A Travellerspoint blog

September 2016

Do I Want to go Home?

Doubt is a natural part of travel - well, of life, really... And having been on the road for a while I might have had enough.

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Taking a break

Taking a break

Am I done? Having used more than a week not travelling, I can’t figure out if I want to go back on the road or not. The comfortable expat life is getting to me. The simple fact that I’ve stopped travelling for a while have made me wonder if it might be time to end this trip for good and go home.

Bumping around in one of the wettest regions of the world – in the rainy season – doesn’t help either. Nothing, me included, really dry down here. Both the inside of my backpack and one of my wallets are becoming mouldy. Mould! Heavy showers keep everything wet, and the humidity here keeps me wet unless there are 30 minutes of the sunshine that can dry me off before the next shower. By now I can barely enter a dry room without making everything in it damp by my mere presence.

In Central Asia

In Central Asia

I have also just passed six months on the road. The longest I’ve been out on previous trips was seven months when I went to Central Asia in 2013. Back then, my return date was set in stone as I had to go back to my studies. I remember thinking a few times during the latter part of that trip that I was ready to go home. Having set a date for my return somehow helped keep those thoughts in check.

Now, I have no set date. Nothing that I absolutely need to go back to on a given date. That makes it difficult to see an end to the travelling life. Sure, I’m probably going to run out of money during the first three months of 2017… maybe, but so far I’ve been spending less than expected.

Summit of Mount Bintumani

Summit of Mount Bintumani

Then again. Nothing stops me from going home either. Or going somewhere else, where it’s easier to travel. Hell, I could just jump on a flight to Southeast Asia, if I wanted to. Nothing, except the profound feeling of failure I would feel if I cut this trip short, stops me.
But I’ve decided that it’s probably just a matter of feeling a bit homesick. Haven gotten out of the travel routine, I’ve also lost all those beautiful experiences that come with travelling. I’m going to head out of Freetown, climb the biggest mountain between Morocco and Cameroon (which is going to be a five-day round-trip, at least) and then re-evaluate.

To pull a little bit in the other direction, I’m also going to begin to apply for jobs. After all, I did just finish a master’s in Global Studies before I started this trip. In that way, if I should receive some fantastic opportunity to start a career somewhere exciting it would give me a valid reason for cutting this adventure short.

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Posted by askgudmundsen 15:07 Archived in Sierra Leone Tagged travel country travelling tired west_africa comfort sierra_leone expat_life living_standards hardship_ Comments (0)

Expatriate Life

Changing lifestyle for a while...

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It’s unlikely that you will enter Sierra Leone by road. It bears the dubious distinction of being bordered by arguably the only two West African countries that are in a worse state – Guinea and Liberia.

Freetown

Freetown

Thanks for nothing, Bradt Guides.

I have made my way from Conakry in Guinea to Freetown in Sierra Leone. Almost surprisingly, I’ve only been asked for a bribe once. Unfortunately, that was the guy stamping me into Sierra Leone. The fact that I didn’t want to pay him then resulted in him only allowing me to stay in the country for nine days. I’ll have to go to the immigration office in Freetown and buy an extension of my stay, as he told me. Luckily, he was pretty sloppy when he wrote the date into my passport, and I’ve been able to rewrite the date afterwards, granting myself another extra ten days.

A real house(!)

A real house(!)

To my surprise, after the last few days, I’m beginning to realise that nineteen days might not be enough here. For the last week, I’ve been couchsurfing with a German expat and lived the life of the expatriate – a jobless expat, but nonetheless an expat.

To the ones who need clarification, are expatriates – expats for short – defined as someone who is stationed abroad. Think of aid workers, diplomats, private institution teachers and the like. Stationing people abroad is usually no cheap enterprise and whether we’re talking about North Americans, Europeans or Chinese in Africa (or Africans in Europe). The paychecks tend to be larger than they would otherwise be in the expat’s country of origin. Perks like a paid house or car is also often part of expat luxury.

Hardship Country?

Hardship Country?

Whenever there’s a significant drop in living standards, say from a European to an African country, the paycheck goes up further. Every international organisation divides countries into “hardship” categories based on how dangerous, undeveloped, etc. the country is.
Sierra Leone is such a country. Frankly, most of the places I travel are considered “hardship countries”. And more frankly, there’s a lot more difficulty involved in budget travelling than being stationed somewhere, with excellent perks and top salary. Long time travelling – especially in Africa – is not a particularly comfortable lifestyle, and having just reached six months on the road, I needed a break. A pause from the cheap, semi-dirty rooms. A break from eating rice for 90 per cent of my meals. A break from crowded transportation. And a break from that self-imposed ambitious of not wasting time as many travellers have.

Travel Living Standards

Travel Living Standards

I think I need to elaborate on the unwillingness to waste time. Travelling somewhere new, just to sit and do nothing is not why we travel. It’s not a vacation. It’s, for me, a year of seeing a region of the world I don’t know much about. Not exploring it would be a waste of time. Also, having a limited time – or rather having a limited wallet – means that I have a rough idea about how long time I can spend in each country in other to get all the way to Nigeria. Those plans go out the window often but nonetheless do I have to keep a little bit track of thinks.
Those factors create pressure. At least in my mind. I need to get everything I want to do done so that I can move on. During that without wasting too much time is a very demanding way of travelling, and can only be done for so long before any traveller wears him/herself out. Arriving in Freetown, I’ve just about worn myself out during the past six months.

Lobster Lunch

Lobster Lunch

Since my host is living in a rather nice three-bedroom house, I’ve spend a lot of time – a lot of days actually – taking a vacation from all the travelling. To be honest, I’ve spend more time on the couch than anywhere else. We have ordered pizza and beers three days in a row for dinner and used the evenings to watch football.
I even burned money on joining my host and two other aid workers on an extended weekend in a small guesthouse on the exotically named Banana Islands. Lying in a hammock all day, enjoying gorgeous beaches and eating lobster at $10 apiece. We even went spear fishing. We also joked a lot about the fact that Sierra Leone is a “hardship country.”

Expatriate Guide

Expatriate Guide

However, in other aspects of life, it surely is. It took my host six months to get running water installed. Something that just happened. My first week here he only had bucket showers. My computer didn’t survive the trip between Conakry and Freetown either; trying to fix it seems almost impossible to do down here. I’ve instead bought a used tablet with an add-on keyboard. Buying electronics down here costs about the double of what it would do in Scandinavia – and this used tablet have set me back about the same as a new one would have done back home.
So there are definitely reasons as to why West Africa, in general, is considered “hardship” for expats too. To recover from this, and to see if it will be at all possible to recover what’s on my old hard drive, I think I’ll have to spend a few more days on the couch…

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Posted by askgudmundsen 07:32 Archived in Sierra Leone Tagged travel country travelling west_africa comfort sierra_leone expat_life living_standards banana_islands hardship_ Comments (0)

How to Deal with Bribery Attempts

Many in Africa see white people as money bags, this is especially true of Guinean officers

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“All tourists must carry their Tourist Identity Card on them, at all times, or go to jail,” the soldier told me. This was the essential part of the conversation. This was what they needed me to believe was true. Not necessarily to convince me fully, the slightest tremor of doubt would be enough. However, they were unarmed, and I was buying none of it.

Not everybody are this friendlya

Not everybody are this friendlya

Bribery attempts often rely on two factors. First, the officials take advantage of the fact that you, as a visitor, is not familiar with local laws. This can lead to rather amusing accusations like “your passport is not valid at night” or “travelling alone on this road isn't allowed.” Secondly, that the threat they are making scares you enough for you to pay up. Threats of big(ger) fines, jail or dragging you to the police station are typical favourites.
Needless to say, it's a lot harder for your wallet to escape unharmed if you have actually broken the law. Though most officials prefer to do as little paperwork as possible - if any paperwork is required in said country, that is - so if your crime is small enough it can be possible to get away with minor offences simply by being a foreigner.

Kids playing in the streets

Kids playing in the streets

On this particular day, the sun was shining. A rarity in Conakry. Guinea’s capital is one of the wettest in the world. I was strolling along the garbage littered streets, doing what little sightseeing the city offer. Like many other African capitals, there isn't very much to see regarding “typical” sights. Mostly, it comes down to massive government buildings and independence monuments. Conakry doesn't even have an Independence Square - just to illustrate how few places of interest there are here.

Strolling past the Presidential Palace, I made sure to keep my camera out of sight. Photographing strategically important buildings is begging for trouble in most developing countries - like throwing eggs at a police car back home. The guards were hanging out at a small guard house behind a movable paling - like the ones lining the streets at a cycling race to keep spectators off the road. As they notice me, one starts to shout for me to move away from the gate and walk over to the opposite sidewalk. Another waves me over to the low fence. A third is simply lounging on a small wooden bench. Typically, not even in front of the Presidential Palace are the soldiers well enough trained to act with any accordance to professional principles. I walk over to them to figure out whether or not I'm allowed to use this sidewalk as the locals around seemingly doesn't care too much about which side of the road they are using.

Presidential Palace gate

Presidential Palace gate

The guy who told me to switch sidewalks leaves immediately for some reason, while the other two invite me behind the palings for a chat. This effectively traps me between the soldiers, their guard house, a wall and the palings. Realise my mistake instantly, I initially go for a very friendly approach. A method that includes introducing myself, shaking hands, talk a lot about football and smiling excessively. It only kind of works.

The soldiers ask for my papers. As my passport is at the Mali embassy for visa procedures, so I offer them a curled up photocopy of my passport’s identification page and my Guinea visa. This doesn't go down well with the soldiers, but I manage to explain to them that the embassies wouldn't be allowed to keep my documents overnight is the law states that I should have my original passport on me at all times. This logic is enough to make them accept the photocopies. It's not sufficient to make them happy about it. They then dismiss my enquiry into how excited they are for the Spanish Football League’s opening matches the coming weekend.

Conakry's only tourist attraction

Conakry's only tourist attraction

They then ask for what is the centrepiece of their bribery attempt: my local identification card. I don't have one.
“But everyone living here has one,” they say.
“But I'm not a resident, I'm a tourist, so I don't have a resident’s card,” I reply. They are unimpressed.
“All tourists must carry their Tourist Identity Card on them, at all times, or go to jail” they retort.

At this point, it's clear they want a bribe to let me back out into the street. We discuss the imaginary ID card for a bit. Me telling them I know there is no such thing as a Tourist Identity Card, they insist that I have to go to jail if I don't have such a card.

Tourists are staying away

Tourists are staying away

This time, it's my turn to be unimpressed. No chance in hell such a card exists. Driving through numerous checkpoints upcountry and encountering other tourists here in Conakry, talks about such a card have never come up. The jail talk is essentially just a scare tactic that all bribery attempts need. Something worse than paying the “fine” upfront. However, the soldiers can't leave their post, and all their friends around the gate are wholly uninterested in our little discussion.

I decide that I can't be bothered. I decide to leave. Normally, in these cases, that is relatively easy. I just say I firm “Goodbye” and walk off. Usually, this comes as a profound surprise to the people who are bothering me. Usually, I get far enough away before they can do nothing more than shout angrily after me as I leave them behind. This wasn't one of those usual times.

Edging my way through the palings, one of the soldiers grabs me and keeps me from leaving. I'm bigger than him, and he is unarmed. So is his buddy. But getting into a struggle with the soldiers could probably get me into some real trouble. I decide to walk back.

At this point, the soldiers make it clear to me that I can't leave before I've paid them. Finally, we're past the point of non-existing ID cards and not-going-to-happen jail sentences.

With independence came corruption

With independence came corruption

I tell them it's corruption.
They assure me that it's not - it's simply an “arrangement.”
I repeat that it's corruption and that I'm not going to pay them anything.
They repeat that then I can't leave.

I shrug. This is fine by me. I don't need to be anywhere and eventually - even if it isn't before the end of their shift - they will get into trouble for having let a tourist inside the barriers. I sit down on one of their benches, lean back on their guard house and put my feet up on another bench. Once comfortable, I only tell them, “Fine; I can wait” and slide my hat down in front of my eyes ready to take a nap, Indiana Jones style.

Conakry selfies to celebrate freedom

Conakry selfies to celebrate freedom

At this point, it takes less than three seconds for them to give up. “Okay, you can go” is all they mutter. I leave quickly, resisting the urge to look back at them to show the big, smug smile that is growing on my face. I'd won. Once again I'd won and avoided contributing to a system already ridden with corruption. 83 countries travelled: 0 bribes paid.

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Posted by askgudmundsen 12:34 Archived in Guinea Tagged travel police africa travelling guinea west_africa corruption officers corrupt officials bribery Comments (1)

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