Welcome to the Northern Regions of Cameroon
“Bonne journee, bonne soiree, bonne annee, bonne vie!”
“Have a nice day, have a nice night, happy near year, have a nice life”

The next leg of my holidays was with Megan, a Canadian who will spend nearly one full year in Buea working for an NGO called Human IS Right. When she gets back to Canada, she will attend the very same school and study the same subject my amazing Aunty Patty has recently completed – International Development at Humber College. We had been planning this trip for over a month but didn’t make the dates and transportation final until just days before our departure. Megan went to Yaoundé a day early so she could buy our bus tickets from Yaoundé to Ngaoundere on December 29th so that we would arrive the next morning. She waited for hours at the ticket office two days in a row to be sure that we would get the cabin room with beds. I had taken the train once before in First Class and it was miserable -  totally impossible to sleep. Thankfully, all of her waiting and determination paid off because 2 people who had reserved tickets the day before in the beds, did not pay – so we got them! I met her in Yaoundé that Sunday and we traveled that night.


From here on out – nothing by French and the occasional Fulfulde (language of the Fulani people). Pretty much everyone in the North speaks Fulfulde and if people are educated to some extent they will speak French.


The Adamoua: Ngaoundere


The train departs every day at the same time. The train stops several times all along the way. Megan and I had our own little room – we played some music, drank some wine, read our books and soon fell asleep. At about 1 or 2am the train came to a sudden jerky stop. And it was stopped for over two hours. We aren’t sure if it was derailed of just a break down – both are quite common. Then an hour after we had another break down. This would have been miserable had we been in First or Second class, but since we had beds, we just slept. The train usually arrived at 7am in the morning, but we did not reach our final destination until noon. This was my second time in Ngaoundere and a main reason why I wanted to go back was to visit a good friend of mine Walid who is probably the most generous and kind man I have ever met. He is Lebonese and has been living and working in Ngaoundere for just about 7 years. We stayed at his place for the few days we were in town.


The two photos above are from the Lamido's Palace in Ngaoundere.

A Lamido is a term used to refer to a ruler. In the Fulfulde language it is properly spelt laamiido and is derived from the verbal root "laam-" meaning "to rule or to lead", and hence may be translated more specifically as "leader". The title "Lamido" has been used by the traditional leaders of certain Islamic communities in West Africa, originally as head of states, nowadays persisting within post-colonial republics. His name is Mohamadou Hayatou Issa and he has been ruling since 1997 with 7 wives and 35 children. It was interesting to see a tradition like this last through colonialism. There were special areas for the Lamido to get his hair done, to rest, a place he hosted very very important guests and of course one large hut for each of his wives.

Downtown Ngaoundere

The Grand Mosque

The North: Garoua


We bought our tickets with Touristic Voyaguers on January 2nd to travel first thing the following morning to Garoua. The man at the ticket office told us the bus leaves at 5:30am and we should arrive by 5am. In Cameroonian time, this actually means the bus will leave about 7am, still, we didn’t want to chance missing the bus. We woke up at dawn and arrived at the bus station shortly after 5am. Everyone had warned us about the sun and how hot it was going to be in the North, but no one mentioned how cold it got at night!! I was shivering waiting for the bus. Finally after 45min of waiting with no busses or anything, I asked the man at the ticket office about the bus. He told me the tickets were sold out. I explained that we had already bought our ticket. He proceeded to tell me that we had missed our bus which left at 4am and would have to wait for the next one.


We were on the road by 7am – not bad. A friend of mine who had recently traveled to the North and Extreme North had warned me about the dust on the roads. She had gotten sick because of it and advised me to wear a mask to keep the dust out. I nearly forgot, until a young man came on the bus with a pack of them selling them at 100cfa each – If he came on the bus to sell them, and several people were buying them, I knew it was going to be dusty. It was about six hours on the road so we arrived early afternoon giving us time to check into our hostel and go out to explore the town.


Dust prevention: we were warned about this road from a friend who had recently traveled to the North. It's so dusty there is even a man who comes onto the bus just before departure selling masks at 100cfa (20cents) each.


Houses along the way.

Selling fruits along the way.

Garoua evolved in the 18th century and has been steadily growing in recent years to now exceeds 300,000 inhabitants. The main agricultural product in this region is cotton which provides income for more than a million people. Besides this, locals also depend heavily on the trade of petrol from neighboring Nigeria. There have only been two presidents in Cameroon, the first one was

There wasn’t all that much to do in Garoua. We spent most of our time chatting with locals (usually asking questions) and walking around the market. This city was more of a pit stop on our way to the Maroua.

Those working at our hostel told Megan and I that it wasn’t necessary to buy our bus ticket to Maroua a day in advanced. So on the 4th we woke up and took our time getting ready, packing and then heading out for some breakfast. Soon we found ourselves waiting in a ridiculously long line at the bus station for tickets. Then: they were all sold out. The woman told us to come back at 1pm because there could be another bus going. We went back at 1pm, no news yet. So we decided to try other bus agencies. National Voyaguers, another company, had tickets for a bus that was supposed to be leaving at 6pm and arriving at 10pm.



As we waited for the bus there was a family sitting on a mat – there were 2 grandmothers, 3 mothers and 15 or 17 children (both times I counted I got different numbers because the children were scattered on the mat and around the bus station). We left just after 7pm and surprisingly arrived around 11pm. This road was even more epic than the road to Garoua!! We were launching off mini cliffs and nearly tipped over trying to avoid a road block. There was a passenger who would get out of the bus and move rocks put in the road as a road block so that the bus could pass. It was kind of funny but also a with unsettling. I was worried about arriving late and finding a ride to the hotel but we had no problems and thankfully our hotel was just across the street from the bus agency.

The most interesting part of Maroua was no doubt the markets! But it wasn’t just any market, it was supposedly the largest Craft Market in Cameroon. Here, you really have to haggle for a good price – they are tough negotiators, but you must learn to be tougher! Don’t ever show weakness!


Inside the craft market

This region is surprisingly densely populated with about 20% of Cameroon’s population yet is also the poorest region with a high rate of illiteracy and lower than average life expectancy. They call the US a ‘melting pot’, right? Well, you could also call this reach a melting pot – the region includes the dominant Fulani, Kirdi, Mofu, Choa, Moundang, Toupouri, Mafa, Kapsisi and Mousgoum people. And those are just the inhabitants – think about those who move from other regions of Cameroon for work.


Busy Maroua