Friday, March 16, 2012

The Road

By the time we finally left Mamfe the truck cab above us was stacked high with luggage, and in the back were sacks of rice and a dozen 40l honey containers. The containers were going back to the village in time for the honey harvest which will start any day now. In addition to us inside the cab there were some women, two with nursing babies sitting in the open pick up behind and about five men holding onto the roll bars on the back of the pickup. 

The driver had a young man as a helper whose main jobs consisted of engaging and disengaging the 4 wheel drive, pushing or digging the vehicle out of holes when needed and to clear any fallen trees with his machete, and he also joined the men on the running bar at the back of the truck, it all seemed precarious but to everyone else it was quite normal. A late addition to the journey was a dog, wrapped up in a sack with only his head sticking out to stop him worrying other passeners who was placed onto the top of the rice sacks, though to me it seemed the worrying part of him was the only bit to be seen.  With everything onboard we set off from Mamfe Bus Park.

A few yards up the main street we pulled off and plunged down a steep dirt track to the river and crossed the new concrete bridge, which was bustling with people heading to school or work. On the far side of the river was a chain barrier and the driver had to show permits to drive into the Akwaya forest region. Beyond this were a couple of small huts and a heavy red and white striped metal pole barrier with a sign announcing that we were about to enter Akwaya district. All this gave the trip the feel that we were crossing into the unknown, across a frontier to enter the wild.

After the 20 minute wait for permit checks we were finally off and the heavy truck pulled off up a red dirt track climbing the side of a steep hill towards the rainforests of Akwaya and on to Ote village some 50 miles north.

To call the route to Akwaya a road would be generous. It passed over sheets of rock, dipped into clay filled valleys into which the vehicle sunk to its axels, went up and down at angles we in the UK would consider beyond safe limits.  

Periodic streams were either forded or crossed by ladder bridges with alarming gaps where the loose boards had disappeared. But it was beautiful, the steep streams were covered in butterflies flying over the water and resting on the banks.   All the time the boys would step down to engage the 4 wheel drive and when through the problem jump back up onto the rear running rail of the vehicle again. 

Each time the car got stuck though, the boys on the back would hop down and dig, push or pull the vehicle until we were out- while we were so tightly packed into the cab there would have been no way to extract ourselves and help!

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