I was both excited and not excited to visit Central African Republic.
1-I’d heard that the airport landing in Bangui was crazy, because there’s no fence, and people are living near the runways, herding goats, etc., and you have to circle around a bunch, until they clear out.
2-There’s tons of interesting stuff in CAR, including pygmies and gorillas, but you can’t really “get there” right now, due to tribal conflicts closing the roads, unless you have guards, money for bribes, and a ton of time for delays.
3-CAR is full of UN soldiers and cops who are overly touchy about photography, and 2 of my friends were previously detained (separate occasions) to ask questions about their picture taking.
So, here we go!
Well, that turned out to not be interesting at all, because there was no one living near the airport, and we didn’t do any circling–just a bank to the right and then landing.
Passport control and immigration couldn’t possibly be more disorganized, but I was in, got my stuff, and was off to Hotel Levy’s. Hotel Levy’s is literally the only inexpensive option in town, and there are 3 price points for rooms. I went for the middle option. Imagine my surprise when showing up to find armored military vehicles parked out front and the Rwandan military unit staying at my hotel. Oh, and the wifi worked for a total of “oh, you just missed it, it was working a minute ago” time while I was there. I had to rig up some special quantum physics-meets-MacGuyver to get the fan in the room to work, and then I was off to explore.
Here are my clandestine pictures from passing this park and then up to the basilica.
The gates were locked, but I blended in with a French UN crew that was doing some PR filming and managed to get those pics.
I doubled back the way I’d come and noticed that everyone found “white guy walking” to be extremely irregular, so I once again had the safety of “no one messes with a guy being watched by 50 people”, so that was a plus.
I passed through the main market area and over to the river. Looking across the river shows DRCongo.
Back through town, I found a café showing sports on TV and with wifi, so I hung out there for a bit and looked up what else I could do in the city. I’d tried arranging a day trip out of the city to some nearby waterfalls and to some small villages, but nothing had panned out, and the 1 I thought I was doing fell through at the last minute. Nothing super interesting jumped out, so it was more walking.
The art in this park was interesting, though.
I’d say these 3 pictures from my afternoon walk perfectly sum up Bangui.
1-there are a few main roads that are paved, but that’s a minority.
2-this car, with no wheels, somehow straddling a ditch, and clearly abandoned pretty well sums up the “lots of people but acts like small city, acts like it’s the past not the present” vibe I got in Bangui.
3-if you turn away from the main street and then make any other turn onto a side street, you won’t know this is a city with 735,000 people.
One of life’s simplest rules is that there’s a Chinese restaurant wherever you go, so I went there and had some good tofu + vegetables for lack of other vegan options in Bangui. I was absolutely the only person there and watched an intersting Chinese musical drama movie.
Back at the hotel, the wifi was still in “oh, it was actually working earlier when you weren’t here” mode, I re-MacGuyver-ed the ceiling fan, and used the shower to wash my hands, because the sink faucet didn’t work. I had to MacGuyver the toilet to flush it, and I was wondering what the “cheap” option at the hotel was like, if this is the middle option.
I’ve stayed at worse places than Hotel Levy’s, to be honest, but I find a difference between ‘budget’ and ‘stuff is broken’. Hotel Levy’s thinks they can pull off being both, and I wasn’t impressed by that.
When I left the next morning and went to pay, they seriously had no change. It was one of those experiences. Imagine paying a 25,000 CFA bill with 30,000 and them saying they don’t have a 5,000 note to give you change. You’re the front desk.
It required waking up 3 different people to eventually get the change, which I couldn’t do without if I wanted to pay my airport taxi.
At the airport, the system was intentionally disorganized as much as possible, because then people were bribing the baggage handlers to get them to the front of the line. I’m sure those baggage handlers will make sure nothing ever becomes orderly, because they stand to lose money in the deal.
Case in point: in 45min in line, I took 1 step forward. There were nearly 20 people in front of me, and take-off was in another 45min. If I took 1 step in 45min, we weren’t going to check in 20 people, go through immigration & security, and board the plane in 45min. We took off over an hour late, and I was surprised it was that little.
I try to always find something positive about every place I went, and it’s this: the people are nice.
Other than that, I have no desire to be back in Bangui.This entry was posted in Africa, Bangui, CAR, Central African Republic