Where I Lived in Cameroon

I realized today that I never did post a good description of my surroundings in Buea, Cameroon where I spent my summer volunteering. So, lazy man that I am, I will now post such a description. But I didn’t write it, Mirte did. Mirte is another volunteer who lived in the same house as me. She had been in Buea for a month before I arrived and who is still there for a little while longer – talk about dedication! Here is a really good description of where we lived, from her blog which is now in both English and Dutch, at http://mirtebijuac.waarbenjij.nu/.

“The main street of Buea (there is only one) is paved (asfalt), but most, if not almost all other streets are unpaved. “Unpaved” here ranges from incredibly muddy and bumpy (like the road to Mamfe) to stony and trash belt like. The street in front of the volunteer house that I am living in is a combination: it is very muddy, has many bumps and parts that have been cut away by the rain, and at the entrance has something that truly resembles a trash belt in the sense that you’ll be able to find objects ranging from the rather ordinary bags, can and half-eaten food to used condoms, shoes, t-shirts and bra’s. If you end up in there at night wearing flipflaps you definitely will want to go and wash your feet!

If it rains (which is does, a lot), the street transforms into a muddy little stream – resembling the ones that I used to be so excited about when I found one at our campsites as a kid: “Look Mum, we’ve got our own RIVER!” We have a complete duck family living around the corner, six ducklings and one mother, and there are a few more down the road. Need I say more?

At the side of the road you will find countless little stands selling anything from airtime (in the absence of fixed payphones, people offer their mobile phone for usage against payment) to roasted peanuts, oranges, coconut sweet (cut and fried coconut) and soya. The latter is as far from vegetarian you can get: it’s a stick of meat from the fire, and truly quite yummie!

At night, this scene transforms into a lively and cosy place: the sellers continue until approximately 21.00 or even 22.00, and all the bars open their doors to allow the inhabitants to engage in their favorite way to spend time: drinking Castel (local beer) or Guinness. Everywhere you go, you’ll see the little parasols lit up by lamp bulbs indicating someone’s presence as a seller, the music of the one trying to outweigh the music of his neighbor.”

Big thanks to Mirte for that neat description of where I used to live!

Us volunteers eating soya at our favourite hangout, ‘Abidjan’ (photo taken with Bram Stelt’s camera)

Creature Photography

Over the course of the three months I spent in Cameroon, I managed to take a few photos of strange creatures. It was rainy season, so there were not as many opportunities to take wildlife photographs as one might expect. I was also living in a densely populated, garbage-strewn city, so there was not so much wildlife right by my house.

Geckos are of course everywhere in Cameroon, and the more the merrier – they keep the mosquitoes at bay and they make no noise and no mess!

Various types of lizard also live all over the place, like this one near the ceiling outside one of the school buildings on the new site:

I really liked these colourful lizards. The males were colourful like this, the females rather dull and smaller. This one is near the beach:

Centipede on the path at the new school site, with size perspective from someone’s hand:

We found this guy sitting on the root of a tree at the beach:

This is the inside of my bedroom door. This beast didn’t live to see this photo unfortunately:

We couldn’t identify this species, but she was very cute and cuddly:

These guys liked to chill outside my house, which they were not allowed to do:

Maybe an anthropologist knows what this is? I don’t, and I’m the one who made it with my food…

This skink decided to visit us on our table on another beach trip. It seems every beach trip (I only went 3 times the whole summer) resulted in neat little creatures showing up! Seems he was interested in reading my book, Globalization and its Discontents, by Joseph Stiglitz.

The colour combination of the plastic bag and tablecloth, combined with the effect of the maximum possible aperture of f/4.0 on my lens, created a neat effect in this one:

To get Mr Skink back off the table and into his natural environment (and also to take a nice photo) I carefully got him to climb into this empty glass for transport:

Motorcycle Jungle Adventure!

On August 5th we woke up in our beach side guesthouse and soon set off on our day’s mission: finding our way into the jungle.

We didn’t eat breakfast, as there wasn’t really any place open so early to buy food. We both rode on one motorcycle (me in the middle) to the office where the officials organize permits and WWF-certified guides to take people into the bush. We were told to arrive at 7 or 730am and they showed up a bit after 8 to talk to us. While we waited, we noticed the hundreds of dead bugs around on the veranda. I blew one large moth into the gutter, and it turns out it was still alive! In a lightning-fast blur of motion, a huge black ant had attacked the newly arrived moth in the gutter. The two of them battled for at least 10 minutes before the ant finally pulled the moth into some hole where I presume it finished the moth off.

After organizing our trip with the officials and working out how we would get by on the very small amount of money we had, we set off on two motorcycles for the bush. We drove for about an hour at breakneck speeds up and down huge hills, around and at times into potholes, and became airborne more than once. By the end of that ride I had probably doubled the muscle mass of my hands and arms from holding onto the motorbike frame! After finding a local villager to accompany us (required by law), we set out by foot. As we officially entered the reserve we saw this map, which appeared in the surfing magazine Sam had, and was actually our inspiration for making the trip!

Unfortunately, after about an hour of walking in the heat, the local villager started asking us how much we were going to give him at the end of the trip. Having already negotiated a price before setting off, we told him there was no bonus, we were flat broke and had not even enough to get home to Buea, which was in fact the truth. We argued for a while but he refused to change his mind and decided to head back to his village. Our official guide also headed back and told us to stay put there in the jungle. While we waited and worried about the crazy noises we kept hearing, I almost bumped into a massive spiderweb, so I took a photo of the beast that lived there:

Our guide returned after about an hour, alone and on his motorcycle, which he had amazingly been able to drive along the old disused path. We all climbed on and our plan changed: our “hike” through the jungle became a motorcycle adventure!

At one point, we ran into a little trouble as one of the spiked tree leeches happened to fall on Sam. I managed to get a photo with my point and shoot before our guide carefully pried the little creature off Sam’s chest with a small tree branch.

Eventually we hid the motorcycle in the jungle and began actually trekking. We passed a bunch of neat termite nests, like this one:

When it was time to sleep we set up camp by a small brooke of water. Sam really enjoyed drinking the barely moving water out of his leaf cup.

We managed to get the tent set up without too much hassle, and after eating a granola bar for supper (we really had no food) we went to bed not long after 6pm as dark descended and the mosquitoes came out.

We managed to keep most of the mosquitoes out of the tent, but in the middle of the very uncomfortable night I woke up with a strange itchy pain on my calf. I also noticed that our guide was awake and working at something. It turns out I had a red ant biting into my leg and he had a few dozen of them attacking him as they filed through a small hole in the tent in his corner. We spent half an hour killing as many as we could and eventually fell back asleep.

The next day we were up again looking for animals and such. We saw a number of monkeys throughout the days, and a gorilla that was hidden from view but identifiable by its slow climbing and escape, and a few tiny forest antelopes. We also saw tonnes of destruction left by a herd of elephants, and tonnes of elephant faeces and huge footprints in the mud.

Seeing as how we had no food, I kept asking our guide about every single berry type thing I saw, and always the answer was that we could not eat it. Finally on this second day of our little adventure, he found a kola nut tree and used his machete to open up a few for us to eat.

We had become quite thirsty as well as hungry, and eventually we came to an area where some woody vines grew. Our guide chopped sections off the bines and we could drink tonnes of water that poured right out of these vines like tap water. We filled my 1L Nalgene bottle no problem!

We eventually arrived back at our hidden motorcycle and removed all of our camouflage, managed to haul it back to the road, and our guide hooked up the electrical connections again (he had immobilized it manually just in case).

We had become very accustomed to this semi-offroad motorcycle riding by this point, so on our multi-hour trip back out of the jungle I took a few photos while moving, such as this self-portrait:

At one point we stopped suddenly as our guide spotted some chimpanzees eating wild mangoes. We scared off the chimps and feasted on the wild mangoes, yum!

The road, as I said, was disused and no longer fit for a motorcycle. In addition, the elephants had really caused a lot of destruction in some places, like this:

I decided to take a short video with my point and shoot camera to show what it was like on the motorcycle as we drove through the overgrown old path, with bushes and branches and razor leaves (literally razors, they drew a lot of blood and we were covered in slices on our arms and faces afterward). I couldn’t rotate the video, so you’ll have to turn your head or your monitor, sorry! At one point you hear me and Sam talking a bit – it’s hard to tell from the video but we were going into and back out of a ditch in the road, which involved weaving and wobbling and feeling like we were going to fall over and/or fly off our seat:

[tubepress video=”8nYO3vTbMrg”]

We eventually got out of the park, but on our way back along the real road to the little town of Campo, we spotted a big SUV at the side of the road. Our guide knew someone there so we stopped and Sam and I began talking with a foreigner who turned out to be visiting on work from South Africa and was happy to find someone who spoke English in this very Francophone region of Cameroon (I had to translate the entire time in the jungle between our Francophone guide and Anglophone Sam). We ended up staying there with him for several hours chatting about this, that and everything else, and he and his hired driver and assistant offered us a ride not just back to Campo but all the way back to Kribi! It was a luxury ride in a brand new SUV with airconditioning and good suspension, and the driver really knew how to get where he was going! We arrived in Kribi having saved a tonne of time and money, and we even got to share a beer at the guy’s hotel with a great view:

Not only that, but he later joined us for supper at our preferred low-class but delicious restaurant, and he ended up covering our meals and our drinks, so we saved enough to buy our breakfast the next morning! We hadn’t eaten properly in several days, so this huge meal and the knowledge of a proper breakfast in the morning really made our week!

The next morning we set off for Douala and Buea after Sam cashed some emergency foreign currency he was carrying, just enough for us to get home! We managed this time to make it back to Buea without any real hitches.

The public transport minibuses all have little warnings painted on the inside, and I thought these two were amusing:

Sorry for the long post, but that was our adventure in the south of Cameroon!

100 km/d

On August 3rd I left Buea for a short trip with Sam. Sam is a Welsh medical student who was doing some volunteer work at the local hospital and health clinics, and we decided to go on an adventure down to the south of Cameroon to Campo Ma’an national park, famed for its gorillas, elephants, and strange creatures.

First, we got on a bus from Buea to Douala. We were lucky to find a bus that was already nearly full, so we only waited a few minutes before the bus left. Our luck soon ran out when the bus began to make strange noises and broke down. The driver managed to get us a certain distance at very low speed but eventually we had to get out and wait for a passing bus to pick us up. Of course the passing bus was already full so adding several people from our bus made things all the more “cozy.”

We arrived soon after in Bonabéri, described by one blogger as “an over-populated, under-developed urban slum section of Douala.” We both knew where we were and it was midday so it was fairly safe, though I did have to remove one young guy’s hand from my pocket and slap him on the wrist for it, as did Sam. The pickpocket didn’t realize the pockets he aimed for were empty – we’re not that dumb. Got a bus-taxi from Bonabéri to the Akwa area of Douala, a very central area of the city. The driver told us that, from where he dropped us off, we just had to walk about 5 metres back to the corner for the bus company we were looking for, Jako Voyages. I persuaded him to give me my proper change before getting out, and we quickly realized he was lying – Jako Voyages wasn’t there. So we asked a kid on the street, paid him the equivalent of 20 cents Canadian, climbed onto the backs of motorcycles and got driven through very busy midday traffic to the bus office for the next leg of our trip.

The ticket-seller told us we’d be leaving in 45 minutes so we decided to eat some food at the station. Without even finishing our drinks the PA system came on and told everyone for our bus that we had to go outside. So we did. And then we waited. And waited. And it started raining. And we waited. Finally after an hour and a half waiting and being pushed and shoved by the crowd, they began calling out numbers. When they finally decided the bus was full after an hour or so of number-calling, the last person to get on the bus was number 9-22. I was 9-23 and Sam was 9-24.

Back inside we waited again, the ticket-seller told us 45 minutes again til the next bus, and we realized he says that to anyone who asks, no matter what. We got on a bus eventually, though I had to dig my elbow into a woman to get her to stop blocking my way and pull myself onto the bus with a lot of force as so many people are competing to get on the bus. They don’t understand that the driver only lets you on when he calls your number, so there’s always a huge shouting match where the driver and a few reasonable passengers yell at the unreasonable passengers trying to get on before their number is called. So I had a bunch of people yelling on my behalf to let me on, while a bunch of other people thought they should get on before the people with lower numbers.

The bus took a few hours to get there, but it was comfortable enough and the road was pretty good. We arrived in Kribi just after 10pm – so much for making it all the way to Campo in one day. Sam had been to Kribi before so he knew exactly where a cheap hotel was located, and after a 2 minute walk we were registering at the reception.

The next morning we each ate two fresh baguettes with La Vache Qui Rie (Laughing Cow) cheese which was heavenly after the previous day’s severe lack of food. We looked around for a bus to Campo and paid at the only company that seemed to be going that day. Then we waited. And waited. And waited. Several hours later, the company told us to get off the fairly empty bus and get into a smaller bus – a new driver was arriving and we were to leave shortly, as the normal bus was not going to fill up and they didn’t want us to be stuck. We left, and after about half an hour we stopped in the middle of nowhere. The guy in front of me got out, climbed onto a motorcycle driving in the opposite direction, and took off. We drove a few more minutes then stopped in a tiny village. We got out. We waited. And waited. And waited. The guy returned on another motorcycle – he had forgotten his jacket at the bus station in Kribi and had gone back to get it.

The road to Campo is not good, and it was a tough ride which ended after 7pm when it was already pitch black. Not knowing where to go, we just started walking and asked some ladies at a food stall where we could find accommodation but they wanted money for it (a lot of money, around $5 Canadian equivalent) so we walked off. Some guy came out of a restaurant and told us he could help us. Very sketchy, but what other options are there? So we told him we knew there was some kind of beach hotel we had been told about, and he took us there, the one we had seen in photos. We booked ourselves in then he took us looking for food. We ordered antelope from a food stall but when we sat down at a restaurant to eat the antelope (we were sitting at the restaurant because they sell drinks and allow people to bring their own food) we realized it was stone-cold even though we asked for it to be really hot. So we both gave our meat to Samuel, the local guy who was helping us. He was amused that he and Sam share the same name. We ate the cold white rice plain and had a couple of beers before heading to bed.

And that’s how it took 2 full days to travel from Buea to Campo, a distance of 209 km as the crow flies. In the next blog entry, you’ll get to see why we made this trip, and why the rough travel conditions were worth it. It will also be a rare occasion when I post a short video!