Pointe Noire

Friday 27 August 2010

About a week ago, Joe and I departed for Pointe Noire in the Republic of Congo (not to be confused with the Democratic Republic of Congo which is often in the news.)  In order for Joe to get his residence card he had to leave the country and re-enter through Libreville customs.  This could have been a quick trip except you also need a Visa to enter Congo so when we arrived we surrendered our passports for several days to obtain that Visa.  Confusing, I know.

Pointe Noire is a city of about a million people.  It is similar to Port Gentil in that it is a French-speaking community on the ocean.  Being a bigger city also means the problems are bigger.  The city is busy.  There’s definitely more traffic, garbage, beggars, but also more restaurants and shops.

We stayed at a small hotel in the centre of town, which was convenient, as we didn’t have a vehicle.  Every morning we walked to the The Grande, a small café, for breakfast.  They had the best fresh-pressed orange juice and the atmosphere reminded us of a café at home.  Afterwards, we’d walk… and walk… and walk.  As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, walking around here isn’t that easy.  In Pointe Noire we were dealing with walking through a foot of dirt on the side of the road with large trucks speeding by kicking it all up.  I actually even commented to Joe that I wish I had one of those masks my Dad wears in grain bins as I’m sure inhaling all of the dirt and dust would not be good for my lungs.

The train station is a bustling place.  We happened to walk by it on one of the days where it leaves for the capital city, Brazzaville.  There were hundreds and hundreds of people waiting outside, many of them with bags, boxes and random items on their heads.  People were not happy, there was a lot of yelling and cursing and it looked like there were several fights about to break out.  It was one of the only times where we felt like we were somewhere we probably shouldn’t be.  I imagine, emotions arose as people lined up and waited for hours for the train.  Let me tell you, that is one train I would not want to be on!  (Not to mention, there have been several train crashes and rebel hijackings in the recent past.)

The beach in the city is a lot more developed than in PG and it is also a lot dirtier.  The waves are quite big and there were people surfing.  There are also restaurants and places to stop and get drinks.  The picture below is from Twiga, a hotel and restaurant on the beach where we had lunch one day.  This was one of the nicest places; many of the others were not at all like this.

It is impossible to find any restaurant or shopping chains from home here.  There aren’t even any McDonalds so imagine my surprise when we stumbled upon this…

I didn’t even go in; we have many things to buy right now and sadly, shoes aren’t on the top of our list.

When all was said and done, we were anxious to return to PG.  We were surprised when the travel department told us we would be picked up 4 hours prior to our departure time but didn’t argue… good thing as the airport is nuts!  That was probably the worst airport experience of our lives.  We passed through 2 security checkpoints just to line up to check in.  The room to check in to all flights was packed with people and there weren’t any separate lines for the different flights.  The company that helps us with our travel didn’t even know how things were working.  We spent over an hour ‘in line’ and moved 2 feet only to be moved to another side, which apparently, just funneled into one line in the end anyways.  People were getting angry and yelling as there are a lot of people who butt in line and no one could really make sense of the system.

When we finally got checked in, we had to go through actual security, which was just as disorganized.  It was impossible to figure out what they wanted from us.  There was a table that stopped us and asked us if we had any money on us as apparently you aren’t supposed to take any of it out of the country.  This seemed ridiculous as they use the same currency in Gabon.  I lied and said I had nothing (I had about $60) and Joe lied and said he had nothing (he had about $200.)  They found about $3 on Joe and confiscated it but didn’t find anything else, thank goodness!  We found out later, they told Joe’s boss (who is French) that it was ok if we were going to Gabon but scammed Joe nonetheless.

After a few more security stops, we finally made it through and out on to the tarmac where there were probably half a dozen airplanes all in the same vicinity.  It was completely unclear as to what plane was for which flight and there weren’t those nice airport workers guiding you to your proper plane.  Luckily we made it on the right one.  It took about 3.5 hours to get through all of that for the 1-hour flight to Libreville.

Needless to say, Joe and I are very happy that we are living in Port Gentil.  It may have less restaurants, stores, and certainly no Aldo but it is a lot calmer, better beaches and the utter lack of security at PG’s airport is gladly taken over the craziness of Pointe Noire.

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