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Africa 2000 - Niger



Sunday, October 8, 2000

Kim’s Birthday!!  Oh, boy, I get to spend it on airplanes taking me away from home.  We fly to Montreal, and connect to Paris, France.  Uneventful flight – meals are OK, movies are OK.

Monday, October 9, 2000

Arrive in Paris – for 3 hours!!  We do not leave the airport.  We grab a quick snack/breakfast at a café in the terminal (oooh, good French pastries!), browse through the duty-free and wait in a non-smoking area where people are smoking!!

We then fly off to Niamey, Niger, West Africa.  We shuffle into our seats and watch the other passengers go by – many colorful costumes, odd hand baggage – we expect to see a goat boarding and taking a seat.

We arrive in Niamey on schedule (note the burned out Air Afrique aircraft near the runway) and are whisked through security and customs by the staff of Etruscan Mining (the company Andrew is doing a couple of stories on) – it’s nice to have connections!!  We are then seated in a special air-conditioned room where Coke (“coka”) is provided to all us VIPs while we wait for our luggage. 

Well, after ˝ hour we realize that my one bag and one of Andrew’s bags are not coming!!  My bag had all my clothes, toiletries, and 3 boxes of film and Andrew’s bag had the other 2 boxes of film and ALL the batteries for the camera that we were planning on using for the week.  GREAT!!

We rush off to a local version of a “Wal-mart” so I can pick up a few things until my luggage arrives.

We check into the “best” hotel in town, which seems OK at first glance.  Our first night in Africa – during the short ride from the airport we have seen people carrying all sorts of things on their heads, camels and sheep on the main roads, and lots of beggars.  We are given a driver by the mining company (the person changes throughout the week, but the vehicle is the same) who, thankfully, knows his way around town.

Tuesday, October 10, 2000

Somehow my luggage has made it to Casablanca in Morocco, says Air France - the big problem is that Air France flies in once a week (last night), Air Moroc flies in once a week (tonight), and Air Afrique flies in once a week (Thursday).  The highlights of the day include an interview with the Canadian diplomat for Niger (we don’t have an embassy there, just a top official) and he decides to throw a party for us and Dr. John Savage (one of our traveling companions), the former premier of Nova Scotia.

We then head out to the airport in hopes that Air Moroc will come through with my luggage – but they don’t.  They next flight in from civilization is on Thursday night.

Wednesday, October 11, 2000

Today we drive around the streets attempting to get some footage the limited tape and batteries we have left – we visit the Musee Nationale du Niger – not a museum in the North American sense of the word, with paintings and other art.  This museum is a “living museum” – we pay to see people living within the confines of the museum, which also includes a small zoo, artisans making their artisan things, and people following us through the museum begging us to purchase their goods.  I become very excited by the baby lion – a little too excited and I go too close – enough to upset mommy lion.

This evening we go to a nearby hotel to take sunset pictures of the Kennedy Bridge (the only bridge over the only river in the country) – it’s actually very pretty – and we see great numbers of extremely large bats.



Thursday, October 12, 2000

This morning our first stop is at the Grande Mosque – this is a huge building that can be seen from several blocks away – basically it is in three sections – the men’s area, the women’s area, and the in between area where people meet before and after the “services.”

After the mosque, it’s time to head out to the giraffes – the last herd of this particular breed of giraffe in the world – they roam free in a field that covers about 50km2.  We drove on partly paved, partly dirt road for 45 minutes. You know you are coming close to the giraffe location because people try to flag you down.  Don't stop!!  There are road tolls to leave Niamey and get back in -- there are fees for enter the giraffe area, to hire a guide (mandatory), and to use a camera in the park -- and don't forget to tip your guide!!

We drove in search of the giraffes for 50 minutes and were just about to give up, when our guide saw someone in the field, herding his cattle home for the night. Apparently, giraffes had been seen in the not too far off.  We drive in the direction suggested until we see another herder, who points us back in the direction we came from -- we drove right by the spotted wonders!!

We were very skeptical by the time we got our first glimpse of these wonderful creatures!! It was heart-stopping. 5 giraffe in a field, eating papaya from the ground, just minding their own business!!

We slowly walked up to the herd. I focused on one giraffe, who I fondly refer to as Millie (it could have been a Milton, for all I know). Millie would watch me watching her. She would fake going down for another papaya, only to stop half way to the ground and look at me - she was trying to figure out if I was going to do something she didn't want to be part of.

Anyway, I stood and looked at Millie, inching along every few minutes, taking photos, and not believing I could be so lucky to see what I was seeing -- the last herd of this breed of giraffe in the world.   When dark came, we were forced to leave, as there are no street lights, or marked roads in the bush.

One other happy note for today – Air Afrique brought my luggage to me – I had a fashion show!!



Friday, October 13, 2000

Ah, yes, Friday the 13th – wonderful, I’ve got my clothes, nothing worse can happen, right?  Oh, yeah, we’re heading out into the rural areas – where there are no paved roads, electricity, running water, or white people!!  I am definitely out of my element here – and I’m now the minority!

We drive for several hours, dropping medical supplies at clinics and hospitals (one surgical suite covers 450,000 people), dropping school supplies at schools – ready to open next week. 


Then it’s off to the gold mining camp to stay overnight – everyone gets their own little mud house – we have electricity, air conditioning, and bottles of water in the rooms – almost luxury!!  After dinner I settle in for a good night’s sleep – which works until 3am when an evil poisonous toad jumps on my head, waking me – I look around the room and at least 4 of his buddies are looking hopefully at the comfy bed – time to get up and clear the frogs!!  After that experience, a good night’s sleep was out of the question!  The next morning, Andrew informs me that he had bugs dropping onto him (from the ceiling) the entire night – eeeewww!!

Saturday, October 14, 2000

Back to civilization (oops, I mean Niamey – it’s funny how perceptions can change after only 24 hours)  This time, we take a different route back and take a ferry, crammed full of cars, pedestrians, trucks with goats tied in the back – we know how to travel in luxury.  The only thing any of us want to do this evening is take a shower and sleep without the assistance of bugs & toads.

Sunday, October 15, 2000

We are now in sightseeing mode – this morning we’re off to the river in a pirogue (small shallow canoe-like boat), with a guide that takes us to a village to see the people – it’s a lovely trip down the river, seeing the birds and flowers that call the area home.  The village was eye-opening.  Dozens of children run up to us to beg us to take their photo – several women ask us for handouts, fishermen throw their nets in the hopes of getting a tip from us.  And then it’s back to town we go!

In the afternoon we head out to the “dunes” – the closest thing to the desert that we see (part of the Sahara desert is in Niger, but too far to travel in one week) – just a big bunch of sand – of course that strikes a chord in me – SAND ANGELS, anyone!!

Monday, October 16, 2000

The last day in Africa – and none of us are sorry about it.  We finish up interviews by 11am or so, then it’s off to the market (“rip off row”) to purchase those last minute tourist items – we get a lesson in bargaining from John Savage.  An item I had paid $5 for earlier in the week, I now obtain for $1 – we pick up various trinkets, are mobbed by the vendors, and decide to leave with about $50 of stuff that would cost about $500 at home in Canada.

After we have checked out of the hotel, we saunter off to Sean’s home (Sean is one of the officials for Etruscan) where I spend the afternoon dipping my feet in the pool, while the guys do an interview with Sean.  This is followed by supper and a trip to the airport.

Usually, this is where the excitement of the trip would end, and we would fall into comas on the plane.  However, after going through 4 x-ray setups for the luggage, walking through 5 metal detectors, having our carry on luggage search before boarding the aircraft, and shuffling onto the airplane to find overhead storage for our rather large items, I sit down and wonder where Andrew is – gee it’s taking him a long time.  Oh, they’re closing the airplane door – that can’t be good – oh, here he comes!!  It ends up that he was told to go back to the terminal – the buddy at the bottom of the airplane stairs wanted a bribe in order to let Andrew on – he gave him the equivalent of $20 Canadian and pleaded to be let on because his wife was already there – oh, yeah, NOW I’m his wife!!  He was ready for air rage in the 1st degree by the time I told the Air France lady about the problem.

Tuesday, October 17, 2000

We arrive in Halifax, after a 5 hour layover in Paris, and 2 hours in Toronto – all very cranky, tired and hungry.  Enough of traveling to 3rd world countries for us!!


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