Cameroon Memories – From the Diary! PART ONE

Hey all! I am very excited because not long ago I found my missing diary from my 2011 adventure, and that was the diary that included all of my time in Cameroon. Flicking through it again ten years later I realised how much I loved the country, and I really wanted to share with you some of the day to day experiences as they happened to me. So that’s what I am going to doing on Wednesdays over the next few weeks.

Sadly Cameroon, even without the Corona world wide problems, is not a country quite in the position it was in back in 2011. Nevertheless, I have nothing but the fondest of memories from this beautiful place so let’s go back there with highlights from the diary – part one!

I will take you – and myself – back to the day of the 23rd of June, 2011. This was the day I started in London, England, and finished in Douala, Cameroon. I travelled there – whilst I was there I should say, we weren’t on the same plane at all – with my friend from the UK Nila, for reference.

Day One – 23/6/2011

And then there are long travel days. Like these (sic). I am at the café at Douala and I am waiting for Nila and her plane to arrive. I have a Fanta – Fluresecent Orange, and a l’eau minerale and a few minutes, maybe half an hour, to write about today.

A band plays outside the airport – drums – the West African spirit lives! Except that now all I can hear is Bryan Adams ‘Everything I do’! But the day began at 5am and I was out the door by 520am. I made my way to the Turham Green Tube, a couple of stops to Acton Town then onto Heathrow Terminal One!

I checked in pretty much straight away. It was a little quiet then, usual for 630 – 7am in the morning. Security Checks, lots of schwabs taken, looking for explosives I was told. Then I had to find the gate for my flight to Zurich.

Flight left a little late but flight time was much less than expected – 1 hour 10 minutes. Had to take a train to get to the gate for my next flight – Gate E53. Didn’t take long to find, was obvious by the people boarding which was my flight! I found myself in a centre seat – I’d forgotten the little pleasures!

There wasn’t a lot of room – the flight was full as with most flights to this region. Not just full but full of kids including one baby a few seats along who cried loudly for the entire flight. The ears had been a little dodgy on the first flight, but on this landing the right one hurt a lot. A lot of people were having issues with their ears. Pop pop pop! The kids screamed and cried – fingers in their ears did little.

But we touched down. Not too hot – but humid as! I am here! Passport control was fast, bag took forever and a very slow, crowded order out of the baggage claim area too. The airport is a bit 1970s but the roof design post-modern or something. Cameroon has already given me a good vibe!

So I found a spot outside the exit gate (to wait). I could see that another flight had arrived, it was Air France, and after 20 minutes or so I saw Nila on her way out. It’s fair to say the place is a bit of a shambles (the airport). Security lets in hustlers and the like who came up to me, asked me if I was from Siemens. When I said I was on my own (bad move) they started touting.

Anyhoo, Nila arrived and I tipped a security guy who helped us into a taxi and organised a decent price. Not too long into town, widish streets, not too crazy.

The Minotel Vallee des Princes – we checked in. Having already paid 75 Euros a night in advance I was a bit disappointed to be honest. As I told Nila I have paid 20 dollars for nicer rooms or at least comparable rooms. Still, air con is nice, double bed, desk, safe, bathroom is okay. We went down to the bar for a drinky-poos. 1000CFA for a bottle of water turns out to be too expensive. I should have realised that I guess!

Reading this back I remember a lot of it actually which is nice. That I can still remember stuff you know! After a drink, I went to sleep, and so the adventures continued the next day, my first proper day in Cameroon!

Day Two – 24/6/11

I slept a lot last night, waking at 1pm to find I had bizarrely twisted my right ankle during the night! Nila’s theory is that it was because the sheets were tucked in at the end of the bed [this checks out, and a valuable lesson learnt since this day I have made sure I untuck the sheets around the bed!] I was up at 10am so I had had nearly 11 hours sleep. Yet today I probably felt more tired (than yesterday).

Breakfast downstairs at the restaurant – bread, croissants, jam and tea. The bread was white, not warm but seemed very fresh. We chatted a bit and resolved to head to Kribi tomorrow. Then to Limbe, and after that we will probably part ways and I will head to Yaounde whilst Nila probably hikes Mt Cameroon and possibly does the Ring Road [as it turned out, we went to the Ring Road together and only parted ways with about a day and a half to go].

So I was told that my washing would cost 35000CFA [that’s over 50 Euro for reference, for a bag of washing] I declined and went back to my room where I did some hand washing. A serious washing session! Then out into Douala we went!

The main mission of the day? To get some cashiola! Taxi was just 200CFA (100 each) into town – shared – a bustling but not overcrowded place. It didn’t seem as chaotic as my experiences in other West African major cities.

Express Change [a place recommended by Lonely Planet for changing traveller’s cheques and money] did NOT change traveller’s cheques! Dang Nam it! So I changed 50 Euro and we headed up to Eco Bank. Same story there. We tried Standard Charter, they would even exchange Euro cash unless you had an account with them! Seems this is typical/common here.

Another bank across the road gave us the same response, but we met Damien, a nice local guy who told us that because the systems in place cannot trace the authenticity of notes or cheques, this is why it is so. He also said that as the CFA was strong most people only carried that. So he said to come with him and we hopped in his four wheeled drive, around the block to basically find the black market. His wife, Elysia, was also in the car so it seemed pretty safe to me.

And indeed it was, a genuinely nice guy who was trying to help us out. I was able to change 100 pounds, but the rate the guy offered for traveller’s cheques was so far below the actual exchange rate I didn’t go through with it in the end [I ended up using the cheques back in Europe for their full value] I decided to exchange almost all of my Euro, and with the 100 pounds hopefully I have enough. Only 50 Euro and some pounds left!

So we returned to Express Exchange and despite the poor exchange rate I changed 200 Euro and nila 400. We then went to a place called Mediterranean for lunch, I had a decent spag. Bol. And Nila had a vegetarian pizza. Nila went to a pharmacy after that and bought some doxycycline over the counter. We found ‘Delicious’ a lovely little patisserie where Nila had a piece of cake. Looked nice, I bought a ham and cheese roll which I had later.

A guy from the patisserie ran after me after we left – I had left a bottle of water, another random act of kindness here. We got a taxi, it was around 7pm, the driver had some sort of argument with another dude before we drove off. He took us along some back streets to avoid Avenue de la Republic. 400CFA but after dark and we were on our own. Watched a bit of CNN in the room before sleep. My sinuses aren’t the greatest at the moment – touch wood the cold hasn’t gotten any worse!

And there you have it – an abridged version of the first two days. And reading it back what really struck me how in one day we met a bunch of people who helped us out. It was the difference between a good day and a bad day, and the first day can really set the tone for the whole time you’re in a country, and no doubt this is one of the reasons I really have good memories of Cameroon. Next time I’ll take you to Kribi!

Thanks for reading, take care and May the Journey Never End!


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