|View of Mount Manengouba|
DAY 1 - TRAVEL
Wednesday started very early as I showered and hurriedly packed for the trip. Packing in a hurry the morning of saved me the pain and agony of having to spend the previous night mulling over what I should and shouldn’t bring along. When we arrived at the Bafia training center, all 59 of us boarded Amigo buses headed to the appropriate destinations. Most health volunteers boarded the bus headed towards Bamenda in the Northwest, but Spencer, Alexi, Val, Alec and I got on the bus with most of the YD and ENV volunteers headed to Baffoussam of the West region.
I was told the ride from Bafia to Baffoussam would be 2 hours, but I found out that two hours in at our pit stop we were only half way there. Oh well, the delicious baguette with chocolate that I was able to happily eat at whatever village we were in made up for the slow journey. Additionally, I was able to seek my teeth into the best street meet (soya) I have been able to yet. The flat, delicious slabs of meet were cooked to order and sprinkled with some mystery spice and the lovely MSG-infused sauce. Seriously the best meat I’ve had in a long time! With a belly full of meat, chocolate and a whole baguette, we headed on our way.
Outside my window the landscape transformed from the relatively flat terrain of the Center region to a mountainous, green, and fertile terrain of the West. There were endless mountains and markets where an variety of fruits and vegetables were sold. After quite a few hours more we arrived in Baffoussam at the Peace Corps case where most PCTs on our bus met their PCV hosts. We got a brief tour of the case and were able to sift through the up-for-grabs bin in which I found a size 5 pair of Chacos. While they may be 2.5 sizes too small, thankfully they are sandals, so it didn’t matter if my toes slightly hang over the edge! No judgment here!
After our case tour we left and took a taxi to the center of town where we made a trip to a real supermarket (Dark chocolate! Flavored fruit tea! Lotion! Wine! Cold, crisp apples from France!!!) and after that we headed to a shawarma shop where I had the best African vegetarian shawarma that exists. After just three hours in Baffoussam, my group headed to Nkongsamba still had a 5 hour journey ahead of us that we needed to start. We took a taxi to the gare routier, but when we stopped the cab, the trunk was flung open of the taxi and eager bus drivers anxious to get you to buy a ticket on their bus grabbed many of our bags and ran in various directions towards their buses. Luckily I was familiar with this scam, so when the car stopped my hand instinctively grabbed hold of my bag, so my luggage was spared the abduction. The others in my group, however, were not so lucky. After getting out of the cab, everyone’s bags had disappeared. After 10 minutes scurrying about and running up and down the road, everyone’s bags were collected from beneath the various buses. We boarded one bus and were ripped off by the pain in the ass bus driver who didn’t have change for our bills and who raised the price with each person’s ticket.
After a 1 hour debacle at the gare routier we were finally on our way to Nkongsamba. We drove for another 4 or 5 hours through the rolling mountains of the West and Littoral regions. As the sun began setting I was getting concerned that we had not reached our destination. After passing through a somewhat populated area, I asked our neighbors how much longer until Nkongsamba. When I asked, they informed me that we had just passed Nkongsamba. Either the bus driver forgot that we had only bought fare to Nkongsamba rather than Douala, or he wanted to screw us over more and leave us high and dry in Cameroon’s economic capital of Douala. Thankfully the bus came to a stop and we were dropped roadside on the outskirts of Nkongsamba just as the sun began to set.
We called up Bridget and Gillian, our two PCV hosts for the weekend. They picked us up and took us to their houses. After dropping our stuff off, we immediately headed to the bar where I promptly ordered a whiskey cola, which was very much needed after the long day of travel. Not long after we walked down to the marche central to get some dinner. Besides spaghetti omelets, which I would try later in the weekend, there was real salads, which totally caught my eye. It’s been a long time since I’ve had a real salad, so this one with its cabbage, avocado, onion, and tomatoes was simply heaven in my mouth! It was the perfect end to the first day of a perfect vacation.
DAY 2 - HOSPITAL, WATER PROJECT, SCHOOL, AND ORPHANAGE VISIT
After a fun night at the bar with our community hosts and a few of their friends, we went home and slept in Gillian’s house, which is totally Posh Corps quality. If this is what Peace Corps houses are like, then I look forward to my own house! After a great nights sleep, we woke up the next day and headed to a cute boutique for our breakfast of salad and coffee. After a delicious start to the day we took motos over to a school that Gillian does some health education at.
A few other volunteers in Nkongsamba do work at this school, which is extremely nice and has students ranging from under 10 to over 25. We sat down and talked with Blesscious, one of the main men of the school, before receiving a tour of the compound. After walking around the school grounds we went to go see the clean water project that Blesscious started to supply clean water to both the school, the infirmary, and the hospital that is in the process of being built next to the school. We walked through the palm tree and densely forested ground behind the school, which was filled with gigantic trees, pineapple bushes, and coffee bushes before we reached the water source. The project itself was quite impressive. The water source was cold and clean, only to be further cleaned by the filtration system that Blesscious installed in the middle of the forested area.
After taking many pictures atop the water storage system, which offered an unparalleled view of the surrounding mountains, one of which is Mount Manengouba where there are two stunning crater lakes I hope to one day hike to, we took a brief walk over to the hospital that Blesscious is building. The construction has halted for the time being due to lack of funds, but the main structure is complete. The design of the hospital is unlike any I have seen before in Africa. It was extremely well thought out with natural ventilation through large open spaces in the walls which facilitate air flow. There are no stairs, only ramps, in the hospital which facilitations transportation. Furthermore, the layout of the rooms makes complete sense - with the pre-labor rooms which lead to the delivery room which has a secret hallway to an operating room, which leads directly to a recovery room. Everything was clearly well-thought out. It’s a shame that the construction has stopped for the time being, but once this hospital opens in the future, it’ll be a great facility, which will be affordable to the local community due to its sliding scale prices.
|View of Mount Manengouba from Water Storage|
We arrived at the orphanage in the nearby village just as the sun was setting. While Bridget was supposed to give an English lesson, it was already long past the end of the school day, so instead we played with the kids for a while, took many pictures, and headed to the house where we would sleep. We relaxed on the veranda until sunset and then headed inside to watch music videos, eat far too many sugared, warm peanuts, and to eat a not-so delicious dinner of tasteless bean pate. After dinner we broke out the wine and watched a Peace Corps Cameroon favorite - Pitch Perfect - before heading to bed.
After sleeping snugly in the same bed as Val and Alexi, our group stuffed our faces with far too much bread and fake nutella, bars of dark chocolate, and with less than optimal Ovaltine. After visiting the kids at the orphanage one last time, we packed our bags and headed back to Nkongsamba. After a few hours of relaxation, us health folks headed over to the regional hospital in Nkongsamba. We received a brief tour of the facility, which itself had a spectacular view of the nearby mountain - a sight that I would argue could heal any ailment. We drank a beer and talked with one of the doctors who told us a bit about the functioning of the hospital, which is among Cameroon’s largest. After our brief trip to the hospital we took our lunch break to discover Gillian’s favorite go-to sandwich guy and then we returned to Gillian’s house for our afternoon nap and reading time.
After our repose, we headed to the market to buy ingredients for the night’s dinner. We headed over to Bridget’s house to make some Italian food. We had an awesome pasta dish with garlic bread and relaxed just a bit before heading over to the bar to consume copious amounts of whiskey cola. It was our groups 1 month anniversary of being in Cameroon - our Camerooniversary - so we decided to go big. After getting a few whiskey colas in me, our group created a dance floor amidst the tables. Our group danced to just about every P-Sqaure and Rhianna song ever created. Eventually the bar emptied out to the point that we were the only ones still carrying on the dancing and obnoxious singing. Deciding to call it a night, we hoped on our motos and got a good night sleep to prepare for our visit to the Ekom Nkam waterfalls on Saturday.
DAY 4 - CHUTES EKOM NKAM, SHOPPING, AND THAI FOOD
We woke bright and early to get a good start to the waterfalls. We went to the same go-to sandwich guy and ordered some food for our lunches we would eat at the waterfall. We hired some moto guys to drive us the 40 minutes or so to the waterfall. After getting off the main road we rode through the jungle on a dirt road for a good amount of time. When we reached the entrance to the waterfall area, we got off the motos and walked down a very slippery path to reach the overlook of the waterfalls. The Chutes Ekom Nkam were breath-taking! They are 80km tall and are where the 1982 Tarzan movie was filmed - and for good reason! Besides the stunning landscape, there was extremely lush vegetation and many swinging vines you could pretend to be Tarzan on. Furthermore, given that we are currently in the rainy season, there were two ferocious waterfalls in contrast to the one waterfall that is present during the dry season.
After spending a good amount of time marveling at the sight, our moto guides told us we could head towards the base. The path, unfortunately, was terrifying. I was extremely glad for the 2 sizes too small chacos I found because if I were to be scaling down the mountain in my sandals, I would have surely died. To call what we hiked down a ‘path’ would be being very kind. The ‘path’ was more of a small stretch of land that was cleared perhaps by just a few other people. Given the rainy season and all the mist resulting from the waterfall, the terrain was a pure mudslide. Given my shoes that were too small and the fact that I was in a skirt, I wiped out over a handful of times, each time completely convinced I was going to slip and tumble all the way to the bottom of the mountain to my death. After much scaling, we reached a clearing with another amazing view of the falls from a bit lower. The mist was so bad that I didn’t want to take out my camera. The guides offered to allow us to hike to the base, but we figured that was more of a death wish than what we wanted to tackle. Hiking back up the muddy non-existent path was just as terrifying - especially when I looked behind me just to see a drop down into the Earth.
When we reached our original lookout area, I was covered in mud, I had a bloody food from blisters caused by my too small Chacos, and I was just a bit shaken up from thinking I was going to die without saying goodbye to my mom. We decided to hike up a bit to see the top of the waterfalls. Thankfully this path was paved! We reached the top and saw the roaring river that drops over the edge of the falls. It was a beautiful sight indeed!
We finished up and headed to leave the park. We argued with the chief of the waterfalls and convinced him we had to cameras so we didn’t have to pay the photography fee. After that we headed back on our way. We got home and showered off the grime, mud, and blood and relaxed with a few other PCVs who came to talk and visit. After a few hours of relaxing we headed out to the marche to buy the ingredients for our Thai dinner and to buy pagne to take back to Bokito to have more clothes made. Before heading home we stopped off in a cute little café for carrot and cabbage salads, beers, and coffee. Back at home we relaxed while Gillian made an awesome Thai peanut sauce dish that was a much welcomed change from Cameroonian food! Another volunteer from the Southwest region was over and we joked around and had a fun time. One of Gillian’s Cameroon friends dared Spencer to do a striptease for some odd reason, so ‘Call Me Maybe’ was blasted from the computer and Spencer did a semi-striptease. Being obsessed with Harry Potter at the time, Spencer put on Val’s Harry Potter-esque glasses and dragged me over to his performance area and gave me a very disturbing quasi lap dance. One can never know what to expect when a group of PCVs get together. All bets are off. It was weird yet fun end to a wonderful vacation in the Littoral.
DAY 5 - GUAVAS, SPAGEHTTI OMELETES, BUSES, AND BLOOD
Sunday consisted mainly of our bus ride back to Bafia. We awoke nice and early to catch a 7am bus out of Nkongsamba. While waiting for the bus, Spencer and I headed to the market to get some spaghetti omelet sandwiches and to take a few last photos of the San Francisco sign. Given that we are in Africa and nothing is ever on time, we waited an hour as the tires and breaks on our bus were replaced. At least we knew the bus wouldn’t be breaking down on the trip home! Spencer, Alec and I crammed into a three person seat as we headed home. 4 or more hours later we stopped off in Makenene for our pit stop. Makenene made me miss pit stops in the US where bathrooms are less than satisfactory but they at least had doors that shut. This is not the case in Makenene. First of all, I had to pay to use the toilet because the idea of peeing on a busy street didn’t interest me at the moment. However, I might as well have chosen to pee in public because the latrine that I paid to use didn’t have doors - so basically I was forced to pee in public anyways - the only difference was I had to pay to do it. I went to meet up with Spencer and we bought some more awesome soya street meet and I decided to stock up on guavas since they are a rare find in Bokito.I bought 8 guavas and 4 oranges and decided to call it a day.
After we arrived we headed to the bar and I called the Peace Corps nurse who came to pick me up and take me to the hospital. I had a 3rd degree cut and needed three stitches. Despite the fact she applied anesthetic, it still hurt like hell. When I got back to the training center all stitched up, I took back out the bloody guava I was cutting on the bus, recut the guava so the blood was no longer on it, and ate it. It was the best dang guava I’ve ever had. Cutting my hand was entirely worth it. After this I began to cut off all the blood on my guavas and oranges and Spencer and I shared a formerly bloody fruit feast. The vacation was action-packed, adventure filled, food packed, and lots of fun. Despite the bloody end of the trip, it was a perfect escape from the mundane life of Bokito. Keep it real, Nkongsamba. Until next time…