From cameroun

Trip Start Mar 07, 2007
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Where I stayed
Grand Hotel

Flag of Cameroon  ,
Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Salaam aleikum!
 
And there would be no story if there would not be the tellers to tell.....
 
So my dear ones I am afraid I have been very busy coping with my experience in Africa but now it's a good moment to share some of the happenings with you. After Maroc things seemed to get out of control sometimes but I will try to explain as simple as possible. Maroc is a great country with nice people and culture. After it I thought that Africa will be all the same but my thought proved to be wrong. I have crossed the Mauritanian border without problems, all the formalities lasted 4 hours and down we go on the way to Noadibou the most Nordic city. The first impression has been a shock and really even when crossing the border you go through a place locally called Kandahar( just because there is no road and there are big holes everywhere looking as if it was bombed and really there is a mined field there)......the border's official office looks and is a barrack ( we thought it's the residence of some desert bandits)...you would say why a shock...well....the beginning of the city is made of tents in poor conditions with people in a very difficult state of sustainability of their life and health, with children begging and harassing , with animals eating from the garbage that can be seen in all the corners of the streets suffocated by sand. Yeah....it seemed we entered another world which much later you will see will prove to be even more chaotic.
 
In Mauritania the population is divided by the colors of skin and this is something that comes from many centuries ago. There are the white moors which are the more privileged and the black moors which are less privileged but with a good situation, there are the emigrant blacks coming from all Africa cause this city is a stop over for those who want to take an illegal boat up to Europe (I found out this things after the meeting with a local NGO that deals with the problems of emigration in Mauritania) and there are the slaves....people with no rights (at least as a common rule).
 
Mauritania is desert and most of the population lives a nomadic life...which means they have no stable home...it gave me the sensation that these people are the ghosts of the desert...today you might find their tent, you might be invited to enjoy a cup of tea and a nice conversation but the next day they disappear as if the harmattan wind( the winds of sand in the desert) would have erased any track of their presence in the world.
I liked though their hospitality and their openness, their intelligence is native and most of what they know comes from the oral transmition of traditions. We have met also young dreamers with many hopes to get a better life by emigrating in Europe but the truth is that many of these people are not prepared for the shock of culture and for them living in Europe might be more difficult then living in their own habitat.
 
Because there are not many white people around I understood that the expat's community in each of the African countries is more open to the new comers and tourists. It's a way I guess to remain in touch with your past world and maybe the world they will return in the future. So back to the future is a sentence that can be applied to the westerners that come to Africa to live for a while.
 
 
After learning more about Mauritanian hospitality but also having to deal with a lot of the harassment of the cadeux (gifts) asking (everybody asks for gifts more or less aggressively)I crossed the border to Mali.
 
Mali is a top destination In west Africa as I read in many guides, but the problem is it lacks the simple infrastructure that would make it perfect for a nice vacation. Entering Mali was not as shocking as Mauritania and people seemed a little more relaxed with the cadeux thing but there are other problems that consume Malians day to day life. If Mauritania is Sahara, Mali still has a little green part in the south and the views are quite enjoyable. Acacia and baobabs in the middle of wide plains, this could be a description of the south of Mali. Mango trees, many many animals, sheppards  mostly children...and lack of water. Potable water or better said finding potable water in Mali is a big problem. For a tourist its not but thinking that one and a half liters of water costs almost 1 Euro and it really costs 1 dollar means that these people that live with less than 1 dollar  a day do not afford to buy any water. So the water that they drink is the water that they get from pomps, fountains, small lakes and the water is really really bad. There are quite many NGOs from outside that help in the solution but its not enough and Sahara its advancing and Is destroying all that is left from the Sahel.
 
I spent some nice relaxing days in Bamako, the capital city, a place that still keeps the looks of an old colonial city with building reminding of the 19th century but still all in decay. Niger River passes through the middle of the city and from up above the city looks like a big tropical forest due to the big number of trees that make sweet and fresh the hot and dusty afternoons of the Malian life.
Also here I have met a lot of expats with which we enjoyed a nice concert of a Haitian band in the French cultural center of Bamako. By the way being in West Africa has really helped me remember my French (so I thank Africa for that). After Bamako the next stop was Segou , a small also colonial city on the way to Timbuktu, Moptie and Gao....Segou has really proved to be the essence of the Malian  spirit, noisy at the beginning but then quiet and relaxing, warm and fascinating. We have met nice people here on the street cause Africa is like a big family and if u are a good person you can be their brother or their sister (but not in an black American movie way). Here was the first time that I sailed with a Piragua (a small boat that looks like a canoe and that makes the connections usually between the important cities in Mali using Niger River).
 
Next step was preparing some tracking in Dogon country. The dogons are an old tribe living in a spectacular area which is the Falaise. troglodyte houses(more exactly houses into the caves of the cliffs)dogon small villages , sacred places and paintings on the rocks, sanctuaries of the dead....this is Dogon...and on the way to it the children dance a strange tribal dance that I never saw in any other part of Africa(was really fascinating).I did just a 1 day track which meant leaving in the afternoon and coming back the next day in the afternoon, walking in 45 degrees temperatures with the sun burning vertically. The nice things were the views and the night that we spent on the roof of the small hotel in the village called Bannani, the very very good cus cus with tomatoes and onion sauce (that I learned how to make)...the strange sounds in the night that seemed the whispers of the spirits of the caves....all these things made from Dogon a very interesting and repeatable experience....just not in the hot season.
 
It's quite surprising how here in Africa all the simple instincts come to life. If Europe means subtility and schedules and programming and efficiency and performance....here Africa means many times freedom, native intelligence and basic sustainability of life, less needs , more time for evaluating the Self, day to day life.
 
Djenne and Moptie are 2 main touristique destinations in Mali, the first one more appealing than the other....cause here can be found the biggest mud building in the world represented by the mosque in the center of the city. We had the luck to see the new reelected president of Mali which is very loved by everybody and also spent nice time with some French travelers that we met before in Segou.
 
On the way out of Mali we had to let the products of an NGO for a school in Hombori. There the director of the school, a women called Fanta and her family provided excellent hospitality and also during the 2 days that I spent there I had the chance to see all the projects of the NGO and also to meet with all the personalities of the village while drinking a refreshing pamplemousse drink bought by the local administartion. In this village we also had the chance to meet with 2 old French people that were traveling by bicycle through Africa for more than 6 months now and they gave us the contacts of their Malian friends in Gao. Things go like that in Africa; you meet people that know people that know people and so on until you realize the chain is endless.
 
Every time I enter in a new city or in a new village I need a period of accommodation which can be short or long depending on the type of people that you see at first on the street. If there are places where you can feel at first completely unsafe ...soon after they can change into the most hospitable place, or vice versa.
 
I really felt many times that I cannot deal anymore with the exhausting heat that is burning my brain every day in Sahara and Sahel...but time for relaxation seems to come. I entered Niger a little afraid but all my fears disappeared soon after cause really the people are the most sociable and kind that I met until now in Africa. Niger is thought to be the poorest country in the world, related to human development, resources, infant mortality rate....but its also clear that the world shows interest and preoccupation for it. I cannot say that Niamey the capital looks deplorable because it's not true. It looks better than Bamako (Mali) and Nouakchott (Mauritania), its cleaner, laidback and more enjoyable. Here I have stayed at the Grand Hotel of Niamey an enchanting place for a traveler.....but I did the mistake to enjoy 3 days of swimming pool and so I burned my skin so bad that for a week I wasn't able to sleep on my back.....now thank God its ok but I promise I will never do it again. We have been invited again to a big encounter of expats (mostly very young people working for different international organizations like UN, OMS...etc)and spent a nice evening out. One of them , and the one that invited us( Roland, a guy from Switzerland told me that after 1 year and 8 months spent there he feels a little like home or even better because the people are maintaining better relations that in Europe( especially the white people between them are more open and he likes that a lot)....it normal I guess because even as a traveler you find yourself always in new situations...especially the independent travelers that have no fix plan and that just go with the flow. I find that in many of the friends that I found in the last years and some of them receive my short notes so I guess we all share more or less the same experiences . It's a good time to say hi to all and to hope you are all ok.
 
Well...the plan was to stay as little as possible both Niger and Nigeria but in the end we spent 10 relaxing days in Niger...visiting also the last west African giraffe reservation close to Niamey and the hippopotams (impressive) in the Niger river (2 things checked on my to do list before I dieJ) and also 2 days in Maradi and Zinder , two ancient cities in the route of salt and also important centers of the Coranic schools here in Africa. In both of the cities we met more expat's and been invited to have dinner and talk about our travel experiences.
 
Traveling by land in Africa means a lot of precaution and so getting informed about each destination is a must do (state of the route, security, people, what to see)...and lonely planet guide books are not enough cause they are either out of date (in 2 years things change in Africa) or they are incomplete or not true but in the end they are useful if u need to make an idea and a small plan of the route.
 
About Nigeria we have been informed in numerous times that is very dangerous and we should definitely avoid it so we had 2 major options...1 go from Niger to Chad but there was no practicable route for our car because the so called route goes through Sahara...and the other option was to enter Nigeria in the north and go out as fast as possible. To get a visa was not difficult but we just got the first taste of the Nigerian burocracy, susceptibility.....insecurity ...and the diplomatic attaché didn't help us to improve the opinion....when asking how is the north of Nigeria she responded ....don't worry is not so different than the south....auch ...that's a relief...knowing all the problems of Lagos and all) anyway we decided that it is inevitable to cross Nigeria so we directed full speed to it. When we crossed the border we could not believe it was so easy to cross, no one asked any gift, we didn't paid any tax, they were very welcoming and friendly (nothing about the so called Nigerian violent spirit)....but the first weird thing that happened was few km after the border when a patrol 4/4 stopped us and they all had the big guns outside in the view. In that moment I really thought it's the end, my heart went crazy and I almost panicked but after 15 minutes of questions and question and paper verifications they wished us safe journey and let us go. Sincerely I couldn't believe it. We did Nigeria in 2 days driving like mad people do. First day we drove more than 10 hours non stop , almost got lost in Kano( the biggest city of the north and really a chaotic place...especially the area of the market ) a very important characteristic of the African roads is that people and animals walk in the middle of the road as if their life and security doesn't matter, the number of accidents is immense and there is always a great risk both for the people in the car and for ones in the street. Everywhere can be seen trucks fallen aside of the road, cars burned to the metal. I really can say that the two days that I spent in Nigeria can be placed in the top list of the weirdest days of ones life, when everything is so uncertain and so misleading but also so interesting and fascinating.
 
Finally after almost 3 months spent in Africa it seems that things get better for me. The temperatures in Cameroun are of 30 degrees during day and 20-25 during night, the landscape is incredible and also the people and culture. After crossing from Nigeria we have been escorted to the closest city of the border in order to get a visa ( we didn't have visa for cameroun because we didn't want to go to lagos to get it)...and so we paid the incredible sum of 80 Euro each for 1 month visa...
 
Soon after finishing all the formalities we decided that the next route should be Rumsiki, a village populated by the kapsiki tribes, with impressive Jurassic landscape. There, we have met the owner of one of the camping's, a very hospitable and full of ideas guy, with which we also did the next day a hike in the Mandara Mountains.
 
So I guess this is the end of my mail...thanking you for the patience of reading it and hoping you will enjoy Africa from reading as much as I do it by traveling here. Its really a great experience and not only for a traveler but also for clearing ideas and future plans, cause here there are moments when there is so much free time that you have to learn how to make it productive even if productiveness can be only leaning in a hammock, drinking some fresh drink and dreaming.
 
I know my emails are rare but hope soon I will hear from you.
 
Inshallah!
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