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Published: September 25th 2006
Getting to Cameroon by land from Nigeria durng the rainy season has not been easy or smart. It would have been much better to take a boat, but it's an adventure right? More adventure than I can stomach actually. I have never seen a road in all of my life and travels that even comes close to being one third as bad as the road I just travelled. It's absolutely incredible. The worst section is seven miles long and has to be walked, because no four wheel drive vehicle on earth could cross it. At points it looks more like a canyon, with abandoned trucks at the bottom, at other points a living river of mud. It's nearly impossible to travel it by foot, often the mud is hip deep, and some sections would just suck you in entirely if you tried to walk on them, so there are winding, horribly slippery paths through the jungle, where the forest canopy blocks out all the light. There are porters who carry goods from one side to the other. Of course they asked for extortionate prices to carry my bag, after they regained their ability to speak(it always lapses upon seeing a white person for a few moments) so I decided to carry my own bag, which worked out alright, but it was pretty brutal. One nice guy wearing a rosary around his neck helped me for a ways, without him I would probably have had to be pulled out of the mud by the entirety of a nearby village. Just incredible, I've really never seen anything like it. More to come tomorrow.
I had a really wonderful time in Nigeria. Calabar is a charming city, that seems like it is trying very hard to turn back into jungle, and where every 5th person wants to have a conversation with me... it made it hard to walk down the street. As I was walking along the road I saw a sign for the "DRILL RANCH" with a monkey on it, and I thought it might be some kind of small zoo. It was a house there, with some drill monkeys and chimps in small enclosures, and I soon foudn out that it was part of a conservation project run by two Americans, from Portland. They were really surprised to see me, there are rarely Americans in Nigeria, even more rarely are there tourists, and supremely rare are American tourists from the pacific northwest. They invited me to stay with them, and I had a few days of rest from the rigors of being immersed in African society. Nice dinners in front of the TV, watching "House", an American show about a doctor, just like in America. I learned a lot about Nigeria from them and life as an expat in Nigeria. They were on a trip similar to mine in 1988 and someone invited them to head a conservation project in Cross River National Park and they accepted, eventually became more interested in saving the drills, one of Africas most endangered monkeys, and they have been there since.
It was nice to stay at their house for free, but the monkeys, who look a lot like short tailed baboons with beautiful black faces, would crash and howl in the cage next to my bed. One time they left me alone at the house, and all the staff left too, handing me a howling baby monkey before leaving, pissing and shitting all over my new white shirt. The one I'm still wearing, 4 days later.
I went up to see the branch of their project in the national park, which was really amazing, beautiful, and a highlight of my trip so far. It's everything you ever imagined tropical rainforest ought to be, and there has recently been installed a canopy walkway, a narrow series of walkways and platforms so you can walk around the upper reaches of the forest, about 100 feet up. There is one in Ghana as well, but this one is newer and better and it was free and I had it to myself. There was also a beautiful swimming hole in the creek by a small waterfall where I had lunch and bathed, surrounded by thick tropical vegetation. Its been my problem in the past that I have not been able to see national parks like this because I don't have the money, usually the transportation and accomodation is understandably expensive in such remote areas, but I got to stay for free because I agreed to courier supplies up to the staff there in the forest.
Most importantly, I couriered and envelope with about 1000 USD in Naira, Nigerian currency, which made me a little nervous when, due to typical African antics, I was not able to make it to the park before nightfall. I was stuck in a small village, but thankfully, showing typical Nigerian hospitality, one of the chiefs sons invited me to stay in his room. I was a little nervous leaving all of that money in the room while I went down to bathe in the creek(nude, with my host graciously holding the flashlight for me, which was a little awkward, especially since he saw fit to coach me on how to best bathe). He then had a nice Nigerian ramen dinner made for me(Nigerian food is shit, by the way, but this wasn't bad) and we watched a horrible Nigerian movie about Christianity, with all the weird sexual undertones of Nigerian society. It included lots of badly edited scenes where preachers magically restored blind mens sight, and lots of moralistic rhetoric stuck in between bizarre almost sex scenes. I spent the night there with my kind host, who asked for nothing in return, which is really so special in Africa, and in all this time no one had looked at my bag or taken any of the money. Nigeria is a wonderful place, I felt safer and more at ease there than almost anywhere else. In the morning I headed up to the park, a nice drive through the rainforest. I think that conservation is much better for villages than village development and aid projects, because I have rarely seen such a prosperous village. Well built schools, clinics, and houses, healthy children, and it all comes from the money going into conservation. The people feeding the animals at the park by the crops of the villagers, and they do well while retaining their sense of dignity and independence. If you want to do something good for Africa I reccommend donating to a wildlife project that combines wildlife conservation with aid and development. The children all cheered when they saw me come in on the back of a motorcycle to the nearest village... which was nicer than Cameroon, where whole villages full of children will run out when they see me and start chanting "White! White! White! White!" There was one nice moment though, some kids started yelling White! at me, and running towards me, and sometimes just to play I raise my arms up and growl angrily just to scare them for fun. I did this, but the kid running toward me seemed not to notice and just hugged me. Then all of his brothers and sisters did the same. The first boy followed me singing a song in which the only word I could recognize was "white".
So I had a very relaxing and nice days in southeastern Nigeria, a fascinating region of the world. I heard a lot of crazy stories about that place, there is still apparently a lot of cannabalism there. The first hotel I stayed at in Calabar overlooked a river and some swamp on the other side. Peter and Liza, the Americans I stayed with told me about a plane that had gone down in that swamp a few years back, and after a few days when the search party found it, they found all the occupants of it still there, but all missing their heads. Sometimes people will take human heads to use in rituals or as charms. The police chief threatened the nearby villagers, who claimed ignorance, that " I want a head to go with each one of those bodies, and if we can't find the heads, I will find some heads, and I don't care if the heads belong to the bodies!" Well... I think they turned up in the end. I heard about a lot of other crazy ju-ju stuff, like millipedes who are specially trained to steal womens' genitals, of course the classic sorcerers who steal mens penis' with a handshake, one story about a guy who was filling his motorcycle up with gas and spilling it all over the place and smoking(which I have personally witnessed more than once) and lit himself and his bike on fire, and got badly burned. He then convinced his whole village that his sister, mother, and grandmother had put a curse on him, and they all got together and dragged them to a nearby bridge, and threw them down onto some rocks, and then got them, dragged them back up the hill and threw them down again and again. Some crazy things happen out in the bush. They survived, of course, but badly injured. He sure taught them.
Of course, all of the people doing these things are devout Christians. The further I get towards central africa, the weirder things become. I just arrived in Cameroon so I don't know how I will feel about it, but I am happy because there are a huge variety of tropical flowers, fruits, butterflies, birds, and it's just all around beautiful flora. The roads are so much worse though... we'll see. There seems to be a lot more scammers and greedy people here, but I met a couple people who were as kind as nearly everyone in Nigeria.... I could write an entire entry here just detailing the acts of kindness, generosity, and hospitality by Nigerians, guiding me, buying me lunch, offering me a place to sleep, etc. Well, I can only hope that Cameroon will be similar, but I don't expect it to be. I am out of internet time, so stay tuned for news. I am right now in Mamfe.
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