A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about planning

When Travel doesn’t Go According to Plan

It’s impossible to plan your way our of everything – or to have all your plans go accordingly. This is especially true in West Africa - sometimes you just have to improvise and luck out.

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I (try to) plan too much

I (try to) plan too much

It’s three o’clock in the morning, and I have just arrived in Praia’s (Cape Verde’s capital) small international airport. The airport’s only cash machine is out of money, the one exchange bureau is closed, the Wi-Fi doesn’t work, the only café doesn’t take international credit cards, and I can’t check in to my hostel before 10 o’clock. Like at home, things doesn’t always go my way when travelling. To be honest, since travellers, by definition, are new to most places we show up in, have no idea about local arrangements and often don’t speak the languish, our plans probably goes wrong more often than others’. So to give you a little idea about how that turns out here’s a small buffet from the last few days were things haven’t gone as smooth as I’d liked them to go.

Ariving to Podor by Pirogue

Ariving to Podor by Pirogue

Crossing from Mauritania to Senegal – as with any border crossing – hustlers tend to be around en masse to offer you a dreadful rate for any money you would like to change. I figured I’d avoid them and change my money somewhere else. On the Mauritanian side of the Senegal River, that constitutes the border, was nothing but a small village. On the Senegal side, the provincial capital of Podor seemed like the more promising place to find a proper place to change. This assessment quickly turned out to be wrong. Nobody in Podor wanted Mauritanian money, and if anyone offered to change it would be at rate 1.5 – not the official 1.8 rate. The difference would cost me around 15 Euro, which given that there was no bank in town would mean that I wouldn’t have enough money to get all the way to Dakar. As it was late, I seriously began to consider whether I would have to walk out of town to pitch my tent for the night, as I couldn’t pay my hotel room.

Hotel had a frog-problem

Hotel had a frog-problem

The only thing I had going for me, was that a local student had befriended me. He knew the manager of the hotel I wanted to stay in, and he somehow convinced (the drunk) the manager to let me postpone the payment of the first night, so I had a chance to return to Mauritania the next day and try changing my money in the village. I just needed to give him my passport as a guarantee. Fine. Or at least that was all right until I went down to the river the next day, where the pirogues did the crossing. Since I needed to leave Senegal, the border police wanted my passport. Somehow, I managed to explain the situation to them in some broken French, pointing out that without my passport I wouldn’t be allowed to stay in Mauritania anyway. I simply had to come back. Leaving my “national ID” (read: my driver’s license) with the border police as a guarantee for my return, I was allowed to cross. On the Mauritanian shore, the border official on duty insisted that he handled the change of my money. Always a bit worried about African officials and money, I had no choice. My lack of trust, however, was put thoroughly to shame. The official made the change with some local Senegalese boys who had crossed with me and insisted on what was essential a fair rate for both parties. When I didn’t have the last few cents to complete the transfer at the correct rate, he even paid for it himself to make everything work out! So while it was some extra hassle to correct my initial blunder of not changing the Mauritania money before I left the country, everything worked out eventually.

Eventually I made it

Eventually I made it

And things often end up working out for me. Stupid, but lucky, remember? Leaving Podor, I had 18 hours to make the 400 km to Dakar to catch a flight to Cape Verde. Something that might or might not be possible in West Africa depending on where you are. Here in Senegal, it should be possible as half of the distance was between Dakar and Senegal’s second city, Saint Louis. In other words, there is plenty of traffic and good roads. Getting out of Podor quickly became an issue, through. I’d checked at the bus station the day before if there was a vehicle to Saint Louis this morning. “Yes, yes, it leaves at 7.” Okay. So I was at the bus station a little past six, just in case – only to get the message that there was no car to Saint Louis. Sigh… Instead, I could take another car 20 km to a crossroad, from where there would be onward transport to Saint Louis. Of course, there wasn’t. There was, however, a car to the city at the halfway point. T.I.A. (This Is Africa). I was running out of money too, so all I got for breakfast/lunch was a few biscuits; I only did not dare to spend any money on food as long as there was unpaid transport ahead of me – and taking it in small steps are more expensive than making it in one long stretch. But I lucked out again. At the halfway town a car going directly to Dakar just needed two more passengers. Conveniently, I was one such passenger, and suddenly I had made it to the airport in Dakar in just under 10 hours. A complete success; so much so that I now had an eight-hour wait at the airport – at least here were food!

Praia means 'beach' - fooled again

Praia means 'beach' - fooled again

Which then brings us back to this post’s introduction: arriving on Cape Verde in the middle of the night without any usable currency (again) and a hostel I couldn’t check in to. As any sensible idiot would have done, I decide to postpone all these problems a few hours. The airport benches were luckily not those with armrests between each seat, so I was able to get some sleep without the humiliation of lying on the floor in a corner of the entrance hall.
The situation hadn’t improved when I woke a few hours later. Still no money in the machine, still no clerk in the changing booth, and thus still no food. However, Cape Verde is a small place, so the airport is just 5 km outside the town. Figured I could walk that – maybe someone would even pick me up… and voilà, a minibus stopped for me almost instantly. Once inside I explained I needed to get to a bank to get out money before I was able to pay for the ride. This was not a problem, so we happily drove into town. To my surprise, we stopped just a kilometre short of the city centre where everybody was transferred to another minibus. Here the driver didn’t really get my rather poor effort to explain in Portuguese, that I didn’t have any money. Instead, he just figured that my destination was a bank; he then proceeds to drop me off at such a building in the centre. Here he, to my bewilderment, just drove off without any further explanation. Somehow I’d managed to get into town, with two bus rides without having to pay anything. I took out some money, found the location of my hostel in a nearby café that had both breakfast and Wi-Fi, and went to check myself in.

Eventually I could enjoy, Praia

Eventually I could enjoy, Praia

What I’m trying to get at with these examples is first that travelling in Africa rarely works out as planned. Secondly, that if you have a little flair (and are willing to overnight in airports), everything usually works out just fine in the end. Somehow. And while every day isn’t as chaotic as those three described above, the examples are plenty and could probably fill out a whole blog if I was to record them all.

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Posted by askgudmundsen 03:51 Archived in Cape Verde Tagged travel airport praia planning dakar corruption mauritania senegal podor cape_verde Comments (0)

What do Travellers do all Day?

Going to Rome or Marrakesh figuring out what to do is pretty easy. It usually goes like this: Sightseeing at day, a nice meal in the evening before drinking the night away. But what does one do in Western Sahara?

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Welcome to Western Sahara

Welcome to Western Sahara

I’ve seen this question asked multiple times. In novels, on television and online. It has always been kind of rhetorical. It is often answered with “seeing the world,” which is both inadequate and a cliché. Now that I’m here in Western Sahara, where typical pastimes such as sights, good food and alcohol are non-excising, I figured I might try to give a decent answer to what travellers do all day.
Generally, it’s possible to divide my travelling time into five categories: planning, actually moving from a to b, killing time, meeting people, and meta-travel (blogging, editing pictures, etc.).

Planning

Travel planning

Travel planning

Travel planning distinguishes itself from preparing for a vacation. It’s much more low-tech. Hostels don't exist in Western Sahara and those five hotels with online booking is way, way out of my price range. Planning is done on the ground and is more a matter of improvising. Having arrived somewhere, the first thing I need to do is to find a place to sleep and to offload my backpack. I usually head to the primary market – these are more often entire neighbourhoods than actually makeshifts markets. This is where the cheap hotels tend to be located. It usually takes a bit of shopping around to find one that isn’t full, cheap and clean. Leaving any destination also requires some preparation. Hotel staff can sometimes assist with departure times, but most often it’s necessary to head to the bus or train station itself. Booking ahead requires an extra trip to the station, but can be necessary if there're limited options to my next destination. The alternative, to just show up before departure. Once the ticket is secured it’s a waiting game as transportation is always delayed. Then there’s the ‘I need to get a new pair of socks or ‘my headphones broke’ shopping that takes ages because it includes figuring out a decent price, quality and the fact that I have no idea about where the electronic stores are. This quickly takes a couple of hours every day.

Moving between destinations

Standard Western Sahara Road

Standard Western Sahara Road

Then there’s the process of travelling itself, that is, moving from a to b. Distances are wast in Western Sahara; neighbouring towns are – at least – a three-hour bus ride away. (This is a country larger than the UK with only half a million inhabitants). However, arriving at a new, unknown destination is one of the joys of travelling. So is being on the move. You sort of has to like this bit. At least if you don’t want to have a miserable time on your travels. Yes, the landscape outside the window has been impressive, but dull dessert for the past three hours, but I’m moving. That feeling of progress is after all the essence of travelling. Though the rally-like driving down here makes it a rather nerve-rigging feeling too. On days where I’m moving between places, this takes up no less than three hours of the day. It can easily take up an entire day if waiting times are long or if it’s an eight-hour trip. Don’t even get me started on those 20 or 36-hour rides. Luckily, those are rare and yet to come.

Killing time

Weirdest. Sculpture. Ever.

Weirdest. Sculpture. Ever.

A sort of sightseeing is possible in Western Sahara, but sights are of a different kind. You might have learned about a few tings from fellow travellers or the guidebook. A lighthouse, a market or whatever. Those are usually crossed off the bucket list rather quickly. From there on it’s a search for new interesting tings to do. It usually takes a few walks around town, but once in a while, you strike gold. I’ve come across the weirdest statue I’ve ever seen, an idyllic harbour and a girls football match with all female spectators at the local stadium. When nothing comes up, my usual retreat is the tea-houses, where numerous men are hanging out killing time on their own. I join them. Smartphones and Wi-Fi reached Africa years ago, so many places give me time to catch up on the world, read (I’m becoming a big The Guardian reader) or have a chat with friends back home. This is not a vacation and time is not limited, so I can enjoy that ‘making the most of it’ does not require a constant rush. These breaks also give me a chance to check in with other travellers online. Is there’s something I’ve missed in town? The best gems are often hidden, and I just might need help finding them. If there nothing online, I’m have the options between another walk around town or another cup of tea. If I’m not moving between destinations, this can take up the entire day and no less than a couple of hours are spent in this fashion.

Meeting people

Meeting the locals

Meeting the locals

These are the spontaneous moments that for most travellers make it all worthwhile. Especially if they don’t like that whole moving from a to b part. These meetings are always spontaneous and once they’ve happened you simply just have to push everything else aside to enjoy it. Most travellers are more concerned with meeting the world than seeing it. These encounters are not solely a matter of the locals being friendly. I can help them along. A general greeting when I enter a café. By offering the person next to me on the bus some of my snacks. Or engaging locals with simple questions – like yesterday when a question of when the boats were coming in resulted in a tour of the harbour and tea with the workers there. These are the meetings that can lead to invitations to local homes, new friends and a better understanding of the country. I just hope they happen as often as possible.

Meta-travelling

Blogging on the road

Blogging on the road

Any travel blogger will tell you the same. Travel blogging is a lot of work. Two hours every day is a low estimate. Writing drafts, dismissing drafts, editing and proof-reading – all takes time. So does photo editing (a painstakingly lot of time) and uploading them. And I’m not even spending the time, that I probably should, on promising my blog around the web. For those living off their travels it’s a full-time job – they just always get to decide where their office is. I’m just happy that alcohol is so hard to come by. That leaves plenty of lonely nights to meta-travel...

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Posted by askgudmundsen 15:44 Archived in Western Sahara Tagged travel planning sighseeing blogging how_to what_do_travellers_do meeting_locals western_sahara Comments (0)

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