Tag Archives: Mother Continent

Comoros, Reunion, Madagascar, Mauritius, the Seychelles

AFRICA: Go North, East or South

Does the ebola virus outbreak make you nervous about visiting West Africa? That still leaves you with a whole continent to explore and treasure.

A longstanding, widespread ignorance about Africa in the United States predisposes a lot of would-be visitors to a hysterical view of events on the Mother Continent. And when it comes to Africa, mainstream media always stand ready to deliver hysteria in abundance.

The latest example is the current outbreak of the ebola virus that now affects a total of six African nations.

Five are in West AfricaLiberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, and most recently, Senegal. The sixth is the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Central Africa.

As a virus that creates deadly infections and has no cure, ebola certainly is no joke, but a little perspective may be in order here.

As of this writing, ebola has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa since the outbreak was first recognized as such in February of this year.

Across the African continent, malaria will have killed more people than that by the end of the day, maybe even before you finish reading this. It’s been that way for centuries.

Yet malaria somehow has never stopped people from traveling to Africa for business, education or leisure.

A little more perspective. The Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 killed 50 million people worldwide, some say as many as 100 million, more than were killed in World War 1. Did the world stay home after that? I think not.

Ebola is scary. Terrifying, in fact. So if you’d rather wait until West Africa gets the current outbreak in hand before returning the region to your list of must-see destinations, that’s perfectly understandable. And at this point, it’s highly unlikely that the DRC was on your must-visit list, anyway.

Africa flags

Meanwhile, allow me to point out something that mainstream media will not tell you: Africa is a continent of 54 nations, 48 of which are utterly unaffected by ebola.

AFRICA IS A CONTINENT, REMEMBER?
At least nine of those nations are in West Africa, but you’ve written off that entire region for the time being, right? So what does that leave us?

It leaves us the northern, eastern, central and southern regions of the world’s second largest continent to see, explore and treasure.

In North Africa, it leaves Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt. Yes, Egypt. You remember Egypt, right? Cairo. The pharaohs, the pyramids, ancient history and culture that predate the birth of Christ.

There are no State Department travel alerts or the more dire travel warnings in effect on Egypt. None. Not on Morocco or Tunisia, either.

Most travelers associate the Nile, ones of the world’s great rivers, with Egypt…and only Egypt. In fact, the Nile is not just a river, but a river system shared by 11 African countries — Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, the DRC, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, South Sudan, Sudan and Egypt.

To see where that system begins, and what it means to life in nearly a quarter of the African continent, you’ll have to go south of Egypt and into East Africa.

THE OTHER “GREAT LAKES”
The first thing you’ll find out is that the Nile has more than one source. The Blue Nile originates from Lake Tana in Ethiopia. The White Nile has as its mother the far larger Lake Victoria, whose shore is shared by three East African nations — Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda.

This also is where you find out that Lake Victoria is one of the Great Lakes.

That’s right: North America is not the only continent in the world with a Great Lakes region. The North American version has five lakes in all. Africa’s boasts 15.

Cross-border incursions from Somalia by the jihadi terrorists of al Shabab might make some folks a bit nervous about visiting Kenya these days, but Tanzania and Uganda have no such issues.

And no ebola, either.

So what do they have? Start with great natural beauty. Tanzania has 13 national parks, Uganda 10. Thirty percent of Uganda is covered by water, not bad for a country that is 100 percent land-locked.

Tanzania has Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa and one of the world’s Seven Summits. In the entire world, there are 700 mountain gorillas; 400 of them live and can be seen in Uganda.

Another good place to see the beauty of nature and the majesty of the mountain gorillas is Rwanda. Indeed, TripAdvisor can show you a list of 62 different things that make Rwanda worth a visit.

NOT JUST IN KENYA
Kenya has worked hard to give the world the impression that all the Maasai people live within their borders, to the point where they’ve practically become a living symbol of the country, a very tall national brand.

But if you’re skittish about visiting Kenya these days, you can still get to know the Maasai in northern Tanzania, one of the 125 different ethnic groups that live in the country.

Uganda, a country no bigger than Oregon, has 56.

(NOTE: You’ll be hearing more — a lot more — about Uganda on IBIT in the coming days and weeks.)

Keep going south and there’s South Africa. Its wildlife. Its cities. Its wine country. Its coastline. Its history. A whole nation still sorting itself out, post-apartheid, post-Nelson Mandela.

But as you look south, you’ll soon realize there’s a lot more to southern Africa and just South Africa.

Angola. Zambia. Malawi. Mozambique. Botswana. Zimbabwe. Namibia. Each with its own charms, its own attractions, its own layered, complex past.

Off the eastern coast of southern Africa, a short cruise or even shorter flight from the mainland, you have the islands — the Comoros, Reunion, Madagascar, Mauritius, the Seychelles.

Speaking of islands, there’s a lovely set of them off West Africa, untouched by ebola — the Cape Verde Islands. They even have their own airline that connect to the United States via Boston.

So as you can see from all the above, if you want to visit Africa without exposing yourself to major hazards, be they natural or man-made, it really isn’t all that hard when you’ve got most of a continent to work with.

All you have to do is turn off the hysteria of the mainstream media and do some research of your own.

Then find yourself a good, knowledgeable travel agent and start making plans for journey of a lifetime.

WHERE TO START
Some links to help jump-start your research. Let me emphasize that this is just to get you started. If you encounter a problem with any of these links, leave a comment or send me an email:

North Africa
Egypt
Morocco (in French)
Tunisia

East Africa
Ethiopia
Kenya
Rwanda
Tanzania
Uganda

Southern Africa
Angola
Botswana
Malawi
Mozambique
Namibia
South Africa
Zambia
Zimbabwe

African islands
Cape Verde
Comoros (in French)
Madagascar
Mauritius
Reunion
Seychelles

In addition to guidebooks and Web sites, make a point of seeking out expats from the African countries you wish to visit. Let them know of your interest and ask questions.

LAX to Africa?

Boeing 787 Dreamliner of Ethiopian Airlines
Imagine courtesy of Boeing

Ethiopian Airlines could become the first African air carrier to connect the Mother Continent to the US West Coast.

This time next year, you may be able to fly to Africa from the West Coast of the United States — on an African airline.

Ethiopian Airlines has announced plans to begin flying out of Los Angeles (LAX) to the capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa (ADD).

The LAX-ADD flight would make a European stopover in Dublin, Ireland (DUB).

This is not just huge. It’s historic.

Currently, the FAA allows only six African airlines to fly to and from the United States. Ethiopian will be the first to touch down anywhere west of the Mississippi.

The airline already flies to ADD out of Washington Dulles (IAD).

It’s but one in a series of ambitious moves signaling the intent of Ethiopian to be recognized as a major player in the air travel industry.

(NOTE: Skytrax, the British airline rating Web site, gives the airline three stars out of a possible five, putting it on a level at least equal to that of most US-based airlines. The highest rated African airline flying to the US is South African Airways, with four stars.)

Ethiopian already is Africa’s largest airline.

For the last several years, it’s been expanding its route map to Europe and Asia, and gone to Boeing for jumbo jets with extended range, including its new state-of-the-art 787 Dreamliner.

In 2017, another long-range specialist, the Airbus A350-900, will join Ethiopian’s fleet.

Its arrival at LAX will definitely raise its profile among international travelers, especially in the US, and could pave the way for the arrival of other African air carriers to the US.

But they aren’t stopping there.

The airline also is looking to open new routes to Madrid and Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia.

Clearly, these guys are serious about taking the Ethiopian Airlines brand — and by extension, Ethiopia’s national identity — to almost every corner of the world.

DID YOU KNOW?
When Boeing was catching hell for the teething pains of its new 787, from being three years late on its first deliveries to a series of problems with its lithium-ion batteries, Ethiopian Airlines stood strong behind both Boeing and the Dreamliner, even as other airlines delayed or cancelled their orders. That loyalty may have helped save the Dreamliner program.

ALSO CHECK OUT:
A Dreamliner of Africa
AFRICA — The air game changes
The “Wings of Nigeria” reach the US
AIRLINES: Africa extends her reach

the IBIT Travel Digest 5.25.14

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

Happy African American Family in Front of Cruise Ship.

MAZATLAN MAKES A COMEBACK
Three years ago, with reports of cruise passengers and crewmembers alike being mugged and assaulted there, the major cruise lines dropped Mazatlan as a port of call faster than the NBA dropped Donald Sterling.

It was a major blow to the cruise lines and the Mexican Riviera in general, and to Mazatlan in particular. The city has worked to win its way back into the good graces of the cruise lines ever since.

It looks as if Mazatlan has succeeded.

Holland America Line, Norwegian Cruise Line and Azamara Club Cruises already have either resumed calling on Mazatlan or announced plans to do so as of last year. Princess Cruises announced earlier this year its own plans to return in the fall.

Now, the cruise industry’s 800-pound gorilla, Carnival Cruise Lines, says it will return to Mazatlan starting next spring with year-round cruises out of Los Angeles.

Welcome back.

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CUBA BY SEA
And speaking of cruises, it’s a widely held belief that Carnival, Royal Caribbean and the rest of the cruise industry big boys will descend on Cuba in force once the US government finally lifts its long-outdated trade embargo against Havana.

But not everyone is waiting for that.

According to Travel Agent Central, an outfit known as Wilderness Travel is offering an eight-day cruise to Cuba for 48 passengers aboard the three-masted sailing ship Panorama starting Nov. 29.

It’s part of the People-to-People cultural exchange program that Washington allows to take American travelers legally under license to Cuba.

Technically, it is not absolutely forbidden for Americans to travel to the island nation, but the embargo places a blizzard of restrictions on who’s allowed to go and what they can spend there.

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EAST AFRICA: ONE VISA FITS (ALMOST) ALL
The nations of East Africa are taking concrete steps to make the region more attractive for visitors. One of those steps is removing the hassle — and expense — of obtaining a new visa each time you cross from one country to another.

The East African Community, a five-nation economic cooperation group, is now offering the East African Tourist Visa, a single $100 visa that allows the holder multiple entries between countries for 90 days.

No more spending weeks sending your passport back and forth to embassies and consulates to arrange each visa in advance, or hours waiting in lines at border checkpoints and paying a different fee with each new visa. That’s the good news.

The bad news? The new visa covers only three of EAC’s five member countries — Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda. The two remaining members, Tanzania and Burundi, have yet to come on board.

Perhaps they’re waiting to see how it works out before committing themselves to the process. If it goes as I expect, it shouldn’t take them long to see the advantages. And hopefully, it won’t take long for the rest of the Mother Continent to follow suit.

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ETHIOPIAN AIR’S GROWING STRENGTH
Ethiopian Airlines touts itself these as “Africa’s flagship carrier” — and it looks as if it’s building a fleet to back up that boast.

The second airline in the world to operate the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner, Ethiopian recently added its seventh Dreamliner to its stable of aircraft, and shows no lack of confidence in the plane.

Dreamliners are gradually taking hold on the world’s international air routes, despite nagging issues with its controversial lithium-ion batteries.

The airline expects to take possession of three more by year’s end, giving it one of the world’s larger 787 fleets and easily the largest Dreamliner fleet of any African carrier.

This matters because the hallmark of the Dreamliner — and its even newer Airbus rival, the A350 — is longer range. It means we American may one day be able to fly directly to the Mother Continent without first having to fly to the East Coast and then change planes.

Of course, that presumes that our FAA eventually decides to grant Ethiopian and other top-tier African airlines the right to connect to airports west of the original 13 colonies.

And now, here’s The Digest:

AIR

from Yahoo! Travel
Airlines with food you may actually want to eat.

from Reuters
How to get paid — and rather handsomely, at that — for air travel delays. Not only is legal, but it’s the law.

from the Irish Times
The future of air travel will be digitized and customized — especially up front in the high-priced seats.

from The Business Journals
The death of First Class in international air travel, and why that may not be such a bad thing.

LAND

from BBC Travel
The world’s five most affordable cities. Affordable, yes. Livable? You be the judge.

from BBC Travel
Seven of the scariest high-risk roads on the planet — and why people seek them out, anyway.

from AppAdvice.com
Is a luggage tag worth $119? Maybe, if it’s one that calls your iPhone to warn you that someone is stealing your suitcase.

from the Daily Mail (London UK)
Here’s one for “Bizarre” — A train from China to the United States. Eight thousand miles in two days, including a 125-mile-long tunnel under the Bering Sea. Supposedly, China wants to build it.

WATER

from the Sydney Morning Herald
River cruising in the United States must be pretty cool. Tourists are coming all the way from Australia to do them.

from the Sun-Sentinel (Ft. Lauderdale, FL)
In the go-big-or-stay-home world of cruise ships, Italian shipping line MSC is going big with two new mega-ships and an option for a third.

FOOD & DRINK

from the New York Times
Five flavors of France, by region — Alsace, Bouches-du-Rhône, Finistére, Languedoc-Roussillon and Midi-Pyrénées.

from The Guardian (London UK)
The Spanish region of Andalucía is taking on Catalunya and the Basque country in a battle of regional cuisines. The most likely winner? Your tastebuds.

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AFRICA

from eTurbo News
KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, a major air link between Europe and the United States, also connects Europe to East Africa, especially via Tanzania.

AMERICAS

North
from The Guardian (London UK)
See the USA — as the Brits see it.

from the New York Times
Chicago’s Riverwalk is getting a $100 million makeover in time for summer 2015.

from Travel Weekly
The top tourism destination in the Caribbean — Jamaica? The Bahamas? The Virgin Islands? You’re not even warm. It’s the Dominican Republic.

South
from the New York Times
How to kill a weekend in Montevideo, capital city of Uruguay.

from the New York Times
Heading to Brazil for this year’s World Cup? Tips to keep your budget cup from running over.

ASIA/PACIFIC

from Yahoo! Travel
Japan creates a new national holiday to encourage its work-obsessed population to take some time off. The other 15 holidays apparently weren’t enough.

from BBC Travel
Few cities in the world have their own national park, much less one with leopards. Mumbai does. Here, when you talk about an urban jungle, it’s a real one.

from BBC Travel
The Sichuan-Tibet Highway. That which does not kill you makes for an unforgettable journey.

EUROPE

from The Guardian (London UK)
If the tourist mobs in Barcelona have become too much for you, consider smaller and more bohemian La Coruña in northwest Spain as an alternative.

from BBC Travel
To see a body of art, visit almost any museum. To see the body as art, head for the World Bodypainting Festival next month in Pörtschach, Austria.

Spotted something you’d like to see in the next IBIT Travel Digest? Send me a message using the handy form below:

Cruising Africa

IMG_0185
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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.

AFRICAN CRUISE RESOURCES
Avoya Travel
CLIA — Cruise Lines International Association
Cruise Africa
Cruise Critic
Travelocity
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.

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

BLACK HISTORY MONTH: Captains All

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.

ALSO CHECK 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

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

WHEN
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.
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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:

Five…THOUSAND…percent.

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.

ALSO CHECK OUT:
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.

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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?

CULTURAL THEME PARK
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.

AFRICA’S CHANGING TOURISM
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.

CULTURAL CLICHÉS
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.

“DIRTY BLACK MAN, BLOODY NEGRO”
Above that, a young student from Guinea, in Morocco to study computing, describes his life among Moroccan Arabs:

peril-noir

“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.

SLAVERY NEVER ENDED
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.”

“SAHRAWA”
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.

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