Cameroon - February 2011

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February 18th 2011
Published: May 30th 2011
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Cameroon: Our last country of this trip!

We didn’t get across into Ekok, Cameroon, until about 5ish as it was already quite late when we arrived at the Nigerian immigration point; the Cameroonian side wasn’t too bad, however the huge mass of black clouds looming over head were very ominous! Then suddenly, the very second we were officially entered into Cameroon, the heavens opened and we were suddenly under the most torrential downpour most us have ever witnessed, sheets of rain, flashes of lightning and booms of thunder were everywhere – it was just magical, especially as we found a ‘hotel’ (we use the term loosely!) just at the end of town, so we could all sleep inside (four to a room) and sit in the bar and enjoy the light show in the sky. The rain only lasted 2-3 hours (lucky for cook-group on the outside balcony!) but the lightning and thunder went on for hours as the storm crept away into the distance. Awesome.

The next morning it was hot and humid and we all looked forward to the latest adventure - encountering one of the worst roads we would see on the whole trip; a long brown snaking road of clay winding up and down through the dense rain forest. We were apprehensive and excited about the prospect of having to dig the truck out of enormous bog holes, but as luck would have it, the road wasn’t that bad. We did drive through some pretty horrific sludgy holes and boggy sections, but nothing that Hasty and the mighty truck couldn’t handle! We managed to get some photos that show how rough the roads were and at the same time highlight how capable the trucks on these overland trips really are.

One of our enduring memories of Cameroon will be the calls of ‘White!’, ‘White man!’ and ‘You are White!’ that were yelled from all directions as we drove through villages. These shouts fast became a constant sound track for our journey, usually, but not exclusively, coming from furiously waving and smiling children. They clearly did not mean to offend and it is certainly better than cries for gifts, but it was surreal and odd all the same. Sometimes Martin would befuddle them completely by shouting out “No! Where?!?!?”

We stopped under a large bridge for a welcome dip in the river and couldn’t help but notice the several Chinese logos on the trucks in the area – a sure sign of who is behind the gradual improvement of this road!

We stopped at the large town of Mamfe for a cook-group shop and the chance for cold drinks (one of the highlights of any day in this heat!). One of the first things we noticed in Cameroon was the general cleanliness (especially when compared to the general filthy state of Nigeria). There are rubbish bins in the towns here, regular rubbish collections and landfills! It is so lovely to see a poor country where the locals still make a real effort to keep their nation clean. This sort of pride also extends to the individual homes; it seems the women tend their simple gardens/sections with great care – often surrounding them are quaint hedges and special care is taken to keep the grass green and weed free. It is just so refreshing to see this sort of pride – it really is very cool. The homes were often made with simple untreated, unpainted rough weather boards, instead of mud bricks or thatch. Cameroonians just really seem to have an attitude of making the best of things, rather than just ‘getting by’.

Another factor that is immediately noticeable in Cameroon is the presence of alcohol. Every village we passed was lined with huge stacks of empty beer bottles waiting for collection, whilst beer is pretty common everywhere in West Africa it was amazing to see the sheer quantities involved here. When this is added to the vast numbers of men we saw drinking the local Palm Wine it proves that the Cameroonian reputation as all drinkers is confirmed. Palm wine is pretty nasty stuff, they simply tap sap from a palm tree and let it ferment for a few days until it is no longer sugary-sweet (EG it tastes vile) and this means its ready! Yurk. It’s not great. It was a bit weird to see how drunk the, mostly men, were by about 9am each morning – sitting around beer or palm wine in hand on veranda’s and waving drunkenly to us as we passed by. Whilst the job of the women seems to be keeping the house and garden in great shape, it seems the job of the men is to consume as much alcohol as possible; both men and women seem equally committed to their assigned tasks.

Concerns about further rains that evening were fruitless as we enjoyed a dry night for Martin’s last cook-group, shit-can was played and Martin managed to claim the current world record of 14 cans! (Although he is still 1 behind Ian in most matches won... bugger!).

The next day was another interesting one as we negotiated the shonky road, however we soon reached sections of rough tar-seal and realized the worst was over. Suddenly the dirt road turns into a magnificent fly-over/bridge that sweeps in a giant bend through a stunning valley in the rainforest, complete with several waterfalls bursting from the dense foliage. We spent a few hours at the southern end of the bridge, having lunch, walking to the waterfalls and swimming in the heavenly cold river. (Actually some of us never made it to the waterfalls as we got a bit lost!). After a few precious hours of relaxing in the strong current, drinking cold beers and Smirnoff and Bunny washing her clothes, it was time to head out to our final bush camp of the trip – one that would prove to be fairly eventful.

Almost as soon as camp was set up the clouds gathered again and just as the fire was roaring the deluge ensued. Poor cook-group had to move the fire multiple times to avoid the quickly gathering puddles and torrents of rain (moving the fire involves using a spade to shift all the embers and much furious flapping of a bin lid to crank it up again). The rain didn’t last too long however and we were able to eat away from the awning attached to the truck and then play some shit-can too. However as soon as the rain had departed, the locals arrived. A few people had come to investigate when we arrived (This is almost always the case at bush-camps, but usually they stay for a while, watch us cook and eat and then head home, shaking their heads in wonder.) Tonight there was a bunch of teenagers who seemed determined to stay for as long as we were up, they surrounded us playing shit-can and kept asking for gifts/cigarettes/money. Then two boys started searching for snails, using lit bottles of petrol for light. The presence of two young lads with lit Molotov cocktails was extremely disconcerting – especially so close to our tents. Meanwhile Bunny, Lindi, Neil and Mandy had escaped to the back of the truck and were having a mini truck party involving numerous games of Roxanne and dancing. But, in an effort to get rid of the locals Andi said it would be better if they turned off the lights and music – bummer – but justified as several of the boys were increasingly interested in getting on the truck. Shortly after this we gave up on playing shit-can altogether and went to bed, fairly irritated we had been gate-crashed by annoying teenagers.

The next morning the roads steadily improved as we made our way down to Limbe. At about 10am we reached a motorway type road and from there it was just a troubleless race down the perfect road to the beach town of Limbe, set in the looming shadow of the active volcano and highest peak in West Africa - Mount Cameroon.

We arrived in Limbe and set up camp at the Miramar Hotel, perched on a 3m cliff top above the sea. This makes for a fantastic location, as there is an almost constant sea breeze rolling in, although the lack of a swimmable beach nearby is a bit sad. The bay in which the hotel is looking over is dominated by a giant drilling rig, which makes for an unusual and pretty quirky vista.
The day after we arrived Bunny headed off to the Limbe Wildlife Sanctuary with Vicky, Lindi and Jane. The sanctuary was set up by the same people as the Afi Mountain Drill Ranch and the Calabar Ranch that we visited previously. There are Chimps, Pandrillius, Mandrillus and Gorilla’s here and some great viewing platforms, we surprised ourselves by spending almost three hours there! Exiting, we found most of the rest of the group lunching at the restaurant – Chella’s – which is owned by a charming and amazing South African couple and serves some of the best food we’ve had all trip. The afternoon was spent catching up on emails, Bunny getting a few snacks for her climb the next day and so forth.

Then it was time for the most active part of the trip full stop – Bunny had signed up with 9 others to climb to the summit of Mt Cameroon. There were 9 doing the 3 day trip and 1 (Ninja Neil) doing the 2 day trip. The three day trip is 1.5 days up the ‘Guiness’ Route to the summit and then another 1.5 days down the other side of the mountain via Mann Springs – a total of approx 60km. Here’s Bunny’s account of her trip:

We set off about 7am in a minivan for Beau where we were to start the climb. Arriving there we met David, our guide for the trip, and another guide, Paul. We also had 10 porters to carry our small packs, sleeping gear, food and cooking gear. It took the guides a while to redistribute equipment and load up, and we finally started the climb just after 9am. First up was climbing past the local prison where prisoners yelled out encouragement for our climb or asked us to come visit them - bizarre. Almost instantly, the terrain was steeper than I originally expected. I guess I thought it might start a bit more gradual, but the whole day we climbed between about 35 and a ridiculous 80 degrees where it was by far more climbing than walking. The first climb to Hut 1 was through rainforest/jungle and we all sweated lakes. We all literally looked like we had had multiple showers on the way up. It was so humid! I walked with Lindi Lou and we got to the first hut a bit after the others. We grabbed some lunch from the sacks the porters were carrying – baguettes and tuna. Then immediately after, off we went again. The climb between Hut 1 and Hut 2 was to be the steepest of the day’s climbs. After about half an hour or so we came out of the jungle and into much more open landscape. It was very misty and reminded us of the Scottish countryside a bit.

Most of the others had gone ahead but I stayed with Lindi, and then we found Lee had waited for us and he kindly joined us the rest of the way up the mountain. Poor Lindi had decided she might not make it, but there was no way we were letting her give up! On we went, it took us 3.45 hours to make it to Hut 2..... and it really was quite a strenuous climb, where parts of it felt like a 90 degree gradiant and you felt like it was more a scramble than any kind of walk! Bryan, Ninja Neil and Ryan made the same trip in about 1.5/2 hours. We arrived at Hut 2 at about 4.15pm. The porters, though working hard lugging our stuff up the mountain, were far from organised and it took us some time to track down our food which had been broken up and redistributed all over the place! The body odour oozing off them was also something to behold – our bags absolutely stunk from being carried by them. We fervently hoped it hadn’t leaked all the way through our bags and into our sleeping bags and spare clothes. We had also brought up a 20L Jerry can of water and so we all topped up our water and saved the rest for a hot breakfast and more water top ups the next day. We finally managed to track down our guide and where they had put our tents, then after a quick dinner of baked beans and bread we were in bed pretty quick. Lindi, Lee and I shared a tent and were in our sleeping bags by a crazy 7.25pm! The temperatures were said to drop down to around 3 degrees during the night so I was rugged up in thermals plus several more layers and my 3-4 season sleeping bag and managed to sleep comfortably.

That night I slept ok... though it was crazy to wake up and realise you were on the side of a mountain, surrounded by dramatic scenery, above the cloud level. The wind picked up and our tent, even in a more sheltered position than the tent four of the boys were sharing, flapped crazily all over the place. We woke to lightening and thunder but it truely was one of the more surreal times of my life to be watching both lightening and thunder from above the storm! It was a unique experience for me to wake in such a place in the world, battered by the elements and tackling the mountain. Luckily as we packed up the storm passed over us and took away our fears of rain whilst climbing the final part to the summit.

Unfortunately, when we went to get our food and water that morning and make some hot mugs of noodles/tea etc before the final part of the climb, we were shocked to realise our porters had drunk all our remaining water. It was unbelievable. They had cooked up a hot breakfast for themselves of fried rice and tea while we were left without additional water for the climb or any means to make a filling breakfast. We satisfied ourselves with dry muesli. I was quite outraged a few minutes later while we stood munching this and they came out with our kettle asking for more water for tea!!! There was a little in there and Brian hadn’t refilled his bottle so I told him to get that water and put what was left in his bottle, I think he got about 300ml out of it for his climb. Gutted. We also realised that the porters and guides had brought none of their own equipment – they were using our kettle/pots/dishes/etc. At about 7.10am we started asking when we were leaving as we had been told to be up at 6am and leaving at 7am but were told the porters were still getting ready. We wanted to be on the move as we wanted to climb while it was still a bit cooler. Finally at about 7.30am the guide told us he hadn’t had breakfast yet so we should head off and he’d catch us up, but not to go past Hut 3. Yeah, no awards going to the guides or porters at this stage! Up we went, muscles groaning a little under the pressures of yesterday’s climb. The climb to the summit was supposed to be a lesser gradient than the previous afternoon climb but with already tender muscles, the rapid climb in altitude (we were going up another 1500m altitude wise over about 3km of distance) and being battered by an icy wind, made the trip no easy feat.

We met three guys coming back down that didn’t make it – we’d been climbing about the same pace with them the previous day but they’d also had a disasterous experience with their porters who apparently told them they were taking the food, water, tents and sleeping gear. Unfortunately on camping for the first night they found out the porters didn’t bring food or water, the tents were tiny pup tents barely big enough to fit them and they’d scraped up from somewhere some child sized lion king sleeping bags – not big enough by far nor warm enough to keep out the cold elements of the mountain. We also met an annoyed Ninja Neil coming back down the track. Since he was doing the two day trip, he went up and down the Guinness route. He had therefore left Hut 2 at 5am. The guide got cold and tired before Hut 3 so he told Neil to go ahead to Hut 3 and he would catch up. Neil reached the hut and waited an hour but there was no sign of the guide. He headed back down and found the ‘guide’ huddled under a rock saying it was too cold. The guides/porters were just so unequipped considering it’s their job! He therefore told Neil they had to go back down. We were gutted to hear that Neil hadn’t been able to make it to the summit, especially when he’s damn fit and there’s no doubt he could have made the summit easily.

Lindi, Lee and I took it slowly and surely and reached Hut 3 about 3 hours after we left Hut 2. The rest of the group were resting there, except for Brian who’d disappeared – we assumed he’d gone ahead against the guide’s orders, though he hadn’t left any message for us. After about 15minutes rest we tackled the summit which took about an hour and a half. We’d been told about 45 minutes but poor Lindi was shattered so we all agreed to go at her pace so we reached the summit together. The ground was not as steep here, it was just an accumulation of the efforts of the past 1.5 days that made it more difficult. When we reached a few metres from the summit, we let Lindi reach the summit first. It was awesome to reach the top, all that effort finally paid off! The summit is 4090 metres high and it had been a hard slog for us, having been sitting on a truck and travelling for 4 months having had no/very little exercise .... but we’d done it!!!! LINDI I TOLD YOU WE’D MAKE IT!!!!! ;-) It was incredibly windy and cold up there! We managed to all take pictures, including some group ones that a random guy jumped into - a Swiss guy reached the summit same time as us and we said to him, ‘we’re just going to have a group picture by the sign’ and he goes ‘ok’, and jumps in our pictures with us – ha ha kinda weird!

After that we started down the other side of the mountain. The first few km were spent sliding down shale of the mountain and the black volcanic dust kicked up by our feet swarmed around us, sticking to our faces where we’d smeared sunscreen to keep off the now very strong sun. The day turned into quite a long day but it was amazing scenery, we crossed so many types of landscape from the summit back down to the tree level and re-entering the jungle. The wide open spaces and crossing the lava flows from the 200 year old and 10 year old explosions were really interesting and the scenery was very beautiful. The group stuck together throughout the day, mostly going the same pace down hill and the hardest elements to battle that day were the extremely strong sunlight (we’d heard the Af-trails group the week before had been extremely sunburned after this section) and the rationing of water. By lunchtime several of us were already out of water and the others were rationing. Lee kindly gave me some of his water, and by the end of the day several of us were down to rationing a gulp of water per hour to make it last. It was that insane, and mostly thanks to the porters finishing off our water – and they repeatedly asked us for more water through the day as well as we tried to explain to them we had no more! It’s my first experience of water taking on more value than liquid gold. We walked 23km that day, and by the end there were a few sore knees and blisters appearing after all the downhill walking. At the Hut that night we had a spring and were very excited to replenish our water supplies and cook a hot dinner. I tried to wash our dishes but this was made more difficult by the fact that our water bowl had been broken by porters. The kettle was also dented. More food appeared than the previous night – sacks that had not appeared the previous night and we’re not sure where the porters had put them so suddenly we had a lot more food than we originally thought, we’d been rationing food the night before also. We managed to beat our early night record of the previous night, Lee, Lindi and I in bed by 7.53pm – though this time we were camped right between the porter’s fire and another group of climbers who all were really loud and kept tripping over our guy ropes but nonetheless, as tired as we were, we all managed to get an even better night sleep than the night before.

The following morning we were off by 7am, though Lindi, Lee and I had lain awake in bed for at least 15 minutes saying how much we didn’t want to get up ;-) I swear I didn’t feel too bad when I woke up but when I went to put my boots back on I’m pretty sure I HEARD my feet physically groan. Hot breakfast in us, we headed off on the final 17km walk down from the mountain. We crossed some more great scenery, emerging from jungle to cross the lava flows from the 1999 and 2000 eruptions which was very surreal. It looks just like a black frozen river running down the mountain, greenery either side of it. About an hour or so into the walk I decided I was going to get big blisters on my big toes so took my shoes off to pre-empt this with plasters.... too late as large sheets of skin appeared dangling off my toes. Oops. Sorry for the graphic details! I plastered them up and headed on. We re-entered the jungle and walked for km and km, as we went all feeling the effects on knees, shins and blistered feet. Kirsten had a rolled ankle from the day before also. I think I speak for the group when I say that we were all looking forward to the end by the time we only had a few km to go – it really was quite torturous on my feet I know that!!!

We mostly stuck together and it took us about 6 hours to reach the end. I was too scared to remove my shoes when we finished. After a few beers, snacks and thanking the porters – some people tipped them which I found odd and disagreed with after their behaviour. Then it was back to campsite. Climbing Mt Cameroon was probably physically the hardest three days I’ve ever been through, only ever having climbed Mt Sinai and the upper part of Cotapaxi before. However, apart from the porters, and our stinky bags in need of desperate washes, the experience was a really great one, we travelled through some awesome scenery, we pushed ourselves to meet the challenge, and by jeepers we did it!!!!!!! I’d recommend it – but don’t underestimate it and look carefully into the porters and guides that will be accompanying you! :-)

The first day Bunny reaches Limbe again and Martin is recovering from a large drunken night before – Big G is delighted to show me pics on his phone of Martin stuck in a drain hole, spewing in a bar and peeing on a tractor. Ah-hem... Bunny also learns of the horrific earthquake in Christchurch and the increasing violence and riots across North Africa and the Middle East. Libya, Bahrain and Egypt are all a boiling mess. We worry about our flight back to the UK and it’s transit in Libya. Protests are also being threatened in all large towns and cities in Cameroon. Limbe is on the list as well as Douala where we are flying out of in a few days time and Yaounde where the truck heads next. Jeepers! We manage to drag my tired and blistered feet down to Chella’s restaurant at the sanctuary and have some awesome pizza and a great time with the owners Erica and Ryan. Sounds like most of our group have been hanging at their restaurant on a daily basis.

The following day was supposed to be our last day in Limbe but the truck is stalling another day at least to figure out the effects of the protesting in Yaounde. Bunny spends the day hobbling around and putting a poor effort in with cookgroup as she can’t move all that fast! As well as catching up on internet and so forth! We stop into a local travel agent who tells us that all passengers on Air Afriqiyah that were supposed to be transiting Tripoli (eg – us) are being moved on to Royal Air Maroc flights which eases that worry a bit.

Our last full day in Limbe and we spend it packing for our flights – oh joy! - selling off and giving away various things we’re not taking back to the UK, and getting last minute flippo footage of everyone for the video Bunny wants to make on our return to the UK. That night we are joined by the entire truck at Chella’s for dinner and drinks and have a really nice last night on the trip. We’ve met some truly awesome people and it’s sad to be leaving. We really appreciated everyone going out with us, Mandy and Lee’s gift of ‘MSG in a bottle’ otherwise known as Maggi :-) (and Amalie chugging that beer for her flippo video ha ha). Erica had been making Lemoncello that week and promised it would be ready that night and true to form it was – and it was awesome!!! Bunny’s contemplating writing to her for the recipe. They gave us all a shot after dinner and later after the majority of us had slunk away to bed Martin and a few others spent a few hours drinking into the night and got through another 2 litres of the Lemoncello, or so a source tells me.

The next day was supposed to be our last day in Cameroon...... turned out to be quite a long day. We set off from the hotel/camp about 8am and headed towards Douala. We reached it in about 2 hours and all too quickly the truck was pulling over for us to jump out. It really did happen all too quickly even though we knew it was coming!! We grabbed all our stuff while Andi pulled a taxi over for us. Martin managed to run back into the truck and do a lightening round of hugs while Bunny watched the taxi and so only managed hugs from Andi, Hastie and Tim and Nicole who had lugged bags down for us and a frantic waving to others! Then it was into the taxi and we were waving goodbye. 15 weeks of travelling with these people and as the taxi pulled away with us waving hectically from the windows and they grew smaller in the rearview mirror, we hoped that we’d be able to catch up with most of them somewhere on the globe in years to come.......

So then the flight saga started. Buoyed up by thinking we were being shifted on to Air Maroc, we checked into the Beaujose-Mirabela Hotel and then immediately asked reception to phone the Air Afriqiyah office for us. We were through pretty quick and they confirmed we were being shifted on to the 5.20am flight on Air Maroc but that Air Maroc had not confirmed by email yet – to ring back after 12.30pm. All sounded pretty good. So far.

Unfortunately at 1.30pm we were told they still hadn’t confirmed us on Air Maroc.
At 3.30pm and 5pm we couldn’t get hold of the airline. Mmmmm we were now a bit worried.
At about 6pm we got a call from Air Afriqiyah. They said they couldn’t book us tickets on Air Maroc. In the end, though we argued, it came down to staying in Douala until further notice or buy ourselves new tickets on another airline. At last minute prices. Gutted!
Quick calls to insurance company confirmed that they couldn’t help because it WAS the airline’s responsibility.
Eventually we headed out to the airport, minus our gear, to see if we could get more help. No help from Air Afriqiyah, but a travel agent at the airport sold us tickets on Air Maroc’s flight the next morning for 1000 GBP. Bugger, a saving on previous flights we’d found but not what we wanted to be spending our money on on the last day of our trip! At least we finally had flights home again.

We headed back to town for dinner (on the plus side we found a place called Mediteranee right near the hotel that was pretty cool and had nice food!) and managed to grab about 4 hours sleep before heading back to the airport again. The first flight went smoothly, a big delay at Casablanca then finally we were landing back in Heathrow. Ugh, what a day. We had such a fantastic time in West Africa but the joys of that trip all seemed so far away already!

It was sad to leave Africa, a continent we’re head over heels for, but we know we’ll be back and we hope to catch up with some of the amazing people we’ve met as they continue travels up to the UK later in the year. Every time we end a trip like this it’s sad to head home, but at least this time was a little different – we’ve got exciting things ahead.... we finally get to move into the London flat we bought last year (and all the furniture shopping that entails!), and our dog Oslo arrives in London in just three days time – we can’t wait to get him back! So there are some exciting things ahead but as I write this it’s just surreal. I’m sitting in our empty house, waiting for Martin to collect our car and bring the first load of stuff! I look out the window and instead of blue skies, sunshine, lush rainforests, ramshackle huts with no running water or electricity, I see London suburbia, a pretty street for sure – but orderly and maintained, with immaculate brick houses with satellites, clean concrete pavements and tarsealed roads, power poles, flower baskets hanging from lamp posts and picket fences, white Europeans walking the streets, big old trees, rain and grey skies. It’s quite simply a whole other world. Until the next trip.... au revoir!

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