About Gary Arndt

My name is Gary Arndt. In March 2007 I set out to travel around the world...
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Day 22, West Africa Cruise – Freetown, Sierra Leone

Latitude: 8° 14.4182’ N
Longitude: 13° 09.7768’ W

For the first time on the trip, we woke up in the same place we were the day before: Freetown, Sierra Leone.

We were supposed to be in Guinea-Bissau today, but for reasons only known to them, they would not let us land. So, to compensate for the extra day in the schedule, we stayed an extra day in Freetown.

The passengers on the ship had two options for the morning today: 1) visit an orphanage and present them with a gift of school supplies, or 2) go on a birdwatching tour of a near by nature preserve.

I went with option #1, the orphanage visit.
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Day 21, West Africa Cruise – Freetown, Sierra Leone

Latitude: 8° 25.1932’ N
Longitude: 13° 12.38.52’ W

I had no idea what to expect when I visited Sierra Leone. The only thing you hear about Sierra Leone was its civil war which took place in the 1990′s and the horrific crimes which were committed. Children being used as soldiers, amputation as a form of terror, wanton killing, enslaving people to work in diamond mines and systematic rape.

Prior to our arrival, we had a lecture on Sierra Leone and watched several documentaries about the war and its aftermath. It left you feeling sorry for the place before you even arrived.
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Day 19-20, West Africa Cruise – At Sea, Off of the Coast of Liberia and the Ivory Coast

Latitude: 7° 00.8041′ N
Longitude: 12° 40.7239′ W

I’ve decided to combine these two days at sea because there was little which differentiated them, and because we have just gotten past the meatiest part of the trip. From Sao Tome to Ghana, we had 6 stops in 7 days, with only 1 day at sea.

From here, we have 2 days at sea to reach Sierra Leone, another day at sea to reach Gambia/Senegal, and a few more after that before we arrive in Morocco.

I thought this would be a good time to talk about life abroad the ship and the ways that the West Africa Cruise differs from when the Expedition is in the polar regions.
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Day 18, West Africa Cruise – Takoradi, Ghana

Latitude:
Longitude:

We had a very short trip between Accra and Takoradi, Ghana. Probably the shortest sailing we had since the trip began.

It was also one of our shorter excursions on the trip, because we had to set sail early in order to get to Freetown in Sierra Leone in time.

Our objective for the day was to visit several of the slave forts along the coast. We visited two forts: Cape Coast Castle and the Elmira Castle, both of which are part of the same UNESCO World Heritage Site.
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Day 17, West Africa Cruise – Accra, Ghana

Latitude: 5° 38.1051’ N
Longitude: 0° 00.0001’ W

Accra completed changed everything I thought about West Africa.

Since we left Swakopmund, we’ve visited a series of very poor, developing countries. The levels of development differed, but there was a certain commonality they all shared in terms of infrastructure and sanitation.

Accra is at a different level from all the other cities we visited. The roads were paved. Grass was mowed. The monuments were clean and keep in good condition. There were business raining from large to small. Most people were driving cars, not motorbikes.

Ghana in general, but Accra in particular, has been the star of West Africa so far. This is not to say it is perfect or that it is a fully developed country, but when compared to nearby Togo and Benin, the differences couldn’t be more stark. It is easily one of the most dramatic differences I’ve seen in standard of living between people of different sides of a political boundary.
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Day 16, West Africa Cruise – Cotonou, Benin

Latitude: 6° 28.1006′ N
Longitude: 2° 23.4704′ E

As I mentioned yesterday, the port of Cotonou, Benin was closed for Easter. Technically speaking, we could have gone to Benin on Easter because the Benin navy had offered to transport people to shore for the low, low price of €350 per person….each way! It also would have been in a single small ship that could only take seven people at a time (the ship’s zodiacs can take 10 for example). Somehow, I don’t think the money would have wound up in the coffers of the government of Benin :)

Nonetheless, we managed to arrive in Benin without naval assistance the Monday after Easter. Oddly enough, the border between Togo and Benin is a time zone change so we had to set our clocks back one hour, for one day, during our Benin visit.

Benin, like Togo is a French speaking country with dozens of different ethnic groups in its small area. Cotonou, while technically not its capital, is its most important city and oddly enough, where most of the government buildings are anyhow. It is its largest city, most important economic center and location of its largest port.
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Day 15, West Africa Cruise – Lome, Togo

Latitude: 6° 08.5126’ N
Longitude: 1° 17.0908’ E

In the last two updates I said that our next stop was going to be Cotonou, Benin. Togo is clearly not Benin.

What happened was a classic case of West African bureaucracy and being able to adapt. Day 15 was actually Easter Sunday. Despite the fact that this trip had been planned for over a year, it was less than 24 hours before we landed that we were told that the port in Benin was closed for Easter!

Thankfully, our ground agent for Benin was also our ground agent for Togo, so the staff on the ship and the agent on shore scrambled to switch our schedules for the two days around. Also, because the sailing times between Benin, Togo and Ghana are so short, it didn’t really affect our sailing times. To give you a sense of scale, the distance from Lome, Togo to Cotonou, Benin is only 90km (55 miles).

In the end, they managed to switch around our days in Togo and Benin and everything worked out. There were some small changes which had to be made because it was Easter Sunday, and thankfully it didn’t really change the experience.
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Day 14, West Africa Cruise – At Sea, In the Gulf of Guinea

Latitude: Withheld
Longitude: Withheld

In theory, day 14 was supposed to be our most ‘dangerous’ day at sea. I put dangerous in quotes because it wasn’t really dangerous at all. Nonetheless, it is worth talking about some of the issues the G Expedition has to face in this part of the world and the security precautions which were put in place.

For starters, it needs to be noted that West Africa is not East Africa. The problems with piracy off the Horn of Africa are nothing like what has been happening in the Gulf of Guinea. While piracy has become a full blown industry in Somalia, in West Africa there have only been a small number of cases of piracy, and those have only involved oil tankers. To the best of my knowledge, there has never been a case of a passenger vessel being taken in West Africa.

That being said, it is possible there could be a first time, so there have been security measures put in place to ensure the safety of the ship. Here are some of the things which have been done:
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Day 13, West Africa Cruise – Principe

Our day in Principe was perhaps the most atypical stop we’ve had, or will have, on our entire trip.

Rather than going out to visit sites or meet local people, today was devoted to rest and relaxation. G Adventures rented several cabins for the day at the Bom Bom Resort on the northern point of the island and everyone was able to swim, rest and enjoy a nice BBQ lunch.

Like in Sao Tome, we had to use zodiacs to get to shore as they didn’t have facilities for the ship to dock. However, unlike Sao Tome, we were probably 1/3 closer land this time which made the entire process much quicker.
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Day 12, West Africa Cruise – Sao Tome

Latitude: 0° 20.9204’ N
Longitude: 6° 45.7471’ E

On day 12, the G Expedition pulled into the tiny island of Sao Tome.

I’ve spoken previously about the poor conditions and lack of a tourist infrastructure we found in Angola and Congo. On paper, Sao Tome is poorer than either of those two countries (primarily because of a lack of oil) and because of its location in the middle of the Atlantic, it probably get significantly fewer visitors as well.

Nonetheless, Sao Tome turned out to one of the highlights of the trip so far.
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