This week I put on my big girl pants and braved the Beastly East.
Often touted as the South West’s beachless, Francophone cousin, the Eastern region is one of the most sparsely populated places in the country. Much of the area is made up of hard wood forests, a fact that has caught the eye of more than one international logging company. The roads, as in the South West, then suffer the consequences as the unpaved soil gives way to deep ruts, a product of tens of thousands of pounds traversing a region known for their months of endless rain and malleable red clay routes. These were the mirror images of the Nguti roads I endured for nine months. I had hesitations about reliving the stress of jungle life.
Imagine my surprise when the first leg of our trip greeted us with a Celine Dion concert DVD crooning from the fore of the bus, a flip down television screen being put to good use as a crowd-calmer and time-buyer before we pulled out. With scarf settled as a make-shift pillow and air conditioning pointed squarely at my face, I was feeling like I could used to what the East had in store.
That night reaffirmed that I, sometimes, have no idea what I’m talking about. Postmate Kate and I swapped sliced of Hawaiian and Four Cheese pizza at the nicest restaurant in the capital of Bertoua and contemplated watching a movie on the volunteer house’s projector before instead opting for an early bedtime back by rainstorms.
Morning came and we moseyed off to the Batouri car park post-breakfast. We comfortably zoomed out to the region’s second largest city on newly graded roads. Not all are as lucky. Just months ago the road was a pockmarked mess, known for its many breakdowns and near-misses. Sometimes the misses are a little too near, as we saw an hour into our drive. The hefty yellow busses that commute to Batouri, affectionately nicknamed ‘prison busses’ due to their barred windows, sometimes underestimated their luggage and take a tumble on a hairpin turn. The one we encountered had toppled in the night, a product of a bad pothole and overambitious driver. Cameroonians were alongside the van, gathering the belongings they had abandoned in the night.
Our days in Batouri were just as lovely as our days in the capital. The nickname of ‘Wild Wild Est’ struck true as we split boxes of wine around a campfire, nestled under a mango tree as the bats of the area took to the skies on their nightly hunts. Our second night we bargained with moto-men and trekked out to Bogogo, a massive granite deposit known as a local Catholic pilgrimage site. We ate a picnic of tacos and cookies as the sun disappeared over the horizon. We went belly-up when the stars came out and took in the expanse of sky afforded by our relative elevation.
Our only hitch was when, at nine at night, we fought our way back to town. Through the thick of the Cameroonian jungle we zoomed, bobbled headed from helmets that also served us well in dodging low-hanging branches. It was smooth sailing until, as we pulled out, we hit a divot in the massive rock’s slope and I, like the prison busses, ended up ass over tea kettle.
No worse for wear I brushed myself off and remounted. Night gave way to day, and somehow we found ourselves at the end of our vacation. Bellies full of kossam, a Fulani yogurt that’s thick and creamy, and omelets, generously made for us by our hostesss, my ex-postmate and I again climbed inside a zippy little car that carried us the way we had come on days before. Only this time, we were rested, we were relaxed, and we were just a little more wild.
Kate and I on our way back to Bertoua, the Eastern capital.
Kate and Stephanie, our Batouri hostess, walking to town along the unpaved clay roads. In the dry season, these turn to dust, giving the town a permenant stain even after the rains come.
A typical Cameroonian meat market. This one hosts pangolin, monkey, dik-dik, duiker, cow, fish and more on the typical day. We purchased two kilos of meat that came from the cow’s neck. Asking for it ground upped the priced to fourteen dollars, well deserved since ‘grinding’ means a man hacking at it with a machete for half an hour. The beef was well, well cooked before serving.