The Road to Africa
Following my three-week biker pilgrimage to Daytona Beach’s Biketoberfest via Panama City’s Thunder Beach Motorcycle Rally I broke camp and along with my new friend Naomi (Nene) hit the road. As you read in my last blog Nene, my new fellow world-traveling friend, was planning to hit New Orleans as the next stop in her great American backpack tour. Having previously decided to hit NOLA for a night or two en route to Houston it was a good fit for both of our schedules.
The trip was incredible. The interpersonal chemistry and easy conversations survived the ten plus hours of road time. We made it to the quarter and spent the next two days exploring the city. Wonderful memories and lots of fuel for my next blog to be sure. (Here’s her blog about it). Had a great time but after two days reality set in and I packed up, bid a sad farewell to Nene and headed to Houston with only two days to spare before my next African work hitch.
Back in Houston I spent the next 48 hours visiting family and friends, packing for a six-week work trip and two-week European vacation, and prepping the truck and trailer for long-term storage. I rented a covered space for the winter. It was big enough to accommodate them both with room to spare.
With all my affairs in order (sounds serious, huh?) I boarded a flight to Paris, France. I do enjoy flying Air France. What’s not to love about an airliner that brings you all the Champagne, beer, wine, and gourmet-ish food you want at no charge? The first time I flew Air France the person in front of me ordered Champagne and a Heineken … at the same time! Amazed, I followed suit, asking if I could have the same. To my delight the flight attendant smiled and said, ‘Oui.’
Anyway, I digress. Upon arrival I set upon the torturous transit to my connecting flight’s terminal. Where the French excel in the form of culture and dining they more than make up for in their horrible airport layout and transit system. While most airports have trams linking widely separated terminals Charles de Gaul Airport relies upon a bus system whose pickup point takes twenty minutes to get to, then runs every twenty minutes, and whose circuitous routing takes twenty minutes to get to your desired terminal. Thus what takes as little as ten minutes in Atlanta takes an hour in Paris.
Suitably down trodden (by French ground transportation standards) I finally made it to the gate. I hopped on the Air France flight to Malabo, sat back and ordered my now traditional glass (disguised as a plastic cup) of Champagne and frosty mug (disguised as a can) of Heineken.
Nine hours later I stepped from the plane’s cool and comparatively fragrant air into Malabo’s dank, rank atmosphere. While I try to enjoy my time in Africa, I’m quickly reminded of one of the reasons I didn’t want to come back. Regular bathing hasn’t quite caught on. For the most part it’s not a matter of logistics. Many times I’ve picked up local oil workers who have spent days to weeks on well stocked, billion dollar offshore oil facilities with excellent accommodations, private showers, and all the soap you can use. Dressed in their best ‘going-home-to-mama’ clothes they smell like a July to August vintage hobo.
Once again, I digress. On the positive side I’ve arrived on the night the Marathon Oil facility throws their biweekly ‘Quiz Night.’ Knowing I was returning that evening my Norwegian friend Heidi has thoughtfully included me in the invitations she attains from her contacts at Marathon.
Unwilling to surrender to the jetlag nipping at the edge of consciousness I unpack and freshen up. We head to Marathon, crossing from the dirt filmed roads and purely African roadside scenery into the surreally disconnected facility. We drive between homes whose style and landscaping would look perfectly at home in Suburbia, USA. I feel like I’ve received a temporary reprieve from the governor. As much as I love travel and experiencing different cultures and ways of life I do love the comforts of home. So with my true immersion into African culture put off a day we arrive at the quiz’s location.
It’s a fun event that takes place at the facility’s recreation center. Two-for-one cocktails and free food capped off with several rounds of trivia quizzes. After some delicious dinner and cold beers we divide into company-based teams and move to the quiz area. After lots of laughter, and several quiz rounds on various subject matters from inane to insane we end up scoring in the middle. Not that anyone cares what place you come in (although there is a steep punishment for winning – you must generate and host the next biweekly trivia quizzes). Since your neighboring team grades your answers there’s light-hearted scuttlebutt that some teams elevate scores of their rivals to ensure the other team gets to host the next event.
Happy we haven’t pissed anyone off enough to receive that punishment, and pleased with our middle of the road placing, we stroll back to our cars. Subdued, riding in silence, African scenery supplants Suburbia as we pass through the gates … back to reality (smells and all).
I look at my watch’s date window…
Only 41 days to go.