Solomon Islands

Where’s the WiFi?
Upon landing in Honiara, I had hoped that I could find some Wifi at the airport to book some accommodation. The lack of internet access in PNG had made it impossible to do so there. Unfortunately, there was no WiFi to be found in this tiny airport, so I figured I’d have to try my luck in town.

I asked a nice lady working at a small cafe how to get into town and she indicated that I could catch a ‘bus’ from the road outside the airport. Okay, that seems easy enough. What I realised when I got out to the road, was that there was no bus stop. The opposite side of the road was lined with many small stalls, selling various items. As I was about to cross the road to ask a seller about the bus, I noticed a group of people on my side of the road, standing around like they were waiting for something.

That seemed promising, so I approached and asked someone in the crowd if they were waiting for a bus. After checking where I needed to go, they confirmed that I was in the right place and chatted with me while we waited. A minivan pulled up a short while later and my new friend indicated that I should hop on board.

There was a young boy onboard who collected fares from everyone. It was only 5 Solomon Island dollars, SB$5, which is roughly AU$0.90. Bargain! As an added bonus, the value of the currency was almost on par with my home currency, so I didn’t have to waste time calculating! Someone had suggested that I could get WiFi at the Tourist Centre in town, so that’s where I got dropped off.

Upon entering, I was greeted by a lovely gentleman named Nelson. I explained my PNG phone saga to him and therefore my need for internet to reinitialise my phone. He said I could stay and use the WiFi until the centre closed. How wonderful!

Honiara, Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands
By the time I got outside..

As the internet on the Solomon Islands is a bit slow, it was about 2 hours before I realised that closing time had come and gone. Nelson was working late and had decided to leave me to it for a while. Luckily I had almost everything I needed for the phone to function reinstalled by the time he was done. Being the awesome person that he is, he then made some calls to find me the cheapest hotel, using his industry discount.

His kindness didn’t stop there either. As the hotel wasn’t too far from the centre, he graciously offered to walk me over, to make sure I got settled in okay. Not only are the Solomon Islands lusciously green, but the people are pretty awesome too!

Walking Around Town
I realised after checking into my room that I hadn’t eaten for a long time, so it was time to go hunting! It took me an hour to find food. Not because I got lost, but because almost everyone wanted to chat with me. After dinner, as I was trying to cross the road, a man named Manu, who worked at the port, started talking to me and offered to walk me back to my hotel. Seems like that’s a thing in Honiara!

Manu then decided to stay and have a chat in the hotel bar. He enquired about my plans in Honiara, so of course, I told him that I wanted to go to the Tenaru Falls! I hadn’t quite worked out how I was going to do that yet, but that was a tomorrow problem. I realised I was pretty tired by that point and as we parted ways, Manu said that he would get his friend to drive me to the waterfalls the next day. At this point, I was wondering if the whole town had received a memo telling them to look after me. Honiara had certainly welcomed me the right way.

Adventures Beyond Honiara
Just as he said they would, Manu and his friends arrived to pick me up at around 8:30am. We then headed for the Tenaru Falls, which it turns out were a very long drive from Honiara. Mainly because the road is terrible. It’s still passable without a 4WD though. It seems Manu’s friend, Joei, was a taxi driver who I later found out had taken the day off work to use his taxi to drive me around. Wow.

There was another person in the car named Joylee, who I’d presumed was Manu’s friend. I found out after talking to Joylee for a while that she had never met Joei before. It turns out that he had picked her up on the way because he felt bad that I was going to be the only female in the car. Not that it’s something that would worry me, but it’s a nice thought, I guess.

On the Way to Tenaru Falls
On the Way to Tenaru Falls

Manu and Joylee were using the long ride to drink and chain smoke. That ride got fairly uncomfortable for me rather quickly. Luckily, them seeing me use my inhaler slowed the smoking down a bit.

After we passed a gate that a local came out and opened for us, an old man approached us from the side of the road said that he could take us to the falls. As no one else in the car was exactly sure how to get to the falls, they indicated for him to get in the car. He directed us to the start point of the trail, which didn’t really look like much of a trail at all.

On the way to Tenaru Falls
Tenaru River

We followed this man for about 20 minutes, by which time I’d started to get the feeling that he didn’t really know where he was going. He had us zig-zagging across a small river. It was at this point that he mumbled something about bad spirits and disappeared into the forest. We decided our best course of action was to head back to the car and try to find another way to the falls.

On the way to Tenaru Falls
Old man guiding us to the Tenaru Falls

We drove to Paringiju Lodge, which is run by Manu’s cousin Freida and her husband. By the time we got there, Joylee was passed out in the back of the car from drinking too much, so we left her there and went into the lodge. Freida gave us some cold water and offered to take me to the falls.

On the way to Tenaru Falls
Trail to Tenaru Falls

I followed Freida down a trail which started off nicely enough, but then became exponentially more difficult. This was partly because it got fairly steep and partly because it was muddy and slippery. I was struggling with hiking shoes, but Freida, who’d left her flip flops at the beginning of the trail, was just flying along with bare feet. My feet slid out from underneath me on a few occasions, but I managed to grab hold of nearby trees before I ended up on the ground. Unfortunately, there were no trees around on my last slip and I landed flat on my back. It did not feel good and caused me to limp all the way back to the lodge.

Near Tenaru Falls
View from the lodge

To add insult to injury, my camera had decided to be temperamental while on the trail, so I wasn’t even able to take any pictures of the view I’d worked so hard to see. Back at the lodge, everyone except Joei seemed to have drunk themselves into an almost comatose state. This meant that it was a mission to get them to the car, but we were finally loaded and ready to go about 30 minutes later.

Back to Honiara
Palm trees rushing past on the way back to Honiara

I was a bit worried that Joei had been drinking while I was hiking, but his car was my only option for getting back to civilisation. He drove a little faster on the way down than he had on the way up, but then he drove like a maniac once we hit the sealed road again. All I could do was hope to get back to town in one piece.

Back In Honiara
Manu said that he’d organised a hotel room for me for free through his company. I was surprised, as I had not asked for that. I had made it clear that I was capable of getting my own room and I would not be ‘trading’ anything for it, but he was very insistent that I take it. After we got food, he came into the room and said he had been waiting his whole life to meet someone like me. He also professed his love for me, but how can you love someone you’ve only known for one day? It may have been the alcohol he’d imbibed talking, but it was getting a little too awkward for me.

I went to the hotel’s reception to see if I could change to another room. As that was getting organised, Manu came out to apologise and beg me to reconsider, but hotel security were a bit worried and approached him to tell him to move away from me. As he walked back to his room, I decided it might be better to leave the hotel for a while and sort the room out later, so I left my things at reception and made my escape.

Earlier that day, I had arranged to meet Nelson, the man from the Tourist Centre. Being the kind man that he is, he had offered to drive me around to show me some of the town. It really helps to get to know a place when the person driving you around works at the tourist centre! I’m sure I now know more about Honiara than most of the locals do. If I forget the craziness at the hotel, it was a pretty awesome day, all up!

The next day had a bit of a weird start when I tried to pay for my hotel room, but no one knew how to use the credit card machine. About 2 hours later, we’d figured there was either a bank problem or a machine problem, so the staff just gave up and said I didn’t have to pay. Well, that’s nice.

Discovering Honiara
After all these adventures, I’d decided that I was just going to walk around by myself for a bit. The island of Guadalcanal had played a huge part in World War II, so of course there is a huge memorial in Honiara. It also happens to be on top of a hill and I do love walking up hills.

K in Motion Travel Blog, Solomon Islands Peace Park Memorial, Honiara, Guadalcanal K in Motion Travel Blog, Solomon Islands Peace Park Memorial, Honiara, Guadalcanal

The place is kept in perfect condition by the caretaker, who invited me into his little booth when I got stuck in the very open memorial area as a huge storm came in. He told me that the storm would take a while to pass. He was right, I think it was over an hour, but it seemed like only 10 minutes because of the great company.

K in Motion Travel Blog, Solomon Islands Peace Park Memorial, Honiara, Guadalcanal
Storm over Honiara

He told me that he has been the caretaker there for over 20 years. He tends to the gardens to keep them looking beautiful and fresh. He makes sure that the grounds are always clean. He clearly does a good job, because the place was immaculate. He does it because he believes that the people that lost their lives in the war deserve it. What a lovely man.

Once the storm finally passed, I headed back out onto the road to continue my walk. I ended up finding the Mataniku River, which essentially separates the city into 2 areas, with the only access point being a not-so-stable looking bridge. I can’t say it was the prettiest river I’d ever seen. In fact, there seemed to be a lot of rubbish in an around it. The Tenaru River I’d seen a few days before was much nicer.

K in Motion Travel Blog, Mataniku River Honiara, Guadalcanal
Mataniku River

Time For a SolBrew?
After all my adventures, I’d figured a quiet drink or two was in order. My first mistake was thinking that would be possible in Honiara! It seemed that everywhere I went, locals were insistent on buying me drinks. I mean, they would ask if they could buy me a drink, but the drink would be in front of me before I finished answering. The good thing was that the happily tipsy men and women in the pub were happy to tell me their fascinating stories about life on the islands.

I ended up back at the Tourist Centre later, where I met and chatted with Nelson and more of the crew that works there. One of them, I’m ashamed at this point that I can’t remember his name, told me that I must join them at the yacht club later. Who was I to refuse? I made my way there a little after the agreed time, because I was on island time. I couldn’t find any of crew when I first walked in, but a well-known local was worried that I had no one to talk to and insisted that I sit with him and his friends. I must’ve been talking to them for hours before I finally met the people that I’d originally gone there to meet!

We might’ve stayed there until near closing time, although I have no idea when that was. No one was ready to call it a night, so we all sat around chatting at the Tourist Centre. Clearly I got very little sleep, but it was probably the best way to spend my last night in the Solomons.

πŸ‡ΈπŸ‡§Solomon Islands SummaryπŸ‡ΈπŸ‡§
In a few words – beautiful people
Language – English and Solomon Pijin
Currency – Solomon Island Dollar (SBD)
WiFi availability – πŸ“ΆπŸ“ΆπŸ“ΆπŸ“Ά
Wifi was available at hotels and some cafes, but the cafes had very short opening hours. It wasn’t the fastest, but probably better than some places
Transport – πŸš—πŸš—πŸš—πŸš—
🚐 Buses, or more accurately, minivans run regularly around town and cost SB$3 to go anywhere in town and about SB$8 to and from the airport
🚘 Taxis are available from the airport to the town for around SB$100
Roads – πŸ›£πŸ›£πŸ›£
Main roads were mostly smooth and sealed, except for several kilometres where roadworks were taking place. Roads in more remote places weren’t sealed, but still drivable without a 4WD
Scenery – πŸŒ³β›°πŸžπŸ–πŸŒ³
The Solomons have a diverse range of scenery, with mountains, waterfalls, rivers, forests and beaches
Prices – πŸ’°πŸ’°πŸ’°
As seems to be the case in a few places where tourism isn’t a huge industry, accommodation is quite expensive. Everything else in the Solomons is quite cheap though
Border efficiency – πŸ›ƒπŸ›ƒπŸ›ƒπŸ›ƒ
The international airport is tiny, which means entering and exiting can be pretty quick. There’s almost no chance of another plane arriving/departing at the same time as yours!
Overall – πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘

Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea is probably a place you don’t see on many people’s travel itineraries, but I’d been itching to get there for a very long time! You could say the country has had a troubled history and is still trying to find its feet as an independent state. This can make things very interesting for travellers.

Upon arrival at the airport, I had to join a long line for immigration clearance, which gave me a lot of time and to contemplate if I had all my documentation in order. The immigration officer that processed my entry was very friendly and wished me well. After that, I had to clear the customs area, where a man just took my filled-in form, without even looking at it, and waved me through. I was finally there!

Welcome to Port Moresby
As I was trying to exit the airport, a lovely man named Harold stopped me and asked where I was staying. When I told him, he said that the area wasn’t safe and that he would help me find lodging in a safer area. He ended up driving me around a fair amount of the city in his company’s vehicle, while I presume he was supposed to be working. He took me to a few guesthouses that were run by Christian missionaries. These guesthouses were prohibitively expensive considering what was on offer; a single room with shared bathroom facilities and no WiFi.

The problem I had was that, because I’d already booked and paid for my accommodation online, I hadn’t brought enough cash with me to pay the ridiculous prices they were asking. Harold took me to a few more places, until we ended up at the Rehoboth Transit House. The owners of this guesthouse were lovely. After I explained the situation to them, they asked me how much I could afford and agreed that I could just pay that amount. I was glad to have that sorted and now that Harold knew I would be safe, he headed back to work.

While Harold was driving me around, I had noticed that almost all private properties and some businesses had really high perimeter fences with barbed wire on top of them. Then the owners of the guesthouse informed me that it wasn’t safe for me to go outside by myself. The explorer in me was devasted. A big part of the way I travel involves wandering around aimlessly until I stumble upon something awesome. The owners did say that either they themselves, or their security guard, could be at my disposal whenever I wanted to go out, but still.

The Fun Begins
As I’d realised my options for getting around Port Moresby were limited, I had decided to go rural. My destination was the small town of Sogeri, where the Kokoda Trail begins. The security guard from the guesthouse, Sam accompanied me. We headed to the bus stop across the road from the guesthouse to wait for the bus to Sogeri. As the bus was pulling up, I noticed a teenage boy running from the opposite side of the road. I figured he was just running for the bus. Nope, he was running towards me, using the distraction of the bus to steal my phone!

Being the fight back kinda person that I am, I decided to chase this little shit as he ran back across the road with my phone. Sam also joined the chase, but told me to wait at the road when the boy entered his community. He continued to chase the boy, while I waited and hoped that he would come back with my phone. An elder from the community approached me from a crowd to tell me that he saw the whole thing, he knew the boy and he would get my phone back.

Sam reappeared from the community a short while later, apologising for losing the offender. Would you believe, at that very moment, a police car was passing, so we flagged it down. Sam and I relayed the details to the officers, but they said they couldn’t help. I was surprised, considering we were standing right outside the community. So as I was about to give up, the elder from the community came over to say he wanted to help catch the boy. That changed everything!

We were all loaded into the police car for a drive to the boy’s house, in the community. Of course, the boy had not gone back there yet, but his brother was there and seemed really pissed off at his brother. Apparently, the boy has done this kinda stuff before and the family was getting sick of it. They felt bad and also wanted to help me get my property back. They asked if I would give them a day to find the boy and return the phone to me, before making an official report to the police. I agreed.

With that kind of sorted, I decided that I may as well continue with my plans, because there wasn’t really much else I could do at that point. I went back to the guesthouse to get my back-up camera, because every good traveller has one of those! Sam and I went back to the bus stop and were soon on our way to Sogeri. This whole time, Sam had stayed very close to me, so I was surprised when he said I could have a wander around by myself when we got to Sogeri. It seems the country areas of PNG are a lot safer than the capital.

Exploring Sogeri

The bus had dropped us off near a lodge at the start of the Kokoda Trail, which was still a little bit outside of the town. It was there that we met Ranger Muxsie and his friend Robert. The ranger then organised us a lift into town with the owners of the lodge. Once we got into town, there was a big volleyball game going on at a school, which also doubled as a sports ground. There were many makeshift stalls set up along the road outside, selling all kinds of locals foods and fresh juices. All of the stall holders were very friendly and many offered me free samples of their foods and drinks.

Across from the school was some kind of memorial and behind that was a trail that we could hike along. Ranger Muxsie said he would like to guide us, but he had to do some work, so he said his friend Robert would accompany us to make sure that we didn’t get lost. As we were walking along, Robert commented about how ‘strong’ I was for being able to keep up a decent pace in the PNG heat. I guess other visitors don’t handle it so well.

The trail actually ended up being a dirt road for most of the way. It meandered through memorials for people whose names I can’t pronounce, missionaries and local farming villages. We even had to do a small river crossing, over pipes! It looked like some of the people living in the villages survived by preparing materials for recycling.

After our little adventure, we returned to the town. Robert left us there and we met back up with Ranger Muxsie. We had to walk a couple of kilometres uphill to get to the pickup point for the bus back to Port Moresby and Muxsie had decided walk with us. While waiting for the bus, we all exchanged contact details and Muxsie said I should call him if I’m ever back in the area.

Police and Black Market Supply Chains
Back in Port Moresby, the community elder had been unsuccessful in locating the boy or my phone, so we made our way to the police station to file a report. Then we waited. I was not holding out much hope by that point, as it had already been 2 days. That made it all the more surprising when the police contacted us the next day and asked us to come into the station. They had 2 of the 3 people involved in the black market supply chain in custody!

My hosts had hilariously given them all nicknames; The Rasta, The Fatman and The Chinaman. Sounds like some kinda terrible detective show that I’d watch the hell out of! Anyways, The Rasta was still at large, but they believed him to be the one who took the phone from the thief. The Fatman was believed to be the middle man and the ‘Chinaman’, who was actually Filipino, was on the receiving end of the stolen goods.

The best part of this whole saga was that the police had retrieved my phone! That was way more than I’d ever dared to hope for. Unfortunately, the phone had been wiped and the memory card and SIM cards were gone. This presented a whole other problem. By this point, I’d had no phone or internet to contact the outside world for 4 days, after entering a ‘dangerous’ area. I needed internet to let people know I was okay and reinitialise my phone, so one of my hosts and I went for dinner at a restaurant with WiFi.

Luckily I had brought my laptop to the restaurant, so I was able to get online that way, but because the WiFi required a web login instead of a direct network login, I couldn’t reinitialise my phone. Apparently, that’s how PNG does WiFi, so I was going to have to wait until the next country to have a working phone. Who needs an alarm to wake up for a flight anyway?

One Last Trip to the Police Station
The police contacted us again asking us to come to the station. When we got there, they informed us that they still hadn’t caught the thief, but they wanted us to go to the community with them to talk to the family. The mother of the thief wanted to tell me herself that she was allowing the police to arrest her and keep her in custody to bring her son out of hiding. Wow. It worked.

Most of my trip was spent dealing with that one issue. Although it’s a crappy thing to have to deal with while travelling, the way that people came together to help a stranger tells me all I need to know about this country. Despite my ordeal, I’d highly recommend going there.

πŸ‡΅πŸ‡¬Papua New Guinea SummaryπŸ‡΅πŸ‡¬
In a few words – Intense, but friendly
Language – English and Pidgin English
Currency – Papua New Guinean Kina (PGK)
WiFi availability – πŸ“ΆπŸ“Ά
Wifi doesn’t seem to be widely available and even when you can get some, it’s slow and disconnects you all the time
Transport – I’m not sure about transport in PNG as I got driven everywhere
Roads – πŸ›£πŸ›£πŸ›£πŸ›£πŸ›£
Most roads look like they’re well maintained
Scenery – πŸŒ³β›°πŸŒ³πŸžπŸŒ³
Green everywhere!
Prices – πŸ’°πŸ’°πŸ’°
Accommodation is ridiculously expensive for something very basic. Food is quite cheap, even imported goods seem to be cheaper in PNG than they are in the country of origin
Border efficiency – πŸ›ƒπŸ›ƒπŸ›ƒπŸ›ƒ
Both the entry to and exit from the international airport in Port Moresby were quite smooth.
Overall – πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘

West Timor

Gunung Fatuleu – Mount Fatuleu
As the public transport timetable was quite restrictive, my friend Jeff was kind enough to let me borrow his bike to get myself up to Gunung Fatuleu, or Mount Fatuleu, which is situated in Oelbiteno, about 50km northeast of Kupang. The roads were good most of the way up, except for a 100m stretch, where it looked like the road had been attacked with jackhammers, leaving it in a very rocky and uneven state. Even with the mostly decent state of the roads, riding up there was indeed an adventure. It took every ounce of concentration I had to keep out of the way of cars, trucks, mopeds and dirt bikes driving on the wrong side of the road while overtaking. It seems that even solid lane markings are only suggestions that are to be ignored when you want to pass someone.

Deserted Mountain Road

The constant cat and mouse game was very tiring, which made it all the more lovely when I found myself on a deserted mountain road. Thankfully, that would be the road I’d be on for what was left of the journey to Mount Fatuleu. Even though I was following a map, the entrance to the mountain trail was not easy to find. I initially rode straight past it!

Mount Fatuleu Tourist Map

Luckily I realised quickly that I’d overshot the target and eventually found the entry. I should mention at this point that it had been misty for the entire trip up and I had been hoping that it might clear by the time I got to my destination. It was not my lucky day. I had stopped a few times enroute, when the mist had moved enough to see the top of the mountain. Unfortunately, the mist managed to return to its perch on the mountain top before I could get a picture of it. You’ll just have to imagine that it was there!

After a quick stop at the park map, I found my way to the start of the trail up the hill. My map was telling me that it was only 400m to the peak. I must admit, I was a little disappointed, as I was dressed for a proper hike, not a stroll! At the beginning, the trail seemed to consist of your average run-of-the-mill stairs, but that escalated quickly into a chunky uneven concrete nightmare, that had me wondering what the workers who constructed it were drinking when they did it. At least I was getting a workout!

It seems the workers gave up when they hit a rock outcrop a little further up the trail and figured that if people made it that far, they were on their own for the last 200m. That left me literally in the middle of the mist with no trail to follow. You’d think I’d turn back at that point, right? Not a chance! I found my own way through the rocky forest! By the time I made it to what my map told me was the top, I was completely engulfed by the mist. I was quite glad when I’d made it back to the crosses at the rock outcrop, which indicated that the stairs were nearby and I’d be out of the mist momentarily.

Goa Kristal – Crystal Cave
So onto another day and another adventure! My friend had generously allowed me to use his bike again; this time head to Goa Kristal, or Crystal Cave in Bolok, 20km west of Kupang. On the way there, I ended up on a 4 lane highway that had a strip of land running through the middle of it, separating it into two 2 lane roads. I had figured that this was done to give both directions of traffic their own road. I found out I was wrong when the occasional truck going in the opposite direction ended up on the same road as me. So it’s really just another Indonesian ‘drive where you want’ deal.

Highway

At the end of the highway, I found myself on a road that followed the coast for a while, before making its way into the town of Bolok. I had to ride through the town for a bit to reach the dirt road that led to the cave. I was lucky enough to see some local cows just hanging out, eating grass. The town also seemed very proud to be Christian, as there were many crosses on the side of the road throughout the town.


Cows and crosses

After a short drive down the dirt road, my map was indicating that I was right near the cave, but I couldn’t see any signs to indicate exactly where it was. I did see a small trail that seemed to be going in the general direction I needed, so I followed it for a few minutes to a fence with a small gate that was locked from the other side. I was hoping that I hadn’t gone all that way to be stopped by a fence! While I was there, contemplating my next move, a young man appeared from nowhere inside the fenced area and began running toward the gate. My welcome wagon had arrived!

The young man, who introduced himself as Bo, enthusiastically welcomed me and beckoned for me to come in. Upon walking through the gate, I could see a cute handmade wooden sign, but still no cave. Thankfully Bo knew exactly where it was and had me at the cave entrance almost instantly. The opening was so small that it would definitely be difficult to find unless you knew exactly where it was.


The cave entrance from both the outside and the inside

Bo then asked myself and a family, that had gotten there just before I did, if we wanted to go inside. You can imagine what my response was, but only one of the people from the family was eager to have a look. I almost had a bat fly into my face on the way in, then heard some squeals behind me as the younger members of the family caught a glimpse of the bat. After giving my eyes a second to adjust to the darkness, I realised that the lake was still a considerable distance below me and the ‘path’ down was full of slippery rocks. It was totally worth it to see the lake close up and dip my hand in though!

Not long after I’d made it to the lake at the bottom of the cave and was letting the serenity of the place wash over me, I heard a huge splash. Bo had jumped in for a swim! As I hadn’t realised that swimming was allowed, I’d not brought a change of clothes with me. So sadly, I had to decline Bo’s invitation for a swim, but at least he looked like he was enjoying himself!

Air Terjun Oenesu – Oenesu Waterfalls
Anyone that knows me is aware of the fact that I’m in love with waterfalls. I try to find them in each new place that I go to. It was rather convenient then, that there was a small set of falls in Oenesu, about 20km southeast of Goa Kristal. Again, the road was good for most of the journey, until I had to turn onto a bumpy dirt road about 5km before the falls.

My map was trying to guide me to an area that didn’t look very accessible, so I decided to just keep following the road and eventually found myself in an empty parking area. I swear there was no one around when I entered the area, but as I got off the bike, there was all of a sudden a young man behind me asking for money to see the waterfall. I was a bit taken aback as all sources had told me that there was no entry fee. It was at that moment that another young local appeared from nowhere and told the first guy not to charge me.

Standard path to the waterfalls

My new friend, Raymond, decided that he would guide me to the falls and show me the secret viewing places. This involved a bit of rock climbing, but I’m always up for a bit of an adventure!

The real fun started after seeing the falls. I saw a trail to the side of the falls and asked where it went. Raymond advised that it went around the back of the falls and indicated that we should take it. While we were on that trail, I noticed some fallen coconuts and may have professed my love for them. That caused him to say, “I can get you coconut. Would you like?”. So he took me to his house, which was nestled in the middle of a forest, where he proudly introduced me to his family. It was only a short stop so he could pick up his coconut carving knife.

Searching for the right coconut tree

From there we took a short walk through the forest. As we walked along Raymond would point out things and tell me the Indonesian words for them. After just a few minutes, he had spotted the tree he was looking for. He wasted no time in climbing to the top to ‘shake down’ a coconut for me.

I had noticed that most of the coconut trees in the area had foot and hand holds carved into them at intervals. That’s what the locals used to climb up and down the trees and make it look like it’s the easiest thing in the world. Once back on the ground, Raymond used his knife to open the humongous coconut for me.

As he handed me the freshly opened coconut, Raymond said, “Kelapu Oenesu”, which means Oenesu Coconut. After drinking the water from it, the coconut was chopped in half so that I could enjoy the delicious flesh inside.

Mmmmmmm coconut!

Sunset Over Sea
How do you end a wonderful day? With dinner and sunset at a highly recommended cafe down the road from the falls! I’d actually planned to go to Cafe Tebing for lunch, but was disappointed to find it closed at 1pm. It didn’t open until 4pm, just in time for dinner.

As with many places in Timor, this cafe is open-air, with a super relaxed atmosphere. Perhaps a little bit too relaxed when it comes to bringing out food in a timely fashion, but who’s going to complain when you get this view while waiting?

To say the sunset was stunning would be an understatement. I’d dare say this is possibly the best view in town. From almost anywhere in the cafe you have a panoramic view from port to coast.

All Good Things..
Unfortunately, my time in Timor had to end, but on the day I left, Jeff cooked up a local delicacy, Pisang Goreng, or fried banana for breakfast. And it was AMAZING!

I wasn’t the only one delighted with the meal! Apparently Matt also loves this dish, but Jeff only cooks it when people are visiting from overseas. I’d say it’s worth a trip to Kupang just to try it.

After an obligatory picture, to remind us just how happy Jeff’s food had made us, I headed off to the airport. Next stop – Jakarta.

Kupang

Welcome to Kupang
Of course, my first flight in 3 months departed more than an hour later than it was supposed to leave, but luckily my good friend Jeff, who I hadn’t seen in at least 12 years, was still willing to pick me up from the airport! The airport was tiny, so it took less than 5 minutes for me to step off the plane, clear customs and meet Jeff. Thankfully he recognised me straight away, possibly because I was the only redhead in the place! He whisked me away to a waiting car for the 10 minute journey to his business, which is located conveniently across the road from his flat.

Jeff and I settled in for a chat and he informed me that some of his friends would be coming around too. His friends arrived shortly after with some food and drinks for me. It turns out Jeff had figured that I might be hungry after the long trip and told them to bring some food for me. What a sweety! Everyone was super friendly and very interested in my travels, especially my African travels. While we were talking, Jeff’s friends constantly checked if I needed more food, or drink, or anything within their power to provide at that late hour. One could get used to this Timor hospitality!

When the morning came, I walked across the road to Jeff’s place and had a bit of a catch-up session with him and his partner. I had met them both many moons ago when we all worked in a small remote town in Central Australia. Right next to the world’s second largest monolith, Uluru. Perhaps you’ve heard of it? After reminiscing for a bit, the boys gave me some really useful information about places to see and things to do in the area in the coming days. So with that, I was off exploring.

First Impressions

Normally the first thing I notice when I’m in a new place is the height of the buildings. From the air and the ground, I could not see any buildings that we more than 4 storeys tall in Kupang. I think this is great, as it creates more of a homely, country kinda feel to it. What’s even nicer is that there seems to be a lot of greenery around and unlike other cities in the world, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of construction going on. They do seem to like putting structures on roundabouts though, including crocodiles and concrete trees!

Another thing that makes Timor different to other places, is that tourism isn’t a huge industry, so there are almost no tourists on the island. This means that locals are often caught off guard when there’s a foreigner in their vicinity. I definitely got the feeling that I was a bit of an oddity as I was walked along. There were of course, a lot of innocuous stares and exclamations of ‘hello’ as I walked around. Then there were the not so comfortable local versions of a wolf whistle, which was men calling out, “Woo woo”, or “Woah”. As if that wasn’t fun enough, guys on bikes would stop in front of me, or slow down and ride beside me, to try to get me on their bikes.

I must admit that this all seemed a bit creepy at first, but I soon realised that these reactions came from a genuine fascination with seeing a non-local walking around. There were no ulterior motives, as there often is when men act this way in other regions. It’s also possible that the lack of tourism in the area means that locals really have no idea how to conduct themselves around foreigners and therefore don’t realise how their actions could be construed by people from other cultures. Aside from this, I would say that locals are extremely friendly and helpful.

Rain
As Timor is located in the tropical equatorial region, it has 2 distinct seasons; the wet season runs from December to April and the dry season runs from May to November. I, of course, had found myself here during the wet season, which meant I got to see rain every day! Somedays there would just be a small shower, that did a great job of cooling things down, then the skies would clear by the afternoon. Some times there would be heavy overnight rains that caused low-level flooding.

I got the impression that locals tend to alter their plans according to the rain, as the only time it was hard to get transport was when it was raining! The amount of traffic on roads decreased dramatically during a shower. Often, important works would be delayed if the rain was deemed to be too much of a nuisance. Locals are pretty laid back and don’t seem to worry too much about projects running over time.

Getting Around
For getting around town, most locals use mopeds or motorbikes as their main form of transport and sometimes their main form of income. That means there’s never a shortage of transport when you need it, although given the relatively small size of Kupang, it’s actually quite easy to walk around.

There are also local numbered bus services that take various routes around the town. These are known as Disco Buses due to their loud music and often flashing lights. But just in case you don’t hear them coming, the ticket boy hanging out the door will call out the destination several times as the vehicle approaches.

Disco Bus

There are also slightly bigger buses, that run on intercity routes. If booked in advance, these buses will actually offer a door to door service!

Laid Back Locals and Cheap Food
When I got back from one of my walks, my friends were busy installing a window in one of the flats in their complex. Someone else had originally been tasked with installing the window and a door, but once they installed the door, decided to leave without installing the window. This left my friends with a situation where they had to install the window as someone was ready to move into the flat the next day. Apparently this kind of situation isn’t all that uncommon in Indonesia, as people sometimes become disinterested in doing the work they’ve promised to do. Perhaps they’re a little bit too laid back!

After they were done, my friend took me for a ride around on his bike to show me a bit of the town, get some food for dinner and satiate his craving for cheese and crackers. That led us to one of the 2 malls in the area, Lippo Plaza. It qualifies as a mall in Timor because it has a huge supermarket inside that stocks a lot of imported food. I was amazed at how cheap most things were, when compared with prices back home. It’s easy to see how Indonesians that work for a few years in other nearby countries, come back home with enough money to start businesses and build apartment blocks.

It’s also surprising how cheap it can be to eat at fancy hotel restaurants. I generally stay away from hotels when I travel, but you can get a buffet brunch, with amazing views, for just 80,000IDR at various hotels in the city. That’s under US$6! They also don’t seem to have many patrons at any given time, so it’s almost like your own private dining experience.

A Sign of the Season
Being in a predominantly Christian country around Christmas meant that there weren’t many options for things to do, so while my friend went to spend time with his family, I ended up at the only place that was open; the mall. While having tea in a cafe there, I saw a disco train, with a very disinterested driver, taking kids, and some parents, around the centre.

Mall Disco Train

Outside the mall there were 3 Christmas trees, all made of different materials. In fact, on my many walks around the area, I saw Christmas trees made from whatever materials were available, like wire, plastic water bottles, paper, chairs, pipes and firewood. What a great way of personalising Christmas traditions. It certainly beats the idea of cutting down actual trees or using ugly fake trees.

Another interesting thing I spotted while walking around, was that many men had a thick strip of the hair on top of their head dyed a bright colour like red, green or yellow. I had originally thought that this was just a fashion trend, but my friend informed me that it only happened around Christmas time. I guess that explains why they all seemed to be festive kind of colours.

Colourful Kupang
Locals in Kupang aren’t afraid to add a splash of colour to their dwellings. In fact, many bright or pastel coloured houses and roofs can be spotted from both the air and the ground. Blue and green seem to be firm favourites, although there are also a lot of pinks and whites as well, with some red and yellow also thrown in for good measure.

Besides colourful homes, Kupang had its fair share of colourful animals wandering around. From possibly stray cats and dogs that seemed to spend a lot of time hanging around the rubbish collection areas, probably looking for food. To random hens walking around with young chicks following close behind them, to the occasional goat and the odd pig here and there.

Shelters for the Departed
There seems to be an abundance of cemeteries in Kupang and most seem to occupy prime positions on the waterfront. Many of the graves are very colourful and ornate. Almost all of them have an image of Jesus somewhere near the front of the grave and look like they would have cost a fortune to build. There was one cemetery where a cluster of graves had added features that piqued my interest. They had their own shelters! Not the makeshift, tin shed type, but nice shelters that could shield you from one of the city’s numerous downpours. I’m not sure why long dead people would need shelters, nor what they would need sheltering from. Unless they don’t like the rain. It does rain a lot in Kupang.

Sights in the City
As I mentioned earlier, tourism isn’t really much of a thing in Timor, which means that the idea of charging entry fees to special areas just doesn’t exist. This is great if you really like to see different things but don’t like paying to see them! Most of the tourist attractions in Timor are outside of the capital, but there are still some areas of interest within the town.

The waterfront near the town centre contains a bustling market area, with some open-air eateries. While there, I found my way to an open-air ‘Bar and Resto’ with river views, where I settled in for a late lunch. I must admit, this was not the nicest river I’d ever seen, but I did notice some caves on the opposite bank, that had revealed themselves at low tide. Who doesn’t love hidden caves revealing themselves?

While I was there, my lovely friend Jeff had managed to borrow a car and came to pick me up for a late afternoon, early evening cruise around town. We headed down to the cafe strip, which is an area on the beach where makeshift cafes are set up. I guess they’re makeshift due to the sometimes unpredictable weather of the monsoon season. The area looked very vibrant and some stalls even had garden swings for customer use. Doesn’t a gentle swing while sipping on coffee or tea sound divine? My friend informed me that it was the place to be on New Years Eve, but unfortunately, I was leaving on New Years Eve morning, so I wouldn’t get to witness the spectacle.

Oman

I was so excited to be going on a road trip to Oman, that even waking up early wasn’t enough to dampen my spirit. It was good to be doing a road trip with my good friend Ashleigh. I was also happy to be on well-maintained roads where it was easy to cover 100km in an hour. That meant that the drive from Sharjah to Muscat would only take 5 hours! I was very thankful for air conditioning too, as the outside temperature was around 45 degrees.

Smooth road ahead

Along the way, I saw shifting sands trying to encroach on the road and found out that it can sometimes be a huge problem during sandstorms. There are people employed solely to remove this sand from the road. Although it was kinda flat and boring at the start of our drive, we soon got some lovely views of desert mountains, which have a beauty all of their own.

Desert Mountains

Once at the border, we ran into a slight problem with insurance. Oman requires all cars within its boundaries to have additional insurance on top of the insurance from the country of origin. Although Ashleigh had this, the officer wouldn’t accept the paperwork and therefore wouldn’t stamp us in until additional insurance had been purchased. If it weren’t for the time spent dealing with that and people constantly trying to jump the queue, it’s possible that passing through this border would’ve been relatively quick.

Short Stop in Sohar
Sohar is a small coastal city around 200 kilometres from both Muscat and Sharjah, making it a great place to break up our trip. The city had at one point in history served as the Omani Capital, but is now the fifth most populated area in the country. My friend Ashleigh had a friend living there, so we all decided to head out to the local mall for some food.

Food pitstop

The Safeer Mall, as it’s known, is one of 2 malls in Sohar. It looks very flashy from the outside, which made it all the more surprising to walk into the restroom and see women with their legs up on the bench while washing their feet in the sinks. I had figured that a country with a majority Muslim population, would’ve had some kind of foot cleaning facilities next to the prayer rooms in their malls.

While chatting at the cafe in the mall, I got the feeling that Sohar was a rapidly developing city. Ashleigh recalled how much it had changed in the months since he had been there last, while his friend informed us of many other projects that were currently, or soon to be, under construction. I guess I’ll have to visit again soon to see how much different it looks!

Onto Muscat
On the drive to Muscat, Ashleigh had joked that there were no right turns in the more newly developed parts of the city and that you just had to keep turning left to get where you want to go. It turns out he wasn’t really exaggerating that much. I found it rather strange that the only access point for a mall on the right-hand side of a highway, was an offramp on the left-hand side of the highway. How convenient!

Muscat is a very spread-out city with only about 5 buildings that have more than 5 floors; all hotels, of course! I like the low rise idea, but the positioning of some of the roads in relation to some buildings, can only be described as odd. If you approach a building from the wrong side, you may have to take a several kilometre detour to turn around and access it from the correct side, as I found out first hand.

The city is definitely not geared toward pedestrian traffic and it’s downright impossible to cross a lot of roads as a pedestrian. I guess with the price of fuel being so cheap and the scorching summer temperatures, locals are inclined to drive everywhere, even if it’s just across the road. While there are road rules in Oman, it seems that the penalties for being on the wrong side of them are so miniscule, that many locals are willing to openly break them. This makes Omani roads fun, in the nail-biting kinda way.

Old and New

Muscat Gate

Road traumas aside, Muscat is a beautiful city. Once passing through the city gate, Old Muscat lies near the waterfront, surrounded by barren mountains and sea. It is a lot more pedestrian friendly, but a little less car friendly, than New Muscat and it seems to be quite lively. At the centre of the old town is the Mattrah Souq, which I’m told could be one of the oldest marketplaces in the Arab world. The old style buildings in the area are delightful to look at and it almost feels like you have stepped into another time.

Mountains of Old Muscat

Down on the waterfront, some relics from bygone eras have stood the test of time and are open for people to explore. One such relic is a small watchtower, high above the promenade. A 5 minute walk up a lot of stairs will get you to the top, where you can not only look out over the sea, but also over the whole of Old Muscat.

View from the watchtower

While there is definitely a visible difference between the old and the new city in Muscat, it seems that some architectural themes flow effortlessly through both. For instance, the colours of buildings are pretty much the same in both, mainly off-white, cream and beige. These colours aren’t really inspiring, but they are very earthy and definitely fit in seamlessly with their surroundings.

Both residential and commercial premises seem to have sleek designs with smooth facades, high ceilings and grand Arabian style arches. This means that every building you walk into feels big and airy. I probably noticed this more because I live in a place where housing can be ridiculously small, but I still think it’s lovely.

Beach in New Muscat

Problems Unique to Oman
You probably know that Oman is a majority Muslim country, ruled by a Sultan. As such, there are many things seen as taboo there. One of those is an unwed or unrelated female staying in the same room as an unwed or unrelated male. While many of their other conservative regulations can be overlooked when it comes to foreigners, apparently this one is a must follow rule.

I’ve been told that, if you book just one room in this case, hotels can ask you to provide proof of your familial relationship or marriage. If you cannot provide such information, then you could be subject to refusal of service. I think this wouldn’t be enforced on foreigners in practice, but it seemed that it would just be easier to book two rooms to avoid any uncomfortable questioning.

Two more uniquely Omani laws disallow speaking about the Sultan’s private life and showing anger in public. Doing so could actually land you in some pretty hot water, legally. If you’re formally charged, you can’t leave the country until all proceedings are finalised. So that’s how you legislate civility, I guess. It certainly explains why Omanis were very friendly and even-tempered; they don’t want to go to court for shouting at someone! Obviously, it’s better to just be nice.

Ready For a Drink
You would think that such a conservative Muslim country would not allow drinking, so you might be surprised to know that it’s not against the law, in certain circumstances. Many establishments, like hotels and bars, are licenced to sell alcohol and it is completely legal to imbibe at those places. It is, of course, illegal to show any signs of intoxication in public, so it’s probably best to just have a few quiet ones if you’re out and about.

Ashleigh and I were quite pleased when we found a cute little Irish pub near the beach, where we could sit down and have a quiet drink, guilt free! We ended up having a great chat with the foreign owner of the pub, who had been in Muscat for many years, whilst digging into our delicious Irish pub grub.

πŸ‡΄πŸ‡²Oman SummaryπŸ‡΄πŸ‡²
In a few words – old and new
Language – Arabic and English
Currency – Omani Rial (OMR)
WiFi availability – πŸ“ΆπŸ“ΆπŸ“ΆπŸ“ΆπŸ“Ά
Wifi is widely available in shopping centres, cafes and restaurants
Transport – I would presume that the transport in Oman is not that great, as everyone seems to own cars and I didn’t really come across many tourists while I was there.
Roads – πŸ›£πŸ›£πŸ›£πŸ›£πŸ›£
Omani roads are immaculate and all look like they are brand new.
Scenery – πŸœβ›°πŸœβ›°πŸœ
A lot of desert and dust with some baron mountains thrown in for good measure.
Prices – πŸ’°πŸ’°πŸ’°
As a fairly developed country, many high priced items can be found there, but if you eat more local fare, prices tend to be a lot more reasonable.
Border efficiency – πŸ›ƒπŸ›ƒπŸ›ƒπŸ›ƒ
Except for a small insurance issue on entry, passage through the Oman immigration area, on both entry and exit was fairly smooth.
Overall – πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘

United Arab Emirates

As it had been several years since my last visit, I was looking forward to visiting the UAE once again. Last time I’d spent a lot of time exploring historical areas and souks around Dubai Creek. I also went to the top of the Burj Khalifa, because who doesn’t want to say that they’ve been to the top of the highest building in the world? This time it was more of rest before my long trip home, with the added bonus of catching up with some old friends.

Luckily, my friend was willing to collect me from the airport at 2am, when my delayed flight finally touched down in Dubai. The immigration department at the airport seems to have streamlined their service a lot since my last visit 4 years ago. Within 15 minutes of landing I was out of the airport, which gave me enough time to grab a tea from the overpriced coffee shop near the airport entrance, before my friend arrived.

His place was a 30 minute drive away in Sharjah, which is actually the next Emirate, or state, over from Dubai. Even though it was night time, it was still easy to see that the UAE does everything on a grand scale. You could definitely see a difference in the architecture between Dubai and Sharjah. While Dubai was trying to touch the sky, Sharjah was keeping buildings low and spreading out. In fact, there were more than a few developments that seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. I mean, no residences within in many miles, but still shiny new commercial complexes had been constructed.

Malls, Meals and Music
When the morning came, my friend had to head to work in Dubai, so I tagged along with him and hung out at his restaurant, in the Jameirah Lakes Towers (JLT) area for a little bit. JLT seems to be the happening area, where all the hip young kids and expats hang out and drink on the weekends. Or even on Thursday, which was the day that I had arrived and also the day before the start of the Emirati weekend. So yes, I tried to blend in with the cool kids that night. More on that later.

Mall of the Emirates

After a delicious brunch at my friend’s restaurant, I met another friend for lunch at the Mall of the Emirates. I’d first met her in Istanbul last year, but she is originally from Kyrgyzstan, which I found out I’d been pronouncing wrong my whole life, D’oh! The Mall of the Emirates is home to Ski Dubai, an indoor ski slope and snow activity centre. I looked on in amusement as people paraded around in their snow jackets while it was over 45 degrees outside. Only in Dubai!

Ski Dubai

We settled into a Lebanese restaurant for a delicious lunch, followed by a walk around the mall. My friend decided to join me and my other friend at an Irish Bar in JLT for some drinks. We were later joined by some other party people and made a night of it.

Drunken photography

The next morning, My host and I were back at the same pub for a stomach stretching, 5 hour all-you-can-eat-and-drink buffet. Apparently the musical theme for the day was 80s and 90s music. We were all okay with that.

Brunch

Time for Oman
As I’d had a few days in the UAE to relax and eat my body weight in food, it was time to get moving again, on a road trip to the Sultanate of Oman. I’ve posted about my unfortunately short-lived adventures there, in my next post. I returned to the UAE a few short days later to catch my flight back home, which would sadly conclude my summer holiday.

Final Thoughts
While it’s true that I didn’t really have many adventures in the UAE on this visit, I did get to see the place more from the point of view of someone who lives there, rather than a tourist. Whatever I happen to see when I’m there, I’ve always found it to be a pleasant place to visit and I always look forward to going back to discover another facet of the country.

Immigration was again a breeze on exiting, which gave me plenty of time to relax before the flight. The flight was really full, but the lady sitting next to me was lovely. As I sat down, she told me to let her know when I was going to the bathroom so she could go too and wouldn’t need to disturb me later. How thoughtful!

πŸ‡¦πŸ‡ͺUAE SummaryπŸ‡¦πŸ‡ͺ
In a few words – desert and developments
Language – Arabic and English
Currency – UAE Dirham (AED)
WiFi availability – πŸ“ΆπŸ“ΆπŸ“ΆπŸ“ΆπŸ“Ά
Unlimited free WiFi is widely available in shopping centres and bars.
Transport – πŸš—πŸš—πŸš—
πŸš‡ Dubai has a very modern metro system, but it gets very crowded and with only 2 lines offers very limited coverage of the city.
🚍 Modern buses are available for inner city transport and cover much larger areas than the metro.
I’m not sure about inter city transport, as I stayed with someone who has a car.
Roads – πŸ›£πŸ›£πŸ›£πŸ›£πŸ›£
All the roads in the 3 Emirates I visited looked shiny and new.
Scenery – πŸœπŸ’πŸœβ›°πŸœ
Desert and buildings are all you can see in the city areas, but when heading towards Oman, you pass through a range of treeless desert mountains, which have their own very unique beauty.
Prices – πŸ’°πŸ’°πŸ’°πŸ’°
As a very developed country, the UAE can be very expensive, but at the same time, there are many reasonably priced items to be found in the area.
Border efficiency – πŸ›ƒπŸ›ƒπŸ›ƒ
Airport immigration is much quicker than it used to be, but it seems that officers enjoy delaying people at the land borders.
Overall – πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘

Things to Know About Travel in Africa

K in Motion Travel Blog. 6 Things To Know About Travel in Africa

Amazing Africa
Overall, Africa has provided an amazing set of experiences that will stick with me forever. It can obliterate your faith in humanity one minute, then transport you into a euphoric state that restores all faith the next minute. It is a lesson in the best and worst of what humanity has to offer. It will give you a new found love for all that you have back home, while making you envious of locals for their simple, no stress kind of lifestyles. It is a land of beautiful contradictions that is well worth seeing for yourself!

Africa Time
One thing to keep in mind is that time is a different concept on the African continent. While people in other places are watching the clock and busily rushing around to get through their never-ending lists of things to do, Africans are ignoring clocks and taking it easy. This means that Africans always have time to chat and connect with people. You can see this in communities, where everyone greets everyone they pass in the street and everyone in the community looks out for each other.

The lack of regard for time creates a situation that most from outside the continent might not be used to; excessive waiting. While schedules do exist in North Africa, they’re rarely adhered to. In West Africa, schedules are almost non-existent and most forms of intercity transport require a wait. It could be an hour, it could be a day, but however long it is, it’s a great opportunity to talk to some locals. You can guarantee they will be eager to talk to you!

Animals
You will see a lot of animals roaming around African towns that you just won’t see in any other places. Goats are like the dogs of Africa. Many people have them as pets and many are strays that just wander around looking for food. Cows can also be common in more remote areas and you can guarantee that they’ll want to cross the road at the exact moment that your car enters their area. But you won’t mind, because you’ll be on Africa time.

K in Motion Travel Blog. 6 Things To Know About Travel in Africa. Border Goat K in Motion Travel Blog. 6 Things To Know About Travel in Africa. Cows

In Northern Africa, you may see a few donkeys being used as beasts of burden, while a few West African countries have some boars wandering around. Strangely enough, these animals seem to have a bit of road sense and tend to not randomly run onto roads. They also tend to be fairly docile and will barely take any notice of people walking near them, so they don’t pose any safety risks.

Transport

K in Motion Travel Blog. 6 Things To Know About Travel in Africa. Intercity Van
Inter city van

Buses, vans, shared taxis and mototaxis are available to take you where ever you want to go at almost any time of the day or night. Each type of transport has its own pros and cons. Buses are by far the most comfortable mode of transport but are generally not available for long distance travel in all but a few countries. Vans and shared taxis are the most common forms of transport for longer distances throughout West Africa. They can be quite cheap, but they can also be quite uncomfortable!

K in Motion Travel Blog. 6 Things To Know About Travel in Africa. Intercity Taxi
Intercity taxi

While in buses, you would have your own seat, in vans and shared taxis you would be sharing seats. For example, a small hatchback style car would have 6 people, not including the driver, squeezed in; 2 in the front seat and 4 in the back. A larger wagon style car would carry 7 people; 1 in the front, 3 in the back seat and 3 in another added seat behind that. A Landcruiser would have 10 people crammed in; 2 in the front, 4 in the back, then another 4 on bench seats in the luggage area. Depending on the country, a 12 seater van may have anywhere from 12 to 32 people inside, plus the ticket guy riding along on the back.

K in Motion Travel Blog. 6 Things To Know About Travel in Africa. City Taxi
City taxi

Mototaxis are normally the most prevalent form of transport through borders as you go deeper into West Africa. Sometimes border roads are so bad that they are essentially impassable for cars, or at least that’s what the Mototaxi drivers will tell you. Sometimes the lack of cars in the area and the condition of the road kind of backs up what they’re saying.

K in Motion Travel Blog. 6 Things To Know About Travel in Africa. Mototaxis
Mototaxis waiting for you

There is a fourth mode of transport that appears to only exist in Sierra Leone and Liberia, called Keke or Kekeh. It is essentially the African version of the Tuk Tuk and is generally the cheapest way to get around cities, as drivers will charge a per person rate, as opposed to a flat hire rate.

K in Motion Travel Blog. 6 Things To Know About Travel in Africa. Sierra Leone Keke
Sierra Leone Keke

Safety
With over-sensationalised media reports and travel warnings issued by many countries, it can be hard to know whether travelling in Africa is safe or not. Personally, from a safety point of view, I don’t think travelling in Africa is different from travelling in any other place. There are problems everywhere and it always helps to be mindful of your surroundings wherever you are.

Let’s talk about travel warnings for a bit. Obviously, governments think they are issuing these in the interests of their peoples’ safety, but often they are issued based on outdated and/or exaggerated information. This tends to create fear and worry, which leads to needless itinerary changes. Also, the people issuing the warnings have probably never been to the countries they post the warnings for. You wouldn’t want to learn a language from someone who doesn’t speak that language, so why take travel advice from someone who hasn’t travelled?

Of the 13 African countries I travelled to on my recent trip, 9 had current ‘exercise a high degree of caution’ warnings, with one of those having a ‘reconsider the need to travel’ warning. The last one, incidentally, turned out to be the most amazingly friendly country where I never felt anything but completely safe. I also managed to pass through the rest of the countries with no incident. Do your own research and contact locals in the places you intend to visit; they are in a much better position to tell you what it’s really like. They will probably show you some awesome African hospitality when you arrive too!

Even if you’re travelling alone, you’re never alone in Africa. Almost every car ride or outdoor walk produces new friendships, which will endure long after you’ve returned home. Locals will help you out of the goodness of their hearts, to make sure you’re safe and don’t get ripped off by people who just see a walking dollar sign instead of a person. These same kind-hearted souls will call you weeks or months later just to check that you are okay. Perhaps the biggest lesson I learned from travelling through West Africa was that when the focus isn’t on money, humanity prevails. On the flip side of that, when money is the focus, corruption prevails.

Corruption
Parts of Africa are almost infamous for their corruption, but the corruption presents itself to visitors in different ways, depending on the country. It can range from a light-hearted, cheeky attempt to convince you that you need to pay for an entry stamp, to out-right extortion where a passport is held until money changes hands. Of course, corruption can run much deeper than what takes place at borders.

K in Motion Travel Blog. 6 Things To Know About Travel in Africa. Anti-Corruption Sign

Sometimes the level of corruption in a country’s government is painfully evident in the lack of infrastructure and services within its cities. Other times, roadblocks are set up for the express purpose of pocketing other peoples money. It can be extremely disheartening, but be thankful you only have to deal with it for a short time; some Africans have to deal with it their whole lives.

Languages
Most of the countries in the North and West Africa regions were colonised by the French and therefore mainly speak French. Arabic is also widely spoken in the Northern region, but as you move into the Western region, you’ll begin to hear a variety of local languages, sometimes several within one country. Locals from different language groups in the same country will often use French as their medium for communication.

It would most definitely be advantageous to have some knowledge of French when traversing these countries, but that’s not to say that it’s impossible to make it through without. Just be prepared for a little more frustration than usual, but it’ll help you find new ways to communicate without words. There are English speakers here and there, so you could get lucky.

Accommodation

K in Motion Travel Blog. 6 Things To Know About Travel in Africa. Outdoor Amenities
Outdoor Amenities

I stayed with locals for my entire trip, so I can’t comment on the condition and price of hotels in West Africa. Most locals live in very simple houses with no running water, so bucket showers and non-flushing outdoor toilets were very common. Some places even had outdoor amenities without roofs, where you could shower under the sky.

K in Motion Travel Blog. 6 Things To Know About Travel in Africa. More Outdoor Amenities
More outdoor amenities

Just For Fun
Now, just for a laugh, I’ll leave you with my version of the Africa song and some trip stats –

I hear the taxi beeps tonight
Along with people hissing to get my attention
It doesn’t matter if it’s right
Kids keep stretching out their hands for a donation
A young man stopped me along the way
Saying welcome to my country, please take my phone number
Here, time moves in a different way
There’s no hurry, let’s just wait a while

Border officers try to bribe you on the way through
Sellers of water and peanuts will gather around you
And then it rains down in Gambia
Taking away all the power and the internet

The wild goats wander ’round at night
Taunting the tied up donkeys longing for some company
That’s when the time is just right
For friends to gather in the dark for BBQs or tea on a rooftop
Outside it’s cooler than inside
And everyone’s always glad you’re there

Border officers give their phone numbers to you
Transport is squeezy and some roads are atrocious too
But then it’s calm down in Cote d’Ivoire
Sit back, relax and enjoy your tea

African Trip Stats
50,000 goats
11,000 kilometres in 235 hours (averaging 49.8km/h)
60 days
50 bucket showers
28 cars/vans in 11 countries (6300km, 100h)
13 countries
15 motorbikes in 6 countries (280km, 4h)
11 buses in 4 countries (1550km, 30h)
8 coaches in 2 countries (2830km, 45h)
3 trains (740km, 16h)
3 car carrying ferries
1 regret; not finding Wakanda.

K in Motion Travel Blog. 6 Things To Know About Travel in Africa. Travel Map
Look at all those pins!

Kenya

Jambo!
My host, who was also a pastor running an orphanage in a low socio-economic suburb of Nairobi, was waiting at the airport for me. Unfortunately, I had walked straight past him without noticing and couldn’t connect to the WiFi to find out where he was. It wasn’t long before a helpful local gave me his phone to call my host, who actually happened to be standing right near me the whole time.

I realised rather quickly that I was a world away from West Africa. East Africa had it’s own kinda vibe going on! While walking to the car from the terminal, I was greeted many times with ‘Jambo’, the Swahili word for hello. As I was hungry, we went into the city to get some food. The roads on the way in all looked immaculate and I was interested to see that Kenyans drove on the left hand side of the road. My host told me it was because they were once a British colony, but the 2 ex British colonies I’d passed through in West Africa had switched to driving on the right hand side in the 1970s.

The city looked very vibrant and the faint buzz of distant music from unseen nightclubs could be heard. On the short walk from the car to the food place, I was accosted by at least 3 kids trying to get money from me. My host jumped into action and tried to shoo them away from me. Once safely inside the food place, I was delighted to find that it wasn’t much more expensive than similar places in West Africa. As a major tourist destination, I had expected Nairobi to be much more expensive.

Outside the orphanage

With my hunger satisfied, I made my way to the orphanage, where all was quiet, as it was fairly late by the time I finally got there. When I woke up in the morning, the older orphans were going about their chores, while some of the younger orphans were equal amounts of curious about and cautious of me. One little girl was watching me from behind a door when I wasn’t looking. She would duck behind the frame when I looked her way, then peer out again when she thought I wasn’t looking. This became a little game that we played while I sat down for tea with the family.

Like many places in Africa, Kenya loves tea. It’s as much a drink as it is a ritual. It seems the family that runs the orphanage couldn’t start their day until they’d sat down together for their morning tea session. I was invited to join them and was surprised to find that they added milk to their tea. While Kenyan tea is nice, it’s a bit weaker than in other places, so I was happy with just one cup.

Playing Football

While waiting for a second pastor, Peter to arrive, I went outside to mingle with the kids. Perhaps they had been told it was how they should greet foreigners, but they seemed to love shaking hands, which was infinitely adorable. Even my little friend from earlier had offered her hand, when she saw other kids doing it. When Peter arrived, he guided me to the area where I could catch a Matatu, or local bus. I was told he would also accompany me to the Nairobi National Park, to make sure I got there safely.

Getting Around
As in many other places in Africa, there seems to be a kind of zone system in place, where buses can only travel a certain distance. This meant that I had to change buses 3 times to get to the vicinity of the national park. At the second change, Peter advised me that the church had only given him 200KES (€1.7) for transport. Each Matatu costs about 30-40KES, so taking me all the way to the park would’ve meant that he might not have been able to get home later. I didn’t want him to be stranded, so I indicated that he should continue on to his university and I could make my own way from there.

Inside a Matatu

Matatu Music

Kenyans love their music loud, no matter what time of day it is, even when taking public transport. Stepping into a Matatu is like stepping into a moving nightclub. Not only was the music pumping, but there were also disco lights flashing and videos playing. I was able to get a Matatu to drop me off within a 10 minute walk of the park entrance, where warthogs and children have right of way.

Park Entrance

Hakuna Matata
Earlier in the day, my host had tried to explain the meaning of Hakuna Matata, to which I had replied, “It means no worries, for the rest of your days”, in song, of course! He seemed genuinely shocked that I knew what it meant. See, movies can teach you stuff! Jokes aside, it definitely seems to be the Kenyan mantra. Not one person I encountered was worried or stressed about anything. Everyone was always available and eager for a chat. Even just buying an entry ticket could lead to an in-depth conversation.

National Park Entry Ticket

After spending a fair amount of time chatting to the woman who had greeted me in front of the ticket booth, the staff graciously allowed me to leave my pack in their office so I could do the ‘Safari Walk’ unencumbered. I was also assigned my own personal guide, Martha who was very friendly and full of information. She took me around the circuit once, then said I was free to do the circuit again on my own time. In between the different animal zones, Martha was only too glad to provide insights into life in Nairobi.

Safari Walk
The Safari Walk involved following a more or less circular path with smaller paths coming off it that lead to areas where you could view animals roaming around. Or in the case of the lions, you could barely catch a glimpse of them resting as far away from the viewing area as possible. Some animals were more curious than others, especially the rhino who pretty much walked from the other side of her zone, to the fence near where I was standing, just to see what was going on.

Curious Rhino

Although there were people around, the place was not at all crowded. That allowed me to spend a bit of time alone in each area, to give the hiding animals a chance to show themselves. In the Cheetah zone, the mother was hiding off in the far corner and the young ones were in another area only accessible to staff. I gave up on the mother coming closer and started moving on, when one of the staff stopped me and asked if I was scared of cats. I wondered why he’d asked, until he offered a special close up encounter, just for me, (of course!) which was supposed to be super secret. So shh!

Cool Cat

The young cat seemed to not care that I was standing right near him, but I guess that’s what happens when a wild animal is raised with humans around. On my final walk around, the hippo that had been hiding when I first passed, was now comically trying to drink water from a pipe. The poor thing seemed to be struggling to get it’s head in the right place to allow the water running from the pipe to flow into his mouth.

Thirsty Hippo

Super Supportive Staff
When Martha had guided me through the walk on my first time around the circuit, I’d told her I planned to walk the 6 or so kilometres to the main road where I could get a Matatu to the airport. By the time I got back to the entry/exit area, Martha had relayed that information to another staff member, who knew the Matatu system much better than I did. She advised me that I could get a Matatu from the road just outside the park, which would take me to the main road. She then explained in detail, where the Mutatu ‘station’ was in relation to where I would get dropped off and wrote everything down for me when I said I wasn’t sure if I could remember it all. What a lovely lady!

Matatu Instructions

With the hour that the kind lady had saved me, I decided to check out some more of the park. I was thinking about going to the animal orphanage, but I wanted to ask the gate attendant some questions first. The attendant happily answered my questions, then proceeded to spend the next hour talking to me about my trip, in between checking tickets, of course! The overall atmosphere of the place was amazingly relaxed and the ‘no worries’ attitude was definitely rubbing off on me, so much so that I lost track of time and almost left too late to make my flight.

Time to Go
Sadly, the time to depart had arrived, so I made my way to the disco bus, I mean Matatu stop. The bus was already at the stop and luckily the driver waited for me to cross the road so I could get on it. A short walk from where that Matatu dropped me off, I found the Matatu station, which was actually just a whole pile of Matatu’s parked on the side of the road.

Matatu Station

Different buses seemed to have different prices, so I just hopped in the cheapest one, but as the driver was nowhere in sight, I had to wait a while. A group of young guys noticed I was in the bus by myself and decided to come over and talk to me. They then hilariously tried to convince me that I needed a strong African man in my life. It was even more amusing that they were super disappointed when I wouldn’t give any of them my number.

Toll plaza with pedestrian security check

As I could see the airport area approaching, I realised the reason this Matatu was cheaper than the others; its drop off point was on the highway, about a 10 minute walk from the airport area. On the walk I passed through the airport toll plaza, where they had a special security checkpoint set up for pedestrian traffic. I guess a lot of people alight at the highway exit, as I did.

By the time I got to the airport, I still had an hour before my flight departed, but there was a huge line of people just trying to get into the airport to check in. As I’d already checked in and had a boarding pass, the kind security officer let me jump the queue, allowing me to get to the gate with plenty of time to watch the sunset on both Nairobi and my African adventure. I’ll be back Kenya!

Sunset over the ‘Pride of Africa’

πŸ‡°πŸ‡ͺNairobi SummaryπŸ‡°πŸ‡ͺ
In a few words – Hakuna Matata
Language – English and Swahili
Currency – Kenyan Shilling (KES)
WiFi availability – πŸ“ΆπŸ“ΆπŸ“Ά
When I was looking for it, I was able to find WiFi quite easily, but sometimes had problems connecting.
Transport – πŸš—πŸš—πŸš—πŸš—πŸš—
🚍 Mutatus, or disco buses, are available everywhere in the city area and run frequently. At 30-50 KES (€0.26-0.43) per ride, they are also very inexpensive.
Roads – πŸ›£πŸ›£πŸ›£πŸ›£πŸ›£
The roads in Nairobi were pretty amazing.
Scenery – πŸŒ³β›°πŸžπŸ–πŸŒ³
Nairobi has a variety of different landscapes, from grasslands to jungles.
Prices – πŸ’°πŸ’°
Great for the budget conscious traveller.
Checkpoints
I didn’t encounter any checkpoints in Nairobi.
Border efficiency – πŸ›ƒπŸ›ƒπŸ›ƒπŸ›ƒ
Despite not having a record of my pre-purchased evisa when I entered the country, immigration officers were polite and chased up my visa details with only a short delay. Exiting was a breeze.
Corruption level – No coruption was evident
Overall – πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘

Benin

Border Bribes
After walking a short distance from the Togo immigration area, I got back on my friend Taotao’s bike and we rode to the Benin side. Taotao came into the immigration area with me and acted as the liaison between myself and the officers. He told them that I was just transitting through, as I already had a flight out booked. We were ushered into an office where a guy, let’s call him Mr Wants-money-for-nothing, advised us that he would issue me with an 8 day transit visa for 30,000CFA (€45). All the information I’d received beforehand had indicated that the visa was only 10,000CFA (€15).

Mr Wants-money-for-nothing then offered another alternative. He would give me the 10,000CFA visa, but I would have to pay him another 10,000CFA on top of that. Taotao negotiated him down to 5000CFA, which is still half the price of the transit visa, but I feel I lose a little bit of integrity each time I’m forced to play this corruption game. I couldn’t have been happier that this was the last country I’d have to do that in.

Although I’d gotten off to a good start and had managed to avoid having to pay corrupt people until about halfway through West Africa, the last 3 countries really screwed me over on that front. In the end, I was forced to take part in just as much corruption as I’d managed to avoid, for a final score of –
Kez = 4; African border corruption = 4.

Cruising to Cotonou
I was out of the immigration area in less than 10 minutes, then Taotao took me a little bit further up the road and found a car to take me to Cotonou, for 2000CFA (€3). After saying our goodbyes, Taotao headed back to Togo and I got in the car. There were only 2 other people in the car at that point, but the car didn’t stop to wait for more people, so I was relieved that for the first time in Africa, I wasn’t going to be squeezed in.

Unfortunately, that relief wasn’t very long lasting as we picked up 2 more people 20 minutes later. Well, the extra space was nice while it lasted. They had decided to bring along a live chicken and a live goat with them. They just put the animals in the back with the luggage, which seemed a little cruel, but I guess the trip was only going to take an hour. Apparently, the goat agreed with me as it spent a lot of the ride making made some awful sounds that I didn’t know goats could make. At some points, it sounded so much like a baby crying that I had to look back and check that they hadn’t put a baby in there.

The car dropped me off on the side of the major arterial road through Cotonou, just in time for the sunset. The driver kindly called my host, Coffi and I waited for him to pick me up. As the area I’d been left in was a major drop off area for intercity cars, about 50 motorbike taxis offered me lifts. It’s easy to tell the motorbike taxis from normal motorbikes, because all the taxis wear bright yellow vests, to indicate they’re for hire. This definitely makes things easier for people who don’t know the city.

Cotonou at sunset

Cool, Calm and Chatty in Cotonou
For the first time ever, I was presented with a fairly unique problem. When I woke up in the morning, it was raining. The rain itself wasn’t the issue, but my hosts place only had an outdoor shower with no roof. While showering in the rain seems like a novel idea that I wouldn’t have any problem with, the issue would come when trying to get dry! I decided the best idea was to wait out the rain.

Open air shower

That was fine, because it gave me a chance to chat with Coffi and his family. His English wasn’t very good, so we did have some difficulties understanding each other, but he was always smiley and willing to try. I think he really enjoyed having someone from outside of Africa to share things with. His family were also absolutely adorable and helpful. Coffi’s two younger sisters happily cooked breakfast for me each morning and were always busy doing things around the house.

My Benin family

I’d asked a few people living in Cotonou where all the fun places were and what were the best things to see. Every reply seemed to indicate that there was nothing to do except see the beach. Luckily, I wasn’t staying far from the beach, so Coffi and I went for a walk along the beach, where we saw some of the local small fishing boats and a stage being set up for the Urban Vibes Festival that was soon to take place there.

Beached fishing boat

As it appeared that I had now seen all there was to see in Cotonou, I decided to head to the nearest WiFi depository and relax while catching up on the real world that I’d been almost completely detached from for the last few months. The only area in the whole city that really offered WiFi was near the airport, which was also close to where I was staying.

The suburbs

The airport area had a completely different look to the rest of the city. I’d speculate that the reason for the difference was all about keeping up appearances. As most visitors that enter the city would do so via the airport, they clearly wanted to give the best first impression they possibly could. I’d encountered mainly dusty roads in the rest of the city, but this area had nice, new sealed roads lined with trees, as well as manicured gardens on roundabouts and median strips.

Near the airport

While walking through the airport area, I did come across a few things that I found rather strange. Firstly, the drainage system on the shiny new airport road seemed to consist of concrete pavement that had people size, square holes at regular intervals along it. This meant that any pedestrians had to weave from the pavement to the road and back again several times. Secondly, there was a very old disused plane, with a Benin flag on the tail, that was falling apart, within the airport area. Definitely not a shining example of Benin aviation.

People size pavement hole and disused plane

To get my WiFi fix, I ended up at the hotel across the road from the airport, where the staff were super friendly and the food was surprisingly cheap, as long as you stayed away from the buffet. The staff pretty much let me sit there the whole day after ordering only 1 meal. There wasn’t really anyone else there, so I guess there was no need to move me on.

Random roundabout artwork near the hotel

While at the hotel, some locals came to visit me for a chat. The first one was an interesting local man named Solomon. It turns out that he had lived in Istanbul and knew one of my friends who had also once lived there. We chatted for a while, mainly about how divisive different religions are. He had some very strong opinions on this! After he left, a friend of someone I’d met in Ghana came to see me with his friend. My Ghanaian friend had apparently spoken so highly of me that they just had to meet me. We had a nice chat before parting ways.

I had heard from a few people that there was a huge mall in Cotonou, but I found out that this ‘huge mall’ was in fact just a small complex consisting of about 10 shops which included one huge supermarket. I wouldn’t have even noticed it was there if I hadn’t recognised the name ‘Erevan’ which was the name of the supermarket in the complex. It is quite interesting to see what qualifies as a ‘mall’ in different West African countries.

Leaving West Africa
After spending the last 2 months traversing nearly 12,000km by road through 14 countries, I was glad to finally be travelling on a plane! The Cotonou Airport was a lot smaller than I expected it to be. In fact, there was only 1 duty-free shop past the immigration area and one gate after the security check. Luckily I had some snacks and had managed to get through security with a half-full bottle of water.

The whole secured area at Cotonou airport

Before I got to the secured area, West Africa had one more obstacle to throw my way. A narcotics search by a particularly rude, un-uniformed officer who didn’t bother to introduce himself or what he was doing. Obviously bored with his life, he decided to practice his English by picking on the only foreigner in the airport. Awesome. At least he didn’t want any money and let me go as soon as he realised that my bag contained exactly what I’d told him it contained, clothes. With a sigh of relief, I was glad to say, “Bye bye, West Africa!”

East Africa awaits

πŸ‡§πŸ‡―Benin SummaryπŸ‡§πŸ‡―
In a few words – nothing to see here
Language – French and local languages
Currency – West African Franc (CFA)
WiFi availability – πŸ“ΆπŸ“Ά
The area around the airport seemed to be the only place where WiFi was available.
Transport – πŸš—πŸš—πŸš—πŸš—
🏍 Bikes seem to be the popular transport option and the high visibility yellow vests that the mototaxi drivers wear makes them easily recognisable.
🚘 Shared taxis are also readily available and seem to be a little less squeezy and in slighty better condition than their counterparts throughout West Africa.
Roads – πŸ›£πŸ›£πŸ›£πŸ›£
It appears that despite some pretty obvious corruption, Benin has fairly decent roads and infrastructure.
Scenery – πŸŒ³πŸ–πŸœπŸ–πŸœ
Benin is pretty much just beaches and dust with the occasional tree.
Prices – πŸ’°
Benin is great on a budget. Street food is relatively cheap and even meals from the airport hotel are reasonably priced.
Checkpoints – I didn’t encounter any checkpoints in Benin.
Border efficiency – πŸ›ƒπŸ›ƒπŸ›ƒ
There were little to no queues and immigration formalities were completed within 15 minutes on both entry and exit, including bribery negotiations.
Corruption level – ⚠⚠⚠⚠
Border corruption was clearly a thing!
Overall – πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘

Togo

The Road to Lome
After a short few minutes on a bike from the Ghana side, I reached the Togo side of the Wli border. There was no power in the small room where the immigration formalities were to take place, so the officer was checking my passport by torchlight. Once they realised there was no visa in my passport, because I was expecting to get a visa on arrival, they said they couldn’t issue the visa on arrival at that time, but the bigger border a little way down the road could help me.

Another officer came out from a room behind where we were and the 2 officers spoke to each other in French for a bit. I presume they were discussing the situation because they eventually told me that they would give me permission to enter Togo and I could get the visa in Lome. Well, that was totally unexpected! I’d never heard of anything like that happening before, but was glad that it did, as it saved me some back-tracking.

I then got back on the bike again to climb up a windy, broken up road. I’m sure there would’ve been a lovely view had my trip been during daylight hours. The hill seemed to go on forever, but that could’ve been because it was completely dark and there was nothing more interesting to focus on. I was so glad when the road finally started leveling off because after that point, it was all downhill and I was able to catch glimpses of the lights from far off towns through the trees. I’m not sure exactly how long it took to get the 25 kilometres to Adeta, but it was probably about 40 minutes.

Once in Adeta, the motorbike guy found me a van to Lome that was ready to go, for 1500CFA, (€2.3). That was incidentally the same price that my Ghanaian friend George had told me to pay for the motorbike. The motorbike guy had either forgotten the set price, or thought that he could get more money out of me, so let’s just say there was some banter back and forth about the amount I would pay. The van driver ended up moderating and getting the motorbike rider to agree to the set price, because he wanted to leave.

The van didn’t look too bad from the outside. It was loaded up with stuff, so there was only room for 4 people. The driver didn’t speak too much English, but he was very nice and kept checking if I wanted anything. Once the van started moving, it became obvious that this trip was going to take a long time as the van struggled to gain speed. It seemed that the highest speed it could manage was about 60km/h. Mind you that’s an estimate based on my offline map app, because none of the meters on the dash of the van worked. It’s a good bet that the van wasn’t very mechanically sound, but hey, it’s Africa, so that sounds about normal! I’m not sure if the slow speed was because of all the weight or the mechanical problems. It was probably a bit of both, to be honest. Luckily, Lome was only 140km away, so it took just under 3 hours to get there.

Once I got to Lome, I had to take 2 bikes to get to Tsevie, the town where I was staying, which was 35km from Lome. Of course they charged extra because it was night time. The price during the day would’ve been 500CFA (€0.8), but they were trying to charge 2000CFA (€3). I found a guy who was willing to take me for 800CFA (€1.2) because he was going that way anyway. So about 40 minutes and 2 almost swallowed bugs later, I finally made to it Tsevie and met my host Anoumou. We stayed in his office for the night, where he repaired and sold electrical goods, because it was quite late by the time I got in.

Tsevie

Main Roundabout in Tsevie

Tsevie, pronounced kind of like che-vee, was quite a small town. It had only one sealed road, which was the main road through the town. All other roads in the town were dirt roads that seemed to be arranged in perfect grids. Many places, including my host’s place, had outdoor amenities including long drop toilets and open-air showers with only walls, but no roof.

Tsevie’s only traffic light

In the morning, Anoumou woke me up at about 6:30 to walk to the family home to meet everyone. We sat around in a sheltered outdoor area in the front yard of the property and chatted about many things. They were very interested to know more about what I’d seen and done on my travels through Western Africa and what my thoughts were on the place. As Anoumou was busy with work, his older brother Edem was tasked with taking me around.

Edem gave me a bit of a history lesson on the area, which included a chalk representation of a map of the area. Historically, Togo was a much bigger state, but a huge division of the western part was ceded to the Dutch during the second world war, then eventually taken over by Ghana years later. This is why Togo is now only around 100km wide. He also bestowed an African name upon me, which was somehow worked out from my day of birth and gender. You may all now call me Akou.

History lesson

Getting The Visa
We made our way to the police station, where another adventure in corruption began. I was a bit taken aback by this, because my initial impression of Togo had made me think it was less corrupt than it’s neighbour to the west.

Firstly, they charged 500CFA (€0.8) for a badly copied fiche, or information form. The form was stamped with the date, so it couldn’t be copied and used on another day. If you made a mistake on the form, or if they weren’t happy with how you’d filled it out, they’d make you pay for another. Then after lining up for an hour, they said they wouldn’t accept the application because it was almost their break time. They told us to return at 14:30. It was only 11:30.

After getting some WiFi and something to eat at a nearby hotel, we returned before 14:30 to a line outside the complex, which of course meant more waiting inside. An officer finally came out and took us to an office upstairs, but when he knocked on the door there was no one there, so he took us back outside to wait.

The visa was only 10,000CFA (€15), but they wanted to charge me a penalty (ie: bribe) of 100,000CFA (€150) on top of that. I think I almost had a heart attack when that figure came up. There was no way in hell I was paying a bribe that was 10 times more than the cost of the visa!

Let’s be corrupt under the ‘Stop Corruption’ sign!

The first officer, who had informed us of the price, wouldn’t budge and said we had to go see the guy issuing the visa and negotiate with him. We somehow got him down to 20,000CFA (€30), which was still way too much! The problem was, they had my passport and weren’t going to give it back until I paid them something, so I was once again forced to participate in African bribe culture. It was demoralising.

The price of corruption in Togo

Once the negotiation was over, despite the fact that he had my passport right in front of him, the officer told us to come back at 10am the next day, because it wasn’t like they’d already wasted enough of my time. It was 4pm by that point and we’d gotten there at 10am. On the way out, the first officer inquired about the outcome of the negotiation. When told, he said, “We’re too nice to you”. Hmm, I would’ve used other words.
Kez = 4, African Corruption = 3

With the closing of another corruption ordeal, I was feeling relieved, but also very hungry. I met my friend Taotao, who bought along his rasta friend, at a restaurant across the road from the police station. Taotao had planned to take me to a local club, to listen to some local music and see how the natives spent their nights. I was looking very forward to this, until Edem decided that he couldn’t let me go off with someone else because I was his responsibility.

Taotao and friends

You could say that I was seriously annoyed by that. Nevermind that I’d travelled to 64 countries around the world, plus 13 countries in West Africa by myself. This dude that I’d only just met, had decided that I needed him to take care of me. I wish I could say it was the first time I’d encountered this attitude in Africa, but alas, it was not. It was the first time that it had affected my plans though.

Luckily, Taotao was very understanding about it and organised to meet me again the next day after I had picked up my passport. So when I woke up in the morning, I packed all my things up and made it clear to Edem that he should just drop me off at the police station and I would go my own way from there, as I didn’t want to miss out on seeing anything else because of someones misguided sense of duty.

The City and the Road to the Border
At the police station, I finally got my passport back after waiting an hour for who knows what. Once that was done, I met Taotao who then took me on a tour of the city, with a couple of stops at places I’d said I wouldn’t mind seeing. He also helped me find a small Togo flag from a roadside seller, who seemed to be the flag guy. He grabbed a bag from underneath a shelf and seemed to have flags in there from almost all of the surrounding countries and a couple of European countries. I’m guessing he was the main supplier for people wanting to show which team they were supporting for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

As the capital city, Lome is the largest city in Togo, but it’s also much smaller than the capital cities I’d passed through in other West African countries. The central district has a population of less than 1 million, which makes it feel a lot less crowded and congested than some other cities. This gives it an almost cosy feel.

Palm tree beach

It’s also a coastal city, so you can see the beach from quite a few places within it, but apparently the beach that is the most popular, is also not the easiest to access. That didn’t really present a problem for me as I knew I’d see a lot more beach on the way to the border because the road follows the coast.

More Beach

Taotao said that there wasn’t really too much of the stuff I wanted to see in the city, so we continued towards the border, again with a few stops on the way. The first stop was Lake Togo, which was not far from the coast. On the opposite side of the lake was a settlement called Togoville. Togoville relies heavily on fishing and trading. Small ferries regularly cross from there to the side that I was on. There must’ve been news that one of these ferries was due soon, as some men on my side had lined up some things near the shore for quick loading when the boat arrives.

Lake Togo

A short distance away on the coast side of the road was the UNESCO listed Maison Wood, or Wood House. Despite its delightful sounding name, the place was used for a sinister purpose; illegally trafficking slaves for almost 20 years around the mid 19th century. The house was not made of wood, but instead named after the slave trader who owned it and kept slaves in a cramped cellar underneath it while they awaited the journey to their new masters across the sea.

Wood’s Slave House

The third and final stop before the border was an area buzzing with activity. Just after a bridge, the river flowing underneath it went out to greet the nearby sea. Small local fishing boats sat docked in the calm water near the river bank, whilst people on the dock sold freshly caught fish from wicker baskets placed on small concrete pylons.

Resting fishing boats

Further along the pier, people sipped drinks under blue marquees at the waterside. Even with all the activity in the area, it seemed like a pretty peaceful and reflective place. It was interesting watching the ocean waves break at the mouth of the river. I honestly could’ve watched it all day, had the time being available to me.

The river and the sea

A short while later I was at the border, where I had to get off the bike and walk through so that my passport could be checked. Taotao said he would meet me behind the building to take me through to the Benin side. This immigration area was a little confusing, even though they had signs to indicate where to go, all the signs were in French. I walked to the closest window I could see, hoping that it was the right one.

I think the immigration guy went through and looked at every single stamped page in my passport, cause he seemed to take a while to stamp it. After receiving the stamp, I had to walk through another area, which I think is where they were checking people’s bags, but the man just waved me through. I found Taotao and got back on the bike for the short ride to the final West African country I would visit, for now.

πŸ‡ΉπŸ‡¬Togo Summary πŸ‡ΉπŸ‡¬
In a few words – wait me, I’m coming
Language – French and local languages
Currency – West African Franc (CFA)
WiFi availability – πŸ“ΆπŸ“ΆπŸ“Ά
It may require a short walk, but it is possible to find semi-decent WiFi.
Transport – πŸš—πŸš—πŸš—πŸš—
🏍 Bikes, bikes and more bikes! They were generally the locals’ transport choice.
🚘 Shared taxis were also quite prevalent, but were slighty more expensive than the mototaxis.
🚐 Minivans seemed to be exclusively available for intercity trips and were relatively cheap.
Roads – πŸ›£πŸ›£πŸ›£πŸ›£
Aside from the terrible road near the border, roads in Togo seemed to be fairly smooth and acceptably maintained.
Scenery – πŸŒ³β›°πŸžπŸ–πŸŒ³
Togo has mountains, waterfalls, trees, lakes, rivers meeting the sea, dusty towns and beaches. Something for everyone really.
Prices – πŸ’°πŸ’°
Great for the budget conscious traveller.
Checkpoints
I didn’t encounter any checkpoints in Togo.
Border efficiency – πŸ›ƒπŸ›ƒ
Despite the fact that there were no queues at either border I passed through, I spent about 30 minutes at each one while officers chatted and looked at my passport.
Corruption level – ⚠⚠⚠⚠
Although not at Guinea level, corruption is alive and well in Togo.
Overall – πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘