Western Africa

Western Africa

Morockin' the oases till I'm ghana!

I enjoy pretty much all types of travel, save for the all-inclusive variety and/or the staying-put kind.
But if I had to chose, the unexpected, the seldom trodded, the sparsely populated, the wilderness-y versions would be my top picks.
I have a feeling Western Africa can fulfill my curiousity in that regard, so....
I'm going to Western Africa!

Singe d'affaires

Warm-upPosted by Martin Wed, November 15, 2017 17:15:02

It was still pitch black when I got up. Not surprising, considering I was still in northern-ish Europe in November. But this was before four, even, meaning that I woke up around the same time as some of my roommates returned from the night out. Hauling my arse and my backpack to Victoria Station, I soon had upheld my part of the deal with Oasis: to be at Gatwick, baggage dropped and security checked, before the gate closed.

The flight to Gibraltar was uneventful, though longer than expected, until the time for descent. Gibraltar airport is considered one of the most difficult ones in the world. Only 1800 metres long, the runway is split in half by a traffic and pedestrian lane. The traffic is cut off when flights are about to land or take off, obvs, but still.

Soon the group that was going to be my family for the next week or ten converged.

Diverse in nationality, though not in gender, our male dominated pack clocked mostly in the 30-40 year span, with one or two exceptions on either side.

Parked a quick walk from the Gibraltarian border into the sunny Spain, was Nala, in all her yellowness. A Scania truck, converted into an overlanding vehicle, complete with cleverly hidden baggage space and complete camping and kitchen equipment, this was going to be our home for the next week or ten.

The first stop of the Western Africa adventure was therefore not Africa at all, but rather the British enclave of Gibraltar. A tax free paradise, the small town of some 30.000 citizens boasts fine shopping and nice eating at decent prices. Transport ships line up for the cheap fuel, and the marina is a popular stop for cruise ships and yachts entering or leaving the Mediterranean.

There's also a rock. The rock, in fact. Strategically important, the British have held the rock for ages, despite several attempts from the Spaniards. During the great siege, the Spanish attempted to scale the north side of the rock, where they were relatively protected from assault. The solution? Digging a tunnel through the mountain, of course! Cannons were placed at various places, and the tunnelling kept on going even after the siege was over.

The rock itself has many natural cave systems, the biggest of which is St George's cave. During the war, plans were made to use it as a hospital, but those were never put into play. Nowadays they use the spectacular stalactites and splendid stalagmites along with music and light shows to create concerts.

As the most iconic aspect of Gibraltar is The Rock, the most iconic aspect of The Rock is the monkeys. The only indigenous species of monkeys in mainland Europe, the rock apes (or barbary macaques, which is their real name, and a more fitting too; they're not apes at all, but monkeys*) populate the higher-up parts of the cliff, and they are, even by monkey standard, incredibly clever and evil. They are known to break into hotel rooms and steal wallets and purses, they can open car doors and are completely unafraid of humans.

It is said that as long as there are monkeys on the rock, Gibraltar will remain British. Naturally, Churchill took heed, and imported more monkeys, made laws for protecting them, and demanded that they should be properly fed, which they still are to this day.

This day ended eventually, though. Early to bed was probably a good idea, as it was still pitch black when I got up. Not surprising, considering I was still in Europe in November, albeit the southernmost part. But it was time to take down the tents in the dark, and finally catch the ferry to Africa!

Teehee, I said butt monkey....

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Warm-upPosted by Martin Mon, November 06, 2017 22:30:23

Finally I had my passport in my hand!

It’s a well-known fact, for those that know it well, that any trip, travel or odyssey in fact begins earlier than when one step outside from home and lock the door. Sometimes they do, but sometimes the preparation phase is just as much a part of the journey as the rest.

Visas are still a thing in many parts of the world, and Africa is one of them. During overlanding tours, most can be obtained en-route, but not so with Ghana. The visa has to be applied for in advance, and the embassy is not located in any of the two cities in which I dwell. I sent my application (including my passport) through recommended mail, but could not have it sent back that way. I could arrange for a courier (expensive as all that), I could pick it up in person, or I could pay the postage. Now, the Swedish/Danish postal service is, how shall I put it...? Abysmal? Room for improvement? Sarcastically laughable?

Either way, I do have the opportunity to work at the almost local office, one town (as well as one bridge, one tunnel and one border crossing) over. At lunch, after a train and bus journey, and a stroll through a rather posh neighbourhood, I entered the villa in which the embassy was housed. Five minutes later I had my passport, complete with Ghanian visa, in my hand. After all the emails and phone calls I had made without getting any answers, the casual approach to passport pickup was a bit of an anti climax.

That being said, the journey was officially on! Granted, I had a fair bit of packing to do, and a few more days of work, but eventually I sat there, with an ale and a few good friends, at my traditional beer hall, for the as traditional farewell beers.

As chance would have it, one of the friends who weren't there, was actually home packing for the very same flight as me early next morning. As such, we could decrease our carbon footprint by carpooling to the airport.

A sad farewell, a not as sad farewell and I was on my way, to what could be construed as a layover. London is not only an airport hub, but also a town worth visiting in its own right. I have been there before, a couple of times, and I didn't feel the need to go touristing. I did, however, feel the need for catching up with friends, and so I did. When I'm in London, I have curry, and that's the way the cookie crumbles.

Whether a layover, a change of flights, or an integral part of the trip, by now, there could be no debate on whether the journey was afoot. It was, and bon voyage, moi!

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