my flight had been cancelled. She said I had just ten minutes to check in.
I rushed to Terminal 2 and was told there had been a change and the flight was now leaving from Terminal 1 so I rushed back past the Special Ticket Office and was told I had to go down to another level to check in. I found an elevator to take my trolley with bags down to a set of counters. I attempted to check in at the first open agent which was a Business Class Agent. She refused to check me in and told me the flight check in time had passed. I was not a happy camper getting run around like that. I was soaking wet from sweat and I raised my voice a little and a Supervisor came over to see why I was unhappy. When I explained the situation he gave an Economy Class Agent the OK to check me in for the flight but told me I had to hurry to my gate.
I ran up the stairs to Passport Control and Security and then back down a set of stairs to the assigned gate where they were making the final call to board the bus to the plane. I had made with no time to spare. I was assigned a window seat with no one around me the flight was almost empty. I was looking out the window at a building with a VIP sign on it when I saw an entourage ride up in a series of government vehicles; the group then boarded a bus and rode to our plane. At the bottom of the stairs leading to our plane one of the men started talking and a group of women started to tape his words and a cameraman taped the speech. Two of the VIPs didn't sit in First Class and instead sat in the row behind me.
At one point during the flight I smelled cigarette smoke and mentioned it to the Flight Attendant. The VIP in back of me said that it couldn't happen and may be from a cleaning crew. The other VIP asked me where I was from and relayed my answer to the first VIP. He then explained that in First Class was the Moroccan Minister of Tourism and the man sitting behind me was the Royal Air Maroc General Manager of Public Affairs. The others up front were press and the Publicity Agent from Tenerife. They wanted to know how I had heard about the flight since it was a new route they just started hence the VIP and press on board. They were fascinated with my telling them my situation and how I had visited every country in Africa. They then had me interviewed by the Tenerife Publicity Agent who in turn had the press corps interview me. They bombarded me with questions, asking me which African country I liked best. I gave them my stock answer that each country has its own personality and its plusses and minuses.
The Tenerife Publicity Agent was disappointed that I was going on to Gran Canaria to spend the night. She also talked about how important the new Royal Air Maroc flights from Casablanca was for Tenerife and how they hoped to get Royal Air Maroc to schedule flights to and from New York to Tenerife. The publicity was kind of fun but I still needed to get from Tenerife to my hotel in Gran Canaria.
On the approach into Tenerife I saw a lot of wind generators, similar to what I had observed in Morocco, Portugal and Spain.
I was told at the Tenerife Airport Information Booth that I had two options: either a four hour ferry ride or a thirty minute flight. I took the flight option and was directed to the Binter Canarias Sales Office where I purchased a ticket for about $70. They flew about every thirty minutes between the islands.
I flew on the 17:30 flight and had to take a $40 taxi ride to my hotel. It is a fancy resort but I arrived in the dark so I didn’t get a chance to check it out. Wi-Fi in the room was weak and Vonage couldn’t connect. At 20:00 I went to the restaurant and found they only served a buffet. They had a dress code and the Head Waiter had to seat you. It reminded me of a Cruise Ship for dress code, the seating and the buffet was very similar to the mid-day meals on a cruise ship. I had a nice salad of my own design, a trout fillet and for the first time on the trip a small ice cream.
After dinner I washed my clothes and my ball cap. There was a strong wind so I hung them on my balcony and wrote up the day’s experience and sent it out in an email. At midnight I went out in the hall and found the Wi-Fi modem and standing under it I finally got Vonage to connect. It was not a clear connection and Judy was in a department store that I knew didn’t have strong signals so It was a short call. I returned to my room and found my clothes had dried; I hung them inside in case of rain and retired without setting an alarm.
Friday, November 15, 2013: Gran Canaria, Canary Islands
I must have been tired because I slept until 10. Lucky the breakfast buffet didn’t close until 11:00 so I was able to eat breakfast and then return to the room to shower and shave. I dressed in my swim suit sandals and t-shirt and armed with my camera walked around the resort grounds to the sea and then around the neighborhood.
Around 14:00 I went to the swimming pool snack bar and had a nice homemade salad. It started to cloud over so I returned to my room and wrote in my journal, finishing documenting the last days in Africa.
With most of the hotel guests at the pool or other activities the Internet bandwidth was better and I was able to call Judy around 16:00. A few hours later when I emailed my journal I received a message from Judy that I had gotten confused on the dates for the Thanksgiving trip to NJ. I had to rebook with United and couldn’t get the same flights. The return will be via Chicago. I am glad she caught my error.
I had a rather late dinner nothing special except I could make my own salad. I returned to my room and called Hertz to change my reservation. It was funny because I got an agent quicker than when I call from the states. And then I went on to bed.
Saturday, November 16, 2013: Fly Gran Canaria, Canary Islands to Funchal, Madeira Island
My flight to the Madeira Islands was scheduled for 15:10 so I didn’t set an alarm and slept until 09:00. I had a leisurely breakfast and took my time showering and packing and all of a sudden it was noon and checkout time. At checkout I asked if the hotel provided shuttle service to the airport. They didn’t but they told me city bus number 66 went to the airport and the bus stop was near the airport.
I wheeled my bags through a car parking lot, up a slope to the bus stop. I checked the schedule and bus 66 was on an hourly schedule and I had to wait until 12:38. The bus was late arriving and the driver motioned to me to store my luggage underneath on the driver side of the bus. When I wheeled my bags around the front of the bus I found the luggage compartment doors open and the compartment very full. I was able to re-arrange bags to fit mine in. I returned to the other side and entered the bus and paid the fare of 3.50€ as opposed to the 32.50€ taxi fare. It was worth the wait. The driver motioned for me to sit in the front row next to a woman with a young boy in her lap.
We had no other stops on the way to the airport. The boy was very restless and I guessed that until I took the seat next to his mother that he had probably been sitting there. At the airport I was the first off and I grabbed a trolley and was able to remove my luggage before a crowd formed to get theirs.
When I entered the terminal it was very crowded with very long lines at each check-in counter. They didn’t use the Disney type zig zag lines because each counter was for a different flight. On the display board I found my flight’s counter number and it was like walking through a canyon with long line of people on both sides and no one at my flight’s counter. It was one of the fastest check-ins on the trip.
Because of the single check-in counter for each different flight not very many passengers were processed at the same time so document check and security check didn’t have long lines. I then proceeded up stairs and was back into the crowds again. I wasn’t eligible for a lounge on this flight so I went in search of a place to have lunch. There was a third level where there was an Irish Bar with Boston Red Sox, Bruins and Patriot memorabilia on the walls. The only food they served was hot dogs plus it was a smoking area so despite wanting to eat under Red Sox memorabilia and returned to the second level where I bought a fresh ham and cheese baguette.
We were bussed to our aircraft a Dash 8 Q400 and had open seating. It was configured differently than the other Dash 8 Q400’s I had recently flown in that it had boarding in both the front and the rear. Several of the front row seats were folded down and the flight attendant motioned for me to sit beside one and then instructed the passengers boarding after me to move to the rear. The flight only took a little over an hour. When we approached the island I again saw a number of wind generators.
Processing at the airport was quick and I saw that there was an airbus service. I asked the driver if his route was near my hotel and he said yes. I boarded and paid the fare and waited. There were only two other passengers on the bus. One was a young man born in Sherman Oaks to Belgian parents. He moved to Belgium when he started school but his family still owns a house in Sherman Oaks and returns to California frequently. He likes the US better than Europe and hopes to one day move back to LA. He had traveled a lot in Africa and we discussed the pros and cons of some the countries we have visited. His hotel was located in the city center near where the other passenger was discharged. I was then alone in the bus as we drove along the coast. The area had a very steep slope down to a cliff overlooking the sea. I was discharged a block from my hotel another Melia hotel, the Melia Madeira Mare, which was built on the steep slope. Reception was on the third level and the restaurant on the zero level. I was assigned a room on the seventh floor.
I dumped my bags in the room and returned to reception to get literature on the island tours. I decided my best bet was to take the two different “hop-on, hop-off” tours the next day. They covered the general area along the coast from Funcahal to Camara de Lobos. Next to set out to explore the hotel and the surrounding area. I discovered that there was three levels of the building below the hotel on the slope. At the bottom of the slope were a vehicle turn around and a view point for a rock formation off the coast. From the turn around there were paths leading along the coast in both directions. I took the south path and found that the neighboring hotels were built similarly with shops or restaurants on the path level.
The sun was starting to set so I returned to the hotel and unpacked. I went down for dinner and found it cost 28€ ($38) and it was Italian theme night with different types of pasta and pizza. I didn’t see the value so I walked across the street and climbed stairs to a terrace restaurant on a cliff. There I had a nice meal for 10€.
Just as I finished and was waiting to pay my bill it started to rain lightly. Good timing, and I was back in my hotel without getting wet. The Wi-Fi was just “Good” in the room so I had to go to the lobby to call Judy. I could still process most email in my room.
I watched a little TV news and learned that the fighting between the Libyan Militias and the government had escalated on Friday and the people were taking action to block the Militias from moving into the city. It was a shame what Gaddafi did to that country.
Sunday, November 17, 2013: Tour Funchal, Madeira Island
I slept late and went to the hotel breakfast. It wasn’t the best buffet, similar to the other Melia hotel. After breakfast I showered and shaved and then went to the Yellow Bus Tour office a block up the street to purchase tickets. It was Sunday and the office was closed. I was afraid that tours would not be running on Sunday so I returned to the hotel receptionist and asked if the tours ran on Sunday. He told me they did and he could sell me a ticket. So I bought one and returned to the Yellow Bus Tour office and then on to the next stop on the route. There a Yellow Bus Tour Agent standing at the bus sign. She told me a bus was due any minute. When the bus came she told me that I had to show my ticket from the hotel to the driver so he can convert it into a “hop on, hop off” ticket. I boarded the bus, converted the ticket and was handed a cheap headset. The bus was a double decker like a London double decker.
All the seats had a transmitter to plug the headset into and a dial to select the language to listen to. The transmitter on the seat I selected was inoperative. All the other upstairs seats were occupied. I plugged in to the next seat and found that they transmitted mostly music and only a occasionally a few facts about buildings or sites. I had boarded a Blue route bus. It followed the coast past the cruise terminal when there were two cruise ships docked, one from NCL and the other from MSC, to the base of the cable car. There the route turned away from the port and wound its way through the city center and up the slope to the northeast past the Farmer’s Market and turned around under the cable and back down the hill to the center of the city and then west past a shopping center, the Madeira Casino and then turned up a hill and the followed the coast at a higher level past the Forum Shopping Center and west to the Camara de Lobos village, past the Forum Shopping Center and west to the Camara de Lobos village. The village was a picturesque place with a fishing port and places to eat. From the village the bus rode up to a vista point and then reversed direction back through the village and followed the coast back to the city center.
I hopped off and walked the streets around city on the streets the bus didn’t pass. There was a market area and I walked past the various vendors, the cathedral, justice building and other landmarks. I stopped to eat lunch is a little shop that baked the Madeira traditional bread and had a ham and cheese sandwich made from fresh baked bread. It was delicious!
After lunch I walked back to the center of the city and hopped on a yellow route bus. The route started as from the same point as the blue route but traveled up the slope to the northwest and back on a higher level route and then further up the hills past the football (soccer) stadium and then wound further up the slope and then down a steep hill back to the coast. I hopped off at the coast and walked back to my hotel along the promenade.
By the time I reached my hotel room I was soaking wet so washed out my underwear and laid it out in the sun on a chair on my balcony. By dinner time it had dried and I walked across the street to have diner in another of the restaurants perched on the cliff in front of the hotel. In order to get to the restaurants entrance I had to climb a set of multilevel stairs between buildings. At the entrance I was greeted by a greeter that served me a shot of sweet wine. The restaurant served a three course dinner for 12.50€. I selected a salad, a small steak with béarnaise sauce and a cup of strawberry and vanilla ice cream. It was a good meal for the price and a lot cheaper than the hotel buffet.
On the way back to my room I stopped at the Reception and made arrangements for a taxi to take me to the airport at 03:00. I set my alarm for 01:00 and was in bed before 20:00.
Monday, November 18, 2013: Fly Funchal, Maderia Island to LAX via Lisbon and London
I woke to the alarm at 01:00 and showered, shaved and packed. At 03:00 I checked out and my taxi driver arrived. It turned out it was a young lady Mercedes limo driver. The ride to the airport took longer than I expected. I guess I was so engaged in conversation on the bus I didn’t realize how far from the city the airport was. When I entered the terminal I found a large empty room with a line at one counter and no agent. On the screen it listed my flight and counters 7&8. Next to 8 was a Star Alliance sign so I pushed my trolley over there. An agent appeared and told the people in line to line up in front of counter 7 and she would be checking people in at 03:40. She turned to me and asked me if I was a Gold card holder and when I showed her my card she told me to line up in front of counter 8. She then went about loading the boarding pass and baggage tag printers and placing various things on the two counter desks.
At 03:40 she stood behind the counter and motioned me over and processed my ticket, tagging my bag to LAX. She told me there was a Star Alliance Lounge on the third floor. I was the first one processed and the first one through security. When I got to the third floor the lounge was not open. I sat down to wait and as soon as I did the door opened so I got up and entered the lounge. They had Wi-Fi but not much to eat or drink.
I was in the lounge for about an hour and about a dozen passengers came in. The receptionist told us when to report to the gate. We were bussed to the plane and my assigned seat was the last row on the aircraft. It was a little over one hour flight. We were served a sandwich roll and a small bottle of pear nectar in a open cardboard box. The sandwich roll was placed in the container in a vertical position. I had never seen an in-flight meal served like that before.
When we landed in Lisbon a lot of the passengers in the rear lined up thinking they could exit through the rear door but we were parked at a Skybridge. I was facing the front at the very rear trying to motion to the crowd facing me to turn around because they were not aware that we had to exit through the front door. I had time to kill so it didn’t bother me but I thought it was kind of funny.
Since Madeira to Lisbon was considered a domestic flight I had no processing to do. I was following the signs for Flight Connection and found the Star Alliance Lounge. There I was able to recharge my smart phone. The gate for my flight to Heathrow was a advertised 16 minute walk from the lounge. I headed out an hour before departure and by the time I got to the gate area they had already called the flight. We were bussed to the plane a long way from the terminal. I was on the secord bus and the overheads were already full in the area of my row eight. The people had not been very efficient in storing their belongings in the overhead. Row eight was just the fourth row in coach and I saw the bin the split between the business and coach seats was full of blankets and pillows so I handed out some to those already seated and made room for my carry on. I had a aisle seat and a couple from Orange County were seated next to me. I helped them find room for their bags by re-arranging the items stored in the overheads around our area. The inflight meal was the same sandwich roll that I had on the previous flight but this time with peach nectar.
At Heathrow I followed the signs for connecting flights. I had to process through security. They had a full body scan but I still had to first pass through the x-ray before I could use and since I set off the alarm I had to remove my shoes. A weird process. After the full body scan I was still patted down. When I left security I came upon a sign that said all United and Air New Zealand passengers had to get a new boarding pass. I still had the seat assignment. The Star Alliance Lounge was a short distance from the counter. In there I was able to charge my smart phone, check email and write in my journal.
The Air New Zealand gate was a very long distance from the lounge so I left early. They had not started to board anybody when I got there and just as I took a picture of the plane to record its tail letters they opened up for early boarding and Gold card holders so I walked on. It was a B-777 and I was assigned an inside aisle with nobody next to me. There was a power outlet in the back of every seat so I hooked up my laptop and smart phone and was able write some journal entries.
The video display was unlike any I had seen before. It had screens for the flight which displayed a time line for food service, cabin lights and other useful information. The food service displayed the meal choices. Between meals passengers could order snacks and drinks from their seat and the order is displayed on a monitor in the galley for delivery by a flight attendant. It was the most sophisticated airline video I have ever seen.
The flight was uneventful. When I landed in Los Angeles the plane was docked at Terminal 2. I hadn’t processed through Immigration and Customs before in Terminal 2. It was my second time to use the Global Entry system. When I used the Global Entry kiosk it only printed out my picture and none of the other details. Fortunately I had filled out a Customs Declaration on the flight so with just the picture and the declaration the Immigration Agent was able to process me through. My bag arrived and the Car Service driver was waiting with a sign. We encountered a traffic jam on the way to Woodland Hills just to make me realize I was back in LA but the trip was over so it didn’t really bother me.
It had been a long trip and the longest solo trip I had taken in my quest to visit every country in the UN. I am glad it was over. I completed visiting all 54 UN countries in Africa. The trip took 37 days, visiting 30 cities in 24 countries taking 32 flights on 18 different airlines.