Wednesday 22 December 2010

Oh, Transportation in Cameroon

While traveling by bush taxi on an unpaved and rocky road, I spent three hours in between my buddy’s legs as there were eight of us in the car (two people in driver’s seat, two people in passenger seat, and four of us in the back seat of the taxi)…sometimes you are pushed out of your comfort zone here in Cameroon.

Example of two people in the driver’s seat in a bush taxi

The travels of the day…

At 5:30AM, our bush taxi comes to pick us up and guess who pops out of the back seat? Our random medallion-wearing Cameroonian friend (see post below!). He says he is here to keep us safe and we are happy.

We travel for three hours by the bush taxi from the village of Mundemba to Kumba. Three hours was actually record time as the driver flew!

For one hour, we take an agency car (20+person caravan) from Kumba to the Southwest regional capital of Buea.

From Buea to Yaoundé (the country’s capital city and Peace Corps’ headquarters), we take another agency car for six hours. When we finally arrive in Yaoundé, we catch a taxi (which can take half an hour or so to find a taxi going your way).

By this time, it is 7PM, thirteen hours later, and we are exhausted

All this for 475 kilometers (less than 300 miles). I genuinely miss traffic in America.

Tuesday 21 December 2010

Korup National Park - Rainforest Time!

Last night I spotted a random Cameroonian wearing medallions like “Flavor Flave” and a fisheman’s hat. I thought nothing about it until we saw him today…he had helped the other PCVs to find spaghetti omelettes (a normal treat here in Cameroon) and had later led me to my friends. You always have random Cameroonians helping you and it’s always more fun when they sport such bizarre attire.

Our savoir!

Today’s adventure was the highlight of the trip: trekking through the rain forest! Korup National Park is considered Africa’s oldest and most diverse rainforest. The most developed park in Cameroon, the 1260km forest is full of trails and suspension bridges. To set up a tour, call ObensaLinkm Oben at +237 77 60 15 10 or email

Entering Korup National Park

Though the trail we took to the Mana Waterfall only allowed us to hear birds overhead and chase a few butterflies, Korup is the single richest lowland site in Africa with over 400 species of birds and 1,000 species of butterflies. The road to Mundemba is rough (four hours on a unpaved road in a bush taxi), but the WWF has worked with the Cameroonian government to build it up as a tourist attraction.

The Mana Waterfalls!

Bush taxi transporation in Cameroon

Follow us into the rainforest!

Tip: Beware of the suspension bridge heading to Mana Waterfall! It may be missing a plank or two. Or three.

I think this bridge needs some work....

The Mana Waterfalls - gorgeous!

Monday 20 December 2010

Kumba's Crater Lake...I Hope It's Not Haunted

Being down in Southern Cameroon, a few PCVs and I decided to travel around before the holidays. First stop Kumba!

Kumba is home to one of the largest markets in West Africa and Lake Barombi Mbo, a volcanic crater lake! The city is the located in the Southwest Region of Cameroon, thus we could speak English. Unfortunately, the English here is much different from American English and I found myself speaking at a slow, over-enunciating manner. Who would have guessed that I would have actually missed speaking French?

I was able to meet up with my buddy, Amos, a graduate of the Masters program in Engineering at the University of Ngaoundere. After picking him up, we headed off to Lake Barombi Mbo….sources say that the lake is possessed with witchcraft. Good luck!

Unfortunately, even though we are residents, we were charged the “tourist” price of 1.000CFA ($2US) to get in. Maybe next time we’ll get in free. Either way, the beautiful lake is worth it!

Lake Barombi Mbo, Kumba's volcanic crater lake...sorcery here? Who knows...

After our exploration at the lake, I had to go meet Amos’s family as they were excited to meet an American. The encounter was only for a few minutes as we had to catch a taxi to Mundemba to continue our travels, but Amos definitely scored some cool points.

Kumba's market, one of the largest in West Africa

The two of us headed off to the market and then to catch up with the others for the “bush taxi” to Mundemba. Let’s just describe the bush taxi as eight people plus the driver on a dusty, unpaved road for five hours. It was a bit uncomfortable of a ride, but luckily we made it to Mundemba and our hotel, the Boseme Café, in one piece.

Bush taxi transportation

Saturday 18 December 2010

Lobe Waterfalls

Waterfall time! After the week of training, a couple dozen of us decided to stay an extra day to explore the Chutes de la Lobe (Lobe Waterfalls). Located outside of Kribi at Grand Batanga, the waterfalls are one of the only few in the world to flow directly into the ocean. Beautiful!

Harley, Andrea, and I found three motos to take us there for 600CFA each. However, apparently two of the motos thought the price was too low, so they only took us halfway. Thus, the other two PCVs had no choice but to jump on my moto. Though four people on a moto would be unheard of in most areas, it’s normal here in Cameroon.

While waiting for the others, I bought a shell belt and a bracelet that resembled ones that I have seen in Northern Cameroon. “Ce sont les bijoux du Nord, n’est-ce pas?” I asked as I wanted to know if the jewelry came from up North. Of course they were and I started to speak the little Fulfulde I know (Fulfulde is the local language of the Fulbe people). Needless to say, by speaking his local language, the price for the products dropped significantly.

Canoe rides, waterfall photoshoots, walks on the beach, smiles for the camera for free necklaces, and good times with good people consisted of the activites for the day. Awesome!

Friday 17 December 2010

Kribi Sights and Life Sounds

Being a Peace Corps Volunteer allows one to experience adventures unimagined and see beautiful sights one never knew existed. See some moments below at Kribi's Japanese fish market (yes, I ate that fish!) and sunsets on the beach.

Sunday 12 December 2010

Trip to Paradise...Except for the Jellyfish

After the first few months at post, each Peace Corps Volunteer attends In-Service Training (IST) for additional technical training. Luckily for my group, our IST is where?  The beaches of Kribi!
The beautiful beaches of Kribi

Janelle, Crystal, and Andrea and I arrived yesterday afternoon to take a well-awaited swim off the African coast. After some relaxing beach time and a nice dinner at La Figueroa in town, we spent today at the isolated beach of Llondji, about 15km from Kribi. After fording a river by canoe and chasing after crabs, we finally settled on a tranquil space of thin sand in front of our own little jungle paradise.

The isolated beaches of Llondji a.k.a. paradise!

Unfortunately, my happiness was cut short by a jellyfish sting! The waves in Llondji are rough and as we were swimming to a calmer spot, I screamed as a knife-like object sliced my left knee before my right foot touched upon something jelly. The girls came to save me as I couldn’t swim and we plopped against the sand. Sheer pain continuted until my leg started to swell and bloat up. Thinking I may be allergic, I called the Peace Corps Medical Officer who said, “Oh, that’s fine. That’s just the jellyfish’s poison getting underneath the skin.”         Fantastic.

The waves were a bit rough. Watch out for jellyfish!

Luckily, within half an hour or so, I was able to limp my way back to the main road. And that night at dinner, we finally were able to eat shrimp (Cameroon translater to "River of Shrimp" in Portuguese) while being reunited with the other PCVs and my now scarred leg made for a great story!

Friday 10 December 2010

Back to Bafia

As I am always one to keep promises, I headed back to visit the host family and friends in Bafia. Remember that odd, nostalgic feeling when one visits their old high school? It was EXACTLY like that!

The City Itself 
After the car took off from Yaounde, we had to turn around as the driver forgot to take a generator. C’est normale. Two hours later, I was back on a moto in the center of Bafia watching the town I spent three months living in go by. It was bigger than I remembered it and though the same, there were small changes like umbrellas in a local bar and a new hotel. 

The People

Simon at the post office was happy to see me as I mailed out my holiday cards and Shantal, one of the first neighbors I ever met, yelled at me on the moto like it was just yesterday that we had seen each other. And the family? Well, right when I walked in the door, it felt like nothing had changed. I definitely (and they definitely) could tell that my French had improved, but other than that? Felt just like I had come home from a day of training.

I headed over to the house of Tatiana, the nine-year-old kid that would wait to walk me home nearly every single day of training. As I had the wrong phone number for her mom, it was a fun surprise to show up at the house. Wearing her blue school uniform and an over-sized backpack, the once timid kid yelled out my name and ran for a big hug – adorable!

The Business Impact!

The best part of the visit back to Bafia was seeing the entrepreneur and cyber café that I consulted for two months during training. At the end of Pre-Service Training, he had started an accounting system (he didn’t write anything down before) and minus a few fluke expenses, he was making a profit.

Flash forward four months later…

He’s made over 400,000CFA worth of profit! During our consulting sessions, he stated that he couldn’t stand it when several high school students would gather around one computer. When I asked why he thought they did that, it was simply because they didn’t have any money. A quick suggestion and a final report later, he decided to take my recommendation and give students a discount. Well, now students pour through the cyber and since he advertised at the local high school, a staff member asked him if he could make and laminate ALL the students’ ID cards! Money!

Further, he opened up a separate business account at MC2 (the host institution many Small Enterprise Development PCV’s work with) and bought computer software that tracked when people use the internet and for how long (an exercise I had him do by hand). His employee stopped the accounting book, but I’ll let that go as he still knows exactly how much he is making. His first two weeks of income go towards expenses and the next two weeks of income go straight to profit. This week alone, he has made 47,000CFA (the same amount that some teachers usually make in two months!).

Who knew that while I would learn to speak French, my small advice might actually have an impact. Hindsight is everything. Good visit if I do say so!