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!

First Leg

Well, I finally managed to get the use of some photo-editing software to resize, crop, and ‘adjust’ (i.e. brightness, contrast, colour levels) a few of the photos I’ve taken since leaving Canada. Not only that, I even managed to upload them to the interwebernet on a 2KB/s internet connection. I’ll be posting several sets of photos over the next few days, and in each entry I plan on keeping the text to a minimum due to time restraints and an inability to remember what went on way back when many of these were taken.

I left Vancouver May 27th, landed in London on the morning of the 28th, and got off a bus in Paris by nightfall. I spent a few days at my friend Scary’s place along with my old pal Martin, and even got to meet up with Robin and Maya for a few hours one day. The girls and I went to Sacré Coeur cathedral and one of the big Parisian cemeteries where we marvelled at the crazy monuments (some were basically small churches on top of tombs), and the hundreds of stray cats.

Sacré Coeur

Robin and Maya exploring the cemetery

Somehow my Canon Powershot SD1000 point-and-shoot digital camera managed to capture two images in one… this happens when you forget to wind your film forward on an old manual camera, but how a digital camera could combine two images, without any exposure issues, is a real mystery. Then again, we were in a place full of ghosts and things.


Cool stained glass

Only in Paris…

After a few days I headed back to England to drop off my luggage at my friend Oz’s place in Poole. I took a sidetrip in London first to go visit the Imperial War Museum, a place I had intended to visit 5 years earlier when I lived in East Sussex. A few cool machines:

Imperial War Museum silhouette (boring photo taken on point-and-shoot; contrast and brightness levels taken to extremes to make it less boring)

What I always seem to remember best about London – the dirty, smelly, noisy Tube. There was a really good musician playing in one of the stations, in the long round corridor that leads down to the platform, creating a really rich tone which faded into the distance as I walked away. I had to work hard not to break into a big smile amidst all the gloomy suits in the station.

The trains at Waterloo Station, my departure point for the 3hr ride to Poole.

Mealtime with Oz’s family. I can definitely say it was impossible to go hungry while staying with Oz and his parents, who were super hospitable and always ready with a hot cup of tea :-)

Mr and Mrs Ahmed even took me to a boot sale! It’s basically a huge field turned into a yard-sale with hundreds of people who pay a fee to set up a table and sell their stuff. This lady’s job is to collect the small entrance fee from each car of people coming to buy stuff (i.e. us!). I got a cell phone to use in Sweden for cheap, and generally had a great time looking at all the stuff. It reminded me in a strange way of the Chiang Mai Sunday Night Market in Thailand… Jos, Ron, and Ian would probably understand.

As part of the agreement by which Oz managed to NOT wake up bright and early and go to the boot sale (he doesn’t like them, even though they’re so much fun), he agreed to mow the lawn. When we got home, he was not only awake, but had finished the lawn and was going to town on the hedges!

Unfortunately, time never really stops, and my stay with the Ahmed family was soon at an end.

After a solid night’s sleep on a relatively comfy bench in the surprisingly quiet Gatwick Airport surrounded by other sofa-surfers, I hit he skies en route to Douala via Brussels.

We left Gatwick very late, so when we landed in Belgium I ran to my next departure gate and boarded the plane without any waiting around. Once aboard, however, we had a delay of a few minutes after undercover police decided to arrest and remove a lady sitting a couple of rows back from me, while she kicked and screamed in a rather sad and desperate way, with most of the Africans on the plane yelling in different languages at the poor flight attendants for allowing such a thing to happen. I was just glad it wasn’t me.

After a relatively uneventful flight (the only event was the Congolese magistrate next to me spilling his red wine all over himself) we landed in Douala, Cameroon. Brussels Airlines even managed to get my luggage on the plane, which is saying a lot when landing in Cameroon: about 1/3 of volunteers who have arrived after me have had their luggage delayed by several days (none delayed on Brussels Airlines), and a few things have even disappeared in transit from inside of luggage.

This post is a bit more long-winded than planned, but then again I’m not known for being concise.