Last Day in Africa

Rock the Casbah

Agadir, Morocco 

May 29, 2023

We sailed into Morocco on Thursday, the 26th of May, for our last day on the African continent. Overall we found the people living in Africa to be extraordinarily friendly and welcoming. They constantly waved hello and seemed eager to tell us about their countries. But the contrast in material wealth between Africa and Europe (just around the corner)  is just staggering. 

Fresh Squeezed Orange Juice in the Souk

Upon seeing this, the temptation is to blame it all on colonialism.  It is a temptation often shared both by Westerners and people who live in what is now called the Global South—formerly called the third world or the developing world. 

But I’m not so sure that colonialism is all there is to it. Surely Europe wreaked plenty of havoc wherever and whenever they set up their colonies. For one thing, they created artificial countries rather than true nation-states. As the colonial era drew to a close and former colonies gained independence, the borders that remained often reflected great power politics that ignored local conditions. Tribal  and ethnic histories were all but ignored. The same can be said about the Middle East, South America and parts of Asia. 

There are other factors that bear consideration as well, including culture and political economy. The departing European powers had often attempted to suppress local culture and languages. By and large these efforts were largely unsuccessful. It is reasonable to suppose that this engendered African distrust of Western  institutions. It is also reasonable to assume that is one (among many) variables that explains why so many former African colonies adopted socialist-authoritarian models upon achieving independence. That didn’t really end until the Berlin Wall came down in 1989. But the wreckage of that experiment is still visible. Something to think about. 

On a brighter note, Mary Anne and I went on a brief tour of Agadir, Morocco. From what we observed, the country is in far better shape than  most of the other African countries we visited.  We went to a fantasia, which involved a show of dancers in native costume, acrobats and a horse riding show that featured synchronized movements and simulated charges for battle. 

Running Horses in Agadir, Morocco
A Moroccon Snake Charmer

Then we went to a souk—a real souk that was maybe a square mile in size. It looked like whatever you wanted, you could buy. Basically a quasi outdoor shopping mall. Everything from household furniture, freshly squeezed juices, souvenirs and clothing were on sale. 

After the souk we went to a Casbah, which essentially refers to a castle. But Casbahs are not isolated; generally they were built inside cities that were walled-off for protection against would be invaders. Casbahs tend to be on hilltops for the same reason. This Casbah (largely reconstructed) had cannons facing out to the Atlantic Ocean to protect against invading navies. 

Outside the Casbah Walls

There were plenty of tourists and merchants in the walled city. In fact, the Casbah seamed to be mostly for tourists. In some ways it looked like a scene from an Indiana Jones movie. Among other attractions there were donkeys, camels and goats meandering around while under the watchful eyes of their owners. A number of tourists went for the camel rides on offer. Not us. 

Going for a Camel Ride

After leaving the Casbah we headed back to the ship. It was our last day in Africa, and it really leaves you thinking. Next, we to set sail for Spain. 


The Canaries

The Canary Islands 

May 27, 2023

We arrived in the Canary Islands, “the Canaries” as the locals refer to them on the 24th of May. After a spending a few weeks visiting countries on the coast of West Africa, it was a bit of a relief.  

A Boat Anchored off the Coast of Tenerife

The Canaries are claimed by Spain, and have been for centuries. So landing in Santa Cruz on Tenerife was like landing in Europe. After Tenerife we went on to Arrecife on the island of Lanzarote, also one of the Canaries.

Looking Down on the Coast of Tenerife

The Island of Tenerife

Tenerife is the largest of the Canary Islands. It is also the most populous, with about 1 million inhabitants, or 43% of the archipelago’s total population. It is often frequented by Europeans on holiday. It gets about 5 million tourists (from all over the world) every year.

The city of Santa Cruz, the capital, is charming and clean. In fact it is pristine. It has the amenities you would expect if you were visiting Spain. 

While there, we viewed Mount Teide. Located in Mount Teide National park, a UNESCO heritage site, it stands as the highest elevation in Spain, and the tallest elevation on any Atlantic Ocean island. We also went on a walk on a walkway high up in Santa Cruz overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. 

Mount Teide in the Canaries
A Coastal Walk in Tenerife

After going through Santa Cruz we visited a banana planation where we learned about banana plants. Then we made our way to a well laid out botanical garden before returning to the ship.  

Banana Plantation on Tenerife

Buildings at the Base of the Mountains in Santa Cruz

The Island of Arrecife

Arrecife on island Lanzarote, where we arrived on May 26,  was next. Lanzarote is in many respects very different from Tenerife. While Tenerife is a bit of a playground for European tourists, Lanzarote is far less populated. There are only about 155,000 people living on the island.

Vineyards are a particular attraction of Arrecife. Needless to say, we visited 2 of them in La Geria, a Government protected wine region on the island. One of the unique features of La Geria vineyards is that the soil consists  largely of lava from various volcanic eruptions over the years. Another is that the island is very windy. 

An Arrecife Vineyard Photo

Consequently the wine growers ply their trade by planting  the vines in holes they dig in the lava and then building walls around them to serve as windshields. The vineyards wind up looking like moonscapes. 

An Arrecife Vineyard

We also visited the Monument to the Peasants, Monumento al Campesino, built by Cesar Manrique, a local hero. It is designed to pay homage to the local workers, especially the farm laborers who do the backbreaking work of picking the grapes in the vineyards. It is an impressive display, and well worth viewing. 

Monument to the Peasants of Arricefe
At the Monument to the Peasants

We expect to dock in Agadir Morocco on May 26. That will be our last stop in Africa before we dock on the Spanish mainland. Which means that we will be in Barcelona before too long. 


A Short Visit to Cape Verde

Mindelo, Cape Verde

May 21, 2023

On Sunday morning, May 21, we docked in Mindelo, the port city of the island of Sao Vincente. It is known for its carnival traditions, first originating from Portugal. Later cultural influences came from Brazil.  Mindelo, home to 93% of the island’s population is often considered to be the cultural capital of the Cape Verde archipelago. 

Mindelo, Caoe Verde–May 21, 2023. A photo of boats in the harbor of Mindelo, a fishing village that is the cultural capital of Cape Verde.

Mindelo, which is now essentially a fishing village, was founded by Portugal in 1793.  Cape Verde formally achieved its independence from Portugal in 1975. After 15 years of one party rule Cape Verde became a multi-party democracy in 1990. It has made considerable progress since then. For instance, the think tank Freedom House gives Cape Verde its highest ranking in its Freedom in the World survey. 

Mindelo, Cape Verde–May 21, 2023. A photo of old boats on the beach of Midelo, Cape Verde.

Cape Verde is a high scoring country for Freedom of the Press. The Heritage Foundation ranked it the 47th freest country in the world and the 2nd out of 47 in Africa. To put that in perspective: it’s a little worse than Peru (44) and better than Spain (51). 

Cape Verde is also doing better economically than many other African countries with a per capita a bit above $7,700. That is much higher than Sao Tome, Mozambique, Senegal, Madagascar and Togo, for instance. 

Mindelo, Cape Verde–May 21, 2023. A wide angle photo of a restaurant exterior in Midelo, Cape Verde

Mary Anne and I took a shuttle into the town to take a look around. It was quite pleasant. There were plenty of boats of all shapes and sizes tied up in the harbor; the city was clean and the European influence on the architecture was more than obvious. While wandering around the city we stopped in a local cafe and had some delicious coffee and then headed back to the ship.   Cape Verde was an interesting place to visit and we’ll see how it stacks up compared to Tenerife and the Canary Islands. 

Mindelo, Cape Verde–May 21, 2023. A photo of boats tied up in the harbor at Mindelo, Cape Verde.


A Visit to Dakar, Senegal

Dakar, Senegal

May 20, 2023

On May 19 we docked in Senegal, officially known as the Republic of Senegal. The ship’s captain reported today that we are currently in the process of exiting an area known for the highest risk of attack by pirates, which in its own way is sort of comforting.  

Now to Senegal

With an estimated population of about 17 million people, Senegal is classified as a heavily indebted poor country. Per Capita GDP is estimated at slightly over $4,000. Its government is secular even though 95% of the population is Muslim. 

Islam as practiced in Senegal seems to be a rather low key affair, especially when compared to the strict application of Sharia law in Islamic states. (Senegal has a secular Government).  The country is said to peaceable; according to our guide, the promotion of peace and harmony is the order of the day. He also claimed that Senegal stood for equality for women.  That has to be taken with a grain of salt inasmuch as polygamy is legal in Senegal, and not that unusual. The National Institutes for Health estimates that 48% of women and 32% of men are in polygamous unions in Senegal. 

Although classified as a poor and highly indebted country, Senegal appears to be in a lot better shape than some, actually a lot, of the other countries we visited in Africa. For example, Senegal’s per capita GDP is about double that of Sao Tome and Principe; more than double Madagascar’s, triple Mozambiques’s and 1.5 times Togo’s. All comparisons are adjusted for purchasing power.

Mary Anne and I visited Senegal and did a half day tour of Dakar, the capital. It certainly didn’t seem so poor as some of the other countries we visited; not by a long shot. It had its relatively affluent sections as well as poorer areas. We did see some dilapidated shacks, but they were not routine the way they appeared to be in other places.

Side Street Stands in Dakar

There also appeared to be a thriving urban scene in the capital. As usual, the people in the country were very friendly.

Among other things, we visited a village with a tour group. There the women performed native dances for us. We guessed that only the women danced because they don’t mix the sexes for dancing because it’s largely a Muslim country. Or maybe that is just the tradition. Then they invited women in the audience to join in—and Mary Anne turned out to be one of the volunteers!

Mary Anne with Native Senegalese Dancer
African Renaissance Monument in Dakar

We also visited a gallery where they showed us how to create sand art. (Note we are getting close to where the sand from the Sahara will blow all over us if the wind changes direction.)  We saw the presidential palace, which they call the Senegal White House. And we visited the African Renaissance Monument and a couple of local markets, including ones with large catches of fish. There were also plenty of goats and cows wandering around (Friday would be the day to slaughter a goat for the Islam holy day). We also did a very quick stop at the Divinity Mosque.

Mosque of Divinity in Dakar, Senegal
Tables and Chairs in a Senegalese Outdoor Restaurant

Before too long we expect to dock in Cape Verde. Then we sail to islands claimed by Spain (for instance Tenerife and the Canary Islands). The African Union has announced that these islands are African territory. That is starting to sound a bit like the Falklands in the 1980s. Anyway, overall it was a very interesting visit.


A Quick Trip into Abidjan

The Ivory Coast

May 17, 2023

We had a short visit to the Ivory Coast, or Cote d’Ivoire. The visit was short because we docked 4 hours late for some unknown reason and the scheduled tours had to be shortened so we could sail on time later that evening. Instead of going on a scheduled tour, we decided instead to take a shuttle bus into an area known as the Plateau in Abidjan to do a little exploring.

Our first stop was St Paul’s Cathedral, one of the largest in the world. It was designed by the Italian architect Aldo Spirito in 1980, was consecrated by Pope John Paul II and serves as the main church for the Archdiocese of Abdijan.

The Cathedral in Abidjan

One of the more notable things about the cathedral is the immense stained-glass windows. Because the windows are so large, they let a lot of light into the church. Another thing to note: the windows’ religious imagery is placed in African settings. There are, for instances, scenes with elephants in them. 

Stained Glass Windows with African Motif
Wide-angle Shot of Cathedral Interior with African Motif

After exploring the Cathedral we stopped off for lunch.  The restaurant, L’Ambassadeur, at the Hotel Tiama was French.

Ambassadeur Restaurant

There are quite a few French restaurants in town largely due to the fact that the Ivory Coast was once a French colony. Anyway we had a delightful lunch complete with wine. 

Then we caught the shuttle back to the ship which was being given a touch-up painting by the crew and by 5:00 PM we sailed away toward Dakar, Senegal, our next port of call. 

Crew Painting the Exterior of Seven Seas Mariner


A Quick Tour in Ghana

Takoradi, Ghana

May 16, 2023

We arrived in Ghana, officially known as the Republic of Ghana, on May 15. Located on the West Coast of Africa, Ghana was the first sub-Saharan country to gain independence from colonial rule on March 6, 1957. Ghana is the second largest cocoa producer in the world, and claims that it produces the best quality cocoa. It has a growing oil industry, is a major exporter of gold and has large deposits of bauxite, manganese and diamonds. 

Ghana is classified as a lower middle income country. It also has a medium Gini  coefficient of 43.5 signifying a  relatively benign distribution of income. Per Capita income expressed in terms of Purchasing Power Parity is just under $7,000, about 2.5 times that of  neighboring Togo.  

Roadside Wooden Shacks in Ghana
Ghanian Woman Carries Candy on a Plate on her Head

When Mary Anne and I got there it poured rain, so our tour was kind of attenuated. But from our vantage point, Ghana looked like a fairly poor, but developing, country. There was the usual assortment of shacks, and a limited number of top hotels. One hotel we visited was billed as a 5 star hotel and we saw African dancers perform in native costume. Another aspect of the continuing story of West Africa is that the people with whom we came into contact were very friendly.  

Side Street in Takoradi, Ghana
Roadside BBQ Stand in Takoradi, Ghana
Ghanian Dancers in Native Dress

Ghana is generally regarded as a stable democracy. But it wasn’t easy getting there. Its first President as an independent state was was Kwame Nkrumah who ruled as president and prime minister from 1957 to 1966. Nkrumah was an authoritarian leader however and aligned himself with Mao Tse Tung’s China. He was deposed in a military coup in 1966.

Nkrumah eventually became known as Dr. Kwame Nkrumah and formed the Kwame Nkrumah Technological Institute, dedicated to teaching his theories of communism and socialism. 

Ghana seems to be on the right track, but it has a lot of challenges, not the least of which is the influence China seems to have in Africa with its belt and road initiative. We can only wish Ghanians well.


Adventures in Voodoo

A Voodoo Ceremony in Togo 

May 15, 2023

We sailed into Togo, officially the Togolese Republic, on Sunday May 14 to witness a Voodoo ceremony in a village named Sanguera. In a way it was a study in the contrasts that are endemic to so many African countries. 

On the one hand we witnessed a Voodoo ceremony that included energetic, almost frenzied dancing in which the participants supposedly went into trances. One goal of the ceremony was to serve as protection against witchcraft.

Voodoo Ceremony

At the same time, a native professional photographer was there, complete with pro equipment, to photograph the proceedings. And it looked like plenty of villagers had smart phones, regardless of what any witches thought.  

Pro Photographer at the Ceremony
Children Waving in Togo as we drive by

Throughout the villagers were extraordinarily friendly and welcoming. They, as well as virtually any other Togolese people with whom we came into contact, or even just passed by as we drove along on a tour bus, smiled and waved. The people to all outward appearances, are just plain friendly. 

What is really surprising is that Togo ranks dead last in the UN Happiness Index. Perhaps it is because Togo is a desperately poor country with a Per Capita GDP of only about $2,600 expressed in Purchasing Power Parity (PPP). Anti-poverty protests in 2017 resulted in a crackdown by security forces. 

Another factor could be the nature of the government. Essentially it’s a one-party state. The current president, Faure Gnasssingbe, took over after his father’s death in 2005. His father became president in 1967 and by 1969 banned opposition political parties. Regardless, what we was a group of very warm and friendly people.

Highway in Lome, Togo
Togo Gendarmes Confront Our Tour Bus

We did have a bit of an altercation with the local gendarmes on the way back to the ship from the Voodoo ceremony. It seems that the bus driver was accused of going through a red light.

The police held up our party of maybe 30 people; a crowd gathered while we sat and waited and there was plenty of shouting back and forth between our security guard and the police. Eventually they got it sorted out, which probably means a bribe, and we made it back to the ship. 

Now we head off for the Ivory Coast.


Adventures in Africa

Sao Tome & Principe

May 13, 2023

We arrived in Sao Tome, the capital city of Sao Tome and Principe, on May 12, 2023. Sao Tome and Principe is a tiny island country with a population of about 225,000. The country achieved its independence in 1975 and promptly declared itself to be ”a revolutionary front of democratic, anti-neo-colonialists, and anti-imperialist forces.’’ (See the NY Times at this link).

Shortly afterward then President Manuel Pinta Da Costa, a Marxist, nationalized the country’s cocoa plantations and put them under state management. It should be noted that President Da Costa had studied economics in Cuba and East Germany. 

Roadside Fruit Stand in São Tomé

To the surprise of roughly nobody this side of rationality,  cocoa production collapsed. Since cocoa was the principal source of Sao Tome and Principe’s foreign exchange earnings, this was a problem. Combine that with the collapse of the Soviet Union and by 1990 democratic reforms began.

But even after reforms, Sao Tome and Principe remains a lower middle income country.  Real GDP Per Capita is estimated to be about $4,400. Recent growth rates have been between 2% and 3%. The unemployment rate is about 15% and  inflation, according to the latest available statistics (2017 & 2018), has been running between 5.6% to 7.8%. 

Restaurant and Cafe by the Coffee Museum

The literacy rate is high at just under 94%. The median age of the population is 19 years old. The government owns 90% of the land. There is still a corruption problem that impedes economic advancement. 

Mary Anne and I went on a tour that included the capital city of Sao Tome, a coffee museum situated on the island’s largest coffee plantation, a fort turned into a museum, and a cathedral. We also stopped at the island’s only 5 star hotel for lunch and saw local dancers and performers in native costume. 

Performers in Costume
Outside Sao Sebastiao Museum
Hotel Bar
Our Lady of Grace Cathedral

The people were very friendly. But quite a few young people, according to our guide, are moving out, primarily to Portugal. Portugal and Sao Tome and Principe maintain good relations. In fact Portugal, has a gun boat standing guard in Sao Tome’s harbor.

So it was good to see the country, and its going to interesting to see how things turn out.


The West African Coast: Namibia

Walvis Bay, Namibia

May 11, 2023

We arrived at Walvis Bay in Namibia which is bordered on the west by the Atlantic Ocean.To the north it shares land borders with Zambia and Angola, Botswana to the east and South Africa to the south and east. Its capital and largest city is Windhoek. But the capital has a population of only about 450,000 people. 

Namibia, officially the Republic of Namibia, is one of the least densely populated countries on the planet. Although the country is physically large, it is mostly desert, and so with a population of only about 2.5 million people, the it is one of the world’s least densely populated countries. 

Wide angle photo of Namib Desert at sundown

Namibia was originally colonized by Germany as German South West Africa around 1884. However as a result of WW1 Germany lost its colonies and Namibia was put under the rule of South Africa (then a member of the British Empire) after German forces were defeated by South Africa. South Africa applied its apartheid rules to Namibia in 1948.  Namibian activists launched a drive for independence, including a guerrilla war,  and they succeeded in gaining full independence in 1994. 

Today Namibia has a well developed banking sector, a very high literacy rate (92% of people over the age of 15 can read and write) and is one of the freest countries on the African continent. Bloomberg classifies it as the top emerging market economy in Africa and the 13th in the world. 

Pelican Point Lighthouse in Namibia

The World Bank considers Namibia to be an upper middle income country. Mining, manufacturing, agriculture and tourism are the main engines of the economy. Per Capita GDP expressed in Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) is about $11,500. That said, Namibia still has a lot of work to do. The unemployment rate is very high, ranging from 25% to 30%. And they are struggling with their sanitation systems. 

A Derilict Boat Anchored in the Bay

Mary Anne and I went for a cruise on a small boat on the lagoon where we saw an amazing array of pelicans, seals, and flamingos. After the boat ride we attended a dinner in the desert that was sponsored by Regent Cruises, just as the sun was setting. All in all in was a pretty amazing day. 

Close-up of a Pelican
Thousands of Seals Gather on the Beach
Pelicans Fly Over a Colony of Flamingos on the Beach

And best of all we didn’t get captured by pirates…but we are not out of the woods yet.