Wednesday 30 April 2008

"Sliding Liberia" and Robertsport


Thanks to Rich Folsom (see comment in in the Surf Africans post) for news about this wonderful-looking film about surfing and survival in Liberia, which somehow grabs the imagination in a way that a lot of worthy, important works don't. The marketing site takes a while to open, but it's worth the wait, beautifully constructed by Joyce Yu, and fabulous music too.

I was obviously quite wrong about the lack of big waves in West Africa. . . and in fact Rich's comment sent me back to the first edition of the Rough Guide to West Africa (1990), in which we had a complete Liberia chapter, researched just before Charles Taylor's murderous army invaded the country. Here, in all its yellowing glory, is the page about Robertsport, which was clearly about to become a little resort. Judging from Google Earth (which is pretty hi-res over the town), our map might not have been the most accurate thing ever created. . .But you can see those big old waves out at Sembuhun beach on the west side of the peninsula.

Nearly twenty years on, let's hope the town can make something of "Sliding Liberia" – not yet screened in the UK and still not on general release anywhere as far as I know.

Friday 11 April 2008

A nice break for Surf Africans

Good (if temptingly punning) news from the BBC for surfers, from three South Africans who reckon the coast of West Africa offers really good waves. That's never been my impression – plenty of nasty rip-tides, yes; big rollers, no – but I'm no surfer, and Senegal certainly gets some waves. I'm not so sure about Ghana (some surf west of Dixcove, perhaps?), but the idea that Ghana's beaches have "particularly large numbers of African surfers" doesn't quite ring true. . .

On the other hand, I hope they do, it would be tremendous for the coastal regions to get a boost from this kind of tourism. Sierra Leone, which the boys missed out because the road network doesn't reallly hit the coast, might turn out to be excellent.

I'd like to hear more from anyone who can fill in details. Meanwhile, a bit more background about the BBC's James Copnall's interview at here, at with some nice footage of the Senegal Surf Champs competition near Dakar and a rocky-looking break in Côte d'Ivoire.

Thursday 10 April 2008

Great travel news from Nigeria

Jeremy Weate, of Naijablog fame, who never seems to do anything by halves, has recently visited Gashaka Gumpti (or Gumpti) National Park in the remote eastern mountains of Nigeria, hard up against the Cameroonian border, specifically to climb the highest mountain in Nigeria, the 2418m Gangirwal, also known as Chappel Waddi (which means “Mountain of Death”). His account is a compelling read and adds greatly to the minimal coverage we have in the Rough Guide – even the new edition which will be out shortly. Highly recommended.

Photo/screenshot © Google Earth (taken from what I assume is the top of Gangirwal, looking NNW into Nigeria). 

Wednesday 9 April 2008

A sad, true warning

A beautifully told tale of trying to do something, and just not being able to, has been scattered across Sophie Sarin's always readable "Djenne Djenno" blog in recent days.  In a small, light way it's completely heartbreaking that 14-year old, illiterate "guide", Fatumata is going to carry on getting nowhere. The tale, which seems to have ended with Fatumata's recent decision to ditch her links with Sophie and the hotel, and go off on another tourist-guiding-begging spree, is a sad, true warning that fly-in-fly-out aid and assistance is just a waste of time, ultimately (in fact rather quickly) doing more harm than good.

Photo: © Sophie Sarin, Djenné-Djenno Hotel, Djenné

Railways in Nigeria


I'd heard that Nigeria's railways were possibly up for a refurb. And surely the Chinese can do it. It would be a huge example for the rest of Africa if the Nigerians could pull it off, but the story here from "This Day" doesn't sound promising.

Here's what we say in the new edition of the Rough Guide:

Food price rises


Expect some stress and tension in many capitals, as people react to huge price rises in basic commodities, especially rice. There have been major outbursts in Cameroon, Senegal, Guinea, Côte d'Ivoire and Burkina Faso in recent weeks. This excellent piece of reportage from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs focuses on how you support a family in Dakar when you have only a couple of pounds a day. Life goes on, but it doesn't get any better.

Photo: Dakar

Thursday 3 April 2008

Overland to West Africa through Morocco: Tangiers warning


Just a heads-up that if you're planning on stopping over in Tangiers on the way south from Europe to West Africa, there's been a spate of muggings in the city in recent weeks. The slightly over-the-top UK FCO general travel advisory for Morocco notes:

"The overall level of the advice has not changed [but] since March 2008 there have been a number of robberies, at knifepoint, of Europeans, including British citizens, near the centre of Tangier".

Let's hope the people involved are quickly caught – it's usually just a small gang who think they can stay lucky – as the city has really become a pleasant place to stay in recent years.

Wednesday 2 April 2008

Ghana environment chief ticked off for harassing loggers for the wrong reason

Ghana has precious little tropical rainforest left: by some accounts, barely 20 percent of the rainforest that was standing at the time of independence, 51 years ago (80,000 square kilometres), is still there. Which makes a moratorium on logging of what's left even more urgent. When I visited in February this year, the big forest giants – often standing like lonely old sentinels in a wilderness of patchy agriculture – were still being chopped down along the road up from Akosombo to Wli, as this photo shows, and the trucks full of logs were coming down the road in the other direction. So this story from the Ghanaian Chronicle, confusing even though it is, is depressing: even in a country as relatively well-managed and on the up as Ghana, where an Environmental Monitoring Foundation exists, is screwed by corruption and short-term gain. There's more background from 2006, including discussion of Kakum National Park here (paragraph about Ghana near the bottom of the doc). To find out more, and get involved in halting the decimation of Ghana's remaining forests, contact ForestWatch Ghana, who act as an umbrella group for NGOs involved in the issue.

Guinea - trouble on the horizon again

Petrol and diesel prices have just gone up in Guinea-Conakry, not by a few pennies, but by the equivalent of several days average wages per gallon. A litre – that cost around $1 or 50p until the end of March – went up to $1.62 (more than 80p) on 1st April. The reason? The government has cut fuel subsidies. President Conté's clique obviously need the money, and figure the latest sabre-rattling by the unions may signal their last chance to make some before it's curtains for their government. With over-dependence on imported (and increasingly expensive) rice also making it almost impossible for people relying on wages to keep going, the next few months are looking really shaky. If you go, keep your ear to the ground the whole time. You'll be welcomed, and it's a beautiful country, but take care.