July 06, 1998

Cameroon: Mountain Hotel, Buea

In the lap of luxury, with Mount Cameroon above.

Fantastic place: cool mountain temperature, green lawns, hot bath, ornately comfortable sitting room where I write this, and a swimming pool. OK, the pool water is opaque with muck, but you can't have everything.

Buea is a very spread-out town: taxis are required.

I like Cameroon a lot. Relaxed, cafe culture, many police checks but they're generally perfunctory, green countryside, nice and so-far bilingual people.

So: hated Calabar at first, but warmed to it considerably. Paradise City Hotel is a dilapidated but charming complex: snack bar, mini-zoo, nightclub, bar, hotel, grounds, etc. Moped taxis to and from and around town. Just watched the World Cup the first night.

Next day, moped'd to town to change money, an epic journey: walked an hour through Calabar's winding streets, to a bureau de change that no longer exists, asked at a plush restaurant and wound up following a 300-pound woman around town on moped to a black marketeer. Came back to her restaurant, ate & watched African MTV, shopped, returned, made (last) dinner. Then went down to Freedy's, where we met Ricky - Scottish expat welder/helicopter pilot for Mobil - and watched England lose a nail-biting World Cup match to Argentina (or, more accurately, watched the referee steal it.) A dejected crowd returned.

Next morning, to the drill-monkey sanctuary up the road, an impressive place, founded & staffed by people who came to Nigeria for 10 days and stayed for years, plus an army of knowledgeable locals. Drills frolicked and played in their cages, but the real stars were the chimps, who strutted, fretted, flung wood chips at Wendy & Patsy, shook hands (and feet), posed for the cameras, ooked and howled, all very human.

Left to have an (excellent) jam donut at the bakery down the road and bumped into Tim & Naomi: after letting Ricky buy us a drink, we went on the brief (hollow laugh) boat trip to Creek Town.

After whiling away the wait for the boatman by sampling kola nut (bleah), we set off on a pirogue past naval warships, docked oil rigs, and ship's graveyards, followed by thicker and thicker mangrove swamps, sun beating on us, mangrove branches dangling above. Fish thrashing on lines hung from the branches. The ominous B-movie buzz when paddling ceased. took 2.5 hours to reach Creek Town, a very peaceful town - especially for Nigeria - with a beautiful riverfront, statue-laden cemetery, cheap palm wine. But hard to judge as we were only there for 25 minutes, because there was one more bus and no more boats back.

Hurtled pell-mell deep into nowhere, on roads so bad the axle ground against pothole edges, the whole vehicle shaking and quivering, passengers screaming threats at the driver. We stopped in the middle of nowhere, the driver muttered something about bad directions and loaded fifty litres of diesel into the bus, and we went back to the main road and Calabar and Paradise City.

Next day, up to the Mount Afi drill monkey sanctuary, stopping to look for diesel on the way. Halted off the paved road by a ford and bush-camped. In the morning we tried to cross the ford. Heh. The creek was exactly wide enough for the truck to bog down. Three hours of digging interspersed with good-natured mud fights, got us back exactly where we stared, with a punctured tire and a curious sense of accomplishment. Fortunately, the sanctuary's Land Rover pulled up, we piled our gear and half of us onto it, put the other half on "machines" - motorbike taxis - and headed up to the sanctuary.

Stunning Land Rover ride through rain forest and villages, green ripple of hills around us, to the monkey sanctuary. Liza-the-founder put on a Nigerian accent & dialect to speak to the locals - interesting to see. Watched chimps in their big fenced enclosure - or were they watching us in ours?

Camped - after a futile but entertaining torch-building collaboration with Mike - and chatted around the campfire.

Went for a 3-hour solo wander through rainforest the next morning, which was outstanding. Enormous trees, 80' tall and as little as 6" wide, raising up a canopy to block out all direct sunlight. Narrow trails, barely the idea of a path, through thick brush and vine-wound trees. Bush noises - crickets, birds, things scuttling and crying out in the distances, bushes shaking as they passed. Swarms of butterflies and showers of yellow petals. Huge flanged tree trunks. Perched on a log above a babbling brook, watching leaves bob boy.

Back to the campsite, where we got a taxi to carry our gear back but were on our own. Mike and Tony and I wound up walking the whole way, through rain and blazing sun, 15K over rough and rolling ground, to three much-deserved beers.

Abandoned the truck the next day, w/Ali & Andrea & Chong, off to jump ahead to Mount Cameroon. Caught a lucky taxi ride straight for the border and its 7 desks we had to stand in front of. Dash showdown with an immigration officer: Ali & I were reaching for our wallets, when Chong & Andrea made a stand on principle and - amazingly - not just talked him out of it but had him telling us not to let anyone try and get a bribe from us and not to dash anyone.

Across a picturesque bridge to Cameroon, quick immigration, lunch & a celebratory beer, and then the road from Ekok to Mamfe, a sea of mud with puddles deep enough to swallow our car and improvised detours around the impassable parts. God knows how long the truck will take to get through. [ed. note: three days. To go 25 miles.]

Eight of us crammed into a tiny Corolla, but we had a fantastic driver who gunned the engine through some amazingly tricky situations; only had to get out and push a couple times. Hit Mamfe, got (nice) hotel and arranged transport to Buea, then found a bar, drank several beers, had a spur-of-the-moment street-food dinner, slept happily.

Today, hurry-up-and-wait taxi finally left at 11. We were stopped at a police stop because the driver had the wrong pass; tried again and failed; moved our luggage to a different car, failed to negotiate terms, moved it back, tried a third time, looked as pathetic as we could as the driver explained, and amazingly got through. Made it here with daylight left, had good if expensive steak & chips.

Tomorrow, guide & admin & shopping: Wednesday, Mount Cameroon.

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