Q: What diseases do I need to worry about on Bioko Island?
A: Because current information on health risks changes so rapidly, BBPP prefers to refer you to a travel clinic in your area to get the latest information. Travel clinics can be found in large hospitals and international airports or simply by looking through the yellow pages. You may want to do some shopping around since vaccinations can be expensive and some places may never have heard of Equatorial Guinea.
If you live in the Philadelphia area, vaccinations and prescriptions may be obtained through a one time visit to the Foreign Travelers Vaccination Center (FTVC), Associates in Infectious Diseases, 1235 Old York Road, Suite 220, Abington, PA 19001 (215)886-5652. Generally, this place and many others like it do not accept any insurance carriers, so payment is made at the end of the visit. Price will include visit and cost of each vaccination. Many prescription plans will pick up most of the cost of the medications. You can make appointments in groups for a reduced price.
Visit the following web sites for more information on travelers' health: CDC
Q: What medications should I bring with me?
A: You should bring your malaria medication as well as any other medication you take regularly. If you are prone to certain ailments, for example, ear infections, you should bring the appropriate medications with you. If you wear contact lenses, be sure to bring a pair of glasses. We keep a first aid kit in each of our field camps that has all the usual items. If you have serious allergies (for example, bees) or asthma, you should speak directly with Gail Hearn about it.
Q: Can I drink the water?
A: No, you should not drink the local water, even when brushing your teeth. When we are in Malabo, we provide everyone with bottled water. When eating in restaurants in Malabo, we suggest that you avoid ice in your beverages. The oil company cafeterias are safe. When we are in the field, we use iodine tablets (included in the packing list) to purify the water we drink.
Q: What if I get sick/injured?
A: We have a well-stocked first aid kit in each of our field camps to take care of minor ailments. Each of the oil companies has an infirmary that we can use and we also have access to an excellent English-speaking doctor in Malabo who regularly treats the oil workers living there. For serious illnesses or injuries, we have arranged for helicopter airlift (by Canadian Helicopter International) to Douala Cameroon (about 70 miles from Malabo) where there is an adequate hospital.
Before you leave, you will purchase international evacuation insurance through SOS International
or another similar insurer. The insurance can be purchased online and costs approximately $100-125 depending on coverage (evacuation only versus evacuation and medical insurance, if you are not already covered in the United States). Be sure to select "traveling for education or teaching" and select a date range that covers the entire duration of your trip. Should you need to be airlifted out, the evacuation insurance will take over to arrange for your treatment and, if necessary, airlift to Europe and/or the USA once you have been delivered to the hospital in Douala.
Q: Do I have to be in good shape?
A: You must be in good shape for the expedition. You should be able to carry your pack up and down the stairs for at least two hours. You should be able to run a 5 km (3.1 miles) in 30 minutes or less. If you have asthma, shortness of breath, or are a heavy smoker, this expedition is not for you. You will be extremely physically tired -- hot, wet, and thirsty -- from time to time. You will be at turns stiff, sore, sunburned, bitten by insects and possibly violently ill. Good physical conditioning will help you through all the challenges you will encounter.
Q: Are there any dangerous animals on Bioko Island?
A: Yes, but fortunately there are many fewer than there are on the mainland. Neither leopards nor forest buffalo occur on Bioko. Poisonous snakes are the only animals that pose any danger. Although we have sometimes seen these snakes, we find that most retreat rapidly from human approach and none are aggressive. We recommend wearing Wellingtons or gaitors when walking in the forest.
Q: I've heard that car accidents are a big problem in Africa.
A: Fortunately Malabo has relatively few vehicles and the city is small enough to walk from place to place. The only times we use motor vehicles are for trips to the airport and to the port city of Luba. These trips are made in vans provided by the oil companies and by the local university. If vans are not available, you may be required to ride in the back of a pick-up truck.
Q: I've heard that AIDS is a big problem in Africa.
A: AIDS is a big problem in Africa. Although the prevalence of AIDS in Equatorial Guinea remains unknown, we can assume that the infection rate is fairly high, similar to the rest of the region (Nigeria, Cameroon, Gabon). Of course, you are very safe from AIDS as long as you do not have intimate relations with any of the local people under any circumstances.
Q: What is Equatorial Guinea's political situation like?
A: Equatorial Guinea has been politically stable for more than twenty years. Although the government of Equatorial Guinea has often been accused of human rights abuses by Amnesty International and others, the situation is definitely better than during the first decade after independence from Spain in 1968. In fact, Equatorial Guinea is becoming increasingly modernized, hosting both the African Union Summit and the African Cup of Nations in 2011 and 2012, respectively. Europeans have been visiting Bioko Island for more than 500 years, so the local people are accustomed to diversity. Both the government and the local people are friendly towards American citizens.
Q: Is crime a problem on Bioko Island?
A: Not yet. Bioko has very little crime in comparison to neighboring countries Cameroon and Nigeria. Crime is rare and rarely involves American citizens. Still, you should not travel alone, especially in urban areas.
Q: Are there any Americans in Equatorial Guinea?
A: Yes. There is a strong American presence on Bioko Island due to the American oil companies including Exxonmobil, Marathon, Amerada Hess and Chevron. The oil companies have been enormously helpful to our Program by providing logistical support and accommodations during our stay in Malabo.
Q: Can I call home when I'm in Equatorial Guinea?
A: Yes. There are several locations in Malabo where you can purchase phone cards to call the United States. When we are outside of Malabo (most of the trip), it will be difficult to make any phone calls. We do have a satellite phone and gasoline generator which we take into the Caldera with us for emergencies.
Q: Can my family call me if there is an emergency at home?
A: Yes. We have contact persons in both the USA and Malabo, available throughout the trip to facilitate contact. If you are in the field, the message will be relayed to us in our daily satellite phone call.
Q: I'm a vegetarian/vegan. What will I eat?
A: In the field, our main staple foods are rice and beans, which almost everyone can eat. However they are usually cooked with a few cans of chicken, tuna or sardines. Unfortunately we cannot make a special batch for vegetarian/vegans because there simply aren't enough cooking supplies (stoves/gas/pots) to outfit every camp for separate batches. In the past, vegetarians/vegans have made an exception for the duration of the trip.
Q: What expenses are not included in the cost of the trip?
A: Airfare, which was $1000-1500 last year (RT, US Airways Philadelphia to Madrid; Iberia Madrid to Malabo) is not included. Your emergency evacuation insurance ($75) and your immunizations (approx. $350) are also not included. On the island, your only expenses will be a couple of restaurant meals in Malabo ($15-$20 each).
Q: How much money should I bring with me?
A: Bring at least $300 in cash with you in the form twenties, fifties and hundred dollar bills, with about $40 in smaller denominations. Try to get crisp new bills with no rips or tears. Make sure your bills are the "new" ones with the big offset heads. We suggest the above denominations because most merchants prefer the larger bills, but you need the smaller bills to pay for some things and to settle debts between group members. Do not bring traveler's checks; you can't cash them. You may bring a credit card, but as of January 2002, only one place (the Swiss Air office) accepted them. Including gifts and souvenirs, you will probably spend less than $100, but we ask you to bring the extra cash in case of emergencies.
Q: Are there places to buy souvenirs?
A: Yes. There are tourist shops around Malabo and there is a Spanish-Guinean cultural center where some books and Africa masks can be purchased. The Malabo outdoor market sells everything from baby clothes to monkey meat and has a few stands where you can buy African fabric and clothing.
Q: Are there places to buy postcards?
A: Yes, you can get them at the post office, or more conveniently at our Moka Wildlife Center.