Day 170 – Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, Marathon 55 – only 141 to go

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Today’s marathon is entitled ‘Peace’.

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A huge change of scenery, and peace at last! What a wonderfully odd place.

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In the past few months in Africa I have had relentless swarms of mopeds and motorbikes whizzing past me, bumping into me, and, of course, incessantly beeping their bloody horns. The roads have been busy with hustle, bustle and a whole lot of foul-smelling rubbish, not to mention potholes, kids washing in streams and having ‘white boy’ chanted at me by anyone and everyone. This, by the way, is not bad, and I certainly don’t take the ‘white boy’ songs as offensive; if anything it’s actually quite nice, in a weird way… everything is just different here, and I’m LOVING IT. Eyes wide open every day, all day, and today was a great day.

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On my 26.2 miles around the city of Malabo I ran down the middle of miles of empty motorways, through overgrown forest paths, saw less than 15 cars, and felt the overwhelming sense that nature had won here. Lots of stray (but not aggressive) dogs and other animals own this town.

 

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Imagine a film set where they close roads to get that ‘post-apocalyptic shot’ – it’s the same here, but in real life and far bigger. The city is quiet, peaceful and my mind was relaxed and at ease. I saw a grand total of ZERO motorbikes, at least 1,000 frogs, over 500 brightly coloured lizards and thousands of birds. The trees were full of life. And the noise of ‘nothing’ was the best treat I’ve had in months. Running is peaceful even when it’s busy and hectic, but to be in the middle of a tropical footpath, just after it had finished raining, with wildlife engulfing everything, from the lampposts, bins and abandoned cars – I loved today’s peace.

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PS… I even made it back in time to watch the football, have a warm shower and eat a pesto pasta dish sitting on my bed with the rain hitting against the window, looking out over the mountains, clouds sinking into the valley.

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Day 171 – Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, rest day

Five armed military police with AK47s in my room, while I stand in my pants…

This is the story of the worst hotel service I’ve ever experienced… well, so far!

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I ordered a chicken burger and chips. I know that’s not very African, but trust me, I need a break from rice, questionable meat and chunky bones. Two hours and 45 minutes later I was given three different dishes, none of which were what I had ordered.

My first burger was actually a very stale bun with some sad looking lettuce and an egg. No chicken to be seen. This was finally served to me after just over an hour of waiting. There were exactly 14.5 oven chips on my plate.

Without eating anything this plate of food was eventually taken away and about a hour and a quarter later a second dish arrived. And this dish was also not what I had ordered. It was a pesto pasta dish that resembled pasta and dog sick. I was rather tickled by this chain of events.

My third and final dish was my burger!… Oh no wait, my mistake. This was a beef burger, not chicken (with the same original 14.5 fries). Without eating anything and out of sheer stubbornness and on principle, I informed them I would not be paying for the burger and would like my money back. By this point I had already paid £18.75. I was then presented with another bill for the pasta dish, which I had neither ordered nor eaten. I was being asked to pay twice.

My order had taken nearly three hours, had been wrong each time and I hadn’t eaten a thing. At this point I huffed back to my room to nibble on reserve snacks. I was about to shower when there was a knock at my door. Five rather large men carrying five equally large AK47s pushed me aside and came and stood in my room. So here I was, in just my boxers, having to answer to the police. After an hour they gave up. I felt like I had won, but actually I still hadn’t had any dinner and I’d ended up paying for a burger I hadn’t had. Maybe I should have just paid £36 for food I didn’t order or eat? But isn’t the customer always right? Maybe they didn’t get the memo…

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Day 172 – Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, shower day

So my white vest tan line is coming on a treat. Soon I won’t need to wear anything. Well, maybe shorts would be a good idea.

I had three showers today – gosh, I love a nice hot shower, especially after not having had one in far too long – decent pressure, nice and hot. I even managed to unknot my silly long hair.

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Watching Argentina and Nigeria play in the World Cup is nothing special for me. Watching it with Nigerians, however, is very funny, and it gets better.

Generally speaking this part of the world can be rather loud and boisterous. Some gentlemen in particular were shouting aggressively at every sound of the ref’s whistle (regardless of whose favour the decision was in). These were the same group of people who had frequented the less than bar-like bar in the lobby area of this fabulously crap hotel for the last few nights.

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Eleven men, all with chains around their necks, brightly coloured and very dirty clothes, were standing about a foot away from the screen. Their initial aggression was intimidating as I sat in the corner catching up on emails and nibbling on some stale bread. I then realised that there would soon be many Brits doing exactly the same thing when England play next. In the 80th minute of the match the TV had decided that it would not tolerate the abuse of men shaking and manhandling it. At the same time as the pot-bellied ringleader bellowed in dismay at a ref’s decision, the TV promptly dived head first on to the floor – the TV had sacrificed itself. The dead TV was now at peace; indeed, in pieces. Needless to say I was smiling quite a lot. You can imagine the uproar and increased aggression now they didn’t have anything to yell at. They collectively decided the best course of action was to kick the recently deceased TV and they they began to fight each other.

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Day 173 – Equatorial Guinea to Libreville, Gabon

Airports do the same job for everyone passing through, so why on earth are they always so different? Today’s journey has taken me from the island of Malabo in Equatorial Guinea back to Douala in Cameroon. I then sat in an empty room for 5 hours before flying here, to country number 56, Gabon, to the city of Libreville. This is a name I’m finding rather common around here. Directly translating as ‘Free City’, I’ve already passed through Freetown, Freestone and I think there are plenty more. I guess this is a nod to celebration, but does still sadly point to times that were not free, as do the majority of the statues and memorials here.

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The airport experience today was amusing as my flight details were so wrong. The details given to me by the online booking system read like this:

Flight Number: H1-6665, Airline: Hahn Air, Time: 10:40

The actual flight details were:

Flight Number: C8-777, Airline: Cronos Airlines, Time: 09:30

These look rather different, don’t they, but they are, in fact, one and the same flight. Basically I’ve now become accustomed to assuming that every piece of information I’m given is likely to be wrong. My taxi this morning, which was due to collect me at 7.30am, arranged by the famous Hotel Ibis in Malabo, was yet another example of when not to trust people. Despite speaking to several different people and confirming over and over again, they looked me in the eye, wrote it down and said “Yes, a taxi will be waiting for you at 7.30am.” No worries. This obviously didn’t happen. With my flight getting very close I had no choice but to find another method of transport.

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Due to the fact that this is in what feels like a post-apocalyptic island, with virtually nobody anywhere, it then took me over an hour to hitch a lift to the airport. Remember the laws of Africa – everyone is a taxi if someone needs a lift. Thank you to the random stranger who engaged in absolutely no verbal communication whatsoever, but who did deliver me to the airport, just in time.

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Day 174 – Libreville, Gabon, Marathon 56

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Top rules of African airports:

RULE 1: NEVER follow the same processes as any other airport. It’s important to provide confusion, inconsistency and a general sense of mayhem, at all times.

RULE 2: Seating must be old, tatty and always broken. The number of seats at the departure gate must allow for only 10% of the passengers boarding the plane. This is a strict limit. Do not make seats comfortable or give the ability for passengers to lie down.

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RULE 3: Security checks are of the highest importance. Correction, security checks are NOT to be conducted thoroughly, fairly, consistently or follow any standard of practice. It is essential that at least four checks per passenger are made; these must all consist of gentle and entirely pointless pad-downs of your bag that ensures no security whatsoever. At all times no communication with passengers is acceptable; smiling is a sackable offence. To confirm your bag has passed, a verbal grunt is all that’s required. If security scanners don’t work, push the bags through by hand and pretend it’s working. No need for anyone to monitor the screen either.

RULE 4: Announcements are only allowed if there is no possibility they will be understood. When making an announcement it is suggested holding the microphone inside the mouth to ensure it is suitably muffled. Display boards with departure information are banned.

RULE 5: All staff must always appear that they have no idea what’s going on, where they are or what an airport actually is. Staff must give the impression of complete confusion and incompetence at all times. If you are of high-ranking incompetence, be sure to wear a fluorescent vest.

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Today’s run was grand! On to the next one. I’m slightly more attuned to the heat now, which is nice. I have nearly completed the West of Africa.

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Day 175 – Libreville, Gabon, rest day

The Wi-Fi gods gave me a break and I capitalised on it. Finally. My mission today was to combat the technologies of the 21st century. Due to the fantastically rubbish accommodation, I had decided to hunt down a decent location for breakfast and set about my plan to take on the internet. I am referring to all of the bits and pieces that decide to stop working if you don’t give them some TLC, things like accepting new privacy policy terms on apps I use to navigate or to check flight times. Other admin bits include backing up to iTunes, or making sure my back-up watch data is actually backed up and my files are safe, or downloading the latest version of operating systems software for my phones and laptop, syncing my iCloud, The list really goes on and on, and it wasn’t going to take 2 minutes. So today I settled in on the balcony of the Radisson Hotel. Due to the £580 per night price tag I wasn’t staying here, but instead just used (and abused) their facilities.

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For all of these tasks I needed good Wi-Fi. I spent about an hour moving from one place to the next before setting up shop. I want to acknowledge that I’m acutely aware that spending time hunting down Wi-Fi when I’m in a beautiful country is a huge travellers’ crime, but needs must. This trip needs its technologies, and I’d been without a vaguely good connection for months. Today was a treat.

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A full English breakfast, hot chocolate, shoes off, feet up, cushions, and waiters to quite literally wait on me. I had pizza, some chicken African dish, some more hot chocolate and profiteroles for dessert. I arrived at about 8am for breakfast and I’m now only just about to leave to head back to my hovel of a hotel, at 10.35pm. A good day of jobs, 95% complete. I feel like I’ve made progress. Talking of progress, on to another country tomorrow, São Tomé, an island, which is supposed to be very friendly.

Day 176 – Gabon via Togo via Ghana to São Tomé and Príncipe

ONE day, FOUR countries, and a whole lot of safety announcements. Before you continue reading this please be sure your window blinds are open, your seat backs are upright, and your tray tables are stowed. I am rather proud to say that I have made it my mission to learn the safety announcement by heart. Very tragic, I know, but oddly satisfying. If you’re lucky, I may even post a video. I’ll need to find some props. What do you think?

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Today’s flights with overall airport time:

Gabon to Togo: 978 miles, 5 hours

Togo to Ghana: 135 miles, 4 hours

Ghana to São Tomé: 749 miles, 5 hours

3 check-ins, 2 aisle seats, 1 window, 2 passports, 2 visas, 0 meals, 2 naps, 2 new friends, 3 stupid immigration form things, 1 mad rush

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My one significant mad rush was connecting for my last flight, Ghana to São Tomé, when I had 42 minutes to do the following:

Step 1: Get off plane

Step 2: Stand in line at immigration

Step 3: Smile nicely and pass through immigration

Step 4: Vaccination card health check

Step 5: Stupid customs form thingy

Step 6: Wait for bag

Step 7: Go for a wee

Step 8: Push my way through customs

Step 9: Exit airport

Step 10: Run from Arrivals to Departures

Step 11: Find check-in desk

Step 12: Check bag back in (now very sweaty)

Step 13: Push through security

Step 14: Immigration form thingy again

Step 15: Find gate

Step 16: Make it to the shuttle bus

Step 17: Shuttle bus to plane

Step 18: Face the evil eye from other passengers

Step 19: Take off

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Nick Butter

British Endurance Athlete | Motivational Speaker | Adventurer

Contact Details: 07754328355 | nick@nickbutter.co.uk | http://www.nickbutter.com

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