Friday, May 09, 2008

Mt Cameroon

Ok, so things are going to get a little out of order I guess because Savannah works too hard on her blogs and I just write the basics. She should eventually get you some more descriptive accounts of the mud.....
Having said that, I am trying to work on the pictures but we are in the middle of nowhere and even in the capital cities the photos take so long to upload that it is almost impossible. We will have some good ones though as there are at least 5 cameras and different angles to choose from. Our days are so jam-packed that we just don't have time to sort these things out.
I know the other trucks in our group are tracking everything with their GPSs but I don't have any coordinates. All I can say at the moment is that we are currently in Eastern Gabon (I know, we are way behind on writing) but the road from Nigeria to Mamfe, Cameroon was the most intense so far. Things have generally been good since though there have been many stretches of very potholed or dirt road (with lots of little bridges with the guardrails knocked off) but we have not been stuck since the horrible road in Cameroon (you must wait for that story....). Having said all that, once clear of the mud, we made our way south to Limbe, a beautiful, quiet and very clean town on the coast, from where you can see the main island of Equatorial Guinea (alas, as close as I will get for a very long time :( since it is too difficult to get to). We picked up some money, had a jump in the warm water and drove through some very pretty tea plantations (it felt like Darjeeling or Sri Lanka) to the small town of Buea at the base of Mt. Cameroon.
Mt. Cameroon is an active volcano (last erupted in 2000) and at 4090m (13300ft) it dominates the landscape in the south west of Cameroon. It is also one of the wettest areas on Earth and despite being at the beginning of the rainy season, Ben had it listed as one of his 5 mountains to climb in Africa and had convinced us all to give it a go. It is not a technical climb but a simple walk straight up and down but made more difficult by the fact that we had to do it as fast as possible, thus a vertical climb of 3000m (10000ft) in 2 days on some very steep terrain. We had to organize the whole thing through an agency in Buea so we were required to take a porter each and 2 guides for our group making us a massive group of 26 people and one dog (Kees' Bindhi) trudging up the mountain. We started though tropical forest but above 2000m it just turned into bare, rocky earth with clumps of grass and lots of cloud. We were lucky in that it only rained the beginning of the first day (we nearly had a mutiny as we were freezing and the porters didn't even have raincoats and also wanted to quit) and we were able to continue. We slept at 2800m and though you might think it was not too cold at 14C, we were all about to die. I had 5 layers on and slept with 2 sleeping bags!
8 of our 12 continued at 4:30am the next morning and made it to the top before the very long, thigh and calf burning run back down. Dad, Bre and I made it to the top in our family. I was a little surprised dad made it, his lungs aren't what they used to be and he was suffering from the altitude at the end. Bre and Ben are the most in shape and kept up a brutal pace with the first guide leaving everyone behind except for myself. We spent all of 5 minutes at the top. There was no view because of the cloud. Ben called his mom, we took a couple photos, collected our victory rocks, and started back down. Kees did even less than that. He got to the top saying "there better be something up here" looked around, said "nope, nothing here" and started back down. No rest, no photo, nothing. Kees and James started the anti-Mt. Cameroon club by the end and were ready to kill Ben for tricking them into the whole thing. James lost his big toenail so I can understand. For days afterwards we could all barely move and there was a lot of grouchy yapping at each other due mostly to our discomfort than any real anger (though there has been the odd bit of social adjustments to get used to). Even Bindhi looked worn out.
From there back to Limbe for a night and then on to Yaounde the capital to get visas. We thought we'd be there for a week but ended getting the visas express and leaving after only a few days. Can't say I'm thrilled to be back in French again. Cameroon is like Canada, it has 2 languages, French and English but divided into regions, but with the smaller area and oppressed language being the English as it is only in the area next to Nigeria in the south.
Cameroon suffers from a (justified) reputation as being horribly corrupt but I have to say that it is by far the cleanest (and perhaps most organized looking) country in Africa so far. Most people consider it part of West Africa but honestly it is light years ahead of the poverty and chaos of that region. The capital was easily the nicest we'd seen to that point, not too crowded and set in between lots of hills and with a better overall temperature. It was also really nice to drive on good roads with no traffic for a change. The problem of course was that there were still the annoying police stops and they just flat out say "I'm hungry, give me food" without even bothering to make up excuses. One time dad was written a phony ticket and fine for driving without his shirt on. That was good for a laugh and a 5 minute argument, but as with all places so far, we have escaped without paying anyone. The weather has been hot and humid and we get thunderstorms almost every evening. They don't always hit us and it has been great to watch some of them in the distance. Since meeting up with these guys we have camped every day. 5 tents for 6 people on the ground and 2 pairs on rooftop tents on the smaller vehicles and 2 more inside Kees' truck. Sometimes in the bush, sometimes in the back lot of a hotel and sometimes on a nice patch of soft grass beside a guest house, but always outside, listening all night to the crickets and frogs. There are tons of fireflies too, lighting up the grass or zipping by your head. Patrick is also an excellent cook and we have had many a great South Africa stew to break up our usual poor and unexciting meals.


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