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Here for a good time, not a long time

So have a good time, the sun can not shine everyday

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June 10th marked our entry into Cameroon, the 12th country encountered thus far, and it made for an interesting installment to say the least. Our driver, Chris, had heard of a supposed hippo trainer so we thought we’d check it out. We managed to find the guy and off we went to the river bank on a whimsical excursion. None of us had any preconceived notions of what to expect and I don’t think anyone realized just how ’hands-on’ it would be. We were first led to the river bank where I happily took photos of the raft of hippos off in the distant waters. The hippo-trainer then got into the water and waded out to meet the beasts; at this point we were all pretty convinced this guy was mad. Our impressions were premature however, as an assistant came around the river bend with two dodgy pirogue canoes. I was a bit weary but thought ‘awesome, I’ll get to see the hippos from a closer distance’… the first canoe was poled over to the shallow bank in the middle of the river, and while I boarded the next I was flabbergasted to see those in the first boat getting out for a better vantage point - IN the river. I followed suit somewhat apprehensively while 10 hippos circled around, surfacing closer and closer. I kept thinking back to what I know about the blubbery mammals, namely that they account for the most deaths of any animal in Africa and wondered if it was due to gullible tourists vying for a too-good-to-be-true adventure. Keeping a “safe” distance, the lot of us looked on with a mix of petrified and stoked faces as the massive animals came within five feet of us while a crazy man in his knickers hand fed one. As it turned out, only ONE of the hippos was ‘tame’, and the other members of the family were just as close (including a male, the biggest hippo Chris had ever seen, who kept submerging). For the brave at heart we also had the opportunity to feed and pet the tame hippopotamus. When it became my turn a calf turned up for a feed and the trainer still tried to direct the mother in my direction. I managed to pet her but if there is one golden rule I know of any dangerous animal its not to get in-between a mother and her young, so I happily backed off and we set off to shore. It was certainly a once in a lifetime opportunity that would never be advertised in any other African country and not something I ever thought I’d get (or want) a chance to do, but definitely in my top 5 best moments! The days excitement didn’t stop there though; at our bush camp later that evening we were swarmed by flying termites. Apparently the event only happens two nights a year during the breeding period when hundreds of thousands of winged termites swarm, drop their wings, and pair up. While it was quite a spectacular event to see, it was a shame I was on cook duty that night! Lets just say everyone had an extra serving of protein, and it was best not to eat with a torch on. Clean up was at the height of the infestation and we were left covered in bugs; we also spent a good portion of the morning cleaning the remnants of thousands of dropped wings out of the food lockers.
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The next five days were spent in transit towards the capital, Yaoundé, to collect visas for Gabon, Congo, and DRC. We passed through in the height of the rainy season, a much different climate to muggy and stinking hot Nigeria. The road through is a particularly rough logging road making for some uncomfortable days in the back of the truck. The heavy rains also cause the rain barriers to become set down, though they were easily avoided with cigarette bribes or exaggerations of acute illness. The state of our radiator didn’t make the journey through any easier, nor did our missing headlights; so travel was only made before nightfall and frequent stops were made to mend the rad. Before arrival in Yaoundé we bush camped for nine days total, all without showers, and within very close proximity to each other. That length of time was difficult to be in such a confined space and I think a lot of nerves began to fray. You can try to take everything with a grain of salt, but at the end of the day we sweat an awful lot! All in all, it was a difficult travel period but managed successfully and made for a well deserved break entering Yaoundé. The scenery passing through northern Cameroon was absolutely stunning. It was my first visit to rain forest area apart from the temperate rainforests of BC, and is by far my favourite biome visited. The morning fog veiled the forest canopy below at one memorable bush camp, making for a scenic restroom. Driving closer towards the capital we came across sugarcane fields which were a complete change of backdrop and also very picturesque.
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The town of Yaoundé is 750m above sea level and composed of a series of hills dispersed amongst the valley. We stayed at a Presbyterian mission there that was unfortunately suffering a water shortage so I instead opted to ‘splurge’ on a hotel down the road with showers, TV and wifi - it was a very appreciated luxury after so many days on the road. Most everyone made frequent visits to the local French patisseries for cheese pies, croissants, and cakes; the long days on the road through small villages often leave us with only packs of biscuits, bread rolls, laughing-cow cheese, or tinned goods for lunch if we’re lucky. it also seems fresh produce is quite sparse in the markets, surprising given the seemingly fertile land.
Apart from having hot showers and internet access there wasn’t much to see and do in Yaoundé, but I managed to make the most of it anyhow. Lene and I had a memorable day in Mokolo, the grand market, clothes shopping. It seems all of the hundreds of stalls are run by men and are very infrequently visited by white women. Much laughter and amusement was had by the two of us as we were completely swarmed by exceptionally forward locals making advancements, and fighting amongst themselves for our attention. It’s not uncommon to attract a lot of fascination throughout west Africa, nor do I principally enjoy it, but this particular market was a level beyond belief and made for a very funny afternoon. Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to purchase much since it was all a bit too overwhelming...
Leaving Yaoundé, finally, we ventured off to Kribi after losing 5 Mt. Cameroon climbers. Of course, the road in between isn’t sealed and the recent rains left us stuck in the ditch in no time. The locals passing through were all too keen to help and after hours of digging there was little progress, in fact, the truck became increasingly inclined and rutted farther into the mud. I’m not normally too phased by such predicaments (as I’ve been known to have been in a few of my own :S) but the angle of the truck was starting to make me nervous and I’m surprised it didn’t end up tipping. By 9:00pm there was no hope of digging it out and a dump truck passing through finally came to the rescue and pulled us out. By this point we had set up camp at a church down the road so we parked up and went on our way in the morning before encroaching upon the Sunday service.
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Entering the coastal beach town of Kribi we were greeted with a tropical rainstorm. One night in a tent was enough, and for the bargain price of about $2 each, Lene, Martin, and myself were treated to ‘the beach house’ - of course, this IS Africa, and the water pump was down, as was the electricity 90% of the time so water was fetched from the well and candles were lit. In Kribi I was also able to make use of some fabric purchased in Nigeria; by just bringing in a few meters and a drawing of what I wanted, the very talented seamstresses conjured up a custom African dress for a bargain price. The weather managed to calm down over the few days beachside, so the clean warm ocean water was visited frequently. Lene and I befriended a cook from the restaurant we frequented, who got us a bargain deal on 5 crates of beer for the truck, the supplies of which had run out quickly in the long and grueling Cameroon drive days.
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Leaving Kribi, we ventured back to Yaoundé to pick up our Gabonese visas along with Sarah (who had fallen victim of malaria), Ben and Gary. On route we were fortunate enough to visit Mefou national park, a tucked away sanctuary for chimps, lowland gorillas and other primates. Being able to observe the extremely endangered gorillas from such a close distance was a special experience for everyone who partook, and the sanctuary does a good job of providing a large enclosed space for the animals severely targeted by bushmeat hunters in the area. We were also visiting during what the UN declared "year of the gorilla" in an effort to boost conservation and awareness. All-in-all it was a favoured activity and we all had to be dragged away from the magnificent and curious animals with whom we share so much. Looking into their human-like eyes you can feel an instant connection and feel as though they can read your thoughts just the same. In the case of the chimp enclosure, I felt as though I was visiting an insane asylum!
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From Mefou we headed to the Gabon border via Ebolawa. Most were quite happy to leave Cameroon after finding the people unfriendly, I however consider it my favourite countries visited so far in terms of scenery and city ambiance. It is a rather French-feeling country, and people are fairly standoffish but the nightlife and people, once you get to know them, more than make up for it. Our last night in Yaoundé was a prime example. Six of us met a few locals outside a supermarket make-shift bar and ended up going to the local hangouts with our new friends Francis, Renée, and Renaldo, who insisted on buying all the rounds, much to our dispute. It was a prime example of the hospitality and generosity of the people throughout many countries visited and the sort of night that’s always one of the best. It also exemplifies one of the downturns of this sort of travel, as we are never really in one place long enough to get to know the friends made and are constantly leaving for a new destination.

Posted by binderblog 06:53 Archived in Cameroon Tagged backpacking

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