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.

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