Published: July 1st 2009June 25th 2009
I have been on lots of planes before where you get off on the tarmac and walk to the airport, but it feels a bit strange when you are on something equivalent to a 747 and doing this.
The next thing was customs. Fortunately I had some advance advice on this from previous travelers and the guy next to me on the plane. There are only a couple of unmarked desks where you are supposed to do some stuff. The problem is there are about 200 people trying to do the same thing at the same time.
After about and hour and a half of nervously waiting for my bags (I have no idea what I would of done if they were lost) I was able to leave the airport and attempt to find the other people who were supposedly waiting for me. Fortunately it was not too hard to pick out the two white people waiting in the crowd of about 200 people. My sister had arranged her friends Olivia and Matt to kindly meet at the airport at 6am. Olivia is an English anthropology graduate student who students the African pygmies and lives with them. Matt is
Taxi in Bangui
And we complain about a small crack in our windshields
her Australian husband. I would have been pretty lost without them Olivia spoke French which is one of the two languages spoken with the other being Sango (the African dialect)
The place we were staying was the World Wildlife Fund compound, and yes it is a compound with concrete walls and guards. However when you see the WWF logo, which is a panda bear it is a little less intimidating for some reason. It has been several years since I last had to sleep under a mosquito net, frankly I kind of like it. You feel very secure especially when you are falling asleep to the high pitch humm of mosquitos outside your net.
Bangui as a city is definitely an interesting mix of things. There was one paved road that I remember which used to be an airstrip. There are several buildings that are a few stories tall, and there is even a hotel on the river that had to be at least 7 to 10 stories tall (although I hear the rooms are not that nice). There was one building which half of it had caught fire in one of coups, but they were still running
Olivia and I
Sitting around having beer discussing BaAka ("pygmies") culture
the education ministry out of the other half. As for transportation you mainly see taxis or the SUVs of the various NGO agencies. The taxies are in various states from having smashed windshields to having leopard print interiors.
I spent the next several days hanging out with Matt and Olivia, with Olivia acting as our interpreter. There is not a whole lot to go out and see in Bangui, so we spent most of days and evenings having long lunches and dinners with several beers, discussing anthropology and BaAka (pygmies) culture. I have not seen any chain restaurants here what so ever!!!(not to many countries can say that.). In the mornings we would often go the Grand Café, because they had very good pastries. It was definitely more of a white person place since things were kind of expensive. There are not too many white people in CAR but they all seem to go there. The game we came up with was to guess the reason why the white person was there: NGO, missionary, diamond smuggler, mercenary, or tourist -There meant many tourists.
We ate at several local restaurants. There are not really signs for these places, and
it pretty much looks like you are walking into someone’s back yard. The food has not been bad but it takes some getting used to. One of the staples of most people here in the central African Republic is manioc (also called gozo and comes from the cassava plant). It has the consistency of dough, and people eat it by the hand full with everything. The cassava plant naturally has cyanide in it, which is supposedly removed in the cooking process. However I doubt the get it all out. As some proof of this my sister is somewhat addicted to it and there is no real reason why you want to be.
As for bars here, well that usually consists of someone have a lot of plastic chairs in there front lawn with a stand selling beer and playing loud tropical music.
After a couple of days in Bangui my sister was able to arrange a ride for me down to Bayanga. Apparently they are shooting a movie in Bayanga about this guy who has been living with the BaAka for 20 years. They had some truck going down and I was able to catch a ride.
The day before I was supposed to leave we were having breakfast at WWF and an African guy walks up to me and says his boss is looking for a ride to Bayanga and that they heard I had arranged transportation. He then said his boss was a writer for Lonely Planet. At this point I was really confused, because why would a travel writer need my help in arranging a ride. However the fact of the matter is that is very difficult to get anywhere in CAR. You need to permission from the right people to go anywhere outside the capital and it is very expensive to hire a car ($800 to get to where my sister is).
There are more photos below