I Had a Migraine in Gabon (and SPG Cracked Me Up)

Sunday festivities on Family Beach in Libreville, Gabon winding down, I polished off a French trois fromages pizza at a beach shack and crossed the street back to the twin compound of the Radisson Blu Okoume Palace Libreville and Park Inn Libreville.

Radisson Blu Okoume Palace Libreville 01

The hotels operate separately with shared entertainment and dining facilities. Each has a dedicated casual restaurant that hosts breakfast.

Great Club Carlson Gold welcome amenity, by the way.

Radisson Blu Okoume Palace Libreville amenity

I walked into the lobby and the glow of the lights told me I was in trouble. Sensitivity to bright or flashing light and aura, visual artifacts such as splotches and blind spots, are an early symptom of a migraine headache onset for me.

On the migraine spectrum I am lucky. I seldom get them more than once a year. They are debilitating, and the gastrointestinal distress I get is no fun. Many suffer much worse and much more often. My triggers are built up stress and exposure to lots of bright and flashing light.

Plenty of sunglasses and hats. Steady daily caffeine intake, with chocolate and Coke added when in the sun all day.

The looming river crossing from Gabon to Equatorial Guinea had me on edge. Infamously corrupt on both sides, some foreigners are turned away entirely. I already had re-done my trip because CEIBA of Equatorial Guinea had suddenly dropped its long running Wednesday service to Sao Tome. Now there was no viable back-up.

I popped 800 mg of Motrin and hugged the trash can as spittoon though the night. Good now that the flight changed for a day of rest.

Or so I thought. At 10 am the Radisson Blu erupted in a cacophony of repair works echoing in every direction. There were teams of people on floors 1-3 of the 6-floor building, and all the stairwells had converted to workrooms. I have never experienced such massive works in a hotel still operating. Each pounding, sanding and door-slamming ricocheted in my head.

I staggered down to the lobby and pleaded for help. I hadn’t been given the letter that these works would be daily from 10-4. Normally I would have been out and about and never noticed. This day I needed quiet.

While I question doing such major work while still hosting quests, the frontline staff were great. They took me up to the most remote rooms and waited with that expression, “will he be ok with…” boom, bang, thump. Sorry, won’t work today.

The adjoining Park Inn was sold out. Their front desk could force a room at a cash rate rate around US$400 but not able to book an award stay. There must have been a fix, instead it was made clear it was not going to happen.

I was still within cancellation for my reservation that night (my two nights were booked separate because of the flight issue). I found SPG had the Le Méridien Re-Ndama in town and the Radisson called them to ensure I could immediately check-in. Once confirmed and booked, Radisson sent me in their shuttle, a nice gesture to compensate for the airport pick-up no-show the day prior.

(Sidebar: why am I staying at points hotels instead of my typical $50 guest houses? Because in much of Central Africa those guest houses are $100 or more and terrible value. There is so little leisure travel in these countries that the value segment doesn’t exist.)

Radissons are loathe to offer compensation for anything and Club Carlson is useless on such matters, so I left, chalking it up to bad timing.

The fun continued with SPG. I explained my condition and wanted a quiet room.

510 is right over the traffic-choked main road through Libreville.

Back down the the lobby.

Beachside? (keep in mind this hotel is giant and not full) (and note that they have built a mezzanine beach so they don’t have to clean their real, trash-strewn beach)

Le Méridien Re-Ndama 04

“There is a room but AC has problem. Wait few minutes.”

726 is an oven in what appears to be disused wing, like the Yanggakdo Hotel in Pyongyang.

Le Méridien Re-Ndama 03

Windows sealed. I tried to sleep anyway. An hour later I had been basted and my thermometer popped. No follow-up from the front. I called and they offered to send a technician.

Le Méridien Re-Ndama 01

No, next room.

513 faces away from the road and has ventilation. It appears to have been fitted out in 1958.

Le Méridien Re-Ndama 02

2 pm and I finally get to take my nap. If I had just held out at the Radisson!

This one I did complain. I contacted SPG via twitter in the evening and in the morning I awoke to a message that I would be hearing from the hotel soon.

At 8:40 I received a call from the front desk, “What time are you checking out?”

I had to laugh. Get me back to $50 guest houses!

********************

Postscript: when I humourosly told SPG the denouement they did not take it as funny as I. That night I got an apology email from the hotel, an offer to upgrade me to a suite should I ever return, and 5,000 SPG points (I had paid SPG Cash & Points 5,000 + $75), which is not clear if it will be coming now or for my next stay…points haven’t posted.

 

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  • Gil

    Wow, just wow! What a nightmare. Hope you’re feeling better now and that the SPG points post soon.

  • Gene

    so.. how was the pizza?

  • james

    Le Méridien in Gabon is notoriously bad. Sounds like your stay actually wasn’t too bad compared to some stories I’v heard. It’s a bit of a shame you didn’t get out into the national parks – that’s the part of Gabon that is spectacular.

    Probably too late, but Afrik Aviation also runs LBV-STP flights. STP is great and I hope you make it there. If you do, don’t miss a meal at Filomar.

  • Chris C

    Sorry to hear about your migraines. I suffer from cluster headaches (they showed up during our trip to Europe last fall, including one on our 12-hour flight home from Amsterdam.) For anyone who gets migraines or clusters, check out Sumavel DosePro and Treximet. The DosePro knocks out my headaches in about 6-10 minutes. It’s a freaking miracle drug. It took a while to get used to the needless injection part but that thing totally changed my life for the better. Treximet is good, too, and is a regular pill (and much more compact). But the DosePro gets the job done quicker.

  • @Gene – almost joined steamed whole taro as food items pre-migraine that I get a tingle and shudder when I see them again. The taro was some years ago on a 6-hour Chinese bus ride from Ningbo-Shanghai.

  • @james – sounds like you are the person I would have liked to know ahead of my trip. My difficulty in Central and West Africa is the costs can be staggering when alone. I wanted to see the lowland gorillas in Congo-Brazzaville and didn’t find an economical way to do it. From what I could tell of Gabon via the Bradt guide, unless I had been around for the occasional weekend expat outing, the costs for me to go to any of the parks would have been beyond my means. Is that correct?

    I had heard about Afrik Aviation but couldn’t find anything to give me confidence that they are still running that flight. How do you recommend booking them?

    CEIBA has dropped their Wed STP service, retaining Mon and Fri, I am in Malabo and heading to the airport soon.

  • @Chris C – I shudder at the thought of your AMS flight.

    Thank you, I will investigate the mediciations. My mother and brother get them more frequently, and brother is a MD/PhD/PharmD so I will test his knowledge and see what he knows about those two.

  • Thomas

    How did you book the Ceiba flight? I’m looking at doing Gabon and Sao Tome but can’t figure out how to book either Ceiba or Afric.

  • @Thomas – booking CEIBA is not easy. Their website is non-functional and OTAs and travel agents are not set up to ticket them. I booked through Ruta47, Angel there is responsive and helpful, alerting me for instance to the Sao Tome schedule change.

  • john

    Hmmm, tough day. On a similar note, you are not giving us much information but it really sounds like between west and central Africa you are only visiting the capitals/major cities of these most forgotten of countries. I must say, I admire your tenacity to get it done like this.

  • @john – generally I want to visit two distinct places, if one is the capital, then the other to be some scenic spot, small town, etc. Time, logistics, costs and political control have been limiting factors in some of these. Gabon had great parks that would bankrupt me traveling alone.

  • john

    how much did it cost to see the gorillas in Congo? You paid to see the mountain gorillas right? so this was way more?

  • @john – mega-expensive, came with the volcano crater overnight and all the cool things of DRC, can only rationalize that cost once.

  • @john – with Virunga you book online and show up at the border, with Republic of Congo never sorted it out.

  • William

    Le Meridian is rather notorious, even on Tripadvisor. Stayed at the Park on award points and they were fine. Points are the way to go since the rooms are outrageously expensive, for what the rooms are. There are a few good restaurants in town that are good and actually pretty easy to travel about town. If you want to venture out into the natural parks plan ahead.