Congo to Togo

Trip Start Sep 06, 2012
Trip End Oct 09, 2012

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Flag of Togo  ,
Tuesday, September 18, 2012

This morning my alarm woke me at 05:00 (I set two alarms just to be on the safe side), killed a few mosquitoes in the bathroom before taking a shower, and then repacked my bags, double checking that I wasn't leaving anything behind.

At 5:40 I paid settled accounts and then went back to wait in the air conditioning of my room. I over-applied mosquito repellent because the hotel lobby and the airport and prime places to be bitten. There is always a dawn and dusk cloud of mosquitos at the front desk of the Invest, and the airport also harbors its formations.

Justin arrives, about 5 minutes late and apologizes. It’s no problem, I factored quite a bit of lateness into my schedule. I pull my cameras out of my computer bag before putting it with my suitcase in the back of the rattletrap station wagon taxi. The transmission protests with shudders as we start, and every time we have to stop and start again.

The sun is a pale pink orb on the horizon, but Kinshasa is already pulsating, trucks belching black fumes, horns honking, pedestrians scrambling, sidewalk stands open or opening, and lines of cars weaving back and forth around potholes or construction areas. The drive to and from this airport is always fascinating and this morning is no exception.

Finally, we pull over across the four lane road from the airport. We don’t drive in to avoid paying the exorbitant parking entry fee. I pay the driver a 20 dollar bill and the other 5 dollars in Congolese francs (currently running about 900 to the dollar). Justin takes my suitcase and I carry the computer bag. We time our dash across the road and reach the bottleneck where soldiers and impeding entry to the airport, for no reason that I can discern. There is no entry fee; they don’t seem to be extorting any money, so why create the bottle neck and extra hassle for people? Possibly just because they can.  

We walk across the parking lot the desk where departing passengers have to pay the departure tax.  They stands are empty. Then I remember the "service" has moved into a side area of the airport. We walk in and find the office. The man at the desk asks which flight, and when I answer says “50 dollars.” I hand him a 100 and pulls open a drawer full of American dollars in  no particular order, just a heap. He pushes the bills around and finds me a clean 50, and writes up the slip of paper showing I paid.

Justin and I walk back outside then to the door to the departure area. I have to say goodbye to Justin here, he can go no farther. My suitcase must be opened and a guard rifles through the contents, before I’m allowed to pass. I wait in line to check in. My suitcase must be searched again. This is not a major flight, so there are few passengers in the terminal which is a good thing. I’m wanded and patted down at the security checkpoint where my laptop bag goes through the x-ray machine.

I’m not sure why, I didn’t request it, but I was booked in business class, perhaps Cliff, my very helpful travel agent, managed this for me to make up for all the itinerary shifting we’ve had to do. Since I have a business class ticket I can use the business lounge, where I order a café au lait, something I didn’t have time for at the hotel, and which I missed.

Shortly before 9:00 we are told to go outside, where a female security guard goes through my laptop case and the male guard gives me the most personally invasive pat-down I can remember.  We boarded the waiting bus that drives us all of 100 yards to the plane. We were made to line up on the tarmac and hand over our departure tax slips, and have our boarding passes torn. Finally we could board and sink into our seats. N’djili is more of a hassle than all the other airports I normally use in Africa, so I always breathe a sigh of relief when I’m finally on the plane

There was some UN traffic moving at the airport as well. A white twin engine prop place with black UN lettering taxied behind us, and I could see other activity at the UN side of the airport as well. There is an interesting plane graveyard at one end of the runway, everything from DC3s to modern jets.

After take-off we flew an hour to Libreville in Gabon for a brief layover. On the way the flight crew served a light French-style breakfast – bread and fruit. The sky was heavily overcast and in Libreville we landed in rain. I’ve been in Libreville a number of times but it’s been a few years since my last visit, I tried to remember the inside of the new airport and couldn’t. The layover was longer than intended because the fuel truck didn’t show up on time. We took off behind schedule, but the pilot made it up along the way. The flight to Lomé lasted 90 minutes, during which we were served small sandwiches: one chicken, and one camembert (there were a few advantages to French colonization….).  Not really lunch but it held us over.

ASky (an airline connected with Ethiopian Airlines) has a special van for the business class passengers, all three of us. We got in and were driven about 30 yards to the entry door. It took more time for us to get on and get off the van than it would have to walk to the door, but we were being pampered which is pretty universally appreciated.

I filled out the form to request a visa, and paid 15000 francs (about $30), and shortly after I found my suitcase on the belt, an official brought my passport to me with the visa inside. I caught a taxi to my usual little hotel, arriving in time for lunch. 

They had a new item on the menu: a togoburger, billed as the first 100% Togolese hamburger. Why is a togoburger different from a garden variety hamburger, you may ask. I also asked and found that the bread used is a local variety made from beans, and the meat was prepared by a French chef, so it was sautéed with onions pickles and spices. McDonald’s it wasn’t. It doubt if it will catch on in the States, but it was quite good.

After lunch I took care of housekeeping issues, walked my laundry over to a dry cleaners a block away. There is a rush charge for next day service. The usual time frame is three days; the pace of life is definitely slower here.

I spent the afternoon working on the laptop. It was good to have a bit of a breather, starting tomorrow until I get to France the pace will be non-stop.
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I think I'm catching up with you Mr. Meeker. Your past experiences with these places surely helps.

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