Monday, 10 November 2014

Return to Cameroon

When the call comes it can be a surprise. On the eve before our morning departure, it was an sms/text message informing us our flight was cancelled.  As the message was less than illuminating, which flight? Morning or night? I called the airline.  A recorded message.
Thankfully I’ve become somewhat obsessive about packing. Most of it was done. Only the daily necessaries, toothbrush, bedding clothes for the trip and reading material still strewn about the room. We bussed out to the airport and spoke with an agent there.  Her eyes welled up, she composed herself, then expressed appreciation for us actually showing up and not ragging on her. We had two and half hours to get back, finish packing  and return for the 8pm flight to Brussels. Hotel room provided.
Landing in Douala the heat enveloped me like a wet blanket. What breeze there was blowing in the “windows” was warmer than warm. We trudged along the passage turning right, left and then down a long hallway,  then right again into a narrow booth where a fellow read our temperature… no Ebola here. Just around the next corner we entered a construction zone where the mass of people spread out into three indistinct lines creeping slowly through customs and immigration. I was at first pissed and resentful as two white guys basically forced their way through from the back past us all, then let it go and relaxed into patience.
Approaching the luggage carousel I wrestled off three of our bags,  and as the crowd thinned, waiting for the last one, imagined a number of dire scenarios. Thankfully all was well with the luggage angels… With help we managed to exit the building, everything intact to our ride waiting outside.
By this time it was dark. Rose our hostess had come with her driver to take us to Buea and  after greeting her we managed to jam our luggage and ourselves into the car.  But first a small “tip” to the fellow who negotiated past all the hawkers and touts crowding the exits.
Traffic here can be challenging with taxis hurtling past in either direction on either side and motorcycle taxis driving without due care and attention in all directions at all times. The bridge we needed to cross was a mere two lanes.  Crawling along bumper to bumper, three lanes deep, drivers would switch lanes pushing their way from one to the other when the smallest of openings appeared.
Once past the bridge I spied a large crowd of,  I assume, sports minded men doing jumping jacks surrounded by hundreds of …spectators? There were people everywhere, crossing the road, walking beside, joggers and folks having their evening meal, mothers with babies hauling bundles home and where possible everyone driving as fast as the road would allow.
Did I mention cracks in the road? Potholes in the pavement  big enough to lose luggage into?
After leaving the city proper the traffic thinned considerably and flashes of lightening lit up the sky. We cruised past miles of banana and rubber plantations and not much else till the outskirts of Buea.
 At our hotel  we took a short walk to stretch our legs and find some food and a drink. Nothing like a beer to sooth the frayed nerves and transition into another culture.
 In the morning  I extracted local currency from an ATM (neglecting to count zeros I took out 20,000 instead of 200,000) Then a walkabout with Rose, taking pictures with our now semi functioning camera (do not spill lime plaster on your camera). We managed to get a video interview recorded then trucked up the hillside to sit under cover as the skies opened up in a typical tropical downpour.
Later after securing our bus tickets to Bamenda I revisited the ATM and we were on our own for lunch.
 A slow walk up the main drag, a taxi back to the hotel and then a Cameroonian German style beer sweetened the fading light.  We ate dinner on the balcony, watching the local night life; Taxis honking, picking up and disgorging passengers and the endless stream of walkers.

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