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By the shores of lake Chad – The Tenacious Travelers

By the shores of lake Chad

April 3, 2010.Cameron.0 Likes.0 Comments

Location: Lake Chad, T'Chad, Africa

April 3, 2010

Chad was my first African country outside West Africa and the reason I went was because I was right there, and I was looking for something different. I did find that in Chad, it was certainly a step in a different direction.

After crossing the border from Nigeria into Cameroon I hoped a car to make the crossing across the northern tip of Cameroon into Chad. The scenery changes drastically here, it became completely flat and very dry with a lot sandier patches. The crossing should have taken four hours but took six because we hit a goat, the car radiator needed to be refilled every half an hour or so and we got a puncture, I didn’t pick the car very well. Crossing out of Cameroon was simple; yet again the border officials had a good time with my name. I walked across the bridge over the river that separated the two countries and I was in Chad. The border officials were a lot more of a pain here and it took a long time to get through.

I grabbed a moto taxi and ended up in the center of N’Djamena the capital of Chad. It didn’t start well, no one spoke English and a lot of people only spoke Arabic, not even French so I was having a really hard time communicating. To top that off all the hotels were expensive, and I was using a new currency (Central Africa CFA) and I didn’t know what everything should cost. It was getting late and I was in a very strange city with no place to stay except one that cost $100 a night. I was feeling down and regretting the discussion to come. I didn’t even have a Visa to anywhere else, so I couldn’t leave, I was feeling down.

But fate stepped in and I met Omar, a student working on his English degree. He spoke English very well and took it upon himself to find me a suitable hotel. He took me round to various places and gave me a quick tour of the place and told me how to catch taxis to various areas. We eventually found a place that was ok, still a lot more than I wanted to pay but lower than other place without sacrificing safety. I was turned away from a couple places because they said it just wouldn’t be safe for me there, so I was looking for a place I felt safe in. Omar went with me to get a bite to eat, it was already 19:00 and the day had been draining on me, I felt very tired even though my spirit had picked up a bit thanks to Omar. He refused to take anything in thanks, not even taxi fare back to where I met him. He was looking forward to getting home as he was Muslim and had been fasting until sundown and he could finally eat. I had said I was looking to go to Lake Chad and he said he was from near there and would take me there if I wanted, I did, and we arranged to meet on Friday at my hotel. I said go by to him and collapsed into my bed, more mentally tried and exhausted than anything.

I awoke to a new day feeling much more positive. The first order of business was getting my Cameroonian Visa, so I dropped my passport off at the embassy and she said I could pick it up in the afternoon, I was delighted to hear this. I found a cafe and sat down to a stew of some sorts, very spicy but good. I didn’t like spicy much until I came to Africa and everything is covered in pepper and I was forced to get used to it.

On the journey the previous day my lips had got extremely chapped as the hot wind ran through the car. In N’Djamena it was very hot (47-50 Celsius), dry and there was a driving wind that kicked up sand into your face. My lips were raw and cracked, I remember smiling and feeling the skin stretch and tear and then start to bleed, I needed chap stick, and this became the main objective. In a pharmacy I mimed the problem as I couldn’t explain it in any language and they seem to get the idea. I went through an entire chap stick in one day it was so dry.

I spent the rest of the morning exploring the city; you could see the Arab influence as people changed to the more North African facial and body structure as paler, tall and thin. Turbans made a big appearance and I could see why, they kept the whole head protected from the wind, sun and sand. The market started to display more Arab styled goods, carpets, hookah pipes and scarves started to dominate. The city had a large mosque in the center and was quite large, although it never really felt like a large city. Most of its roads for instance where just sandy tracks. There was sand everywhere which was very different for me to see sand so very much a part of a city.

There had been a coup attempt the year before and the scares where still visible, such as bullet holes in government buildings and some government buildings still with smashed windows or burn marks. The military where still very much around and on this day, they were having a show of all the weapons they had captured, this consisted of four large rows on the ground of gun, from small hand guns through to large machine guns, rocket launchers and the like. At one point I tried to go passed a building (I later found out was part of the president’s palace) and was yelled at buy some very young men with very large guns. I don’t know what they said to me, but they were very convincing, and I decided to take another route. It was midday now and very hot, so I retired to my room for a rest.

I ended up falling asleep for a couple hours and woke up just before I could pick up my passport. So, I went to the embassy and as promised it was ready with my Visa. From here I head to the central police station. I had been told by the border officials that I must register my passport with the Immigration department of the police. I was told it was open till 15:30 and seeing as I had an hour I figure it was a good time to do it. I had 72 hours to do it and even though I was only planning on spending about the same time in Chad I thought it better not to give a Chadian official a reason to hassle me or a leave me of some money.

I arrived at the police station with an hour to go and was directed to the department I needed. It was shut; I tried all the doors up with no luck. I was standing out front and must have been looking very lost when a man approached me and asked in English if I was Canadian or American, I replied Canadian and he was delighted. This was how I met Mohammad, a Chadian who had been living in Toronto for 15 years and was back visiting his family. He asked why I was at the police station and I explained and said I wanted to go outside N’Djamena tomorrow, so it was important I get registered now. He said come with me and led me around the back to another building. He did all the talking and I found myself in front of a few clerks getting my passport stamped and registration completed. He slipped them a little money and we walked out.

He asked what I was doing, and I explained I was just a tourist and trying to see a bit of Chad. He invited me to come with him and he would show me around. I accepted as he had already helped me greatly. He led me to his SUV where I met his wife and sister in law. We drove off and dropped the ladies at the market. Well I had a great time with Mohammad; he drove me all over the city and showed me a lot of things. He took me to his friend’s house where I got to sit around and smoke the Hookah pipe with a few of his friends; they spoke English as they had spent time abroad to. I was then invited to eat with him and I accepted so I was taken to his house where I sat with some other members of his family (only the males) and ate various shaved meats, stews, flat bread and other dishes I do not know.

I spent about six hours with Mohammad and he showed me every kindness that I could imagine, and he would take nothing in return. Since I had got to know him a bit better I asked if it would be ok for me to by a turban and where it as it seemed a great way to protect my face while I traveled. He smiled and said it was perfectly fine then disappeared and returned with a piece of cloth. He said that it was for me and it was a short turban cloth. He showed me how to tie it and let me practice it a few times. At the end of the evening he drove me to my hotel and we said our goodbyes and he still refused to take anything in return or let me buy him a drink (non-alcoholic of course), he said it was simply his culture to show a traveler kindness and offer him what he needs. I was very lucky to have met this man and I don’t want to forget the kindness I was shown, and I want to try and pass it on when I am living somewhere and meet a traveler.

The next morning Omar met me at my hotel as planned. We headed off on a mini bus to the shores of Lake Chad. It was a great trip, through hot, dry dusty planes. I like most of the bus had my turban on with sunglasses, worked like a treat. I passed herds of camels being driven across the plane but men in colourful cloths either on camels or beautiful horses. The difference in dress was very apparent as it was much more worn to try and stay cool while protecting yourself from the wind and sand, very different then the other places in Africa I have been, most people’s faces where covered.

We arrived at Lake Chad, It’s the dry season so the lake was low, and it was particularly marshy where we were. Huge canoe like boats lined the banks and the whole area was lush and green a completed comparison between this area and the others. I was told we had to meet the chief, so we waited while he came to see me. I have met a few chiefs and usually it’s a pleasant experience, but this was not the case with this chief. He was not happy to see me and request to see my papers; I showed him my passport and registration stamp. He was not happy with this and said that I should have a paper from the chief of police for the district. My friend Omar explained we were just there to see the lake. He was having none of this and ordered me on the mini bus that was leaving. I obliged and sat in the mini bus while it filled up and my friend was talked to by various “big men” at one point he said that they want us to pay 50000 CFA (about $100) because we didn’t have the paper. I said no and that I was leaving as they asked (don’t know if it was a good idea to say no, but also, I simply didn’t have anywhere near this on me.

Eventual my friend joined me and said everything was ok and we just had to leave. The mini bus headed off soon after then and we returned to N’Djamena. Omar told me that it had worked out because he was from the area and so could talk in the local dialect which helped. They had told him to distance himself from me as it would bring him problem. Well we got back to N’Djamena and I bought him dinner and by the end of it we were laughing about the situation. After I said goodbye to Omar and returned to my hotel.

The next morning, I got a Moto Taxi to the border. It took longer to get out of Chad than it did to get in, which was weird. But anyway, I was out and Crossed into Cameroon without any problems and jumped on a bus to the Northern city of Maroua where I was supposed to meet Krista and Jude. But that’s where I will leave this portion of the story.

If you asked me was Chad enjoyable and worth the money I would reply yes, but only because of the people I met and the kindness I was shown. I had a meal bought for me and a couple taxis paid for me, forgot to mention this, just by random strangers. But and it’s a big but it was hard, and the officials don’t make it easy. I went through a rollercoaster ride of enjoying myself to wanting to get the hell out of the country. If I hadn’t met a few amazing people I would have hated my time there. But I do want to go back some day with money as some of the places are pretty much off limits unless you have cash. There is apparently a phenomenal reserve about 3 days travel into the desert from N’Djamena which sounded amazing.

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