Thursday 7th March 2013
Bamenda (Zwinkel’s Guesthouse) to Belo (Zwinkel’s Trekkers Camp)
Today we were up at 7am and packed our bags – had breakfast at 8am – today we were going to the Trekkers Camp in the hills beyond Belo about an hour and a half from Bamenda. We are staying there for three nights. Everistus hadn’t told us what time we were going, but we were informed by the staff at the guesthouse that he had to go to the town to get some supplies for the trekkers camp and we would be leaving sometime after 10am. So we waited and read our books on the veranda then in the lounge as it was a bit hot outside. Around 10.30am Everistus returned and we set off with a private car this time (that he had hired to take us all the way to the camp). The driver was a bit of a madman and we feared for our lives a few times as he sped along through the winding roads of the countryside, through a number of small villages and up into the hills. The scenery is quite dramatic in this area, consisting of steep hills and small houses perched just off the edge of the road with small farms attached and also a number of villages most of which appeared to have a palace…..we arrived at the Zwinkels Trekkers Camp about 12noon and were shown to our brick hut with metal roof down a wet muddy path near the border with the next property. There is one room with a large bed and a two seater cane lounge as well as a single cane seat and a funny shaped room next to this room that is for …. Well, perhaps dressing or maybe just storage – bit hard to tell really, so we put our bags in there. Inside the room were two pairs of yellow thongs to wear in the room after you took your muddy shoes/sandals off. We went back up to the large central building which consisted of a large dining table and a small dining table as well as a bar, library (with mostly Dutch books) and some comfortable chairs to sit around in. There are also many pairs of yellow thongs inside the door in case of muddy shoes. The building has a wide veranda all round and is mainly glass for taking in the view – there is also a small round open summer house with seats and cushions at the end of the garden. This takes in the view of the distant mountains all round. It is a very pretty place. We had lunch and then sat around chatting with Everistus for a couple of hours (we are the only ones here today and tomorrow so it is extremely quiet). During this time a thunder and lightning storm rolled around. The cook told us that although it rains here in the mountains just about every day, the rainy season itself is due to start on 16th March (very specific) but she thought it had started early. We then went back to our room about 4pm to read and it began to quietly rain. Surprisingly we felt cold enough to retrieve our jumpers from our bags where they have been sitting unrequired until now. Dinner is on at 7pm and the power is only on from 6.00pm till 9.30pm, after which we will no doubt be safely tucked up in bed.
Friday 8th March 2013
Walk to the Lake
The day dawned fine and warm and after breakfast at about 7am, we set off at 8am for a walk to the Oku Lake. It was very steep going, up the road. Shortly after we turned on to the road at the bottom of the hill from the Trekkers Camp we noticed an overturned motor bike (that had just passed us about two minutes before). Our guide looked over the embankment down a steep slope towards a small stream and a guy came staggering out from the bushes. He had apparently skidded off the road and fallen off the bike and gone over the embankment. He appeared to be OK so we walked on. He passed us again shortly afterwards and we didn’t see him again. The road on which we were walking was seriously steep and wound upwards through attractive country and past many houses, children, other people walking, motor bikes going past etc. Everyone walking in the other direction greeted us and we climbed higher. We walked for 3½ hours at which time we could see the lake – the guide told us that we had come 9.6km and that it was another 2km to a better viewpoint and another 4km down to the lake (plus obviously 4km back). We were pretty stuffed by this time so after we had our picnic lunch (that Esther at the camp had packed for each of us – sardine sandwich, 2 boiled eggs, 2 pancakes, a banana and a slice of pineapple) and taken some photos, we headed back down the hill at 12. It took us about 2¾ hours to walk back to the trekkers’ camp. We had climbed from about 1,000m above sea level to about 2,250m above sea level on the walk and our legs were really feeling the climb. The views were spectacular with farming plots terraced around the hills and the village in the distance away in the mist down in the valley. While it was quite cool at the top, it threatened rain on the way down and we pulled our raincoats out of our bags, but although it thundered, there was only spits. We arrived back at the camp and had a (warm) beer then a (cold) shower and washed some clothes. After a short rest a number of ladies from the village visited and danced for us. There was 11 ladies varying ages and they were dressed in their ordinary clothes. They sang beautifully and did a sort of shuffle dance. The cook, our guide, and even the gateman joined in the dancing. This was really nice and Lynn joined in then David. Lynn had studied the dance steps carefully and thought she did a good job of copying them but they all laughed a lot at her dance. They and us had lot of laughs and then we farewelled them outside the gate of the camp and David shook all the little children’s hands – they were all waiting outside. A fun time was had by all. Then, in a packed program, we were told it was time for dinner – it was only 5.30….so up we went to the dining room and we were finished by 6.30pm and back in our room. There’s nothing else to do here and we are the only people staying, so an aperitif in our room seems the way to go and a relatively early night.
Saturday 9th March 2013
Sightseeing around Belo
Up at around 7am this morning and the day was fine – but it is nearly always cloudy here and the sun looks very watery. It is relatively cool here only about 19°C. We had breakfast – an omelette, coffee, baguette and guava. The car (as usual, a wreck) came to pick us up at 8.30am and we set off, back through the village and on the road back towards Bamenda. It is very scenic with high mountain cliffs and deep gullies all very green and misty, with red earth. Everistus wanted to show us his block of land and so we drove off the main road on to a side road and bumped along for a while until we arrived there. It was a steeply sloping block 42m by 39m and the view is totally amazing, over the previously mentioned high cliffs and steep gullies. He told us that he will eventually build a 3 room house on the site, for his mother, and grow vegetables on the balance of the plot. We then set off again and drove further on the “Ring Road” (the full Ring Road is 357klms) on a very windy road in poor condition. We went through several police checkpoints and were stopped a couple of times. The first time we were delayed as it was discovered that our driver had an unpaid fine and that had to be sorted out. Eventually we reached Ndawara where we turned off and climbed higher into the hills – we were visiting the Ndawara Highland Tea Estate. It was up an extremely steep dirt road for 9km. We finally arrived and were let in by a security guard at the bottom gate and continued further until we reached the estate. We were then taken on a tour of the factory by a senior supervisor who explained all the processes. We were able to see where they dried the tea and watched it going on conveyor belts along to where the tea was graded and then packed into boxes, packets, tea bags etc. It was fascinating. This estate has been operating since 2003 and is huge. They plan to have over 5,000 hectares under crop, all over the top of the mountain we had just climbed. The company is owned by one of the richest men in Cameroon and they employ hundreds of people there. Their machines are able to even put the tea bags correctly into the box but we were told they don’t use that part of the process as they prefer to give employment to local people and so that is done manually. We also drove over to the nursery, where the manager showed us how the tea plants were started and we were then shown what last year’s tea plants looked like and also the year’s before plants. It takes four years of gradually exposing the tea plant to more and more weather before they are ready to be planted in the fields. When we were there, the workers were filling little plastic sleeves with soil and were placing them in a giant bed surrounded by a wooden retaining wall. Between 80,000 and 100,000 tea bushes (just two leaves and a bud) are placed in each bed and watered profusely then covered with plastic for three months and while in there are watered by evaporation. After that time they are uncovered and may go back in under plastic again if they are not mature enough. The whole bed, structure, plants and plastic are then covered by palm fronds and the temperature under that stays pretty constant. We also learnt that in the wet season, there is twice as much tea picked as in the dry season and it is done on a daily basis. Drying the tea is most important and this company have grown many hectares of eucalyptus trees (quite common in other parts of Cameroon also) that they use for firing the furnaces to heat the spaces to dry the tea. After the tour, we were given some tea as a gift. We also went to see the owner’s menagerie. This included cattle, three gigantic pythons (there was also a chicken in with the snakes awaiting its turn to be eaten), a baboon, some monkeys and a number of chimpanzees as well as peacocks, ostriches and geese. The birds and snakes seemed in good shape, but it seemed sad that the monkeys were kept in quite tiny enclosures. After we had lunch there we drove back down to the town where we visited (you guessed it) another museum and palace, escorted by one of the queens. The museum was quite interesting and has been done in quite a good way but the palace was fairly ratty, full of an amazing number of masks and other wooden carvings. We certainly didn’t warm to this place and were quite glad to leave. We headed off back towards the trekkers camp – on the way we were meant to see a pottery workshop and display area, but it was shut by the time we arrived and so we continued on. It rained quite heavily then stopped and when we arrived back, it hadn’t rained there at all. A quiet beer was in order with dinner at around 6.30pm. Six other guests arrived tonight – they are doing a birding expedition in Cameroon. After dinner we went back to our room for an aperitif and an early night.