Sunday, 10 June 2007

Where on earth is Equatorial Guinea?

You may ask yourself, "why does it matter where Equatorial Guinea is?". Well, this country unknown to the majority of the world just happens to be where our fair Mélanie is hiding.

According to Lonely Planet, "the diminutive Equatorial Guinea is a slowly developing speck of a country that has few tourist attractions aside from its shorelines and jungle interior. It attracts adventurers looking to get off the beaten-path and explore a bit of the unknown."

While, BBC News reveals, "Since independence in 1968, Equatorial Guinea has been ruled by two men - from the same family - who have been described by a variety of human rights organisations as among the worst abusers of human rights in Africa.

In recent years the former Spanish colony has become one of sub-Saharan Africa's biggest oil producers.

Large oil and gas deposits were discovered off Bioko in the mid-1990s and their exploitation has driven spectacular growth. In 2004 Equatorial Guinea had the world's fastest-growing economy.


Politics: President Obiang seized power in 1979; rights groups have condemned his rule as one Africa's most brutal; he faces a "government in exile" and a separatist movement

Economy: Equatorial Guinea is sub-Saharan Africa's third biggest oil producer

International: Equatorial Guinea and Gabon are in dispute over islands in potentially oil-rich off-shore waters

But few people have benefited from the oil riches and the country ranks near the bottom of a UN human development index. The government has started a scheme to divert a share of oil revenues into social projects.

The corruption watchdog Transparency International has put Equatorial Guinea in the top 10 of its list of corrupt states. Despite calls for more transparency in the sector, President Obiang has said oil revenues are a state secret.

In 1996 Equatorial Guinea's first multi-party presidential election was held amid reports of widespread fraud and irregularities, returning President Obiang Nguema with 99% of the vote.

Equatorial Guinea's territory includes the island of Bioko, off the Cameroonian coast, which hosts the capital, Malabo."

For initial photos of Equatorial Guinea, click here.

The question for all of you now is, "When are you coming to visit?" ;-)

Sunday, 3 June 2007

Mumm's the Word

JK: With Mélanie's departure date for Eqatorial Guinea (EG) finally set (it had been postponed for an extra week due to visa delays), we decided to take one last adventure. By Canadian standards, the distances in Europe are so short and offer hugely rewarding end-points. Wanting to do something new and interesting, we decided to take a less than three hour drive over to the Champagne region of France. How we never thought of doing this before, I do not know.

Once in the regional capital of Reims, we checked into our discount hotel beside the train station (OK, we travel, but we economise too!) and quickly made a beeline for the Mumm champagne house. Touring the absolutely vast underground cellars containing somewhere around 20 million bottles was a revelation (see pic below). Of course by the end our throats were parched, craving a sampling of the bubbly elixir. Thankfully we were rewarded by very generous tastings. From there we went straight to Pommery. Its cellars were even wackier and deeper, chalk full (pun intended -- the soil is extremely chalky) of modern art installations (see pics) along with another 25 million bottles. The sampling at the end was just as tasty and generous.

After a nice meal and a laser light show (look above) to celebrate the opening of the TGV speed-rail line to Reims, we inspected the glorious cathedral lit up in the night (look left). The cathedral was the site of many, many royal coronations and retains all of its grandeur to this day. The next day we contuined our elixir pursuit by driving through the "route de champagne", admiring the countryside and eventually stopping in to Moet & Chandon, home of none other than Dom Perignon (in the town of Epernay).

Shortly after that our one night and one and a half day adventure was over. We would certainly go back in a second -- at the very least to find the winery that makes "Cristal", every gangsta's favourite bubbly! ;) Booya!

Bike riding in Knokke

Ah, the lazy days of spring.... this time a bike ride in Knokke (north sea coast of Belgium)