Central African Republic Part 1
The Central African Republic or as it’s known in Africa, the C. A. R. is a landlocked nation virtually in the centre of Africa.
Traveling to the Central African Republic takes an extra level of planning than most other African nations but that’s all part of the fun of traveling.
I’m planning to spend about two weeks in the country and my first hurdle is actually getting in.
The C. A. R. travel warnings are fairly self explanatory. They currently include:
Do not travel to the Central African Republic (CAR) due to violent crime, civil unrest, kidnapping, armed robbery and homicide, all of which are common.
Large areas of the country are controlled by armed groups who regularly kidnap, injure, and/or kill civilians. Regional wars have increased access to weapons, leading to armed attacks and highway robbery.
Armed militia regularly set up roadblocks and reprisal killings, looting and human rights abuses continue across the country.
There have also been a number of kidnappings of government ministers as well as humanitarian and UN workers.
Security forces cannot guarantee the safety of civilians, particularly outside of the capital, Bangui. Do not travel after dark and only travel in convoys.
Convoys have been attacked resulting in deaths of civilians and military personnel.
If you are in the CAR, we strongly advise you to depart by commercial means if it is safe to do so.
After reading these warnings I decided to be cautious and not travel to the Haut-Mbomou Province because the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) continue to target civilians and thousands of people have fled the region.
Usually my pre departure African packing is something like this:
Swim wear…. Tick
Go Pro…. Tick
Suggested pre departure activities for the Central African Republic (CAR) include:
Draft a will and designate appropriate insurance beneficiaries and/or power of attorney.
Be sure to appoint one family member to serve as the point of contact with hostage-takers.
Discuss a plan with loved ones regarding care/custody of children, pets, property, funeral wishes, etc.
Share important documents, login information, and points of contact with loved ones so that they can manage your affairs.
Establish a proof of life protocol with your loved ones, so that if you are taken hostage, your loved ones can know specific questions (and answers) to ask the hostage-takers to be sure that you are alive.
Leave DNA samples with your medical provider in case it is necessary for your family to access them.
Erase any sensitive photos, comments, or other materials from your social media pages, cameras, laptops, and other electronic devices that could be considered controversial or provocative by local groups.
Leave your expensive/sentimental belongings behind.
REMEMBER: Your government will not be able to organise or assist your evacuation from the country.
To make the trip a little more fun I decided to fly into Bangui, the capital, with Air Burkina, the national airline of Burkina Faso.
I decided to add to the challenge by leaving my luggage in Dakar and traveling around the C. A. R. with just a small day-pack for two weeks. It would be less hassle at the airport, less chance of having stuff stolen and I’d be more mobile and able to jump on trucks, bush taxis and motor bikes to move around with ease.
This idea back-fired on me when I made a monumental f#@k-up the morning I left Dakar at 5am. I’d packed my day pack the night before and at 4.15am I decided to remove a couple of things from my pack to make it lighter. One of the bags I removed had my wallet and money in it.
Fortunately I still had my credit cards.
To add another level of challenge to the visit, I decided to arrive without a visa, which technically you can’t do. With a bit of searching I was able to organise a ‘fixer’ to be waiting for me on arrival prior to immigration. He was hopefully capable of getting me one.
My first hurdle was getting on the plane in Lome, Togo, as not only didn’t I have a visa, I also didn’t have an onward flight booked leaving the C. A. R. So I was kind of winging-it from the start.
I made my way to Lome International Airport an hour earlier than usual to give myself extra time should I need to do some negotiating. After wandering around for an hour sussing the place out, I found a well connected guy who for a small fee fast tracked me through check-in and immigration and also got me an exit row seat.
After a quick stop in Doula (Cameroon) I landed in Bangui (Bong gee) about 5.30pm. The airport was full of United Nations and aid/charity planes. The two below are Red Cross and Medecins Sans Frontiers.
I walked into the terminal and my ‘fixer’ was standing there waiting for me. An hour later I was in a taxi traveling through the dark streets of Bangui to the Sam Hotel with a one month visa in my passport.
I checked in, walked down to the Riverside restaurant, ordered a steak with Roquefort Sauce and a local Mocaf Beer and while looking across the river at the DRC Congo, said to myself, “I love it when a plan comes together.”
Below: Dawn in Bangui over looking the Ubangi River towards the DRC Congo.
I wanted to base myself in the village of Bayanga which is a fifteen hour drive on bad roads from the capital and being the wet season, it may have taken longer.
I made a few enquires and surprisingly no one wanted to risk it. Eventually I found a guy who would take me to Bayanga but he wanted €735 for the trip. I told him I could I could catch a return flight to Paris for that but he wouldn’t budge, so my search continued.
With time to spare I toured the capital and saw the local sights, including the markets where I wasn’t allowed to get out of the car because it was too dangerous.
The city is full of peace keeping staff from the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission or MINUSCA, as well as French soldiers.
It’s an interesting situation with the President only controlling around a fifth of the country and he relies heavily on MINUSCA for support. The rest is controlled by at least 14 different militia groups who often fight each other for control of revenue from extortion, roadblocks or mineral resources.
The view along the river is quite picturesque with pirogues bringing goods and people back and forth from Zongo in the Congo all day. The DRC is only 400m away and even in a canoe it only takes a couple of minutes.
At lunch I had a drink on the rocks in the middle of the river, sitting pretty much on the DRC border and then had a quick chat to the C. A. R Justice Minister who was there for a meeting, with his entourage of about fifty police and soldiers. It was the safest I’d felt having lunch in days.
After checking out the capital I decided to do a bit of exploring and we drove 100km north to Boali Falls, which before the civil war was a tourist attraction but today there’s not much there apart from a dilapited, long since closed hotel and of course a spectacular waterfall.
After a few nights in the capital I was able to get myself a seat on a charter flight to Bayanga. “Be at the airport at 7am with €300” were the instructions. I have no idea who’s charter flight it is or what cargo it’s taking where but as along as it stops in B-town I’ll be on it in the morning.
Bye for now…