Paradise of Sorts in Pointe-Noire

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Sometimes you discover the best places by accident when you are traveling especially in really off the beaten path places. For instance, my original plan was to fly from Gabon to Brazzaville where I would take the boat to Kinshasa and go from there. However, such is life in Africa-there were no flights because Air Service Gabon decided to shut down until January for unspecified reasons-TIA (this is Africa). This left me with two options. Go overland through a dangerous section of the Congo to Brazzaville that’d take days to get there or fly to Pointe-Noire for a few days then connect to Brazzaville. I chose the latter and I am so glad I did as Pointe-Noire is somewhat of a paradise.

I was a little mad at Pointe-Noire so to speak because in my master scheme of this trip I was supposed to fly to either Kinshasa or Brazzaville and then fly out to Pointe Noire and use it as the gateway to Cabinda and Angola. However, because the bureaucrats at the Angolan embassy couldn’t get their acts together I was left sans visa for Angola and couldn’t go so Pointe Noire became a victim of my ire by association. The truth was I didn’t know anything about it and that it in itself was a great destination. Although I must admit it hurts being 10 miles from Cabinda and not being able to go there-it really does. I’ve even heard that bribes are pointless as the guards there won’t even think about it for less than like $5000-screw that!
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$5000 for a bribe here is no joke, it’s really expensive in this part of the world where big oil is king and there is a lot of money floating around. In Pointe Noire, Republic of the Congo, hotels are not cheap, food is very expensive, gas, air tickets and pretty much everything is more expensive than many other places in the region. I’ve heard it’s even worse in Angola. In Pointe Noire, many expats, Americans and French mainly live in gorgeous, palatial estates around town completely segregated in walled off complexes from the rest of the normal Congolese. This is again typical of Africa as the white expats are generally deathly afraid of the locals living here. It’s pretty sad I agree. The reason I am given is that generally they live here for work and the insurance liability for the companies states they need to have a wall with armed guards to protect against liabilities-whatever.

Pointe Noire is situated right on the Atlantic Ocean and has a long stretch of yellow sandy beaches. The nice area is dotted with cute little hotels and beach bars. I am staying at the Hotel Azur International which is across the main drag from the beach and is one of the cheaper places in town for like $110 a night-I bargained them down big time from $200. It’s an OK place that’s very comfortable although it has no wi-fi and the restaurant is ludicrously expensive as I found out yesterday morning when without asking about price I rolled in a grabbed a few croissants and jelly. Then they brought the bill and it was $20 as it’s part of the buffet they said of which there was none. Yes, I was pretty pissed but try reasoning with unreasonable people in a language I am not very good at…so I got stuck with it.

The bars rage all day and they are packed with vacationers from Europe shockingly and also well to do Brazzas who fly in from the capital for some sun. The beaches are not very crowded though as the intense sun just below the Equator is brutally oppressive and very hot. I got burned yesterday pretty bad on my arms and I was eating in the shade.

The thing that really shocked me the most was that there was surfing here and a lot of it. After I discovered this I decided I had to go out and surf for myself because the waves were so nice and big. I like to think of myself as a decent surfer but sometimes what we think and reality are two different things.
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The waves were like 10-12 feet and let’s just say I got my ass kicked several times and seriously thought I was going to die at least twice so I decided to call it quits. Especially after surfing next to some 10 year old naked local kids who were basically surfing on palm leaves and coconut shells. They were making me look awful and feel worse as they were tearing up these big waves and I was wiping out immediately. It was pretty funny and just goes to show the old adage is correct-you can rent a fancy surfboard but all you really need is a coconut shell. You guys all know that one right?! It was pretty fun though nonetheless. Also, Endless Summer really should’ve come further down the west coast of Africa because the waves here are much better than anywhere in Senegal or Nigeria that I saw.

After my near death surfing debacle I headed back and had some shrimps and pizza from Twiga beach bar which is the place to be in Pointe Noire for happy hour and pretty much all day actually. It teems with life and really gets going at night apparently. Some 50 something Croatian guy who is staying at my hotel whom I had breakfast with yesterday: when I asked him how the beach bar was replies, “Sex, drugs and rock and roll man!”
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I’m like “Ok dude, relax and lay off the LSD, it ain’t the 70’s anymore.” However, the guy did have sort of a point because there were a ton of young, wild French here on holiday, tons of local hookers, a lot of booze and plenty of pumping nightlife so I heard. I never actually saw the nightlife though because I fell asleep at 7pm last night after happy hour and just woke up at like 7am this morning and checked the clock and was like “Damnit”…haha. I guess I needed the sleep.

I’m probably better for the wear and am refreshed for my morning and early afternoon here in Pointe Noire before I catch my flight to Brazzaville on some airline called Trans Air Congo that has been barred from operating in the European Union because of safety concerns. Sweet right?! The good news is their fleet of like 9 planes has an average age of 25 or so…ugh! It was either that or take the train which may or may not go and certainly would be a horribly uncomfortable experience. You can’t go overland because of an alleged armed conflict apparently that is raging in the center of the country so again I didn’t have much choice. If you’re reading this I made it to Brazzaville or beyond because I cannot post it before I leave so I will have made the flight without incident.

Comments

  1. Sounds like quite the place! Merry Xmas!

  2. I agree sounds like a blast, sign me up!

  3. Peter Baker says:

    Yo Lee. That place sounds great! Merry Christmas

  4. Africa Lover says:

    Be safe and enjoy the best place on Earth Lee.

  5. Just curios, how much did it cost to fly from Ponte Noire to Brazzaville, and do you know if thay have fligth every day? I am debating to fly to Brazzaville first and than to Pointe Noire and return the same way or just go to Pointe Noire were I need to go and forget about Brazzaville.

  6. It’s about $120 each way from PNR to Brazzaville give or take deoending where you buy the ticket. Go to the office in town at PNR because it’s a lot less hectic than at thre airport which is a madhouse. Also, it is easy at Brazzaville airport as well on TAC airlines. The flight does go everyday at least 4 a day but they are jammed so book ahead of time, I was lucky to get on the one I did as it was way oversold. If you buy in PNR town, ask for Pamela to help you-she really hooked me up and get someone to help you check in at the airport for you as you’ve never seen more craziness. Good luck!

  7. Hi Lee,

    Great post! Can I ask you about the Trans Air Congo flight– how did it turn out? Did it feel very unsafe? I have a film crew traveling to Pointe Noire in a few weeks, and they\’re schedule to take a TAC flight… should I be concerned for their safety?

    Thanks for your insight. Cheer!

  8. Hi Kristina, I’ll be honest it was a little hairy up there and the plane was packed and the airport is a nightmare. They don’t speak English on the plane and you don’t know whats going on but it’s kind of fun in hindsight.

    My friend who I was flying with may tell you another story as he was totally freaking out. TAC was banned by the EU along with most other Congolese airports. However they do fly 4 times a day and haven’t had any issues that I’ve heard about recently. Take this info as you will but there aren’t any other viable options.

  9. I’m off working there in a few months for a few months (at the airport). Any good advice for accomodation requirements/security?

    Cheers,

    Adam.

  10. Wow that should be interesting! The airport in PN is kind of nuts and nobody seems to actually have any idea what they are doing, especially before the flights to Brazzaville with many locals flying for the first time. For accomodation, I’d say stay as close to the beach where the hotels are that you can as it’s the safest and most convenient part of town (and there are paved roads).

  11. Hi.
    Need some more information up date thanks.

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