Feb 11, 2012
Flight: Douala (DLA) to Malabo (SSG), Ethiopian 757, econ
Hotel: Hilton Malabo, Cash+Points
Today was my last in Cameroon, my flight to Malabo in Equatorial Guinea departed at 12:20. Originally I had planned to return to Douala the night before to make sure I made the flight. Since I was staying in Limbe, I would have to get up much earlier, given the time it would take to walk to the taxi stand, take a taxi to the minibus area, wait for a minibus to fill, then catching another
taxi to the airport once I arrived in Douala. I figured three hours + a few hrs buffer before checkin, meant leaving around 7AM.
Another option was to just hire a taxi all the way from Limbe to Douala or the airport. The book said it should be 10000 CFA ($20) which is a good deal considering the distance.
I still woke up early at 5:45 and decide to head out to the taxis early. It was a dark walk through the botanical gardens, luckily I had brought along my headlamp. I saw several people out running early this morning. The Mt. Cameroon marathon (Race of Hope) is apparently next weekend. The race has been ongoing since the 1970s and was hosted by Guinness for many years. There were already taxis waiting at the stand, some heading to Buea (sounds like boo-yah) up the mountain. I asked about a through taxi to the airport, they wanted 15k to Douala or 20k to the airport itself, we settled on 17k ($34).
So sounded like a fair deal. I would have had to spend probably 8-10k anyway with swapping taxis + minibus, plus this way I wasn't scrunched up in the back seat of a minivan. We set off at 6:15, again checking air in the tires but not needing gas. I thought it would be too early for the police to be out yet, but we did get stopped twice while the driver had to show his license + papers and the police flipped through my passport looking at all of the visas... one disadvantage taking the car/taxi vs a minibus as they usually get waved through. The police were carrying a spike strip on a pole.
Even with the stops though we get to Douala a lot quicker than I expected, and we arrive at the airport at 8AM, leaving me nearly 4.
5 hrs wait. I found a restaurant there that was able to make an omelette + baguettes. I noticed there was a Diners Club lounge before security but I had forgotten to bring my card along on this trip. So I had to wait around sitting outside the checkin area. There were a lot of moneychangers hanging around, they all kept coming up to me and asking if I wanted t o change dollars. The Ethiopian checkin finally opened about 9:45. I get to the front of the line and hear the words I hate to hear "we can't find your ticket", even after giving them my e-ticket #. So I have to get out of line, go to the Ethiopian ticketing office, and they said their network connection is down. So they can't help me either. I remebered I had the PDF boarding pass on the computer so go back and show it to the checkin agent.
This time she was able to find the ticket (?!?) and issue me a new boarding pass. Apparently the plane type had changed (I had checked in on 767 seat map) but the flight today was operating a 757.
Before security I had to pay a 10,000 CFA 'customs tax'. Stamped out and went through security out into the open-air concourse. The gates themselves are in air-conditioned rooms though. I wandered around to see if there were any lounges, but there was only a Skyteam lounge and MTN business lounge that I could see. There were several people already waiting in the gate lounge, but we all had to leave then re-enter the gate going through another security check. There is an x-ray there but it wasn't turned on, so they extensively searched our bags.
Curry ketchup? Actually was really good!
. even flipping through all the pages in my books.
The Ethiopian airlines flight actually arrived and departed on time.. the last few times I flew on Ethiopian only one of my 5 flights departed on time. Maybe they've improved since joining *A a few months ago. I noticed another (the same?) huge Anotov An-124 cargo plane that I had seen in Libreville a few days previous. The flight was a quick 20 minutes up and down (it's only 71 miles but should earn 500 points on United), we barely got up to 10,000 feet and the flight attendants stayed seated the whole time. I'd hoped to get a better view but the sky was really hazy.. it has been that way most of this trip due to harmattan (sandy winds) off the Sahara.
Just as we land, it starts to rain.
Plaza de Espana
The new terminal in Malabo has jetbridges though and was through immigration in just a minute. Americans are one of the few countries that do not need visas to visit Equatorial Guinea. Just flash the Eagle and you are in. Equatorial Guinea is one of the few former Spanish colonies in Africa.. originally 'discovered' by the Portuguese it was swapped with Spain for possessions in the New World. It consists of the island of Bioko (Fernando Po) and Rio Muni on the African mainland. It only became independent in 1968 and has been ruled by the same family since then. Since the discovery of oil, there has been lots of development on the main island of Bioko. Eq. Guinea ususally places very low on the list of countries with independent media, human rights, etc.
It was famously the target of a coup in the 1990s, with backers including Margaret Thatcher's son. The conspirators spent several years in a jail in Malabo before being released a few years ago. Very few tourists come here.. it is mainly oil workers from America (there is a nonstop flight from Houston to Malabo for the workers). For travel outside Malabo or for taking photos a tourist permit is required, which is expensive and time-consuming to obtain.
I had booked a cash+points hotel at the newly opened Hilton hotel. The Hilton is very close to the airport, so close indeed that I was able to walk there in under 10 minutes. It was still drizzling but I had my rain jacket. The new Hilton is very nice, but very expensive normally at $400+ a night.
Mali vs Ghana, Africas Cup of Nations
With cash and points that brought it to a more reasonable 52Euro/night. The room was ready and very nice, firm bed with flatscreen TV, minibar and separate bath/shower. Though the shower was oddly placed in the same room as the toilet. The bed frame too is sharp, wooden frame but the mattress doesn't cover all of it. Backing up from the workdesk I managed to stab my ankle, ouch. The hotel has a pool, bars, fitness room and free wifi. They also have a free shuttle around town. The Africas Cup 3rd place match was tonight in Malabo (Mali vs Ghana), and many of the CAF representatives were staying at the hotel.
I wandered around the hotel a bit for awhile. Out in the pool area there were three guys all falling down drunk (literally, one fell out of his chair and knocked over the stereo speakers while I was there!) and it was only 5PM.
I asked about getting a shuttle into town to check out some restaurants. The main highway from the airport is dead straight 6km into town, surrounded by opulent mansions and embassies. The driver dropped me off at a restaurant and arranged to pick me up at 7PM. I guess it was still too early to eat (5:30PM) but I hadn't had lunch. They were able to whip me up a sandwich+fries though. From there I wandered down to the Plaza de Espana, surrounded by the beautiful Malabo Cathedral on one side and the Sofitel hotel on the other. The plaza was very pretty with people sitting around enjoying plaza time. I snuck a few photos from the Sofitel parking lot but they came out blurry as it was getting dark.
At 7PM I went back to the restaurant where the hotel driver picked me up and we headed towards the Malabo stadium.
Bought tickets off a scalper (though at half-price) and joined the throng of people streaming into the stadium. The police presence was very heavy here, checking peoples bags and wanding them. There were several stadiums here, but the largest one still felt small compared with the stadium in Libreville (15000 capacity vs 40000). It felt more like a high school football stadium in Texas. I had good seats, view was above the fence but down at the goal box. I'd hope for Ghana to win but turns out my sports illiteracy shone through.. when the game first started I'd been rooting for the wrong team for the first 20 minutes until Mali scored and realized I'd thought they were Ghana! Their uniforms were a different color this time than in Libreville.
haha. The crowd was definitely more Mali-fans than Ghana, at least on my side. Everyone was up dancing and waving/wearing Mali flags. Mali scored a 2nd goal in the 2nd half and the crowd goes wild again. I was really tired at this point (nearly 10PM and I'd been up since 5:45) so I slip out of the stadium during the 4-minute penalty time period. People were dancing and celebrating in the streets. I waited around awhile for the hotel shuttle. On the way back we passed through Malabo Two, a whole new city being built, skyscrapers, huge parks, 6-lane highways and neon lights everywhere. They are trying to become the 'Dubai' of Africa.