Saturday, September 28, 2019

Doha, you can't even imagine it.

So, here, we were ready to board once again to return back home after our journey. We could not leave Nigeria without anything that made me wonder.
We just passed the check-in and passport control when we reached the gate. However, there we had to go through another security check before entering the plane, which sometimes happens when the flight company does not trust the local screening completely.
I arrived at the counter, and the woman there started to open my carry-on baggage for prohibited items. Everything followed the routine when suddenly she glanced at me: "Do you have anything for me?"
In the beginning, I wasn't sure what she meant, or whether she was just joking, so I just replied that I didn't have anything.
She looked a bit disappointed and seriously: "aren't you, my friend?"
At that point I just thought you gotta be kidding me, bribing at the safety check at the airport? Really?
"No, I am not your friend," I replied firmly.
She checked thoroughly and sent me to the body scan, "well you can scan whatever you want, I am not going to get robbed this way."
Of course, this didn't cause anything more than just a delay to my boarding, but the least I can accept in this world is people trying to rob me.
This was just a little incident and didn't really mean any trouble. Yet it raised a few considerations about what is considered legit and what it is not from the personnel at the airport.

So here we were leaving Nigeria to reach our first stop of seven hours in Doha. The flight went smoothly, and at five o'clock in the morning, we reached the International airport in Doha.
Now the first impression:
You certainly are familiar with the heatwave that hits you when you open the oven to check on your food. The same heatwave hit us as we stepped out the plane. The engine was off, so it wasn't because of it. It was like entering a giant oven at 240 Celsius, barely breathable humid and hot.
I thought I knew about the heat after having experienced the Afar desert in Ethiopia... No, this was more... In Ethiopia at least it wasn't that humid, although the temperatures were much higher than in Doha (around 50 Celsius).
It was only five o'clock in the morning, and the temperatures reached already 30 Celsius!!
We reached the well air-conditioned inside the terminal with our great relief.
The first idea was that perhaps we could have had a tour of the city, but thinking twice we could also take a hotel room, have a shower, a good meal and maybe a tour of the city, before returning to the airport.
That was the best idea possible, and we had a hotel arranged within a couple of minutes. The efficiency of the country reflects on the way the general organization of the services.

Now I need to make a small introduction to Qatar. This little State of about 11.000 square kilometers is one of the wealthiest countries in the world. The funny thing is that 88% of the population are expats working there, the rest 12% is Qatari.
I cannot figure out yet a good reason to move and live in such an over, where, going for a walk is totally restricted to the night or early morning.
We tried to have a walk, and our stubbornness found an empty city, where only cars were moving around.

If you have followed the Olympics that is now going on in Doha, you might have heard horrifying stories about the heat, well, let me tell you, they are not exaggerating at all. That place is not fit for humans. Just like the Sahara desert, it is made for very specialized animals.
At least THIS human doesn't consider it as a place for herself. Although I crave the summer and the hot, there is a limit to it. My limit has been abundantly tested in Doha.
So glad to have returned home, where I am free to go wherever I want without fear of dying dehydrated LOL
I wish you, as usual, a great weekend. If you live in similar desertic countries, believe me, you have all my respect and sympathy.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Back to Nigeria

At this point, we were almost at the end of the journey, that brought us to travel by road through four different countries in West Africa.
It was again the time to discover something new, meet new people and getting in touch with heritages far from ours.
Traveling by road can be in some cases tiring, exhausting, and depending on the countries, dangerous, like crossing the border from Nigeria to Benin. Nevertheless, it gives the chance to see more and stop at different places that would be otherwise left unseen.
This time, we returned from Ghana to Nigeria by plane, and with a journey of about one hour, we finally were back to our starting point.
One thing that I wanted absolutely to see was the Lekki Conservation Park, for two main reasons. The first was to observe the local wildlife, and the second to experience the longest canopy walk in all Africa.
I wouldn't have missed the experience for anything in the world.
Yet we arrived in the late afternoon and our driver, who was supposed to bring us from the airport to the hotel, got lost several times.
We were wondering whether he knew where the hotel was, or whether the hotel was really existing.
He stopped about every twenty minutes, asking for directions.
Eventually, after three hours we were able to reach our hotel. It was already dark, so the best thing was looking for a restaurant and call that day off.
The morning after, we already knew it would have been a long day. Our flight was supposed to leave at 18:00, so we should have left the hotel at 15:30. Having eight hours at our availability was reasonable enough for a visit to the park.
The most frustrating experience was dealing with the staff of the hotel.
We chose that particular hotel because it was also recommended by trip advisor and, since our schedule was quite tight, we trusted that they could have helped us in arranging the trip. Nothing more wrong than that.
We reached the reception at about half past seven in the morning, asking the easiest route to reach the Lekki Conservation Park.
The receptionists glanced at us like we asked to have a guided tour to Mars. They had no idea what we were talking about, despite being a highly touristic place.
We showed them the place on the map, and they asked us to wait there as they were calling a taxi for us.
After about one hour, I went there:
"Did you called the taxi? we are a bit in a hurry as we need to leave here at 15:30 to the airport."
The receptionist, who asked us to wait as she called a taxi, replied.
"No, I haven't."
I wanted to explode, but instead, we left the hotel looking for a taxi on our own.
Here the old saying: if you want something done, do it yourself.
We were lucky enough to find a taxi driver who knew exactly what he was doing. He was a young man working for the army and at the same time earning some extra money, driving a taxi.
We reached the Park, paid the fee, and started the guided tour to the canopy walk:
The Center has been covered with wooden pathways that allow an easy walk around the swampy areas:

Monkeys seemed to be curious about us, and we loved them!

And finally, the canopy walk!

We had only one hour to be there, and as soon as we finished the walk, we asked the guide how much time it would have taken to return to the starting point.
"Oh, we are now going to the family park, and there we will chill out for a while..."
"No, no chillout!" I said with a smile, "Sorry but we need to reach the airport in about one hour, so we don't have time, just tell us the route to reach the center, and we will follow it."
The guide laughed and showed us the shortcut back and so we could reach the taxi driver who was waiting there at the entrance. 
IT was indeed a short tour, and I certainly recommend to spend more than a couple of hours in the Park. There are so many things to see and such a wonderful nature to experience that it would have been a pity to skip it totally.
With a smile on our faces, we left Africa to return back home.
However, we had also a seven hours stop in Doha, where we decided to have a look at the city. I will tell more about that experience next week.
Have a great weekend!

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Ghana, the Africa's golden child.

Africa is a rich and diverse continent, where you can find almost everything. Yet, some countries are plagued by corruption, wars, and exploitation.
My blogs are not generally aimed to advertise one or another place; I don't get money from travel agencies to sell a product. Rather, I would like to give an informative and, as accurate as possible, experience about this wonderful continent, full of marvels and contradictions.
After the days spent in Togo, it was the time to move forward with our travel plan and reach the next destination: Accra.
Ghana is well known for being a very rich country, famous for the cocoa plantations, wild honey, textiles and of course, gold.
The first impression we had about the city is that the infrastructures are more developed, which gives to the city a western image, still keeping the beautiful African identity. The beach is something you really want to indulge in, although it is quite far from the heart of the city, the place you want to visit to have a taste of Ghana's life.
When during the day, the beach is a place for great sunbath, surfing, and fun activities, during the night, the beach transforms itself and hashish and marijuana dominate over the scent of the sea.

We reached our hotel, which was located in a convenient area where also all the embassies had their sees.
Despite being also very close to the airport, we didn't get any troubles with the air traffic noise, as one might imagine. The city is very well kept and offers many interesting sights, one of which is the market in the center of the city. That is a place you need to see, as we got lost in the middle wondering where we should have gone to reach the main street. The only landmark we could find was the Sun and the knowledge that the beach was in the South-East direction. Merchants were shouting from their stands, music played all around, scents of grilled food, fish, spices filled the air. Although the place was crowded, it was one of the most interesting experience to walk around and witness the heart of the city beating with enchanting tunes.

The market doesn't have fixed boundaries, it can stretch for streets and squares and slowly its boundaries blend with the normal streets gradually fading away.
Nevertheless, the Market experience was something we kept as a one-day experience, as there were so many more places to visit and to see.
As we explored the city, we had to walk for quite long distances every day, however, we also needed sometimes to call for taxi drivers, and there you need to bargain as much as you can. The prices are not fixed, they are decided, depending on how the taxi driver feels on that day, or who is asking for a ride, (is it a woman or a man, is she/he young or old, is a foreigner or a local). That considered you might have a very expensive ride for a couple of minutes drive and a very cheap one for one hour drive. You need to bargain and be ready to have a nice walk if you think the price is getting out of control.
Another problem with taxi drivers is that they seem not to have any idea about their city. In many cases, we needed to navigate them to the places we needed to go, and I found it hilarious that we knew Accra's locations better than they did.

Walking the streets gives anyway the great chance to take nice pictures of the surrounding and of the wildlife, like the colony of fruit bats that lives happily within the city.

It is also interesting to see all the important sites like the presidential palace, which was quite close to our hotel and gave a nice view both during the day and night.

Together, of course with the Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum and memorial park, which is located in downtown Accra. It is dedicated to the prominent Ghanaian leader Kwame Nkrumah. The memorial complex was dedicated in 1992
and is situated on the site of the former British colonial polo grounds in Accra.

With that, I hope you have enjoyed this short tour of Accra. I will return next week with another pearl of Nigeria, where our loop journey ended with the visit to the Conservation Park. Don't miss it!

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Togo and the Voodoo heritage

After our stay in Benin, it was finally arrived the time to reach the next destination, Togo.
This was a place where we could find most of the answer to my questions about Voodoo. Together with that, I collected some material for a novel I am planning to write.
Undoubtedly voodoo, as a religion, was born in Benin, Yet, although it is still one of the main religions practiced in the country, it seemed more widespread in Togo. Perhaps it is because people in Benin seemed reticent in talking about it, or because it has been challenging to get any contact there. Whatever the reason is, in Togo, people seemed keener to talk about it and explain to us a little bit of the religious practices.
The first thing is that Voodoo is wrongly associated with black magic or with evil forces. This is absolutely a myth that needs to be debunked. Voodoo is about healing and evoking the spirits for good purposes. Whether for healing disease, ask for the end of a long period of drought, to maintain peace inside the family, the spirits and the Gods are summoned for good practices.
Voodoo is a way of life for many people in Togo and Benin. It consists of about 100 divinities, which essence governs the Earth governing the forces of nature and human society.
The divine creator is called Mawu and is a female being. It is believed to be an elderly woman who is gentle and forgiving. She owns all the other gods.
An interesting part of this journey was the visit to the MarchĂ© des FĂ©ticheurs in the Akodessawa district in Lome. It is said to be the largest fetish market in the world. Perhaps just because there aren't many competitors, a visitor might find it not as big as they figured out in their mind. Nevertheless there people find all the necessary for worshipping and also ingredients for traditional medicine.
According to what they told us, the dead animals in the market were found in the forest already dead. Some others were farm animals who have been used for the sacrifice (and then eaten with the community). Considering the relatively small amount of corpses that are allowed to dry, I might also think that this is not far from the truth.
Just like I always say, when traveling to other countries, and particularly when getting in touch with different heritages and religious practices, we need to unlearn and forget from where we come from. This allows us to look at them with fresh eyes.
Asking questions to get a more in-depth insight into the cultural heritage will help to understand.
So are you ready for a full immersion into the culture of Voodoo?
Good, follow me...

This young man was a practicing priest. Not everyone can become a priest, This is something that is transmitted through the family. Therefore only the sons of the priest can become one day priests themselves.

Now to the question, that might come to your mind, "did you buy anything?" The answer is, "Yes, I did, but mostly it included wooden masks and other artifacts."

Lome has lovely beaches, which could have great potential for tourism. Yet, they are not really well kept, and most of the places seemed to be something to avoid rather than something to enjoy. 

Nevertheless, the restaurants on the beach offer a great variety of food and I have to say, absolutely delicious. I just indulged myself in their local fish specialties, and I could not get really enough. It was a real pity knowing that we needed to leave the country after a few days. I would have remained just for the food for much longer.

I hope I didn't creep you out with this cultural insight. As for me, I felt extremely inspired for the novel I've started to write.

I wish you a great weekend!

The long road of writing a book.

Publishing a book is a journey on a rocky path that involves several stages, from writing and pre-editing to editing, formatting, selecting ...