I flew from Lagos to Malabo, the island capital of Equatorial Guinea, last week.
Malabo airport is a distinct improvement from the muddy concrete hut I remember from six years ago. All the same, it’s the first airport I have arrived at where the immigration officer gives you the finger. We’re off the plane, and I’m first in the queue for passport control. The guy at the desk waves a sheaf of blank arrival forms at me, and tells me to go and wait at the red line for someone to hand them out. May I have one of those? No, go and wait. So I get the form, I fill it in, I go back to the desk, I hand him my passport, he fusses with it.
And then gives me the finger.
How jolly rude, I think. Que? (I say, in my best Spanish). The finger again. One what? I enquire politely, this time in English. The finger for the third time, this time with a gesture to the little hole in the wall. Aha, fingerprint time, both hands, and a photo. Very wise, you never know what rascals are trying to get into your country these days. Five minutes later, he’s finished with me. I look pityingly at the queue behind me, and silently wish them a pleasant night queuing for the immigration man to get through them all. Then there’s customs, or maybe security, who search you thoroughly (I long for the somewhat laxer methods applied in Lagos, where a languid moving of a shirt or two, whilst staring over your shoulder, seems to suffice). Watch for the boy in the pink shirt who now latches on to you, asks if you have yellow fever (he means a vaccination certificate), which you then show to the two ladies guarding the exit door. Malabo arrivals is a funnel system, so I am now at the narrowest part, at customs/medical check, at the exit door (a single door), with the other half of China (see arriving in Luanda for the whereabouts of the first half) trying to squeeze through, and several million Africans trying to get in. Just push.
The next morning, I flew from Malabo to Bata, the country’s second city, located on the mainland. And blow me, but what happens at the domestic arrivals in Bata? The finger again, both of them, the photo, police searching my bag, very thoroughly, and customs too. Yes, customs, on a domestic flight. That was a surprise, I tell you. I told the customs guy I had already been searched a couple of yards back (there was a screen in between, so I thought maybe he didn’t know, and I could save him a job?), but he says he’s customs, they were police. And then proceeds to search my bag with a spiteful, “I’ll get you” demeanour. Not for the first time, I wish I had kept my mouth shut, truly a passive indifference works much better.
Leaving Bata for Malabo wasn’t so bad, customs only searched the Chinese travellers, but fingers and photos? – I’m used to them now. Right hand, left hand, glasses off for the camera……Then they call you to board the bus for the aircraft, and outside the door they’re searching your bags again, doing the security scan with the wand. These guys are scared of something!
Travellers’ Tips – well, try to be first in line, unless you have hours to spare. Keep your mouth shut unless absolutely necessary. If asked, claim to be Welsh – a certain Mr Mann has given the English a bad name in this country (Google “Mann Equatorial Guinea” if you need to know more – but don’t print it and put it in your luggage). And just go with the flow, stay cool, even when they give you the finger.
In Malabo – the best hotel in town is the Sofitel, next to the Presidential Palace. I’ve not stayed there, but it looks nice. The waterfront restaurant at the Hotel Bahia is pleasant, with English speaking waiters. In Bata – the Hotel Plaza is good enough, the Oriental Restaurant on the seafront has great Lebanese mezze, and there’s a great beachside restaurant outside of town, beyond the airport, run by a French lady. A lovely place for a lazy lunch. I hear it is the place to go at weekends, with safe swimming, and there are a few chalets to stay in too.
Leaving Malabo – the finger again, of course. Apart from that, nothing much to report – oh, except that you will need to show your Yellow Fever certificate again on the way out of the country. Don’t ask. And don’t expect any duty free – I couldn’t see any! There’s a business lounge upstairs, no-one asked me whether I was in business class or not, so may be worth the chance, for a comfy chair. Except that I spent the whole time there worrying whether they would remember to call me for my flight. Maybe not worth THAT risk.