Two words for Libreville…Afrique chic

The draft of this post was saved two years ago…in 2014!  This trip was made in 2012.  But better late than never I guess…

In March 2012, I had to go to Libreville on a business trip.  Most of my travels around the African continent tend to be for work and I am starting to get better at adding a little bit of pleasure to these trips.  Whether by staying on a weekend after my research work has been concluded, or adding on a stop-over in an exciting city.  I was not involved in the planning of this trip, but I did get to spend a whole week here so I think I got a pretty good feel of Libreville.

I knew I would love Gabon before I even got there…I think I’m pre-destined to love most Francophone countries, well until proven otherwise…I blame the wannabe Frenchie in me🙂, I keep trying with the language, always trying but it remains a work in progress.

Libreville is the capital and largest city in Gabon, a country in west central Africa.  It is a small country, population-wise with a lot of crude oil deposits and this has led to it being quite a wealthy country, at least relatively speaking.  Gabon has the third highest GDP per capita in the sub-Saharan African region.  Now in African terms, you know what this means right?  (everything is pricey!)

The food scene in this city was quite decent, I mean, what else would you expect from a well-moneyed Francophone city.  I had an amazing time feasting at Sakura – a sushi restaurant – when a client took us out.  Also on my first night in I got a good intro to what you get when you fuse local Gabonese food with French cuisine, at L’Odika. I loved the rustic atmosphere of L’Odika – the wooden deck, the laid-back vibe and of course good good food.

Now this trip was almost two years back (now it is four years!), so hard to remember a lot more other details.

Travel Tip #3

221418-58medThis goes without saying but no matter where you travel to, it helps to learn a couple words in the local language. Your accent and pronunciation may not be spot on, this matters very little.  People will be appreciative of your effort, more willing to help you, and it opens up windows for conversation (err in your new language🙂, or one you are more comfortable in). Even if you only learn the local word for hello or please, it certainly enhances your travel experience. Do it with a smile of course!

Mombasa…pole pole

Gratuitous beach start this off ;)

Gratuitous beach photo…to start this off😉

2014 is off to a great start…and I promise you I’m not just using a cliche here.  I have been been dying to go to Zanzibar, but all plans to get there have so far failed to actually materialize.  Well instead, in January, I got the next best thing. I was put on a job at the last minute and I had to head to Mombasa, with literally less than 24 hours notice.  I have also been meaning to visit Mombasa for at least a year now, so I was quite happy to finally get a chance to go.

Mombasa is a coastal city and the second-largest city in Kenya.  My first time in Kenya, I arrived Nairobi on the 22nd of September 2013, which in case you don’t remember, was the day after gunmen stormed the Westgate shopping mall.  Naturally it was a truly sad time and the trip was tainted by the unfolding events and the losses from the attack.  I was there for a three-day international conference but in a real show of support for the people of Kenya, and for freedom everywhere really, the conference only recorded minimal cancellations (the organizers reported less than 10% cancellations).

Almost four months later and things seemed to almost be returning to normal, except for the security presence and precautions that were visible in public places like malls, hotels and so on.  The major beach hotels and resorts are actually located out of the city center, in the north and south coasts of the city.  The north coast is more popular because it is easier to reach and offers many beach options (such as Nyali, Shanzu, Bamburi and other beaches)  the south coast requires a ferry crossing and then about a 45 minute drive to Diani beach, where the major hotel and entertainment offerings are located.

Now, enough background info.  I had a very pleasant experience in Mombasa. There was a very good meal at The Moorings, a floating restaurant right at the foot of the Mtwapa creek.  We ordered a variety of food for the table to share, and everything was so fresh and delicious.  Nothing I had disappointed – prawns in pili pili sauce, grilled whole fish, etc. Yum.


A view of the Mtwapa creek through the trees

Boats docked at The Moorings, Mtwapa Creek

I visited Tamarind Village, which houses the famous Tamarind restaurant, but I did not get to eat as the restaurant was on a break between lunch and dinner, at the time of my visit. I plan on going back to Mombasa for pleasure, someday, and Tamarind will definitely be on my to do list.

The best thing, I have to say, about Mombasa has to be the Kenyan people!  I don’t think I’ve met a bunch of genuinely warm, pleasant and hospitable people like the Kenyans.  Of course, Mombasa being a major tourist destination in the country means that most people have to be hospitable, as this trait is probably tied to their livelihoods.  But it really felt genuine to me.  People were always smiling, ready to help – it definitely helped to put me at ease here.

The next best thing about this place – besides the beaches, the food, the wonderful mix of Swahili and Arabic culture – has to be the really interesting public transport options.  No, not tuk tuks, or donkeys, or anything of that sort.  I’ll just explain with a few photos I managed to take in the daytime…

IMG_3704 IMG_3705 IMG_3706 IMG_3707 IMG_3708

Such interesting color choices, they certainly made my traffic observations quite pleasant. And the buses at night were even more “tricked out”, let me tell you. With lights and rims, and all, they looked like party buses.

Oh…and one last thing, pole pole is Swahili for slowly…as in “life is meant to be enjoyed pole pole” (I made that up, I think).  And my other favorite Swahili word is sawa, meaning ok, alright.


Travel Tip #2

Don’t be afraid to be adventurous…even when it comes to food.  I’ve had many memorable meals at hole-in-the wall type places, open air markets, street food, etc.  Of course, if the hygiene practices are clearly really bad, it may probably be better if you stay away.  Especially if you do not have a very strong stomach (but that could also part of the experience, no🙂 – well don’t forget to pack your imodium!).

What is an Afropolitan?

I first came across the term Afropolitan when I read Bye-Bye Barbar, the 2005 article by Taiye Tuakli-Worsonu. I remember a friend forwarded me a link to the article and it enjoyed quite a bit of circulation when it was written.  I was living in the Washington DC area then, and I identified fully with this new term.  A Nigerian-American, born in New York and raised in Lagos until I moved back to New York at sixteen.  The term Afropolitan resonated with me and many of my Nigerian friends living abroad. Most of us had been raised in Nigeria, and then sent abroad for higher education – mostly to the US and the UK.

The term Afropolitan was coined from African and cosmopolitan.  It referred to a person who had roots in Africa, was raised in one or more parts of the world and saw themselves as a hybrid of some sort.  An “African of the world” who identified with both their African heritage and that of their new homeland.

I was very proud to be Nigerian (and in the US, it seemed it did not matter that the continent had 53 or so countries, we were all just African…so yeah, I was proud to be African too).  At the same time, I was American, if mostly on paper, and also eager to find my place in American society.

After about eight years of living in New York, DC for over a year after college, and then back to New York, I decided it was time to add more to my story.  My spirit for adventure and overall wanderlust was itching for something new, to see more of the world.  In January of 2008, I decided on a move to France for grad school.  This turned out to be one of the best decisions I have ever made.  And I definitely did see a lot of the world.  Grad school was an adventure that got me doing an internship in Prague, an exchange program in Hong Kong, and plenty of side trips in between.  It was while living in Prague that I adopted the handle Afropolitan25 for a twitter account.

And now back in Nigeria, I tend to identify socially, with other young ‘returnees’.  Although, there are many grey areas in that group.  This CNN article examines what it means to be an Afropolitan, and one of the views put forward explains that the term did not only refer to one’s heritage, or having a particular type of record collection, but also being involved in a positive effort to bring the continent forward.  This is the place I think I am in today.  And I hope I have found my niche in the field of travel and tourism.

My word for Yaoundé is….shabby

View from my hotel room

Last week I went on a work-related trip to Yaoundé, Cameroun.  Like the title says, I found it quite a shabby city, with old buildings that are not very well-kept, rickety taxis, and so on.  But it was also quite charming, in that sneaky way African cities sometimes grow on you, where you find yourself loving the noise, the hustle and bustle of traffic, the long lines of people waiting for public transportation on the streets and this generally electrified air about it.

Cameroun is located in west Central Africa, and shares a border with Nigeria, Chad, Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and Congo.  It is officially supposed to be a bilingual country – French and English – but this is only in theory, and I definitely gave my intermediate French a much-needed workout.  Yaoundé is the second largest city in the country and the capital, while Douala is the largest city and the commercial capital…much like the comparison between Abuja and Lagos in Nigeria.

Room service…folon with smoked chicken and fried plantains

Besides giving me a chance to practice my French, I quite enjoyed the food in Yaoundé.  Almost everyday I was there, I got treated to very sumptuous Cameroonian lunch buffets.  The first of these was at Restaurant Public, which is located on a hill off the Boulevard du 20 Mai.  The main hall has a canteen-like atmosphere and has a large lunch crowd from workers in the surrounding government buildings.  The restaurant also has a more private dining area through a separate entrance, which of course, costs more, but offers a more pleasant ambience.   The lunch fare consisted of Cameroonian staples such as Ndolé (bitter leaf…similar to spinach), fried plantains and plantain flour.  I also had a very enjoyable lunch meeting at La Marmite du Boulevard, a restaurant right next to the Hilton Yaoundé. Again, it was buffet style, with fresh vegetables, pork, chicken, fish, plantains and so on. And I washed all this down with fresh squeezed guava juice.

Calafatas, a boulangerie and pâtisserie, was also quite a treat.  It is one of the oldest boulangeries in Yaoundé and is quite well-known and patronized.  I stopped there to grab a sandwich on one of my busier days and I could not stop myself from ordering a pain au chocolat, a pain au raisin and one sugar-covered beignet.  When I got to the counter to pay, they had run of out change and I gladly got two more beignets.  Eating all of this was no trouble at all!

Yaounde is a hilly city and the weather is quite cool, particularly in the mornings and evenings.  I looked forward to the drives I had to make outside the city centre, where things looked…well…less shabby and more green.

All of these good experiences I had on the trip almost got negated by my flight to Douala getting canceled at the last minute, and me having to scramble to arrange a 4 hour drive instead.  But it turned out alright in the end, and, I got to see a bit of Douala on my way to the airport.  I will definitely like to visit Cameroon again, preferably for pleasure, and get to see more regions in the country.