Sleeping on the chairs of the Touristique Express Bus I was travelling on from Douala which started the previous day was discomforting. I was thoroughly fatigued by the exercise of climbing of the Mountain Cameroon in Buea the previous day also. I reflected on some of the news making rounds on the social media of the Minister of Defense of the country who was visiting a town very close to the Buea town and was attacked by some armed persons suspected to be members of the Ambazonia secessionist movement. This happened the same day I was climbing the Mountain. I was grateful I was safe after all and I was leaving the region for good.
The local time was still the same as the time in Lagos. It was something around 6:15 in the morning and the sun was beginning to rise. The daylight revealed the very green bushes that were on both sides of the road. The bus has been on the road since almost 2am that morning and we were approaching the eastern border of the country with the Central African Republic. I got a little bit confused about the course the bus was taking. We were headed to northern Cameroon but the bus had to go eastwards first before heading north – this has not made sense to me till today except for the fact that whenever we get to a particular stop, some passengers alighted while a few others joined the bus. They probably took the route because of their passengers who were going to disembark at those towns. It was in one of those stops that I got to seat on the same row with a lady I choose to call Madam Ogoo. The two of us happened to come from almost the same town back home and speak the same Igbo dialect. Her company in that bus made the rest of the trip fun till we got to Ngaoundere.
There were a lot of other passengers in the vehicle who were very friendly. Their attitude towards me got much friendlier when they learnt I was a tourist on a tour. I noticed many of uswere fatigued having been on the road for more than 13 hours and I left my seat to meet several of them that cared to talk. The conversation seemed to awaken a lot of excitement in them. Some were surprised I cared to visit the mountain while them who are from the country had never bothered to visit. We discussed a number of things about the regions of Cameroon without going into politics as the political situation in the country was in complete mess. There were secessionists in the southwestern part of the country and the president, who has held on to power for more than 3 decades and was still going to contest eventually win the next election in a few months from then.
One other thing of concern when traveling the Cameroonian roads is the police and their love for checking vaccination cards/documentation (Yellow Cards) for foreigners. Elsewhere, this is to be done by a well trained medical personnel. They routinely checked the identities of the locals who are travelling as well. During the travel to Ngaoundere, we were stopped at four different police stops for checks and each of them once they saw a foreign national, would demand for vaccination document and then identify a vaccination that is missing from the list, they then request the person to bribe them or risk being left behind by the bus.
Well, I used several tricks as well to outwit them. In several of the cases I claimed I was a journalist, in some other cases, I had to insist that some of the vaccination they requested for is done at birth hence the reason it was not included in the list. There was another case where I could not do much but had to part with 500 francs CFA (around $1) bribe to one of the officers, since the driver of the bus was a bit impatient and I also considered other passengers plight who would definitely be in a hurry to leave. Otherwise, I could have waited to see the end.
During the journey, Madam Ogoo made me understand there are several other alternatives to travelling to Ngaoundere and other places in central and northern Cameroon. There was the option of going by train from Yaounde to Ngaoundere and other places but the fact that there are many stops on the road makes the whole journey same as travelling by road transport. There is also an option of flying from Douala and Yaounde to all these other places, but it might be a bit expensive.
I had always looked forward to visiting Ngaoundere. We arrived this town a bit late. The first time I learnt about the city was in 2014 in an in-flight magazine of a 767-300ER belonging to CamairCoAir, the Cameroon carrier that I flew from Lagos to Abidjan.
The pictures of the town and the cultures I saw on the magazine made me lust instantly to visit and I nursed it graciously till my arrival that day. The other thing with the place was that till that day, and even a day after the first visit, I still could not pronounce the name correctly and I bet you, you too would not be able to pronounce it well except.
The first thing I noticed was the very cool weather of the town. There are a number of mountains and this had such an awesome effect on the weather. The town, however, was a very small and a quiet one – maybe the small structures I saw informed this idea of it being a small town. We arrived safely to the bus station and I went straight to the public toilet and bathroom to have my bath since the last bath I took was around 4pm the previous day, after climbing Cameroon Mountain and it was almost 9pm the next day. The owners of the convenience did a good thing to keep the premises and toilets clean, janitors were there cleaning that length and breath of the facility each time someone stepped out of the toilet or bathroom and I thought to myself I was going to have one of the cleanest bath in my life, but behold, I was wrong.
The first challenge was that only option I had for the bath was with cold water in that cold weather. Secondly was that the bathroom with the only working shower was occupied and I was a bit impatient as I needed time to find food to eat and also to catch up with another bus we would be transferred to which will be taking us to Maroua.
‘Why not use that bucket to bath’, one of the janitors suggested and without saying a word, I went straight to pick the bucket, filled it with water and headed to one of the free bathroom.
After the cool bath, I felt very good. I was trying to dry my body with one of my shirts as I did not travel with a towel when one of the janitors came to pull the same bucket I just used to bath. The greatest shock of my life happened when this janitor poured water in this bucket and used same to start cleaning the toilets. I was like what? I checked out other buckets used by others were using to clean and I found out it was exactly the same colour and size of the one I used to bath. It was then I realised these guys made me use a bucket meant for cleaning a public toilet to take my bath without washing it. I’ll never forget Ngaoundere.
I was very tired from the trip and went around the park to get something to eat. I found some rice in some local restaurant but there were no chairs but mats. I enjoyed my meal and they offered me a complementary cup of a local tea. Unfortunately, after my dinner,I was told I could not go with the first bus but I should wait for a second one which would be leaving in the next 3 hours. To me, it was a good idea as it would afford me some time to rest – they had a public sleeping area which I went to sleep.
At almost midnight, the transport company announced that we can start boarding the bus and by then, I was very much relaxed and ready for the next lap. I was told we would arrive Maroua around 10am the next day but we did not arrive until 1:30pm.