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Grand Tour of the Grand North

28 March 2007 - 9:15am -- Joseph

Blimey, what a trip. Obviously the journey didn't go quite as planned, which is only to be expected. We planned for a six day trip, spending two days in Waza park. We ended up with an eight day trip and only one day in Waza. We were behind schedule before we even left Buea, as we sat on a bus not moving for two hours, while a bunch of women faffed about and chatted when all they really needed to do was get on the chuffin' bus... So from that point we probably weren't going to make the train.

Between Doula and Yaounde we then encountered a tailback due to a bus that had gone up in flames (no-one was hurt, fortunately). We then encountered another tailback, due to two lorries that had crashed. We took a diversion through the mud roads through the villages. These roads aren't designed for buses (actually, they're not designed at all, they're mud tracks) and at one point the bus nearly tipped - we all had to get out (quickly but carefully) while the driver negotiated the bank and some of the pasengers held the bus up!

All of which meant we didn't arrive in Yaounde until six - the time that the train was due to leave. We got a taxi to the station, but the train had gone (because stuff leaves on time when you don't want it to, grr...). Our taxi driver offered to race the train to the next stop north of Yaounde, which we did, ariving just in time to see the lit windows of the train snaking out of the station. Hmph.

So we made an unscheduled stop over in Yaounde, which wasn't so bad, because it turns out that buying tickets for first class cabins on the train is an all-day business (and if you're travelling overnight for 14-18 hours, you really want a cabin...) So out the window went buying a Cameroon shirt, as we spent all day at the train station. They have this system where you can reserve cabins in advance, but you can't pay for them in advance. So if you've reserved cabins, you stilll need to turn up and pay for it on the day by an (un)certain time. If you haven't reserved a cabin, you have to wait until this (un)certain time to see who hasn't paid for their reserved cabin. All this is conducted in the 'first class lounge', where they treat you like naughty schoolchildren. An excellent system which is both ridiculously inefficient and also massively inconvenient for all concerned.

However, once we got on the train, it was pretty cool. The cabins were pretty good, and they even came to our cabin and took our food order! In the morning we had breakfast in bed! Not the easist thing in the world on a train, but still... It was very pleasant to be on a train, and watch the terrain change out of the window (though of course the bulk of the journey was in the dark, but still...) In the morning, the landscape was all wide open plains and the people had a distinct Arabic look - we had arrived in the Muslim north. We arrived in Ngaoundre at about ten, pretty punctual!

So after a long, hot bus journey, we finally made it Maroua in the Extreme north province (via Garoua in the North province), checked into a nice hotel and arranged our 4X4 for Waza the next day.

We got up early and hey turned up to pick us up in a min-bus - apparently the 4x4 was in the repair shop...We were at the park by 8-ish. we drove around all day, trying to locate wildlife. We failed to find the elephants, apparently you need a 4x4 to get to where they were....

We also didn't see any lions, as they mostly come out at night to hunt, however, we did see monkeys, Giraffes, Emu ostriches, vultures and various kinds of antelope. We had a particularly nice encounter with a family of Giraffes who were standing in the shade of a tree near the track. We were hurtling along at quite a speed when we spotted them and screeched to a halt amid many crys of 'Stop! Stop! Arret!'. The Giraffes didn't seem at all fazed. We got out of the bus (shh..... don't tell...), we stared curiously at them, they stared curiously at us, it was an interesting scene.

We then retired to the hotel, and after a protracted discussion about the bus hire fee (he wanted to charge us the 4x4 price for the 4x4 we didn't get, we held firm) we retired to the pool to cool off. That evening we dined in the hotel restaurant (which was much appreciated, because we'd been living off food from street vendors for days...) and I had horseburger, egg and chips (or Steack Cheval [Hache] as it was called on the menu, sounds posh in french... )

We then made our sweaty way back down south, stopping for a night in Ngaoundre for another day of comedy ticket buying.

The train back down to Yaounde was delayed during the journey because of a cow that had been killed by the train the previous night. Ick. We arrived in Yaounde at two in the afternoon, just in time to get to the national stadium and get tickets for the afternoon's match - an African Nations Cup 2008 qualifier between Cameroon and Liberia. The tickets were only CFA1,500 each - that's £1.50! For an international! Admittedly the seats were concrete, and the match hardly pulsating, but still. Eto'o played alright (not great) and was subbed off around the hour mark, and Cameroon won comfortably (3-1) without playing that well.

By the time we got out of the stadium, it was too late to catch a bus to Buea, so we got a bus to Douala and stayed the night. We then got up early and got a car to Buea; Hev was in church by nine (they were having a dedication service for the health centre which she will open next week) and I was at the football pitch by ten. Good work all round...

So, all in all a whirlwind tour, taking us through seven of Cameroon's ten provinces, which means we've now been in all ten of Cameroon's provinces (though we passed through the East province on the train without actually setting foot on it).

It was an interesting trip, a lot of travelling, a lot of sweating, but we got to see a lot. Complications arose, ensued, were overcome, none of which could have been accomplished without Didimus, our faithful companion and guide (Thanks Didi!). The landscape up in the north is indeed very different, much more desert-like, villages of grass-roofed huts, the occasional Mandrill by the road side, the whole bit.

I'm also very glad to be back in Buea, where I sort of know how things work by now, and the wheather is cool (ish). That was the last of our big trips, we're mostly going to be in Buea until we leave now, concentrating on getting as much work done as possible, and trying to get to the beach at the weekends as much as possible before the rains come. It should be good...

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