I am Chuck Cavanaugh of Boise, Idaho, USA, and I made this whole big website for my friend African artist Angu Walters. These travel photos are not copyrighted. I don’t mind if you use them.
Here is a brief overview:
We are in constant communication – most often Facebook Messenger – but we have only ever met the one time, way back in 2007. It was a chance encounter and then one thing led to another. Now, I am retired and I help to sustain Angu and his family through worldwide art sales. *I wire all the money from sales to the artist. I don’t keep anything, but my walls are fabulous!
This is the travel journal of my 2007 visit to Cameroon and Kenya.
*In a nutshell.. I went to visit my American diplomat friend, Rob Heater, in Cameroon and we went on a road trip throughout much of the country. Leaving the hotel in the city of Bamenda we noticed some remarkable paintings displayed in the lobby. We looked on the back and found the artist’s phone number. He was just across town!
I like to say that entering Angu Walters’ studio was like discovering Merlin’s cave. An abundance of treasure in a most unlikely place (on account of the poverty).
We each bought one painting and we both liked Angu very much. Such a big smile. So cheerful.
Rob and Angu stayed in touch and pretty soon Angu dropped off a bunch of paintings to be offered for sale to the various numerous travelers whom Rob met in the course of his duties. That went really well, so when Rob got transferred to Korea Angu handed him a big roll of paintings to go on selling. Rob passed them to me, and I made the website, and here we all are.
As paintings sell, Angu refreshes my supply so I have dozens of African paintings mailed from the USA.
Chicago, USA : January 16, 2007
“Take me to Africa!”
That’s what I said at the airport check in. I like saying that. Maybe I should say it more often.
I’m in Chicago, in transit from Las Vegas to Cameroon, by way of London and Nairobi. The total travel distance is well over 10,000 miles. My British Air flight doesn’t connect very well with the only flight from Nairobi to Douala, Cameroon so I’m going to spend a little less than one day on the ground in Nairobi before my Kenya Airways flight across Africa’s middle. After three weeks in Cameroon I’ll return to Nairobi and stay at Mount Kenya for another three weeks before going back home to Las Vegas.
I’m visiting friends in each country. Why else would I be going to “the most disease-ridden place on the planet?” The doctor at the county public health office was speaking of Cameroon when he asked me about that. He has immunized me against Yellow Fever, Hepatitis A and B, Tetanus, and Typhoid. I’ll start taking daily Malaria pills when I reach Cameroon. But he told me they’ve got lots of diseases that don’t even have names yet.
Speculation about how I am most likely to die on this trip has been rampant for weeks. Besides the diseases, there’s also that situation over on Kenya’s border with Somalia. The Somali government is being propped up by Ethiopia and together they’re driving out the radical Muslims. It’s a little disturbing that they’re driving them in the direction of Kenya. So now Kenya’s military has mobilized to defend the border and keep the Muslims radicals out. Maybe they’re doing a magnificent job. Maybe they’re not. All I know is the Somali border is only a little over 200 miles away from Mt. Kenya. So I might get beheaded on CNN – if I’m still healthy enough.
There’s a [now expired] urgent travel advisory on the U.S. State Dept. web site regarding Kenya. Seems that crime is totally out of control in Nairobi. So maybe I won’t even live long enough to worry about getting sick or taken hostage!
But there’s good news too. When I get to Cameroon, I’ll be the guest of my friend Rob at the U.S. Embassy. Rob looks after America’s business in the city of Douala. I’m sort of a guest of the Embassy. That is probably good, right?
And when I get back to Kenya then I’ll be the guest of my friend Iris at the Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy. She’s been there for about 35 years. Iris doesn’t have status as a diplomat but she sure has lots of experience with Africa’s ways.
I am in good hands in Africa! And as an added bonus, Iris has arranged a driver and a hotel for me during my overnight in Nairobi. Somebody is at the Nairobi airport holding a sign with my name.
It’s an overnight flight to London so there won’t be anything to see. But London-Nairobi is an all-day flight. I’ll get to see Europe and the Sahara Desert from the air from my window seat! So I must try to sleep on the way to Heathrow.
London, UK : January 17
I won the British (Airways) Lottery!
The flight was only about 1/3 filled overnight to London so I got three seats all to myself. I arrived all rested and refreshed. It was glorious. It’s early morning in London and I feel like I might stay up all day easily.
The flight to Nairobi leaves in a couple of hours, and then I arrive at 9:20pm after gaining another three hours. 11 hours time difference from Las Vegas. The far side of the planet.
Swiss Alps : January 17, 2007
Lightening doesn’t strike twice
My 747 is filled to the rafters with a very diverse set of passengers.
We flew over top of some unremarkable English and French clouds earlier but now we’re in the Alps. Oh! This view of the mountains is fantastic! And it comes complete with scattered picturesque mountain villages. At some point, these become the Italian Alps, which are just as good. Only I can’t help thinking that probably there ought to be more snow here in January. Global warming?
On out over the Mediterranean. There’s still too much cloud cover to fully appreciate the famous shoreline. Rome is a little ways off to our left. I’m looking right and we pass Malta. I sure do appreciate these GPS locater displays. How else would I know with confidence that I’m looking down at Libya? Sudan is next. Creepy country. By now the sun is setting and there isn’t really anything at all to see. But now I can say that I’ve sort of been to Sudan. Yikes!
The sunset is a fiery red in the direction of what my GPS display informs me are the Darfur Mountains. Hell on Earth is just a little ways over in that direction.
[NOTE: Little did I know.. my diplomat friend gets posted next to Korea but then next after that he gets assigned to creepy Sudan! American civilians are not allowed to visit war-torn Sudan so this is as close as I’ll ever get.]
Nairobi, Kenya : January 17, 2007
I didn’t stay awake all day after all
Never seriously thought that I might. I’ve been napping on and off all through the 4000 mile flight. There are some big fires burning in ‘the bush.’ From up high and in darkness, they look like lines or circles of orange light. Not much else going on in the way of a nighttime view. I’m asleep again when we slam into Kenya and I let out an involuntary YELP. The Americans next to me laugh and I’m embarrassed. It really was a hard landing though.
I think the airport is better than I expected. In Johannesburg we had to walk down the stairs onto the tarmac, which is fine for a presidential photo-op but is a little retro for the rest of us. Here, we got the usual sort of entry directly into the airport. First stop, buying my visa.
Most peculiar system. I pay $20 for a transit visa this time. I’ll pay $50 when I come back. There doesn’t seem to be any point to these exercises other than to generate revenue. And the money is just scattered all over the guy’s desk. I might have thought that all this money could have bought at least a cash drawer. Visas can only be paid in U.S. dollars. With Bush working so hard at crashing it, I can’t help thinking they might have to switch over to Euros before long.
It takes a while for a filled-up 747 to disgorge all its luggage so it’s not very soon before my bag appears. Interestingly, there are large glass windows between us and the workers who are taking apart the big containers and transferring the bags onto the belts. I consider that there is probably a direct correlation between this glass and the fact that my bag shows up with everything intact. (In Johannesburg, the unions have successfully had the cameras and other security devices shut down, with the result that much baggage is now stolen.)
First stop, the little banking station. The teller is behind glass, and eating his dinner. I pass him $60 and he passes me me five notes with the number 1000 on them, plus a couple of coins.
I walk out with my bag and nobody bothers me to match it up with my claim ticket. Security here seems mostly to be a matter of keeping the mob outside from entering the luggage area. Mob is a harsh word and there are a lot of arriving passengers on this flight. But still I can’t help being disappointed that there is a veritable SEA of signs with people’s names on them! I’m dazzled and it takes me a moment to decide to go at this systematically from one side to the other to find my name.
My driver is a woman with an easy laugh and passable English. She takes me outside and tells me to wait while she goes for the car. I notice a sign that urges arriving passengers to take an official taxi (“for your convenience and safety”). Who knows what the unofficial taxi drivers are up to. Several times I’m invited to get into one of the cabs but I decline. Thieves or not, they’re all very pleasant.
Nothing very much to see on the way in. My driver’s name is Pauline and she tells me she owns this car with a partner and, between them, they drive it 24 hours a day – all day, every day. I’m impressed! I ask if she would like to bring me back to the airport tomorrow, and she says yes.
My hotel looks all right. It’s got a restaurant. The place is not at all scary, and not lavish either. It’s just exactly right. Before she takes my bags from the trunk, the driver hands me a large envelope with my name. Iris has left me something.
I notice that Pauline’s car has a cell phone number printed on the side, and I ask her if she’s got a card. No card. She’ll write it on my envelope. That works. And there is a room for me, which Iris has paid in advance. The driver takes note of my room number and we agree that she will be back for me at 5pm. All set.
While I’m filling in the registration card a very pretty girl in a frilly party dress strikes up a conversation with me. I can be so slow at times but I do catch on, even if a bit late, and then my registration card begins to demand my undivided attention. Finally, she leaves, but in doing so she sort of twirls so that her dress brushes my hand. I am much too involved with my hotel registration to look up.
Inside my room (alone) I dig out my converter plug – British to U.S. – and turn on my laptop. No Internet. I’m sure the hotel’s web site mentioned Internet. I call the desk and they tell me that it’s off for the night. “It will be turned on again at 8am.” There has been very little strangeness up to now so this wins the prize as the strangest Kenyan thing so far. Why in the world would they want the Internet to be shut off at night???
My package from Iris contains a personal welcome letter, a Globetrotter series guide to Kenya, a small book How to be a Kenyan, a magazine called TN – Travel News from East Africa, and a road map of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.
I open my patio door, which faces the back. It’s about midnight here and I listen to peculiar jungle-ish noises. I’ll see about that in the morning. I make sure my patio door is shut tightly and locked.
Looking at the city, I say to her that I regret not having read more about Kenya before coming here, but I’ve been so busy working. She tells me that things are good in Kenya, no complaints. The government is doing a good job. Wow! Maybe she is kidding but she seems sincere… but then she mentions the police sometimes arrest people for no reason. Then I suddenly remember what is the biggest news from Kenya. Barack Obama. She laughs and recalls his visit here last year. The junior senator from Illinois is treated as a rock star in Kenya, reported the New York Times, and Pauline’s reaction to hearing his name seems to bear that out.
I shower and get into bed. It’s been a long time since I was able to do either of these.
Nairobi, Kenya : January 18, 2007
Breakfast in Nairobi
I wake up at 5am local time (It’s 6pm the night before in Las Vegas). Too early for Internet. Too early for sunlight. African birds are going nuts in the trees outside. I feel all rested and refreshed – again. We’ll see if the energy and wakefulness lasts a bit longer this time.
The restaurant is very cozy. I like it a lot. I’m the first in for the buffet. It’s got a veranda on three sides and has some kind of openings in the roof so that I can hear the sound of the birds with full force. I comment and the maître d’ seems to apologize for them. LOL. It wasn’t a complaint!
I think of my last African buffet, at Sun City in South Africa, and I wonder if we’re in any danger here of being overrun by hungry monkeys.
Seems that breakfast is included free with my room. So I leave a 100-whatsit note, as a tip. I have no idea if that’s too much or too little. (Surely it must be one or the other.)
On the way back to my room there is a lizard walking along the wall. Fine, just as long as there are no snakes!
I think I should probably just stay in the hotel all day and catch up on little bits of work, in between naps. I wish they would hurry up and turn on the Internet!!! And I’m expecting calls from both Iris and Rob. I feel like another nap now.
She is down in Mombasa on the Indian Ocean today. She’s much closer to Somalia than me and all is quiet. I’m to be comforted knowing that the Somali Muslims are not causing very much trouble anyplace in Kenya and I am unlikely to be murdered on CNN. I’m not actually worried about that, just amused that my friends are fighting over how to divide my travel insurance payout when I’m dead.
Iris says she only wants to inherit this journal, which is fine. Iris also reports that there being an international conference going on this weekend in Nairobi, the police will have deployed extra undercover police. This causes the criminals to back off for a few days and so I will probably make it out of the country safely.
And Iris urges me to get to the airport in plenty of time because Kenya Airways is notorious for deliberately overbooking. Nairobi traffic at 5pm is likewise notorious and if I’m late then I’ll be out of luck.
So, first I call Pauline. The operator must place this call for me so I do it from the lobby. I ask her to come at 4:30 instead of 5:00 and she agrees …I’m pretty sure. It’s difficult to understand her clearly. Then I call the airline and they tell me I need to be there not two hours early but three hours early. So now I need to call Pauline again. I ask the nice lady at the hotel lobby to please talk to her, figuring they’ll speak in Swahili or something and it will go more easily. But they speak English.
Only now they’re abruptly disconnected. The clerk says, “Pauline hung up on me! I wonder why she did that.” I laugh and say, “Well, it’s a cell phone. I think she was just cut off. This happens to me all the time in Las Vegas and I’m not surprised there, so I’m sure not surprised here.” Pauline calls back, and gets cut off again. The clerk insists, “She hung up again.” Whatever.
Maybe I’ll just take the hotel’s own taxi – but somebody needs to tell Pauline not to come in that case. She waited for me 45 minutes at the airport last night. I’d rather go with Pauline. Three hours early for a flight is just ridiculous.
At lunch I’m seated near a couple that’s in a room across the hall from me. He looks Dutch. She looks Kenyan. I imagine him to be a retired mercenary or hit-man on the run from Interpol, and she is his sex slave. Something rough about them both, and not quite right. And some exceptionally well-dressed Kenyan men – either businessmen or government officials; and probably corrupt in either case. Maybe this is an underworld hangout …or maybe I’m just influenced by the Jeffrey Archer novel I’m reading at lunch.
I end up taking a hotel cab to the airport, after my hotel clerk finally is successfully able to speak to Pauline. I notice there are no stoplights, and barely any discernable order to the movement of vehicles and pedestrians. Seems to me that stoplights would help matters but my driver seems to think this is fine the way it is. He points out the national capitol building on our left and the very nice Uhuru Park on our right. He tells me that ‘uhuru’ means ‘freedom’ in Swahili.
At the airport, Kenya Airways annoys me further by requiring me to check both my suitcase and my duffle bag. Up to now, I at least had a few things in the duffle bag in case of any mishap (lost or stolen luggage). Now I’ve got nothing but my laptop.
Nairobi, Kenya : January 18, 2007
Nairobi Airport Blues
[NOTE: This is the first of several times I’ll spend hours wandering and waiting in this airport. After passing through here ten times, I do not love this airport.
However, I felt just so sad and sick when a lot of the Nairobi Airport burned in 2013.]
The international arrival and departure units were completely destroyed in the fire. This airport is the major hub for all of East Africa.
k up from my book as a flight arrives and there is Archbishop Desmond Tutu with a small entourage. We nod at each other and smile. I never actually liked this guy but it’s still a pretty cool thing to look up and, surprise, here is a Nobel Peace Prize winner. I could boil down my issues with him to just a few questions, but it doesn’t seem quite the right time to ask them of him.
Tutu has got some explaining to do, concerning his simplistic view of Apartheid as pure evil and the ANC as pure good – ignoring the fact that all during Apartheid black people were fleeing black governments to get into South Africa while those same black governments fancied themselves the ‘front line states’ standing up to the pure evil that Apartheid is purported to be.
I can’t find a sign displaying gate assignments so about an hour before the flight I ask at the Kenya Airways counter for my departure gate. Gate 4. At Gate 4 they’re actually leaving to Zanzibar and Dar Es Salaam and I’m told that I belong at Gate 9. At Gate 9 I need to do the whole metal detector thing in order to enter the waiting area. I guess they’re not very confident about being able to secure the airport as a whole so they do each set of passengers as they board.
Only as soon as I’m inside secure waiting area, they announce that the flight will now depart Gate 4 after all. Sigh. When I go back to Las Vegas, maybe I should wear metal-free slippers, and do without my belt, and give away all my coins to beggars. I’m getting tired of dealing with metal detectors.
Douala, Cameroon : January 19, 2007
First in Line VIP
I normally don’t stand up until the movement of traffic in the aisle has allowed me to actually begin to move but I realize this is an exceptional situation because I’m in the very front of the economy class and the business class in front is near empty and most of these people are not getting off here. So I can be first!
Leading all the other passengers, I walk down the ramp to the tarmac and I’ve already got a bad feeling. It’s dark and dingy and very un-airport-like. I’m directed to walk under an overhang and up some steps into a building that looks like a long-abandoned dilapidated warehouse which only days earlier has been restored to any semblance of usefulness. This place is an extraordinary mess! I wish I could take pictures but (1) somebody might think that I’m a terrorist plotting to blow it up, which is hilarious, and (2) besides the place is much too dark for picture-taking.
Unexpectedly, Rob has sent his regular driver for me. I’ve heard about him. Rob relies on him a lot. I forget his name but he’s holding a sign with my name printed on it. (And here, just by the way, I am the one and only passenger greeted by such a sign!) He takes my passport and goes to speak to the officers at the head of the passport control, and poof I’m special again and we are passed through to the (horrible looking) luggage area …where both my bags soon appear!!
Customs opens the larger of the two bags and looks inside for not quite one entire second and then we’re let outside into Cameroon. Bags are locked in the car and we go back. By this point I’m a little confused but it turns out Rob has arrived someplace else in the airport and we’re all going to meet up with the visa officer. Normally, you’re supposed to get your $100 Cameroonian visa before arrival into the country but it’s possible to get one issued at the airport under certain circumstances. Besides, the visa-issuing officer here turns out to be a friend of Rob. And Rob’s driver frequently greets officials here like they’re his best friends. Members of the U.S. Foreign Service are strictly forbidden to engage in bribery but there is no law against them being very, very friendly with the people who are in a position to make your job either easy or difficult. Everything goes easily and I get my visa stamped into my passport.
Rob takes me to his house, which is not very far. On the way, I notice that the highway is of surprisingly good quality. The house is in a wealthy neighborhood. Rob has told me that this is one of the most expensive cities in the world, for ‘ex-pats’ – Number 25 in the world. I don’t know if anybody understands the reason why it’s so expensive. Rob mentions how much the U.S. government pays annually to rent this house… but I’m reluctant to repeat the amount here. Douala is the commercial capital of the country and the largest city, and Rob is the only American Embassy official posted here.
As when I visited Rob in Haiti, there is a gate and a guard. He honks and the guard looks out and lets us in. The house is very big. and the backyard and pool are enormous. Rob has official parties here for a couple of hundred people at a time so it’s a good thing it’s big. My room is at the back. There are metal grates on all the windows and my bedroom door is of steel which I am advised to bolt shut at night. There is a mosquito net over my bed. Rob suggests that there is not really any reason to begin taking anti-malaria pills until after I get my first mosquito bite.
Yaoundé, Cameroon : January 19, 2007
Be ye gone Jet Lag
Despite my countless many naps yesterday, I have slept soundly until it’s time to wake up early and drive to Yaoundé. Maybe by now I’m adjusted to the 9 hour time difference!
The meetings in Yaoundé mostly concern the two American schools in Cameroon. Rob is working at getting greater cooperation between the two and so we collect some passengers who represent the Douala school and we set out. It’s about 150 miles and we travel in a 9-seater SUV.
First thing everybody remarks on, in the early morning, is how bad the dust and sand in the air has become. It looks like fog but it’s actually what’s blown in from the Sahara Desert. Nasty. (How exactly a rain forest finds itself located so near a desert is something of a mystery to me but I let that go.)
Shopping is available right from your car window in Cameroon. Anyplace the traffic slows, there are apt to be lots of people – mostly children – selling things.
Traffic is better than usual, they tell me, and it hardly ever comes to a complete stop. There is a lot of commerce going on beside the road, and when traffic slows a lot of it spills out into the road, with young people waving all sorts of things available for sale. We buy some bags of nuts and some bananas. Both are excellent – tree ripened bananas are a lot better than those you get in an American grocery store (which are always picked green).
I’m horrified by the slabs of beef – or perhaps more likely Bush Meat – hanging in the open near the side of the road. Cameroonians seem to have very little appreciation for the problems caused by germs. Rob mentions that we’re passing an area that was recently hit by a bad outbreak of Cholera, with hundreds dead. And right away, there is a river. You mean there is cholera in that river right there? Yes. If not now, then recently.
[NOTE: Below, this will turn out to be my favorite photo from Cameroon – and on the very first day! Of course, that’s not counting anything to do with Angu Walters which turns out to be life-changing for us all. This dreamy photo captures something about Cameroon, that proverbial “1000 words”]