The sun is setting over the rumpled hills of Dchang. We’ve reached our twelfth hour of travel that day, and we’ll see two more before we’ve reached Bamenda town, well after dark. The bus is overcrowded, the normal thirty passengers having now ballooned to almost forty. The chauffer is eager to pick up some extra cash and for the ten dollars a head he’ll charge under the table, he’ll gladly cram five people into a stairwell, and share a seat with the bus’s smallest passenger. The air inside the bus is acrid and heavy. Cameroonians disdain wind and cold, and refuse to budge when it comes to cracked windows. We’ll all just have to suffer and the driver pockets the money.
He’s zooming across the road to avoid potholes, cutting off motorbikes and larger cargo-carrying semi-trucks alike. I’ve managed to score the seat directly beside his, considered one of the more palatable places on the cruiser. From this vantage point I’m treated to an excellent view of the road, and am able to count exactly how many accidents we manage to skirt around. People step off the roads with seconds to spare, narrowly escaping with their lives. While I spend the trip biting my nails and silently praying we manage to kill but a few chickens or lizards that dart into the road, the people we practically side-swipe seem unfazed, often not turning around to see the bus that almost ended them. Nearly missed cars and trucks offer only a small “meep meep” to indicate that they, too, are glad we’re not in a crumpled pile on the side of the road.
It’s a harrowing and frustrating end to the longest day of travel I’ve experienced in a while. The icing on the proverbial cake came when half an hour passed between disembarking the bus and finally, finally getting our luggage down from the roof racks. Before handing over my duffel the men atop the van flung a crate of chickens into the crowd, seemingly without regards to the small avian lives inside. Moments later the same men gingerly walked down an empty water can to its owner in the mass below. The huddle of passengers became more and more agitated until we turned into a screaming mob, flinging insults at the incompetent men working above us. As we turned our backs on the vehicle we noticed that it began to smoke. The van was on fire.
Even though the migration from the most populous city in the country’s South West to the North West Region’s capital was only mildly more enjoyable than bamboo skewers being forced into my nail beds, the vacation itself couldn’t have been nicer. Dry season’s sun helped to even out the pronounced farmer’s tan I’ve developed over the past year. Harmatan winds, blowing in sand from the Sahel, obscured our views of lush rainforest and mountain peaks, but also guaranteed than our abandoned black beaches remained sparsely populated. There we built fortresses out of volcanic sand and floated in the inlet’s salty surf. The drinks flowed, the belly laughs abounded, we wore flowers in our hair and even though this holiday was spent far from home, the presence of my Peace Corps family guaranteed that it was, still, a very merry Christmas.