The reviews on visiting Chad were not good, with a couple bloggers reporting that Chad was actually the worst country they’ve ever visited. But I liked it. N’Djamena seemed to have all of the culture and the “realness” of deep Africa, but without all the congestion and chaos.
Travelers Traveling on to Casablanca, Please Stay in Your Seat
I was only one of three passengers that disembarked at N’Djamena International Airport on the Royal Air Maroc flight from Nairobi to Casablanca. The 737 bound for Morocco stopped in Chad (or Tchad, spelled in French) to let a few passengers off before continuing on. By their looks, I could tell that the people on the plane probably thought I was getting off at the wrong stop; the flight crew made me show them my ticket before letting me leave. They probably wondered why this dude is trying to leave the plane in Chad.
The airport was completely empty, except for the two passengers arriving with me. I drew curious looks from the police, like I was the new (and very out of place) kid at school. I was stamped in and out the door in no time, approaching a group of money exchangers for local funds and a taxi. The grounds were pretty desolate and not the chaos I’m used to seeing when arriving at an African capital. This place was so desolate, I started to wonder what was wrong. But I liked being the only tourist in the entire airport. It lets me know that I’m somewhere really off the beaten path; somewhere special.
I was afraid that the 1970s Toyota Corolla taxi wasn’t going to make it. Not only was it beat up beyond almost all recognition, complete with a cracked windshield and non-existent seat belts, but it felt deathly ill. The engine made clunking sounds and shook the entire car in a way I’ve never experienced before; like the motor was going to fall out of the bottom of the car at anytime. The driver was in his 70s, dark as night, with deep lines on his face. He had a white goatee and wore an Islamic robe and cap. The hats in Chad we’re the snug skullcaps I’d seen on everyone in Sudan. These had some height to them and were cylindrical, almost like a chef’s hat at a diner, but not as tall.
Haters Gon’ Hate
My expectations of Chad were low. A couple of reputable country-counters had blogged that this was their least favorite country, so I was expecting the worst. But I was digging what I was seeing so far. My first impressions had me realizing and enjoying the fact that I was deep inside Africa; even deeper than Sudan, which at least actually had some tourists. But there wasn’t a gringo in sight here as we made our way through town in the midday sun, doing its best to pierce through the endless cloud of dust that was N’Djamena’s atmosphere. But unlike Drew Binsky and other Chad-haters, I actually really liked this place, right away. It seemed to have all of the culture and the “realness” of deep Africa, but without all the congestion and chaos. Places like Bamako, Mali; Accra, Ghana; and Lagos, Nigeria had so much color, but so much chaos. N’Djamena had all the character of the aforementioned cities, but with less congestion, crowds and noise. It seemed more spread out, with less traffic and madness, which usually always adds to my stress levels.
Chad also seemed much less developed and cosmopolitan than most other African capitals, so I was taken aback when all of a sudden we rolled up to one of the nicest and biggest Hilton’s I’ve ever seen. It was like a giant palace in the middle of the desert; an enormous gold building coming out of the sand with multiple wings and levels. It looked like it could be the king’s compound. The inside was lavish and would rival any Hilton in the States or elsewhere. The reception and restaurants were huge, with tall ceilings and fancy décor. The property was spotless; with giant windows giving view to pools that looked they belonged in front of the Taj Majal, or at the very least, Las Vegas. And this is the part where I remind you that Hilton did not sponsor this blog nor compensate me in any way. As much as I hate giving any company free advertising (I’d much rather they pay me), I’m making it a point to note how nice this Hilton is because I think my readers should know. Traveling through Africa can be tough and draining; I’ve learned to spend a few extra bucks to stay somewhere nice, where I can really relax and recharge. This place was just what the doctor ordered.
I was able to get an early check-in and enjoyed the awesome breakfast buffet. I met a Saudi named Mohammed on the lobby who was also checking in; he joined me for the meal. He was in Chad for a hunting expedition and I pretended to be excited about his photos of the poor birds he slaughtered. I could never kill an animal, but at least he ate what he shot. Mohammed was a nice dude (besides a bird-shooter), and proudly told me all about his two sons who were studying and working in the US.
I only had one day in N’Djamena and I was looking forward to getting out and seeing the city. There was only one problem: it was illegal to take photographs without a permit, and I didn’t have one.
Upon doing research on Chad before my arrival, I’d read that photography was a problem. Drew Binsky even talks about it in his video on Chad—he even got in a minor scuffle over a photo; one of the reasons he rated Chad as the worst. I remember a similar law in South Sudan, and it really hindered my fun. Taking photos for The Gram is one of my favorite things to do, and I was going to be bummed if I couldn’t do it here.
I contacted one of the city’s few tour companies before my arrival and their quote for a day on the town was absolutely laughable. $320 for a city tour???!!! Out of the question! I took a friend’s advice and asked the hotel if they could find me a driver to show me the sites and ended up getting it done for $100.
I asked one of the ladies at the front desk about taking photos in the city and she confirmed it was definitely a no-go; saying that the city was “special.” That’s a nice way to put it. But soon after, the hotel staffer who arranged for my car explained that the driver is a well-respected local and would guide me as to when and where I could take pictures. I felt a little better now.
This time, my ride was a newer, early 2000s Toyota Corolla, complete with a radio and slightly functioning AC. It was a nice car, but the (very) unbalanced wheels made my spare tire and man titties jiggle the whole time, reminding me that I needed to cut down on the Nutella. It was really distracting and depressing! Jeeze, I’ve got to get to the gym.
My driver was a pleasant young man named Aristide, who did his best to work with his limited English, which was a million times better than me and my three French words.
The very first thing I noticed as we drove into town was the police. They were literally everywhere, on every corner! On foot, on motor bikes, in cars. Everywhere I turned I saw them, complete with their berets and big guns. I even saw a couple trucks with rocket launchers on them! Actual rocket launchers. These guys meant business!
I soon found out the reason for the heavier-than-normal police presence was that French President Emmanuel Macron was in town. He was visiting to discuss helping curb terror in the region, so it was no wonder the city was on alert. I’m guessing this was one of the biggest deals in many years for Chad. That was great for safety, but bad for taking pictures.
Random note: I sent Macron a tweet that night asking if I could meet up with him. No response.
The first stop was a modern, cylindrical building, called the Masion de la Femme. This was a newer structure—kind of like a little convention center—that housed an auditorium. We descended from the car and I ended having to pay the policeman on duty 1000 CFA to snap pictures, which was okay with me. It was only a couple bucks, and I figured if that’s all it took to get some good shots around town, it was totally worth it. But sadly, that was the last of the photography except for bad snaps from our moving car.
We pased by a couple really cool monuments, including the city’s main Plaza de la Nation, but these statues had more police than ever, and many of them were completely fenced off. I got a few crappy photos of them from the car. This wasn’t fun, but I did enjoy passing the children on the street as they smiled and waved. Chad has some cool kids!
No Tengo Dinero
Next, Aristide pulled into a little craft market, which would have been cool for normal tourists, but not for me. I was in the middle of a three-week trip, covering 16 countries and had just one piece of luggage total. Total. No checked-in roller bag, just one big backpack, and every inch was spoken for. I didn’t have room for so much as a keychain. I learned the hard way on my first trip to Africa when I bought two big wooden camels on my very first stop. Amateur move! I was barely able to jam them into my bag, and had to lug them in and out of a dozen other countries before coming home. Never again! Since then my m.o. has been to wait until the very last stop, then take home one extra bag of crap for friends back home.
So I felt bad, passing the two-dozen stalls at the artisan village and not buying so much as a magnet. Every shop owner practically begged me to come inside their store, but I knew I wouldn’t buy anything, so declined all of their offers, finally getting back into the car empty handed after making the rounds. This is how these folks eat, and I felt like a dick not spending a dime. But there must have been over two dozen merchants, and I knew if I bought something at one stall, it would just cause the other owners to be more aggressive. Sorry friends. I really did wish I had the funds to fill up a giant container of souvenirs to be shipped home for friends, family and co-workers. There really were some beautiful things at the craft market.
We passed by the “real” market next, and I was disappointed Aristide didn’t stop. I wanted to be with the people, to mix in with every day life and peruse a real Chadian market—to see the and smell all the food, good and bad, and maybe sneak a few pics. But no so luck, as we were soon leaving the area.
Meanwhile Back at the Ranch
When the Hilton came back into view and realized my two-hour tour had turned into a 90-minute tour, the disappointment really kicked in. Aristide was a nice enough guy, I just barely got to experience the city. I’ll place the blame on me for not being more vocal about what I wanted to do; and on Macron, for showing up and ruining my party. At least the playlist was banging: Aristide’s car-tunes included some Usher, and then a ton of sing-songy classic French music that sounded like it was from the 40s or 50s. Fun stuff, with lots of horns that made me feel really French.
I was now back at the compound they call the Hilton, which at least was a great place to lounge for the rest of the afternoon. I changed into my trunks and brought my tubby ass out to the pool, where I relaxed on a lounge chair and contemplated grabbing a taxi and taking a run at the market. But there was less than one hour of sun and decided I shouldn’t press my luck. I’d just chalk this one up as a miss. When you travel this fast, sooner or later you’re going to strike out. I would find solace in the fact that I was safe, and had a great hotel to enjoy for the rest of the afternoon.
On a totally random note, a buddy messaged me while I was at the pool to tell me that some mutual friends were also in N’Djamena. A group of fellow extreme travelers from a Facebook group I belonged to were in town and we all met for dinner at the hotel. These are other travelers that I know from Facebook—people I really admire with amazing travel experience—that I’ve friended online and asked for advice from. Seeing them in person was an unexpected treat, and in Chad, of all places, was extremely random. After a nice dinner full of great food and better conversation, it was off to bed before an early morning flight to Cameroon. The group had plans to attend a celebration in town that night, but I had to be at 4:30AM, so there’s that.
Chad, I like you…but I’m going to need more next time.
And now…the REST of the (Insta) Story:
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