Friday, October 25, 2013

Seeing as how she is young, unattached, ambitious and adventurous, I have taken the liberty of making CakePop my Travel Editor. As an intern for the Africa Travel Association, CakePop recently returned from a business trip to Cameroon, West Africa. While there she encountered many interesting traditions, infrastructures, people and foods. I asked her to give you Yummies a full account of the charm and challenges embodied in this developing country.

Hang on to your plates!

Guest Post by CakePop
 Mount Cameroon

Cameroon.  I had little to no background information on the country and what it had to offer. After doing a lot of research on the tourism board and attractions of the country, I found a lot on soccer and the big cities of Yaounde: the capital and Douala. I had not heard much about Buea, where I would be staying. I had no idea what to expect and what unfolded on this adventure would end up being an experience I would never forget.

We flew over the golden Sahara desert, which gave way to deep green forestry of West Africa and landed safely and in style at the Douala Airport. In a haze of jet-lag and adrenaline we boarded our bus and began our treacherous journey from Douala to Buea. As the sun set behind the rising majesty of Mount Cameroon in the distance, the full moon began to shine through. Night fell as we drifted in and out of villages. There was no light between towns except the eerie glow of the moon and the lightning storm over Yaounde in the distance.

I peeked into the lives of Cameroonians outside our dusty bus windows. Houses were made into homes despite the lack of walls and the wandering chickens, dogs and other wildlife. The sights left little to be desired but the intoxicating smell of roadside barbeque, fresh fruit and homemade bread accompanied by sights of cold beer and soccer games on TV at the local bars made me realize that maybe walls are not a priority for making a home in Cameroon.  Rather great food, warm hospitality, friendship and family made a house a home.
Village of Buea
Once we arrived at our hotel after a very bumpy ride we were shown to our rooms. My colleague’s room contained the luggage and personal effects of another guest, which we had to ask the hotel staff to remove. Luckily my room was empty of luggage, insects and other things that one worries to find in an African hotel. In fact, it was very clean and well put together. All but the bathroom. I will not go into detail here but let’s just say we yet again had to repeatedly ask the friendly hotel staff to take care of that situation.

On that note, let’s move on to the dining room. There seems to be a lot of protocol in Cameroon. Even if you are surrounded by accommodating staff, they’ll tell you that they are only responsible for certain things and that many of the staff in the dining room do not take orders but relay the wish for orders to be taken to one man who is not only the sole waiter but the sole chef.

Two fish took two hours to prepare. Luckily enough the staff realized their Cameroonian service was not going to work with this particular crowd of clientele and a lunch buffet was served during the remainder of our stay.

Once the food did arrive I was pleasantly surprised by the delicious meal provided. I ate mainly fish and plantains because they were some of the few dishes I trusted my stomach to digest properly.

The fish was exquisite. Every fish I had in Cameroon, especially the fish that had been grilled and smoked over open flames, was the freshest, juiciest, softest and most delicious fish I have ever had in my life.

Mealtime traditions are a big part of Cameroonian culture. One is not allowed to eat before the Ministers. When we arrived at the Hotel Fini in Limbe after a long day of exploring the wildlife centre and botanical gardens, hundreds of delegates were tired, hungry and ready to eat. The food was hot and ready to serve. The delegates were waiting to be fed and the ministers were nowhere to be found.

I turned to a fellow co-worker after a few glasses of wine and asked where the minsters were. He then tells me they are in a meeting. I glance at the food, glance at the large and bustling room of increasingly hungry and restless delegates, and glance back at him. “I’m going in. Cover me."

I snuck up to the buffet. As I realized that I had not been discovered, I reached for a knife and when it barely touched the wrapping an anxious young server came storming over waving his hands furiously and yelling to me in French. “Madam! Madam! You can’t! You can’t!” I then replied in Americanized broken French “Why not? Why not? We are all hungry and the food is getting spoiled.” He then told me that we had to wait for the Ministers. I then told him their time was up. I had started a revolution.  The delegates from Israel joined me in my crusade for dinner as did some other media delegates from America and Africa.
A full plate from the buffet included spiraled cassava root, fried plantains, curried chicken and fish and spinach mash.

As we ambushed this unfortunate young server I told him that maybe he should go get the ministers and tell them we are all hungry and ready to eat. He did and the minsters arrived. We had all calmed down but still had to wait for the minsters to get their food, before every man got what they could of the delicious buffet.  And people wonder why there are problems of hunger in Africa.

Once you managed to eat the food was delicious. My go-to meal was the avocado salad served with thinly sliced onions and a sprinkle of lemon juice.
Avocado, onion and lemon salad

Next, the “El Capitain” a thin filet of sole served with lemon herbed butter and fried plantains. Delicious, delicate and satisfying, the fish and avocado salad were complimented nicely with the country beverage of grapefruit soda.
El Capitan dish of sole and plantains
These dishes energized us for our country excursions to the Limbe Wildlife Centre and Botanical Gardens, Bimbia Slave Port and the Tole Tea Factory, all of which left lasting impressions as did the magnificent views of the towering Mount Cameroon with our hotel settled safely at its base.  

At the Botanical Gardens we found some culinary wonders: a sour tasting fruit that littered the ground and smelled strongly of chocolate.
Sour Fruit
The Tole Tea Factory invited us to explore the entire tea making process, from plucking to drying and grinding to packaging. The smell of the tea both calmed and energized the visiting delegates. At the end of the tour, we were all greeted with hot cups of the finished product and animal crackers.
 Freshly grown tea leaves

 Harvested tea leaves

Dried tea leaves

The final product

It was refreshing and a beautiful reminder of the wonderful culinary potential and hospitality that Cameroon, West Africa has to offer. I hope more people choose to experience the beauty and wonders that I encountered on my unforgettable and delicious stay in Cameroon.
Cameroon Sky

Picture permissions courtesy of CakePop and the Africa Travel Association (ATA)



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