Douala, Cameroon, January 2 - 4, 2008

Trip Start Sep 19, 2007
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Trip End Jan 05, 2008


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Flag of Cameroon  ,
Saturday, January 5, 2008

Douala is Cameroon's biggest city and main port, although the country's capital is the smaller inland city Yaounde.  Douala is a sweaty industrial and port city founded by the Germans, the colonial power in region for a while until Germany lost its colonies after WWI, and is often nicknamed "The Armpit of Africa" for its unpleasant workaday nature as well as its location at the corner of Gulf of Guinea where the horizontal and vertical parts of Africa's upside down L shape come together. 
I quickly concluded that there was virtually nothing to see or do in town in the two days between our arrival and my flight home.  If I had just arrived in Africa I am sure I would have found the markets fascinating and the tourist souvenirs enticing but after several months in West Africa I had had my fill.  My guidebook didn't even make mention of any second rate museums to while away a few hours at in town, so I had little to do for two days but eat, drink, and say goodbyes to my trip friends.  Although there was nothing in the way of tourist sights, in contrast to its bad reputation, I found Douala, or at least the center part I confined myself to, to be relatively organized and one of more developed and pleasant cities I saw in Africa. 
My first night in Douala was at a rather nice tour-booked hotel in the commercial Bonanjo neighborhood overlooking the port city's facilities.  It was rather pricey, though, so I figured I'd find cheaper accommodation for my last night on my own in town.  I picked a place named Foyer du Marin, one which sounded especially appealing based on this description in my Lonely Planet guide: 
"Otherwise known as the German Seaman's Mission, tidy comfortable rooms are kept ship-shape for visiting sailors - and other travelers - coming into port.  It's equally popular as a drinking spot with Douala's expat community, who visit for the nightly sausage and meat grill from 7 pm...........Douala's bargain......"  I read the Lonely Planet description to Dave, "Sausages and Seamen - Wazza, you dirty dog, you!  Heh heh!" 
Sausages and seamen - I'm there!  I wandered over with visions of The Village Peoples' "In the Navy" song, one played multiple times over the previous few weeks over Daphne's audio system, going through my head.  There were still some rooms available for the following night, and the sign-in sheet at the Mission even had a column asking guests which ship they arrived on.  I wrote, "Daphne".  The Foyer du Marin was everything Lonely Planet described it as except for one thing.  There were no hunky sailors around, just a lot of middle-aged Dutch and German travelers attracted by the cheap clean rooms and good beer and wurst selections.  I was quite disappointed by the false advertising. 
Douala was also a place for goodbyes.  As I've found on other long trips I have taken, the end of a tour can be a rather sad and somewhat emotional time.  Although, on one hand, I often felt annoyed by people around me because of close quarters and confined spaces of overland truck life, on the other I had developed strong attachments to many of the people who had become my family over previous five to fifteen weeks.  These sentiments are displayed to a great degree by the prominence the other people on the truck came to play in my very memorable Lariam-induced dreams, detailed in my parallel dreams blog, while on the tour. 
We had a group dinner the last night of the tour at an outdoor table at the very good Lebanese-run Mediterranee restaurant on Boulevard de la Liberte in Douala's central Akwa district.  Towards midnight we were again joined by a bunch of chatty local prostitutes who probably viewed an extended table full of white westerners as a potential gold mine.  They didn't find any clients, but provided me and the others with quite a few good laughs and a story, well wroth the price of a cheap drink
I lazed my last day away alone reading and sunning beside the pool at Foyer du Marin before my overnight flight to Zurich.  The airport was only a short taxi ride away and was as chaotic as everything else in Africa and crumbly in the way things built out of concrete in the 1970s and not maintained since tend to be.  I had been led to believe that Cameroon's 10,000 CFA (about $23) departure tax was included in the price of my ticket, as airport taxes and charges are in many parts of the world.  This piece of misinformation, however, left me scrounging to find enough money to leave the country since the ATM in the airport terminal wasn't working.  I managed to find a money changer in the airport who took the last $16 USD cash I had in my wallet along with the small CFA notes and coins I had in my pocket for a slightly worse (for him) rate than we negotiated for the 10,000 CFA I needed.  So I boarded the plane literally penniless but with the knowledge that when I landed all my plastic would work for me again. 
My Swissair flight to Zurich made a scheduled stop on the way in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, only about 20 minutes from Douala.  That made me wonder, "Can I count Equatorial Guinea on my list of countries I've been to if I didn't even get off the plane there?"  I think not. 
By the end of my trip I was feeling quite spent from travel and ready to take a break from the heat and chaos and poverty of West Africa.  However, I did still feel it was a shame that I didn't get to see more of Cameroon than two beach towns and a large industrial city, particularly since the visa cost $135 USD.  Cameroon impressed me as a country with much to see, and of all the countries I went through (with the possible exception of Morocco) it was the one I felt I could have spent much more time in.
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Comments

coal on

why do you have a pic of a van on the page? -just asking. coal. =P

amy on

if you want to save page space, delete some of the pictures that look the same. Xx =)

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