G Adventures West Africa: Day 8, Point Noire Congo

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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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