Last week it was Cameroon’s turn to be the genial host of wanderingmark. Located on the Atlantic coast of Central Africa, it was my 130th country (only 66 left to go now!), and the trip took in the capital city Yaoundé and the major industrial port city of Douala. Cameroon has been independent since 1960 and over the past 50 or so years has been one of the more stable countries in the region, putting it in the top ten of sub-Saharan nations for GDP per capita. Although Douala is the largest and most populated city, it was Yaoundé where I headed first.
I arrived in the middle of the night in the wettest month of the year and, naturally, the heavens opened during a spectacular thunderstorm with fork lightening striking all around as far as the eye could see. The city is over 200km from the coast and is rather hilly and so the rain collects in the bowls between the hills – where the roads are! And so, what should have been a simple half hour taxi journey from the airport ended up taking three times as long with much backtracking and diversions down remote alleyways. When I arrived at the hotel I went straight to sleep only to be woken by a drip..drip..drip sound a couple of hours later. I turned on the lights to find a huge flood at the end of my bed where the air-conditioning unit had decided to dump its contents. After a long and drawn out switch of rooms I finally managed to get some shut-eye.
I won’t name the hotel but I will say that it wasn’t the sumptuous Hilton which is where everybody who is anybody congregates for meetings, seminars, dinners, drinks, leisurely Sunday afternoons by the pool or a spot of gambling at the casino. And it’s not just the Hilton which gives expats a taste of home. Stepping in to the Casino supermarket in the centre of town from the hordes of hawkers outside is a breath of fresh air. You’re presented with aisles laid out neatly and all your comfort foods from home are there in one place, albeit at much higher prices. Even the meats at the butcher’s counter were as fresh as fresh could be, which is a rarity in most African ‘expat’ supermarkets.
I managed to get lost (I blame Google Maps!) whilst strolling around the residential suburb of Bastos, home to many of the gated houses which the wealthy call home. But getting lost is fun sometimes, even though there were quite a few confused looks on the faces of the locals. Also in the Bastos area I came across a first for me in West Africa – a properly constructed road underpass!
Although Douala is only 200km from Yaoundé it took me 12 hours to get there! Upon arrival at the airport for the short flight we were kept waiting with no information for several hours before being told that the flight was cancelled, and this was at 2 a.m. I arrived, eventually, in Douala in mid-morning but my experience with Camair-Co left me rather deflated.
Douala and its port account for three quarters of Cameroon’s industrial output and yet it still doesn’t have a big-city feel to it. The main hub of activity is along the Boulevard du President Ahmadou Ahidjo which is the commercial centre of the city (there’s even an official outlet of the clothing chain Mango!). Many expats, however, live in the leafy southern suburb of Bonapriso which is well catered for in terms of grocery needs, and the general feel of the area is quite laid back, with few street peddlers and an air of calm – a rare thing in African cities!
So, Cameroon hasn’t thrown up any real surprises for me but I’m off next to the two Congo’s – a name that evokes visions of Africa in days gone by, before the onset of air travel, global broadcasts and modernity, when the West thought it was all like Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness. I’m hoping it’s not like that!
And a quick mention of congratulations to Cat and Mark who correctly guessed the teaser at the end of my previous blog – with Peru (Lima) and Fiji (Suva) being the other two four letter country/capital combinations as well as Togo (Lomé).