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. 


Piracy on the High Seas


We recently have learned a few things about pirates in the Atlantic Ocean – yes that’s right, the Atlantic.  

Apparently, piracy is big business off the West coast of Africa, as cargo ships with refined petroleum pass through these waters.  Several African countries on the West coast are rich in oil, and ship it through the Gulf of Guinea.  

Highly organized pirates board these ships, which often have small crews (therefore easy to control).  The pirates use weapons to force the crew to stop the ship (or, if the ship is already anchored, to turn over control).  Then, the ship turns into an illegal bunkering stop  – other ships can obtain the fuel from the pirates for a price much lower than obtaining it legally at a port.   Once the fuel vessel is empty, the pirates move on to the next fuel vessel and repeat the process.  

In the past, when fuel prices on the legal market dropped, the pirates would ransom crew members instead of selling fuel, as it was more profitable to collect ransom. 

Government corruption appears to be heavily involved in this petro-piracy, either through government action/inaction in conjunction with the pirates, or through corruption in general.  In this latter instance, the pirates take matters into their own hands to grab “their share” of the wealth.  

An excellent article from March 2022 on this issue can be found at:

As oil production around the world changes in the future, petro-piracy is an issue about which we may hear more.   


A Quick Tour of Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town, South Africa

May 9, 2023

We flew into Cape Town from Durbin on May 5 at the conclusion of our Safari. Then we headed off the next day on a half-day tour of the city. Last time we were in Cape Town (back in 2018) we didn’t think much of the place. In fact we were amazed at the number of people who told us that Cape Town was their favorite city. 

Cape Town as Seen From Table Mountain

When we went on tour this time we were very pleasantly surprised. The city had its gleaming office towers and apartment buildings, elegant modern homes in the coastal areas, and bars and restaurants galore. We concluded that we just visited the wrong parts of the city the last go around. 

Section of Capetown Coast at the Foot of Table Mountain Range

A bit surprising because we had stayed in a first rate hotel. In fact, one of the best. We must have just made a wrong turn. Some sections we visited this time were just a few blocks away.

Not that the country South Africa, and the city Cape Town, don’t have their problems. They do. The South African rate of unemployment is estimated at anywhere from 30% to 40%. (Nobody really knows for sure what the real number is).

The population of South Africa is about 60 million people. It has the 39th largest economy in the world and is classified as a newly industrialized economy. It has the most technologically advanced economy on the African continent. But crime, poverty and inequality are widespread. 

Some of the problems most likely stem from apartheid, which came to an end in 1994. There are also governance problems. Even though it is now a democratic state, South African politics is essentially a one party state, dominated by the African National Congress.  One party states are typically fonts of corruption and poor governance. (Note: see Chicago, Illinois). But transitioning to a full fledged democracy from an authoritarian state to one that respects the rule of law, property rights and due process was never going to be easy. 

The hope for South Africa is that it can emulate the courage and vision of its modern founder, Nelson Mandela, and complete its transition to an advanced liberal democracy.  

Table Mountain, Capetown South Africa

When Mary Anne and I toured the city we spent most of the time on Table Mountain, so named because it looks like a table because the top of it is flat.

A wide angle photo of a hiking trail at the top of Table Mountain.
Photo of a section of Table Mountain recently damaged by a fire.

One thing we did was to take a cable car to the mountain top and hike around a bit. The view from the top was truly spectacular. We also visited some coastal areas as well as the center of the city. It is now no longer a mystery to us why so many people are so enamored of Cape Town. 

Para Gliding From Table Mountain


Photo Safari at Phinda Forest Lodge

Zululand, South Africa

May 8, 2023

When we arrived in South Africa, we immediately went by van to Phinda Forest Lodge for a photo safari (we were part of a group of 8 passengers from the ship).   Phinda is one of the many lodges owned by a company called “&Beyond” which promotes sustainable travel in natural places that need to be conserved.  It is an interesting company founded by members of the Getty family and South African investors, and the business model includes alliances with local Zulu tribes, local landowners and others.  

A Tree in the African Bush at Sunset

Over the course of 3 days we went on 5 game drives.  Before we even snapped animal pictures, we learned a lot about the area and its history – it is partly a sand forest (rare), partly grasslands, partly woodland and partly wetland.   With this diverse ecosystem Phinda has trees, bushes, plants, spiders, birds, orchids, cacti and animals not found anywhere else on the planet.   The scenery was stunning. With the help of an extraordinary ranger and tracker team (Dan and Bheki) we explored it all.  

Coffee Break in the Bush with Mary Anne and Dan
Bheki–Our Tracker on Safari

The game drives were great, and each lasted a lot longer than expected, because we found so many animals – lions (and lionesses), elephants (alone and in a big herd) , giraffes (ditto), zebras, white rhino, hippos, leopards, a cheetah, Cape buffalo, antelope, nyalas, wildebeests, warthogs, suni (tiny deer), monkeys, lizards, turtles, spiders, birds, etc.    And we saw lots of babies (lion cubs, elephant and giraffe calves, etc.), too.  

Giraffes in the Bush
A Lionness and Her Cubs
A Herd of Elephants

Phinda Forest Lodge was great – 16 large glass-walled cabins, lovely staff members, beautiful outdoor dining areas where we enjoyed incredible candle-lit dinners near roaring fires (it was cool and dark by 6:30 pm), and guides to get you from dinner back to your cabin after dark, as animals roam freely throughout the area.  

Joe took a lot of pictures, and tried to capture the feeling of being in Africa, in the bush.   It was an incredible experience, and we would go on another safari in a heartbeat!  

In the African Bush

Now, off to check out the West coast of Africa, starting down in Namibia, with the world’s oldest dessert.   

Best wishes to all, 

Joe and MA

More Pics Below

A Pair of Zebras
Antelope Running in the Bush
Leopard in the Wild
Herd of African Buffalo
Running Impalas

Visiting Mozambique

Maputo, Mozambique

May 7, 2023

We just finished—wait for it—a pirate drill. Apparently we are about to enter a high-risk area (HRA) for piracy. Not something you see every day. 

Anyway, we arrived in Maputo, Mozambique on Monday, May 1st. Now officially known as the Republic of Mozambique, it has a population of 30 million people. The country is well endowed with natural resources, particularly natural gas. But corruption is endemic and the country remains one of the poorest in the world. Its main industries are fishing and tourism and the spread between rich and poor is one of the widest in the world. 

Bridge over Maputo Channel

The country gained its independence from Portugal in 1975 and immediately changed its name to the People’s Republic of Mozambique, then named streets after Mao Tse Tung, Ho Chi Minh and Karl Marx, which goes a long way toward explaining its economic condition. 

Maputo Building Complex

Within 2 years after gaining independence in 1975 a civil war broke out and lasted until 1992, at which time the ‘People’s” bit was dropped and the country’s name was changed to the Republic of Mozambique. Since then there has been some liberalization, economic growth has been a blistering 8% or so and thousands of state enterprises have been sold off. But the damage from experiments in Marxism-Leninism and years of civiil war have taken their toll and it will take a while for the country to become truly prosperous. 

Wall in a Fort

Mary Anne and I took a half-day tour around the capital, Maputo. As it turns out, it was a national holiday called Worker’s Day, I suppose in sympathy with May Day in Europe. We saw demonstrations of solidarity in the center of town where we visited the train station. We also saw the outside of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. 

Workers Day
Cathedral Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception
Train Station

The city though, was dilapidated and the signs of its poverty were everywhere. One big problem is that the school system is an admitted disaster and the adult literacy rate is only around 60%—with 74% male literacy and only 45% female literacy. Mozambique has a lot of work to do if it is going to substantially improve its condition. 


A Revealing Day in Nosy Be, Madagascar

A Stop in Nosy Be, Madagascar

April 28, 2023

We arrived at Nosy Be, Madagascar on the 27th of April. (The island country is officially known as the Republic of Madagascar.) To put this visit in perspective, it is necessary to consider one overriding  fact, namely that Madagascar is  one of the poorest countries in the world. The appalling living conditions there testify to it. 

Children Playing in a Stream Full of Trash
Dancers at the Port in Madagascar

Madagascar was governed as a Kingdom for a couple of hundred years before it was annexed by France in 1897. It was granted its independence in 1960. Since then it has gone through a number of political crises. It is now on its 4th republic which is structured as  a constitutional democracy, following a military coup in 2009. After a protracted transition it is now functioning, more or less, as a democracy with constitutional governance restored in 2014. The uncertainty accompanying its various political crises has undoubtedly played a part in the country’s poverty and lack of foreign investment.

Mary Anne Crossing Wooden Bridge

Because of its long isolation from neighboring continents there are lots of plants that are endemic to Madagascar. In fact more than 80% of Madagascar’s plant species are found nowhere else. Moreover, the island has been classified as a biodiversity hotspot by Conservation International.

Lemur in a Forest
Giant Turtle–about 100 years old

Mary Anne and I went on a tour in Madagascar and got a look at the biodiversity as well as the poverty that the people live under. Even at a “high end” hotel we stopped in, the conditions were less than ideal, to put it mildly. For example, the hotel was virtually surrounded by people desperately trying to sell souvenirs. Believe it or not, one young man brought his cow into the ocean at the resort beach. So, marketing messages aside, Madagascar with its biodiversity, surrounded by abject poverty, was both fascinating and a tragedy to see.  

Young Boy with Cow in the Ocean


The Seychelles

On to the Seychelles

April 26, 2023

The Republic of the Seychelles, as it is officially known, is an archipelago in the Indian Ocean consisting of 115 islands. Its capital and largest city is Victoria which also happens to be the smallest capital city in the world measured by population. In fact at just under 100,000 people Seychelles is the least populated sovereign African country. Its island neighbors include Comoros, Mauritius, Reunion and Madagascar (where we are headed next).

Aqua Waters Outside the Port

The most important industry for the Seychelles is tourism. But tourism, as important as it is, is not the whole story. The Seychelles has a market-based diversified economy. The government encourages foreign investment. Since the 1970s the country has experienced rapid growth—up to 1,600% expressed in Purchasing Power Parity. Seychelles has the highest nominal per capita GDP of any African country. In Africa it has the second highest Human Development Index ranking (after Mauritius). And it is the only African country ranked as high-income by the World Bank.

Tender Docking Station

Mary Anne and I spent 2 days in the Seychelles. Among other things we hiked around the a palm tree forest in the  Vallee De Mai, a  botanical garden near Victoria, and viewed Coco de Mer trees. We saw large rock formations, giant tortoises and stunningly beautiful beaches. 

Coco de Mer plants in the Vallee De Mai
Tour Guide in Vallee de Mai
Giant Tortoise

All in all the Seychelles is a beautiful playground, in many ways not unlike St Bart’s. Definitely worth a visit—if you are in the neighborhood. Next stop Madagascar.

Photos from our visit are posted below.

Rock Formation in the Seychelles
Seychelles Beach Resort


Last Stop in the Middle East: Oman

Salalah,  Oman

April 25, 2023

Our last stop in the Middle East was Salalah, Oman. Salalah is the 3rd largest city in Oman, which is officially known as the Sultanate of Oman. It is one of the only two Sultanates in the world, the other being Brunei.  Salalah (pop about 200,000) is the capital city of the province of Dhofar. 

Oman is located on the southeast coast of the Arabian Penninsula and spans the mouth of the Persian Gulf. It shares land borders with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Yemen. It shares maritime borders with Iran and Pakistan. It has the Strait of Hormuz as a coastal border. So Oman, is in a pretty rough neighborhood.

But it, and Salalah, its 3rd largest city, are peaceful. Unlike the rest of Oman which is always hot and dry, Salalah has a monsoon season that lasts from June through September. Consequently, by regional standards there is a good deal of vegetation. There is also a good deal of tourism, especially during the monsoon season. 

A photo of an Oasis in Oman

Governance in Oman is by absolute monarchy; the current sultan is Haitham bin Tariq Al Said who is said to be a benevolent monarch. The country runs on revenue generated by its mineral resources (Oil and Gas) and all menial work is performed by Asian migrants. The population is about 99% muslim.

When Mary Anne and I visited there we went to see an archeological dig. 

Salalah, Oman — April 21, 2023. A wide angle photo at an archeological dig in Oman being visited by tourists.

We also saw some spectacular landscapes and believe it or not, lots and lots of camels who pretty much roam about freely. 

Oman Landscape
Camels walk across a field

Salalah was an interesting place, very modern and well maintained. The sultan to all outward appearances is benevolent as monarchs go. But benevolent monarchs are benevolent until they aren’t and then things can get pretty ugly pretty quickly. We’ll see how things develop.