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The guide they call Google: How an Instagrammer started connecting people and places

THE three am wake-up calls are not for everyone. Certainly not out of choice. But for Coltars Serge Patrick, this is his regular morning routine – hit the alarm clock, take a shower, check the trekking bag, grab a bite to eat and head out. And he loves it.

It all started with his own experiences as a child.

“My grandfather was a teacher in the West Region, in the town of Bandjoun, and I went there every month to visit him. Either to bring him medicine or for pleasure. It was always a pleasure for me to admire the scenery on the road,” Coltars recalled. Those early experiences developed into a passion for travel that continued into adulthood.

Coming from a multi-ethnic family, his luck – as he says – is to have at least one relative in six of the ten regions of Cameroon.
As he grew, that regularly lead him back onto the road, to visit either an aunt, a grandparent, a grandmother, a cousin or an uncle somewhere across the country. Those trips led to stories.

In the company of his friends, or whenever he had the opportunity, he would indulge his audience with his travel stories; describing to a captivated audience the beauty of the places he visited and the people he had the pleasure of meeting. He was also always ready to offer a word or two of advice to anyone about to go on a trip. That included information on the routes to take, the difficulties, safety measures, the best places to stay, and much more.

“This never-ending stream of information ended up earning me the nickname “Google” from some of my friends,” he said with a laugh.

Then, in 2014, he discovered the power of social media. He created an Instagram page that became his personal travel diary open to the world.

“It was with people’s infatuation with my page that I got the idea to organise trips,” he said.

In 2016, he organised his first trip. He could only schedule them on weekends as his job was keeping him busy from Monday to Friday. But as his reputation grew, so did the demand. His quiet life as an employee of a communications company in Douala began to feel restrictive.

“I was starting to get a lot of requests for weekday trips, so in 2019 I decided to dedicate myself to it full time,” he explained.

Today, Coltars has over 10,000 followers on Instagram and his Facebook page has more than 37 000. Branded Tourismo Cameroun, his posts are a kaleidoscope of landscapes, urban and rural destinations, mountains – including the volcanic Mount Cameroon – waterfalls and beaches, as well as the people he accompanies, enjoying them. Beyond the travel, however, he has come to take great pleasure in the extent to which his fellow Cameroonians are both stunned and delighted to see that their home country has so many wonders.

“I have travelled to remote areas all over the country, and everywhere I have met great people, very hospitable people. But I was disappointed to see how ignorant some people in my town are, for example, about their own country, how they can have extremely negative views about other regions, and other ethnicities,” the guide explained.

“I told myself that this was an opportunity to inform, to teach them that behind each people, behind each region, there is a culture and a history.”

Eye-catching and authentic images encourage his audience to join his organised trips throughout Cameroon.

“Not photoshopped” appears in the descriptions of many of his pictures.

He has also worked hard to ensure that his trips while offering excitement and discovery, are also a professional product.

“Organising trips require a great deal of discipline, organisation and a great sense of anticipation because you are responsible for the people you take on the adventure,” he said.

The amount of trust inspired by the guide who leads the tour is absolutely essential when it comes to deciding to join a trek and to go on an adventure with a group of people you’ve never met before, Coltars explained. The one-man operation also requires a lot of marketing, which is where social media comes in.

“I discovered Tourismo Cameroon on Facebook, and it was Coltars’ joie de vivre that convinced me. He has an incredible joie de vivre in the photos. As soon as I saw the guy who is always taking pictures with a big smile, I was hooked. I paid via mobile money and turned up on the day of the tour,” remembered Rose Kentsa, a native of Douala who loves travelling and is always in search of new places to go to.

Kentsa has repeated the experience several times and is now a regular on Coltars’ tours across Cameroon.

For Coltars, this has become the real reward for his work – connection with the “other”. The point of the trips is not just to go and look at monuments or natural sights, but also to get closer to the people, meet the faces that make up local life, and embrace differences, he stresses.

His reputation has spread beyond the borders of Cameroon, leading Coltars to work with travellers coming from other African countries, as well as from Europe and the Caribbean.

Sylvie Aouana, a young Beninese woman living in France, is one of them. In December 2021, she decided to escape the cold of Paris and fly 6,000km to join the tour organised by Coltars.

“The idea was to discover beautiful places, to see another side of Cameroon. It was very educational.”

Highlights were the pepper plantations at Penja and the Ekom Nkam waterfalls. The 80 metres high Ekom Nkam falls, which are located near the town of Melong on the Nkam River, stand out as they are twin falls, locally referred to as the male and female falls. The male waterfall flow permanently whatever the season, while the female flows only during the rainy season.

Besides the 4,000 metres plus Mount Cameroon with its fire pits (it is a live volcano that erupted as recently as 2012) and occasional snow, white sand beaches and swimmable lakes and highlands, there is also a string of the national parks, including Benoue, Waza, Korup, Ngaoundéré and Campo and the Dja wildlife reserve.

For Aouana, however, the trip was about much more than the country’s natural wonders.

The trip changed the image she had of Cameroon, she said. She had visited Cameroon before but had left her with a negative impression. For one thing, she was disappointed by the lack of a service industry culture and etiquette and if a friend had not insisted, she would not have given Cameroon a second try. But this time was different.

“I really enjoyed the trip, the guide organised everything very well, I was stunned by the positive way our trek unfolded,” she said

Coltars is excited about African tourism, about what it brings in terms of understanding, even between people of the same nation, as well as between neighbouring countries. But he says there is also a long way to go to ensure that tourism is something that becomes normal to Africans – a goal he believes is attainable only by working hard to change people’s mindsets

“We need to make people understand that tourism is not a matter of the rich or poor, nor one of westerners”, he explains.

Coltars believes that growing African domestic tourism is also about building bridges between local tour guides working across Africa. His latest project: setting up a pan-African network of African tour guides. Given his passion and drive for excellence, he has every chance of success.

/bird story agency



By PATRICK NELLE, BIRD STORY AGENCY

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