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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Day 11, West Africa Cruise – At Sea, Off the Coast of Gabon

View of the G Expedition in Port in Lobito, Angola

Latitude: 0° 54.7307’ S
Longitude: 7° 46.5771’ E

I should probably spend a bit of time talking about the internet and communications because I know many people have questions about it.

The internet connection aboard the Expedition isn’t great and it isn’t cheap. I can’t complain about it too much however, as I am still amazed at the fact that we are able to have an internet connection at all in the middle of the ocean. When you consider that the ship is usually in the polar regions, it is even more impressive. (the satellite which the ship communicates with is located over the equator, so the farther away from the equator you get, the harder it is to reach. It is a function of angle and signal strength, not distance.)

Nonetheless, the internet is slow. When you log into the system, it says you have a 96k connection, but in reality, this is only true if no one else is using the bandwidth. In reality, other passengers, the crew and official ship business can slow the connection even further.
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Day 10, West Africa Cruise – Point Noire, Republic of Congo

Latitude: 4° 37.0843’ S
Longitude: 11° 51.5024’ E

The benefit of traveling by ship is that you can explore 70% of the Earth’s surface. The downside is that you are limited to only exploring places on land which are near the sea. I don’t this is effect more pronounced than in the Republic of Congo. There are some amazing places to visit in the Congo. The shoreline and the city of Point Noire isn’t one of them.

Deep inside the Congo are forests, national parks, and sanctuaries for elephants and gorillas. None of those places, however, are near Point Noire. The vast majority of the population in the Republic of Congo lives between Point Noire and the capital of Brazzaville. The really amazing parts of the Congo, however, are in the sparsely inhabited northern regions.
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Day 9, West Africa Cruise – At Sea, Off the Coast of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Latitude: 6° 32.6948’ S
Longitude: 11° 50.4849’ E

At a certain level, a ship has to be self sustaining. When you are at sea, you can’t run to the home depot to fix a problem. You need the tools and talent on board to solve whatever problems might arise.

I have been incredibly impressed with the problem solving abilities of the crew on the Expedition.

Case 1: If you are a MacBook owner, you are probably aware of the problem with the power cords. The incredible thin cables have a tendency to fray and eventually break at the point where they are connected to the power brick. For the 4th time since I’ve owned a MacBook mine died, and I had the great timing of doing it while I was on a ship in West Africa. Getting a new power cord wasn’t an option.

I contacted a member of the crew who put me in touch with the ship’s electrician who managed, not only to fix it, but made it better than it was. He shored up each end of the wire so it wouldn’t bend. The best part, is that he managed to do this is 30 minutes!

Case 2: The Expedition was originally built as a Norwegian ferry. It was later reconfigured as an expedition class vessel for exploring polar waters. So for the entire life of the ship it was intended to be in cold waters. As we sailed north and left the cold Benguela current, the water temperature went from 14C to 29C. The problem on the ship was excess heat, the exact opposite of what ship normally has to deal with.

The interior of the ship was getting hot and the conditions we were sailing under didn’t allow for easy cooling. The chief engineer spent several days on the problem and eventually got the air conditioning running great. The rooms were comfortable and the ship had basically adapted (at least for a few weeks) to life in a tropical climate. It was sort of like Scotty on Star Trek reconfiguring one system for another totally different purpose.

Life on a ship is interesting and very different from what most landlubbers are used to. I’ll have more about the workings and operations of the ship over the next few weeks.

Next Stop: Point Noire, Republic of Congo

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