First Taste – Douala, Cameroon

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I once was planning a trip to West Africa and was telling a friend about it. He told me he really wanted to go to Cameroon, which was not one of the countries I had originally considered. This was back in the early naughties. I didn’t go until my third venture to Cameroon. I’m not really sure why I decided to go, except that it looked like a beautiful country and I liked the sound of the place.

So, in 2011 as part of my round the world trip, I decided to head out there. I took a returned flight from London on Swiss Air, and this time I wasn’t going to cross any borders, I was just visiting the one African country.

Douala has a reputation as being one of the rougher cities in West Africa. I was meeting a friend and she was flying in an hour maybe two after me. So, after a real tossle to get my backpack, I exited the brownish airport proper and waited for her to arrive. I had a chance to change some money, and sat down at a little café for a drink.

View from the hotel looking away from central Douala.

View from the hotel looking away from central Douala.

She was on time, and soon we were in a taxi on the way to our hotel. The Minhotel Vallee de Princes. Top give you an idea it was a rather hefty 75 Euros booked on line well in advance. I have a policy for evening and late arrivals depending on where I am going of booking a place well in advance. For the price, at the time around $100 Australian, I was pretty disappointed. The room was big enough, and I guess it would have been the best room I had in Cameroon, but as it was more than twice what I paid for any other room, well, you’d expect that. And it wasn’t much better than the others. And you should have seen the price for laundry. I did a LOT of washing in bathrooms in Cameroon. In fact, perhaps all of it. Just checked the diary, they wanted close to 50 Euro for one bag of washing. Cheaper in Cameroon to buy a whole new wardrobe!

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The next day and we resolved that we would do business and move on from Douala after another night (already booked and paid for). Taxis into town (we weren’t that far but not quite close enough to walk from memory) were 200 cfa per person one way I think. That’s cheap, the cfa is tied to the Euro at 1 Euro equaling 655 Central African Francs. This was a ride in a share taxi so they pick up people and drop people off at will.

So the biggest thing we had to do was to change money as we had very little. And let me tell you, changing money in Cameroon was harder than I thought. In other French West African nations that I visited, you basically got exactly the rate of change for the Euro as was official. US dollars not so crash hot, traveller’s cheques tricky but could be done. And the safest way.

Where do you get your drugs from? Le Drug Store of course!

Where do you get your drugs from? Le Drug Store of course!

Of course traveller’s cheques are pretty much done and dusted I’d say, but they had worked in the other West African nations I’d been to. Not here. No sir. Tried many banks, even those recommended, and it seemed no-one wanted to. The banks weren’t offering much for pounds and dollars either, and we hadn’t brought that many Euros. So, word of advice. Just bring Euros.

Street vendors in Douala.

Street vendors in Douala.

We met a guy who said he knew someone who could help us. Suddenly my friend and I ended up on the main drag in a car doing deals for better exchange rates. The cheques I might change at 400 to the Euro. The rates for dollars and pounds were a bit better, so I exchanged them. In a fucking car. They seemed like nice people. We were fine. But writing in a paragraph seems insane. Sorry for the profanity I think it’s the first and so far only time I’ve used it in my blog.

The rest of the day we chilled, organised bus tickets for the next morning, took far too few photos and ate. Although we looked around some back streets, it seemed that most of Douala was on one main street.

Not the best place for one of these!

Not the best place for one of these!

Lunched at ‘Mediterranean’, and were impressed by the Italian/European food however it did seem to be an ex-pat hang out. Nice open place you can look onto the street. A night club opposite we did not visit called ‘Kiss Me’. Along the street it’s hard to forget the urinal hanging off an electricity post. Everyone can see you as you pee, but then, you can see them too. I was told off by a man for taking a photo of it, and I can understand why but how could I not?

Had dinner at a nice Bakery called ‘Delicious’ which was fine for something simple, and as I left I had left my bottle of water and a staff member ran after me down the street which was incredibly kind. It may seem hard to get a handle on what I was feeling but I do know I was actually happy to be in Cameroon within 24 hours, and that has much to do with Douala.

Kiss Me Night Club. Looked a bit dubious to me!

Kiss Me Night Club. Looked a bit dubious to me!

And there isn’t much to see and do here, but it is the main port for sea and air. Despite a questionable reputation I didn’t feel in any danger there and I didn’t feel like I was about to be scammed or anything like that. But then again, I didn’t visit the Kiss Me nightclub!

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Douala isn’t the worst place to fly into in the world. Eh, it’s a bit expensive, and there’s not a lot to do, but it IS the perfect place to get your bearings and get some money changed. Thanks for reading! May the Journey Never End!

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