I was woken by excitement as very early as 4am. Part of the excitement was bordered on the fact that in a few hours from then, I would be embarking on my first mountain climbing experience. I wondered what the experience would be like climbing the Cameroon mountain which is regarded as the highest point in the whole of West and Central Africa. This excitement had an element of fear – fear of the fact I could get tired easily and then I would not be able to complete the journey, and then, some of my very good friends would mock me for not being able to climb the mountain as I had boasted earlier.
I mumbled on these thoughts. I was wandering in my thoughts of a few incidents that happened the previous day. The thoughts of my laptop that developed problems of which I had tried my best to resolve without any success, the security challenges in Buea, which happens to be the capital of the new proposed country called Ambazonia. I was told that two days before my arrival to the town, there was a fiery combat between some of the secessionists and federal forces. I was advised amongst other things not to stay out once it was six o’clock in the evening, not to discuss or take sides in discussions about the secessionists. I was also advised not to play audio WhatsApp Messages from the Secessionists as the government does not find that funny – my host heard me playing one of those.
Despite the fact all these stories were making headlines in Buea, I observed people going about their daily activities normally and so I said to myself, if they are safe, why not me.
The other thing about Buea is the cool temperature of the city. The mountains made the place a very interesting place. Temperature that early morning was around 18 degrees centigrade which was very good – good for me at least.
The vigorous vibration of my telephone woke me up from these thoughts. The only persons that had my new telephone number in Buea, in fact, the whole Republic of Cameroon is my host Anne Maria and then Daniel, the tour guide I had met the previous day who was meant to take me on the tour.
Daniel had advised me to come out a bit earlier so we could start and finish the trip on time. I gathered a few things I had bought the previous day for the trip, had a little tough time thinking on what things I can take or leave behind, a very difficult activity it was because I had never embarked on a journey of that nature before. I took a large bottle of water, some bread, confectioneries, I took my life-jacket, thinking it may serve as a bed when I get tired – wrong decision as it eventually added weight. I could have packed light and gone with a rain jacket or a little umbrella after all.
I arrived the Ecotourism Office around 8:15 am where Daniel and his 5-year-old son were already waiting, paid the sum of 15000 CFA that we agreed earlier, he did a little paper work which I know was not necessary – but just to give me the impression that the money I paid was official even though he forgot to give me a receipt, however, his price was way cheaper than the prices I saw online or what other tourists pay to tour companies for this same exercise.
The trip commenced immediately. A few yards down, I noticed a presence of a strong security operatives after we left the Ecotourism complex. It was the presidential palace, which served as the official residence of the president of the ‘La Republique’ in that region. Daniel informed me that the president has a palace in the different regions of Cameroon – there are around 10 regions in all. He told me the attendants in the quarters cleaned the rooms daily and changed the beddings just in case the president decides to arrive unannounced. Taking pictures of course was not allowed. We had barely walked 5 minutes when I noticed I had started getting tired walking on the tarred road that led to the palace. This made me doubt my readiness for this task – coupled with the large bag I had on my back.
Anyways, we continued for the next 10 minutes or so till we arrived at the Central Prisons. Shortly before the arrival, we noticed some very hungry looking men working on the farms and doing menial jobs. Daniel later explained to me that those were prisoners who were being rehabilitated. It was a very sorry sight I must confess. Again, I was not allowed to take pictures. On getting closer to the prison compound, some of the inmates of the prison called out to us asking us for anything edible or cash we could offer them – I wish I could do something for them but I was not prepared for them at that point. I was also wondering what politics will ensue when they want to share whatever is it that people might have given them. We went to see two ladies seating close to the prison who I understood were government officials with the tourism board. After going through my passport and Daniel’s ID, they took down our details, returned them to us and we continued on our trip.
Climbing the mountain was not very obvious initially as the topography looked somewhat normal except of course it was energy sapping. There were lots of herbs, grasses, fruits and trees on the way. Very notable of these is the Kigalia Mani which has a lot of use as a plant. According to Daniel, this plant cures waist pain, eye problems, stomach pains, even act as an antidote to snake bite poison. One of my friend rightly joked that the shape of the fruit makes it indeed something to be desired to fix waist pain. Daniel also took my bag at a point that he noticed I was struggling and then cut a stick for me to use as a staff – kind guy, though I paid for it anyways.
We stopped at different stops either to eat, drink water or rest. My phone had a compass app which I used very frequently to know the exact height we were. It was a very wonderful but tiring experience. Climbing the mountain was very stressful. There were several wet roots and soil and such can easily topple someone. I recall falling 4 times or so. We saw different types of fruits and some of them, Daniel claimed can only be seen in that mountain – I had to agree with excitement, at least to make him happy for the moment. Daniel even made me to eat a particular fruit of one of those wild plants. It tasted very sour but I thought I might like it if I tried a second time. I took some with me.
Daniel and myself discussed a lot while going up. It was also at that point that I learnt it is very good to go with a very knowledgeable tour guide when doing some tours. We argued a lot about the political situations in Cameroon, the world and Donald Trump of course. We also met two different tourists but they were going the opposite direction. We also met a few other people who worked on the mountain. There is a hotel of up there – even though I did not find out the cost.
We started the journey at around 900 feet above sea level and made it till 1790 feet up where the first hut was located. More than half way into this journey, we arrived the Mountain Cameroon National Park. This park was supposed to have some different friendly animals – Monkeys, elephants and other ones. The very dangerous ones had earlier been eliminated by hunters – there is also a likelihood that there might be some snakes. We had some rest and then continued till we got to a natural spring water source on the mountain. This water source according to Daniel had been there for more than a hundred years and has served many tourists who came that way.
We continued. After a few minutes of climbing, he told me it was going to rain. Initially, we were under the forest and hence, we were protected from the downpour but at a point, it was so intense that we were soaked and not far from there, about another 3 minutes, we arrived the first hut on the mountain which was actually my target, or the target that Daniel help me set. He congratulated me and told me I have done well. Personally, I was not satisfied but, I was happy I could get there. After taking a nap of around 30 minutes, Daniel told me it was time to go down – which may be taking us another 2 hours or more depending on our speed and the fact that it just rained and the paths would be slippery. One more thing, I wrote a little note, and hid it in one of the holes in the Visitors’ Room of the Hut before I left. I have a price for whoever finds it.
Coming down was faster but an entirely different experience. The path was slippery and difficult. I toppled up to 5 times this time and one of them was at the edge of a cliff. Well, I survived it all. Cameroon Mountain was fun, climbing was tiring while coming down was scary.
We arrived at a bar close to the prison at around 3:30pm. I bought Daniel a beer I promised him at some point when climbing and then left for home. Took my bath and prepared for the next thing.
My host had prepared a very delicious pasta with fish for me – but I was in a hurry to leave Buea that evening, this is because I had wanted to explore elsewhere Cameroon and also I have limited time to arrive other destinations where I had speaking engagements and other public events. I took the food with me in a disposable plastic plate and left for the park at Mile 17.
Mile17 was where I was supposed to pick a bus going to Yaoundé. I was told I arrived late and hence I could not get a direct bus to the capital. I was advised to go with a smaller vehicle to Douala and then make a change to a another which can go much farther than even Yaoundé. That was a good idea, but plans changed when my friend I knew in Nigeria who lives in Yaoundé was unreachable on phone – he later explained to me he travelled to Equatorial Guinea. This changed my plans entirely to travel to the northern part of the country.
On the vehicle to Douala, I met this kind man, Kelvin, who was also a soldier. He helped me till I got to a bus going my route. He went out of his way to take me till the Touristique Express park in Douala where I got a ticket to Maroua for 20000 CFA. Maroua is the capital of the Extreme North region of Cameroon and I wanted to stay somewhere close to the border so I could easily move into the next country Chad. We also had scheduled a brief stop at Ngaoundere, the capital of the Adamawa region of Cameroon. It shares borders with the Adamawa state of Nigeria.
Our bus left the Touristique Express park for Yaoundé where we made the first stop. What a day!