Bon and Mari meet in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and then fly here arriving via AA....
Bone and I are in a cafe with wifi in Malabo. Flying to Bata this evening.
My flight on United from SEA to Dulles was surprisingly ok. It was a red eye of course so easy for them, but still, they nicely gave us all a quick drink and then turned down the lights and let us sleep till descent began. the Ethiopian flight to Addis was also fine - no Emirates of course - but the food was good and there were plenty of movies. We were flying during my Day and I'd had a few hours of sleep on United, so even thought it was 3 a.m. my time when we landed in Addis, I was feeling ok. I was able to walk about a mile or more around the airport which helped after sitting for hours on the long flight. Mari's flight came in from Rome and we met up as planned; all was good. Still, by the time our flight too off for Malabo, about 6 a.m. my time, I was beginning to fade. Mari was a bit better since just coming from Rome, but even so, she'd had a wee hours of the morning start. It was a full plane, and a busy one, what with drinks and breakfast, and we had a stop in Douala for 45 min or so (on the plane). All in all, it wasn't very conducive to sleep.
We arrived in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, about 1:30 pm. We cleared immigration and customs easily (Americans just get stamped in which is a huge bonus because for everyone else it is terribly difficult and costly to get a tourist visa). On exiting to the terminal we were immediately hit with a blast of equatorial heat and humidity, and - of course - a crush of taxi drivers all yelling at us at once - in FRENCH! We knew what to expect from previous experience of course, but still, what could be harder in our jet-lagged conditions?! We did what we always do - distanced ourselves to let the chaos clear a bit, and then found a taxi driver who spoke a bit of English. He seemed like a nice guy - for a taxi driver. The ATM wasn't working (not even plugged) so we exchanged enough cash with the money changers to cover the taxi ride and a bit more we thought - $20 USD.
I knew from checking online as well as the Lonely Planet (LP) Thorn Tree online forum that accommodation in Malabo is expensive. Very few tourists come here. The oil industry is the main thing and almost all foreign visitors come on oil business expense accounts - economy is not an issue. The least expensive hotel I'd found online was the Ibis at $132.00/room, so we went there first. It was actually 48,000 cfa (about $98 usd) - a bargain! But our driver said he knew of a better, cheaper place - of course he did! This generally means either a friend or a place that will give taxi drivers a kick back so I didn't want to bother, but Mari thought we should go look, so we did. It turned out to be El Paraiso(ed. note - see comments below, one star?). It's in the LP (2010) described as a fairly posh resort type place, but that now looked to be devoid of patrons. Renovations were underway in some areas it appeared. Rooms were 55,000 cfa ($112 USD) - more than the Ibis! The reception fellow said they had hot water showers, TV, and AC. But there was only one bed, a queen size - they didn't have any with two beds. (This proved to be the case all through EG, Gabon, and Republic of Congo btw) Plus, there was a nice pool and an on site restaurant to get something to eat we thought. He wouldn't come down on the price. I wanted to go back to the Ibis, but Mari was just DONE, and I was too jet-lagged to argue; we decided to stay.
Our "nice" taxi driver proceeded to take us for 15,000 cfa ($32), which is 3 times what it should have been I thought. I knew it was outrageous but he wouldn't budge and the hotel folks were his friends, so no help for us there. We gave up ... jet-lag won.
As it turned out, there was no hot water, the dinner buffet was mostly meat so no good to us (& $24 usd in any case), and at about 7:30 pm the electricity went out, not to come on again the rest of the night. So no AC, no TV, no lights. We sat there with our headlamps on in the progressively hotter, more humid room for $112/night. Welcome to Equitorial Guinea and West Africa - Ha Ha! As it turned out, the pool was the saving grace. Mari spent 3 hours there the next morning while I slept off my jet-lag.
After we had taken our bags to the room, we headed to town to find an ATM - we needed money! Of the 3 ATM's in town, one was only for locals, the second was't working, and we held our breath as we came to the third (SGSSG Bank I think it was). It worked! Thank heavens. We decided to look around the town a bit.
Malabo is an old colonial town with the typical big, old, solid colonial buildings in various stages of decay. A few have been renovated and are now government offices or high end offices or housing, but not many. The rest are all still in use by the people of course, both as housing and shops, despite their generally run-down conditions.
There is huge oil money in Malabo and Equitorial Guinea in general, but little of it filters down to the common man; the economic gap between the wealthy and the man on the street is very apparent. The street scene is the usual random, seemingly chaotic (but probably some order) mix of pedestrians and cars that - compared to the regimented, overly ordered (in my estimation) land of western civ - I always find extremely stimulating and refreshing. You have to be aware - constantly - of all that's going on around you, or anything can happen. Great!
We looked for both the Post Office for Mari's stamp collecting, and the Tourist Office to get the Tourist permit the LP says we need to have (especially on the mainland) or risk hassles by the police, but neither was where the LP map showed them to be, and with our little bit of French we couldn't communicate well enough to find them. The people were all kind and tried to be helpful, but we just couldn't understand each other. Then we discovered our Spanish worked! EG was originally a Spanish colony, and the people still speak Spanish. Perfect. Now we were set. We went to buy our plan ticket to Bata for the next afternoon - Cronos Airlines, 5:30 pm departure, 30 minute flight, 35,000 cfa ($70 usd).
We wandered on. It was coming up to sunset (6 pm and 6 am sunset and sunrise year round at the equator) and we just happened to be right at the viewpoint for the bay, so we watched for all of the 10-15 minutes it takes for the "shade" to go down. The harbor view is right near the old cathedral that's still in use. It's small and relatively unimpressive, but still nice to see. It sits directly opposite the big, 5 star hotel that all the oil business people no doubt stay in. It is an impressive sight with fountains, and manicured gardens in front. We walked back through town in the dark and felt perfectly safe.
The next day we easily found both offices, they had moved, and our Spanish made all the difference. The tourist permit turned out to be 20,000 cfa ($40 usd) - too much for the 3 days we would be in EG, but the tourism fellow assured us that if we didn't take photos we didn't need the permit even on the mainland. I was a bit nervous about that idea because Mari doesn't have a good track record with this kind of thing. On at least two occasions she has almost gotton the group in trouble with the police for taking pictures when she knew they weren't permitted. But she promised to be good, and we decided to trust what he was telling us. (We did get out of EG without being thrown in jail, but not because she kept her promise, she just snuck pic's when I didn't know it, and she - we! - were lucky.) At 5:30 our plane left for Bata.