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  • Day 20: Bondgarden Farm, Eliot, Maine, USA

    This post is from February 20, 2023.

    Two seven hour flights and a three hour layover in London, immigration in Boston, and a 1 1/2 hour bus ride north to Portsmouth, New Hampshire but I’m finally home. It will take a long time to reflect on everything that I experienced over the past three weeks, and parts of it will stay with me for the rest of my life.

    This one, though, is now officially in the books.

    Signing off. – Paul , aka TARman, aka A Turing Machine

  • Day 19: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

    This post is from February 19, 2023.

    We started the day at 9 o’clock having a hired a guy just to give us a six hour tour of some of the highlights of Addis Ababa. This started with a visit to the campus of Addis Ababa university, which is on the grounds of Halle Selassie‘s (HL) former palace. HL was strangled to death in August 1975 in a coup d’état, which turned into a regime even more brutal than his had been. He was murdered in the bedroom that you see depicted in the pictures below.

    We then visited an open air market.

    On our way to our next stop. Our taxi got a flat tire.

    Halle Selassie was overthrown by a cruel Marxist regime, known as the Derg. They brutally repressed anyone who resisted them during their multi-decade long reign. This museum is dedicated to that long and dark period of Ethiopian history.

    After witnessing the horrors depicted in that museum, we then went to a nice lunch (incongruous, eh?).

    We then went and visited the Holy Trinity Cathedral, which is the center of the Ethiopian orthodox church, and also the resting place for Halle Selassie and his wife in two large sarcophagi.

    During this latter part of our tour we were in a relatively tranquil part of Addis Ababa.

    We will head out to supper shortly for our last night out and then try to get to bed early. We will be getting up at 5:30 AM to head to the airport for our respective trips home and the end of this incredible African Odyssey.

  • Day 18: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

    This post is from February 18, 2023.

    I had to engage in some money laundering this morning.

    This was because I finally had to dip in to my third repository of cash, which is a series of bills tightly folded to fit inside a leather money belt that I’ve been wearing constantly while traveling in Africa.

    Going to go down to the pool now for a 30 minute swim and then we leave on the transport to the airport for our 2:30 flight to Addis Ababa.

    We arrived in Addis Ababa airport at about 10 PM and were done with immigration by 11 PM. The ride to the hotel was through very chaotic traffic but we made it. Shortly after checking in, we walked out on the streets to grab a late supper, sans utensils, Ethiopian style. The food was messy and mysterious but the beers were cold.

    The streets during our 1 km walk tonight were pulsating with life, some of it on the grimy side. However, I don’t really think we ever felt in actual danger.

    We’re heading to bed now, and we believe we have arranged someone in the hotel to give us a tour of the city tomorrow

  • Day 17: Malabo, Equatorial Guinea

    This post is from February 17, 2023.

    After so many days of highly stressful travel., we decided to recuperate a bit by making use of the swimming pool at this hotel. It has been a long time since either of us had any physical exercise other than walking around cities so that felt good. We also took a walk on the beach.

    A taxi driver told us later today that what looks like smog in the air is a long-lasting condition that happens at this time of year during the dry season and it’s related to a volcano on this island….or at least that was one of the stories we heard. Another story was that the volcano is totally inactive now and last erupted it 23 years ago. We checked that on the Internet and found that the volcano last erupted around 100 years ago. We also investigated what the true cause of the haze is, and found that it is sand dust blown across Africa from the Sahara desert. It is amazing how people can live here their whole lives, and be so completely wrong about what is the cause of this annual multi-month long weather phenomenon.

    We headed into the city at 2pm to explore in the early afternoon. It is a 14 km taxi ride from this hotel.

    When we got into the city, we were hungry and we wanted to experience some of the authentic local cuisine.

    We went to see the famous Saint Elizabeth cathedral in the downtown area but when we got there, military soldiers, armed with automatic weapons, turned us away quite brusquely. It was actually rather scary.. From what we read on the web, this country is richest in all of Africa on a per capita basis but has a terrible human rights record. You don’t want to get on the bad side of the military here – it could end very badly.

    Then we took a taxi to this national park and walked around for about an hour.

  • Day 16: Malabo, Equatorial Guinea

    This post is from February 16, 2023.

    We took a walk around a different part of Libreville this morning, to stretch our legs and to see it before we left .for the airport.

    We first had breakfast at this sort of French style café, which a certain famous American actor (Samuel Jackson) has visited:

    These are some scenes from our morning walk around Libreville, and then from our drive to the airport.

    Our flight to Equatorial Guinea was delayed by more than two hours, so we spent a long time waiting in the mayhem of the Libreville airport waiting lounge. The view you see in the video below is the view we had from our seats for most of that time.

    We arrived at the Malabo airport in Equatorial Guinea at about 5:30 PM. . Despite being told by someone in the Libreville waiting room that in fact, after all, there were no Covid requirements to enter Equatorial Guinea, when we went through check-in, they insisted on seeing our vaccination certificates. They said that would be used as a substitute for the Covid PCR tests. However, when we actually reached Equatorial Guinea, and we’re going through the immigration and the health checks, they asked for the vaccination certificates AND for the PCR Covid test information! They asked as well, of course, for the yellow fever vaccinations that are required throughout all of this part of Africa. It was note surprising that we had so much trouble figuring out what the COVID requirements were for these different countries; one hand did not know what the other was doing from one minute to the next. It was good that we erred on the conservative side and tried to have every possible request covered. Frankly, this was a herculean tasks to be getting COVID PCR tests with less-than 48 hour validity while traveling through these extremely edgy countries. It is a good thing that you could have whatever date and time put on the test results you requested 🙂 No kidding. Other than that, the rest of the immigration process was slow, but not overly agonizing. . Once out of the airport, we thought we were home free but then we had trouble finding taxis. We found a few by walking away from the controlled area of the airport. We told a driver where we were going (the most expensive hotel in Malabo) and then we asked what the price would be (this is a requirement when traveling in these countries; if you don’t specify before you can have major arguments when they give you an astronomical price at the destination). He refused to give us a price, instead asking how much we had on us! We kept insisting on the number and he eventually said CAF 10,000. When we finally arrived at the hotel and I gave him the 10,000 he said he meant 10,000 per person. I laughed told him to forget it (now we are speaking in Spanish not French, as this was a Spanish colony), and we walked into the hotel. Another unpleasant experience.

    Based on my 30 minutes here in this country, it appears to be far more developed than any of the countries we’ve been visiting in the past several days. The photos below will show you a multipl- lane divided highway with views of modern apartment buildings on the 30 minute drive from the airport to the hotel.

    The picture above is of the Sofitel Malibu golf resort, which is where we are staying. It’s about 14 km from the city itself on a beautiful beach with an attached golf course. After all the intensive and exotic touring we’ve been doing for the past two weeks, I’m ready to give myself a day of rest in the lap of luxury before we head to Ethiopia.

    We are wondering what we’re going to do with our day tomorrow and we will visit some sites in Malabo and a national park nearby. We *were* trying to arrange a scuba dive here as we are on an island. When we asked the hotel concierge about this idea, we had to explain to him what scuba diving was and he had said he had never heard of anyone ever doing it in Malabo,, so we need it to drop that idea. Believe it or not, after we described what SCUBA was, he asked if it was like surfing…..

  • Day 15: Libreville, Gabon

    This post is from February 15, 2023.

    We departed our Brazzaville hotel that we have stayed in for the past three days at 8 o’clock this morning to get to our 10 AM flight to Gabon . I had hoped that the exit immigration process from the republic of Congo would be relatively pain-free, but I was disappointed.

    They were numerous people in different booths, asking us different questions, asking for different documents, and then we were sent to a table or two people asked us how much cash we had on us, both Congolese and foreign. I told them an amount that I thought was believable, but less than I actually had and then they asked to see it. I knew things were going to go south at that point. The uniformed young lady began saying something under her breath to me in French that I could neither hear nor understand. She was saying. “Donnez-moi quelque chose pour les jeux” (give me something for games). I didn’t see a monopoly board or a chess set lying around so I really didn’t understand. Frustrated, eventually, I asked her do you want me to give you some money? She nodded yes and then I finally understood that I was being extorted . I then gave her the equivalent of $10 and we were finally able to move on through the gauntlet.

    The flight itself was fine, and we got through the Gabon immigration without much difficulty, found a taxi and arrived at our hotel by 1230 here in Libreville.

    One thing that I want to comment on is how frequently when people realize that we were Americans that they stop to say something complimentary about the United States. We don’t really hear this that often when we’re in United States or listening to countries like China or Russia talking about us. For all of our myriad of problems and seemingly endless internal political strife, we are still hugely admired around the world. I recently heard a joke from a friend about what two things Russians want most. The answer was number one to destroy evil America, and number two to get a green card. We should probably think about that more often when we are in our highly polarized, hate-filled current environment in the United States.

    We rested until 2 o’clock and then started on a long walk to explore Libreville. The city is lovely yet exotic. It is incredibly more clean and orderly than Brazzaville and especially than Kinshasa. A coarse yardstick would be to say that this country is about halfway (on the spectrum of development) from the two Congos to that of the country of France.

    Hare a few shots from our afternoon walk.

    We’re back at the hotel resting again and will head out for supper a little later. We wish we had planned on more time in Gabon but it’s just challenging considering how many countries we’re trying to fit into a three week trip.

    We got a recommendation for a restaurant that had karaoke as well as food and drink and we had a very fun evening there. Very different atmosphere from Brazzaville and Kinshasa that’s for sure.!

  • Day 14: Kinshasa, Dem. Rep. Congo

    This post is from Valentine’s Day, 2023.

    Got up at 5am to get to the airport by 6am for our 7:30 50-minute flight to Kinshasa. All went pretty smoothly and immigration, while slow, was fairly straightforward compared to Rep. Congo. The only complication was that Ray had a “visa on arrival” which required us going i to a small office for 30 minutes to get and pay for the visa. At least there was no one in a military uniform screaming at us in French, so it really wasn’t that bad.

    The real adventure started during our drive from the airport into the downtown. Is it been raining heavily ever since our plane landed and the entire road system was flooded

    FYI, this the country that was formerly known as Zaire and before that The Belgian Congo. This city was known as Leopoldville until the 1960’s. The country on the other side of the Congo River from us was The French Congo. You can see from the map at the end of this post that the blue dot (us, now) is not very far from where our bags are in the GHS hotel across the river in Brazzaville in the Republic of Congo. Perhaps 2,5 miles and 5 hours if travel by air with related overheads. NB. The fact that the Democratic Republic of Congo has the word ‘Democratic prepended to its name means, of course, it is less democratic than the Republic of Congo. Of course neither is actually democratic, but few African countries are truly functioning democracies.

    After about an hour of driving through flooded roads and through insane traffic, we arrived at what seemed to be a central business district and went down a side street, and found the travel agency that had helped us get the letters of invitation necessary to get the visa for the DRC. it was called ICON travels.

    We spent about three hours, waiting and discussing with Ravi, the owner. First we had to arrange for someone to come and take our nose specimens for our Covid PCR tests (possibly) required both for exiting the DRC and for entry into Equatorial Guinea in two days. We spent about three hours, waiting and discussing with Ravi the owner. It was a long wait, but after the samples were taken, we decided to go out on a walk around that area of Kinshasa. Here are a few photos during that walk:

    After that walk, we came back and found that the Covid test results were still not ready. We spent the balance of the time waiting out on the sidewalk, watching Kinshasa life pass by.

    When we heard the test results were ready we were running already very late to catch our 4 PM boat across the Congo River back to Brazzaville. We knew it was going to be a nightmare going through the immigration gauntlet both leaving the DRC and entering the RC so Ravi arranged for a fixer (i.e. bribery consultant) on both sides to help us through the maze of hurdles. After passing through the immigration exit from the DRC we took a fast boat across the river back to the Republic of Congo and Brazzaville. Here are some shots of that trip:

    We are now safely back in our hotel in Brownsville. We’re both quite exhausted from the experience that started when we left at 5:30 this morning or we accomplished our goal of visiting the DRC and we’re happy about that. This is our last night in Brazzaville and we leave early tomorrow morning on a flight to Libreville Gabon

  • Day 13: Brazzaville, Rep. Congo

    This post is from Feb. 13, 2023.

    Because, I kept seeing contradictory information on
    many websites about whether or not Gabon had a visa on arrival process, I
    tried to write to the airline we are taking to Libreville from Brazzaville on Wednesday and get them to answer whether or not we can board. We also
    called that same company here in Brazzaville (TRANSAIR SENEGAL) and did
    speak to someone and ultimately that person said they did not know and that
    they would call back. They never did. We then walked a KM to the Gabon
    Embassy, which said on their website open by appointment only. I was sure
    that would be a dead-end. When we reached it, it appeared to be an old
    wealthy residence with high walls and completely shuttered. We walked
    around the corner and saw a closed metal door with a small buzzer. We
    buzzed. A guard came out and asked what we wanted. I explained. He took
    our passport information and let us into a first floor room. We spoke with
    that pretty receptionist and explained the same thing again. She told us to
    wait a second and then came back and showed us to an interior office where
    there was an even prettier mid-level embassy functionary. I explained
    again. The woman confirmed that the Gabonese E-visa system no longer worked
    (which fit well with our experience with it to date) and that we would not
    be able to get a visa on arrival. Then she added that the only thing we
    could do was to get an expedited embassy visa right there. I asked if they
    could do that for us and turn it around TODAY and she said yes, it would
    costs CAF 140,000 ($180). We were shocked that she was willing to expedite
    this for us! She needed some photocopies some documents that we did not
    have backup copies of, so we hustled down to the town center and found a
    place to change the USD into the CAF 140,000 she needed and get those
    photocopies. We were back in her office within 40 minutes. We had to fill
    out visa application forms and then she told me to follow her and enter the
    next layer of inter sanctum where there was a man in a uniform. He had our
    completed information but wanted me to re-answer some questions I had
    answered in writing and then actually pay the cash. They there was the
    various biometric stuff: photo and 3 sets of finger prints. Then he printed
    our my Gabon visa and put it in my passport!!!!!!!!!! Then he asked for Ray
    to come in and he let me be in there with Ray to translate from French which
    in the language that everything is happening in here. Ray got his visa.

    Then we returned to our hotel and called our contact in Kinshasa and said
    that since we now know we CAN go to Gabon, we can only stay for a day trip
    tomorrow in Kinshasa, DRC. We fly over at 7:30 in the morning and will take
    a fast boat back over the Congo at 4pm. He will also arrange for a COVID
    PCR test for us which we might need for Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. COVID
    is a whole other ill-defined area where all we get are contradictory answers.
    Anyway we will get some kind of a brief tour of Kinshasa, which, by the way,
    we see very clearly across the river. It appears to be a bigger citiy with
    more tall buildings than Brazzaville.

    This afternoon, we took a walking tour with a guide “Marley” we hired recommended by the hotel. This included walking through avenues of busts, famous international figures honored by the Congolese as well as another avenue of famous Congolese people.

    In our walking around the city, Ray nearly got involved in what was a small riot at a overwhelmed gas station during the current gasoline crisis in this country

    We also toured the national railroad station. This was a sad, but symbolic sight in that whereas 30 years ago there was a functioning railroad system throughout the country today the station is silent, and no trains have run from here or anywhere in the country since 2014.

    Here are some more shots of walking around the city this afternoon:

  • Day 12: Brazzaville, Rep. Congo

    This post is from Feb. 12, 2023.

    Uneventful 4 1/2 hour flight to Brazzaville. Horrible, frustrating experience dealing with an immigration officer who insisted we were missing a document (we weren’t). We were finally released after a lot of stressful arguing in French. Apparently, his immigration rules were different from the ones described by the Congolese Embassies in Washington and Windhoek. What was probably going on is that he was trying to extort a bribe. If I had been sure of that, and had better bribing skills, I probably would have figured out an amount and a means to give it to him that would not land us in jail and we would have been out of there a couple of hours sooner.

    Our hotel had a driver waiting for us and we got into our hotel rooms with only minor further delay. We heard a big parade outside the hotel so we asked what it was and they said it was related to the Congo-Nigeria soccer match being played here this afternoon. We asked if it was safe to go to the game. They shrugged and said yes. So, we took a taxi to the stadium on the outskirts of Brazzaville. We ended up befriending some some riot police officers and having a bunch of beers with them in a police-only bar before the game. A huge captain wanted to arm wrestle. I agreed. We struggled for about one minute. The wooden table started to crack. It was s draw. (That means I am getting old.. I have not lost a lot of arm-wrestling matches in my life.) That whole experience was surreal, probably dangerous for us, and a whole lot of fun.

    We are at the stadium watching the game now. We are the only 2 white people amongst about 5,000 spectators, all of whom seem interested in meeting us.

    We left the game at halftime with Congo leading 3-0. The game started much later than we thought and we had spent about 2 1/2 hours waiting for the game to start so it was time to go. We also thought it was safer to exit the stadium before the end of the game when thousands of people would be spilling out onto the street into total mayhem and the total inability to get a taxi.

    We are back at the hotel now and about to head out to find a place to have a couple of beers and some supper. There is a two hour time difference between Brazzaville and Addis Ababa so I’m feeling a little tired already tonight at 6:30 PM.

    The next two shots were taken during our walk home from our dinner restaurant along the banks of the Congo River. We took a taxi to the restaurant along with one of the hotel workers who wanted to show us a nice place to eat. It was a beautiful restaurant -café style, right on the banks of the Congo looking at Kinshasa, DRC on the other side of the river.

  • Day 11: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

    This post is from February 11, 2023

    We rushed out at 8 AM to get a COVID PCR test so that the results would be ready in time for departure at 2:30 this afternoon. We went back to Ray’s apartment and packed and finally left the apartment at 10:30 AM These are some shots of what Ray’s first floor looks like as we departed.

    .The flight to Addis Ababa went pretty well. We landed here after the six hour flight at 9:30pm local time. We are are staying at an in-terminal hotel to avoid the hassle of going through immigration twice and security twice for our flight that leaves at 8:45 tomorrow morning for Brazzaville, Congo. (We will actually enter Ethiopia officially for a couple of days at the end of our trip.) Then we will attempt to enter a set of African countries where very few western tourists go.