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Phil’s Travels – Yaounde, Cameroon (04.23)


Our project in Cameroon was reaching fever pitch. The designs were all done, the contractors were preparing their bids and the finance was coming together, and in order to facilitate the life of a lender we assembled a due diligence team in Yaounde. My taxi arrived at home at 04.30, by 05.30 I was through a congested security area in T2 (online check-in and hand luggage are a heavenly combination) and our flight left on time at 06.50.

After security, the T2 concourse was quiet, serene and supremely boring. No sign of the cleaner-bot I bumped into last time out. Maybe it had escaped like the one that fled from a Travelodge in Cambridge last year and ended up on the local high street. Being Cambridge, perhaps that was a particularly brainy cleaner-bot and T2’s bot was simply taking a rest. Either way, it got me thinking about the gag I made at our New Year Hotel Investment Summit earlier this year, when I said I hoped Will Smith would still be around to give errant AI a good slapping when it inevitably gets out of control in future. Not so funny was the front cover of The Economist this week, on which the ‘I’ of AI was drawn bearing devil’s horns. 

Brussels Airport was way busier and much more stimulating at 09.00 than the most boring terminal in the world. Having been through Brussels before en route to Africa, I remembered the ‘Africa’ Terminal protocol and had a quick breakfast prior to taking the shuttle to this alternate universe (a far flung wingtip of a place, away from the other passengers and an extremely underprivileged space – nearly as boring as T2, but with fewer shops and refreshment options). Belgian colonial heritage in Congo always comes to mind when I pass through such segregation (I cannot think of another airport with such protocols).

That said, the plane was wonderful and staff attentive. I even napped for an hour. C19 testing was still in place at Yaounde Airport and such nasal explorations made for a long old process to enter the nation (further lengthened by the glacial visa-on-arrival process, even though I was first in line). I stayed at the same hotel I frequented on my very first trip to Cameroon. Despite not having been improved since (the shower was still perfectly designed to channel its water around the top of the bathtub, onto the bathroom floor and out into the bedroom), I was very happy to be given a pool-view room. These are much quieter (street-view rooms suffer from either night club related noise in one wing or rowdy music from the bar/restaurant/dancing venue over the road in the other) and offer an interesting vista over the city (photo below).

The hotel used to have a very useful lobby boutique, selling toothpaste and the like for forgetful travellers, such as yours truly on one of my previous visits. This trip, the boutique was gone and so too the colourful arts and crafts display cases. All casualties of C19 presumably. Food service was still painfully Cameroon-slow, but fare was tasty (gambas, naturally). The bar had run out of those delicious mini-sized peanuts (shame), so we had an early dinner (inside as the mosquitoes were out and about in squadrons come nightfall and for such a short trip I could not be bothered with the whole malaria tablets rigmarole).

My two days in town were stuffed with DD meetings and we persevered despite dodgy WIFI, covering all the ground necessary. As we were stuck indoors all day, we missed the intermittent rain bursts, but I could not ignore the serious power shower one night at 02.00 (cyclone levels of rain). It was tough falling asleep again though, what with the vibrations coming up through the frame of the hotel structure to my 6th floor room generated by the bouncing and ever popular night club in the basement.

I had to leave Cameroon early (other business commitments back in the UK this week) and left the rest of the team to enjoy the thrills of Douala. The drive to Yaounde Airport was quick, the new highway really works and avoids the previous saga of driving through suburban villages and enduring their pitted roads with potholes the size of the Laurentian Abyss. Yaounde Airport is quite spacious and the departure procedure very efficient and quick if you check-in online and have hand-luggage only. The business lounge was large, but sparse on its F&B and its WC was not state-of-the-art (no paper, no soap and no dryer). I did not dare venture into the regular facilities.

The flight to Brussels was comfortable and on time and many thanks to the amazing ladies of Brussels Airlines for their very thoughtful gift, which, unfortunately, I had to empty at security in the Connections centre (pity, as it was lovely stuff), but everyone was pleasant about it and I passed with the remainder. Brussels at 05.00 was busier and still more interesting than T2 in full swing. WCs? Excellent. Lots of paper, soap and dryers.

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