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My first visit to Cameroon was my first contact with Africa, leading to a fascination with the continent that remains unabated. In 1986 I joined a friend who was visiting his father, who lived in the Cameroonian capital, Yaoundé.
I was instantly captivated by the country, not least due to its diversity, and the great contrasts to the way of life I knew. That first trip was certainly eventful. After an excursion to the north of the country I returned to Britain with two types of malaria, blackwater fever and another tropical illness, filariasis. My friend ended up in a Yaoundé hospital, also having contracted malaria and dysentery.
Despite this, the strong force Africa seems to take hold on many people applied with us, and both of us have returned to Africa a number of times.
Inexplicably, Cameroon seldom features on travelers' plans despite the huge wealth of cultural and geographical treasures it possesses. To non-travelers it also remains a little-known country, and indeed the impressive performance of its football team from 1990 onwards, the Lake Nyos tragedy of 1986 (where volcanic toxic gas claimed hundreds of Cameroonian lives) and celebrated makossa musician Manu Dibango are about the only things many people can associate with it.
Much of the year, and during the rainy season especially, there are indeed very few travelers (as most people like to call themselves) or tourists (as others call most travelers). In September, for example, in many areas you may only see one tourist a week, if that.
To enjoy it most, accept that life in Cameroon, as in the whole of Africa, runs at a slower pace than most of us are probably used to. Patience is a massive virtue here. Cameroonians do not pay as much attention to time and punctuality as the typical Westerner, as they feel that one need not be enslaved by a clock. So slow down, and you'll take it all in and enjoy it so much more.
Excerpted from Cameroon, 3rd by Ben West Copyright © 2011 by Ben West. Excerpted by permission.
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