Tag Archives: Mother Continent

Cruising Africa


All images by©IBIT/G. Gross. All rights reserved.

The Mother Continent is quietly becoming a destination of interest for the world’s cruise lines. Travelers can find both ocean and river cruises with wide ranges in style, accommodation and price.

I’ve said it many times: Small dreams are a waste of sleep. One of my bigger dreams is to cruise western Africa.

But this is no idle fantasy. I know this can be done, because it’s being done already, and with a frequency that really took me by surprise.

Avoya Travel alone maintains its own list of Africa cruises well into 2015 — at least 130 of them from nine different cruise lines.

One of them, the river cruise specialist Ama Waterways, offers nearly 100 cruises out of South Africa that include visits to Cape Town and the Stellenbosch wine country and flights to one of the world’s great natural wonders, Victoria Falls.

Nor are we talking about rough-and-ready freighter or expedition cruises, either. Most of the cruises on the Avoya Travel list are being run by lines like Crystal, Oceania, Seabourn, Silversea and Windstar.

Cruise lines like these tend to fall into one of three price categories — upscale, very upscale and OMG. Many range in length from two weeks to more than a month, which makes the cost even more breathtaking.

At the other end of the scale, the Italian mass-market line MSC has the shortest and cheapest Africa cruises on the Avoya list — Cape Town to Walvis Bay and back, four nights, $279 for an inside cabin.

The most expensive cabin, a suite, goes for $469.

The Avoya list itself is by no means all-inclusive.

Princess Cruises offers a mammoth 30-day cruise that runs the entire length of West Africa, from Cape Town to Ceuta in Spanish North Africa before finally ending in London, with nine African port calls in between.

Holland America offers Africa cruises. So too does the Cunard line, the ocean liner specialist that made the names Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth and QE2 household names in the travel world.

If these mass-market-style cruises don’t float your boat, so to speak, you could always sign up for an African expedition cruise from G Adventures, Canadian adventure travel specialists.

Two British cruise operators are hitting Africa.

Fred.Olsen Cruise Lines offers an 11-night West African cruise that departs from Tenerife in the Canary Islands and calls on Senegal, the Gambia and the Cape Verde Islands.

The other, P&O Cruises, has sailing from opposite ends of the Mother Continent, starting from Egypt in the north and from Australian ports for cruises in southern African waters.

If you’re not intimidated by language barriers, you can find even more Africa cruises available.

The German travel company Plantours Kreuzfahrten does a cruise from the German port of Hamburg to the Cape Verde Islands off the coast of Senegal. And later this year, she will begin calling regularly on Sierra Leone.

All of these cruises present real challenges to American travelers in terms of cost, distance and time. In virtually every instance, you’ll have to fly to meet your ship and return home, which represents at least two lost days.

Even so, it figures to be an unforgettable experience.

Avoya Travel
CLIA — Cruise Lines International Association
Cruise Africa
Cruise Critic
Vacations to Go

AIRLINES: The “Wings of Nigeria” reach the US

Arik Air Airbus A330

Arik Air Airbus A330

Nigeria no longer needs to rely on Europeans to operate its trans-Atlantic airline flights to the United States.

Amid all the mystery and tragedy of Malaysia MH370, a little good news from the airline world…and it comes from West Africa.

Last week, an Airbus A330-200, flying the colors of Arik Air, touched down at New York’s JFK International Airport after about an eight-hour flight from Lagos, Nigeria.

It wasn’t the Arik Air flight ever to land in the United States; the airline has been making that run since 2009. But it was the first time in 20 years that a commercial aircraft registered to Nigeria had made the trip.

Before that, Arik Air’s other US flight had been operated by a Portuguese company. Now, Nigeria is reaching across the Atlantic on its own, with its own jumbo jets.

Not bad for an airline only seven years old.

It took more than a smile and a nod from President Barack Obama to make this happen. The airline to jump through three years’ worth of hoops from the Federal Aviation Administration and the Department of Transportation before receiving the official go-ahead.

Of the 18 major airlines currently based in Africa, Arik Air, which calls itself “the Wings of Nigeria,” is one of only six allowed to fly to the US. The other five are:

  • Air Maroc
  • Cape Verde Airlines
  • Egyptair
  • Ethiopian Airlines
  • South African Airways

Two US airlines, Delta and United, offer direct flights between the US and African destinations. Others connect to the Mother Continent via codeshare flights with European airlines like British Airways, Air France and Germany’s Lufthansa.

Having US government clearance to operate its own planes to US airport should enable Arik Air to add flights to more East Coast destinations, making it easier for American travelers to visit Africa.

And as new-generation airliners with longer range come into service like Boeing’s Dreamliner and the new Airbus A350, perhaps one day, I’ll see jumbo jets rocking the colors of African airlines at LAX.

Am I dreaming? Sure. But small dreams are a waste of sleep.

Travel to Africa…why you should

Second of two parts

Nature and Black heritage are perhaps the two best-known reasons for visiting Africa, but there are many more reasons to go.

In the first segment of this series, we looked at Africa in terms of safety and whether a traveler could feel reasonably secure visiting the Mother Continent. We found that, on the whole, the answer is Yes.

Having established that can, we’re now going to look at some of the reasons why you should.

Typically, discussions of African travel focus on two themes. The first is nature. That usually means safari tours, hunting and fishing trips, bird-watching outings, backpacking, bike or motorcycle tours.

On these travels, the stars are Africa’s flora and fauna, much of it found nowhere else on Earth, and much of it under threat from everything from habitat loss to rampant poaching.

The other travel theme most commonly brought up for Africa, especially among Black Americans, is heritage travel, taking an up-close, in-person look at the history of the trans-Atlantic slave trade where it began, maybe tracing their own African origins with the aid of DNA.

Both of these are valid reasons for a trip, or several trips, to the Mother Continent. But Africa has so much more to offer to the senses.

Sight, you know about already. Egypt’s pyramids and monuments. The mountains, deserts and of Morocco. The vast, grassy plains of the savanna that covers nearly half the continent. Mount Kilimanjaro.Victoria Falls, shared by Zimbabwe and Zambia. the beauty of Cape Town in South Africa.

But what of sound? There may not be enough years in an average lifespan to get your head around all the varied richness of Africa’s music, both ancient and modern.

Modern popular African musical styles by themselves are enough to swamp you in a tidal of creative sound. Afrobeat. Afrojazz. Highlife. Hiplife. Makossa. Sakara. Zouglou. And dozens more, some of them a century or more old.

If, starting right now, you devoted a year to fully immersing yourself in each style of African popular music, you’d still be going at it 40 years from now.

And those are the purely African sounds. That doesn’t count imports like Jamaican reggae nor Black American gospel music, on which Africans are putting their own delightful stamp.

What about food? On this side of the Atlantic Ocean, the Mother Continent may best be known for images of starving babies, thanks to our mainstream media. But the reality is that Africa has given the world many foods and many flavors we enjoy without even thinking about their origins. Coffee. Peanuts. The cacao bean that gives us chocolate.

But those are just starters, you could say.

The nations and regions of Africa produce a whirlwind of flavors, everything from pastilla and harira, thieboudienne, yassa, egusi soup and jollof rice from West Africa, wat and shiro in East Africa, Central Africa’s babute and piri piri chicken, seswaa and sosatie in southern Africa — along with a curried dish inexplicably known as “bunny chow.”

(Don’t worry. No cute and fuzzy bunnies are harmed in the making of this dish…)

You can already find culinary tours on offer in North Africa, West Africa and the Republic of South Africa, and as the interest grows, there will be more.

Religion? Nearly all the continent is a massive collection of sites and artifacts holy to Christians and Muslims, among them the rock churches of Ethiopia.

Interested in high fashion? There are major annual fashion shows in Senegal, Nigeria and South Africa.

What about film, cinematography? We all now know that India produces more feature films that any other nation. Who’s Number Two? It’s not Hollywood. It’s Nigeria. That’s right: After Bollywood comes Nollywood.

Egypt, Tunisia and South Africa even can lay claim to a growing medical tourism industry, and Nigeria is looking to get into the mix. It’s another growing trend in African travel.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about all the attractions listed above is that taken all together, they still comprise but the merest introduction of what Africa offers to the traveler. So start making your plans, saving your money, and get that passport.

The Mother Continent is waiting for you.

Travel to Africa…why you can
2014: Make your own Black History in West Africa
AFRICA: 2 rails, 3 trains, 5 stars


The Tuskegee Airmen proved that Blacks could fly as well as anyone. But it would take another 20 years before you saw a Black pilot at the controls of a US airliner.

When you board an airliner and the cockpit door is open, do you ever peer inside to see who’s sitting at the controls?

If the pilot is a Black man or woman, do you feel a small smile spread for just a moment across your face?

If your answer is yes, you have three men to thank for that, Marlon Green, David Harris and August Martin.

After World War 2, the United States knew that Black men could fly as well as anyone else. The Tuskegee Airmen had proven that.

However, not one Tuskegee pilot was ever hired in the United States to fly for any US airline. Among those denied was August Martin, who was flying B-25 Mitchell bombers at war’s end.

For nine years, all he could do was scrounge part-time flying jobs with various lines — including El Al in Israel. In between, he took odd jobs, everything from aircraft mechanic in New Jersey to stevedore on the docks of New York harbor.

Finally in 1955, he became a captain for a cargo airline. But flying passengers was still off-limits to Blacks.

Two years later, Marlon Green heard that passenger airlines in this country had made a public commitment to hire pilots regardless of race.

He very quickly found out just how much that promise was worth. As his ex-wife would later tell the Denver Post, Green “got doors slammed in his face all over the place.”

There was no doubting his qualifications. While in the Air Force, he had flown not only twin-engined B-26 Marauder bombers, but the Grumman SA-16 Albatross rescue amphibian.

If you can take off and land the same twin-engined airplane on land and water, you’ve got skills. If you were black in the 1950s, however, your skills didn’t matter.

It seems the airlines were afraid back then that white customers would refuse to fly with a Black man at the controls, and that they would have too much trouble finding hotels willing to accept Black flight members in 1950s America.

When in 1957, he saw Continental Airlines hire five white pilots with less flight experience over him, Green decided he’d seen enough. He filed a complaint with the state of Colorado.

The state ordered Continental to enroll him in its pilot training class. The airline refused. The battle would last for six years and go all the way to the US Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, Green applied to ten other airlines. All ten turned him away. The whole experience took its toll, his brother, Jim, would say years later.

“He lost his dignity, his honor, his self-esteem, all of his savings, and he was reduced to menial work like cleaning milk cans. It destroyed his faith and his family.”

Finally in 1963, the Supreme Court ruled — unanimously — in favor of Marlon Green. But he would not get to be the first Black pilot for a US-based passenger airline.

That distinction would go to David Harris, who had been dealing with his own series of race-based rejections from the US airline industry.

In 1964, a year after Green’s court victory, Harris went to American Airlines and made a point of letting the interviewer know he was black. The interviewer’s response:

“This is American Airlines and we don’t care if you’re black, white or chartreuse. We only want to know, can you fly the plane?”

American hired Harris that same year. He would spend 14 years with the airline, retiring as a jumbo jet captain.

The following year, Continental put Marlon Green in the cockpit, backdating his seniority to 1957.

Capt. Green died in Denver in July 2009 at age 80. The next year, Continental named one of its Boeing 737 jets after him.

Capt. Harris remains active in the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals, which is fighting to raise the number of Black airline pilots from its current level of fewer than 1 percent of the industry’s roughly 71,000 pilots.

But what of August Martin?

“Augie” Martin cared deeply about the newly independent nations of black Africa. During the 1960s, he used to spend his vacation time flying critically needed supplies up and down the Mother Continent.

During one such mercy mission in Nigeria in 1968, he was killed while trying to land on a highway during a driving rain.

Capt. Martin was 49 years old.

The stories of Marlon Green, David Harris and August Martin are among those now being told in the Black Wings exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC.

Black History Month is as good as reason as any to stop by and check it out.

Norma Merrick Sklarek, 1926-2012
Eleanor Joyce Toliver-Williams, 1936-2011
Black America: Taking to the skies

cuba flag

LA Travel Show: Cuba in the house for 2014

WHAT: The 2014 Los Angeles Travel & Adventure Show

Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center
300 E. Ocean Ave.
Long Beach, CA

Feb. 8-9, 2014, 10am-5pm

TICKETS (per person)
One-day: $10 online til Feb. 7, $12 online Feb. 7-9, $15 at the door
Two-day: $16 online til Feb. 7, $18 online Feb. 7-9, $24 at the door

The US may be edging closer to dropping the longstanding trade embargo that blocks Americans from traveling freely to Cuba, but not everyone is waiting. Africa, too, is representing this year.

When this year’s Los Angeles Travel & Adventure Show kicks off next month in Long Beach, there will be an unfamiliar face among this year’s exhibitors.

It’s a face turned 90 miles south of Key West.

The exhibitor is — Cuba Travel Services, which, according to its Web site, “arranges weekly, non-stop, direct public charter flights between the United States and Cuba.”

It is but one of hundreds of travel companies and organizations that will be “in the house” at the Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center, but it’s the one that just might have the strongest pull on my attention.

The company motto is “You’ve Waited Long Enough.”

That’s pretty much what I’d like to tell the US government about lifting its long-pointless trade embargo against Cuba.

It’s the embargo, imposed in 1960 after a revolution put Fidel Castro in power, that makes it a hassle for Americans to travel freely to Havana.

Something the rest of the world has been doing for the last half-century and change.

As an American, you’re not absolutely barred from traveling to Cuba under the embargo, but to do so legally, Washington makes you jump through a lot of bureaucratic hoops, as needless as they are silly.

The biggest of them is the requirement that you obtain a license — yes, a license — to travel to Cuba, which means you have to fall under one of 14 categories.

Cuba Travel Services is an authorized travel provider to Cuba, license by the US Treasury Department, and arranges flights to the island from either Miami or Los Angeles.

A lot of Americans simply ignore the regulations and fly to Cuba on their own via Canada, Mexico or some other country. But if you want to go legally, you have to resort to outfits like this.

I’m guessing theirs will be among the more crowded booths at the travel show, if for no other reason than the justifiable curiosity of a lot of travelers.

The West Coast provides more recreational travelers to Africa than any other regions of the United States, so if travel to the Mother Continent is of interest to you, these African travel specialists will be on hand for you to talk to:

This looks to be one of the stronger African travel lineups at the LA Travel & Adventure Show in recent years.

At the other end of the spectrum, river cruising seems radically under-represented at this year’s show, a surprise given the explosion taking place in river cruise travel around the world, especially in Europe and Asia.

The one major river cruise operator that will be present is Ama Waterways, one of the few major river cruise outfits that offers river cruise tours in sub-Saharan Africa, as well as Europe and Asia.

These are just a few of the exhibitors that catch my interest at next month’s upcoming show. You’ve got the whole world to choose from.

AFRICA: Rethinking safari travel

© Daleen Loest | Dreamstime.com

© Daleen Loest | Dreamstime.com

Poachers are driving Africa’s unique wildlife to oblivion at a pace unthinkable a few years ago. A safari may be your only chance to see it — and only if you go very soon.

Today’s Digital Journal published this announcement today:

“Johannesburg – The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the world’s largest conservation network, has declared the western black rhino subspecies as extinct.”

You can read the entire Digital Journal post here.

This news is popping up on digital and scientific media around cyberspace today. Why, I’m not sure — because as IBIT already announced, the Western black rhino went extinct two years ago.

Still, it’s a jarring reminder, especially when you read something that wasn’t in that original announcement of mine:

“From 2007 to 2012, rhino poaching has increased 5000%.”

Say that aloud, slowly:


IBIT readers know that I’ve never been big on safari travel. I’m more drawn to the urban side of Africa, the cultural and heritage side of Africa. The wildlife side has always been of interest, but I’ve never felt any urgent need to venture out into the bush to play Dr. Doolittle.

Still…Five thousand percent? I may need to change my thinking, and not just when it comes to rhinos.

This has gone way beyond a few locals poaching a few animals on the side to keep their families fed. This is now big business, organized crime, right up there with drug smuggling and human trafficking, and just about as lucrative.

There are even suggestions that some international terrorists are financing themselves this way.

Is that what it’s going to take, invoking the T-word, to get the rest of the world to finally take this situation seriously? And how much of her wildlife will Africa have left before the world decides to act?

If you would like to see some of that wildlife for yourself, in the wild as Nature intended, you might not want to wait for the answers, because time is not on your side.

I’m starting to think maybe a safari trip to southern Africa isn’t such a bad idea, especially if you have any hope of seeing Africa’s unique fauna in anything other than a video or a pic.

See Africa’s wildlife — while you can

Row of kora players, International Roots Festival, Banjul, Gambia | ©Greg Gross

2014: Make your own Black History in West Africa

Slave fort, the former James Island, Gambia River |©IBIT/Greg Gross

Slave fort, the former James Island, Gambia River |©IBIT/Greg Gross

Don’t just be about Black history next year. Be where it all began.

February is Black History Month. How do you deal with that?

You could attend a museum exhibit here, a lecture there, maybe check out a documentary or two on public television or YouTube. But if you’re feeling maybe it’s time to go further when it comes to Black history, you might consider spending some days where “our” story began — in West Africa.

And that’s where Gaynelle Henderson-Bailey comes in. She runs the Henderson Travel Service in Maryland, just north of Washington DC. It’s perhaps the most experienced black-owned travel agency in the United States that specializes in African travel, going all the way back to when Ghana became the first black African nation to claim its independence from Europe in 1960.

Her agency is offering two Black History travel packages next year to French-speaking Senegal and its tiny English-speaking neighbor, the Gambia — one in February and another in March. The ten-day, $3,190 packages include round-trip flights between the United States and West Africa, hotels, breakfasts, ground transportation, English-speaking guides and much more.

You’ll find contact information in the IBIT TRAVEL CALENDAR over in the sidebar to your right.

I’ve traveled with Gaynelle to both these countries. She knows the Mother Continent, and the ins and outs of travel there. If you’re looking for an introduction to African travel, with an emphasis on heritage, history and culture rather than safaris, you’ll want to talk to this agency.

To do that, call:

Ana Lopes
Henderson Travel Service
7961 Eastern Ave., Suite 301
Silver Spring, MD 20910
(301) 650-5700 ext. 506

And when they ask how you heard about their West Africa tours, be sure to mention I’m Black and I Travel!

AFRICA — Keeping it “real?”

Travel industry experts worry about the “authenticity” of African cultural travel. They should, and so should we.

In an article published last August by Travel Weekly, writer Dorine Reinstein noted that “More and more tourists are requesting to meet ethnic groups during their Africa experience in order to get a glimpse of the ‘real Africa.’ But how authentic are these experiences in an increasingly modern Africa?”

She then quoted a spokesman for a safari company, who told of tourists being taken aback at the sight of a Maasai tribesman in traditional dress…talking on his cellphone.

“They had the expectation to see the Maasai culturally ‘freeze dried’ in time and space. The Maasai are not a cultural museum, nor do they want to be confined to being a photo opportunity for a tourist.”

This issue is a tricky one, on several levels. With that in mind, let’s get the easy part out of the way first:

There’s nothing wrong with celebrating Africa’s cultural heritage, even if it’s only for the sake of tourism. European and Asian nations do it daily, and so do we in a hundred different venues. Williamsburg, anyone?

But are the roughly 1 billion people who comprise the 54 nations and approximately 3,000 ethnic groups of Africa supposed to hold themselves in some sort of 19th century time warp for the sake of foreign tourists?

No American tourist comes away feeling disillusioned because they didn’t see today’s Parisians walking around in hoop skirts or white powdered wigs, or Japanese men dressed as samurai.

If you’re looking to Africa as some sort of cultural theme park, just go down to Disneyworld or come out to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park and be done with it. You’re neither ready for nor interested in the real thing, which is infinitely more fascinating.

Much of the Mother Continent is in a state of transition, from the ancient to the modern, the traditional to the innovative, the old to the new. It’s not all happening in the same way nor at the same pace, but it is happening. And depending on where you are, you might find both sides of that transition very much in play in everyday life.

So the sight of traditionally dressed Africans using 21st century technology is actually about as “real” as it gets.

Once you’ve dispensed with that, things get complicated.

Many African nations are eager, even desperate, to increase their tourism. It brings in cash, keeps locals employed, their families fed and their kids in school. It builds infrastructure and draws foreign investment.

But for travelers, especially American travelers, Africa is neither easy nor cheap. For most of us, an Africa trip means paying a thousand dollars or more for a flight lasting at least seven hours — and that’s if you’re lucky enough to live on the East Coast. If not, add an extra day and another flight.

Bottom line: If we’re going to make that long, expensive journey, it better be worth our while when we get there, right?

For most of Africa’s history, safari travel was its major tourist draw — and in many places, the only such draw. That is now changing.

History, music, food, art, fashion…off the top of my head, I could probably find a dozen compelling reasons to spend some vacation time in Africa, none of which would involve wearing khaki, leaving paved roads or sleeping in a tent on top of a 4×4.

With the growth of black consciousness since the 1960s, black Americans have their own cultural niche when it comes to Africa — heritage travel, exploring the history of the African Diaspora and the trans-Atlantic slave trade, learning about some of those 3,000-plus different ethnic groups that originated in Africa, perhaps even tracing their own African ancestries.

More than a few sharp-eyed African observers have caught on to this, and are trying to come up with heritage travel attractions to pull those black American visitors — and their much-appreciated dollars. The Gorée Island slave house, with its infamous Door of No Return, in the West African nation of Senegal would be one prime example.

But which of those attractions, events and activities are authentic, genuine, and respectful of the cultures they seek to project — and which are little more than commercialized hype in cultural dressing? And how do you tell them apart?

Historians now say that while the slave trade on Gorée Island was very real, the celebrated house and its equally celebrated door are more symbolic than actual examples of it.

For all the growing clamor from would-be foreign visitors for an “authentic” cultural experience in Africa, what often results are what Ms. Reinstein described as “polished and staged cultural performances and encounters (that) rarely represent a truly authentic experience.”

Such performances, she says, are usually designed more to entertain than to inform. In so doing, they also may be reinforcing the cultural clichés the tourists brought with them.

If the only thing a traveler comes away with from a cultural encounter in Africa is some photographs of dancers in traditional dress and a few pieces of souvenir kente cloth, both sides may have missed the point — and a great opportunity for mutual understanding.

Tour operators in Africa, travel agents abroad and their clients all face the same challenge, sorting through the cultural chaff to find what is real. And once you’ve found it, how do you connect foreign visitors to it in a way that is meaningful and truly benefits the people on both sides of the exchange?

Whoever finds the answers to those questions will unlock a chest of cultural treasures the size of…well, a continent.

MOROCCO in black

Medina of Fes, Morocco

Medina of Fes, Morocco — © Typhoonski | Dreamstime.com

The land known as “the Western Kingdom” has a reputation for anti-black prejudice almost as old as its mosques, and as current as today’s headlines.

When you first look at Morocco, the images are stunning — mountains, deserts, valleys, uninterrupted miles of beaches on the Mediterranean and the Atlantic.

Then you look at the way blacks are treated in Morocco, and the picture changes. Dramatically.

Ethnically, Morocco is 99 percent Arab and Berber. A sizable number of the remaining 1 percent are black.

And from all appearances, many among that 99 percent never let them forget it.

Blacks in Morocco, be they natives, immigrants from elsewhere on the Mother Continent or black Americans, will tell you that many Moroccans use the word “African” as an epithet, ignoring the fact that Morocco is in Africa.

Not an easy trick, ignoring geography, but a lot of Moroccans seem to have mastered it.

Last fall, the French cable news channel France 24 showed a Moroccan newsweekly magazine reporting on the increase of clandestine immigrants to Morocco from sub-Saharan Africa coming into the country. Its title: “Le péril noir.”

The black peril — or, if you will, the black menace.

It also shows the cover of a different Moroccan magazine, written in Arabic, depicting what appears to be African immigrants standing in front of a building. Its cover title: “The black crickets invading Morocco’s north.”

I’ve seen black people referred as varying forms of wildlife over the years, but being likened to a plague of insects is a new one for me.

Above that, a young student from Guinea, in Morocco to study computing, describes his life among Moroccan Arabs:


“Often, when I’m just walking down the street, people will call me a “dirty black man” or call me a slave. Young Moroccans have physically assaulted me on several occasions, for no reason, and passers-by who saw this didn’t lift a finger to help me. All my friends are black and they have all had similar experiences. Even the girls get insulted in the street. To avoid getting hurt, I now try to ignore the insults. But if someone starts to hit me, what can I do? I have to defend myself…”

France 24 changed the speaker’s name and obscured his pic for his own safety.

This isn’t the first time or place in North Africa that I’ve heard about this, but Morocco may be the worst.

In a lengthy article for the Afrik-News site, Smahane Bouyahia puts it this way:

“In Morocco, and north Africa, there is a serious problem of racism towards Black people. Called “Black Africans,” they are considered descendants of slaves and labeled “hartani”—literally, “second-rate free men”—or even worse, “aâzi”—which translates to “bloody Negro”.

“Moroccans are known to be racially prejudiced towards people with darker skin shades. In Morocco and the rest of the Maghreb, Black people have long been subject to different forms of discrimination. Constantly persecuted, insulted, abused and even assaulted, black people are subject to humiliating conditions on daily basis.”

You can read the entire Afrik-News article here.

None of this is new. Consider this telling observation from French historian Pierre Vermeren, who has published several books about Morocco:

“Slavery was never officially abolished. The French Protectorate at the beginning of the 20th century, simply (forbade) the act. But the initiative never came from Moroccan society itself.”

One of my readers is a young black woman born and reared in Morocco, now living in central Africa. “I couldn’t wait to get out of there!” she told me.

Here’s what she had to say about growing up in “the Western Kingdom:”

“…as you spend more time there you get to understand what the insults in Arabic mean. You get to understand that they are really calling you the N-word, and not just teasing you. I always tell my friends (black or not) that it’s a great place to go as a visitor, not so much to live there if you’re Black.”

That’s the key to it, appearing to be of African descent.

When blogger Matthew Helmke, a white man, wrote of the abuses of Moroccan blacks he witnessed at an immigration office in the famous city of Fes, a black American woman living in Rabat left this comment in response:

“I can’t tell you how many times I have been spat at on the street and have had the most inappropriate things done to me believing that I am Sub-Saharan African and that I have no recourse…Yes, I am black and so could be Moroccan but they know that I am not Moroccan; I am different. So it is alright to spit. Mind you: They know that Europeans are different, but they would NEVER think to spit.”

Even more telling than her account of racist treatment at the hands of non-black Moroccans is this:

“My Moroccans friends are shocked some even outraged when I tell them that Morocco is the most overtly racist and xenophobic place that I have lived…when we Americans raise this, the Moroccans insist that we are projecting our issues of race unto their society! This, after I cannot get a taxi to take me to the American Embassy and I have to say no constantly to the taxi driver as he goes through the name of all the Embassies of Sub-Saharan Africa.”

Evidently, in the eyes of some Moroccans, you can’t really be an American if you’re black.

Then there was the Moroccan who commented in response to her remarks. He defends his homeland and points out that not all Moroccans act this way. What blogger Helmke witnessed was not racism, he says, but a kind of favoritism catering to whites, based on an inferiority complex.

But then he follows all that with this:

“People of Fes hate us people of the south and they call us ‘Sahrawa’ or black people.”

If you think I’m just cherry-picking comments calculated to cast Morocco in a negative light, just do a Google search on the term “morocco racism” and see what happens — anywhere from 15 to 20 pages of items on the subject.

When the crop is that abundant, the “picking” is easy.

I’m always of two minds when I hear stories like this. One says that if you really want to see and experience Morocco, you should, for all the reasons already mentioned, and not let anyone’s racism stop you from seeing the world.

The other mind says there are too many other places in the world where I can go to enjoy great natural beauty, ancient history and culture, without having blatant bigotry spoil the view.

Which way will I go on Morocco? I’ll cross — or burn — that bridge when I come to it.

NORTH AFRICA: A decidedly mixed travel picture
JAPAN in black
The Middle East & North Africa in Black
RACISM: Cuba faces its demon

the IBIT Travel Digest 1.27.13

The good, the bad and the bizarre in the world of travel


One of the fringe benefits of writing a travel blog is that you can make some great friends doing great work. One such friend of mine is Renee King, who publishes A View to a Thrill.

In her most recent installment, she gives us the 4-1-1 on of the US government’s trusted traveler programs that can seriously speed you through the Customs process upon your return to the United States. It’s called “Global Entry” and here’s what Renee had to say about it:

“Originally created to target frequent international travelers, the U.S. Global Entry program has been a virtual god-send for travelers who want a fast and secure way of skipping the lines altogether when re-entering the United States.”

To pick up all the details on “Global Entry,” check out Renee’s article here. And then bookmark it. You’ll want to keep this one handy.

Anyone who doesn’t “get” the importance of this program has never walked/stumbled/staggered off a jumbo jet with about 300 other exhausted souls after a transoceanic flight lasting 12 hours or longer, only to queue up in a Customs line…with the passengers of two, three or four other jumbo jets, all doing the same thing you are.

I have. I don’t recommend it.

If such a trip is a one-in-a-lifetime deal for you, then you may not need this program, especially when it costs $100. You’ll also have to make an appointment to be interviewed, electronically fingerprinted and see if you qualify for the program — and frankly, not everyone will.

But when you walk off that plane in a jet-lagged fog and breeze by all those folks suffering in line, you’ll swear it was the best time and money you ever spent on travel.

And if you make more than, say, three or four globe-girdling flights per year, you need this.

To apply for the Global Entry program, start here.

If it’s true that, in the words of the old Amtrak commercial, “there’s something about a train, then there’s something even more captivating about an overnight “sleeper” train.

Watching the sun set from the privacy of your own compartment, then bedding down for the night with a window full of stars and awaking the next morning in a different city — or a different country — is unforgettable.

It’s also practical. A sleeper train combines transportation and lodging in one. Instead of losing a day traveling between points, you arrive at your destination early the next morning.

It’s not cheap, but a private compartment often includes all your on-board meals, as well as other perks unavailable to Coach passengers, all of which makes the sleeper experience worth considering.

London’s Daily Telegraph newspaper has considered it at length, and compiled a slideshow of what they consider to be the top ten overnight sleeper train runs in Europe, including one between Europe (London) and Africa (Marrakech, Morocco).

Paris-Barcelona? Paris-Berlin? London-Penzance? Yeah, I could happily do any of those.


Not many folks on this side of the Atlantic are aware of it, but Africa has developed quite the fashion scene. We’re talking high-end threads for men and women from high-profile designers from the length and breadth of the Mother Continent.

Until a few years ago, your best shot at checking out this vibrant and growing fashion world was to fly to one or more of perhaps seven African cities:

  • Lagos, Nigeria
  • Nairobi, Kenya
  • Cape Town, South Africa
  • Johannesburg, South Africa
  • Dakar, Senegal
  • Luanda, Angola

And if you want to get a feel for the sources of inspiration that drive these African fashions, that still might be the best idea.

However, you do have alternatives. Lots of them, in fact.

New York City, Los Angeles and Dallas both annually hosts African Fashion Weeks. But if you feel like giving your fashion trip some international flavor — with a bit less expense and a lot less flight time — there’s the Black Fashion Week in Paris and the Africa Fashion Week London, now in its third year.


And now, here’s The Digest:

from Business Insider via Yahoo
A Germany-based air safety monitoring group lists the world’s ten most dangerous airlines over the last 30 years. Read with some large grains of salt.

from eTurbo News
An Indonesian airline adopts new Sukhoi Superjet 100 airliners from Russia. The reason: They can operate from the country’s short runways.

from NBC News
Southwest Airlines is betting that you’ll be willing to pay $40 extra to board their planes early. Would you?

from eTurbo News
Ethiopian Airlines cuts flights from Addis Ababa to Europe.


from Travel Weekly
A heavy late-December snowfall has the skiing looking good at America’s ski resorts.

from The Telegraph (London UK)
What do you get when you take an Amtrak train between Toronto and New York? A 12-hour rail cruise through US history and some of North America’s most gorgeous scenery.

from Forbes via Yahoo
Can you measure a country’s happiness? The Legatum Institute of London says it can, and it’s produced a list of the world’s ten happiest nations. And no, the United States is nowhere in the top ten.

from Time
Has snowboarding lost its mojo?

from Cruise Industry News
More evidence of the cruise industry’s growing tilt toward Asia: Princess Cruises to homeport a second cruise ship, the Diamond Princess, in Japan.

from Cruise Critic
For those of you dying to escape the frigid winter, there are six cruise ships sailing in warm waters that nearly always have cabins offered at a discount.

from Cruise Industry News
The upscale cruise line Silversea plans to offer shorter (and thus cheaper) cruises in Northern Europe and the Mediterranean.

from Cruise Industry News
As cruises go, this one’s the ultimate icebreaker. Hapag-Lloyd Cruises is planning an August cruise of the Northwest Passage fron Greenland to Alaska on one of its expedition ships, the Hanseatic. You don’t often see the words “expedition” and “5-star” in the same sentence.


from Reuters
You might want to hold off on that Cairo vacation a little longer. Things are getting hectic — and deadly — again in Egypt.

from al Jazeera
Museum in Mali trying to protect some of the country’s historic artifacts from the threat of destruction by radical Muslim insurgents.

from eTurbo News
British Airways pulls out of Tanzania, and Emirates is the first airline to step into the void.

from The Telegraph (London UK)
Tourism officials in Egypt report that foreign visits are up, but not as much as expected.

from eTurbo News
Ethiopia turning to China, India and Russia as potential new tourism markets.

from the Huffington Post
George Hobica says Albuquerque NM has been overshadowed by Santa Fe, but it deserves a closer look. Especially if you’re a fan of beer, road trips and under-the-radar cool.

from Travel Weekly
Want a shot at some warm winter weather and a whiff of that new hotel smell? Start saving your coins and circle Dec. 2014 on your calendar. That’s the the 1,000-room $1 billion Baha Mar casino resort is set to open its doors.

from the Chicago Tribune
If you’re a baseball junkie, a visit to Chicago’s historic Wrigley Field is something close to a religious pilgrimage. Now, the Sheraton hotel chain is planning to put up a boutique hotel directly across the street from the old ballpark. Think they’ll pt bleachers on the roof?

from Reuters via NBCNews
More flights and a weaker dollar have combined to create record-setting tourism in Hawaii.

from BootsnAll
Southeast Asia is a great destination for rail travel.

from China Daily
The dispute between China and Japan over the Senkaku (or if you’re Chinese, Diaoyu) Islands is throwing cold water on tourism between the two countries.

from SFGate.com
Walking in the path of samurai. Scenic medieval walkways in Japan.

from The Guardian (London UK)
What would you see on a 40-mile walk across a city of 30 million souls? Marcel Theroux gives us his answers from his trek across Tokyo, the first of a series of walks across the largest cities on Earth.

from ABC News via Yahoo
Welcome to County Kerry in southwest Ireland, where drunk driving is legal. And no, that’s not a typo.

from eTurbo News
Ukraine’s largest airline, AeroSvit, goes belly up, stranding hundreds of passengers in the process.

from The Guardian (London UK)
It wasn’t that long ago that the term “luxury hostel” might have been the ultimate oxymoron in travel especially in Europe. It’s fair to say that things have changed. A lot. SLIDESHOW

the IBIT Travel Digest 1.20.13

The good, the bad and the bizarre in the world of travel

American Airlines' new livery on their new Boeing 777-300ER airliners.

American Airlines’ new livery on their flagship Boeing 777s. What do you think? | Image courtesy of American Airlines

Bangladesh — poor, low-lying and frequently flooded — is not on many people’s travel wish list. And maybe that’s our loss.

Because if we went, we’d see people using their own ingenuity to deal with the floodwaters threatening to gradually drown nearly 20 percent of their country…permanently.

In Bangladesh, climate change is not a theory. Melting Himalayan glaciers combine with annual monsoon rains and cyclones (what we call hurricanes) to inundate a country built on marshy delta. But the Bangladeshi people are finding ingenious ways to cope.

When major floods hit, the kids don’t go to school. It comes to them, on hand-built wooden boats — about the size of the vaporetti water buses that you’ll on the Grand Canal in Venice. Floating schools, floating health clinics, even floating libraries. There also are waterborne shelters for families displaced by floods.

But as you’ll see on the Fast Co.Design site, they’re going beyond adapting boats. They’re actually creating floating solar-powered farms producing vegetables, ducks and fish.

I would love to see all this in action. The Bangladeshis just might be more adapted to living with floodwaters than any other people on Earth.

On the other hand, that old “the monsoon ate my homework” excuse just won’t fly anymore. Sorry, kids.

To say it’s been a rough week for Boeing and its new 787 Dreamliner is an understatement.

By now, you know the story. A series of problems with the new jet, especially problems related to its Japanese-made lithium-ion batteries, led one airline after another to ground their 787s for safety inspections until the inevitable finally happened.

Not only have Dreamliners been grounded worldwide, but Boeing has halted deliveries of new ones until the problems can be tracked down and fixed.

Lots of writers, including IBIT, have pointed out that all new airplanes go through a certain amount of technical hiccups when they first come on-line. But when you’ve got batteries that leak enough corrosive fluid to burn holes through the floor and start taking out avionics, that’s no minor glitch.

Can/will the Dreamliner’s problems be fixed? Yes, and for the simple reason that London’s The Guardian newspaper points out: They have to be.

Both Boeing and the world’s airlines are all-in on this airplane. A Dreamliner demise would hit them like a financial tsunami.

All, perhaps, except Boeing’s European nemesis, Airbus, which has a rival to the Dreamliner, the A350 XWB, months away from its first flight.

IBIT will be introducing you to the A350 XWB in the coming days.

Meanwhile, should we be concerned that the same Japanese firm that makes the Dreamliner batteries also provides lithium-ion batteries aboard the International Space Station?

Oh dear…


The crew at CNN Travel have come across a pair of venerable vessels destined for new duties in travel. One invokes a famous legacy and a tragic past. The other, you just won’t believe.

The first involves the Queen Elizabeth 2 of Britain’s Cunard line. Known simply as “the QE2,” she spent some 40 years as an ocean liner in the grand Cunard style, making the trans-Atlantic crossing between Southampton, England and New York City.

In 2008, she was sold to an investment firm in Dubai and has been floating in limbo ever since. The word now is that she’s to be set up somewhere in Asia as a floating luxury hotel, like the old Queen Mary in Long Beach, CA.

The exact destination hasn’t been disclosed, but the betting so far is on Hong Kong. That would be supremely ironic, because that’s where the QE2′s predecessor met her end.

When Cunard retired the original Queen Elizabeth in 1969 after 30 years of service, she was brought to Hong Kong to be turned into a floating university. Cool idea, right? But while being converted, she caught fire under suspicious circumstances and had to be scrapped.

If indeed QE2 is bound for Hong Kong, let’s hope she meets with better luck.

Meanwhile, China already has a floating hotel in Tianjin. But they aren’t using an old ocean liner or retired cruise ship.

No, their floating hotel is the Kiev, a retired Soviet aircraft carrier from the equally defunct Soviet Navy. She’s now known as the Binhai Aircraft Hotel, which her owners describe as “high-end.”

And in this CNN Travel slideshow, she certainly looks the part.

No gym. No swimming pool. But does boast three presidential suites among her 148 rooms, and is probably the only upscale hotel in the world with gun turrets, missile launchers and a flight deck big enough to launch and land jump jets.

The Chinese have another Kiev-class carrier in Shenzen. They turned that one into a theme park.


I have a friend whom we’ll call Lisa, an American expat living in a West African country. She was looking forward to attending a major social media event next month in nearby Nigeria. But Lisa won’t be there.

Why? Because the country in which she now resides won’t give her visa to travel directly to Nigeria and back. the immigration office insists that she first fly all the way to the United States, obtain a visa there, and then come all the way back.

This is but one example of the inexplicable bureaucracy that has hamstrung regional African travel since the end of colonial days, and it’s not reserved for expats. Africans trying to travel within the Mother Continent have had to deal with nonsense like this — and worse than this — for decades.

It’s a simple equation, really. The harder and more expensive you make it for travelers to visit your country, the more likely they are to go elsewhere — and take their money with them. That’s what makes the United Nations’ recent warning on immigration rules so timely.

You’ll see that in the AFRICA section below.

Africa is poised to explode as an international travel destination, with billions of needed dollars pouring into national economies up and down the continent. But it won’t happen until its governments stop shooting themselves in the foot.


And now, here’s The Digest:

from the from the Washington Post
Why you shouldn’t fly within a month after having surgery. Two words: blood clots.

from NBC News
American Airlines is changing its look (see above). What do you think of this new livery?

from Forbes
A rare bit of good news from your friends at the TSA: Those overly revealing full-body scanners installed a few years ago at US airports are going bye-bye.

Budget Travel via Yahoo
Top ten budget travel destinations for 2013.

from the Washington Post
The must-have items for your travel health kit.

from the New York Times
Amtrak adding awards incentives for frequent riders of their best trains. (The kid in the pic could’ve been me on my first cross-country train trip.)

from Cruise Critic
How to pick the right cruise ship for your at-sea vacation.

from CNN
The violence in Mali has placed the historic treasures of Timbuktu under threat.

from the Zimbabwe Independent via allAfrica.com
The UN’s global tourism body has a blunt message for Zimbabwe (and by extension, the rest of Africa): Ease up on your visa restrictions or lose out on tourism.

from the Tanzania Daily News via allAfrica.com
How the Seattle Sounders of Major League Soccer are putting American eyes on Tanzania, and boosting that country’s tourism in the process.

from This Day (Nigeria) via allAfrica.com
A feature film meant to raise the international profile of Nigeria’s prolific film is also raising awareness of one of its biggest tourist attractions — Cross River state.

from Associated Press via Yahoo
In South Africa, veterinarians are joining the struggle to save endangered animals from the poaching epidemic.

from the New York Times
If all you know of Medellin, Colombia is the memory of the late and largely unlamented Pablo Escobar, then you really don’t know Medellin. And it might be worth your while to get acquainted.

from CNN
Costa Rica. It’s not just for backpackers anymore. Livin’ large in the rainforest. SLIDESHOW

from CNN Travel
Officially, Beijing smog is not the worst in the world. But your eyes, throat and lungs all may have a very different opinion. Is a major world capital and travel destination on the verge of becoming unlivable? SLIDESHOW

from CNN
A local’s guide to Singapore. The operative word is “change.”

from BBC Travel
Meetups at the movies in Paris. Want some popcorn to go with that wine?

from The Guardian (London UK)
You can travel from London to Paris by air, by train, by barge and even bus. Now, if you’re up for a few days of challenging, lovely riding, you can do it by bike.

from the New York Times
Reykjavik. Capital of Iceland. Hard to spell, hard to pronounce. But easy to love during its spectacular winters.

from The Guardian (London UK)
Hiking the Scottish Highlands. Cycling in Malta. Healthy vacations don’t have to be about suffering for the sake of exercise.

AFRICA: A different kind of Visa

With a little imagination, a new Visa card being sponsored by an East African bank and Kenya’s national airline could serve as a model for promoting black American travel to Africa.

Kenya Airways Boeing 767

Kenya Airways Boeing 767

In Sunday’s IBIT Travel Digest, I mentioned the new Visa card from Kenya Airways, backed by Barclay’s Bank of Kenya.

That raises some intriguing possibilities.

On this side of the Atlantic, many black Americans would love to visit Africa if only they could afford it, and black-owned banks that could use an infusion of capital to invest in Black America.

On the other side, many of Africa’s 54 nations are eager to welcome black American visitors. There are credible African airlines that would love to bring us there. There also are some African banks that could benefit from building business relationships in North America.

What would happen if all these folks started talking to one another?

Maybe something wonderful.

Suppose those African airlines were to offer a credit card in this country, through a cooperative agreement between black-owned US banks and an African bank. The cardholder could choose between building mileage credit toward free flights on the sponsoring African airline, or a cash rebate.

But why stop there?

The airline could work with hoteliers and tour operators in the host country to put together an all-inclusive tour — lodging, meals, transport, tours, transfers to/from airports, everything.

Tours could be designed around different themes, keyed to a visitor’s interests:

  • EDUCATION — language, African history, Diaspora history and heritage, science, conservation
  • CULTURE — art, music, fashion, food, nightlife, religion
  • RECREATION — hiking, bicycling, boating, surfing, diving
  • BUSINESS — investment opportunities
  • NATURE — conservation, safaris

The possibilities are as varied as Africa itself.

But the card simply would be part of the bank’s package to its new customers. The principal feature of that package would be a savings account, to which you commit to making monthly deposits.

No minimum starting balance. Deposit as much or as little monthly as you want, as long as you deposit something. In effect, it would be a monthly bill, with one critical difference: You’re paying yourself.

Once you build up enough cash, you log onto the bank’s Web site and select your Africa tour package. Within seconds, your trip is paid for, your flights and hotels booked. Travel insurance would be included automatically as part of your credit card account &mdash just as it is with the Kenya Airways card.

The remaining money in your account becomes your spending money in Africa, cash you can withdraw from the ATM machines of the US bank’s partner in Africa.

Next stop: The Mother Continent.

Upon your trip, start saving for your next trip to Africa. Or South America. Or Europe. Or any other purpose. It’s your money.

Putting all this together definitely would be a challenge, and not just on the banking side.

Currently, only six Africa-based airlines make direct flights to the United States — Nigeria’s Arik Air, Ethiopian Airlines, South African Airways, Cape Verde Airlines, Egyptair and Morocco’s Royal Air Maroc. But all either have or are capable of making codeshare agreements with US or European airlines that fly between the US and Africa daily.

Ethiopian Airlines already is a member of Star Alliance, the world’s largest alliance of codesharing airlines.

This could work. The key to making this work is saving.

Consider the amount of money annually estimated to be floating around in Black America, — currently about $1.1 trillion. How do financial experts describe all this money we collectively have? “Black wealth?…”Black economic strength?”

No and no. It’s invariably referred to as “black purchasing power.”

And brother, do we ever purchase. We spend money as if it were about to evaporate, caught up in a society that pushes us 24/7 to BUY! BUY! BUY! The word “bling” used to represent the sound of a bicycle bell — until we got hold of it.

Now look at China. The country pays some of the world’s lowest wages, and yet Chinese tourists are fanning out across the globe. The Chinese are known as the world’s most ferocious savers.

Coincidence? I think not.

Some, like this long-winded financial wonk, say it’s a matter of government policy. The Chinese themselves say it’s a cultural thing. Either way, they put their money away.

Imagine what we could achieve if we did the same with just 1 percent — one penny on every dollar — of that $1.1 trillion. That would put $11 billion into banks that we own, money to invest on homes, on creating businesses and jobs, paying for education. Paying for travel.

You can do a lot with $11 billion.

Am I dreaming? Sure, but why not? Small dreams are a waste of sleep.