Monday, 15 April 2013

G Adventures West Africa: Day 8, Point Noire Congo

Pics: The Atlantic Palace Hotel, idyllic-looking beachside scene, intriguing
artefact, main thoroughfare in front of hotel

Well, what a contrast! From the ready smiles and cheery waves of Angola, we
set foot in the busy port of Point Noire in Congo. While 'hostile' might be
a bit of an exaggeration, there was an air of brooding suspicion evident in
the air.

Just as Lobito in Angola had been a lucky dip in terms of our official
reception, Point Noire was another unknown. Thankfully the custom procedures
were swift and we were ashore and into a motley fleet of buses and minivans
and on our way. Being a Sunday morning, the otherwise bustling town was in
a state of weekend slumber. Groups of people lolled about in front of
ramshackle roadside shops drinking, occasionally wandering across the road
while our minivan driver hurtled along the dusty streets with an urgency
that seemed uncomfortably out of place.

Those residents curious enough looked on with a barely bemused, nonchalant
sideways glance as our convoy of rubber-necked, camera-toting tourists
rattled down their street. Our first stop was at a sad-looking, remote
cultural museum about the size of a suburban house. We examined the dusty
exhibits that dealt with slave history, religion, local arts and crafts and
plain household items. Some of the carvings and sculptures were quite fine,
although totally exposed to the elements and sticky fingers.

The rest of the day was comprised of random disorganization that saw one
group in two minivans, myself included, roar off into the wilderness along a
pot-holed dirt track that led to a quaint seaside 'resort' – really just a
collection of small huts - where a couple of European families and their
children were surprised by a horde of befuddled tourists. The balance of the
group, their bus too big for the narrow, twisty track, was left to wile away
the next 90 minutes waiting for our group to return.

At the beach, some took to the water with local children for a dip, while
others tried to make what they could from the photo opportunity. The water
contained an unfortunate mix of oil residue from the rigs dotting the
horizon, so swimmers quickly abandoned the meager surf and proceeded to peel
bitumen poultices from between their toes. Oil in the Congo is a relatively
recent development and one can only hope this rich resource does not create
another environmental fiasco of Niger Delta proportions. The ingredients,
however, are all there.

Another suburban sprint completed the day's outing and the various
detachments reorganized at the glitzy Atlantic Palace Hotel near the centre
of town. Hoping to send home a postcard or two, and with the post office
closed, I enquired at the front desk about stamps and sundry postal
services, but each enquiry was met with a smiling shake of the head. The
Arab-owned (I think they were either Turkish or Lebanese) hotel at least
offered Wi-Fi in the foyer and cool drinks by the pool. Service? Well, let's
move to the next question.

Today was a day when the catch cry "WAFA!" (West Africa wins again) was in
order and the adventurous nature and patience of our contingent gently
tested. Conrad, our ever-cheerful and worldly South African staffer, could
only apologise during the recap and remarked about our local tour leader,
"Well, we won't be using her again!" Tonight's happy hour is on the house.

For more detail on this itinerary, see www.gadventures.com > West Africa

For semi-daily updates, see www.expeditioncruising.com

More images at www.flickr.com/photos/rodeime




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