Sunday, December 26, 2004

Arrival in Malabo

December 26, 2004
Malabo, Equatorial Guinea
N 3.74647° E 8.77472 Elevation 126 feet. Temp: 86° F

Our group arrived in Malabo this afternoon, safe and sound, though a little weary from more than 24 hours of continuous travel. I am a little sleep-deprived after two six-hour flights on crowded planes, where I unfortunately sat in front of passengers who could not keep their feet off the back of my seat.

The Malabo airport is new and modern, thanks to the oil income that has been flowing into this tiny nation for the last decade. But the airport officials still follow Africa’s old rules. The customs agents at the airport took a dislike to the camouflage gaiters that an Arcadia student brought in -- the expedition leaders had warned us to avoid anything with a military appearance. After a coup attempt earlier this year, the government is suspicious of anything that might be used to topple the president, even a pair of cammy spats. The student was taken in for questioning, along with Gail W. Hearn, the Arcadia professor who is leading the expedition. They were released a short while later, although the agents kept one of the expedition’s satellite telephones for reasons that are not entirely clear. The expedition’s local friends seem to think they will get the equipment returned without difficulty. This is a pretty normal reception in a place like Equatorial Guinea.

Barbara, the photographer, and I got through customs without too much hassle – I think the agents were bored with our group by the time we slogged through. We certainly carried enough stuff to cause alarm, but the agent just shrugged at the items we had containing our satellite telephone and Barbara’s extensive camera collection.

We’re setting up tents on the lawn of one of the oil companies that is working in Equatorial Guinea, ExxonMobil, whose local subsidiary provides support to the Arcadia expedition. We will be treated to oil company food and access to their showers until Wednesday, when a boat has been arranged to take us to the southern end of Bioko island, where our expedition will venture into really wild country. The boat is also being provided by an oil company, Amerada Hess. The Arcadia people seemed to have established conducive relations here with people who can get things done.

It is very muggy in Equatorial Guinea, quite a shock to my system after Philadelphia, where I took a walk yesterday morning at daybreak and the temperature measured 16 degrees. There is so much humidity here that the air-conditioning system in the plane began to spew out fog as soon as the aircraft hit the ground – a strange disco effect to disembarking.

I’ve talked my way into an office at the National University of Equatorial Guinea where I’ve connected to the Internet. The Arcadia folks, funded by a grant from an oil company, set up the Internet connection here.
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