I finally made it to Cameroon!
I tried to come here in 2022, but the visa application process was so Byzantine and expensive that I gave up. Then, lo and behold, in April 2023, Cameroon instituted an e-visa program. I uploaded a copy of my passport, my confirmed flights and hotel reservations, and my yellow fever vaccination record. Seventy-two hours later, I received my e-visa by email. Spending only five days in Cameroon, I qualified for a transit visa — for free!
Working with just five days, this adventure was going to be a quick “in and out” visit. I flew into Douala, Cameroon’s largest city and primary seaport. From there, I went inland by train to Yaoundé, Cameroon’s capital. Then, I took the train back to Douala and returned by air to Uganda, my current “home base.”
In Douala, I learned first-hand about coastal Cameroon’s three seasons. There’s the Dry Season, when it only rains a couple of times a week; the Wet Season, when it rains every day; and the Rainy Season, when it rains continuously. Averaging 3.6 meters of rain per year, Douala is one of the wettest places in Africa. Although July is the start of the Rainy Season, the gloomy weather doesn’t prevent Doualans from going about their business and smiling at strangers.
In the video clip above, and the subsequent one below, the sound track is the work of a native of Douala and Cameroon’s most famous musician, Manu Dibango. Manu was a songwriter and a saxophone player who fused jazz, funk and traditional Cameroonian music. His career spanned almost 60 years from the early 60’s until his death by Covid in 2020.
On my first night in Douala, it rained … a lot! By morning, here’s what the street outside my hotel looked like. My driver took off his shoes and waded out to the hotel’s shuttle van. Fortunately, the engine started and the van backed up to the hotel steps where I jumped in. As we plowed through flooded boulevards towards the train station, I wondered how low-lying Douala will fare with rising sea levels.
From Douala to Yaoundé is 240 kilometers. CamRail’s Express train does this trip in five hours, with five intermediate stops. This was a comfortable and leisurely way to see a lot of Cameroon for just $12 each way, first class. (The local train takes more than eight hours for the same journey because it stops at every station.) The video above condenses my train trip down to four minutes, accompanied by Manu Dibango’s most famous piece Makossa.
Here’s the first class car on Express Train #185.
Built in the 1930’s, this 5000 m2 mansion was originally the residence of the colonial French governor. From 1961 until 2001, the president of Cameroon lived here. Today, the museum’s 30 rooms house temporary exhibits by Cameroonian artists and permanent displays of the nation’s history and culture.
Yaoundé’s Reunification Monument memorializes the merging of British and French Cameroon in the 1970’s. Perched on a hilltop, this iconic monument provides a panoramic view of Yaoundé.
As I walked around Yaoundé on a Saturday afternoon, there were weddings spilling out of all the big churches. Naturally, I crashed a wedding or two and took photos of the well-dressed families.
Throughout my visit to Cameroon, I was treated to an amusing case of mistaken identity. Zoa happens to be a prominent family name in Cameroon. There’s even an historic town near Yaoundé named Zoa. Every time I showed my passport, I was asked if I was Cameroonian. At my pre-booked hotels, the staff assumed I was a priest, football player or VIP. The hotel receptionists were startled when I claimed a reservation under my name. Although I admitted I wasn’t Cameroonian, I still received free VIP hotel upgrades more than once.
A quick google search confirms that the name Zoa appears frequently in Cameroon.
- Monsignor Jean Zoa, Archbishop of Yaoundé (1961-1998), eradicated leprosy from Cameroon
- Bishop Christophe Zoa, President of the Episcopal Conference of Cameroon
- Jacques Zoua: Captain of the Indomitable Lions, Cameroon’s national football team
- Julien Souga Zoa, plays forward for the Wasquehal football team in France
- Luc Owona Zoa, played for the Orlando Pirates and the Russian Premier League in Moscow
- Mireille Zoa, PhD, Expert on sustainable forestry at the Center for International Forestry Research
- Eric Valery Zoa, Managing Director Atlantic Bank Cameroon
- Michel Armand Zoa, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development
- Thierry Zoa, Head of Institutional Banking at United Bank for Africa
- Engelbert Zoa Etundi, Cameroon’s Representative to the International Civil Aviation Organization
Cameroon has only recently opened up to tourism. The infrastructure is primitive. There are few tourists. Yet, because I was so welcomed in Cameroon, I felt at home even though this is a very alien culture. I’m reminded once again of the importance of getting out of my comfort zone and going to places I know nothing about. I’ll never know what someplace is like — or what will happen — until I’ve been there. I’d be bored if life was predicable. I prefer surprises … and Cameroon was a good one.
I now have 13 un-visited countries left on this planet. On to the next adventure!