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Published: October 10th 2011
The call was not unexpected, only inopportune. We were in the middle of setting up the house we just rented...choosing furniture, arranging the purchase and installation of a new kitchen, buying furniture and last but not least, trying to get the paperwork on the new address.
But, I had agreed to come out of retirement to help out with the HVAC project on the Presidential Library in Mongomo, Equatorial Guinea that my ex-employer had taken from an American general contractor. So, no matter how inconvenient it was, I was basically obligated to go. That was the beginning of September and now I have been in EG now for three weeks.
The travel was set up by the general contractor's office (not our company's) in a very illogical routing. No, instead of sending me via Marrakesh (the most direct, convenient and cheap option) or Madrid (equally viable) I had to travel 3 or so hours north to Frankfurt so I could fly south for around 8 hours to Malabo. That said, the flight was not full from either Lisbon or Frankfurt and there was lots of room to stretch out and relax.
The last part(one hour) of the flight, from Abuja to Malabo was pretty rough. We waited on the taxi lane before takeoff for around 30 minutes while a thunderstorm which was right on the airport passed. Unfortunately it was passing in the direction that we were flying so we were flying through it. This had the result of keeping the flight attendants stay strapped in their seat for the full flight. No service, no real visits to the bathroom, nothing.
Comic relief was available in the form of a Romanian oil field worker who just took it upon himself to head to the toilet in spite of the seat belt lights, the warnings from the attendant to stay seated and the rock and roll ride the pilot was giving us. Eventually, without having been to the toilet, he did make it back to his seat. The attendant nearest me was really pissed as the Romanian had a smirk that even I would have liked to knock off on his face!
The Malabo experience, under the direction of the general contractor's Guinean arm, was a bit less! We were met at the airport by a person who had been dismissed once for not doing what he was supposed to do so, guess what...he is still up to his old tricks. The driver we did have, Pedro, also should have done a bit more, per his instructions, but did not. We landed in the hotel with no explanations other than that we would be picked up the next morning at 5.30AM... Not what arrangements were there for us in place, like getting dinner in the restaurant and just signing the tab to the room etc.
Our 5.30 AM pick up turned into a 6.00 AM pick up and the hotel restaurant was not open at that hour, nor was there a real chance to see if there was anything to do for food at the airport. So, after the early rising, airport hassles, flight to Bata and more airport hassles, we were met by Abdul, the camp driver and Arturo, the camp mechanic-dogs body (for those not familiar with that term, he is harassed by the project manager into doing any and everything). They took us to a restaurant that was in Bata near the airport as part of an Italian company's camp. Breakfast was great and the espresso was real.
The trip from Bata to Mongomo was made in a standard Ford van and was not too uncomfortable. It took about 3.5 hours with several stops at checkpoints. We only gave up two bottles of water at one of these checkpoints and for the rest we were waved through. This is not the norm so the driver and Arturo were surprised.
The countryside is very beautiful and lush. I spotted lots of banana and papaya as well as some avocado trees. Passing each little creek and river that the road crossed showed me just how close to Haiti this culture is. There were always women washing clothes in these streams as well as bathing themselves and some of their little ones. Lots of bare butts...
The camp in Mongomo is outside of the town, Just across the road is the compound of the president. Next door is the compound of one of his brothers. The Mongomo Hotel is just up the road. Across the road and towards town is the new Catholic Church which, because the Pope was not asked to come consecrate the ground it was built on, apparently is not officially recognized by the Vatican. And, it is apparently also the largest church in this hemisphere. The Pope and the Church don't seem to like one-upmanship!
Life in the camp revolves around getting up early, working through the day, eating early, going next door for a beer or 6 and trying to find an internet connection and/or things to do. Sad but true. This is sort of like an election campaign with all the glitter and promises that go with it. But, I guess this is Africa.
Travelers who come here for any other reason than work are not going to find a lot to keep them occupied or happy. We are just across the border from Gabon, with Cameroon just to the north two hours or so away. Other than work, the great time waster is to go into town and visit the bar at the “playa/car wash”. There you can watch people drive their cars into the river followed by their washing both the cars and them themselves. BTW, the river separates Equatorial Guinea from Gabon.
Well, three weeks down, ten more to go.
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