working up to Plan Z: our return to Cameroon

Some stories are best told starting from the end.  Like how we got “home” from our vacation. 

Hold on, did you know we’d gone on vacation?  For the month of July, we travelled around Kenya and Tanzania – looking for a change of scenery from our Africa experience.  We will share some highlights in the coming weeks as Greg gets pictures ready to share. 

Plan A (or the original plan)

A “simple” trip.  We were scheduled to return to Cameroon on August 2nd, spend a day in Yaoundé, then take the train/bus to Maroua the following day.  Then back to work.  Does Plan A ever work? Here’s how it actually went…

Plan B

The night before the flight from Nairobi (Kenya) to Yaoundé (Cameroon), Greg called the airline.

Greg:  I would like to confirm our flight for tomorrow, Monday, at 7:40am.

Agent:  There is no flight tomorrow.

Greg: Er… excuse me?

Agent: You are booked on Tuesday’s flight.

Greg: My ticket says Monday.

Agent: No, it doesn’t.  It says Tuesday.

Greg: I am reading Monday on my paper ticket so was there a change?

Agent: No, it is on Tuesday.

Plan C

8AM next morning: we pop into the airline’s customer relations office and practiced a bit of patience. 

10AM: a staff member, who admitted this was not her normal job, decided to help.

She booked us into one of Nairobi’s fanciest hotels, with meals provided, forcing us into an extra day of vacation.

Caroline:  Oh, such a hardship!

Greg: I think I will go to the pool now, then the sauna.

Relax, they said.  The hotel promised a wake-up call at 6, breakfast at 6:30 and a shuttle to the airport at 7.  Flight at 9:20.  A little tight, but doable.

Plan D

Come morning, no wake-up call, but we’re up anyway.  We rush through our last Kenyan breakfast, and run to the lobby to catch the airport shuttle.  Only it has left already!  Other guests at the hotel took it.

Doorman: There will be another shuttle.

Caroline: When is the next shuttle coming?

Doorman: Just sit and relax for 10 or 15 minutes.  It’s no problem.

Doorman:  Just go and sit.  Trust me.

Caroline:  Could you please call and confirm the shuttle?

Doorman:  Just go relax.  I will call in 10 minutes. Trust me.

Trust issues aside, the doorman did not call the shuttle for 20 minutes, at which point we were told it would be another 10 “Kenyan” minutes before a shuttle would arrive.  With Nairobi’s notorious traffic, the airport between 15 to 45 minutes away, we are now under the 2-hour flight check-in window.

Plan E

Having pleaded with the staff at the hotel for a shuttle, we then lose patience and ask them to flag us a taxi.  The hotel’s driver comes around and they load our luggage in.  We hop in the back.

Driver: You do know that we charge 40USD to the airport, right?

Out of the car we get. 

Plan F

We lug our baggage to the edge of the hotel parking lot to the waiting city taxis and negotiate less than half the price of the hotel’s car.  We explain to the driver that we are a in a hurry to get to the airport.  He says he understands.

However, in true “Amazing Race” fashion, halfway to the airport he pulls into a gas station to refill!  We look at each other.  Oh, yeah… this is an interesting morning.

Flight to Yaoundé goes by without a hitch – even without our customary pre-boarding cup of java/tea.  A nice flight.  We take a little nap.  We know we’ll need some rest since, having spend an extra day in Nairobi, we’ll go straight to Yaoundé’s train station for the 30+ hour trip to Maroua.

Plan G

Oh, wait…

VSO Office Staff: We tried and tried, but couldn’t get you train tickets for today. 

Greg and Caroline: When can we take the train?

VSO Office Staff: Lots of people are travelling. Tuesday’s today.  If we are successful, you’ll get tickets for Saturday at the earliest.

Greg and Caroline: Oh…

Plan H

Luckily, everyone at VSO was in a good creative problem-solving mood.  A new strategy was hatched in the matter of minutes:  spend the night in Yaoundé, then take the first flight in the morning to Garoua, then hop on the bus to Maroua and be home at the same time as though we had taken the train the day before!  Costs about the same as staying in a hotel for 3-4 nights, plus meals and everything else.

Airline tickets purchased, hotel booked – everything back on track.

Plan I

At the airport.  Why are people asking us if we are going to D’jamena (Tchad)?

We take another look at the plane ticket. Yaoundé to Garoua   No problem there… but why a 3 hour flight?   Shouldn’t it be more like 1 hour or so?

Lightbulb moment.  Flight is indeed going to Garoua, but is stopping in D’jamena first.  Wow! A stop over in a foreign country?  Alas no stamp in our passports to prove it. 

Plan J

We arrive in Garoua to a heat we had forgotten.  Our sweat glands felt refreshed and eager to get to work.  It is nice to sweat again.  Something about it feels right. 

Off to the very busy bus station.

Baggage handler: The bus to Maroua isn’t here yet.  It is late.

Caroline: [mischievous] Did it get lost on the way?

Baggage handler: [chuckle chuckle] Must have. Next bus is 2 or 3 hours from now.  At least.

Plan K

The first bus to leave is all booked.  The second is probably full too.  Might need to wait more than 3 hours for the third bus.

Baggage handler: I could get you one the first bus.

Greg:  That would be nice.

Baggage handler:  What will you give me?

Plan L

Another option opens up.  A private company vehicle is immediately going to Maroua and the driver is looking for “company”.  He’ll charge us the same price as the bus. 

We deliberate.  This has to be against VSO policy.  Plus there are coupeur de route (highway robbers) to contend with.  Big bus is safer. 

We know we are travel weary, but it’s not a good idea.  We’ll wait for the bus.

Plan M

We wait.

Surprise, the big bus arrives. Names are called for who gets on the bus.  Can’t hear ours called.  We guess it means a long wait.

Then our friendly baggage handler arrives:  “Here are your tickets.  You are on the bus.  You leave now.  What about my “juice”?

No room for idealism about anti-corruption at the bus station.  We’ll deal with our consciences later.

Plan N

Bags are loaded.  Bus is indeed very full.  Seats that should hold 3 people are seating 5 – moms hold babies and toddlers on laps.  Greg looks for 2 seats together – somewhat bemoaning how Kenya’s buses had reserved seats.  None are available and no one is willing to switch seats so we can sit together.  The only two seats open have a little briefcase spread across them.  No one is about.  We follow Cameroonian accepted practice and move the briefcase.

Man with the briefcase:  That was my seat.

Greg: But you weren’t here and we need two seats together.

Man with the briefcase: That was my seat.

Caroline:  Perhaps you can help us find two other seats together then?

Man with the briefcase: That is very difficult.

Caroline: Yes, that appears to be our problem.

Security Guard: Sir, you are alone.  Please go find another seat.

Three hours later, the bus pulled into a Maroua, while familiar, spread liberally with much more greenery than we had left it.  An uneventful and quick taxi ride back to the house.  Our travels completed for now.  Must rest – we’ll have to make the trip again very soon enough.

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~ by Caroline Spira on August 5, 2010.

One Response to “working up to Plan Z: our return to Cameroon”

  1. This is wonderful, you could be in Sri Lanka. I had a similar experience when in Senegal. Got to the airport and told we no longer had seats because some Senagalese needed them..needless to say I had a good old fashioned american temper tantrum and we got our seats back! Welcome home.

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