Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Road to Mamfe

We have travelled north from Buea to Kumba by tarmac road with innumerable potholes in a crowded minibus with all our belongings strapped to the roof. All the drivers in the area have been on strike in protest to the government for failing to maintain the road, and so we waited some time to make the journey. 

Some sections of the route have become so bad that drivers refuse to take the main road, instead heading off towards nigeria and the through the top of the Korup and Ekok national parks. This meant driving on small tracks through areas of rainforest which were absolutely textbook examples of layered canopy, any (ex) geography teacher’s idea of heaven! And we were able to drool over the landscape uninterrupted for miles. 

The road underneath was patchy and uneven, sometimes disappearing in mud and craters so deep, and water filled, that they seemed impassable. The wet season wasn’t to start for another month; we had experienced heavy downpours uncharacteristically early, but we were assured that the mud got much worse than this and so we pressed on. We made relatively rapid, and dust free, progress (an advantage of the rain i suppose) but hurtling over wooden plank bridges in crammed full minibuses at 60mph can get a little hairy!

It was a little sad to see trucks heading along the road laden with several mighty trees, easily 3 or 400 years old, when the only signs of tree planting was new rubber and palm oil trees; hardly aforestation though tactically agroforestry i suppose.

En route we tried to pick up a cassava grinder to take to the Ote, the village we were heading to in the rainforest, but the only one we could find just sprayed ground cassava across the whole workshop and covered all the mechanics, and us, with the white pulp...everyone was completely in hysterics and it was certainly an ice breaker between the locals and the us but it just didn’t seem practical to take!  The owner assured us that with some adjustments it would be perfect, but it wouldn’t be ready till next week. 

At Kumba we swapped our cramped bus for a car and headed for the un-surfaced road north to Mamfe.  All our luggage was stuffed into and on top of the boot of a battered old car with a UK number plate.  On the top of the luggage below the lid was the cassava frying pan to hold everything in tightly.  Already at Kumba and out of the mountains surrounding Buea we could feel the temperature and humidity rising, back up to about 30 deg.

The arrival at Mamfe was very welcome; we checked into the same hotel as last year, the Data, which commands a promontory overlooking the river, which snakes way below sleepily towards Nigeria. It has a lovely shady restaurant and some seating under grass roofed shelters in the garden surrounded by lovely flowering trees full of birds, and a very proud cockerel that struts around. It is the place all the Chinese engineers and contractors, who are building the road west east from Nigeria as part of the Trans African highway, go to eat so can get very busy. Although the heat is about 30 deg now it feels less, there is shade, a working fridge and some cold drinks (you would be surprised how often the two are not linked in Cameroon) although tonight there is no power in town so there is no light or water. 

We were able to relax from the long journey and shower from a bucket with a half water bottle cut to make a cup. We met a worker we did a bee keeping course with last year who will be joining our ever expanding party to the rainforest. It was a really warm reunion and we spent much of the evening catching up on news over dinner which we bought him; we insisted on paying and when he saw the bill he was astonished although there were 4 of us it came to around 20,000 CFA (about £25.00) which was over half the man’s monthly salary.

Everyone was tired from the journey so we all had an early night.

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