Thursday, January 11, 2007

Vacation on the outer edge

One of the questions I'm asked most frequently is, What does a travel editor do on vacation?

In my case, the answer is ... travel.

For more than 20 years, I've been spending my personal time and resources to check out places less visited. I'm not sure I can explain it, other than to say that going to the ends of the earth is an antidote to my daily urban life. When I travel to less developed places, I am reminded of all that I have, and that having isn't nearly enough to give a life value.

This year my husband and I were drawn to Cameroon, on the western coast of Africa.

It is said that if you've seen all of Cameroon, you've seen all of Africa. Our 15-day trip was designed to take in wild gorillas, big game viewing and living tribal cultures.

It was one of the hardest trip I've ever taken, a constant toggle between extremes. We ended up passing on the big-game part of the trip due to road conditions and a car breakdown.

On the plus side: Our guides were fabulous, warm and giving people, all with a great sense of humor. We did get to see the Western lowland gorillas in the wild, along with Colobus monkeys and other endangered species. And we experienced unique tribal cultures that have survived since the 1400s ... long before Columbus even pondered a New World.

The big negative: Corruption. Nowhere, nowhere, have I seen it worse.

Roads are a disaster ... because government leaders take the money, we were told, and fatten European bank accounts. Air service within the country is limited and extremely unreliable, for the same reason. Villages that don't support the president end up with limited infrastructure. Government workers often go unpaid, with the result that police, military and airport monitors forever stick their hands out, demanding bribes. At times it was merely annoying, at others it was downright scary.

Our generous Cameroonian caretakers were horrified when airport workers insisted on bribes before allowing us to get to the Air France check-in counter. We didn't dare complain, knowing that a call for a supervisor might well result in not one bribe to be paid, but two.

Bottom line: Cameroon has a lot to offer ... but only for those with endless patience and a strong constitution. For most travelers, it's a country not yet ready for prime time. Which is far less than its people deserve.

1 comment:

mark atkinson said...

Jane....

looks as though you're doing fab, and as young as ever....will be in Miami Feb 19-21 for a photoshoot.
if you can hook for a drink let me know.

M. atkinson...757 286 7016