A few weeks ago my adventurous parents took a few weeks out of their busy, jet-setting lives to pay me a visit. As excited as I was to see them, I couldn’t help but feel apprehensive about how to make them comfortable while they were here while at the same time giving them a true sense of what my day-to-day life is like. I asked them to write about their experiences to offer a different perspective on what’s now normal in my life. They arrived in Douala and made the trek up to Banwa where we stayed for a few days in my village before meeting my homestay family and then hitting the beach for a few days. There were a few bumps along the way but no one got hurt or contracted a life threatening illness so I would call that a success!
Having been born and raised in a third world country, I’d like to compare Cameroon with my homeland, the Philippines. I’d like to start with the flight from Orlando to Douala, Cameroon, which was 21 hrs total travel time and seemed longer than the average total travel time to Manila of 26 hrs. The airport in Douala is not as nice as the Cebu International Airport. Porters at the airport are like those in the Philippines because once they have touched our luggage they expected us to give them a tip. One guy who acted friendly and was speaking English suggested a tip of $20 even if he didn’t help with our luggage and all he did was talk and talk. Scott gave this guy a tip of $2 which was fair.
The drive from the airport to our hotel at around 2 am was scary to me because I was scared that someone would stop the taxi and rob us as the taxi windows were open due to let in the air. The cab took a lot of side streets through not impressive areas which made me more frightened. I was so thankful to arrive at our hotel with no bad incident from the airport.
While at Douala, we went out to eat breakfast and that was my first time to observe this 2nd largest city in Cameroon. It is like Divisoria and Tondo in Manila. I had to look down most of the time while walking down the streets because of so many open drainage with stagnant dirty water. Traffic is chaotic and a lot of pollution because of motorbikes and mostly old cars. Hotel and food in Douala seemed pricey for the quality.
The 4-hour drive from Douala to Banwa (the village where Katie lives and teaches) in a private car was similar to the drive from Tacloban to MacArthur via Buray 50 yrs ago. There were several check points where the military guards would ask the driver for some papers and maybe money. As passengers, sometimes we had to present our ID cards. The scenery along the way was very tropical as there were lots of banana trees, mango trees, avocado trees, papaya trees, pineapple plants and cassava plants among many others. I also noticed a lot of Catholic churches along the highway in small towns.
In the village of Banwa, it reminded me of GMNAS and SSAC in Eastern Samar due to the red clay. There is really no big store as it was hard to use a 10,000 CFA bill ($20 or 1,000 Php) in any of the stores as no change was available. The stores were also small. The secondary school where Katie teaches was damaged from a storm so floors were flooded and the hard-working students had to clean up first before the start of the class. Classrooms are not as nice as the classrooms I used 50 years ago in Samar. The students in Banwa wear school uniforms which was a pleasing sight. One of the students asked Katie, “Madam, are you going to share with us the food that your parents brought from America?”. This student who asked must have seen us unloading boxes when we first arrived in Banwa.
Scott and I visited the St. Andrew Catholic Church in Banwa and met the priest, Fr. Carlos, who acknowledged us right away as he remembered Katie mentioning to him that her parents were coming to Banwa. I would say this church is much nicer than a church in a barrio in Samar. The everyday mass starts at 5 am because most parishoners go to their farms after church. It also has a school with damaged iron roof.
After 4 days in Banwa, we hired an SUV to take us to Bafoussam which was a 2-hr drive. While passing by a lot of villages and cities, I noticed that the names of most of these places start with a letter B like Banwa, Bafang, Bafoussam and many others that I couldn’t remember but with B as the 1st letter of its name. Cameroon’s favorite letter must be B! I told this to a Filipina I met at the Douala airport as she was from Bamenda. Bafoussam is as busy and maybe as big as Tacloban city in Leyte and hotel was expensive but nicer than hotels in Douala, Cameroon.
In closing, I rate Cameroon as country that still has a lot of development ahead of it and the Philippines as a developing country. Not because I am a Filipina but based on infrastructure, the way residents live, the comforts, safety and conveniences for visiting tourists, that a nation can offer. I can hardly wait the remaining 18 months that Katie has to endure of such a hard way of life. Please help me pray that she will always be healthy, safe and smart.
Here are a few of my observations on our trip to Cameroon. Let me start out with the positive. Cameroon is full of natural beauty, kind and friendly people, and, surprisingly to me, good food (more about that later). I would not recommend Cameroon as a tourist destination except to the hard core traveler. Here’s why:
Even in the larger cities, it seemed dirty, smelly and somewhat dangerous. We did stay in hotels in Douala and Bafoussam that had all of the necessities, but at a fairly high price. By time you get to Katie’s place there are not a lot of the comforts we are used to. Just a warning to family and friends who are thinking to visit her. What I mean is, no running water, no air conditioning, no refrigerator, no shower, no washing machine, plenty of diseases to catch, 45 minutes to the closest grocery store, etc. All the more I admire what our daughter is doing there.
We did have a really good time though, we had plenty of time to visit with Katie, see her village, meet some of her wonderful students and fellow teachers and try some of the local food. The food was very good when we went to eat in the bigger cities, but I was thinking I couldn’t eat the local fare. I was wrong! Even though it seems the local food is not too healthy, I really, really enjoyed the spicy red beans with the local bread (gateau) and beer (Dad was a big 33 fan, see pic). And we had breakfast in one of the local shops which consisted of fried spaghetti/egg omelet (SPAGOM) that was deep fried in oil, yummy. I enjoyed the weather, it was fairly cool with a few hot days mixed in, Katie has a really cool cat named Zoey who seems to love Katie and got rid of her mice problem, and her place was comfortable and reasonably safe. The worst thing there, by far, was the transportation. That 45 minute ride to the nearest store is by motorbike on a one lane dusty dirt road. Katie wanted to make sure we got the real travel experience so she let us ride on a few buses and a thing called a bush taxi (actually a coaster). That’s a euphemism for lets see how many people we can cram in to this oversized van without air conditioning, actually a little scary considering we had 30 peoples luggage on top of the thing and we scraped every speed bump we went over, for four hours after a six hour bus ride. I will never again complain about a cramped airplane seat with a screaming kid sitting behind me. Did I mention the lady almost sitting on my lap was rather large and sweaty, a ride I will not soon forget! Thank you Katie for being a great hostess, your mom and I thoroughly enjoyed out time there and getting to know about your daily life. I hope we can visit you there again.
If any other “hard core travelers” would like to give my parents a run for their money I’ll be here for the next 17 months!