From the ocean to the mountains: Bafousamy is my home tonight!
22nd March 2014.
Gee, I was so knackered after yesterday, I feel asleep at 6 30pm, thinking I’d just have a short nap before dinner but woke at midnight with the alarm for my antibiotics. I sense the four days in hospital, and all the stuff my body is dealing with wasn’t as restful as the thought of four days on your back presented! My leg is slowly ‘coming back’, and at the end of every day I can feel it is happy that ‘we’ get off the bike and it gets a chance to be up in the air!
When I woke the Christmas tree lights were still bright outside, but the iconic African sweepers had already started outside, so I sensed breakfast, down at the pool wasn’t too far off…..and man, was I hungry! I was the only guest, and with the clear blue pool immediately in front of me, and then a long since replaced, tidal pool out in the ocean, I cursed my infected leg for restricting me from one of my real delights: An early morning swim on my own in the ocean! Well, the sweeper turned into the pool cleaner, and then I watched him strip off to a ‘speedo’, walk down to the ocean and do exactly what I desired. I don’t think I am imagining it, but the Cameroon men are mostly very athletic, and with well-developed upper bodies. This guy was a model, and seemed to be in his heaven, enjoying the tidal pool on his own, engaged in some sort of semi-submerged, meditative, water ballet. He then came out, and dived straight into his pool… Now, I thought that was cool, the cleaner having the whole resort to himself, and enjoying the pool himself, with no guests around, gives cleaning the pool new meaning! It does seem like Cameroon is about living, and _expression_ of the authenticity of one’s soul!
So where was Mt Cameroon? Well the afternoon before, it was definitely too cloudy and covered, but this morning I did have an increased expectation that I’d see the 4095 metres high, omissible spectacle, but from the hotel it was not visible. The town of Buea, some 20 kilometres away is the real gateway to the mountain, so maybe I wasn’t in the best spot, I ride around a bit.
I explored the town centre and the public beachfront. The town is a confused combination of colonial quality, and charm, and then new age, African development. I stopped at the main beach access area, and there were some 20-ish year olds, hanging around with camera’s around their necks, greeting me enthusiastically. I introduced myself, and they asked if they could take some photos for me? I quickly cut to the chase, about what I was doing, and with shear surprise on their faces the one stood up, and offered me his dilapidated seat in gesture of friendship. I denied, and went and found my own amongst 4 or 5 that they warned me off, each one broken and only useable with local know how! We were soon chatting, and they let me into their world as ‘professional’ photographers who capture shots of those who come to Limbe for that special holiday. It amazes me in this day and age of digital cameras, and mobile phone cameras that these guys even have some basis for their productive remuneration. They assured me they do, and it’s a lot about the locals from Yaonde, enjoying the prestige of having a ‘professional’ take their holiday shots! I sked them where Mt Cameroon was and they pointed to what I thought was Small Mt Cameroon, and confirmed that, and then said that the clouds were hiding Mt Cameroon, but pointed to where it is! Oh well, like many of the big mountains, you often don’t get your day, when you want it!
I had to ride back about 35 kilometres the way I’d come to get to the turnoff that would take me north into the highlands, and eventually to the Nigerian border. The roads were very pleasant, from a scenic point of view, but the constant hassling and bad driving by my fellow road users meant it was always full on concentration.
The picture below of the bridge lead on to a river bridge was part of a series of six photos, of which I had to destroy five in the presence of two military guys. Another, mini-ordeal. I had crossed this river bridge, and seen some interesting local boats, and scenery, so decided to park the bike in a safe spot and walk back to take some photos. Well, on the bridge, this military guy suddenly popped out ranting and raving. I walked across to him, and he aggressively demanded my camera, and me to show him all the shots. I was cool, and in a friendly tone told him I was a tourist, didn’t mean any harm, and if it was a problem, I’d delete the pictures. Well, that was not good enough. He demanded that he keep my camera and I follow him on my bike to his boss across the river. Well we arrived at his stern, very senior looking, military man, he showed him my camera, told him a whole lot of stuff, then took off on his bike, with my camera. The boss, seemed amazed that he had left with my camera, but proceeded to read me the riot act, and demanded my certificate of authority to take photographs. Well I told him I didn’t have one, and didn’t know I was even supposed to have one? He then said I had made a big mistake, and in order for me to get my camera back, I’d have to pay some money. It was time to test the line: I assertively took him on, saying that if they don’t give me my camera back, I’ll go to the police, accusing them of stealing my camera. Well he really didn’t like that, and went on another tack, about the fact that deleting photos would be ok if I had a permit, but because I don’t have a permit, deleting won’t rectify the situation, I have to pay for my mistake. He clearly didn’t want me to go to the police with my story, but somehow he had thought he was in for some bribe money. I got him to agree that the camera was mine and not theirs, and they had no right to take it. He agreed, and so then I asked where the money came in? Was I breaking a law, that now I needed to pay a fine? If so, I accept that, and he must just tell me so, and what the fine is? Well the guy backed right off, and said I’m now behaving properly, as I’m not threatening to take him to the police..! He then switched into a very friendly mode, saying provided I delete the photos, I can have my camera back and go, and they really don’t want tourists to have bad experiences here in Cameroon. I watched the guy go the full circle from trying to scare me into paying a bribe, to him being scared I’d report him in, to us both agreeing we would forget the incident and move on…. Interesting, man!
Once on the road North I was climbing away from the sea, into rich forest land, interspersed with fairly sophisticated, mainly wood hut, villagers. Palm plantations were the norm to start, and these large glass containers of palm oil for sale, are found outside lots of villagers houses.
As I moved higher up, it got cooler, and banana plantations took over from the palm trees. I went through some sizeable towns, all with lots of fresh fruit for sale at the roadside, and then quite sophisticated, but tatty shopping infrastructure in the town centre areas. The picture below is from a huge banana research plantation. I could see from the labels at the end of each row, they were trying out many different types of bananas, and this rack below had just a few on show.
Stopping at the main villages / towns for a break always brought some interesting spectacles, and I could see I also provided the locals with something unique and exotic. The two pictures below are from one village, that had a sort of village central square, which was actually a circular piece, and in the middle of the piece was a poorly sculptured statue of an elephant, maybe 2.5 metres high. A dysfunctional monument from some past era, and the locals seemingly totally ignorant of either it’s presence, or its significance. I didn’t have the gut, nor the police fighting power to attempt a photograph here. I’d heard that beyond strategic locations like bridges etc, they also react badly to people taking photographs that reflect Cameroon in a bad light!
The picture on the left is one that I managed to smuggle, and one that made me sad. Inside that basket is a live goat. The owner was running a stall at the market and this goat was lying helpless, under the beating sun, crying all the time. I wonder where it’s destiny lay?
Riding along, and looking left and right as I always do, I saw this touring bicycle parked against a wall inside a small restaurant parking area. Knowing bikes, I knew this was a foreign bike tourer, so turned around to go and investigate.
Yeah, he was Dutch, his name Eric, and with his initial total surprise, we soon had a lot to chat about. He is 44, and had sold his business last year, and had headed off to Africa to find out about real life! Well he was younger, but the stories had quite a lot of overlap. I did see him in the early days of dealing with the challenge of really being on one’s own and away from society’s definitions of success, trying to find his own one. I admired the guy for what he was doing, and in telling my stories of the benefits of bicycling versus motorcycling I was hoping to help him see that he was on a higher plane of adventure, and one I understood, and now almost envied. As we parted ways, I started my engine, and he clipped in his pedals, I reminded myself to not ever forget the spirituality bicycling offers. It was easy to feel sorry for him, as I sped away, but deep within I knew he had slowed his life pace down, to one I had almost forgotten, other than for my soul reminding me daily! It’s a challenge to go slower, life gets very simple, but the slower and more simple one goes the more rewarding it is….
Outside of the towns, the country side was amazing. True equatorial Mountain landscape, dense greenery, and very mountainous. I peaked at 1800 metres and ended the day just lower than that, at Bafousamy, one of the biggest towns.
Tomorrow, I hope to sleep almost at the Nigeria / Cameroon border, and then Monday is NIGERIA!