David Rich 1100 Words
500 Central African Cameroon Francs=$1
125 Nigerian Naira=$1
C A M E R O O N Z O O M T O N I G E R I A
Who'd even think of flying off to Cameroon and Nigeria, and where exactly are they anyway? After exploring most of southern, eastern and northern Africa impeccable logic directed me to the lightly-touristed west, beginning with Cameroon and Nigeria of hazardous reputation. Because many reputations are undeservedly risky, the only way of knowing for sure is to go. So I went the easy way, overland, in an almost luxurious orange truck that offered mostly camping, often upgradeable into marginal hotels. Call me upgrade Dave.
Cameroon offers passable beach resorts at Kribi and Limbe, fine sand spotted with lagoons and waterfalls, and excellent seafood reasonably priced. I attempted a $5 fish, succulent and boneless, but it was longer than from my elbow to fingertips, and several inches thick. Stuffed to the gills I barely managed to finish half.
Local adventure includes a river navigable from Kribi into an interior pygmy preserve where elders sometimes wallow around campfires stone-cold drunk. Those other than Randy Newman have noticed that life's not easy for really short people, everyone looking down on you like a truant child, so why not fulfill expectations?
The biggest Cameroon challenge is its namesake mountain, the highest in West Africa. The mountain is locally famous for a killer roundtrip race every February, offering a rich prize of three million francs, which is not worth it. Six thousand dollars may be a local fortune but 4095 meter (13,000 feet) Mt. Cameroon is as steep as a bear reared up on its hind legs, rising from the sea to above the clouds, smoking like the active volcano it is. The first recorded eruption was noted by the Phoenicians in 450 B.C.E., probably appearing as a fiery pinwheel on the brow of the ocean, the same as it last did in 2000.
The near vertical trudge began at Buea (Boy-A), the first two hours past cornfields dotted with brightly bedecked ladies, segueing into three hours of seemingly endless rain forest, and culminating in hours of stark pumice slopes dotted with what the mandatory guide called magic trees. It was magic they could grow in an environment more hostile than an airless moon. Meanwhile runners training for next week's race flew by in satin shorts, a mere hour later dodging my weary footslog on their way back down. The course record was an unbelievable three hours and fifty minutes, which had barely gotten me into the rain forest.
Next morning's assault on the summit began at 5am, before daybreak. Sunrise revealed pumice peppered with red and yellow cactus-like flowers. A kilometer before the top I crossed from the sheltered spine into a gale force wind flirting with zero degrees as clouds whipped over the pinnacle like whipped cream in a tornado. I braved twenty seconds to snap a photo before catapulting down the mountain on hiking poles like a slalom racer pacing an avalanche. I dropped 2700 vertical meters (9000 feet), taking four and a half hours, almost an hour longer than the best runners would race up and down.
I limped into Nigeria, headed for Drill Ranch, unrelated to oil fields or water wells. Drill Ranch is instead a sanctuary for one of the world's most endangered species, the intriguing Drill Monkey, trickster clown of the rain forest. The Drills are larger than most baboons, about 40 kilo (90 pounds) full-grown, and appear to wear large black plastic masks. They enjoy entertaining spectators, luring them close to the Drill's electrified enclosure in order to grab a leg and trip all unsuspecting humans. They liberally employ elaborate facial expressions, gestures and vocalizations, but the sole aim is to dump tourists on their backsides.
Anecdotal data suggests the Drills are among the horniest primates on the planet. A clown named Fred, names changed to protect the innocent, instantly upon the appearance of a lady from our group, grabbed his thigh. Fred's grab would incidentally enclose an adjacent protuberance, whereupon he'd lustily whack a fifteen second staccato. Needless to say the lady was inordinately embarrassed while we were overwhelmingly impressed by Fred's ability to repeat the performance every fifteen minutes on the dot. We may regard the Drills as handsome, while they apparently find some of our females sexy.
Fred's story was a sad one. He'd been rescued from a witch doctor. When Fred was removed to the sanctuary the miffed doc put a curse on Fred departing head, perhaps relating to trans-species lust.
Nigeria is Africa's most populous country, the epitome of abundant resources gone wrong. It's terminally corrupt government is unable to provide non-potable water to its municipalities though it enjoys copious river systems. The electrical grid operates a few hours a day, sometimes. As a result its people, torn between evangelical Christianity and militant Islam, have become disillusioned and often sullen, though many I met continue outgoing and greathearted.
We sought sanctuary in Yankari national park, a game reserve offering an almost tame warthog, feisty African elephants with proclivities for chasing large orange trucks, and the occasional lion. Park headquarters is perpetually under construction, its existent bungalows offering occasional water and electric. The jewel of the park was Wikki Warm Springs, 31C (90F) crystalline turquoise waters forming a clean and lovely pool several hundred meters (yards) long. Accordingly, water in the bungalows wasn't a necessity, and lovely lolling afternoons were enjoyed by all. But we zoomed into neighboring Benin with a sigh of relief.
When You Go: Those headed for Cameroon may be discouraged by embassy hoops and hurdles to obtain a visa, such as first requiring an ongoing visa to Nigeria, which will cost most nationalities over $100. For airlines google flights to Douala, Cameroon, or to Jos or Abuja, Nigeria, which practically abutt the attractions described above. However, better worldwide airline connections may be found to Cameroon's capital of Yaoundé, or to the sprawling Nigerian metropolitan areas of Ibadan and Lagos. Roundtrip flights from most European capitals cost approximately $1000.
Two people climbing Mt. Cameroon will shell out a total of $46 for a guide and porter. Make sure you buy enough food for the two day hike or like me you'll spend the last long day ravenous.
The Drill Ranches are administered by the Pandrillas Foundation, email firstname.lastname@example.org, which rescues orphans after their mothers' have been shot for bush meat. The Drills form social groups of 15 to 30 members presided over by a single alpha male. Between 3,000 and 10,000 Drills survive in Africa with over 200 born at the Ranches since 2000. The Drill Ranch at Efi Mountain offers camping and bungalows with close encounters of the Drill kind. Their cousins, the Mandrills of southern Cameroon, Gabon and Congo, wear brilliant blue and red mask-like faces.