I like to keep the stuff on this page more or less original, but there are times where I see things which I would like to share. This is one of them, a 1971 account of WA2AQC's visit to to West Africa, interesting to see how over 40 years later how some things have changed, but others seem to stay the same! I hope you enjoy it (sorry about the hyperlinks being disactivated).
The following travelogue was written in 1972, after a six weeks, 11 country DXpedition, with my wife Eva WA2BAV, to Mauritania, Senegal, The Gambia, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Togo, Ghana, Niger, Benin (that time called Dahomey), and Cameroon. The dream of almost every amateur radio operator is to go on a DXpedition. Combining the thrills of being a rare DX with a pleasure of a trip to an interesting country, is what makes the DXpeditioner get up and go.
Taking in consideration the financial possibilities of the average American ham and the very easy way of today’s travel, it is quite amazing how few amateurs are enjoying this kind of fascinating adventure.
To organize a DXpedition three things are needed: money, time and the desire. It is also advisable to learn a few things about the places one is going to visit, by reading a few books about those countries. If there are some local amateurs, they can supply with important information about licensing, transportation, customs, hotels, etc. Tourist offices, the Consulates and the Embassies of those countries to the US, and the American Embassies in those countries sometimes can also provide some useful advice.
To acquire the operating licenses it is necessary to write for application forms directly to the Ministries of Posts and Telecommunications of those countries. It is important that all the correspondence with the foreign authorities should be done in their official language. Very often it is helpful if a local amateur or the American Consulate contacts the proper authorities and checks from time to time on the progress of licensing. In some of the places, mostly in the developing countries, the waiting period for a license can be 6-12 months. A constant reminder and push is essential to overcome the prevailing enormous bureaucratic red tape.
It is very important to check out all the equipment before leaving. The transceiver has to be used for a few days; the antenna must be assembled, tuned, marked, and tried out. It is also necessary to take along a few basic tools, a VOM, and some spare tubes.
The best way to carry your ham gear is in flight bags, taken on the plane as carry-on luggage. Transceivers and power supplies are very heavy and checking them in will result for sure in overweight and a lot of extra expenses.
And I guess an amateur will take better care of his rig than a baggage handler.
We also hand carried the aluminum tubes of our antenna and nobody ever objected to it.
The customs generally do not present any problem, especially when is emphasized that the gear will not be sold in that country but will be brought back to the States.
I found that the best gifts for the local hams are little hard to get but useful items like hand mikes, connectors, tubes for their rigs, etc. Their wives will be happy with a nice silk scarf. We distributed about 20 colorful world maps (we met a lot of people) with the amateur radio prefixes, and on our return we made several gift subscriptions to amateur radio magazines.
For our DXpedition we chose West Africa because it could be reached easily, most of the countries had very few active amateurs and the places and people seemed to be interesting.
Our itinerary was decided mainly by the possibility of obtaining licenses and the available time. In some places we stayed with local amateurs, or in hotels recommended by those hams.
We have visited 11 countries and for the best connections and cheapest fares I collaborated with my travel agent who booked the whole trip with Pan Am.
For six weeks we did what we enjoy the most: amateur radio and travel. Here is our travelogue.
From New York we flew with Pan Am to Dakar, Senegal, then switched to Air Mauritania to fly to Nouakchott. We were already airborne when the Mauritanian pilot saw that one of the propellers was not rotating. He turned back the plane, landed, took from his cabin a little stepladder and a big hammer, tinkered for a while on the motor, got back on the plane with his rapid maintenance equipment, and started the engine. This time both propellers worked but all the way to Nouakchott I couldn’t do anything else but watch the troublesome propeller and wonder if at that high altitude above the desert the trouble starts again, where will he place his stepladder to reach the engine with his hammer.
At the Nouakchott airport, Alban 5T5AD, a Frenchman working for the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, and his XYL Josette, 5T5YL, welcomed us and took us to the Hotel Oasis. The owner knew about amateur radio and gave us room # 6 from which other DXpeditions worked successfully. One of the DXpeditioners left there a long steel mast and we quickly used it to install our 12AVQ vertical antenna.
As soon as the installation was finished, we turned on the NCX-500 transceiver. Alban came with two licenses; my wife Eva got WA2BAV/5T5, and I got WB2AQC/5T5. We started to work; the propagation was bad but our callsigns helped creating nice pile-ups.
While Eva was operating I went sightseeing with Alban 5T5AD. Later I got a chance to work, while Eva and Josette 5T5YL toured the city.
You can describe this country using three words: sand, sand, and sand.
Nouakchott is a very interesting little city; it has a few brick buildings surrounded by hundreds of large, black tents. Every tent has a large family of Berbers, a very friendly Moslem nation.
I asked Alban if there is anything to export from this country.
“Sand for sand clocks,” was the answer, “but lately the Swiss watches are undermining our economy.”
We made 800 QSOs. While operating we were visited by Jacques, 5T5CJ, another Frenchman. Jacques was working at the airport and was very active on CW only.
Do not expect sophisticated tourist accommodations but the French cuisine is good and one should also try some local specialties.
From Nouakchott, with a short stop in St. Louis de Senegal, we arrived in Dakar where Jacques, 6W8BL, was waiting for us at the airport. He took us to the Hotel Mon Logis where we got a room on the top floor.
The antenna went up fast and easy and we created the most confusing pile-up we ever had. The reasons for the mass confusion were the callsigns assigned to us: 6W0/WA2BAV for Eva, and 6W0/WB2AQC for me.
I tried to argue with the authorities telling them that 6W0 should be after our call signs and not in front of them. That was the way in most other countries, I said. I was told that I am wrong and most of the other countries are wrong too. Later this opinion was reversed but in the mean time we had to listen to hundreds of amateurs teaching us how to use our calls. Many hams asked us if we were from Senegal operating portable in the US or vice-versa.
In one instance Eva heard an English station - an old friend of hers - calling CQ. She called him giving her callsign 6W0/WA2BAV. The Englishman was quite happy and said: “How nice to hear you Eva. Let me turn my antenna to New York.” So he did, and got lost for good.
As it turned out, the postal authorities of Senegal were right; it was the time when the rules to place the prefix of the place of operation were changed from the end of the call to its beginning.
We had many visitors: Dany, 6W8BE; August 6W8AU; Guy, 6W8ER, and of course Jacques 6W8BL, who arranged the licenses for us. With Guy, 6W8ER, we went sightseeing in Dakar and visited the island of Goree, a former slave trading and shipping post.
One evening, a local amateur Paul, 6W8EY, attracted by our unusual callsigns, called us, questioned us, and being very suspicious came over to inspect our station, and ... invited us for dinner.
In Dakar we found a large number of active amateurs; if many Ws still need a 6W8 contact it is because most of the hams in Senegal speak only French, and it is not easy for them to handle the American pile-ups.
I recommend the Hotel Mon Logis, it is not a luxury palace but $6-7.00 for a double room, excellent French cuisine and a good antenna location is what counts.
When photographing the natives - most of them are good looking and dressed very colorfully - I recommend using a telephoto lens. In many of these West African countries the local people don’t care too much for being photographed. Some claim that taking their photos, they can loose their souls, however, if they are financially compensated, they quickly forget about this superstition.
When shopping for souvenirs I don’t recommend paying more than one third of the asked price.
In the morning we went to Dakar airport to take the scheduled and prepaid flight to Bathurst and we had our first disappointment. We were told that the flight was canceled. Simple like that.
“When is the next flight?” I asked.
“Tomorrow or after tomorrow, but nothing is sure,” was the official answer.
“But I have to get to Bathurst fast, it is urgent.” I tried to sound convincing.
“Nothing is urgent here, this is Africa,” came the authoritative answer. Jacques 6W8BL suggested a taxi.
“A taxi from one country to another?”
“There is no other choice.”
Indeed “the show must go on,” so we hired a taxi. The driver took advantage of the situation and demanded four times the usual rate.
During the ride the driver raised again the price. Who could argue with one carrying a big machete, in the middle of a jungle road? He did not even take us all the way to Bathurst but left us at the ferry boat, which took us across the Gambia river.
The same ferry boat - two weeks earlier - lost its way during a sand storm and drifted into the ocean. There were about 30 terrified passengers on the boat and they tried to pray but because of the sand storm they could not figure out which way was East. So they divided into four groups, each one praying in a different direction. It looks like one of the groups made the right connection because 24 hours later the tide brought them back safely.
We had reservations at the Wadner Beach Hotel, outside Bathurst. Quickly installed our vertical antenna and started to operate. We did not receive our licenses (they were sent to us after we returned home) but Cecil ZD3D, a local amateur, found out the assigned calls; ZD3R for Eva, and ZD3S for me, and passed this information to us via radio while we were in Dakar.
After about one hour of operation, an energetic knock on the door, made me regret that we started to operate before we received the licenses. I opened the door, two gentlemen stepped in looking with visible interest at our transceiver.
“What would the guy from Mission Impossible do now?” was my thought.
“Hi.” said one of the visitors. “I am Cecil, ZD3D.”
“Oh, you just don’t know how glad I am to see you,” I said and I was very honest. Cecil introduced his partner, Ron, G3WYY, who was visiting but not operating in Gambia.
We went sightseeing with Cecil, then chasing a big group of baboons in the jungle. I tried to photograph them but they were hollering and running away, throwing sticks and stones. As we followed the baboons we reached a small village and asked some questions. The natives spoke only French because we entered Senegal. The Gambia, a former English colony, lays on both sides of the river Gambia but is surrounded by Senegal, a former French colony.
I recommend applying for license at least 6 months before operating time and sending letters from time to time to the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, reminding them of the problem.
I don’t recommend the same hotel we stayed at because it is far from the city of Bathurst, and has a bad antenna location.
The US had a Reciprocal Operating Agreement with Sierra Leone but because of a delicate political situation, it seemed that we could not get licenses to operate. I asked several times for application forms from the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications in Freetown but got no answer. Neither the American Embassy nor the Embassy of Sierra Leone to the US could be of any help.
What was not possible through diplomatic channels, was made possible by the work of private amateur radio operator: Ray 9L1RP. He obtained application forms for us and took care of everything.
When we arrived at the Lungi airport, somebody gave me an envelope with a note from Ray and two licenses; 9L1EP for Eva, and 9L1GP for me.
From the airport it took us by bus about 1 1/2 hours to Freetown. We crossed the bay on a ferryboat, then we continued by bus to the center of the city. From there was still a long taxi ride to the Cape Sierra Hotel which was very expensive, far from the city but excellent for radio communications. It is at the end of a small peninsula, surrounded from three sides by salt water.
The first day we were visited by our benefactor Ray, 9L1RP (also GW3MTL) and by two very friendly Englishmen, Ross 9L1GG (also G3DYY), and Mike, 9L1MF.
Operating from Sierra Leone was a success; we made 900 QSOs. With Ross and Mike we visited an animal farm, photographed ourselves with chimpanzees, various snakes, a baby elephant, etc. Everybody was quite delighted with this visit except Ross who got the scare of his life. He was posing with a large sleeping snake and while Mike took the photos, the snake woke up and made some threatening sounds. Ross dropped the snake and retreated so fast that he almost stepped on a crocodile.
I recommend visiting Sierra Leone if you are sure you’ll get a license.
I cannot recommend the Cape Sierra Hotel because it was the most expensive of all the hotels we stayed in Africa.
Here we were invited to be guests at the homes of two amateurs, Robert EL2DF who was working near Monrovia on a B.F. Goodrich rubber plantation, and Lee EL2CB who was with the communications center of the American Embassy. Robert and his wife Helga waited for us at the airport, so we stayed with them first.
Before we left for the plantation we went to see Sam Watkins, EL2P, to get our licenses. Sam, a very nice person, besides being an official of the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, was an active ham. I met him on the air from Gambia and he gave us our callsigns: EL2AV for Eva, and EL2AU for me.
At Robert’s place I was amazed to see a house in the middle of the rubber plantation, surrounded by jungle, with all the modern conveniences you can imagine. Robert is a Dutchman and he is always in the Dutch net helping the low powered PAs to work some good DX.
We operated quite a lot and after three days we were transferred to Lee’s house. Lee, EL2CB, worked from a few places around the world. At home he was W6MNH.
At the end of his tour of duty in Liberia he will go probably to another good DX location to continue his successful contest activity. I told Lee about the healthy climate in Albania (I needed ZA) but I don’t think I could convince him.
In Liberia - for the first time on this trip - I saw many African amateurs, like Pete, EL2CY; Sam, EL2P; and others. In many other places in Africa only foreigners - Europeans and Americans - were amateur radio operators and the attitude of those local governments towards amateur radio was not encouraging at all. One of those officials even said:
“Oh, amateur radio, that is the white men’s toy.”
If you are not an African I don’t recommend that you drive a car on the streets of Monrovia. A local super-patriotic policeman could stop and search you for no known reason.
We arrived at Abidjan with an early morning plane and we were welcomed by Sully TU2BX; Joe TU2AZ, the president of the amateur radio association, and Michel TU2DD, a French marine biologist. Sully invited us to stay with him. He was the secretary of the ham association and he was instrumental in getting the licenses and gave us the assigned callsigns well in advance: TU4AB for Eva, and TU4AC for me.
From the airport all the way to Sully’s house, the three cars of the welcoming committee were in constant contact on 2 meters, a new technique in TU2-land.
Abidjan is beautiful indeed. Built around some large lagoons, was the nicest and the most modern city I visited in Africa.
I was invited by the “Radio Television Ivorienne” to give an interview about our DXpedition. The conversation was supposed to be in French, but I was confused and spoke mostly Hungarian mixed with Romanian.
The first day I expressed the desire to eat “typical African food.” Sully, TU2BX, and Michel, TU2DD, took Eva and me to a “typical African restaurant.” We finished our dinner in about one hour but the “typical African stomach ache” stayed with us three more days.
One morning Michel, TU2DD, took us sightseeing outside Abidjan. We saw the former capital of Ivory Coast, and some coconut, banana and pineapple plantations. We visited Joe, TU2BC, and his wife Jacquie who just got her call; TU2DN. Both were active, but mostly with French speaking amateurs.
The last evening we were invited to a dinner party at the house of Joe, TU2AZ, where they served mainly African specialties. A large group of local hams; Felix, TU2BB; Dan, TU2CY, with his XYL Andree; Michel TU2BN; Paul, TU2DA; Jacques, TU2CW; Sully, TU2BX; Michel TU2DD, and others created animated conversation, like a real pile-up; everybody was talking at the same time, and you couldn’t even take them by numbers; everybody was a “2.”.
I recommend visiting this country; the TU hams are very friendly and happy to meet foreign amateurs. The license with all the extras was quite expensive but required a lot less red tape found in other African countries.
I don’t recommend relying only on English’ before the trip; one should take a short but intensive French language course. One never knows when will be interviewed on television and if he or she can not speak neither French, nor Hungarian or Romanian, that can be very embarrassing.
During a QSO, Fern, 5VZYH, invited us to Togo. When we arrived in Lome, he picked us up at the airport and took us to his house.
I was anxious to get on the air, so we went to pick-up our licenses. At the Dept. of Telecommunications where we sent our applications many months in advance, we were told that the approval from the police did not arrive yet. We started a long journey, visiting a lot of dignitaries, each one sending us to another one. We explained the purpose of our expedition again and again to high-ranking officials who never heard of amateur radio before. They did not say it but I could guess their thoughts: “They seem like spies, but why are they asking for licenses? They must be crazy.”
Finally the vicious circle was closed and we went back to the Dept. of Telecommunications. There we found out that we are getting the licenses but they did not issue callsigns; every applicant picks a call himself, hopefully one that was not picked earlier by somebody else. They did not have an evidence of previously used callsigns.
We wanted to get 5V2AA for Eva and 5V2BB for me. They insisted on the 5VZ prefix instead of 5V followed by a number and they showed me some very bad carbon copies of the instructions, and the number 2 could be misread as the letter Z. That was the reason that other previously issued licenses also had 5VZ prefixes.
The Minister of Telecommunications of Togo was complaining to us:
“I don’t like to be the Minister of this department. I was the Minister of Tourism and that was fun. I didn’t have much work and every month I went to Paris for documentation. I like the Rue de Pigalle (in the Red Light district). My cousin was the Minister of Communications, but my uncle the President likes him more and switched us; now I am stuck with things I don’t like, and I can not even go to Paris anymore for documentation...”
We operated quite a lot in Togo where we stayed five days. We went sightseeing and later met another amateur, Garland, 5VZGE. We even got involved in a street fight. On a tour through the city, Fern, 5VZYH, spotted one of the local workers of his company playing the slot machine in a bar, instead of being on the job. Summoned to returned to work, the angry worker gave Fern a chase, first around the car, then through the streets. We ran a few blocks, back and forth, Fern leading the way, the angry Togolese after him, followed by me taking some excellent action photos, and by hundreds of local people ready to intervene, on one side or another. Everything ended in a mass confusion when other Togolese started to chase “ours” because some past disagreements.
I recommend applying for a license at least 6-8 months in advance and reminding them every month that you are coming soon.
Do not rely on the efficiency of the local administration.
Ghana initially was not included in our schedule because it seemed that we cannot get any license. Emile, 9G1WW, and his wife Tara, 9G1YA, invited us to visit them so we took a side trip. We left Lome with Fern and his wife Laura, and in 2 and half hours we got to Tema, where Emile was working for Valco, one of the world’s largest and most modern aluminum plants.
To illustrate the state of affairs in some of the West African countries, I’ll describe my “border incident.” We arrived to the Togo-Ghana border where we stopped for the formalities. On one side of the border was a big sign “La Douane Togolaise,” on the other side was large arch with a “Welcome to Ghana” sign. I walked to the border barrier with my camera. On each side of the barrier, a guard was watching me closely. I stepped on the Ghana side and tried to photograph the welcome sign. Suddenly the Ghanian (or Ghanalese?) guard jumped in front of me, waiving his submachine gun and yelling:
“It is strictly forbidden to photograph this side.”
There wasn’t any military installation there but I learned early in my life that a man with a machine gun is always right. I turned around slowly and stepped over the border trying to photograph the Togolese side. Now the Togolese guard jumped eagerly and said:
“Il est defendu de photographier ici!”
“Pardon monsieur capitain” I answered politely. The guard was a simple soldier but I thought it won’t hurt giving him some rank, and I asked:
“But can I photograph the other side?”
“Of course monsieur.” replied the guard. “As long as you wish.”
Standing on the Togolese side, 10 feet from the Ghanalese guard, I photographed the 9G1 side, then I stepped again over the border and I said to the man with the machine gun:
“I know it is strictly forbidden to photograph this side but can I photograph the Togolese side?”
“Certainly, Sir,” came the polite answer, “you can photograph Togo, we won’t stop you.”
Ten feet from the Togolese guard I took several shots of the 5V2 side. Fern, who just finished with the paper work, came by, I jumped on the car waving good-by to the two very strict but confused border guards and drove away.
On our way to Tema, we had to pass through several military check points; it was an uneasy feeling.
In Tema we met Emile and Tara and then we continued our journey to Accra, to see if we could get licenses. At the Dept. of Telecommunications we were informed that it was not possible to issue callsigns at such short notice (it takes many months), but we can work “portable 9G1” from a licensed station. This was the way WA2BAV/9G1 and WB2AQC/9G1 were born.
Emile, 9G1WW, a successful contester, and Tara, 9G1YA, an active and much solicited DXer, had an exceptionally good station, we used it for more than 1,100 QSOs.
My recommendation to apply for license at least 6-8 months in advance is valid here also.
I don’t recommend arguing with men in uniform, they may shoot first and ask questions later.
Walter, DJ9QT, the famous German DXpeditioner advised me to visit Niger and I am happy I did. I wrote in advance to Jacques, 5U7AH, a Frenchman working for the Dept. of Telecommunications, asking his cooperation. He was not active anymore but was very helpful in getting our licenses.
We left Lome and with a stop in Ouagadogou, in Upper Volta (now called Burkina Faso), we arrived to Niamey, the capital of Niger. We went directly to the Hotel Les Ronniers, then to the Dept. of Telecommunications to see Jacques, 5U7AH. There we heard again the old story: “The police did not send yet their approval.” We went to see the Minister of Interior, the Director of the Security Police, and many other people. Finally we received the answer: negative. We started the visits from the beginning, we told once again the same story to the same people; the answer: positive. The logic, the reason? Don’t look for logic in this part of the world. Personally I think the Minister thought if he refuses me the second time, he’ll have to see me the third time and listen to explanations he did not understand the first time. I know my calm French is not a pleasant thing to listen to but my angry French is just awful.
As a matter of fact Gus Browning W4BPD, the former DXpeditioner, printer and author of several travelogues, wrote me: “You can expect to camp for 2-3 days near various Ministries, and wait for days for a simple signature.”
At the end everything was OK; Jacques 5U7AH, called us up at the hotel, giving us the callsigns: 5U7AV for Eva and 5U7AU for me. This was quite a coincidence because in Liberia Eva got the same suffix AV and I got AU. We operated a lot from this location, giving a new country to a large number of amateurs. The whole country had just two active hams; Paul 5U7AW, a Frenchman from Marseille who talked mostly with French speaking amateurs, and Dave, 5U7AK, a missionary.
We had dinner in Paul’s house and operated his TR-4. His wife Huguette had a license, but she was not active at all.
Nicole, 5U7YL, the XYL of Jacques, 5U7AH, took us sightseeing and we saw fascinating places. At a huge, colorful and smelly market I photographed the most picturesque characters south of Sahara. I saw a man walking his pet; a large hyena; another man carrying on his shoulders a 10 foot long snake. I saw Bedouins high up on their camels, with their faces completely covered except the eyes; Tuaregs with sharp spears, various nomad tribes.
I recommend visiting Niger. Write all the correspondence in French; even a bad French is better than a perfect English. And this goes for all the former French colonies.
I don’t recommend the Hotel Les Ronniers; it is too far out from the city and has no good antenna location.
From Niamey we flew to Cotonou and at the airport we were welcomed by Robert TY1ABE, his wife and his son; and by Armin TY3ABF. Robert is a French military instructor for the local Rangers, and Armin is an electronic engineer from Germany who was installing a broadcast station. Both were extremely helpful to us in preparing this trip as well as during our stay in Dahomey.
I was warned that in Dahomey one has to apply for licenses 6-8 months in advance. We applied in December and in May, when we arrived in Cotonou, the licenses were not ready. We had to waste precious time visiting local officials, explaining the purpose of the DXpedition to some high officials of the “Surete” (the Security Police) who never heard of amateur radio before, but they were the ones who were suppose to approve it. They were very suspicious; in their mind every foreigner is a possible spy. If the foreigner has a radio transmitter, the possible becomes probable. But the fact that we were pushing for licenses, confused them very much.
The problem is the constant change of governments, most often by force, and of authorities who suppose to run the country. By the time they learn a little what to do and how to do it, they are replaced with new people. We talked with the Minister of Telecommunications who had no idea how radio works. Most governmental departments in the former French colonies had French technical advisers who knew and did the work. When I explained to the Minister what ham radio is and I asked for two licenses and two callsigns for Eva and me, the Minister said:
“ Two licenses? That is impossible. You realize the two transmissions will collide in the air and will be a catastrophe.”
I thought that he was joking, and when somebody in high position tells a joke, even a stupid one, you have to laugh, so I did. The French adviser standing behind the Minister made desperate signs not to laugh. Quickly I changed tone and said:
“You are right Sir, I did not realize that. Now I know why you are a Minister, it is because you know so much. What we will do is one day I will operate with one of the callsigns, and my wife will go sightseeing, next day I will go to see the city and my wife will operate using the other callsign. This way won’t be any collision and catastrophe.
The Minister was pleased that somebody appreciated his vast knowledge and approved the licenses. So we solved the problem, installed our antenna on the roof of the Hotel Pam-Pam in the center of Cotonou, and started to operate.
The owner of the hotel Pam-Pam was a former communications officer of the French army and I think that besides the three existing hams, he was the only one in the whole country who understood what amateur radio is all about.
We visited Armin, TY3ABF, and operated with success his excellent and powerful station. With Robert, TY1ABF, and his family, we went sightseeing, Eva and I together, not one by one as I promised to the Minister. Robert was at the end of his tour of duty in TY-land and Dahomey was losing its most active ham, who made many thousands of QSOs, both on CW and SSB.
While Eva was operating in Armin’s house, I started to read a book about World War II, written in English but published in Germany. During the war I was living in Romania and I was an eye witness to many events. Then the Russians came in, and many books about the war were published. However the events described in those books did not match the reality as I saw them. Later when I arrived to the US I read a couple of other books about the same subject. It seemed they were describing a completely different war; the villains and the good guys were reversed, and describing some of the same events, their presentation and conclusion were dissimilar. The German book presented World War II from a completely different perspective not only from the Russian inspired ones, or the American version, but also from the reality as I saw and perceived them. So much for history books.
The city of Cotonou is without any interest but one has to see Ganvie, a lake dwellers village. The homes are built on stilts, right on the water and the population, all fishermen and their families, spend all they life on the water. They are moved to solid ground only when they pass away.
One should not go to Dahomey without first getting a license. We could not get any help from the local American consul; he knew about ham radio about as much as the Minister did. The only factor which may solve something is time, lots of time.
Getting a tourist visa for Nigeria was no problem but I was informed by several sources that it is impossible to get there a ham license. In the middle of March I received an answer to my inquiry from the Ministry of Communications in Lagos, saying: “I am directed to acknowledge the receipt of your letter dated 31st of December 1971 and to inform you that you may wish to apply for amateur radio licenses when you arrive in Nigeria in April-May.”
I did not understand the meaning of this letter. Do they want to give us licenses when we arrive in Nigeria or they just want to inform us that we “may wish to apply for amateur radio licenses?” About this wish we knew even before receiving their ambiguous letter; we informed them on the first place. My unanswered question was not when can we apply for licenses but when can we get them. Their position was so confusing that we decided to just skip the 5N2-land. Another reason was the almost constant tribal warfare going on there.
From Cotonou we flew to Douala, but because we did not know any active amateur in Douala, we continued to Yaounde, the capital city where Haim, TJ1BF, was helping us in getting our licenses.
The customs inspection was easy. I stuck my passport in the face of the inspector and said: “American tourist.” He looked at my bush jacket and cowboy boots and asked with suspicion:
“Do you have any guns?”
“No, just a bazooka,” I answered seriously.
“Okay, go ahead,” was the satisfied answer.
I wonder what will be his delayed reaction if he would ever look up the word in a dictionary.
I have to emphasize that from all the 11 countries we visited during our six week DXpedition, from amateur radio point of view, Cameroon was the worst. I did not listen to those who wrote me that it takes very long to get a TJ license and one has to have connections to the right people. We applied for licenses five months in advance, I contacted the Ambassador of Cameroon to the US and I asked him to help us in getting the licenses in time. With all the correspondence, the interventions and promises, when we went to the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, the licenses were not ready. Here again I had to talk, argue, explain and push. But while in most of the other African countries I had to accelerate a slow moving bureaucratic process, in Cameroon the process was not moving at all. Finally after we cut through the tremendous red tape, we were left with very little operating time.
We stayed in the Hotel Mount Febe outside the city, but spent lots of time with Haim TJ1BF operating his station. Haim is a “Sabra” (native Israeli), also known as 4X4RH. He, as a communications technician was working closely with the local Dept. of Telecommunications, but it took him about a year to get a license.
In Yaounde, like in many other African cities, the power voltage fluctuates quite a lot and sometimes is turned off completely. One night working the pile-up, while I got a half of callsign; “...9AA,” the lights went off. About 25 minutes later when the power was turned on again, I called:
“9AA, this is WB2AQC/TJ1, are you still there?”
“WB2AQC/TJ1, this is JA9AA, thanks for coming back, you are 59,” said a calm voice as there is nothing unusual to wait half an hour for an answer.
In Yaounde the climate is better than in Douala but like in Douala there is nothing to see. In the city the tourists are constantly annoyed by souvenir vendors. On the street they follow them, at the restaurant they sit at their table, and talk, and talk, and talk. The asking price is 3-4 times the selling price.
While for the other countries like Togo, Dahomey, etc. I recommend applying for licenses at least 8-10 months in advance, and constantly pushing for them, for Cameroon I recommend completely avoiding it. One can spend a lot of money and time going to Cameroon only to face ignorance and hostility.
In a DXpedition there are only three periods of hard work: preparing the trip; during the trip; and after the trip.
Getting all the necessary information, applying for licenses, choosing the most advantageous itinerary, making reservations in hotels with best location for radio communications, checking out thoroughly the equipment, are only part of the pre-expedition work. Taking a short but intensive language course is not only advisable but it can be fun and useful.
It has to be emphasized that preparing the trip, in special getting the licenses, the biggest and best help one can get is from local amateurs, if there are any.
During the trip, presuming that the licenses are already in hand, the most demanding job is working the pile-ups for long hours.
After the trip, answering thousands of QSLs, is a dull, routine task which sometimes can be transferred to volunteers.
Why hams go on DXpeditions? There are many reasons. Some find pleasure visiting new countries, meeting interesting people and learning about their lives. Others enjoy doing something unusual, different from their everyday life and unlike what other people are doing.
Many find satisfaction giving a new country to fellow amateurs, while others enjoy the spotlight they get even for a short period of time, the attention what is missing from their everyday lives.
Last but not least, some will go on DXpedition only to get away from their wives. No matter what is the reason, my recommendation is to go on DXpedition and go as soon as you can. Prepare it well, but don’t delay it. I had the best time of my life even though I took my wife along!