July 13, 1998

Cameroon: Holly Wood Snack Bar, Limbe

The truck is dead, long live the truck.

A line of soldiers just filed past, on the main road: surreal.

I'm sitting with "American," self-appointed tourist agent, who unlike most s-a.t.a. seems an honest, nice, reliable guy.

In 72 hours, if all goes to plan, I'll be in Harare.

A ray of sunlight lights up a patch of Limbe's green. Equatorial Guinea, above a bank of clouds and below the streaks of a sunset, a faraway dreamscape. Mount Cameroon behind Mile Six Beach with the waves battering me as I look.

Slept four-in-a-(huge)-bed at the Mountain Hotel and set out, found a guide, changed money, bought food, went back and read and waited out the day impatiently. Up at 5 AM for the climb, surprising the assault-rifle-and-German-shepherd-armed hotel security guy, and set out while it was still dark.

The climb: gruelling work, from before dawn to after dusk, as physically arduous a day as I can remember. Chong and I never doubted we'd make it, but Ali & Andrea got there on sheer stubborn grit & determination.

Humped our own packs, which didn't make things any easier. Two hours to Hut 1, forest air thick as a sauna around us, the path steep and slippery and laced with ankle-catching roots. A sea of green behind us when we could spare a breath to look. Bananas and boiled eggs and nuts and raisins and roast coconut splinters, good climbing food, when we hit the hut.

Hut I to II was the worst stretch. Out of the forest after half an hour, than a mind-reeling expanse of very steep grassy ridges that seemed to go on forever. The "magic tree" in an otherwise bare plain. Patches and breaks in the clouds driving around us. Rocks tumbling down the mountain for minutes as we gaped.

The universe shrank to my feet, my aching legs, and where they might go next.

Lunched at Hut II, corned beef sandwiches & chocolate, drank tea from Tupperware, filled our water bottles with ice-cold rainwater, and decided to go for the summit. Dumped most of our stuff and set out.

Isaac-our-guide, he of the lazy but unwavering pace, didn't think we'd make it. I caught my second (OK, more like seventh) wind halfway to Hut III, but Ali & Andrea were running on vapor. Always one more ridge between us and the top.

From Hut III to the summit was almost easy, though the wind at the top was viciously cold and we could feel the altitude-thinned air getting to us. Clanked & drank the two beers Chong & I had brought to the top. Cursed myself for forgetting my camera on the truck.

The way down to Hut II is a long miasma of stumbling misplaced steps in my memory; too exhausted to think, the last hour with only the moon to light our way, it's a wonder none of us were hurt.

Ate a tinned & cold but much-appreciated dinner, drank tea straight from the pot, and slept, too tired (except Chong) to be bothered by the scuttling rats.

Woke & watched a cloudy dawn, stretched aching muscles, breakfasted, and went down, four hours' hard slogging. Took a wrong turn after Hut I and walked half an hour further than the others but came out in the middle of town right next to a bar as the rain began to pass. Rarely has a beer been so appreciated.

Rested the rest of the day, ate down the road, glanced into a nifty if deserted nightclub, crashed.

Next day - 10th, only three days ago - packed and set off to Limbe, easy enough journey, where we promptly met Sam/Nick/Tim/Naomi. Drank & swapped tales of the Ekok-Mamfe road.

11th, Saturday, a day off: wandered down the forest track to the east of Limbe and a ways out west as well, strolled through the (very nice - trees with trunks intertwined like vines, flanged trunks big enough to drive a car through, limbs like octopus tentacles, overgrown amphitheatre) Botanical Gardens, watched the sunset, ate and watched the World Cup 3rd place match, slept the sleep of the just.

Yesterday, slept in through a lazy rainy morning and headed out to Mile Six Beach and the truck, chatted to people, ate a final truck meal, had a final strumming session, swam. Returned to Limbe's fine street food - brochettes and maize in particular - and the sight of France stuffing Brazil 3-0 in the World Cup final. Reminisced with da boyz (Nick, Sam, Tim, Chong) for a while, called it a night.

Today, hitched a final ride (yes, "final" is cropping up a lot in this entry) in the truck to Douala, checked out the travel agents and got a pleasant price surprise, wandered a little vacillating about which day to fly, returned to see da boyz buy their tickets (they too are leaving, but for Nairobi), said my mercifully brief goodbyes, returned here with "American."

Tomorrow, Douala and ticket purchase.

The geometrical precision of palm plantations. Brian's AIDS-ridden paramour. Hot baths at the Mountain Hotel. Watching the rain approach us on the Ekok-Mamfe road. "Softly, softly," said the wise woman.

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