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Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Cameroon, part 5

Day 20: drive back to Yaounde. Having done this trip a couple of times now, it is a recognised drive. We check into the very nice (suites & pool) Jully Guest house. We all relaxed the

The rest of the day, a walk around town and a swim. We tried to go to the special fish restaurant we had been to with Fr Patrick, however the process of getting a reasonable taxi proved too much, so we went to a very nice restaurant close by.

Intermittently, a lot of time was taken up with the task of getting the remaining bag from Kenya Airways. They showed very little inclination to assist and absolutely NO inclination to deliver the bag to the hotel. As at the end of the day we think the bag is somewhere in Yaounde. Looking at the piles of baggage etc, our suspicion is that they are running some sort of scam where the bump passenger luggage in favour of more profitable air cargo. Seems to be either a scam or the height of incompetence that they could not put the 3 bags left on the tarmac at Nairobi on the same flight to Douala. Either way, its bad.

Ray driving. 5hours. N 030 52’ 18.7’’  E 0110 31’ 14.4’’

Day 21: we spent the morning looking about for Peter & Hayley’s bag. Turned out that despite all the assurances it was not in Yaounde. Ray went out to the bus depot where it was supposed to be, without success. Anyway we decided to proceed without the bag.

The bag was meant to be arriving on the 11:30 bus. By chance we were passing the bus depot near that time so waited until the bus arrived, but it was not on the bus. Then followed long negotiations with Kenya Airways. At one point they threatened to send the bag back to Nairobi, you can see they have a strong customer focus. Then Ray decided to chat to the local GM and let him know some of the facts of life. The result was that our tour driver would return to Yaounde and collect the bag and Kenya Airways would pay. One of the upsides of the stop at the bus depot was that we found some delicious snacks, Plantain chips! Plantains look like gigantic bananas, however they taste like sweet potato. They slice them into the size of a chip and then fry them, just like hot chips back home, sprinkle a bit of salt and voila!

We had a long drive to the Dja National Park and because of the hassle with Kenya Airways, we arrived in the dark. Then followed a farce with the local, very drunk, cops. Followed by a farce with the local tour manager – he wanted, no insisted, we stay at the local auberge. Mmm, no it was, lets, say not suitable for western tourists. So finally we camped at some houses for the environment department, we had a very tasty dinner (at 10pm) and went straight to bed, without cleaning teeth (sorry Mum!).   

Ray driving. N 030 22’ 27.0’’  E 0120 43’ 59.2’’ The initial section of the road was fine. When the tar finished it deteriorated to a reasonable, single lane, gravel road, however with vegetation very close to the road which meant we needed to be very careful around corners.

Day 22: after a relatively early start, we set off to the Dja national Park. This involved a manual ferry crossing and ~ 6 km on a motor bike track. Ray was driving with 4 porters on the roof rack. Then followed a 12 km (~ 4 hr) walk through the rain forest to a camp. On the way in Hayley made the 1st sighting – a bush squirrel. Our guide informed us that the dance the squirrel was doing was something along the lines of “there’s a stranger in the forest, there’s a stranger in the forest”. At the time we thought to ourselves, good start with the spotting, but we’re here for more interesting game viewing, for example monkeys, antelope, elephants etc, little did we know that this would be one of the two sightings of the trip.

The camp was very basic. There was one open hut with a roof, but otherwise there were no facilities (that means no toilet, not even a drop toilet). A bit unhygenic. Our tent sites were uneven, most of the tents unfortunately didn’t zip up, so there was a bit of a kerfuffle about swapping tents around to make sure that we, the clients, had the tents that zipped up, otherwise we would have been eaten alive by insects. By this stage in our travels we are used to being stared at by the locals and porters, this continued for the next few days, it can’t be that we are interesting, they can’t understand what we’re saying, probably our good looks!

In the evening Avril, Gabrielle & Ray went for a game viewing walk in the forest. They were fortunate to catch sight of a Colobus monkey. We arrived back to camp to a very tasty dinner of beef stew that had a slight hint of bush fire, very good. The chef that we hired from the local village had never been on one of these tours before so our tour guide took over the organisation of the meals, otherwise we are not sure what we would have been eating and God knows what time we would eat, 10pm is not acceptable each night!
Very busy looking for animals!!

~ 6km on a very poor standard motorbike track (pots of scratches to the car). Parked the car at a clearing Ray driving. N 030 20’ 37.9’’  E 0120 45’ 41.4’’

Day 23:

We awoke to noisy porters chatting, a few birds squawking and the humidity of the rainforest, this was the big day of game viewing we had anticipated. We set off early, around 7am, to make sure that we would see the animals in the morning as they are moving around the rainforest. On the way to the monkey viewing rock we passed some elephant droppings, we were informed that it was at least one week old, not very promising. We perched on the rock thinking that we were being very quiet, all of a sudden there was action in the trees, Gabrielle, Avril and Hayley had a very brief glimpse of a monkey. We obviously weren’t that quiet, seven people in bright coloured clothing traipsing through to bush, putting our bags down and getting comfortable, we obviously scared all the animals away. We waited in this spot for about an hour, it was clearly very comfortable because Ray fell asleep, along with our Eco-Guard, and snored very loudly, and yes, we have it on camera! The guide and the guard have incredible hearing, that or they were pretending they could hear animals, so we moved to another viewing rock, about a half hour walk through the rainforest. We perched on another rock thinking we were waiting for Chimps, for the life of us we can’t work out where all the animals are, it couldn’t possibly be the noise we make crashing through the forest, the bright clothing, or the loud noise that our plastic bags make at each stop when we need a snack…we think the main reason is due to Ray’s snoring, yes, he had another sleep at the second viewing rock, this is only 10.30am by the way! After an hour at this viewing rock we moved to the third location, we spotted some antelope droppings, so crouched on the rainforest floor for a good hour. The guide was imitating an antelope noise, the one they make when there is danger around, therefore all the animals come to see what is happening. We perched, we crouched, we waited with baited breath and nothing, but Ray had another sleep and continued to snore on the rainforest floor (no joke!). We moved to another location, the animal danger warning was made again but no luck, no animals sighting, and Ray didn’t sleep on this occasion only because we weren’t there long enough for him to get comfortable enough. We walked for another half hour, made another stop, the animal danger noise was made and nothing came except the incessant Horn Bill bird that we had seen so many other times, it seems to be as common as an Australian Magpie. I know you want to know, the answer is yes, Ray and the Eco-Guard had another sleep, this was the loudest snore of them all. We headed back to camp, Hayley was attacked by ants in her pants, read for the afternoon, washed in the very small stream and relaxed. We had a delicious meal and then toasted marshmellows on the fire. The porters thought the marshmellows were the funniest thing they had ever seen, so we shared them around and they tried it for themselves. 

The positive of the day was that Ray was well rested (after his four naps) and we had a very good cooked meal. The downer, it was no doubt obvious, was that we only had a brief sighting of a monkey and a few more Horn Bills.

No driving, just trekking, no coordinates, too busy napping.

Day 24:

After being kept up late and awoken early (3am) by the chatting porters, we ate a delicious breakfast of omelettes, fruit and crepes, campfire style. Ray, Peter, Gabrille and Hayley (Avril stayed at camp to sort things out) went for an early walk at 6.30am, fingers crossed we would see some animals in the early morning when they are moving around the forest. We walked for an hour and a half, saw the droppings of an antelope and drank fresh water from a tree vine, no animal sightings except the Horn Bill. On the way back to camp we heard a gunshot that was not very far away, we all paused, the guide and Eco-Guard very disappointed. We packed up camp then trekked back to the car for 12kms, Peter won the competition of guessing what time we got back to the car, 12.09pm. The Eco-Guard led the way back instead of the guide, in case we came across the hunters. Not long after we arrived back at the car, the porters arrived and so did two guys on a motorbike with at least one large antelope and three duiker on the back. The guide and the Eco-Guard have the authority to confiscate the kill and arrest the hunters…they took some money (who knows whether it was a bribe or just a fine) and they drove away with the kill. Ray and some of the porters went back to the ferry to send the other car back for the others, Peter, Avril, Gabrielle, Hayley, the guide, the Eco-Guard and some of the porters stayed behind. Whilst we were having our lunch another motorbike came along, this time it was locals with a few fish and nuts on the back. Another 15 minutes later another motorbike arrived with two guys and two huge bags of kill. We decided that it was best that we played dumb and kept to ourselves. In one of the bags was a dead Pangolin (a really big Armadillo) which is incredibly rare, so the guide asked if we’d like to see it, so we did. In the same bag was another antelope and in the other bag was dried/smoked meat, who knows what it was, could be monkey, antelope etc, we didn’t ask. The whole lot was confiscated, the two hunters left empty handed and the mood in the room (forest) was sombre. In the time that we sat waiting for the car, which was an hour, three motorbikes with kill (bush meat) went past, no wonder we didn’t see any animals!! We caught the ferry back, handed out tips to the porters (although most of them didn’t do much to earn it) and set up camp at 3pm. We spent the afternoon relaxing, Avril cleaned the whole inside of the accommodation module as it’s going mouldy with the humidity. We have repacked ready for the early start to get back to Yaounde for Christmas Day.

I know you’re desperate to know what has happened to Hayley and Peter’s bag, it arrived! They did a little dance, it was like Christmas (and yes, it’s Christmas Eve), Peter is splurging out and wearing a new pair of undies tonight after using the same two pairs for the past week (he has hand washed a few times, don’t worry!).

For dinner we had chicken, grated carrot salad and spaghetti, all very tasty. We met the village chief and told him about the hunters and the problems we had with the porters, he assured us that he’s trying to change the ways of the hunters, to teach them that killing the animals means that the tourists won’t come back. There were huge celebrations in the village for Christmas, it seems that they celebrate on Christmas Eve rather than Christmas Day. There was music and lots of laughing, sounded like good times were had by all.

Ray driving, approx. 6kms, 1 hour!!

Day 25 – 25/12/11:

We left the campsite at 6.30am to ensure we arrived back in Yaounde by mid afternoon. Our experiences of driving through Yaounde have been that it takes so long to get to the centre of town because of all the taxis and motorbikes pulling over on the side of the road to collect passengers...however they are not totally off the road so you can’t pass them, you can see how this becomes frustrating. We passed through a number of villages along the way, everyone was dressed in their best clothing for Christmas Day. Some of the children looked so gorgeous, girls in their pretty dresses and boys in smart shirts, often in the same outfit as their siblings. We are not sure how they stay so clean and how the women get the white clothing so white. The dirt is so red and the roads create a lot of dust, all the plants at the side of the road are covered in red soil, sometimes you can’t tell whether the leaves are supposed to be green or red. There were a few places along the way, when the road was still dirt, where soldier ants were marching across the road. From a distance it looks like a few tree branches or a snake on the road there are that many in one place battling from one side of the road to the other in perfect formation. The climate from the rainforest was so humid that our tents and the accommodation module were wet in the morning, Yaounde was a welcomed relief to have drier air again.

Along the way we stopped for lunch in Akonolingo, Christmas lunch on the side of the road consisted of baguettes, camembert, pate, beef skewers, chocolate and soft drinks. We called family members for Christmas and reminisced about what we would normally be doing on Christmas Day including turkey and turkey spaghetti.

We arrived back in Yaounde at 2pm, there was no traffic on the roads, everyone was at home for Christmas celebrations. We spent the afternoon by the pool at the hotel and indulging in some of Grannie’s Christmas cake and Olga’s minced pies, which made it feel a bit more like Christmas! We finally showered after three days in the rainforest and got ready for our Christmas dinner, then had presents. Avril played Santa, Peter, Gabrielle and Hayley received beautiful hand carved sculptures of birds from Kribi as well as hand crafted handbags, Avril received a Kindle and Ray received a fishing jacket to put all his gadgets in at once (Avril thought he might stay up all night figuring out which pocket will contain which gadget, there’s even a secret money pocket). We walked through Yaounde town centre to the Hilton, little did we know that there was going to be a huge street party outside the Hilton with literally every member of Yaounde in attendance. The mood was great, everyone was very merry and anticipating the night’s events. It looks like they were going to have some form of concert, Snow White was playing on a big screen for the kids and there were street food stalls and games areas. Dinner at the Hilton was a buffet, fresh salads of any kind of combination you desired, hot meats and vegetables and many dessert options. We all went back for seconds and had our fair share of desserts as well, after all, Christmas isn’t Christmas unless you try all the food and go home feeling very full!

Peter (the hard dirt sections) & Ray driving (the easy tar sections, on the excuse this was to get through the road blocks). 7hours. N 030 52’ 18.7’’  E 0110 31’ 14.4’’

Day 26 – 26/12/11:

We awoke to an update from Peter about the cricket score back home in Australia, we weren’t doing very well! This is going to be the last big driving day for a while, we set off for the 380kms at 8.30am, from Yaounde to Foumbot. The drive was relatively easy, tar road the whole way, thank goodness! It was Avril and Gabrielle’s turn to drive in the car, the rest of the party (Peter, Ray, Hayley and our guide) were in the tour company’s car. The climate and the terrain changed along the way, from being humid and rainforest to dryer weather and less vegetation. We passed road block after road block, this time it’s different because we are with Cameroonians so we don’t always have to stop and pay the fee, a pleasant break from the usual. At most of the larger road blocks there are hundreds of beautiful pineapples, we have never seen so many! We have taken to buying a few along the way and having them with our lunch and dinner, they are so sweet, Gabrielle and Avril’s favourite. Our typical lunch has consisted of baguettes, beef skewers, chicken and tomatoes and avocadoes when we can get them. We have found some great road side stops to have our lunch, today was in a school ground (it’s school holidays), we parked under some trees, popped up the camping table and made our lunch. It has become routine for the last few days that after lunch at least one person falls asleep in the car, today it was all of us except our driver (obviously!)…some of us snored and others delicately rested their head on their son’s shoulder (Ray). We pass the time by chatting about movies, our new favourite music, where we will be in a few years’ time and other topics such as the state of the economy and the history of African nations. Ray has educated all of us about wars in each country, who’s in with who etc, even our tour guide and our driver have learnt something. If the car ride is a bit too long (8 hours in the back seat with two other people) some of us start singing, not sure whether this is due to a sign that the individual is having fun or just pure exhaustion. We are constantly reminded that we don’t have it too bad when we see small cars pass by (the size that most teenagers have as their first car) with at least 8 people inside, often the boot doesn’t shut because it’s packed with suitcases and is held down by ropes and straps.

Along the way we stopped at Banjoun to see the Chefferie’s palace and museum. The museum contained artefacts such as hunting weapons, cooking utensils and formal dress robes and hats. We saw the houses where the many wives of the Chief live on-site and the town hall. The town hall was very impressive, with a huge thatched dome shaped roof with a main chamber inside with corridors along the outside, it was surprisingly cool inside.

We arrived at our hotel at approx. 4pm, thankfully this time our rooms were ready however we didn’t have towels or toilet paper. We relaxed for the afternoon, read and ate more Christmas cake then had a very tasty dinner. The standard procedure when we arrive at our hotel is that Ray tries to explain that he needs to open up the accommodation module to air it out (there was a little bit of mould from the humid conditions) even though it won’t be used to sleep in. The hotel manager doesn’t understand and glares at Ray with a look of utter confusion, then all of a sudden it pops open, everyone is surprised, stares for a bit, then gets back to what they were doing.

Avril driving. 5hours. N 050 39’ 15.8’’  E 0100 45’ 37.8’’

Day 27 – 27/12/11:

We thought yesterday was going to be the last big driving day for a while, oh no! Half an hour from Foumbot where we stayed overnight we stopped in Foumban to visit the palace of the sultan and the markets. We walked through the market first, the best fruit and vegetables that we have seen since South Africa. The market had a very relaxed feel, people just going about their daily business. We picked up some beautiful ripe tomatoes, avocadoes and lemons for lunch. There were also many different clothes shops, shoe shops, live chickens, a few cows and even a popcorn van. The palace of the sultan was very interesting, although very basic compared to the likes of Versailles for example. We were shown all the artefacts and formal attire that the sultan still wears once each year for celebrations.

The majority of the drive was on dirt road that was pot hole ridden and because of the dry climate, very dusty. I think it’s fair to say that the best part of the day was the scenery and the lunch. We now have lunch down to a fine art, Avril unpacks the relevant items, Ray sets up the table, Peter washes the tomatoes, Hayley cuts the tomatoes, Avril cuts up avocado, Gabrielle hands out drinks, Peter cuts up baguettes, we all serve ourselves then all pack up. Before we start driving again everyone makes a dash to the toilet, which for the girls involves finding a secret location out of sight from the road and the other girls, it’s not like home where we have road side facilities in special picnic areas.

The scenery for the majority of the day was picturesque; rolling hills that turned into mountains, farmland with neat rows of crops, herds of grazing cattle and even a waterfall that appears to plunge from the middle of a cliff. This is part of the renowned ring road. This type of landscape reminded us of why we are doing this trip!

We arrived to Zwinkles’ Guest House at 4pm, they are the tour company that we are using for Cameroon. They have a lovely balcony area that looks over a kept garden, there weren’t any mosquitoes, so we had a few snacks of plantain chips (now one of our all-time favourite snacks) and peanuts. We asked our tour guide to warn the guest house that we had a week’s worth of washing to be done, we divided it into colour piles and left it with one of the managers. By 10pm most of the washing was done and he was putting it out on the line ready to dry when the sun comes up. Dinner was served with lots of fresh vegetables, chicken, rice and a delicious homemade tomato relish, and of course pineapple for dessert. After dinner we all read in the lounge area for a bit after declaring it was bedtime at 8.45pm.

Peter & Ray driving. 6 hours. 330 km N 050 58’ 46.5’’  E 0100 10’ 53.1’’

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