Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Travel guide books

So you're looking for a travel guide? Which one do you go for?

The biggest? heaviest? cheapest? glossiest?

I've developed a little library of travel guides over the years, some Lonely Planet, Rough Guide, Bradt, Routard & even a Frommer whilst living in Japan trying to find a guide for Beijing but the accomodation was a little out of my league!

So, the last guide I bought was this time last year. Lonely Planet's West Africa, French edition. Thrilled with my purchase; the fact I was able to get it in a nearby bookshop, I didn't even think to check the contents as surely it would just be the same as the English edition.

Opening it at home, there was a chapter missing. I flicked the pages, convinced my eyesight was going but no, the Cote d'Ivoire hadn't been included in the French edition - madness! I wasn't too thrilled as it was the main reason I'd bought it & felt like a complete mug!

Late summer this year I received messages from someone who turned out to be Lonely Planet's author asking me for information on the country. As the English edition (which a friend in Dubai kindly scanned my missing Cote d'Ivoire pages to me) was lacking in up to date information I sent a message back asking if the author intended to be in the country to update the guide.

'Yes' was the response.

'Not really' would have been nearer the truth. Lonely Planet's author spent two weeks solely in Abidjan updating the new guide, asking local expats for information about the country.

Makes me realise now that my money is better spent over there; than on western publications that haven't come to terms with honesty!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Leaking like a sieve

Africa that is ...

Money's being poured in, sucked out by the middle men & finally someone's taking notice. A great documentary finally documenting what most people fear ... the rich getting richer, the poor getting poorer.

For years I've tried telling people who haven't had the opportunity to travel around Africa that this is the case; finally BBC produced Panorama tonight & I hope DFID & other government organisations will sit up & take notice. It's about time a serious in depth documentary was made on the 'fat middle man' reaping the rewards; often those in power ... leaving the ordinary man on the street still suffering & trying to find a way to scrape together a few coins to pay for the basics.

When will it stop? African nations might be able to stand on their own two feet if the funds that were destined for the good of the nation actually made it down the line.

The buck doesn't stop here ...

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


I am seething having read this article ...

Yet again, another boatload of refugees have tried to make it to Europe. The most astonishing thing is that they were so close and they had all come from Conakry.

126 of them crammed into a fishing vessel, usually used within a few miles of the coast by fishermen; not worthy of a long journey like this. The amazing thing is that did get there in such a small vessel!

I have met so many Guineans desperate to leave. It's a sad state of affairs, made even sadder by the news in the last 24hrs that the army are firing tear gas at civilians who are protesting over fuel prices. In the chaos, the army have shot a police officer. The country is once again in tatters ... Will someone try to topple Lansana Conte, the President? Or will a civil war start? It's anyone's guess!

My first 'escaping' Guinean I met in Nouakchott, Mauritania December 2005, he was working at an auberge telling myself & an Italian friend how wonderful his country was but there was nothing there for him. Apparently the streets of Europe are paved with gold & he had to get there. He was earning 30euros a day he told us, not a bad 'pay' for a young immigrant in a country that doesn't take kindly to sub-Saharan immigrants. He needed to raise 300euros to get a boat from Nouabidhou across to the Canary Islands. He couldn't swim (like many Africans), he refused to listen to us ... his destination was Europe and no one was going to dissuade him!

On Africa's only archipaelago, the Bijagos, just off Guinea Bisaau I met a young educated man called Eduardo. He was writing a book about the immigrants & their travels; I'd love to know if he finished it. He was from Bubaque Island and had studied in Europe; he told me that many of the locals felt that if they sailed for a few hours they would reach Europe, maybe even Britain. They had no concept of the length of the journey having seen world maps ...

The second group was in 2006, I travelled with them on a large old truck between Guinea Bissau (Quebo) & Guinea (Boke). We were all on top clinging on for dear life for 40 odd hours, I had some very interesting conversations. They were all determined to go to Europe, along with the same friend we did our best to paint Europe in a bad light ... I don't think it had any effect!

The sad situation is that Europe continues to feed & clothe immigrants; it's the right thing to do but only encourages more to come over & many die in transit. Spain seems to be starting to pay people to go home ... I'd like to see the outcome of this & whether they'll successfully do it or if they risk the chance of others coming over with the hope of some government cash to return home.

In Senegal, there are many houses paid for by a member of the family in Europe, often Spain. In a journey from Kedougou in the far south east to the capital Dakar, I saw almost one in each village, instantly recognisable by the architecture & colours on the wall, often imitating the Spanish flag, I wish I had taken a photo of one of them!

What is the future? How do you try to educate people and persuade them it isn't worth the risk to do these trips?