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Published: January 31st 2011
road from Mamfé to Kumba
Cameroon...entering into this country from Nigeria entailed crossing a long, single lane bridge that passes high above one of the many fish-filled rivers winding their way through the region. The river is banked on either side by high rock walls that give way to thick jungle, and besides the small sturdy bridge and border control posts on either end, the only human influence that can be seen is that of a small dugout canoe that ripples through the water as the villager guiding it searches for a suitable spot to find dinner. As I walked across the bridge I had to stop to take it all in; no photographs because African border police are suspicious people, but it's not like a picture could have done justice to the beauty of that place anyway. That first view, when you are not even completely inside the country yet, is enough to make one fall in love. But of course it doesn't stop there; the frontier is only the first piece of paradise in Cameroon's perfection.
After crossing into the country and hiking the short distance to the first village, immigration was refreshingly easy and on hiking out the other side of the
village a military checkpoint happily helped me hitch a diplomatic ride with the only non-commercial vehicle passing by, and for three hours we bounced and jerked our way along a horribly potholed single lane road - the few vehicles we passed (trucks) each had to drive into the bush to allow us to pass. Luckily we were in the dry season as at times the 'potholes' were so big that the sides of the road were level with the roof of the SUV we were riding in, come March no one will be driving that way. The government promises that this road - only one of two that connect Cameroon with their economic giant of a neighbour - will be paved "soon"...
That first day was an appetising taste of Cameroon's perfect balancing act between calming beauty and rugged adventure, tradition and modernity, desert, mountains, jungle and beach. The second day followed along a similar red-earth track, crossing more indescribably beautiful virgin forest with long stretches untouched by villages or the effects of farming, with the lush hills in the distance occasionally breaking their sea of green with the vibrant red flowers from a blossoming wild fruit tree. The
Saw this poster in a village bar, the second line of the contest's prizes says '100 loincloths'
monkeys, bats, and colourful birds know where they will be dining in a few months' time.
That road ended upon arrival in dusty Kumba town, to a warm Couchsurfing reception and a visit to the nearby crater lake - lots of fish but once again my basic hook and line attempt was snubbed. By then it was almost New Years, and the plan was to spend it near a jungle beach. Limbe did nicely, with days filled with swimming on the volcanic ash beaches, and hanging out with local university students on their holidays who knew exactly where to head when the sun went down. In fact, my general experience in Cameroon, even in small villages, is that if you are with people who like the nightlife, from sun down to sun up, every day of the week, there is somewhere to go to party. Bars and clubs are hugely popular all over sub-Saharan, non-Muslim Africa, but in Cameroon it all seems significantly amplified. Suited me just fine!
Leaving the shores and rolling hills of Limbé, it was northwards to see the reputable Cameroonian mountains. En route, in a roadside livestock market (men standing on the side of
the road with a few farm animals on leashes) I found the perfect little goat to fulfil my mom's Christmas donation. She was a little better at walking on a leash than most goats, but still proved quite stubborn and not a fan of trekking for hours along the sunny road. But seeing as being a pet goat meant being saved from the Enugi soup, I didnt feel too bad, so I named her Kyle (after my wonderful brother) and we slowly made our way north to the amusement of locals who stopped to stare and attempt to enlighten me that a goat is not a pet. The first day was alright - we got a lift with a curious lawyer who turned out to be one of the prosecutors for the international criminal court during the Arusha Trial for the Rwandan genocide. He was heading to his home village and gave me - and Kyle - a place to stay for the night. The second day proved far more difficult; we got a few short lifts including in a luxury Mercedes sedan (where the goat was reluctantly demoted to the trunk), but by the end of the day Kyle
had given up on walking and resorted to behaviour similar to what happens when you try to walk a fat cat on a leash. Luckily, after 2 hours of alternating between carrying her and trying to get her to walk, we got one more ride and made it to a Couchsurfing Peace Corps' house for the night.
Two days more like this and Kyle and I finally reached the beautiful mountain village of Belo. We stayed with a pastor who also runs a grassroots NGO that sends kids in the area to school and is trying to get a strong base set up for a child sponsorship program. I met the kids, ate with them, stayed in one of their houses, visited the packed three-room school, and saw how their basic program is very effective, with infinitesimal amounts of the 'administration fees' that eat up so much of the funds given to bigger NGOs. Sponsoring a child's school fees is $10 a month, and giving them everything from food to housing and clothing is $25 a month. So skip a meal at McDonalds or turn down a few drinks at a bar and send a kid to school. (www.gmmafrica.org)
I left Kyle the fatigued calico goat to live in those beautiful, avocado-filled mountains with Carine, a teenaged orphan girl who is taking care of her younger siblings. I was left a little lonely, but happy to be once again moving at a better pace. Headed deeper into the mountains, which are clearly another piece of Cameroon's paradise, and across some of the dustiest roads I have seen in my life - there was such a thick layer of dust that at times I slipped as if walking over a layer of wet mud. Spent a night at a police station and the next day was overly excited to get to Yaoundé, where there would be Couchsurfing and a long, cleansing shower.
A week in the capital went by fast, with a lot of running around for visas, and taking in more of the aforementioned partying tendencies and all the Castel and petite Guinness that goes along with it. Met many interesting people, and lapped up the luxury one evening hanging out with an Italian expat - after surviving mostly on street food, a dinner of homemade spaghetti and Italian red wine, followed by provaloni, permeggano (cheese is
Look! Clubs in Africa are the same as back home!
a rare treat), yogurt and nutella chocolates for dessert was not to be taken lightly.
At the moment I am back on the coast in la belle Kribi, sitting in the huge Couchsurfing house that I get all to myself, five minutes from the palm fringed beach in one direction, and green forest in the other. My hosts have treated me to more tantalizing luxury, with delicious meals of freshly grilled fish with cassava 'baton' and fried plantain, plates of prawn (for which Cameroon has it's name), and avocado salads, a visit to the nearby waterfalls where the river tumbles directly into the ocean, plus more of that all-too tempting nightlife. Kribi too can only be described as a piece of paradise.
My visa expires in a few days, and it'll be a sad thing to leave this wonderful country behind. People, climate, varying landscapes, lifestyle, lack of excessive tourism - the pieces seem to be almost all that are needed to put together the mystifying puzzle that is finding paradise on earth.
Update: my visa expired, and Im still here…its such a great country :D (but Im on my way soon, promise!)
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