My work as a Travel Guide for a leading travel website takes me to places I never imagined myself to be, but I have to. One of my country assignments last year was to cover the Equatorial Guinea and discover what attractions it has to offer and learn about the people and their culture. It is not an easy place to travel. My boss made prior arrangements for me to meet up with a local from Malabo to help me get around and accompany me during my stay in that Atlantic Coast of Africa. Around February I embarked on my 4 day solo travel to Equatorial Guinea, from Atlanta I braved the 26 hour Air France flight via Paris to get to Santa Isabel Airport in Malabo, Bioko Island. I had a hard time obtaining my tourism card at the airport. Lots of bribery was involved to get my passport stamped and permits for taking pictures need to be applied. I arrived around May last year and I experienced an extremely hot and humid weather in Equatorial Guinea.
I was fetched by my Spanish speaking Equatoguinean counterpart named Lorenzo Stephan. We both stayed at the Sofitel Malabo Sipopo Le Golf. From the terrace, I had a chance to see the breathtaking sunrise over the Horacio Islands. After planning our own itinerary, we head out to explore other points of interest in the capital, Malabo. It is located within Bioko Island, adjacent to Cameroon and about 100 miles from the mainland. We drove around the city and I saw tankers and oil refineries surround it. It is a little city situated on a natural crater shaped harbor at the base of Pico Basile, a volcanic zone with a fantastic ocean view. I find it rather picturesque as I saw plenty of graceful Spanish colonial buildings like the Palacio de la Presidencia, Plaza de España, the Casa Verde and Hispano Guineano Cultural Centre. Few meters from here I saw the Malabo City Hall; it looked small and unassuming for a town hall. I took time to meditate at the Santa Isabel Cathedral. We also strolled along the Maritime Walkway where I saw giant fruit bats that live on the trees. We bargained for some souvenirs and fruits at the Malabo Market Place.
The rest of the afternoon was spent enjoying the amenities the Sofitel Malabo Sipopo Le Golf provides like, Jet Ski in the blue waters, enjoying the golf course in the tropical forest, a dip in their large pool and a good pampering at their Spa. Wi-Fi was working very well, and we had smoked salmon and Serrano ham for dinner at their spacious dining hall. This well designed property is like a mirage but it’s real and it meets the highest standard I expected from a Sofitel brand hotel. It is very modern and really worth a stay.
The next day we drove along asphalt covered roads of the Malabo-Riaba-Luba-Highway to see other attractions in Bioko Island. We got to Mount Basile located 9 km from Malabo, there were groups of tourists when we got there, it has cliffs and volcanoes. From the summit it has a good view of its neighboring countries Nigeria and Cameroon. Inside I found the COPE Bridge a bridge way that is constructed due to the hostility of the military troops around this zone. One of the qualities of the Basile Peak or Mount Basile is the diversity of its landscapes and the rich vegetation. These forests are also home to an endangered primate species called the Drill (Mandrillus Leucophaeus). Along the beaches of Bioko Island I saw huge sea turtles that lay eggs or just simply laze in the sand.
The Bioko Island is lined with stretches of beaches with black and white sands. We found theBadammo Beach located south and near the Ureka Village. Alena Beach, located 2km from the main road, it has white sand beaches, and fishermen who acts as tour guides and rent their boats to tourists who wants to see the nearby Los Loros Island. Along the outskirts of the Malabo towards the airport is the Del Seis Beach, I saw tourists enjoying this small white beach and its fresh sea breeze. Next beach we saw was the Del Quince Beach, it is found beside a small village called Basupu. I saw how hard life is around that area as I talked to a farmer complaining how their harvests of root crops are often small because much of the soil is of poor quality. Most of the people around these beaches live by fishing and farming. Beggars oftentimes ask us for food and money on every village we visit. Women sell all kinds of stuff to tourists to augment their income.
On the third day we head to Bata, the second city in Equatorial Guinea and the first along the Rio Muni mainland. It is a quiet city surrounded by white sand beaches. Bome Beach was teeming with locals and tourists when we got there. After a two hour drive from city we got to the Monte Alen National Park. It is a 540 square-mile nature reserve with some of Africa’s biggest animals. The park is home to forest elephants, gorillas and chimpanzees, birds and insects, and crocodiles. At the center of the city I saw the clock tower named Plaza del Reloj (Clock Square). This is an important place due to its beautiful architecture and spirituality. We then proceed to the Isla Corsico. Beyond being a reminder of the Spanish colonial era in Africa, Isla Corsico is a slice of traditional African life. The communities on this tiny little island just south of Rio Muni live a traditional way of life, fairly untouched by tourism and development. This island is also lined with white sand beaches but I did not see a single tourist roaming around it. Most of the beaches were not developed to become open for tourism and looked more deserted. I saw a beautiful city with Spanish colonial buildings but it looked a little neglected.
My last day in the Equatorial Guinea was spent exploring Luba. It is a lightly inhabited little town situated in the southern side of Bioko Island. We found the beautiful white sand beach called Playa Arena Blanca. We needed to pay bribe money to get inside a private beach called the Playa Privada. Their restaurants along the coast are famous due to the seafood that they cook. Situated along the sheltered deepwater bay of Luba is the Luba Freeport. It is a world class oil logistics centre built to meet the growing demand of other countries for Equatorial Guinea oil. It also serves as a port for its booming logging industry. From the port I saw a rusted old shipwreck broken in two, totally eaten by rust and the salinity of the sea. I strolled around a sleepy village called Batete and found more Spanish inspired houses and took photographs of Luba beach boys happily diving from the planks around the port and swimming on its tranquil waters.
It is an oil rich country but it felt “third world” as I saw kids begging around the main road, and the poorness of life at the countryside. Most of the locals I met were warm and friendly that is the country’s saving grace. It has beautiful waters and beaches but some were undeveloped. I find the numerous government and military checkpoints we passed along the road to have my passport and tourism card checked rather annoying. Getting around this country involves a mixture of faith, fearlessness and bribery. I am not surprised why tourists avoid it.