Welcome to my travel log! You will find here a lot more than in the travel reports, stripped from political correctness. Enjoy!
Dec 29, 2011 11:00 PM Gabon - At Pointe-Denis
I got transferred from suite no.7 to hut no.1 this morning. I think I was supposed to be in hut no.1 in the first place but madame chief might have made a mistake yesterday. And today, realised that she might need the extra bed in suite no.7 for the extra guests she was getting in the next couple of nights. The hut was about half of the suite's size, had one large bed (with mosquito net) and a lockable bathroom with shower. It had high ceiling and a porch with a basket swing overlooking the water with the views all the way to Libreville. Classic holiday picture really.
The equatorial weather today got a bit worse. There were many more heavy dark grey clouds and in the distance, they were producing downpours. The sun rays sheepishly tore through them. The air felt cool with the gentle breeze blowing from the water. And it was not until 2pm when the sun started coming out more often burning skins as it does mercilessly on the Equator. With each sunny spell, however short, the air seemed to boil instantly. With the humidity at almost 100%, the effect was easily achieved. Sticky!
At lunchtime, I took a stroll to the 'village'. It consisted of maybe three houses, where locals lived; a string of huts donated by the local queen to poor foreigners from Togo, Ghana and other African states; and one nightclub complete with a hotel. Hmm... I just heard how this sounds - I meant a hotel, which had a nightclub. The poor foreigners, according to one other foreigner from Cameroon working at the Assala, were very lazy. They just went fishing, ate and slept. Their kids did not go to school. They did not trade. They did not make any money. They lived from one day to the next. Apparently, one woman I met in the village, at her forties, also never went to school.
The nightclub looked fine! It had plenty of seating, a central dance floor, two small private rooms, and a small bar with tall stools, serving CFA5,000 drinks! I was corrected when I voiced a theory that only white travellers and business people attended. Apparently, Pointe Denis had a sufficient population of very rich Gabonese, who could afford CFA5,000 drinks and who would comfortably fill the entire venue. Apart from the president, who of course had a residence on the beach, there were also a few ministers, who lived here, including the Minister of Internal Affairs. And they definitely could afford expensive beverages.
Dec 28, 2011 11:00 PM Gabon - Libreville to Pointe-Denis
A relatively early start. Quick checkout from the expensive Le Meridien and a short taxi hop to the port for the boat transfer across the estuary to Pointe-Denis. The harbour was very animated as two boats to Port-Gentil were departing, one almost immediately after another. There was perhaps a 30 minutes gap. It was fascinating to watch the luggage handlers, the porters, and the port authority officials checking the passengers tickets.
My small catamaran boat arrived on time, but I had to wait for other passenger. Normally, the boats between Libreville and Pointe-Denis run on weekends; Saturdays at 09:30am and 3pm, and Sundays at 10am and 3pm. On other days, the boat runs only through a booking. If one makes a reservation at one of the several lodges on the beaches of Pointe-Denis, the boat will be booked automatically.
It was a short, 30 minute cruise across the river. Interestingly, the entire waterfront of Libreville, including the presidential palace were nicely visible and... photographable!
Heavy and dark grey equatorial clouds gathered above the city and the beaches. It was nevertheless a very pleasant day without the scorching sun and sweating temperatures. It was still humid, though.
Pointe-Denis had a great potential! The beaches were near perfect, the sand was fine and white, and the shores were gentle. A number of establishments had already popped up along the beaches. One was the Assala Lodge, where I was staying for CFA55,000 (plus CFA99,000 for the New Year's Eve dinner party). But there were others; the Maringa Hotel, the Baie des Tortues, and the Le Rogolié next to the Assala. Farther afield south, there was also an expensive ecolodge called Pongara. It charged over €250 a night. It had only four bungalows. It was not accessible with the same Pointe-Denis boat service like the others. Pongara organised their own transport.
If I am not wrong, I think I spotted some day trippers, too. And that would be logical to escape the bustle and impossible traffic of Libreville to relax on white soft sands and eat fresh seafood at one of the lodges' restaurants, which really cooked very well. Assala Lodge charged CFA8,000 for fish dishes, CFA10,000 for gambas and CFA15,000 for a grilled lobster.
Now, I was preparing for four days of relaxation, 'dolce far niente', spotting giant marine turtles laying eggs, and welcoming the year of 2012.
I took an afternoon stroll between Assala and the Maringa Hotel (and slightly beyond giant logs beach at the actual 'pointe'). There and back. I passed by numerous private properties. It looked like they belonged to white people. Some of the houses were incredibly large and of flamboyant, grandiose architecture. The beach seemed endless. It ran for miles and miles in both directions. Sections had palm trees leaning towards the water's edge. Classic holiday picture, really.
Dec 27, 2011 11:00 PM Gabon - In Libreville
I had mixed feelings about Gabon's capital. It felt safe to walk about with a large camera dangling from a shoulder. But the over present security forces everywhere did not allow to take any photos almost anywhere. It was so paranoid, I thought. Still, I managed to snap a few pictures along the oceanfront avenue. The same where the rather unattractive presidential palace stands.
I walked to the port, to check for my tomorrow's departure to Pointe-Denis. It was a good hike from the Le Meridien hotel, where I stayed and paid CFA125,000 per night. On the way, I stopped at the cathedral. Or two cathedrals. One old, the other new. I was not sure which one was which. I guess the old one, next to the archdiocese office was the original one. Snap, snap, snap.
The port was an interesting place. It was packed with fish stores or fish warehouses. There was plenty of fish and plenty of fishy smells. To my amusement, I also found two nightlife spots: l'Absolute Karaoke- Discotheque and l'Aristocrate Plus Night-Club. What a cliche, I thought. I stopped at the Bogato bar there. Its air-con turned the air of the bar into freezing cold as low as the temperature of Lapland in winter! Their drinks were equally chilled. Walls inside were decorated with portraits of the President of Gabon taken at different stages of his long term rule.
There was not much to see in Libreville, to be honest. It was just a relatively well developed city (in African terms), growing into a concrete jungle. Its oceanfront in the centre, partially fringed with palm trees would have been nice had it been rigged of toilet smells and the beach been refilled. I heard that the government started doing something about the wild constructions along the coast and the oceanfront avenues and began to bulldoze those. Still, the rubble remained!
I checked a restaurant/bar called Le Sud, near Le Meridien. It was a French-run place charging CFA2,500 for 0.6l bottle of Régab lager, and some CFA4,000 for a range of promising pizzas. Their menu also included a good number of fish, meat and poultry dishes for about CFA6,000-CFA7,000. It was a nice venue frequented by expats and well-off locals. I actually noticed that Libreville had a large white community. It was a dramatic change from Cameroon, where I was the only white person I could see, also in both large cities of Doula and Yaounde.
I later went to Le Tropicana hotel near the airport to book my last two nights of the holiday. Its beach looked very promising. Plus there was a local bar nearby, which offered additional entertainment and encounters with the Gabonese.
Dec 26, 2011 11:00 PM Cameroon - Kribi to Douala
Kribi to Douala to Libreville. Slow start. Packing up for the trip to Gabon. First, a hop to Douala, a rather unattractive commercial capital of the country. It was hard to leave Kribi's pretty beaches and friendly population. If I were to compare Kribi to any other spot in West Africa, it would have been Lumley Beach of Aberdeen in Sierra Leone. And I guess this is to do with the fact that those places have not yet been seeing hordes of tourists, who mess with the locals' minds turning these spots in travellers traps full of annoying traders, hookers, bumpsters, hustlers, etc. Instead, the people are more curious to chat to the visitors to find out more about them and at the sight of a large camera they smile and invite their pictures to be taken.
I again hired a car. It set me back by CFA35,000. But the ride was comfortable and quick. I was in Douala within less than two hours. Again passing by the endless palm tree forests.
In Douala, I went for late lunch at the local Marseille Restaurant. Over half of the items featuring on the short menu were not available. Eh! I had fillet of the captain fish with fries (green beans which I wanted instead of fries were not available) for CFA4,000. I then transferred for a shandy at the Le Pub a few hundred yards along the same avenue. It looked very promising from the outside. Inside, however, was terribly disappointing. It was clear that the owners really had no idea about interior decorations for a bar, never mind for a pub! Right opposite the bar with some wobbly stools with faux-leather cushion tops there was a kebab station, and in the corner right by it, there was, what it seemed, an administrative station. An overdressed mama sat a square table full of papers and files. The other section of the 'pub' had a few square tables arranged as it was a cheap restaurant.
I lasted there only one pint of shandy and thought it was a good idea to leave for the airport. At least three Star Alliance airlines were operating from Douala (SA, LX, ET), so it had to have a business lounge with free coffee, snacks and booze, I thought. And you know what, it had!
Dec 25, 2011 11:00 PM Cameroon - Kribi
In Kribi. Beach time. I took a stroll from the hotel through the marina, the pretty administrative quarter boasting nice colonial architecture, the presidential house at a very nice little beach all the way to the public beach park in the northern part of the town. It was a great and animated place. It was Boxing Day, so everyone was off playing and relaxing on the beach.
I spent an entire day there walking on the beach, snapping people at their request, helping them with their snapping of their friends, watching fishermen, chatting to locals about life, the Universe and everything. One of the young fishermen, whom I snapped before, Eddie, came back to the beach to show how he looked fully dressed in normal clothes. He was 20 years old, had 18 years old girlfriend, who ten months before gave birth to his daughter. He joined me for dinner at the Le Siloé Restaurant, who charged CFA2,500 for a large portion of spaghetti bolognese, CFA4,000 for a brochettes of barracuda, CFA6,000 for prawns, and CFA500 for drinks. The fish was super. The pasta looked great too, but Eddie said he was not sure if he actually liked it.
As this was my last night in Cameroon, I wanted to go out. Yet, the only club in town, the Big Ben, was shut. This however did not stop me party at one of the roadside bars. A table in the wind, predatory women gently scratching my back, messing with my hair, talking dirty to me, a string of strangers sitting down for a while hoping for a free drink. It was a good night!
Dec 24, 2011 11:00 PM Cameroon - Yaounde to Kribi
Yaounde to Kribi. I checked out of the hotel at 9am. Transferred to the gare routiere in Kribi/Douala direction and sat down at the back of a small minibus. It was very cramped there and they were about to load so many people on it and so much cargo that the manufacturer of the vehicle would be astonished. I was concerned having seen a couple of accidents on the road. So, I changed my mind and hired a taxi for CFA50,000.
The road was in great condition, and the driver put his foot down very nicely. For most part of the journey, the speedometer's gauge did not fall below 130km/h.
About three hours later, I was in the rather pretty Kribi. I tried the Hotel du Phare, which I knew was fully booked, but took my chance. The unhelpful receptionist refused to help me. But it took me about a minute to find the Hotel Palm Beach Plus some 200 yards south along the coast, which had many double en-suite rooms available for CFA32,000 per night. It also had greatly located beachfront bar, which must have been the poorest stocked bar in the country. Yet, I stayed there for a few hours watching the people play in the water, play water polo, kick some ball, body surf, all with the background of the setting sun.
Dec 23, 2011 11:00 PM Cameron - Yaounde
Yaounde. I slept in. Massive bed, great view from the balcony. Free breakfast, crisp towels. It was hard to beat that. I booked another night! This meant that I will have only two nights in Kribi.
My friend Oscar arrived at the hotel at about 12:30pm. He went a bit crazy the night before and did not get any sleep. So he wanted to take a shower and chill for a while before taking me to his family; mother, wife and daughter. My presence at the poor quarters of Yaounde caused a bit of a shock at the local community, A working train line passed right through it but it didn't stop people using the track as a pavement.
Between Oscar's mother house and his house, we stopped at his gym. He wanted me to take some photos there. He also called his gym mates so their photos could also be taken. They were very excited actually.
At his house, I met his cute 3 year old girl, who was a little shy, his sister and his wife wearing a polo shirt I gave him before. It was a brief encounter. I took a few shots for him with his daughter and his golden trophies, and he escorted me to my hotel. There was no going out on Christmas Eve. I invited him for a snack in the executive lounge but he declined. I got treated nicely to a variety of fish dishes, cheeses and port wine.
Dec 22, 2011 11:00 PM Cameroon - Foumban to Yaounde
Foumban to Yaounde. Petrol, dinner, partying, and a relatively expensive hotel meant that I had no money left. I needed to change euro again. Yet, there is no official place to change money in Foumban. Fortunately, taxi drivers know about a guy running a cloth shop near the central mosque, who changed euro for slightly lower CFA650 rate.
The large bus, the last one that day, that was leaving at about 11am, took over 7h to reach the capital. I thought that it might take about 4h. I did not provide for frequent checkpoints and a 30 minute pause en route. One of the more vocal passengers, who sat at the very front of the bus refused to stop at police checkpoints, leaned out of the window and shouted at the police officers "No! No! We will not stop. You will not enter. We won't pay!" Extremely loud and angry. It worked every time. Good on him.
I arrived at the capital right after sunset. I was passing near the presidential palace on the hill, which was lit up during the hours of darkness. My fellow traveller told me to take a chance and snap it from this obscure junction with a zoom. As I would not be able to take a picture of it from a different place. It was forbidden to photograph anything to do with the president and government, including bridges, tams, antennae, etc.
I checked at the Hilton Yaounde with no problem. It was about 7pm. It took an hour to go over an insignificant distance within the capital due to impossible traffic caused by aggressive and mindless driving. After shower and complimentary drink and food at the executive lounge, I went up to check the Panoramic Bar on the top floor with great 360 degree view of the city. The presidential palace was also visible in the distance.
It was time to go out properly in Cameroon. Near the Hilton was a street with a few clubs and bars. I first tried Le Pritempts. It was packed but had virtually no spot to shake your body. So after a couple of drinks, I changed the venue. Not far from there.
The Olympic Club and the Djeuga Palace Hotel was a fine place, although lacking adequate air conditioning and charging CFA5,000 for a bottle of beer or coke. I thought it was supposed to be frequented by expats, but there were not that many of them there. Still, the women who managed to get through the door were as predatory with any lighter skin guys as ever.
Dec 21, 2011 11:00 PM Cameroon - Kumbo to Foumban
Kumbo to Foumban. Although my driver insisted that we would need to go all the way back to Bamenda on this terrible road in order to take a turn to Foumban, I kept strongly disagreeing. There was another way, which I remembered from the google maps. I could not prove it, as there was no Internet in Kumbo. But I asked at the hotel and they confirmed my route. So, we only had to travel about half way back on the Ring Road.
Before we left Kumbo, which was the largest town in the highlands, I needed to exchange some money. The tank was just under half full, and I really did not want to run out of petrol in the middle of nowhere. And I had no CFA cash on me. The guidebook suggested that the town was well equipped with banks, yet whomever I asked, they did not know where to change euro to CFA. Some of them, who thought they knew were wrong. I eventually found a bank in the centre of the town, and they changed €200 at the official pegged rate with no questions asked.
The road to Foumban was a little better. It took about 2h to reach the junction from Kumbo and then another 1.5h to Foumban. The hotel, which I chose, the Baba Palace Hotel, on the outskirts of the town, charged from CFA10,000 to CFA40,000. The rooms up to CFA40,000 were no different from one another. The most expensive ones were god size round houses with a large lounge, really large bedroom and sizeable bathroom. But there was no running water, so after all that dirt road running, all I had was a bucket shower. A few actually!
The town itself seemed rather nice and organised. After rinsing the red soil off my entire body (I had to do that several times during my African visits, so I was not surprised), I went to town to see the sultan's palace. It was not too bad, actually. The museum inside was decently maintained, but the guide was really slow. Fortunately his French was clear and he spoke slowly, so I managed to understand most of what he said.
I also liked the market right by the attractive central mosque. People were calm and there was no excessive shouting or arguing. I guess that was due to the late hour of the day. Just before sunset, so the traders must have just been counting their takes and wrapping up, before setting home.
After dinner, I went out. The club was called Le Pritemps. It was not weekend, so the spot was not exactly jumping. They had not bothered to paint the walls so the venue looked extremely rustic, but they played good music and it was safe.
Dec 20, 2011 11:00 PM Cameroon - Bamenda to Kumbo via Bufut
Bufut; Bamenda to Kumbo. Now, the travel books do not quite tell you how bad the Ring Road actually is. It is much worse than impossible, erm... impassable. The small vehicle of mine could hardly make it through.
Well, I started the journey late and made my way to Bufut. It is a seat of the eleventh king of Bufut. The site was well catered for visitors. I left CFA30,000 there. The king's sons worked as guides and musicians. The museum, resurrected by the Germans, who had fought wars with the Bufut, had a number of small rooms packed with giant sculptures representing gods, goddesses, spirits and images of the fon in disguise. The entire compound was extensive and included a massive wooden temple, where the people called upon their ancestors. The visit would not be complete without attending at least the traditional dance by the guys. They dressed in feather suits and donned giant masks and whirled around; one on stilts! The ladies also had a traditional dance, but it was much less spectacular. The dance show was CFA15,000 extra, so it effectively contributed to half of the cost of my visit. I got three postcards for CFA1,500 and the taking pictures was a CFA1,500 surge charge.
Then, time came to brave the Ring Road. From Bamenda to Kumbo, it takes good four hours on the partly tarred, partly dirt road. But the dirt road was an extreme way of travelling. The smaller vehicles kept disappearing from sight in the waves of sands and rocks. When rain falls, those parts are completely impassable, even for robust SUVs.
The views from the road, which the literature reported to be super spectacular, were, to be honest, just below average. There are thousands of much more accessible spots around the world that are seriously better. And many, very many of them can be found in West Africa, including Mali and Burkina Faso. Anyway, it was almost fun to make this trip.
I arrived at the Fomo'92 Hotel minutes before sunset. The lodge was located on one of the many hills of Kumbo and about 20 en-suite rooms, all except two were called 'single' and had comfortable double-size beds. These went for CFA7,500, which was a jolly good value for money. They were small and rather basic. Yet, everything seemed to work; hot water, flat screen TV, door locks. The sheets were clean. White towels, toilet rolls and a minute bar of soap were all provided. The other two rooms were called suits and went for either CFA10,000 or CFA8,500. I did not check them, but apparently they were not much different than all the single rooms. The hotel had its own power generator. And when I visited, they indeed had to use it.
Their restaurant was good. Estelle, the cook, could slap a few basic but yummy dishes within 20 minutes. Be it roast chicken with rice and sauce, or with rustic chips or fried plantains, or grilled fish with the same. These went for CFA3000 or so a piece.
I thought I'd want to check Salsa, the nightclub, but I was so covered in red dust all over, that after shower, I just could not be bothered any more! But two of my local 'bodyguards' did go. They said what it was rather poor and ended up going to BBC, which was more lively, but still rather quiet.
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