27 February 2017

Moca – A Small Town and a White Elephant

Since we planned to visit Bioko Biodiversity Protection Program, we got in touch with the Drexel and UNGE-affiliated organization for tips on where to stay. It quickly emerged that the only game in town – well, a 30-minute walk outside town – was the Hotel Moca.

After combining on rides in a van with an exuberant Moroccan mother-daughter(?) duo, we eventually arrived at the hotel from the nearest significant town of Luba. To our surprise the Moroccans did not enter the hotel but instead walked straight ahead past a barricade into an enormous walled compound.

After settling in and finding no other guests but plenty of agreeable hotel staff, we traipsed back into town to find some food and drink.

The road back into Moca from Hotel Moca.
The first bar we found had a couple of surprises. First, it was run by a Cameroonian woman. She moved to Bioko Island five years ago, after a dispute with the Cameroonian education ministry led to the shutting down of the private school she ran. So now she was in Moca running a bar and general store, along with a couple of sewing machines for additional income. She also got satellite TV and was kind enough to share some coulacasha stew with us while we watched CRTV. The Cameroonian channel coincidentally featured the Fondom of Oku, including interviews with the Fon and his son, David, who showed us around the palace in March 2016.

The Fon of Oku and his son.

After a few beers we then walked back to Hotel Moca.

The turnoff towards Hotel Moca at night.
The next day we went on a hike with a couple of BBPP volunteers from the U.S., along with Fermin, who guided us up the hill for a view of Lago de Biao, the crater lake outside Moca. Since it was the rainy season the visibility was variable. The hike wasn't as arduous at Mt. Oku or Mt. Manengouba, and we had an informative time talking with Fermin, Dan and Dana about the local agriculture, BBPP's other projects (including drill tracking and recording turtle egg laying in December), and the state of the bush meat trade on Bioko Island. BBPP makes tallies of the amount of bush meat for sale in local markets (small antelope and large rodents being the main sellers). The government's enforcement of a bush meat ban has varied, but at times has had the effect of making the bush meat trade more lucrative.

It was a misty and overcast stay on Bioko Island!

After our damp hike we decided to decamp once more to the Cameroonian bar, where CRTV was now showing the Olympics. Cameroon's ladies volleyball team (who won the African championships on home soil a few months before to qualify for Rio) were a spirited team but could not overcome the Russians (I assume this is a sport with less doping than others).

Allez les lionnesses!

We then headed back to Hotel Moca for dinner. It turns out the Moroccan ladies live and work on the compound of a palace belonging to Teodorin, Nguema Mbasogo's son, who has a taste for expensive cars and palatial residences in Europe and California. Most of his cars and homes in France were seized by French authorities in an anti-corruption drive; his father appointed him vice president of Equatorial Guinea in the hopes of bestowing diplomatic immunity on him, but that has been unsuccessful so he is based in EG these days. One of his previous positions was as Minister for the Environment while simultaneously owning large stakes in timber companies.

Aside from referring to Moca as a "city," the sign was quite accurate.

There were several other Moroccans in Moca, working at the (usually vacant) palace and (also largely empty) Hotel Moca. There were of course Equatoguineans on the staff, too, but I remain curious about how a large number of Moroccans migrated to southern Bioko Island for work.

Approaching the dormant entrance!
We had a nice enough dinner while the national TV channel showed an aerobics program, and otherwise relaxed after the hike to Lake Moca. Each morning the rooms were made up, even if no one stayed the night.

Nice long hallways to ride your tricycle down!
One pleasant surprise of the trip, given the warnings of guidebooks and travelers, the BBPP staff, and the ordinarily difficult tourism permit process, was that we were stopped very infrequently by soldiers. Apparently after the latest coronation of Nguema Mbasogo (“37 more years!”), a new group of ministers were considerably more relaxed in the aftermath. Quite a contrast for a country that is shifting its capital to the mainland to better head off coup attempts – the most famous being the one bankrolled by Margaret Thatcher's son in 2004. I'm a little surprised Nguema Mbasogo would do this, given that all of the oil is near Bioko, but I suppose being close to one's hometown and surrounded by kinsmen has its appeal – witness Yamoussoukro, or Gbadolite, Mobutu Sese Seko's hometown (which benefited from government largesse even if it never became DRC's capital).

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