Posted by: jodentz | May 23, 2011

Camerooned

So it’s been quite a while since my last post but it has been due to my being on vacation. Cameroon was absolutely amazing in every aspect. We started our trip by arriving to the airport at 930pm on the 31st for our 1am flight. When we got to the airport we were informed that no flight actually existed that evening and that the next flight to cameroon was at 1130. This forced us to find a hotel room for the night in the interim. The next day we show up to the airport and sit down with the airline which was now open and tell them that they should pay for our hotel room the previous night as compensation and also to make sure that we were on the morning flight. Well, as it turns out no flight existed that morning either and not until 11:30 the next day. It had apparently been changed months ago and we were never contacted. Why? Because this is Togo. Well, we went and talked with the manager at the airlines with a fair amount of yelling (especially since our return flight didn’t exist as well effecitvely shifting our entire vacation) and to sort this out. While we were yelling at him he told us we needed to all just “cool down” and then turned on the airconditioner. We all couldn’t help but laugh. In the end, we ended with comp’d hotel rooms, meals, a driver, a longer vacation (it ended up extending it for 2 more days to a total of 13), and my favorite part was that we were invited to party with the airline staff in celebration of Labor Day, a huge deal here.

            We were picked up at our hotel, brought to the airport, walked through security without any checks into the restricted area of the airport and eventually ended up in the employee lounge. Apparently our airline (ASky) is run by Ethiopian airlines so there were lots of Ethiopians there. It was an amazing time. We met the whole staff, had a 3 course meal, there was whisky, champagne, and dancing. Ethiopians are super friendly. They invited us to visit them in Togo and when they go back home, it was a great experience. After the party we were given staff T-shirts and the next day were greeted by the entire staff as we worked our way to our flight. One of them found us, pulled up chairs in the duty free shop and bought us a beer before we boarded the plane. In all, the flight mix up worked out well.

            In cameroon, we spent the first morning at the botanical gardens and monkey sanctuary then headed to the beach in the afternoon. We had the entire black sand beach to ourselves the whole afternoon; it was perfect and felt like we were in the carribean. That night we went to the fish market in the bay and had possibly the best fish of my life on the beach then were invited out to watch soccer by a local. The next morning we decided to rent a boat and head out to the island that could be seen from the beach. We paid a fisherman about $40 to take us out in his long wooden and fairly unstable boat that leaked and had to be bailed out a few times. Again, it was gorgeous and a great decision. We were told about the history of the island and got to walk around part of it. The views of the mainland were spectacular with Mt Cameroon rising up in the background. After getting back in the boat and seeing the west side of the island we headed back and grabbed ice cream on the beach and spent the rest of the day loafing around.

            Fast forward 2 days and we are ready to climb Mt. Cameroon. It is the tallest mountain in West (and I believe Central) Africa at 4090 meters (roughly 12300ft) and the largest active volcano in all of Africa. We had met a friend of the person who runs the climbing company and so he included all of our food and equipment (tents, sleeping bags, cooking stuff, etc) for free which cut the cost. Day 1 was a 7km hike which took 6 hours due to the 50 degree slope (we camped at hut 2 which was at 2880m). Day 2 was 18km of hiking including summiting and then decending through lava fields which took a total of 9 hours. The three of us could hardly walk after this day. The guides and porters got a kick out of that. Day 3 was 13km through dense rainforest and took 7.5 hours due to our general fatigue and fact we could barely walk. Overall, the hike was an amazing experience. It offered the chance to experience a number of different ecosystems from rainforests to plains, to the inhospitable summit in one trip. We didn’t see a single other person on the mountain, there were great views of the coast from the top, and we got to sit on the lip of an active volcano. However, it was significantly harder than any of us had expected. Apparently some people need to be carried down (yes they actually carry them on their back for the entire trip down) so we were glad not to be those kind of people. After the mountain experience, one of the porters invited us out to a local village where we watched an intervillage wrestling match and then went to eat fufu and antelope meat.

            The following morning we left for Kumba which has the largest market in all of Cameroon. We spent the day recovering as we could still hardly walk and watching music videos. The second day in Kumba we walked around the market and went to lake Barombi Mbi which is, according to the gaurdian of the lake, the deepest lake in Africa. It felt like a tropical resort. It was breath-takingly pristine and we got to swim around for as long as we wanted.

            A day later and coincidentally my birthday we took a 6 hr bush taxi ride up to a town on the border of Cameroon and Nigeria. We celebrated my birthday at the bar with a bunch of Cameroonians who insisted on buying us drinks and armadillo meat. We woke up bright and early the next morning and arranged for a guide to head into Korup National Park which is recognized as one of the oldest rainforests in all of Africa. We crossed an indiana jones style suspension bridge and headed to a waterfall. The path however was in the process of being reclaimed by the forest so we were often forced to take detours and fight our way through the bush. At one point, we came to another suspension bridge but this one had large sections of planks missing. The guide turned to us “well I didn’t want to discourage you before but if we continue there is risk. The bridge is in poor condition.” We agree that if he goes first we have no problem following. He takes one step onto the bridge and a plank falls off on the other side, further widening the gap. He turns around “as I said, lots of risk. We should find a way around.” This involved us tight-roping a tree over the fast moving river with lots of biting ants then shimmying up a slippery fallen tree. It was a blast. We had lunch by the waterfalls then headed back. Saw tracks of forests elephants but alas not the creatures themselves. We did see a yellow mamba and a chameleon though. This day ended up being 12km and a 7hr hike. We were filthy and exhausted after it.

            That’s about it from the trip. I would like to say that Cameroonians are genuinely the nicest people I have met. They are well educated and were always happy to see us. Almost daily were we invited to drinks just for the sake of talking to us. Afterwards they would often say thank you for making my day. They didn’t ask us to bring them to the US, didn’t call us Yovo, and were very interested in our ideas. It was really great to see that development can occur in Africa and yet it highlighted all the problems in Togo and was depressing at the same time. The education system here seems to be the biggest difference. Teachers in cameroon are paid 68,000-200,000F per month. In Togo they are paid 10,000 and this is reflected in the quality of education that is received. So overall, I would recommend the trip to anyone. It was cheap and we were able to do a huge variety of things, the food was good and the people were nice.

            Back in Togo I have attended training of trainers for the new group of trainees coming in on june 4th. I was selected to one of the people in the capital to greet them fresh off the plane which will be nice. I was also selected for camp Espoir which deals with children who have or have been affected by HIV/AIDS. On top of this, I will be headed up to the northernmost part of the country to present simple latrines at a convention being put on by a volunteer for her community then I have to come back to my regional capital to arranging a programming activity for the workstation here where we will be teaching income generating activities. Between this, the 2 camps, and being a trainer for the new stage I am super busy for the entire summer which is nice. Back to work I suppose…

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