“Varosha” Upon A Star: The Best exCYPRIOTnces Are Those You Least Expect

“Varosha” Upon A Star: The Best exCYPRIOTnces Are Those You Least Expect

 

 

Despite a successful border crossing attempt via the Ledra Pedestrian Street UN Buffer Zone in Nicosia from the southern side to the northern side of Cyprus without any of the required materials 3 days ago, it seems that the border guards at northern side of the vehicular crossing at Deryneia had done their homework.

 

 

When we attempted to drive through (instead of walking) Deryneia’s checkpoint from south to north this morning to visit Varosha, we were politely turned away at the northern side as they required the following:

  1. That we had stayed in the part of Cyprus south of the this border crossing for at least the past 14 days (which we have not done)
  2. OR that we’d be fully vaccinated WITH a negative PCR test within the past 72 hours (the latter of which we did not have)

 

 

I think this was my first time ever turned away at a border crossing. But such are the hiccups that would be expected in post/current pandemic travel. I think we took it well.

 

 

And yet still undeterred and at the recommendation of the Cypriot border guards on the southern side, we drove down to a private clinic 10 minutes south to get a rapid PCR, only to be told that the turnaround would be 24 hours and the closest appointments would be next week. Too late. Then I determined perhaps the 6-8 turnaround rapid PCRs at Larnaca’s airport 30 minutes away could be another option, but they closed early at 4:30pm (we’d barely make it) and also required appointments.

But then I realized: if we had been successful at crossing 3 days ago via the pedestrian street crossing at Nicosia with the city’s rapid antigen tests (let alone the PCR tests we took back home 5 days prior), why not repeat our success again the next day at that same crossing and then have local taxis pick us up on the other side of the border and take us to Varosha and back? After getting wifi, I started up a random chat with Savas of Cyprus Taxi via Google Maps. And within an hour and an initial down payment online, we confirmed the plan for the next day!

With Varosha moved to tomorrow and having a few extra hours, we leisurely drove for some sightseeing at the easternmost point of Cape Greco and its famous natural bridge Kamara Tou Koraka:

 

 

Although on a better day we’d be cliff diving, we watched the precarious waves crash against the Sea Caves a few minutes away:

 

 

A bit west of Cape Greco is the town of Ayia Napa known for its Love Bridge and Miami style nightlife.

 

 

There’s also a Sculpture Park opposite the Love Bridge:

 

 

After driving back and forth Cape Greco and Ayia Napa, we then kicked back at Kaliva On The Beach to celebrate Jeanette’s birthday as if we booked the whole place to ourselves (we literally did):

 

 

If you want to complete with your autonomous region checklist, the British-owned overseas territory of Dhkelia is sitiuated between the drive from Ayia Napa and Lanarca or Nicosia:

 

 

After returning to Nicosia from Ayia Napa, we rallied and continued Jeanette’s birthday rager at the outdoor club/lounge/bars Zonkey, D’avillaSeven Monkeys, and Locker all in that order and all unplanned until we finally collapsed in our beds at 5am.

 

 

Despite waking up a bit hungover at 11am this morning, we slowly crawled our way to the free rapid antigen COVID-19 tests at Eleftheria Square so we could be cleared for our return flights home. Then with a quick breakfast and coffee at the atmospheric Pieto, we then made up for yesterday’s failed attempt in visiting Varosha.

I felt like we were legally exploiting a loophole by returning to Nicosia’s Ledra Street UN Buffer Zone and successfully crossing over with our rapid antigen tests (they don’t require PCR tests at this particular crossing). And there waiting for us on the northern side of the checkpoint as agreed, Savas’ 2 vehicles from Cyprus Taxi picked us up on and took us on a one hour drive to Famagusta and the ghost town of Varosha. Easy peasy.

 

 

As we approached Famagusta and the ghost town of Varosha, we felt like we were stepping into an alternate dimension:

 

 

No registration, no admission fees, no drama, and no issues. We simply walked right in.

 

 

In the early 1970s, Famagusta was one of the top tourist destinations in Cyprus if not the world, where movie stars such as Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton flocked here as their preferred destination away from Hollywood. Then just as what had happened in Pripyat and Chernobyl, its entire population quickly abandoned the city as the Turkish army advanced from the north, after which the army seized and walled off the entire city.

 

 

Associated Press Photo:

 

Our photo today:

 

Associated Press Photo:

 

Our photo today:

 

Since then and until only recently October of last year, no entry has been allowed other than Turkish military and United Nations personnel. That makes us one of the first casual visitors to enter the area:

 

 

This is what we travel for: to cross into unknowns and see it for ourselves once instead of reading about it a thousand times.

 

 

We walked as far as we could along the recently paved roads for pedestrians and rented electric bicycles. You’ll know that you should turn back when you reach military fences such as these:

 

 

But don’t be intimidated; all of the military personnel were quite friendly when they told us to delete certain photos or not go certain places. They even set up little ice cream trucks to soften the blow.

 

 

Ghost towns. There’s something about witnessing a world without us.

 

 

After about an hour and half exploring Varosha, we turned back and drove 20 minutes north to the ancient city of Salamis:

 

 

A Byzantine-era city that was built on top of Roman ruins, it’s a fascinating wonderland of past ghosts to explore in the same vein as it was with Varosha.

 

 

Try to find the extremely well preserved Byzantine mosaics:

 

 

At this point I think the girls have been getting along on this trip (that’s an understatement — LWCSD is now an official club):

 

 

Before returning back to Nicosia, Savas added in a complementary detour to visit the lesser known Saint Barnabas Monastery, which was built in the 1700s featuring a museum of icons, archaeological finds and the tomb of Cyprus’s patron saint.

 

 

Then after an hour’s drive back to Nicosia and saying our goodbyes to Savas and Ali, we crossed back over into southern Nicosia for an impromptu dinner at Fanous and a last run at our lodging’s hot tub:

 

 

This is going to be a tough monsoon to say goodbye to. This one was special. And yet it becomes another one in the books.

 

 

RETURNING TO THE USA: At check in airlines hand out the following attestation forms and require you to fill them out before returning to the USA regardless of your vaccination status.

 

 

And if you’re returning to NY (like me), you also need to fill out this:

 

And for what it’s worth now that I’m back home safe and sound — nobody checked for these forms when I arrived from the airport to the taxi ride home. -_- Stop killing trees!

 

- At time of posting in Varosha, it was 27 °C - Humidity: 36% | Wind Speed: 13km/hr | Cloud Cover: sunny

 

I’m At A “Paphos,” Tryin’ To Call Home: From Nicosia through Akotiri to Paphos

I’m At A “Paphos,” Tryin’ To Call Home: From Nicosia through Akotiri to Paphos

 

We took on nearly all of South Cyprus today, beginning with a 45 minute drive out south from Nicosia to the beautiful boardwalks of Limassol and its eponymous castle.

 

 

After a quick bite at Pier One, we drove 20 minutes onwards into the British owned autonomous area of Akotiri: one half of the Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia and considered a British Overseas Territory. Some would say it’s a reminder of colonialism.

 

 

The areas are British military bases and installations retained by the UK under Cyprus’ treaty of independence in 1960. The territory remains a strategic part of UK’s surveillance gathering network in the Mediterranean and the Middle East.

 

 

While in Akotiri, we stopped for a second meal and dip at one of the numerous beach cafes and bars on Lady’s Mile Beach.

 

 

It’s a getaway paradise:

 

 

After 2 hours here, we then continued onwards for about another 20 minutes to the ruins of Ancient Kourion, an ancient city-state and formerly one of the island’s most important city-states in antiquity.

 

 

There’s a sexy clifftop 2nd century Greco-Roman amphitheater that faces the Mediterranean and still used today as an outdoor performance venue.

 

 

East of the theater, you can explore the ruins and fifth-century mosaics of the House of Eustolios, which was originally a private villa but was transformed into a public bathhouse in the early Christian period.

 

 

There’s also a beach down below.

 

 

The views everywhere here are stupendous:

 

 

And don’t miss the Sanctuary of Apollo Hylates, about a 3 minutes’ drive up the hill:

 

 

Halfway towards reaching the west coast of Cyprus, we paid the obligatory respects to Petra tou Romiou. According to Greek mythology, this is said to be where love was born when Aphrodite — the goddess of love and beauty — arrived on the foam of a wave.

 

 

After another 15 minutes of driving we finally arrived at Paphos, a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its preserved Greek-Roman ancient ruins and where the mosaics at Nea Paphos are said to be some of the most beautiful in the world. Like those among Kourion, Paphos is home to a few ruins of its own including the Roman Odeon and the Villa of Theseus, a 2nd-century Roman house featuring a preserved mosaic of Theseus fighting the Minotaur.

 

 

Another 10 minutes’ drive north from Paphos led us to the Tombs of the Kings, a large necropolis carved out of rock and dating back to 4th century B.C., as well as the Shipwreck of MV Demetrios II, which has been grounded off the coast since 1998. Having been navigated without the legal maritime certificates and under questionable leadership, the ship was abandoned and purposely left on a shallow to rot instead of the high costs of trying to move it to a scrapyard.

 

 

After an exhausting day of driving and ruins, we recharged with a lazy dinner in Paphos and by 10pm we turned the car right around back and returned to Nicosia by midnight. But instead of going to bed, our group rallied once more and hung out in the old city at D’avila Cafeé until “curfew” at 2am. . . .that’s 2 nights in a row now!

 

 

- At time of posting in Paphos, it was 21 °C - Humidity: 83% | Wind Speed: 13km/hr | Cloud Cover: partly cloudy

 

I’ll “Nicosia” Later!

I’ll “Nicosia” Later!

 

After our 2 days in Larnaca, we embarked for the world’s last divided capital city (since the fall of the Berlin Wall) of Nicosia:

 

 

The most southeastern reach of any of the European Union’s capital cities, Nicosia has been continuously inhabited for over 4,500 years and has remained the capital of the island since the 10th century.

 

 

In early 1964, following the Cyprus crisis of 1963–64, the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities of Nicosia split the city (and island) into South Nicosia and North Nicosia respectively. This segregation then exacerbated into becoming a militarized “Berlin Wall” between the Republic of Cyprus and Northern Cyprus after Turkey occupied north Cyprus in 1974.

The Turkish army will remind everyone of this piece of history on the northern hills:

 

 

Officially today North Nicosia is the capital of Northern Cyprus, a state recognized only by Turkey and otherwise considered as occupied Cyprus by the international community.

 

 

So today we went to explore. After a 45 minute morning drive from Larnaca, we reached our lodgings at Central Park Residences about a 10 minute walk south from the city center.

 

 

Don’t say I don’t treat my monsooners well:

 

 

We freshened up for 20 minutes and treated ourselves to brunch at the memorable Elysian Plant Blased Kitchen Bar:

 

 

We then entered into central Nicosia with 10 minute walk north past Eleftheria Square, which was designed by the late Zaha Hadid:

 

 

To explore the atmospheric walled city of central Nicosia is a must. So we immediately hopped onto the main Ledra Street, a major shopping thoroughfare that links both sides of Nicosia.

 

 

From 1955–1959 this street was nicknamed “The Murder Mile” in reference to the frequent targeting of the British military by nationalists along its course

 

 

Then after much time and negotiation, the world’s last “Berlin Wall” eventually loosened up to (with a quick passport check) most tourists up until the pandemic, after which this border crossing was essentially entirely shut again to the world. It seemed all hope was lost for our group for a visit to the northern side of Cyprus until the respective authorities that be had made a sudden announcement 5 days ago (last Friday!) that they were reopening the border again. Although set rules exist regarding who can cross regarding COVID-19 precautions, it seems that our group of 11 arrived so soon after the reopening last Friday that the border guards of both respective sides weren’t entire sure how or who to let through.

And at the time of posting, the border guards on both sides essentially let all 11 of us USA passport holders through back and forth multiple times on both sides today, as long as we provided a paper copy proof of a negative PCR result for COVID-19 within the past 7 days (we used copies of our PCR tests we obtained back in the USA prior to the trip). The only issue was quickly explaining how the the month and day is switched in the USA (so that a test performed 5 days ago on June 4th is not April 6th) by showing the date of the email that contained my PCR result.

The crossing was so much easier than expected that when 4 of us were forced to walk back to our apartments to retrieve their paper copies (as the guards did not accept digital copies on our mobile phones), I did a double U-turn by crossing the border 3 times back and forth to give part of my group the apartments keys without so much a nod and an eye roll from the guards on both sides of the border.

But it wasn’t all smooth sailing: when one of us was given a really hard time on the final return back to the southern side of town — even though everyone else in our group was allowed back through to the south by that point — we found out later what they really needed was a paper copy proof of a negative rapid antigen test with an official “stamp” (see below). None of the guards we had — except the one at the end who definitely did his homework — seemed to have been aware of this. However, by the time we found that out, the damage had been done and we already had explored nearly all of the northern side of Nicosia hours after the fact.

We hope this accidental honest oversight on their part didn’t get anyone in trouble!

 

 

After this border kerfuffle we even promptly headed back to the lower part of Eleftheria Square for this specific rapid antigen COVID-19 test and get that stamp that the border guards’ had unknowingly needed.

 

 

The rapid antigen test at the square is free and takes 15 minutes to process on site. Just bring your passport as an ID to match. It’s open from 7:30am-7:30pm.

 

 

Anyways, let’s roll it back to our pre-border shenanigans: if you’re sticking to the southern side of town before heading to the border, don’t miss the Greek Orthodox houses of worship Panayia Phaneromenis:

 

 

and the adjacent, smaller, Arablar Mosque:

 

 

But no matter how long you stay on the south side, the border will draw you near as it literally is the elephant in the city.

Other than with the aforementioned appropriate proof of negative COVID-19 test to get to the northern side of Nicosia, make sure your passports also work: For a visit less than a month, visas are not required for any nationality except for citizens of Armenia and Nigeria. Visas are otherwise acquired at international representative offices in London, Washington D.C., or NYC before travel.

 

 

It’s simply a walk across no man’s land for a few feet:

 

 

You’ll know it when you see the pin on the Google map:

 

 

And surprisingly at the time, nobody cared about us taking photos or video:

 

 

You’ll know you’re in the northern side of town when you see ads everywhere for Efes beer . . .

 

 

. . .and a photogenic pentagonal convergence of multiple pedestrian streets.

 

 

Büyük Hamam lies immediately past the border, which is still running and open to the public to this day:

 

 

…and Büyük Han will be to your right: a place to shop for eclectic crafts, dine, people watch, or take in live music under the incredible architecture of a building constructed back in 1572.

 

 

A few more paces north will lead you to Ataturk Square (Sarayönü), a landmark square marked by a Venetian Column placed in 1915 and the Judicial Building.

 

 

Directly north of the square are the Samanbahçe Houses that exemplify photogenic Turkish Cypriot architecture.

 

 

If you’re lucky, the 13th century fortress/mosque hybrid Selimiye Mosque — the centerpiece of Nicosia’s landmarks — will be done with its renovations and finally reopened to the public:

 

 

We also headed off to the deserted side streets . . .

 

 

. . . just to peek at Lusignan House, a mansion built in the 15th century as a residential building for Latin nobles during the Lusignan period. They were so caught off guard by our presence they turned on the power and opened the small museum inside for 5 minutes just for us.

 

 

You’ll reach the northern limits of the walled city when you see Girne Kapisi, a Venetian built 16th century gate and Ottoman watchtower:

 

 

After about a few hours exploring northern side of the border, we walked back across the UN Buffer Zone:

 

 

…and then totally vegged out pretending we were back in Miami in our own private sauna/spa at our residences.

 

 

1 hour later:

 

Gotta Get Away Before I “Croix” Myself To Sleep

Gotta Get Away Before I “Croix” Myself To Sleep

 

During the heydey of the pandemic, I was nominated to be one of the 100,000 Healthcare Workers to receive a pair of of roundtrip flight certificates offered by JetBlue. I almost forgot about the expiration dates, if it weren’t for a reminder in the middle of a random ER shift one day that I had less than 2 months to use them before they’d be gone for good.

 

 

Scrambling to find worthy and safe locations to travel to with my weekend off in May, I concluded that the single-digit, low % rate of COVID-19 infections in the US Virgin Islands the past month was even safer than the rapidly decreasing rates in my own hometown of a very vaccinated Manhattan (which I feel has been the safest place to be in the entire country since last April).

I feel that even if I were to stay on the mainland, there are more than plenty maskless states down south that would be better off for a post-pandemic visit instead. And if I were to travel solo and spend most of my time in COVID-19 approved properties and outdoors, I should remain safe especially as a fully vaccinated individual. Can I recharge by travel still if I do it as responsibly as possible?

 

 

So here were my first steps in re-emerging into travel in 2021:

1. Ensure that the local infection rates of both the place of origin and destination are similarly low. It’s important that wherever you’re flying from is low in terms of infection rates (aka no outbreaks or single digit prevalence), that you’ve ideally stayed there for at least 10-14 days without symptoms and tested negative for COVID-19 right before departure so you know that you haven’t carried over an infection from somewhere else. Make sure you then choose to depart into areas with low infection rates, just as is the case regarding NYC and USVI, so you maintain that “travel bubble.”

 

 

2. Clear with any local laws regarding screening. Namely, USVI has a COVID-19 specific travel portal where you have to legally (and ethically!) clear your arrival before your trip.

 

 

3. Choose a flight that would be most likely be as empty as possible — how about a flight at a nearly civilized departure time of 6:40am in the morning?

 

 

4. Minimize the layovers. The danger is less on the plane, which cycles and filters out air more often than most land-based offices, trains, and subways. Instead, there is more of a danger in older and crowded airports, which variables you can control for much less than on a plane (for as long as it flies, it filters). We landed at STT after a 3 hour direct flight at 10:00am.

 

 

Before entering arrivals, they check if you have the pre-approval QR code that lets you bypass all the health checks. If you happen to forget, you go through another line requiring testing, temperature checks and questionnaires.

 

 

Welcome to the USVI!

 

 

5. Stay outdoors: Promptly headed out into downtown for a 10 minute, $8 per person taxi ride ($2 per bag in the trunk) right outside arrivals. Private taxis to downtown cost $55.

 

 

6. After a 10 minute drive into downtown, checked in our bags and picked up ferry tickets for the QE IV Ferry at Blyden Terminal for $60 USD per person one way to Saint Croix.

 

 

Then spent the next 4 hours exploring Charlotte Amalie (about a 10-15 minute walk from the ferry terminal) and nachos at open-air The Green House Bar & Restaurant.

 

 

Make sure wherever you go, return no later than 2:45pm as the boat promptly sets out at 3:00pm. They’re strict with enforcing the mask policy here.

 

 

Enjoy the bumpy 2 hour and 20 minute ride across the sea! They provide vomit bags for every row, and even advise you that “it’s normal to vomit” on the intercom and plead that you go outside if it happens.

 

 

We docked at Gallows Bay at 5:10pm EST.

 

 

Then walking over across town towards our lodgings at Sugar Apple Bed and Breakfast, we checked ourselves in for the night without having to encounter anyone (all our check-in details were provided by text).

 

 

So far I haven’t had any suspicion of coming into contact with a superspreader event.

 

 

I also highly recommend dinner at the intimate vegan-friendly plant based Ital Paradise:

 

 

It’s also where I would have my first time drinking juice made from a cashew apple!

 

 

The next morning we set off to explore Saint Croix, the largest island of the USVI complex. Starting in the capital city of Christiansted itself . . .

 

 

. . . we then walked around the Christiansted National Historic Site, a waterfront park featuring the landmark 18th-century Fort Christiansvaern and a warehouse where Alexander Hamilton worked as an orphan before moving to New York.

 

 

We then picked up a rental car at Centerline, contemplating a drive west to Carambola Beach Resort St. Croix where a 2 hour hike begins out to the Annally Tide Pools.

If you’re less inclined for a strenuous hike, consider laying out on Rainbow Beach instead:

 

 

Nearby the beach about a 3 minute drive south lies Fort Frederik located in the “second town” of Frederiksted.

 

 

Frederiksted is also somewhat of a ghost town when we visited:

 

 

After a lunch at Polly’s at the Pier here (while casually watching a 20 something year old spend a nearly an entire hour asking someone out on a date), we returned east driving by the also currently shuttered Estate Whim Sugar Mill:

 

 

Finally driving all the way east towards Goat Hill you can reach the easternmost point of the United States of America: Point Udall.

 

 

It’s designed so that at noon, wherever this sundial of a structure points with its shadow, it’s the truth north:

 

 

Don’t miss the curiously named Very Long Baseline Array Telescope either on the way there or back.

 

 

We finally finished our long day around the island back at Christiansted with dinner at Too. Chez:

 

 

…and is that a Blockbusters?!

 

 

The next morning we took out breakfast arepas at Toast Diner by the Christiansted boardwalk.

 

 

Then during breakfast, Kelly and her son Dylan stopped by to say hi! Both residents of Saint Croix, they hollered when they noticed on my IG stories that I was in the area. Nice to meet you both and thanks again for the dolphin poop Dylan!

 

 

After chatting and having them walk me over to the seaplane terminal at the end of the boardwalk, I boarded the 10:40am Seaborne Airlines seaplane to the main capital city island of Saint Thomas for $140 USD one way per person.

 

 

- At time of posting in Saint Croix, it was 27 °C - Humidity: 65% | Wind Speed: 16km/hr | Cloud Cover: partly cloudy

 

The “Cabin-da” Woods: “We Are Not Ready For Tourism” | Everything You Need To Know About Visiting Cabinda!

The “Cabin-da” Woods: “We Are Not Ready For Tourism” | Everything You Need To Know About Visiting Cabinda!

 

Primer on Cabinda

Formerly known as “Portuguese Congo” and no larger than the state of Delaware, Cabinda is a curious little region sandwiched between the Republic of the Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Having endured a 30 year long struggle to claim independence from the rest of Angola, it likely may become one of the next world’s “newest” countries give or take a few years (decades?). We’re arriving here early before that happens.

The reason why Angola wants to keep Cabinda is because the region is rich in natural resources and one of its wealthiest: it supplies 65% of Angola’s oil! Nevertheless, it remains one of the least visited places on Earth and where things can get a little rough during our 2 weeks in Angola.

 

 

Arriving from Luanda to Cabinda

Barely getting much sleep after arriving last night from Lubango (especially since the guy next door to my motel room was having an epic fight with his wife), we rushed to board our 5:50am TAAG flight from Luanda to Cabinda.

 

 

Class C on TAAG means business class! It just meant I got a bigger chair and a quick meal of cheese, dried meats and fruits all saran wrapped onto a tray.

 

 

After an otherwise uneventful 45 minute flight, we landed an hour later at 6:50am at Cabinda’s sole airport.

 

 

Amusingly, someone checked in their shoes as luggage. Must’ve been over the baggage minimum.

 

 

Once we hit arrivals, there were no signs of the massive police and military presence they had warned us about.

 

 

Exploring Cabinda City (There’s Not Much)

 

Our local guide’s uncle Jovanny promptly picked us up outside arrivals and we began our quick city tour of Cabinda. There’s not much in terms of “tourism” so you have to do your best with the following 3 “sites”:

1 May Park:

 

 

The Church of the Immaculate Conception:

 

 

And Central/Municipal Market:

 

 

At the market we got a glimpse of the famed Cabinda wood, aka their Viagra.

 

  

Exploring Outside Cabinda City

After driving an hour around the city, we decided to venture outside Cabinda, which we had been warned not to do earlier in the trip due to safety reasons. So many kidnappings and clashes occur on the road between the towns of Cabinda and Malongo that there is now a highly profitable helicopter service that takes oil workers and businessmen from the airport directly to Malongo!

State departments around the world also continue to cite the random roadside attack on the Togo national football team in 2010 as the reason for this region’s notoriety as an active “war zone” and “separatist” region, although nothing as major has since happened.

 

 

Nevertheless, our local guides from Cabinda insisted that we still leave the city, citing a significant improvement in the security situation and that there was nothing to worry about. We went on their word.

After all, they said, “there’s nothing else much to do here in Cabinda.”

 

 

The only thing that “happened” was when a soldier stopped our car to make us delete a photo we took of a random river. They’re bored. Power trips. 

 

 

We then passed through the towns of Cacongo and Malongo in an unsuccessful attempt to see the “bacama” (Angola’s version of voodoo).

 

 

Then we made a random unannounced lunch stop in a random soulless banquet hall in Buco Zau, where we ate with the soldiers stationed there (they made us turn our cameras away).

 

 

And then after 3 long dreary hours on the road, we finally reached Maiombe Forest Reserve, the biggest rainforest in Angola. Not many tourists have ventured here: It took 20 minutes of intense discussions between our local guides and the military stationed there to let us get out of the car.

They wanted us to drive the 3 hours back to Cabinda, get special written permission, make a reservation, and then return to visit the Forest Reserve.

 

 

And yet saner minds prevailed. After checking our passports and taking our names down letter by letter, they sent off a senior officer to guide us to the river. They told us the only thing we could not do was to take photos of any chimpanzees we saw (they inhumanely locked them away in squalid cages).

We hiked about 20 minutes towards the river.

 

 

After 10 minutes here, we turned around and headed back for our jeeps. That’s it! As our local Angolan guide shrugged his shoulders and said: “We are definitely not ready for tourism.”

So by 3pm we headed back to the city of Cabinda.

 

 

As if were the theme of the second half of this trip, however, we suddenly felt our tire go flat. And we did not have a spare tire.

 

 

Luckily (or unluckily?), however, this all happened next to a lake/marsh not even marked on the map.

 

 

So we decided to take advantage of this sign from the universe and pay a few boatmen 4000 kwanzas to ferry us around the lake for a few minutes. Although these boats are meant for 2, we barely made 4 work before threatening to sink our boat completely.

In the meantime our driver Jovanny also successfully flagged down a Good Samaritan to spare a tire.

 

 

After an hour, the tire was quickly replaced and we drove another hour and reached the Monument to the Treaty of Simulambuco

It somehow still exists despite etching in Portuguese that Cabinda should be an independent country from Angola!

 

 

Then we checked into our lodgings and had dinner at the swanky Apolónia. Despite the upscale ambience, the dinner is buffet style where they even weigh your plates as if we were at a bodega.

 

 

Afterwards we officially finished our trip, enjoying one final round of drinks with Rik and Ingrid back out hotel bar. We also did our best to politely ignore all the sex workers aggressively interrupting us to get them a drink.

They also sport a very unique shower head. I never seen something like it before.

 

Close enough.

 

Crossing into the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) from Cabinda

 

The next day we enjoyed a lazy morning by the hotel pool before having a late lunch back at Apolónia among an international mix of soldiers from Brazil, USA, Portugal, Namibia, and Angola who seemed to be there socializing and inspecting a construction site by the restaurant.

With nothing much else to do, we decided to peek at the Cabinda/DRC border about a 20 minute drive south from the city.

 

 

The security staff in the pink structure that issues exit stamps may appear strict here! 

However, they seemed to not care when I asked to walk across no man’s land and across the border into the DRC without needing an Angolan exit stamp or DRC visa.

 

 

They replied as long as I didn’t take any photos and walked back into Angola within their eyesight, it would be fine.

 

 

They also didn’t chose not to stamp me out as “we don’t want you to be kidnapped when you reach the other side.”

Why not?

“By not officially getting an exit stamp, you’re still under our protection.” I guess that makes sense?

 

 

So I did just that as I crossed through no man’s land.

 

 

And then I reached into DRC territory.

Except for the photos part since they also didn’t seem to really care about that and looked the other way.

 

 

And Google maps even proves that I made it. I’m actually in the DRC!

 

 

Although I didn’t wander any further than here, I spent enough time across this border in the DRC to have a drink, take a dump, and say hi to the guards there, to the point I didn’t really feel it was a big deal at all.

 

 

Whether or not it counts is entirely up to me (or you as my humble reader), but I know I’ll visit the DRC properly when I swing by Burundi next year. Count this as much as you can count my visit to Paraguay?

 

 

Returning back to the city, we then kicked back at a smaller Apolónia café for an hour before heading back to the airport to check in early.

 

 

We then returned again to Apolónia proper for a 3rd meal there!

 

 

Afterwards we quickly stopped to say hi to our guide’s aunt as he needed to drop something off.

 

 

We then headed back to the airport one last time for our return 8:50pm flight back to Luanda.

 

 

Keep in mind like in Comoros if you have checked luggage, you’ll need to claim it a second time on the tarmac so they know to load them into your flight.

 

 

Once we returned to Luanda, we got to stay at the best hotel in town, the HCTA Talatona Convention Center Hotel (they have a full working gym!).

 

 

Now waiting for our 11pm flight out of the country, where I’m now catching up on all the COVID-19 stuff I need to be prepared for when I return to work tomorrow back in NYC.

 

 

It’s ironic that even though I just spent the last 48 hours traveling through an active conflict zone and region notorious for a brutal civil war, I still my life would still be more in danger back home. Hopefully this won’t be my last trip in a while.

On the bright side, since nobody’s traveling these days (let alone to Angola), I got “business class” again on an economy fare.

 

 

See ya back home!

 

 

- At time of posting in Cabinda, it was 25 °C - Humidity: 94% | Wind Speed: 5km/hr | Cloud Cover: partly cloudy

 

U-“Gone”-Da in 60 Seconds! A Day Trip from Rwanda to Lake Bunyonyi, Uganda

U-“Gone”-Da in 60 Seconds! A Day Trip from Rwanda to Lake Bunyonyi, Uganda

 

Yesterday morning after arriving into Rwanda, Evan and I debated back and forth whether to rent a car for Rwanda. The signs were also pointing to no: the cheaper agency (Eagle) didn’t have one while the other (Europcar) was too expensive despite trying to haggle it down. Our UAE hosts Sean and Chelsea also had told us not to bother with a rental and enjoy the thrill of riding on moto-taxis instead. 

We came so close to deciding against renting that we were just about to get into a taxi before the Europcar agent came running down to us giving us the exact discounted price that I wanted. Fate?

Apparently so; that rental car would later be our ticket for an unforeseen and spontaneous trip to Uganda the next day.

So after exploring nearly all of Kigali yesterday, we figured we could take it easy on our second day in Rwanda. But last night before heading to bed we quickly made a friend at our hostel in Tom Karrell, who happened to be visiting Kigali with friends from his home base in Uganda. At his suggestion for what to do on our second day, and spurred on by Evan’s new lease on the spontaneous travel life, Evan and I decided with this rental car we could drive the next morning 2 hours up north to the Rwanda/Uganda border to have lunch at Lake Bunyonyi.

And despite news reports this past month of recurrent border closings and openings, violent skirmishes where 2 people were killed, worsening trade disputes between the two countries affecting the rest of the region in Eastern Africa, and a current Ebola outbreak where a 5 year old recently died of the disease in Uganda, today belied anything but as it was one of the easiest, most lenient border crossings I’ve experienced. Don’t always fall for what you read in the news.

As we began our drive up at 8am, Rwanda’s ubiquitous cleanliness even outside Kigali never ceases to amaze me:

 

 

The nature outside our window also wasn’t too shabby:

 

 

As we approached the border, Evan and I were stopped for a routine security check by highway police. They would find out our rental car had expired insurance and registration papers but still let us on our way. Thanks Rwanda!

 

 

We arrived at the Gatuna border post 2 hours later on schedule at around 10am.

 

 

As we approached, our clocks soon automatically switched an hour ahead to Ugandan time at 11am.

 

 

Once at the first post on the Rwandan side, we got an exit stamp here. That took a mere 5 minutes.

 

 

Then we walked across to the adjacent Customs office to get our exit papers for our rental car. 

 

 

Even though the car rental papers indicated that we can’t take our vehicle across borders, it seemed that nobody cared.

 

 

After 10 minutes here, we were allowed to drive the 1 minute stretch across no man’s land

 

  

Now at the Ugandan side of the border, swarms of money changers arrived for our business, which we declined. Having nowhere to park, however, we took turns getting our entry stamp at the Ugandan border office.

 

 

The visa stamp into Uganda costs $50 USD (cash only). Evan also went to another office to register our vehicle and all in all this process took us about 15 minutes in total.

 

 

After only 30 minutes of border logistics, we were well on our way into Uganda! FYI, they switch the driving to the left side of the road in Uganda (it’s right in Rwanda), so Evan had to now drive on the same side as the driver’s side.

So we headed onwards into the town of Kabale.

 

 

As we reached Kabale, we drove off onto a bumpy unpaved road towards the lake.

 

 

Nobody seemed to mind our dinky little Toyota Carolla rental struggling hard down the path.

 

 

After 20 minutes swerving down some hills towards the lake, we finally reached Birdnest Resort where we gave our car a much needed break.

Even though we were not guests, the staff were happy to accommodate us here for a long, lazy lunch by the lake. And so we did.

 

 

After about an hour taking it all in quietly, we then made the uneventful return drive back towards Rwanda.

 

 

The border crossing back into Rwanda is exactly the same but in reverse, with the exception of a Rwandan border official checking your temperature for Ebola:

(thanks Evan for taking this sneaky photo as I was being questioned by the police for taking photos of my own)

 

 

We also paid another $30 USD for the entry fee back into Rwanda, which we expected. Along with the Ugandan visa, the total cost of this little trip: $80 USD.

What I found amusing was that none of the border guards seemed surprised at our quick turnaround as it appears a bunch of other tourists have done similar day trips before.

After crossing, Evan then put pedal to the metal, bringing down what was supposed to be a 2 hour drive into an hour and 20 minutes! We would make it just in time for our 3:30pm massage at Zenora Wellness Center.

 

 

- At time of posting in Lake Bunyonyi, Uganda, it was 20 °C - Humidity: 53% | Wind Speed: 8km/hr | Cloud Cover: partly cloudy