Sunday, September 5, 2010

My African Spider

Are you afraid of spiders?  I am...especially big, giant is my African spider story.

I was 'cat-sitting' for a friend on the embassy compound in Libreville.  Her cat is small and fast, so it was important to enter/exit the apartment quickly in order to prevent her from running out.  On the first day, when leaving the apt and locking the door, I noticed a large black spider to the left of the front door.  I mean it was stood as large as a tennis ball...and it wasn't moving.  Maybe I surprised it?  I didn't notice it when I went in, but I was fumbling with the keys.  Eeeww.

The next morning, there it was again.  It was in the same area and I was looking around for a stick or something to poke it.  It wasn't moving and I wanted to shoo it away.  No such luck.  When I left, sure enough, it was just standing there large and still.  My friends' townhouse is not far from the front gate, so I decided to ask the local guard if he knew what kind of spider it was.

He came over to check it out with his boots on.  I mention this because I wear flip flops and there is no way I am getting too close to that thing, it's so damn big.  The guard slowly walks up to it.  He bends down for a closer look and slowly puts his finger down towards it.  He pokes at it.  I am thinking, what is the RSO's (Regional Security Officer) number?  This guard is going to get bit by some large poisonous spider and I am going to have to call for help.  The guard picks up the spider to show it to me with a big smile on his face.

The townhouse next store is actually home to the RSO and his wife.  They have two children and one of them is a four year old boy who likes plastic bugs.  I was afraid of a plastic bug for two days.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Internet Connections

As someone who grew up in New York City, a decent internet connection is something you take for granted.  If you're not paying for a high speed, broadband connection through your cable provider, you are "borrowing" one from your neighbor.  Otherwise, you can just walk up the block to the Starbuck's or the Barnes & Noble...even Central Park was outfitted with free wi-fi before the recession.  This is simply not the case in Libreville.

Internet access was achieved via two options, satellite or through the phone "system", there is no cable in Gabon.  Satellite was certainly the least expensive, but since the connection is weak and greatly affected by the weather, a better option would have been to use a box of old newspapers and magazines for search and two tins cans and some string for email.

Achieving internet access through the phone lines was the best option.  It worked 65% of the time and the connection was fast enough to bring up most websites.  Although, if you wanted to view that 3 minute video that your friends were sending around, it could take 45 minutes to download.  Of course, if you lost the connection in the middle, you would have to start the download all over again.

Electricity was another challenge.  The U.S. Embassy compound where I lived had a large generator system.  Whenever the electricity went out, which could be frequent, the generator would take less than 2 seconds to kick in.  Of course, since our internet provider did not have a generator, the fact that our lights and A/C kept running had nothing to do with maintaining an internet connection...back to the tins cans and some string.

Everyone talks about how wonderful skype is, especially when traveling.  Those people have never been to Gabon.  The one time that I was able to connect, with both voice and video, the time delay was more than 4 minutes.  Try talking to anyone back home with a 4 minute delay...not so wonderful.

Despite my complaining about the connection in Libreville, I was able to keep contact with friends at home, do research for work and maintain this blog.  I suppose it's just like anything else, it takes a little getting used to.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Advertising in Gabon

While I was teaching English to Gabonese military personnel, some of the students wanted to know what I did back home.  A discussion ensued and the subject of advertising came up.  It has been the focus of my career for almost 20 years and they didn't understand what I was talking about.  You do what, I don't understand?

Here in the US, we are overrun by messaging.  In many ways, advertising shapes our culture.

In Gabon, advertising doesn't really exist.  There are no commercials on local TV; none of the radio stations that I listened to had advertising, no magazines.  The products people use are not necessarily based on choice, but on what's available...and of course affordability.  Selection can be extremely limited.  The two categories with the largest selection by far were beer and wine.
Branding and signage was almost non existent in Gabon.  Signs for local stores, bars and restaurants were very small, insignificant by US standards and easily blocked by foliage.

During the time that I lived in Sabliere, an upscale neighborhood in Libreville, two small beach front hotels went up.  You didn't know they existed because there were no branding or advertising of any kind.  I assume one of the hotels had a name, because it appeared to be open for business and two of my friends went there for drinks.  How did they know about it?  Someone told them about it.  They said it was very nice, but they didn't know the name : )

The only "real"ads are on billboards along the boulevard.  This was the one association that the English class understood...ah you do those billboards...why?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Rubber Stamp: My "Run-in" at the Airport Part 2

Thanks for coming back…here is the 2nd half of the story. If you missed part 1, you can read it here.

When I left off in Part 1, I had “run-in” to the airport in Gabon and then I was being hassled by some punks in the parking lot.

I was nervous and I was concentrating on avoiding further hassle.  There is no one around and now I’m going to have to stop and deal with the toll gate.

Part 2
I stepped on the gas as I made a quick left hand turn towards the gate…the next thing I know, I am not in control.  It is like a slow motion dream.  I can hear the rev of the engine and the squeal of tires.  There is a metal scrunching sound and I must have hit the brakes.  When I come out of the dream, the front of the car is now up on top of those metal poles that stick out of the ground, several feet in the air.  Pointing into the night sky.  I thought I was screwed before, now I am totally f*@k’d.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Rubber Stamp: My "Run-in" at the Airport in Gabon

I was leaving Africa with a lot of luggage.  Similar to other 3rd world countries, the Airport in Libreville, Gabon, on the west coast of Africa, leaves a lot to be desired.  I lived close to the airport, so I figured I’d literally “run-in” early, when there weren’t any flights, check all of the luggage and then come back to the house for a quick shower and dinner before my long journey.  Nice plan.

Checking baggage, with no one else at the airport, took 2 ½ hours.  At the first security checkpoint they couldn’t understand why I was checking in so early.  They didn’t want to let me in to ticketing.  A little negotiating, a change of guards and viola I’m in.  Next was the ticket agent who was very confused trying to figure out what to charge for the extra luggage.  Then I had to go outside to an Air France office and pay the charge.  Of course they couldn’t figure out how to enter it into the computer system.  This took several conferences and a phone call.  Lastly, I had to go back through the first security check point with my receipt for the paid luggage to pick up my ticket.  They remembered me and just let me pass. Whew.

The airport in Libreville is one of the few places in Gabon where you get hassled by local punks.  I understand, its about opportunity…lots of people, luggage, some tourists…the airport is a great place to pick up “tips”.  Usually when leaving the airport, you walk straight ahead through the crowd, ignore the attempts, maybe give a stern “no” and avoid any hassle.  It works.

When the airport is empty however, it’s a very different situation.  Now there is no crowd to hide in, only me, and unfortunately, since I had to stop by the curb to pay for my parking stub, I obviously have cash in my pocket. Given that the internet is often down, and then my credit cards don’t work, I have a lot of cash in my pocket.  Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.

As expected, here they come.  One guy is telling me that I have to come with him to see the security chief, “don’t worry” he says, “no problems, I can get you through.”  It is evening and it’s already dark.  I am ignoring them and walking briskly across the street to the small parking lot.  As I look over my shoulder, I see more of them coming.  I quickly get in the car and lock the doors.

Obviously I’m a little stressed, and although the doors are locked, I still don’t feel safe.  No one is in the parking lot other than my "friends" who are now gathering around the car.  I just want to zip out of the parking lot and get home.  The lot is small and surrounded by a fence.  There is one way out.  In order to leave, you need to make a sharp left at the exit and go through a toll gate.  At the toll, you insert your paid parking stub to open the gate.  There is no manned booth.  To prevent people from leaving without paying, the exit lane is lined with short, fat metal poles sticking out of the ground.

I was nervous and I was concentrating on avoiding further hassle. There is no one around and now I’m going to have to stop and deal with the toll gate...


This is the end of Part 1 of my story.  Please join me tomorrow to find out what happened and how I finally made my flight home.  Thanks.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Equatorial Africa, France and Oil

Gabon is the third largest provider of oil in Sub-Saharan Africa.  Libreville, the capital, was once the capital of the French Congo, which covered the entire mid section of the African continent 100 years ago.  Although now independent, Gabon still has a long-standing relationship with France.

Due to the oil, and every other natural resource that the country has been eating through (timber, gas, manganese, iron, gold, etc.), Gabon is considered one of the wealthiest countries on the continent.  The former President, Omar Bongo, who ruled the country for 42 years, was considered one of the wealthiest men in the world before his death in 2009.  Outside of 33+ luxury properties in France, and another $100+ million in banks in the US, his wealth has never really been accounted for.  He was a genius at lining pockets, and not just his own.  More than fifty political ministries were assigned to family and friends, as well as political opponents and rival ethnic tribes; obviously all became allies.  French oil and timber companies held preferential status to development claims, in return for political and military protection from France, as well as an outlay of cash.  This connection with French political power, essentially locked in his presidency for the long term.  A purported quote from the former President reads as follows: ”Gabon without France is like a car without a driver, France without Gabon is like a car without fuel.”

Friday, May 21, 2010

Travel Safely

If you plan on traveling abroad, and you expect to take the road less traveled, then you should consider some of the following tips on traveling safely.

A group of Lonely Planet bloggers are sharing their insights on traveling safely from different points around the globe and this is my inclusion.

Instead of writing about the dangers of malaria or a run-in the local Gendarme in Gabon, the following are just some basic tips from me as a New Yorker…

Sunday, May 16, 2010

A Year In Africa

This last year has been an unbelievable, life changing experience for me.  I had the chance to live in a country I’ve never heard of before, meet new people, learn new perspectives and enjoy a foreign culture in a foreign language.  It was probably one of the greatest opportunities of my life and I’m glad that I was able to take advantage.

I made some great new friends.  I traveled a bit through the country-side and saw sights that I had only imagined – wild beaches, thick tropical jungle, open savannahs - elephants, buffalo, cheetah - rhino, giraffe and zebra.  I saw immeasurable wealth and witnessed extreme poverty.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Those Beach Pictures I Promised

If you frequent my blog, you know that I absolutely love the beach.  The beaches here, can be very beautiful…depending on tides and storms.  High tide and heavy rain usually result in a flow of “stuff”, both natural and unnatural, washed up on the beach.  This time we were fortunate to have neither.

This beach is close, just outside the city, north of Libreville.  If I could count on a consistent low tide, it’s probably closer to walk along the shore rather than drive.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

World Travel with Lonely Planet

A few months ago my blog was selected by Lonely Planet’s Blogsherpa program.  It’s a hand picked list of travel bloggers whose posts are linked to world travel content on Lonely Planet’s site.  If you go to LP’s info on Gabon, post’s from my blog are syndicated into their content.  Pretty cool, maybe I’ll get a book dealJ

I have been working with many of my new World Traveler friends and linking our sites with each other.  We have also aggregated our links to a single to a page on Squidoo.  If you are interested in traveling the world, or just wondering what life is like traveling in different parts of the world, please check out this World Travel link.

There are roughly 50 bloggers in the program from all around the world with some really interesting articles (including mine).

Thursday, May 6, 2010

A Brief Pictorial, What a Difference 15 Minutes Makes

I wanted to show you how the country changes during a 15 minute drive from the middle of Libreville up north along L101.  The change is dramatic recognizing that while Gabon is the #2 or #3 richest country on the continent, very little gets spent beyond the capital.  Some visiting military officers from Senegal and Cameroon pointed this out to me a few weeks ago.  They were enlisted in a military exchange program here and were remarking that while their countries are poor, at least they have roads.

Friday, April 30, 2010

No Matter Where You Are in the World, Boys Will Be Boys

I started a donation program for a local orphanage here in Libreville.  The orphanage, Arc en Ceil, takes care of young boys and girls, many of whom are victims of human trafficking, which is a major concern here in Western and Central Africa.

The donation program was successful because of its simplicity:  a few pictures, facebook, simple instructions, generous friends and a US address (fortunately, we can receive some US mail here).

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

It's Dark At Night...

I’ll start with a few facts:  Gabon is small and Libreville is a small city.  At night, it gets very dark.  Sure, it gets dark everywhere at night, but here, it’s pitch black.  There are a few streetlights, but many don't have or use electricity, it’s friggin’ dark.  Comparatively speaking, NYC doesn’t really get “dark” at night; there are so many streetlights, traffic lights, apartment lights, lit businesses and car traffic that you can always see where you are going.
(a pic over the wall from a friends house, pitch black)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Meet the Boys...and Stop With the Trash Already

These are the boys, my buddies Toby and Blackie; and this is the back entrance to the compound where we live.  As you can see, the compound backs onto a beach and the boys love it.  The area has been cleared of all brush and the back wall does not go all the way to the shoreline like on other properties.  This sandy area is outfitted with two concrete benches and since logs regularly wash up onshore, additional “seating” is arranged by visitors; makeshift “beach furniture”.

This clearing was probably a nice concept when the compound was built, however, the clearing is way too inviting to locals for my taste…

A Local Military Picnic

The English Lab, run by the Gabonese military and supported by the US military had their annual picnic on Sunday.  It was a lot of fun.  A few of us were on site to help manage English word games, i.e. hangman, tongue twisters, sentence building, etc.

It feels good to do what you can to help out and be supportive.  Those who I have met before refer to me as “New York”.  The event was mixed, with varying degrees of ability and understanding, so some students are very English literate while others have great difficulty.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

A Few Pictures from Libreville

It was a beautiful day on Friday, even though we didn’t have internet; sunny, low”er” humidity, a high sky and a light breeze.  It’s amazing what a different mindset you get when it’s not stifling…you can easily forget about the negatives (like corruption, the pathetic lack of infrastructure for an oil rich country, limited work ethic, traffic, pollution, military stops, unreasonable cost of living, etc.) and focus on just how lucky I am to be here and experience all the positives…the ocean, the smiles, the sun and the sky.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Finally, American TV

Woo hoo, we're finally hooked up to the American Armed Forces Network in our home.  AFN is broadcast via satellite to military bases, embassies and navy ships around the world.  Obviously, everything is in English and much of the programming is broadcast within 24 hours of original broadcast in the US. 

The advertising guy in me notices an unheard of mixture of cross-network programming, i.e. the Saturday morning Today Show (NBC) is broadcast on a Sunday and is immediately followed by the show Sunday Morning, which is CBS.  In addition, the programming does not appear to be as "managed" as it probably once was...apparently the news channel only used to broadcast FOX News, now the channel regularly switches between FOX, CNN and MSNBC throughout the day.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The African Diet

After trekking around for a while, you can't help but notice something remarkably different here versus back home.  I’m not talking about lack of infrastructure, no internet connection, or impenetrable jungle and forest elephants, but…Why are there no Fat Gabonese people?

Monday, April 12, 2010

It's the 3rd World, Figure it Out For Yourself

Living in Africa has taught me a new motto…just go figure it out.

The camera broke this weekend. I know it was still taking pictures, but you couldn’t see anything because the LCD screen wasn’t showing any images.  After being pissed, frustrated and upset for a day, I finally got off my ass and went to the internet (fortunately it was working).  I found a sight with recommendations from a “camera guy” who listed potential solutions to my problem.  A pair of eyeglass screwdrivers, a cloth to catch the tiny screws and a tweezer from the bathroom helped me take the LCD screen apart and reconnect the circuit board.  I don’t even know how to use the flash, but viola, a little trial and error and the camera is working again; which you can see from the pic above of Sabliere after the storm today.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Nightime in Gabon

Did I mention that it’s hot here.  The heat index was 105 today.  I had a meeting in town with the WWF and I thought I would melt in the taxi (no, they don’t use AC).  Plus, my driver was moving slowly because I guess he thought that would save gas.  I noticed he was on empty and I’d be surprised if he made it to the gas station after he dropped me off, poor bastard.  It’s probably much hotter when you have to push your car.

I’m not complaining mind you, I like the warm weather.  It’s just that our satellite TV shut off 2 of the 3 English movie channels that we have.  Everything else is in French or Arabic.  FOX was the best and now it plays pop music videos 24/7.  With no TV, I am sitting outside on the patio at 11:15PM writing this short blog because I am bored, it’s pitch black, it's 92 degrees and I am sweating...

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Seasons are Not What They Seem in Gabon

If you ever plan on traveling to Africa, especially Equatorial Africa, be sure to get the inside scoop on the weather from someone at your destination.

Gabon has 2 short Dry seasons; June – August and December/January.  The remainder of the year is considered Rainy season.  Gabon gets more than 100 inches of rain per year (Seattle only gets 36).  If you are like me, you may have thought, I have to remember to take advantage and get as much traveling done and pictures taken during the dry season.  Not the case.  Dry season is the worst time to come.  Sure, it’s a little cooler, but that’s because it’s cloudy, overcast and grey every day.  The rainy season on the other hand, is the best time to come, with bright blue skies and sunny days.  Yes, there is the occasional grey day, but it mostly rains at night.  I think I notice the rain more in NYC than I do in Libreville.  That’s not to say that I don’t see the rain; when it rains here, it pours.  Rivers accumulate in the street and flights don’t land.  What I mean is, the rainy days that affect your mood are more prevalent in NYC.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A Lazy Sunday on the Beach in Gabon

Went to the beach on Sunday with the Lieutenant Colonel - I put that in for effect, so you don’t forget the community that I live with - did it work?

We just went close by in Sabliere, the neighborhood where we live.  It’s been hot here, it’s always hot here, but it’s been hotter than usual.  The heat index has 104 Fahrenheit everyday, but it’s cooler on the beach because of the constant breeze off the ocean.

Walls surround the compound where we live, like all properties in Sabliere, so you don’t get the effect of the wind to cool you down when you’re outside.

Sunday, April 4, 2010


I am not a doctor and this is just my opinion.  I do not take malaria pills.  I obtained a prescription and brought malarone with me, supposedly the best medication available on the market, but it made me feel dull-headed and generally not good.   It is also ridiculously expensive.  No one that I know takes US prescribed malaria medication here.  Several friends have had malaria.  You know when you have it because you are extremely tired, mostly nauseous, and switch between fever and chills for several days. It is equivalent to a bad case of the flu.

Here in central Africa, they sell Coartem at the pharmacy which does a great deal to alleve the symptoms.  It is made by Novartis and although it may be a prescription medication elsewhere, it is purchased over the counter here.

Some of my friends from the environmental NGO's have had it several times after being in the bush.  Everyone says it is no big deal and they would rather deal with it if/when they get it, rather than take the US prescriptions, which may be preventative, but do not provide absolute protection.  If you get malaria while taking malarone, the recommended response is to take a higher dosage after you get it.  That's so "American".

Thursday, April 1, 2010

More Ridiculous Corruption

In many African countries, ‘power’ is divided into multiple ministries (economic minister, minister of forestry, minister for transport, interior, national defense, foreign affairs, etc.).  It sounds like this is set up to prohibit corruption…it isn’t. 

First of all, in most countries, ministers are assigned, not voted into office.  Secondly, there are so many ministers assigned it is hard to keep track of them.  Gabon used to have 50 ministers, although the new President, Ali, has apparently made a lot of cuts in an attempt to weed out corruption…or is it just a closer distribution of funds to friends and family, we’ll see.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Local Religious Ceremony in Gabon

Went to watch a local Bwiti ceremony a while ago.  Bwiti is a local religion that has been followed for hundreds of years by several different tribes throughout this region of Equatorial Africa.  It is practiced by the Fang, which is the largest ethnic group here in Gabon.  It is a very colorful ceremony with lots of fire, dancing and drums.  During ceremonies, it is usual for participants to chew the root bark of the iboga, which acts as an hallucinogenic.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Living on the U.S. Embassy Compound

I get asked by friends online, what’s it like?  Well here you go…

It is somewhat isolated for security reasons, but it’s actually quite nice.  Libreville, Gabon is a small post and luckily, all of the State department and Military personnel stationed here are warm and pleasant. I can see how you could get stuck at a post with some horrible people, which can happen at any job, but that would completely suck at such a small post. 

It is very much a community here.  We celebrate birthdays and holidays together, invite people over for dinner & drinks, share weekends on the beach together or tour the countryside, take each others money in poker games.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Quick Weekend Safari

Went into the jungle again this weekend for a short elephant safari.  Despite its many challenges, Gabon is primed for eco/adventure-tourism.  The country is just so green and wild.  It is one of the most bio-diverse countries in the world.

You drive into Libreville to one of the “ports”…more like a dirty, muddy lot surrounding a single cement slope into the water.  There is no dock, all of the boats sit on rollers and they are dragged into and out of the water with a rope tied to a truck and a lot of guys yelling in French “non celui-ci, celui la, on fonction…sortez de la voie! (not this one, that one, get out of the way”).

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

you are not connected to the internet

Can you appreciate how difficult it can be to get along without a regular internet connection.

Our connection has always been slow (10kb/sec).   That’s fine, it’s the 3rd world, you get used to it…you just don’t communicate with the friends who insists on sending you youtube videos or facebook clips of themselves, since it can take an hour to download (if the connection maintains for the full hour).  But when service is as inadvertent as it has been for the past two weeks, it can drive you crazy.  It’s connected for 2-3 minutes every 20-60 minutes or so.

Imagine every time you log onto your bank, the connection shuts down during the time it takes to go from logging in with your password to see what’s available in checking.

I need to make a plane reservation home.  I can call using vonage, but by the time someone gets the full spelling of my name, the internet goes down again…ugh.

At least I can post on this blog by writing in word and then just cut and paste into….

Monday, March 22, 2010

Teaching English in Gabon

So now I am an English teacher.  Last week I started teaching English classes to the Gabonese military on one of the local bases here in Libreville, Gabon.  It’s part of a larger training program that is sponsored by the US military.

This is pretty standard when working with any small US Embassy; everybody pitches in to get done whatever is necessary.

The class is a combination of local military personnel and civil servants.  This first class was an introduction to me, so I spoke with them a little bit about my hometown, NYC.

It was interesting to get their perspective on my life at home.  They can’t grasp the concept of so many people living together, (why is NYC so big?), or what different seasons are like (there are no seasons on the equator), or trying to understand why we work so hard (isn’t that bad for your health?).

As is typical, everyone wanted to know about crime in NYC (how dangerous is it?).  I found it unusual that a large portion of the class associated crime in NY with the Spanish speaking population.  I think it must be a local misunderstanding that comes from news about South American and Mexican drug cartels.  There really is no exposure to other cultures and/or languages in Gabon.

There were a lot of questions about the site of the World Trade Center and what it was like being there during 9/11.  As well as the usual stuff like what is the American dream, how do I get a job, how do I get a green card, etc.? 

I have to come up with some more topics for conversation…they have language basics, now it’s just about practicing and getting comfortable with dialogue over the next few weeks.  I’ll have to get someone to mail me a collection of magazines for them to practice.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Money for Nothing? The Oil Culture in Gabon

Oil exports from Gabon have depleted over the years and this has lead to some cultural challenges here.

When oil export was at its height, certain unofficial ‘subsidies’ existed.  There were more jobs, especially in government.  Of course you had to know someone to get that job, but once you did, you were comfortably compensated and it doesn’t seem that much work was actually done.  Jobs were then passed down through family and friends, obviously not based on knowledge or experience, but by who you knew. 

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Boy Has My Life Changed

My life and my perspective have changed dramatically since leaving NYC only 7 months ago.  So many things that were important then, are just no longer important now. 

I used to be a clothes hound…I owned 20+ pairs of shoes and I always wore a matching belt.  I shopped exclusively at Barney’s and Saks.  I used the same salesperson at Saks (Claudio Sevilla) for the last 9 years; he would put Isaia and Brioni suits and jackets aside for me when they were on sale because he knew what I preferred.  I only wore Thomas Pink shirts (a former client) and one of several Tag Heuer watches (also a client).  I knew my dry cleaner by name (Alan) and he knew mine.

Monday, March 8, 2010

What's it Really Like? Food/Friends/TV/etc.

I’ve been in-country for more than 6 months and this posting is just a bit of perspective for you.  I have never lived abroad and it’s a very unique experience.  It was easier to get used to the differences than I thought…

You eat and drink what’s local and available; more beer and wine, less alcohol – a vodka martini doesn’t exist.  Olives are a luxury, martini glasses don’t exist and if you request martini you get a short pour in a rocks glass of the slightly sweet, Italian, martini and rossi (blanc ou rouge?).  By the way, rocks/ice is a luxury too…even if it weren’t so warm, the single cube you get will definitely melt before you finish your drink.

No processed foods exist here.  No fast food.  Bread doesn’t come in plastic, it’s fresh out of the oven and you have to go back to the boulangerie to pick up a new loaf.  I could buy out the entire “chip” section in the supermarket and carry it away in 2 bags.  It’s a few feet on one shelf, versus at home where it’s an entire friggin’ isle.  Soda is a luxury, people drink water.  Eggs obviously come from chickens here because they often have feathers or poop on them…and they’re delicious.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Driving Up North to Cap Esterias

We recently took a drive up to Cap Esterias about 30K (1 hour) north of the city. Drive 15 minutes outside of the city and you are literally in the middle of nowhere. The paved roads that you saw in previous blogs turn into an old logging road that that takes you north through the jungle. On the map, it is demarcated like a reality, it is an old dirt road that probably used to be paved 10 years ago. We are traveling with someone who has been here before, so we are not worried that none of the routes have signs or markings.
Navigating Gabon works like this, “did we pass an old radio tower back there, I think we make a left soon; no, not that left, I did that the last time and it’s the wrong way, take the next left.” None of the streets, even in the city, have markings. Directions are given by landmark, as long as the jungle doesn't grow over it.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

South Africa - Pilanesberg Park

Went to Pilanesberg Park for a few days before going back to Gabon.  Also stopped in Sun City which is at the entrance to the park.  Don’t bother; it’s like a lame Las Vegas.

Pilanesberg is just 2 hours northwest of Johannesburg.  We stayed at a nice lodge inside the park, The Ivory Tree Lodge.  If you are only in South Africa for a short time, the lodge is highly recommended.  Nice rooms, good food and two drives per day with excellent guides.  We got to see wildlife we hadn’t seen in Kruger, including hippos, which were amazing and giraffe.  Our guide Peter tried to get us to see lions, but it didn’t happen.  We’ll definitely come back.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

South Africa - Durban

From South Africa

Drove to the east coast and stopped for the evening in Durban on the Indian Ocean.  Very beautiful, another example of the diversity of landscape in South Africa.  The city reminded me of South Beach with the ocean, hotels and restaurants all in close proximity.  The only place in the world that has more people of Indian decent is India.  They were brought over by the British for labor and stayed.  Now they own most of the big hotels.

Monday, January 25, 2010

South Africa - Drive North and Kruger Park

From South Africa

Drove up North through Blyde River Canyon and then over to Kruger.  Beautiful drive through some amazing country; the landscape changes every 100K, flat lands, hills, hugh cattle farms, pine forests, steep rocky outcroppings, etc. The highway stretches forever with nothing in between the exits, yet we often see people walking along the road.  Parts of the highway are adjacent to shanty towns and they have signs that read !Danger Hijacking Area! !Do Not Stop!.  The median on the highway has a wall 15ft high and 6 feet thick in these areas, separating the shanty on one side and a more middle class neighborhood on the other.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

South Africa - Pretoria

I met my girlfriend in South Africa on the way back from NYC.  We are spending time and touring around with a friend who works at the US Embassy in Pretoria.

Initially, it felt more like a suburb, maybe in NJ, rather than a country in Africa.  Very clean with street lights, paved highways with signs and exits, nice homes, shopping malls, restaurants…lots of infrastructure.

After I rest up from 20 hours in the air, I start to realize where I am.