24 February 2017

Tips for Getting Your Equatoguinean Tourism Permit

The Equatoguinean Cultural Center had taxidermied rats drinking in a bar (see the San Miguels for the Spanish colonial influence), not to mention several more in the display playing banjos. They're surrounded by cocoa pods, as cacao was a major export in colonial times.
According to both the Bradt guidebook and the Bioko Biodiversity Protection Program project we planned to visit, acquiring a tourism permit in Equatorial Guinea (the visa is free on arrival) to travel anywhere outside the capital Malabo is an onerous task, often unsuccessful and costing around 15,000-20,000 CFA (approximately $25-33) per person (to be fair the price is very reasonable when compared to what western countries charge Equatoguineans when they apply for visas.

Cheery welcome at Internet Hostal, Malabo.
On our August 2016 return leg from São Tomé &Príncipe we stayed at Internet Hostal in Malabo, a dingy Chinese-run hotel with an attached Internet Cafe and free in-room desktop computers. The most entertaining element of our stay was the middle-aged Chinese woman whose only statements in Spanish were “Paga dinero” (with evolving intonation giving it meaning as a question, statement, demand or threat), with the occasional “Vente mil” and “Salir manana?” thrown in for good measure.

Casa Verde - prefabricated in Belgium in the early 19th century, and once a Portuguese consulate.
View from the eaves of Casa Verde. Teodoro Obiang Nguemba Mbasogo had recently been reelected. Many other billboards called for "37 + 37" - they want 74 years of his rule, no doubt.

The next morning, we started off with a taxi to the Departamento de Turismo y Cultura for the tourism permit. As we headed through Malabo II/Dos, where many new buildings for ministries are being built, with attendant highrises and estates for big men and oil workers and executives, it was difficult to gauge traffic – our driver was forced to slow down at all stop signs since high concrete walls meant there was no visibility.

Beautiful old houses abounded in Malabo.
We then meandered off the road onto a dirt path and Blair was certain we were about to be mugged in the bushes. The taxi's underbelly got snagged on a hill but the driver pressed on and we drove on to a pavement/sidewalk and turned left. It quickly became apparent that we were going the wrong way on a divided highway. This must be a routine occurrence, as opposing vehicles in the fast lane moved over without honking at us. A kilometer later we reached a roundabout where we resumed driving on the right side of the road.

Barbershop sign: Nelly giving President Barack Obama a haircut.
We reached our landmarks (Camera de Comercio, Arab Contractors) then crossed a footbridge toward the “social housing” where the ministry was located.

Spanish colonial era map (produced in 1944) of Bioko Island. Our main southern stops were Luba (formerly San Carlos) and Moka (name unchanged, although the spelling varies).
This was a fairly large group of government/public/social housing apartment buildings, so a kindly snack vendor pointed us in the right direction. After passing the pool/bar for Communitario Candy and knocking on a few doors, we bumped into a very helpful functionary outside one apartment block. Taking a moment to greet her and ask how she was doing that morning was reciprocated in kind, as she showed us where to go, made copies of our entry stamps, and asked the department secretary to type out our handwritten letter listing the places we would like to visit.

The National Library had a section focused particularly on Equatorial Guinea, featuring videocassettes of the series Poldark.
The letter needed reformatting (which the secretary again did for us), and we needed to go buy 1,500 CFA worth of polisas de solicitud (request stamps) at the Funcion Publica ministry up the road. Of course, the latter “could only be sold for 2,000 CFA” but, considering how kindly everyone in the Turisma apartment treated us, it was a small price to pay given the reputed difficulty of getting tourism permits.
Santa Isabel Cathedral, with ceiba tree (one of EG's national emblems) water fountain.
This difficulty was confirmed when workers at BBPP got in touch with us for tips after subsequent tourists struggled to get their tourism permits. So we really were quite fortunate.

Cine Mar, longtime cinema and concert space, used by Nguema Mbasogo for public trials, including that of his uncle Francisco Macias Nguema, who he deposed in 1979.
One interesting thing about Malabo was that very few Equatoguineans remarked on our presence in their city; virtually none, in fact. It could be connected to the fact that there is a large population of expat oil workers around Malabo (during years of higher oil prices, there have been direct flights between Houston and Malabo – according to a parent at our school conditions in the Gulf of Guinea are quite similar to those in the Gulf of Mexico).This nonchalance represented a contrast to Cameroon, where touts in Douala and Yaounde are quite talkative and pushy, and to São Tomé and Príncipe, where comparatively gentler people were still apt to come up and talk with us. In Malabo, we may as well have been in New York City.

Plaque commemorating Cuban dissidents deported to Bioko Island (formerly named after Fernando Po) in 1869.

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