West Africa Cruise with Gary Arndt: Week 2

April 21, 2014 Gary Arndt

Join Wanderer-in-Residence, Gary Arndt as he travels up the coast of West Africa on G Adventures’ own G 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 13, Principe

Our day in Principe was perhaps the most atypical stop we’ve had, or will have, on our entire trip.

Rather than going out to visit sites or meet local people, today was devoted to rest and relaxation. G Adventures rented several cabins for the day at the Bom Bom Resort on the northern point of the island and everyone was able to swim, rest and enjoy a nice BBQ lunch. After an hour of swimming, one of the staff with a zodiac picked me up and we went for a short photo excursion up the coast.

We found a local fishing village and saw children run out to the beach to wave as we went past. We cruised past men fishing and offered them a hearty “bom dia!” from our vessel to theirs. Some men appeared to be fishing with a net and others seemed to be fishing with a speargun. I think other may have been diving for sea urchins or other mollusks as well. The funniest part was watching several families of pigs root around on the beach.

Further up the coast we found a local fishing village filled with life.

Further up the coast we found a local fishing village filled with life.

Day 12, Sao Tome

The first thing I noticed when we arrived were the flotilla of small fishing craft off the shore.

The first thing I noticed when we arrived were the flotilla of small fishing craft off the shore.

Sao Tome turned out to one of the highlights of the trip so far.

Our first stop of the day was a coffee plantation on the island (Monte Cafe), but on the way we stopped at a waterfall and drove through some smaller villages. It was hard to put my finger on it, but while the people in Sao Tome are poor, life on the island seemed easier than what we saw in Congo or Angola. In fact, Sao Tome hardly seemed like it was in Africa. It could just as easily been an island in the Caribbean or the Pacific.

After the plantation visit, we then headed back to the city of Sao Tome (capital of the country) for lunch. Along the way we stopped to see some local dancers who were performing before taking a city tour which hit all the usual spots you see on a city tour: the cathedral, independence square, and a colonial fort.

Day 11, At Sea, Off the Coast of Gabon

I should probably spend a bit of time talking about the internet and communications because I know many people have questions about it. Pulling up a web page, if you are lucky, can be done in maybe 10 seconds. Alternatively, I’ve also had it takes several minutes. Simple pages are much easier to load than pages heavy with javascript. Loading Google+ or Facebook is almost impossible even under the best circumstances.

I’ve used the internet on the ship enough now to have developed several tricks to maximize my experience.

  • I use the mobile version of sites when possible. For example, using m.Facebook.com will make things load much faster than the normal Facebook page.
  • I have set the basic HTML version of Gmail as my default. The standard version has too many scripts and takes too long to load. You lose out of features, but at least it works.
  • I’ve learned to get online when most people are sleeping. After 11pm I can usually get better speeds than in the middle of the day. Likewise, if I get online first thing in the morning, I can usually get things to work.

Day 10, Point Noire, Republic of Congo

The kids were grades 6-12 and many of the teachers and parents were in attendance as well.

The kids were grades 6-12 and many of the teachers and parents were in attendance as well.

We disembarked in the port of Point Noir for a visits to a museum dedicated to slave trade and to the Diasso Gorge.

Our last stop of the day was at a grade school we visited and was a true highlight. The purpose of the visit was to deliver supplies for the school and while we were there, the kids put on a brief show for us displaying their skills in singing, dancing, and oratory. The kids were great and they really put a lot of effort into the show they put on. Hopefully, they’ll put the school supplies to good use.

Our visit to Pointe Noire reinforced the point that you don’t need tourist attractions to have a good trip. West Africa (and everywhere else in the world) is filled with people living their lives who are just as interested in the rest of the world as we are of them. People are the biggest tourist attraction of them all.

Day 9, At Sea, Off the Coast of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

At a certain level, a ship has to be self sustaining. When you are at sea, you can’t run to the hardware store to fix a problem. You need the tools and talent on board to solve whatever problems might arise. I have been incredibly impressed with the problem solving abilities of the crew on the G Expedition.

Case 1: The incredibly thin cables of a MacBook power cord have a tendency to fray and eventually break. I contacted a member of the crew who put me in touch with the ship’s electrician who managed, not only to fix it, but made it better than it was. He shored up each end of the wire so it wouldn’t bend. The best part, is that he managed to do this is 30 minutes!

Case 2: The G Expedition was originally built as a Norwegian ferry. It was later reconfigured as an expedition class vessel for exploring polar waters. As we sailed north and left the cold Benguela current, the water temperature went from 14°C (57°F) to 29°C (84°F). The problem on the ship was excess heat, the exact opposite of what ship normally has to deal with. The chief engineer spent several days on the problem and eventually got the air conditioning running great. It was sort of like Scotty on Star Trek reconfiguring one system for another totally different purpose.

Day 8, Lobito/Benguela, Angola

Capoeira in Angola.

Capoeira in Angola.

Prior to our arrival in Lobito, I wasn’t expecting much in the way of a tourism infrastructure. I was right. Lobito isn’t a major tourist attraction, but that turned out not to be a bad thing. It was refreshing to visit a place where the people you saw on the street were genuinely as interested in you as you were in them.

We began our day be taking a train from Lobito to Benguela. It was an antique train, which was interesting, because the train wasn’t a collection of refurbished cars, but rather an actual train from the 1930’s which appeared to simply never have been upgraded. All the fixtures, light bulbs and seats on the train were the originals installed over 70 years ago.

The highlight of the day came after lunch where local dancers and capoeira practitioners performed for us. They put on a great performance which was enhanced by the fact that this wasn’t something they regularly didn’t for tourists (because they don’t get very many).

I came away from my brief Angola visit thinking how much potential there is for tourism in this large country, and how if the government were to just relax their visa policies, they could dramatically increase their number of visitors. They have a long coast, untouched beaches and an area twice the size of Texas.

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