West Africa Cruise with Gary Arndt: Week 1

June 25, 2014 Gary Arndt

Join Wanderer-in-Residence, Gary Arndt as he travels up the coast of West Africa on G Adventures’ very own MS Expedition. We’ll be sharing a collection of his posts each week. Tune in to find out what this adventure of a lifetime is like first hand from Gary.

Day 7, At Sea, Off the Southern Coast of Angola

The map of Africa is one of the most nonsensical and artificial things on Earth. This becomes especially obvious when you notice the patchwork of European languages which make up Africa.

Sign with multicoloured flags and different languages

Languages on sign in Lobito, Angola

On this trip we left Cape Town where English is the common language, but many of the European descended population speaks Afrikaans, which is derived from Dutch. North in Namibia, you can still find a small population of German speakers. Above that in Angola, all the signs and the common language is Portuguese. North of Angola is the Congo where French is widely spoken. Go a bit further and you’ll find Spanish speakers in the tiny nation of Equatorial Guinea. Keeping going north of the Sahara and you’ll find people speaking Arabic.

None of these of course are native languages to Africa.

Many of the problems which Africa has had since decolonization has been an indirect result of the way the borders were drawn by the European powers. The ironic thing, is that the borders are now pretty much locked into place. So, tribal groups are split up with majorities and minorities depending on what side of the border they are on, resulting in cronyism, tribalism and ethnic conflicts.

The events of the 18th and 19th century are still effecting things today. We never really escape history.

Day 6, At Sea, Off the Coast of Northern Namibia

View of Port of Angola from aboard the MS Expedition

Port of Lobito, Angola

Our next stop in Angola has a reputation for being one of the hardest countries to enter if you don’t live in Africa. Here is some information the ship’s bursar Lawrence shared with me about the visa process and what passengers need to know.

Countries the Ship Needs to Process Visas For
The majority of the passengers come from just a few countries (USA, Canada, UK, Australia, New Zealand) which have similar visa requirements for each country we visit. The countries which require visas are: Angola, Republic of Congo, Sao Tome and Principe, Benin, Togo, Ghana, Sierra Leone and The Gambia. South Africa, Senegal, Namibia, Spain and Morocco either require just a passport stamp or provide a visa on arrival.

The Most Difficult Visas to Process
The most difficult visas are for Angola, Republic of Congo and Benin. Angola required a complete inventory of everything on the ship, down to the paper clips.

The Cost of All the Visas The current fee per passenger is $726 for all visas. That covers up everything up to The Gambia. They have yet to get a final confirmation on the price for there yet. One of the benefits of traveling by ship is that you can get a discount on visas by traveling with a group.

Amount of time process paperwork
On ship, the staff spends 1-3 hours per country filling out paperwork. They also fill out the embarkation cards for the passengers. All you have to do is sign the card and they will fill out all the vital information.

The immigration processing usually takes place on the ship. Some countries require every person to meet the immigration official individually and some do not.

Passport Pages
Prior to the trip, it was suggested we have 15 empty pages in our passport. I only had 9 so I had to make a special trip to the US Consulate in Cape Town to get extra pages put in my passport.

The logistical issues with traveling to West Africa by ship still exist, but it is significantly easier than trying to do it by land or by air. There is a slight group discount and a large time and hassle discount in having the ship process the visa requests.

Day 5, Walvis Bay / Swakopmund

We arrived in Walvis Bay around 9am and was greeted with a sandstorm. Around this time of year the winds start to pick up and sandstorms become more common. This was the first one of the year. Instead of starting the day touring Walvis Bay in a boat and ending in Swakopmund, we did the reverse, which turned out to be even better than the original plan.

Our next stop was the Goanikontes oasis out in the desert where we’d have lunch. The oasis was really a river bottom which was able to sustain some plant life. The most notable thing about the oasis was the moonscape which surrounded it. The highlight of the day for me was getting to see welwhichia plants. Welwhichia plants are in my book, among the top 10 coolest plants on Earth.

After the welwhichia stop, we drove past the dunes outside of Walvis Bay and headed to the docks to do a short cruise of the bay. The cruise was pretty uneventful save for the fact that we had all the Walvis Bay oysters we could eat (which are fantastic) and we had a seal actually jump on the back of our boat!

The one thing we didn’t get to do during our day in Walvis Bay/Swakopmund was to explore some of the dunes. There is a dune called Dune 7 (because it is 7 kilometers from the city) which is accessible by car, but we only passed by.

Day 4, Luderitz, Namibia

Today we made our first stop on the trip: Luderitz, Namibia. I had been looking forward to Luderitz for one reason: the Kolmanskopf Ghost Town. I had seen photos taken by other photographers that blew me away. Kolmanskopf is a German diamond mining town just outside of Luderitz that was established in the very early parts of the 20th century and abandoned about 50 years ago. The buildings and some of the furnishings are still in place and are slowly being reclaimed by the desert.

Abandoned building filled with sand

My goal was to get several images of the abandoned buildings, half filled with sand: mission accomplished.

Our Luderitz stop was only four hours. While that is pretty short, there also really isn’t that much to see or do in Luderitz. Luderitz is notable because it is pretty much the only thing between Cape Town and Swakopmund. It is a small town whose signature trait is its German colonial buildings. We did a walking tour which took a bit over a half and hour and managed to cover most of what can be seen in the town, which gives you an idea just how small it is.

We arrived in Luderitz a bit ahead of schedule which meant we were able to leave early and will spend more time tomorrow in Walvis Bay/Swakopmund.

Day 3, At Sea, Off the Coast of Namibia

A day at sea for a passenger vessel is a challenge for the crew. You have a group of people who are stuck in a small space with nothing to do. There is no television. Internet and telephone connectivity is either non-existent or severely limited. The Expedition, thankfully, fills time with informative and intellectual pursuits.

Today, for example, there was a lecture on the German colonial involvement in Namibia and the Namibian resistance. Another lecture which was an introduction to photography and finally an even lecture on African cosmology, including a nighttime walk on the deck of the ship to look at the stars (with the ships lights turned off).

What is wonderful isn’t just the fact that these lectures are offered, but that almost all of the passengers are willing to show up to every single one.

Day 2, Cape Town

Today, the ship boarding procedure began by having our luggage outside our room at 6:30am. It was collected and delivered to the M/S Expedition while most of the tour went out to explore Cape Town. Several of us, including myself, chose to stay at the hotel as we had been in Cape Town for several days (or in my case, several weeks) before our arrival day.

Waves crashing against Cape Point

View from Cape Point taken on a previous trip.

Once we are all on board there is a mandatory safety session where everyone is instructed on the use of life vests, life boats and emergency procedures. After that we had our first dinner on the Expedition!

Day 1, Cape Town

Today I begin one of my biggest adventures yet: spending one month sailing up the West Coast of Africa on G Adventure’s M/S Expedition. We will be spending 32 days going up the west coast of Africa from Cape Town to Morocco.

Map of West Africa Cruise Route from Cape Town to Marrakech

Map of West Africa Cruise Route

Though this is only the second year the trip has been run, it has quickly developed a reputation as one of the most desired tours in the entire G Adventures lineup. Over the next 32 days we will be visiting places where most travelers avoid and most tour companies don’t even think of visiting. Here is a list of where we’ll be stopping during the trip.

  • Cape Town, South Africa
  • Luderitz, Namibia
  • Swakopmund/Walvis Bay, Namibia
  • Lobito (Benguela), Angola
  • Pointe Noir, Congo
  • São Tomé
  • Príncipe
  • Cotonou, Benin
  • Lome, Togo
  • Accra, Ghana
  • Takoradi, Ghana
  • Freetown, Sierra Leone
  • Bijagos Archipelago, Guinea-Bissau
  • Banjul, The Gambia
  • Dakar, Senegal
  • Dakhla, Western Sahara
  • Fuerteventura, Canary Islands
  • Agadir, Morocco
  • Marrakech, Morocco


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