Friday, October 29, 2010

It's Friday, let's go BRAAI...!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Photography vs kite surfing

My mobile phone attempt

Kitesurfers having fun

I was on my way to get something to eat when I saw that for a change Table Mountain was visible under the clouds again, with a very bright and clear sky. I immediately turned around to fetch my camera, thinking that I might get a good couple of shots for my new photo blog. When I got to the beach, I found something else that interested me...the kite surfers in the crystal clear blue water. Knowing that conditions like this only happens once in a while, I turned around and went home to get my kite surfing gear, this time leaving my camera at home. When I returned to the beach I couldn't believe my wind. The wind had completely died down. Without a camera I decided to take one picture with my mobile phone hoping I could capture something of the beauty. Needless to say, not very successful. I decided to go back home and fetch my camera again. When I got back to the beach the wind had picked up again with even more kite surfers in the water than the first time. Struggling with this fight inside myself of what to do now, I think kite surfing was the obvious choice for the day, the clouds were already starting to cover the mountain again and the water was getting choppy and losing its perfect blue colour. There will be more perfect days in Cape Town for nice pictures. All I have to show for this day though is a smile on my face after an awesome kite session and a few uninteresting and mediocre pictures...
Table Mountain getting its table cloth on again

Paardeberg Road and a small patch of sand

As I am always trying to take the scenic route, no matter where I am going, I did the same when I went to go fetch my passport in Malmesbury. I wasn't planning on taking the day off, so I left early with the hope of being back at the office early as well. I left at 7 am and knew that if I take the shortest route that I could be back shortly after 8. But I was hoping to get at least some gravel roads in, and to do that one has to do quite a bit of zigzag riding to Malmesbury and back. The temperature was around 14 deg C, but I think that 14 degrees in summer is different from 14 degrees in winter. I never once got cold and it was rather pleasant riding in warmer weather again.

The first gravel road was Malanshoogte, and after that Occultdale Road. Both of these roads I have done many times now and even though I nowadays ride them with the same enthusiasm than the road to work, it still beats taking the N7 to Malmesbury. From the Occultdale Road I came back to the Kalbaskraal Road, a tarred road but very bumpy. The bumpiness makes up for another boring stretch of tarred road.

When I arrived in Malmesbury and after thinking to myself that I can surely do better than this, I decided to head towards Riebeeck-Wes with the hope of finding other "yet-to-be-discovered" gravel roads. I was hardly out of Malmesbury, just past the Riebeeck-Wes turn-off when I saw a sign saying Paardeberg ("Horse Mountain"). Because I've always wanted to see what Paardeberg really looks like (compared to Table Mountain you cannot really call it more than a molehill), I decided to turn off not knowing where this  road was going to take me. All I knew was that I wasn't going to mess around too much as I wanted to get back to work. This road was heading in the right direction, back towards Table Mountain and Cape Town.

Paardeberg Road with Paardeberg in the background
Table Mountain in the distance

The Paardeberg Road started off well, the road was well kept and hard, so it was basically just a repeat of Malanshoogte and Occultdale road. The nice thing though is that I have never been there before and I had the opportunity to explore a new area. I was doing around 100km/h on the road with enough confidence to look around at the farms and vineyards. Every now and then a farm worker greeted me from the fields and I was thinking how nice it must be working and living there. Maybe they were thinking how nice it must be going for an early morning bike ride? Before too long the road started getting narrower and with some bends and up and downs. It didn't bother me much until I hit a patch of sand. What a way to raise your heart beat and lose bladder control. Fortunately the latter didn't happen, but I really got a fright when my front wheels started slipping around like on a wet floor feeling as if I had lost all control of my steering abilities. I immediately slowed down, wondering if that was the right thing to do. I guess hitting the ground at a lower speed will cause less damage to myself and the bike, but fortunately none of this happened. I did however realized that I still haven't fully recovered after my last fall in the sand and that my confidence when it comes to sand is still very low. I can manage the gravel roads pretty well now, but sand still seems to be a problem.

I'll swop my motorbike for this farm ;-)
After reaching tar again I worked my way back towards Cape Town, back to Occultdale Road and Malanshoogte. At this point the wind started picking up and I was thinking that riding in cold weather is probably much better than riding in windy weather. I don't think this was one of my best or most memorable rides ever, but it was still a much nicer way to go fetch a passport in Malmesbury without having to face the long and boring N7 with its constant traffic. A round tour of 120km which took me less than 2 hours. Not a bad way to start the day.

When I arrived back at the office I quickly looked for the contact details of the next sand riding courses. I emailed for a go on the 13th, but it was fully booked. Guess I am not the only one who still nearly wets his pants when he hits sand. The only place available was for the 11th of December and then early next year, but unfortunately I already have something else planned for then. I guess I am in for some more hair raising experiences before I finally get an opportunity to do that course.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Applying for a Passport through SA's Dept of Home Affairs

My current passport was soon going to run out of blank pages, so it was time to apply for a new passport. Because I travel extensively, I had to go for the "Maxi" version which is basically double the amount of pages than the normal passport and obviously double the price. Because of the history of "poor service" from the Department of Home Affairs, I decided to keep track of this whole process to make a decision later whether the service was indeed poor or not.

August 24, 11h15
I phone the Dept of Home Affairs to find out what I need in the sense of documentation to apply for a maxi passport. NO ANSWER! The civil servants are on strike.

August 24, 12h15
I try the Dept of Home Affairs website. I don't know who designed and administrates the website, but in general it looks very good. I locate the application form for passports, but the web site seems to be slow and I cannot download the application form.

September 10, 15h00
I waited for the strike to end and start my process of applying for a passport again. The web site apparently is also back from the strike and I manage to download the papers.

September 13, 10h28
After getting all my documents, photo's etc together, I still cannot find the amount to pay for a Maxi passport. I phone the Malmesbury branch hoping that I would get better service than the Bellville branch who has a very bad reputation for poor service delivery (like most governmental offices). NO ANSWER. I tried a couple of times more but to no avail. The rumour that no-one ever picks up the phone at the Dept of Home affairs seems to be true!

September 13, 11h24
I phone two more offices in Cape Town - NO ANSWER. Wondering if there might be something wrong with my own line, I decide to phone the smallest town in the Western Cape with a Dept of Home Affairs, Beaufort-West. Amazingly someone answers. "Not yet aware that civil servants can earn a salary without having to do anything", I figured. The cost of a maxi passport is R380. Tomorrow I will take my application to the office in Malmesbury which, according to the web site, opens at 7.30. Wish me luck.

September14, 7h30
I stop at the Dept of Home Affairs in Malmesbury, 50 km from Cape Town. I came here knowing that the Bellville office is a nightmare; the queues are long, the whole process not working and the illegal immigrants looking for asylum crowds the place. What a surprize. The doors open at 7.30 sharp and I am second in line. The lady behind the counter is friendly and at 7.48 I am done. (The printer was jammed, so I had to wait about 7 minutes extra for my receipt). I am told that I will get a text message when I can come and collect my passport, they don't deliver. Also a phone number if I should have any queries, the same one I couldn't get through on yesterday. After querying the number she tells me that they only have one number and it rings the whole day. I've completed my application, now I only have to wait 5-6 weeks.

October 18, 13h56
I receive an sms telling me my passport is ready for collection at the Malmesbury Branch!

October 26, 7h45
I drive to Malmesbury to collect my passport. After waiting about 5 minutes , I sign for my passport and leave. Thirty-four days after my application my passport was ready. Do I have reason to complain? I guess not. Apart from the fact that the phones are never answered, I have to admit that the whole process was rather simple and straightforward. Waiting only 34 day is awesome. I know many people have had bad experiences with the Dept of Home Affairs, even myself with a birth certificate, but after this application I have to admit I was not only surprized, but feeling a bit ashamed for always expecting the worse.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Lazy Birds

When I told my son we are going to look at penguins, he wanted to show me on his world map where penguins live. Due to previous experiences mostly gathered through famous movies like Happy Feet and Surf's Up, he was convinced that we were about to go to Antarctica. He was clearly a bit disappointed when we told him that we have penguins in "our back yard", thinking that these penguins might not be the real thing. These penguins might not be able to tap dance or surf, but they are for real. Maybe a bit smaller than their cousins in Antarctica, but penguins nevertheless.

Nicer when the sun shines
I am not much of a bird watcher myself,  but when you do things for your kids, then I guess you become interested in many things. The aim for the day was to show him some penguins, and the best place to do that on the South African coast is probably Boulder's Beach near Simon's Town. We've taken him there before, but he could not remember, he was way too young. Strange though, because the last time we were there he stuck his finger through a fence and got bitten real hard by a female protecting her chick against the onslaught of another inconsiderate "tourist". If you think your mother-in-law has a sharp mouth, you should see these penguins'. And tourists? There are many. No wonder they had to fence off the whole beach in order to protect the penguins and their breeding grounds. The penguins walk up quite far and lay their eggs under the bushes, quite a distance from the actual beach. If anyone wants to get closer to the penguins, you obviously have to pay. I have no problem in paying for this privilege as the money obviously goes towards the protection of these lovely birds, but today I was not going to fork out another R35 per adult to enter, plus the R10 I had to pay for my child. (Yesterday we paid enough to get into Kirstenbosch). I was hoping to see a free show further down the beach.

Boulders is really a beautiful beach, and it can only be reached if you pay to get in, or swim from Simon's Town. A kayak might be a better idea though. There is a nice wooden walk way running from the one side all the way to the other, with nice restaurants and curio shops along the way. Your typical tourists activities...with tourist prices of course. If you are lucky you might see penguin nests with penguins breeding right next to the walk way. It is fenced off. Don't stick your finger through the fence, you might end up with  bleeding finger or a R500 fine. And yes, like most animals in Africa, these birds are considered "wild" and will bite if they feel threatened. They particularly love fingers and I am not talking about fish fingers only.

Whatcha lookin' at?

Bad lazy posers
So we headed towards the place where we knew some guys are willing to pose for free, not like many of the more stuck-up penguins inside the sanctuary that only pose for the paid up tourists. They look the same, you just get a much nicer background on Boulder's Beach than from where these cheaper shots are available from. But we weren't there for prize winning pictures, and the weather wasn't playing along either. It was about to start raining, so paying R80 to get my family to see some penguins on a nice beach with rain coming down wasn't my idea of a day well spend. When we reached the end of the walk way, we were indeed lucky to see a couple of very lazy birds soaking up some heat of the rocks. They were definitely not in the mood for posing, and the closest shot I could get was with my zoom lens. Background very uninteresting. My son was more interested in trying his climbing skills on some of the rocks and I don't even know if he took notice of the penguins. The fact is, Cape Town has everything...even penguins. If you are a tourist to South Africa, do yourself a favour and go see the penguins. Take out a couple of bucks and pay the entrance fee, you are supporting a good cause and you are in a better position to fork out that kind of money than what South Africans are. And if you are lucky you might even get a nice picture posing next to a bunch of funny looking birds. And don't mind that "bloody tourists" looks they have on their faces, tell your friends they look like that from eating fish... morning, noon and night. 

Those colourful beach huts

If you've ever looked at a brochure about Cape Town, you must've seen them before. You actually cannot miss them, even when you just drive pass. They are colourful and they stand out. These are the beach huts that you find on some of the Cape Town beaches on the False Bay side of the peninsula. I've been living in Cape Town for more than 10 years, and I've never actually stopped to have a look at them.

Today I was driving to Boulder's beach near Simons Town when I saw a parking space right in front of St James beach near Fish Hoek. If you are familiar with the parking problems in this area, then you might understand why I decided to make use of this "once-in-a-lifetime" opportunity to stop. Besides, I had my camera with me and thought that I might be able to get a nice picture or two for my blog. What I discovered was more than a picture for my blog. I discovered a beautiful little beach with a very nice tidal pool. Not a place where I would be able to surf or do kite boarding, but a very nice and save secluded beach for family outings. Just a pity about the parking problem, and the fact that these little beaches are packed during the summer months. This is nevertheless a very nice spot and I was surprized to see how well kept this beach and the ablution facilities were. I have to admit that the City of Cape Town is doing a tremendous job in upgrading the beaches and keeping them clean, and this is a good example of one.

The Blue Train at Mouille Point

"Old Lady" ready for her next trip
I had quite a hectic Saturday. Two kiddies parties one after the other finished off with a surprize 40th at Kirstenbosch Gardens. I thought this would've been an excellent opportunity to show more places around Cape Town and taking some pictures. It started of well with the first kiddy party that was at the famous Blue Train play park next to the Mouille Point lighthouse. Here I had plenty of time to take some pictures of the train which has been around for more than 50 years already. I guess this is the closest I would ever come to the even more famous luxurious Blue Train that runs between Cape Town and Pretoria. This train has been named one of the most luxurious trains in the world, and might explain why I would never be able to afford a trip to Pretoria. So let's rather get back to the other more affordable Blue Train at Mouille Point.

If I had a blog 5 years ago I probably would never have written about kiddies play parks. But I guess once you have little creatures of love your interests soon change, willingly or not. So I was taking my son to the Blue Train for his friend's birthday party. I think the biggest worry for the day was the weather. Rain was predicted, but knowing the success rate of our weather forecasters there was no need to can the day and not even try. Besides, how do you tell a nearly 4-year old that you think you should not attempt because it might rain and in the process disappoint his friend who is expecting him for his birthday?

Lions Head in the background
If the real Blue Train can boast about its luxury, then I guess the little blue train can just boast about its name. One has to remember that this train is 50 years old and at some point stopped providing rides because no-one had the funds to keep it on the track. I guess the idea is also not to have a luxurious ride, this is for the kids and believe me luxury is not the first thing that comes to mind when they get in. Nearly all the kids just want the train to go fast! Priority number one. Speed. Unfortunately the train was not designed for speed, and when one hears the noise it makes then one would prefer for your child to be traveling in a slow, very slow train. Ear plugs are not a requirement, but it would surely help. I didn't measure the time it takes to do one round, but for me as a parent doing three rounds for your 8 bucks was long enough. Kids on the other hand will empty your wallet and have no problem with the noise or safety record. The view on the other hand is awesome. The train passes a section of the Mouille Point promenade three times and there is even a small tunnel, which I guess is used as a shed for the train to sleep in at night.

Apart from the train which is probably the main attraction of this little playpark, they also have a small climbing wall, a jumping castle, a little racing track for small bikes and a rather dilapidated jungle gym. I believe they are going to construct a half pipe for skateboarders and I surely hope that adults will be allowed to take their kids on this too. I would gladly pay 8 Rands for a go on the half pipe.

Bikers on a collision course
All in all I was rather impressed by this little play park. Mouile Point is a beautiful area of Cape Town with lots more stuff to do even for adults who don't have the responsibility of entertaining little kids. Once they have that half pipe erected I will for sure spend more time in that area. I didn't write anything about the birthday party, but judging from the smile on my son's face after he received a balloon sword from the hired magician, the amount of cake he had devoured and the time it took him to fall asleep on our way to the next party, it definitely was a huge success.

Friday, October 22, 2010

It's Friday, let's go BRAAI!

If there is one thing almost every South African does on a weekend, then it must be the BRAAI. (That's barbecue for the less informed). So, it is Friday, this is South Africa, the sun is shining, the weekend is lying let's go BRAAI!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Why they love Fridays

I was wondering why the Portuguese always smile on Fridays, except for the obvious prospects of a weekend ahead. It struck me while I was sitting in my office in Luanda and my eye fell on their calender. Fridays are permanently booked it seems.....

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Sogara Beach, Port-Gentil

Determinded to have a better day than yesterday, I decided to spend the day at Sogara Beach. There are not many places that can swing my mood to positive like a beautiful tropical beach does. I don't have my SLR camera with me, but used my Sony Cybershot point-and-shoot. Here are some pics taken this morning. You can decide whether it had a positive effect on me or not.....

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Missing out

It's Saturday morning. I am sitting at the staff house in Pointe-Noire, Congo waiting for the bus to the airport. If everything is going according to plan, then I will be flying to Port-Gentil, Gabon today. I will spend two days there and on Monday I will fly down to Launda, Angola. I have work to do in Gabon, so my weekend is going to be spend at the office, NOT on the beach. When I looked at one of my favourites web cams of Cape Town this morning, I knew that this was a weekend that I was definitely going to miss out on......

Enjoy the weekend and have fun Capetonians!!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

I just loved the music

If you don't know what the word "irie" means, then you probably don't know much about Rastafari and Reggae. I was probably around 13 years old when a girlfriend of mine picked up a tape with reggae music on it. It was Bob Marley's Uprising album. I listened to the music and immediately fell in love with it. Everybody that knows me knows that I have been a huge reggae fan since then. Even today I still listen to reggae and buy reggae music. My interest in reggae unfortunately didn't grow without any opposition from the people around me. I grew up in a time in South Africa where we were about to be "invaded by some black force", and to make matters worse reggae artists were singing about this day that was looming on the horizon like it was going to happen tomorrow. I mean, look at the cover of the Uprising album and tell me what you think. It gave white school kids nightmares at that time. In school we were told how this represents black domination. My mom wasn't really impressed with the black faces on all my new albums either. To make matters worse some even had smoking plants on the cover. And my oh my, it was not just ordinary plants, it was cannabis. Yes, ganga spliffs on the cover of the music I showed an interest in. How do you protect your naive 13-year old boy against smoking ganga? According to her I was already growing up for the gullows. My dad brought me information about reagge music and Rastafari to warn me against this evil that's infiltrating our household. I have no idea where he got it from, there wasn't Internet in those days. I am sure he had some connections with inteligence services that was monitoring each and every move of everyone who was interested in reggae music. I would not have been surprized if they were monitoring me as well. Despite all this, I just loved the music.

I am busy reading a book about Bob Marley. I've never actualy paid much attention to his life and the meaning of Rastafari, contrary to what my mother might 've believed back then. Politics at that time of my life was stuff that grown-ups did. And boy, did they fuck it up. Even today after changing the whole government they are still doing it. I was pleasantly surprized when I read that Bob Marley had a white father. Man, had I known this when I was 13 I could've blown my parent's concerns into pieces with these facts. But who cared anyway what the facts were? And besides, I didn't feel the need to convince them. I just loved the music. I also didn't know at that time that Bob Marley was totally against racism. Even the Rastafarian's "messiah" which they believe replaced Jesus because he was white, Haile Salassie, was against racism. In the church in which I grew up we ourselves weren't even that accommodating towards other races. We were too busy fighting off the demons of black domination and other dark forces (excuse the pun). In this book I also read that even Rastafaris didn't agree on what they actually believed in. They also, like any other religion, have the whole spectrum from the fundamental to the experimental. Today there are even white Rastas, just like there are black Christians. So I still struggle to see what the big issue was.

Despite the fact that they sing openly about using the herb ("I got to have kaya now"), I have never tried it myself. I am just not interested. I know all the words to each and every Bob Marley song, but I have never joined any black freedom organization because I laid in my room singing "Come we go chant down down Babylon one more time". I also didn't run away to meet His Emperial Majesty Jah Rastafari because I was singing at the top of my voice "we'll be forever loving Jah". I still went to Sunday school every Sunday where they unintentionaly made me to believe that only white people can go to heaven, and if I miss one Sunday school lesson then unfortunately I don't qualify anymore. I also never questioned anything at that time from being "negatively influenced" by any Rasta believes. No, I just loved the music.

After many years of listening to reggae music all I can say is that I don't blame my parents for wanting to protect me. Not because of the lyrics or the black domination, but I believe they did what they thought at that time was best for their child. I appreciate the fact that they still allowed me to listen to it and that my mom never smashed my records or made it disappear while I was asleep. The first celebrity's face my son knew when he was two years old was that of Bob Marley. When he sees people with dreadlocks and he says "Bob Marley" you can see the smiles appear on their faces. Isn't this what we need in our country, understanding each other and knowing what we all believe in even though we might not agree with each other or look like each other? I have definitely not changed into a Rasta, and I am not going to try to turn my straight blonde hair into dreadlocks either. In any case, blonde dreadlocks just don't look as cool as black dreadlocks. But as long as I can believe like my Rasta brothers that "we all are one", and that we all can live together in peace, I cannot ditch the music for any other reason just yet. Frankly I really don't care what the hidden message in the lyrics is or what Rastafarians stand for, I just love the music.

You don't speaka my language?

Over the past couple of days in Pointe-Noire I learned once again that it is not the colour of your skin that makes you the victim of petty crime in foreign countries. I think what contributes by far more to a weak spot in your defence system is your inability to speak or understand the local language. While your assailants are discussing ways to rob you or what the best option is to dispose of your body, then at least you know what their intentions are and can start planning on your counter attack or getaway. Wherever I travel in Africa for obvious reasons I stand out like a sore thumb. Because there is a perception in Africa that white people are rich and consequently carry lots of cash, they always becomes victims of crime. Or that is the perception I always had.

A black colleague of mine requested a taxi to take him to a supermarket in town. He understands French perfectly (his mother is French), but he doesn’t speak it (he grew up in Angola, a Portuguese speaking country which don't particularly like the French). If you come in for the landing at Pointe-Noire's airport and you look down at the town, the first thing that you notice is the huge amount of blue taxis on the roads. There are definitely more taxis in Pointe-Noire than private vehicles, and all of them are Toyotas by the way. They out number any other form of transport by ten to one if not more. Pointe-Noire is actually called the blue town by locals, and Brazzavile the green town because they have green taxis. South Africans can stop bitchin' about "our minibus taxi problem" and come have a look here to see what a "taxi problem" is. So if you want to get around in Pointe-Noire, you will probably end up in one of these taxi sooner or later. As in many other countries where the taxis don't have meters it is always better to negotiate the fare before you get in. You are very likely to be charged much more than what the locals have to pay. So, my friend from Angola was on his way to the Supermarket in one of Pointe-Noire’s blue taxis…

When they arrived at the supermarket, the taxi driver still believing that he cannot speak French, in broken English offered to wait for him. No charge. He agreed and got out. Strangely enough the taxi driver also got out and followed him into the shop. It might raise suspicion already, but being in a foreign country anything strange might be quite normal for the people living there. Or maybe he was just concerned that his customer will disappear and not use his services to get back to the staff house. The taxi driver didn’t know what he was looking for at the supermarket, but before my friend found what he was looking for he overheard the taxi driver speaking to the sales lady behind the counter. “Whatever my client wants, if you don’t increase the price and give me my share, then I’m taking my client to another shop”. The lady behind the counter was clearly uncomfortable, but losing a client is probably worse than cheating one, so she agreed.  Not wanting to give the taxi driver money that he did not deserve, and not wanting to pay more for goods just because he is a foreigner and "cannot understand the language", he decided to leave everything claiming that he could not find what he was looking for. He felt like taking another taxi, but was scared that this might lead to more confrontation. He had to come back without his goods and decided he will get it at a later stage. So, no matter what colour you are, when you don't know what people are saying or you are not vigilant enough, someone might be doing you in. This makes me wonder how many times I have been done in because of my inability to speak at least 10 international languages...?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Law of Attraction in Congo

Ten years ago when I started traveling in Africa I had horror stories to tell about things and experiences in these African countries. Ten years later I am still traveling in Africa, but my stories are not that "graphic" anymore. I don't think Africa has changed much over the last ten years or so, that would be wishful thinking, but I think the way I am experiencing and interpreting everything has changed considerably. Not only do I believe that all my experiences in these countries had shaped me into a more relaxed traveler and better problem solver, but I think I have become much more wiser and "street smart" as well. If there are two books that have made a considerable impact on my outlook on dealing with problems, then I have to mention these two, The Power of Now by Eckhart Toll and Around Africa on my Bicycle by Riaan Manser. Both  these books I have refered to many times before in my life. I have always wondered why people have different ways of defining problems and dealing with them, and I think I did not only get my answer from the one book, but also seen some practical applications of that in the second.
Road from Airport

Pointe-Noire main street

Today was one of those days that could’ve made a good war story. I was on my way to Congo with its infamous crooked customs and immigration officials. If I had a blog years ago I could’ve refered to some of those stories. When you arrive to Congo or leave Congo, the chances are good that you will find yourself in a uncomfortable situation at the airport. If your yellow fever card is not yellow enough, or if your perfectly legible date in your passport is not stamped clear enough, you are in for a very long argument. This argument is usually solved with some bribe or the other, because when some people have the authority to make life difficult for you, they find any excuse to do that. So let me get back to my story. Because of some unannounced flight schedule changes I was heading to Congo without a valid visa. Years ago I would’ve been sick to the stomach imagining what could happen when I get there with the incorrect “papers”. I would’ve been scared to be honest. But, due to experience, and due to the two books mentioned earlier I was prepared to go face them and get a good story for my blog.

I did try to get the visa problem sorted out before I left Port-Gentil, but there was no time to change anything or get a later flight. Years ago I would’ve been a nervous wreck from the time I discovered that my visa was invalid, adding grey hairs to my wig while shortening my life at the same time. But the Power of Now taught me that premature worrying is not going to change anything. You deal with the problem when you are faced with it, or like my dad always says: “Cross the bridge when you get there”. I was on my way to the bridge and had no idea whether the river was coming down in full flood or whether it would only be a stream after a year’s drought. Riaan Manser’s book taught me another thing about the misperceptions we have on Africa’s inhabitants. He managed to cross something like 32 border posts in Africa, some with good visas and some with nothing at all. And each time he was successful and survived to write about it. One of his tips was to just keep smiling no matter in which situation you might find yourself. I know that smiling doesn’t help much in Congo when your yellow fever card is fine but not yellow enough according to a colour blind official, but when you are in the wrong a good smile on a good day might just pull you through. And even though the corrupt officials are out to get money from you, they are not out to physically harm you, just financially. So I was pretty sure that I was also going to get through customs physically unharmed. The only thing I was not looking forward to was the senseless illogical reasoning, the feeling of being interrogated for a crime you did not commit (although I was guilty this time), or that feeling that you are being treated as inferior just because someone else had the power and position to do so.

Port-Gentil's "ice-cold" departure hall

My "grounded" transport to Pointe-Noire
Then there was a third reason why my mood was different than ten years ago. I was rather miserable when I sat at the departure hall in Port-Gentil waiting for my flight. After the plane arrived our luggage was put on board only to be taken off a couple of minutes later. When he walked passed I asked the pilot and he explained to me that a small problem with the aircraft forced them to request another one from Libreville. This aircraft took about another hour to arrive, and as the door opened a familiar face with a huge smile looked out. It was the same air hostess that was involved in my previous experience where my luggage was not put on the plane in Pointe-Noire. Immediately I felt how my whole mood changed. There I was miserable for sitting and waiting, for wondering what is going to happen in Congo, and from literally out of the sky someone appeared that made me realize that I was not alone in this part of the world. Someone that speaks my language, that understands my situation, but most of all, someone whose positive outlook on the world were contagious as were discussing unfortunate events that happened in her life since the last time I saw her. We had a long chat on the plane, and when I climbed down from the plane I felt rather sad leaving her behind knowing that I might never see her again because she might soon be flying in another part of the world. But at that moment I couldn’t care less about what might be waiting for me inside that airport building. I was prepared to take on any official. I walked in, filled in the landing card and proceeded straight to the Immigrations desk. The old man that was sitting behind a dirty window mumbled something about my visa but I could not hear or understand what he was saying. It was just too noisy outside. After eventually realizing that he was not going to get through to me, he just shouted “Visa?!” I took my passport from him and opened it on the page where the visa was. He stamped it without even looking at it. I was so disappointed, I felt like showing him the date. I know that would’ve been a stupid thing to do, but after hoping for a good story I felt a bit let down by him. Ten years of traveling, The Power of Now and Riaan Manser didn’t make me the complete optimist or motivational speaker. I am still far from that. But it has made my life much simpler, much more relaxed and much less stressful. Unfortunately on the other hand it also robbed me of some good stories to tell, but that I can complement with pretty pictures I guess. It seems the more positive I am; the smoother everything else in my life goes as well. I believe some people call this the Law of Attraction. Maybe another good topic to explore and write about if all else fails, but first I have to spend 4 more days in Congo before I fly back for "unfinished business" in Gabon....
"Not-worth-mentioning" view from my room

Staff house


Four hours after publishing this post, three of my colleaques from Angola arrived at the office here in Pointe Noire, clearly VERY upset. I asked them what happened and they told me that they were put through hell at the gates of this little town by no other than the immigration and customs officials. One had to leave his passport there because his LOI was not with him (this is not a requirement), the other's yellow card was confiscated because the printing looked smudged (this was clearly an excuse to keep it)...and the third had to pack out his whole suitcase in order to convince them that he had nothing "illegal" on him (he had the largest suitcase of the three). The passport and yellow fever card can be collected tomorrow, it will cost a couple of CFA's! Bastards!!

Monday, October 4, 2010

A hands-free shower, please

I like to read reviews on hotels, or to listen to people's opinions about hotels that they have stayed in. It is always interesting to see what people find as the ultimate requirement to make the hotel that they are staying in acceptable or not. I was once a bit annoyed with a British tourist complaining about the softness of his eggs, while two weeks before that I was told by the chef in another hotel that he did not have matches to make me an omelette. Then you ask yourself if some people are just more finicky than others, or if am I getting used to sleeping in far below standard hotels. Whatever the answer may be, if there is one thing that I usually check out first when I enter my room, then it is the bathroom. I don't sit with my naked bum in any hotel bath in Africa, and I don't use those crouching Muslim toilets. This is fortunatley not that common in most countries, but finding a proper shower usually is not either. Most of the hotels in West Africa have the shower inside the bath, with a moulded stained shower curtain that has no purpose other than to stick to your body once you have decided you are clean enough to get out. I will still accept the bath-shower with the sticky shower curtain, but on thing that really pisses me off is when the shower head is one of those handheld types with a broken bracket that cannot keep it up against the wall. This means that you cannot shower using both hands, you have to hold the head in one hand trying to soap up with the other, or have one hand to wash your hair and one hand to close the lid. Try clinging the shower head between your legs and soon you have the whole floor under water. Last night I slept in a room with one of these unfunctional shower brackets, and this morning I thought to myself that if I want to stay friendly today, then I need to solve the problem. I had to give up my face cloth, but at least I had both hands free to enjoy my shower....

A close brush with death

I was standing at the hotel foyer waiting for the bus and minding my own business when I heard a sound next to me like someone hitting the ground with a 10 pound hammer.  It turned out to be a coconut that had fallen from the tree above me, nearly hitting me on the head. Now if you've ever been in a conversation where shark attacks were under discussion, then you will know that some bright spark in the conversation will mentions that you are more likely to be killed by a falling coconut than by a shark. I have never really looked into the truth behind this because I always assumed that there are probably more lazy people sleeping under coconut trees than people surfing or swimming in shark infested waters. After this morning's incident I decided to look on the Internet, seeing that I had nearly become one of the statistics myself. It turns out according to one source that this is not really fact, and that no-one has ever died from falling coconuts, or at least not enough to claim that they are more dangerous than shark attacks. I don't want to argue whether his information is to be believed or to be questioned, but what I do know is that after nearly 27 years of surfing I have never really had a close encounter with a shark, at least not as close as my encounter this morning with a coconut....

So I still want to believe the coconut comparison...

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Chilling in Libreville

I'm in Libreville at the moment, waiting for my next flight to Port-Gentil where I will spend another evening before my company chartered flight will take me to Pointe-Noire in Congo. I left Cape Town yesterday morning at around 11 am and arrived in Libreville at 18h30 local time. My travel yesterday went quite smooth, except for the SAA lady at check-in who told me that I needed a visa for Gabon. I've been traveling to Gabon for many years and never did I need a visa to enter this beautiful country, so I was a bit sceptic. The tavel agent didn't say anything when I booked my ticket and I am sure we would've heard it somewhere if the visa requirements had changed between these two countries. But the lady at check-in was looking on her computer as if the information there was more sacred than the Bible's. I wasn't going to let that stop me, so I decided that I will still make my way to Gabon. What could happen if I get here and I don't have a visa? I doubt that they would put me in jail, and when bad goes to worse then I guess all they could do was either let me pay a fine or send me back. The flight was going back the same evening after making a turn at Douala in Cameroon and I was willing to wait a couple of hours should that be required. In Johannesburg I did ask for a second opinion and was told by another SAA staff lady that all she could see on their system is that a visa is needed for a stay longer than 6 months. I was definitely not planning on setting up a business or over stay my welcome, so it was on the plane and away....

The flight was rather empty. This flight goes to Douala via Libreville and return the same evening. There are only two flights a week, one on Friday and one on Saturday. I still don't know why they are so close to each other because this makes it rather difficult to plan a short stay. You can either stay one day or one week. Unless you use other airlines of course, but that is not an option for me who's trying to gather up more flying miles. The problem with this disproportioned schedule is recovering of lost luggage. A reality that never goes away when you travel in Africa. Should my luggage stay behind in Johannesburg then I have to wait another week for it to arrive. And by then I would be in Congo and probably have gone nuts because I didn't have access to my comfort food....chocolates and more chocolates. But let me not preemt, like a colleaque of mine always says.

Mary's hair gel scene...
The inflight entertainment wasn't really something to write about. I missed the first movie because I was reading a book by Chris Salewicz, Bob Marley - The Untold Story. It was only after lunch was served that I took interest in the second movie that was showing. Being it one of my favourite comedies I have seen it quite a few times before, but watched because of my obsession with the main actress, Cameron Dias. Well, that was when I saw "There's Something about Mary"  for the first time, I am not that crazy about her anymore. I've grown up. Anyway, what I was wondering was how they were going to censor some of the scenes from the movie, seeing that there were quite a lot of sexual related scenes that did not leave much for the imagination. I don't know if anyone has seen this movie, but there is a scene that led to the one where Mary was sitting at a table with her hair gelled in a very strange fashion. I do know that SAA cut a lot of scenes, but this scene was integral in explaining why her hair was standing up like that, so I was anxiously waiting to see how they were going to get around that one. Well, to make a long story short, below is what they showed while that scene was playing off in the background....
The censored scene.
 If it wasn't for previous experience I would not have have known what the huffing and puffing in the background was. Fortunately for that because I would not have had a friend around to explain either. But well done to SAA for sparing us the details...

Pool deck
When we arrived in Gabon passing through immigration went just as smooth as the gel in Mary's hair. Probably the slickest I've ever been through any immigration checkpoint. I was actually the first person through and on the other side all I had to do was pick up my luggage and locate the driver. There was already luggage on the carousal, but that was from the Lufthansa flight that had landed minutes earlier. I met up with another colleaque that arrived from Paris on that same Lufthansa flight. My luggage appeared after about 15 minutes. Unfortunately for my colleaque, his DIDN'T! I thanked my lucky stars and comforted him with "I feel your pain, brother!" I know the feeling and who knows, next time I might need some comforting again....
Breakfast buffet..or part thereof.

Libreville local early morning sunbathing
I am staying in the Le Meridien Re-Ndama. Last night after arrival I went straight for my bed hoping to rise early for my favourite meal of the day...breakfast. I ended up chatting to a facebook friend for a while about a possible school buddy reunion and after watching a program on TV fell asleep at around 10. I live for breakfast, especially when I am traveling and staying in hotels and guest houses. It is like the highlight of my travel...unless something more interesting happens later in the day. Sitting down ordering what your heart desires, or exploring the breakfast buffet is one of the luxuries of my job that I really appreciate. Fresh fruit, the smell of coffee, orange juice, bacon and eggs....the full monty. They call this the most important meal of the day and I make sure that it is mine as well. I love watching the people coming in and doing the same. Some go directly to what they want, but the first-time guests look around, checking out everything before they make that important decision..."What will I have first?" I could sit there for hours and watch them, wondering why they are there and where they are from. I hardly ever start a conversation around the breakfast table, but sometimes people do strike up a conversation and then I always get answers to my questions. This morning was rather quiet when I arrived at the restaurant. It is Sunday after all, most people are sleeping in I guess. Unlike me who wants to get up and see what the weather holds in for the day. My plan for today is to spend time around the pool until my pick-up arrives at 4pm. After a satisfying breakfast I went outside and took some pictures with my point-and-shoot around the hotel's premises. I left my other camera at home because it is a bit cumbersome to carry around Africa along with a laptop bag. But today I am leaving all my baggage in my room just to enjoy the tranquility of being alone in a nice tropical location with nothing to worry about other than trying not to get sunburnt... Today I am chilling in Libreville.