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All People > painedplatinum > Travel Report from Near and Far > 2013 > November
2013

I'm finishing up week four of my five week stay. It took my a while, but I've been able to get into a bit of a rhythm. Me entry into the country along with the first two weeks was harrowing.

 

The process of everyday life for the locals is challenging. The government, with a sitting President in his 32nd year, is dysfunctional and thoroughly corrupt....according to the citizenry. Although public schools are "free", parents are required to join a PTA type org. that has steep dues. If you don't join and pay, your child will not receive books, supplies, or teacher attention. Many kids don't make it through high school. I mentioned the roadways and traffic control devices in my previous post. The dilapidated conditions extend beyond the roads. Almost anything considered infrastructure is in dire need of repair. Storm drains and sewer systems have been built along the city roadways. They are between a sidewalk area and the road surface. These drains are basically troughs about 3 foot deep. They are covered by a series of concrete blocks like stepping stones. Every 3rd block is missing which creates gaping holes around 4 square feet. Since there is no order to driving and parking..quite often a car tire will find one of these holes and BOOM....

 

Cameroon is actually a rich country of natural resources, just poorly managed. Any type of agricultural product can be found here. The neighboring countries of Chad, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Central African Republic, and Congo  all import truckloads of food from Cameroon daily. I've found two restaurants that receive high grades for food safety and quality.  Rice, fish, plantains, beans, corn, beef, and chicken are part of daily fare. The plantains are especially delicious. The national dish of Cameroon is ndole. It closely resembles collard greens. This bitter leaf is combined with nuts, spices and small pieces of seafood or meat. Ndole is really good.

 

I've added a few pictures to include:

The crazy taxi (used Toyota Corollas) and motor bike drivers.

A mini bus that transports people daily. These buses have had the seats ripped out and replaced with what look like kitchen table benches.

Street kiosks that sell just about everything.

A ditch I watched being dug by hand with pickaxes. It's over a kilometer long. These guys were covered in mud. Wow, back breaking work!

A phone booth at the city park... no phone in years.

 

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I've hesitated writing a blog entry for my current location. I'm not sure that anyone will care to read about this experience. It's not beautiful beaches, gorgeous mountains, blooming flowers or much else of anything eye pleasing. BUT, here goes......

 

I have had the pleasure of visiting Africa before. My current trip to Douala, Cameroon is the third time visiting the continent in the last 3 years.

 

I found South Africa, both in Johannesburg and Cape Town, to be very interesting. The first city was a big city with the big city feel, while the other was a resort town with a very laid back relaxing vibe.  I would recommend putting Cape Town on your bucket list. It was that nice!! The language spoken in South Africa was predominantly English. There is also Afrikaans among the 11 official languages. I almost understood every 4th  word of Afrikaans. That can be more frustrating than battling with the jar that won't open.

 

Windhoek, Namibia helped me to see how European colonialism made it's mark on a country (good and bad).  This mid sized city was very friendly and welcoming. There were many mixed culture things that were new to me. Some were great, some were interesting. In Windhoek, I found a "club" open on a Sunday afternoon walk. It was essentially a bar. Alcohol was not supposed to be sold on Sunday's, unless you were a private club. I don't drink that much, but sitting there on a Sunday afternoon bending my elbow with the local crowd was wonderful. The beer was ice cold and people were talking and laughing in both English and German. The warm feeling of fellowship will stay with me for the rest of my life.

 

Douala, Cameroon is different. It's as close to third world as I've ever experienced. There is a Hilton in the capital city of Yaounde. That is the only U.S. named hotel in the country..as far as I could find.  Douala is the largest city, slightly more populated than the capital.  There is a Le Meridien Hotel in Douala that may have a loose association with Starwood. I'm housed at the Ibis Hotel. This is part of the Accor chain. I believe they are a group headquartered in France. There are 17 of 3000+ Accor hotels in North America under the Sofitel and Novotel brands.

 

This Ibis Hotel, which is considered one of the top four hotels in the city, is unlike any hotel that I have ever stayed. Not in a good way. The water doesn't work every third day. Turn on the shower or sink spigot at 6AM and not a drop. The electricity blinks on and off in the evening quite often. It doesn't stay off long, but it really opens your eyes to another world. The in room TV has 8 channels. At any given time 3 or 4 are working. The only English speaking channel is CNN International. It works pretty well on most days. Boy, am I sick of that channel..lol  The other 7 channels are French.

 

Many of the buildings in the city appear close to collapse. There are dozens of construction projects that looked to have been started 20 years ago and were never finished. Just shells of buildings dotting the streets. None of the streets are labeled. Every Stop sign that may have been here at some point has been stolen for the metal. The 1/2 dozen or so traffic lights in this city of 1 million plus rarely work. The residences span from fairly nice single homes behind razor wire topped high walls to shacks. There are thousands of "houses" put together with no more than scrap materials. It's an eye opening truly sad sight. Security company guards, with weapons in plain sight are near any building or residence of modest value.

 

The people of the city are another story. Almost to a person, everyone is kind and polite. It's hard to fathom the need for the high security. I can only imagine that it is more precautionary than anything else. I'm sure there are thieves and bad guys, but I haven't seen any. The only people that have me nervous are the 1000's of cabs and motor bike operators. They are every where! They follow no written or implied law or courtesy on the roads.

 

I'll add another posting before I return to the States, but I need to learn more about the local thoughts and culture. There is something here worth seeing. There is something here worth learning, but I'm not quite sure what it is exactly.

 

The pictures below are the views from my hotel window. The building on the left is a restaurant in the front with housing quarters in the back. The creatures in the air are giant bats...as big as eagles. Imagine the flying monkeys from the Wizard of Oz, only uglier. These bats are flying by the hundreds outside my window every morning and evening. The taller building in the distance was once considered high cost housing.

 

Sorry, once again, I have hit the wall with my attempt to add pictures....I'll fix as soon as I can.

 

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I know I'm behind on blog postings (not than anyone really cares..lol), but I'm in the reporting mood, so here comes my latest.


It seems I can't get to Africa from PHL without going through Europe. I'd prefer a non stop flight any day, but if I have to layover, I try to take advantage of some local flavor. Unlike many of my favorite Insiders, I haven't spent enough time in the old world. My recent trip included a stop in Brussels. The schedule called for a 7:05AM arrival then departing at 2:50PM. The gap was just short of eight hours. I was figuring on one hour to get out of the airport and being back two hours prior to my next flight. So, I  had five hours to spend sight seeing.

 

The first good news was that the plane was 20 minutes early upon arrival. Deplaning and getting into the main part of the airport was a snap....less than 30 minutes. So, I was almost ready to hit the train station under the airport just a few minutes after 7AM. I needed to get a sim card for my phone. I have a Vodafone for most of my international travel, but Belgium doesn't support Vodafone. The "phone" store at the airport didn't open until 8AM on the weekend. That created a problem that took a few extra minutes to solve, but I was still on the airport train to Brussels at 7:24AM.  There are three main stations in Brussels. Noord, Central, and Midi. The first is Noord. That only took about 15 minutes. I needed to go to Midi (20 minutes) to meet my niece. She is stationed in Germany but lives in Massstricht, the Netherlands. She trained it down to Midi Station. I waited for about 30 minutes and we hopped on the train back to Central Station.  Note... I had a carry-on roller bag and a backpack. There were lockers at Central Station that allowed me to drop an unwanted 30 pounds for less than 2 Euros. Also, most of the signage was in French or German, just an FYI.

 

Central Station was perfectly located for our needs. It's very close to the Grand Place (think central square). The weather on November 1 was seasonally cool, but there was one dude from Philadelphia that still wore shorts, what a dummy. The pictures below will tell the story from here. We walked, had tea, coffee, croissants, walked some more...shopped...people watched and split a waffle. I had a blast and now have Brussels as a future destinations for more than 5 hours.

 

The bottom line here is if you find yourself in the Brussels Airport and wonder how long it will take to get in town and back. My experience is that it's less than 30 minutes each way. The train is easy to find. Most signs are in French or German. There are nice big lockers at the train station to store carry on luggage.

 

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