Category Archives: TIA

Guide to Lome, Togo

A guest post about a visit to Lome, the capital of Togo in West Africa. 

Getting There: Took Virgin/Ethiopian, San Francisco to Newark, then a direct flight from Newark to Lome (it then goes on to Addis). The cost was between $950-$1,000.

On arrival: This was an easy experience, that took about 10-15 minutes. I paid for a 7-day Togo tourist visa on arrival. They take your passport and do the visas one by one – you can go collect your luggage then come back for your passport or just wait around if you carried on. It was about $8 to take one of the airport taxis to my destination, but I was staying very close to the airport, not in downtown.

Getting Around: I didn’t do much moving around town, but motorbikes are definitely the most popular form of transport. They were everywhere. Buses are not very plentiful, though they do have a fleet of donated buses that are used as city buses. No mini-buses that I saw. People also walk a lot and there are taxis around, but most people use motorbike taxis.

I didn’t walk around, but Lome is pretty safe. Not sure that it is recommended to walk around at night though. I wasn’t able to use a credit card anywhere I went, but I bet fancier hotels would accept them. Togo uses the CFA Franc, same as other French-speaking countries in West Africa.

Staying in Touch: Local phone calls were reasonably priced, though I only made a few. International calls are very expensive, though. Also, 3G data is available in Lome but quite slow at times because bandwidth is very limited. I bought a local SIM, some airtime and 1 GB of data for $9. Wi-Fi is not very prevalent, but it’s available in some places.

Where to Stay: I was hosted by the organization I was visiting in Togo, so I didn’t spend time in a hotel or b&b. Electricity was pretty reliable. We had a generator where I was saying and it definitely kicked in at least once in the few days I was there.

Eating Out: There is a variety of different foods. Starches like fufu, one made of very fine maize flour, and rice. Also peanut sauce, a cow cheese similar to paneer, lots of spicy/fishy flavors. Common proteins were fish, chicken and guinea hen. A beer was easy to get, but I didn’t go to any bars. French and local languages are spoken, though French is most commonly used and I don’t speak French so I missed a lot of what happened around us.

More business travel tales at  This is Africa.

Understanding African Flyers

Last year, Sabre released a report on African flyers and how airlines could reach and serve them better or enhance the flying experience. It broke down how nationals of four countries – Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa and Egypt – perceived different aspects of flying including costs, in-flight preferences, pain points, experiences, and decisions on whether to use local or foreign airlines.


It also looked at if the introduction of a single passport would impact traveling across the continent. The challenge of getting a visa was cited as a major hindrance for Africans seeking to travel more alongside costs, lack of routes, safety, and stressful flights.

 

Conclusions: 

  • More airlines need in-flight Wi-Fi.
  • Many airlines have uncomfortable flights, and passengers will pay more to get better experiences. They are willing to spend ($104), six times the global average, for this.
  • The cost of flying is still high (national taxes are a major reason for this)
  • Removal of visa’s or the ability to obtain a visa on-arrival will have more impact than a pan-African or an African Union passport.

And specifically for Kenya Airways,

Kenyans passengers would (extra) pay for:

  • Inflight Wi-Fi
  • Extra luggage

Kenyans will choose KQ over a foreign airline for:

  • Cheaper tickets
  • Superior customer service

Guide to Brazzaville

A guest post

Getting There: Kenya Airways was my choice. I could have done Ethiopian or RwandAir, but there were no connections on KQ; it was the only direct flight. There was a stopover in Kinshasa on the way back. The flight cost is $ 2,099 in business class (and approx. $1,000 in economy).

Visa: I had obtained a business visa in Nairobi before I departed. A 3 month multi-entry visa costs Kshs 11,000 and that included an extra Kshs 1,000 for same day processing. The embassy is located in Gigiri on Whispers Avenue.

Great airport! (Built by the Chinese)

Great airport! (Built by the Chinese)

On arrival: They requested to see my letter of invitation, which I hadn’t printed but I now had to boot up my laptop to show them the letter. You would think this was unnecessary seeing as how I had the visa already. Also my bag was opened prior to my receiving it and they had taken some inconsequential stuff (even though I had a TSA lock on it.) I discovered this when I got to the hotel.

Getting Around: I didn’t get to move around much as this was for business. This was personal, and the people were great. They’re a millions of green taxis there. Locals and visitors alike use them. They must be cheap as they are used more than their “matatus.”

Brazzaville green taxisWhere to Stay: I stayed at the Pefaco. It cost $130, and is right next to the airport. There is also the Radisson Blu ($250 a night), which I had booked this prior to getting guidance to switch hotels…for convenience and proximity reasons. Electricity is not reliable at all, and there were multiple outtages (about 4 – 5 a day.)

Staying In Touch: I used VOIP to make my calls. They have Airtel there though, I didn’t use my cell while I was there. There’s no wi-fi hotspots, but the hotel (Pefaco) had good wireless internet. There’s poor internet infrastructure in general. (I was told the government shut down the Internet for a week during the elections earlier this year.)

Out & About: There are traditional african foods like “matoke,” cassava, etc.,. but there is also a French influence in terms of thing like bread and pastries. There are four 4 major beers – Primus, Star, Ngok (Crocodile) and Nzoko (elephant).

The people speak French and talk a lot about politics. It’s in season, whether it’s on Congo-Brazzaville, DRC, or US. I could not find a local English newspaper.

Shopping & Sight-Seeing: The main sightseeing is along the river. The Congo river separates Kinshasa from Brazzaville. There is a downtown shopping area called Poto Poto. It has African clothing, and everything else. It felt like there was a lot more Chinese construction there than there is in most other African cities.

Tallest building in Brazzaville with interesting history

Tallest building in Brazzaville with interesting history

Budget: The Congo Franc is the currency used there, and it costs (equivalent of about $100) per day to get around. You can use your visa card almost exclusively. There was a Russian mafia scheme a few years ago. Visa lost millions of dollars, and then replaced all the PDU machines. Mastercard use is extremely limited, but I was able to get cash from select ATMs.

Odd Points: The Lingala language and music. The music is played everywhere, and they love it even more than we do. I was also surprised at how strong the connections are to Europe.. France, Belgium, Switzerland.

Another was that they import a lot of their food…even meat and milk. Meat is imported from Chad, and onions from Cameroon, while milk is from different countries in Europe, with powdered milk from the Netherlands.

Guide to Djibouti

A guest post by @queenofsheeba7

I’ve absolutely and utterly been in love with Djibouti since I was a kid. Granted, it was the name the intrigued me; ever since I was 8 years old. Even as I received the stamp on my passport, I muffled a giggle to myself about the name – nope I still haven’t grown up! Djibouti is a forgotten gem of the Horn, somehow you just never know what you’re going to get when you’re in Djibouti…that’s part of the charm. Stick around this engaging city long enough and you might fall prey to its unexpected charms.

Getting there: It’s fairly easy to get to Djibouti City from Nairobi. However, Kenya Airways and Ethiopian Airlines have recently been fully booked due to the number of humanitarians running to respond to the Yemen crisis (Djibouti is among the countries in the Horn receiving a large number of individuals fleeing Yemen). Flights are between $300-$500. You will be shocked when you arrive just how TINY the Djibouti airport is and what an utter joke it is. You would think because its a joint civilian/military-used airport that it’d be more impressive. Speaking of military, don’t be surprised with all the foreign military personnel prancing around exuding testosterone.

Visas: Kenyans do require a visa into Djibouti, no surprise there. It’s $90 and you are able to receive it on arrival, as I have often done so. Inbound immigration and visa on arrival facilities are slightly chaotic though not too bad.

Getting Around: The easiest and perhaps cheapest way to get around is to hire a car during your stay. Or you could walk around as the city is pretty tiny, just that the heat may get the best of you.

Djibouti’s national language is French, so best to carry your French phrase book. I got by with a mix of French and Somali. If you speak Arabic that is an added bonus. It’s no use speaking in English as they have embraced the French attitude of pretending they don’t speak a word of English! It’s also interesting noticing how Somalis have a collective identity crisis. As they were colonized by the French, they prefer to speak French over Somali – even when other Somalis (from the diaspora or neighboring countries) try to talk to them. It’s just odd as Somalis are known for being proud of their culture and language.

Communications: You can purchase a local sim-card for about $10. You will be required to carry your passport to register for the sim-card. If you are like me and are itching to check your social media feeds/emails as soon as you land, you will sadly be waiting forever to get your hit. Most cafes & hotels do have Wi-Fi but it’s often a hit and miss. Electricity is pretty reliable, didn’t experience any power cuts. Word of advice, carry a converter!

Where to Stay: As in every city, it really depends on how much you are willing to part with. They have the Sheraton, Hilton and Kempinski that I have checked out and they are all reasonable prices – $100-$150 per night. Again, do not be surprised if there are foreign soldiers staying in your hotel. At the Kempinski, it was the norm seeing soldiers decked out in their national uniform smiling and talking to you while you wait for your breakfast.

Budget: It’s not as pricey as people say but still not cheap – $25-$40 per day (excluding car rental). Thanks to foreign military bases, everything is horrendously expensive for what you get. Some good news, is it’s easy to find ATM’s that dispense U.S dollars. Most places you can get away with paying in dollars. The catch with Djiboutian francs (and NO ONE tells you about it) is once you change from dollars to Djiboutian francs you cannot exchange them back. You are forced to use all your francs before you depart as they are completely useless outside Djibouti.

Eating Out: The food is similar to Somalia/Somaliland/Puntland, because they are Somalis after all! However, you will find European/Parisian influenced cafes and restaurants. “The Melting Pot” is my go to place for dinner. Street food and supermarkets allow you to eat for $2 – $4 per meal, while cheap restaurants are $3-$6 per meal. The French hangover in Djibouti means that delicious pastries, croissants, pain au chocolate are in abundance here.

Alcohol is available in the country, but only purchasable from hotels/bars. Most people chew miraa from 4 p.m. and sit around cafes chewing; recently their chats (well at least the ones I’ve tumbled into) have predominantly focused on the Yemen crisis. But one thing I’ve noticed is Djiboutian’s are very diplomatic, and they rarely speak ill about any country. Think of them as Switzerland in the Horn.

Shopping & Sight-Seeing: As Djibouti was colonized by the French, it still holds the French feeling throughout the whole city. If you forget yourself for a moment you could feel you’re wandering down a Parisian street as you chew on your baguette (cheap and delicious by the way!). The architecture flips between European and African as does the cuisine so it truly holds an ambience unlike anything you’ll have experienced before.

IMG_8262The African market/quarter is just south of the European quarter in the city center. This is an intense lively/chaotic with a market in full swing. Like most Arab countries, markets open from sunset, so get ready to do all shopping late in the evening.

Every Thursday, the ladies go to the market from 9 p.m. & buy themselves new diraacs (Somali attire) to wear the following week. So if you really want to experience the market in full swing, go on a Thursday night. It reminds me of Mombasa in the sense that it’s very safe to walk around late at night in the bustling markets. (Perhaps it has to do with the presence of foreign military in the city)

Biggest surprise of the country: Nearly EVERYTHING in Djibouti is imported. This is great because you will find all your French foods/cosmetics in the local supermarkets. But the fact they don’t even grow anything is odd, I mean the vegetables are all imported from Ethiopia! Also, Djibouti works 6 days a week. That’s to make up for the short working hours they have (9 a.m.- 2 p.m.) due to the heat. When I was last there in September it was 38 degrees and they kept assuring me that this was cool for Djibouti. The Djiboutian Permanent Secretary for the  Ministry of Justice even bragged that Djibouti had the highest temperature ever recorded.

Guide to Freetown, Sierra Leone

A guest post

Getting There: Lufthansa and Brussels will get you as far as Abidjan and local carrier operating under them will get you into the country. There’s also Kenya Airways and Air France. Flights are still very limited and very expensive due to the Ebola outbreak; it’s not hard to get in or out with the right planning but don’t expect a couple of flights to choose from every day, more like one to choose from every couple days.

On Arrival: Lungi International Airport isn’t so bad.  Quick walk to the terminal and the bags arrived fairly quickly.  But getting into downtown Freetown is another matter.  I don’t want to wager how long a taxi ride would take as it’s a US$40 shuttle and boat ride into town after your plane lands.  Also, there’s only one company — Sea Coast Express — running boats at the moment, so not a lot of options.  When we landed it was about a 20-minute ride to the boat, 30 minutes to board, and 30 minutes across the water.  And that’s on a good day.  For other colleagues it’s been a 3-4 hour process; one mentioned she got the last boat leaving that day and that was at 17:00 (though we landed at 5 p.m. and were fine).  The boats operate on the flight schedule and fewer flights equal fewer boats.  Bottom line is that it’s safe to assume there will be a boat for your flight but have a backup plan to spend a night in Lungi if you’ve missed the last boat out — much safer and simpler than trying to spend five hours drive there in the dark.

Getting Around: We hired a driver for the week, which is recommended.  Taxis are common but so is picking up as many fares as once throughout the ride to maximize profits.  Boda bodas are everywhere and fastest from their numbers and weaving through traffic.  Buses are another option but unsure of the routes and the morning commute had queues about 75 meters long by 09:00.

It’s very secure, for walking around, even toward the evening.  Just keep in mind that it’s a city and like any city in the world just don’t be stupid and you’ll be fine.  Don’t flash money around, keep your valuables out of sight, and take taxis everywhere after dark, etc.

Staying In Touch: I was not able to use my personal cell line, which is a first as it promotes international access, including data.  While I could have enabled some service, data and calls were prohibitively expensive.  It was off to Airtel for local SIM cards, which did not take long to open a new account (about 30 minutes).  Charging and top up stations are all over the city, so never far from finding someone who could provide more airtime at about 500MB for 50,000 Leone.  An SMS is about 500 Leone and the average call around 2,000 Leone.

Where to Stay:There were lots of hotels offering a good range of amenities.  Colleagues who had been here before, opted for the Country Lodge, which was sufficient and offered excellent views of the city.  This time we stayed at The Hub Hotel, one of the newer facilities, which was excellent with a bar, restaurant, pool, good view, comfortable rooms, and is only going to get better  as their gym is nearly done.  It fills up quick though; and we had to make the booking a couple of months in advance.

Electricity is very reliable. The most we noticed at larger facilities were the generators flipping over in the evening, even at the start of the rainy season.  Outages happened, of course, but the longest I think we waited was just a few minutes.

Eating Out: Star beer everything but a good selection just about everywhere we went.  Food is very broad in the selection as well; chicken and rice is the most common.  Discussion was local politics (the Vice President was recently ousted), and the Ebola response.  As a Liverpool fan, all I could find were Man U. fans, so there was talk of sports but unfortunately no one understood basic good versus evil on that front.

English is the official language, to the point where I only even heard some other local dialects from other chiefdoms a couple times and briefly throughout my week there.  Several local English papers and radio stations.

Shopping & Sight-Seeing: Probably missed it but didn’t come across a main shopping area.  But stalls are everyone; some streets have them the entire length with everything from shoes to books to computer parts.

While I didn’t get a chance to go — ah, the tease of business travel — everyone who talked about sightseeing started and ended with the beaches.  River Beach No.2 seemed to get the most mentions between its amenities but mostly the seclusion it offers for those willing to drive a little further to get there.  Don’t think you can go wrong at any beach there.

Hotels average about US$130 with breakfast included; dinner would be about another US$25.  Dollars are acceptable but Leones are preferred.  Much more importantly, however, is Sierra Leone basically doesn’t use credit cards.  The bank system is improving but it’s a ways away from making ATM’s a common sight.  Our hotel accepted cards but somewhat reluctantly and with an additional 4% service charge.  So bring cash and lots of it.

Odd Points: Get used to not shaking many hands due to Ebola, even for those you’ve just met – wasn’t odd but sensible given the situation, just off putting at first.  We did dome fist bumps or bumped elbows; most just get right to the conversation.  It’s best to not even try and deal with the awkwardness of not shaking hands versus trying to shake the hand of someone who is clearly uncomfortable but still trying to be polite.

Biggest surprise: Not a real surprise was how common health safety about Ebola was but I was surprised at just how much safety-related propaganda was all around.  It’s everywhere, which course is a good thing and speaks to why (Ebola) is in decline now.