Friday, July 31, 2015

East of the Sun Trip Part 5 : in which I conclude that the world is in fact magical

East of the Sun Trip Part 5 : in which I conclude that the world is in fact magical and get new bruises on my butt

Our fourth sunrise in Lobéké. We rise, significantly less shinily than the sun, and start for the savanna. Valentin calls after us: “Today, you will see a gorilla!” 

“Promise?” I grump back. 

“You’ll see,” he responds, with his ever-present grin. 

Thursday, July 30, 2015

East of the Sun Trip Part 4

East of the Sun Trip Part 4 : In which we continue to take for granted the natural beauty around us to wonder miserably if we will actually leave without seeing any gorillas

One of the "mirador" or observation towers we spend hours in
After a disappointing morning at Petit Savanne, we start the 10k hike to Djangui. On the hike, we see several Colobus monkeys (the originator of moto-engine-revving-noise) and some elephant tracks (I don’t understand how such big animals can pass through the forest so quietly) but not too much else of interest. 

Look at his cute little bearded face! 
Despite the lack of animals, Valentin repeatedly brought wide grins to all of our faces. Valentin is Baka, but at six-foot-something he’s definitely not a pygmie, and he grew up in and out of the forest. He is so obviously at ease here, drinking crystal clear creek water from a folded leaf cup or lounging his large frame on handy vines, roots, or saplings. He makes me feel like a clomping clutz the way he moved with such ease and confidence. When we stop to rest, he drops our bags and goes gleefully traipsing off into the forest, returning with elephant poop or a half-eaten rabbit (he’d scared off the eagle) or a rotted turtle or a bird nest complete with three lil’ babies peeping inside (and yes, he hangs it back up afterwards where the momma bird could find it again). Once he leads us all through thick undergrowth the show us gorilla beds and gleefully—no other adverb does him justice—gleefully recount how a gorilla sleeps with its butt here and its head here and just sleeps like this and it SNORES (giggle) and he knows all this because one time he snuck up on a big male gorilla and scared it out of its nest. Casual, Valentin, messing with 500 pound animals strong enough to rip a man’s arm right off, probably with a ten year old boy’s exuberance and delight. 
Beautiful bird's nest.
"And this is where he puts his butt..."
During our hours in the observation tower at Djangui, we finally see some wildlife! Five water buffalo with their funny birdy friends, a bunch of birds including a teal sun catcher and a great blue Turaco. But, no gorillas. 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

East of the Sun Trip Part 3 : In which we remember that excellent travel buddies make all the difference

After a few fleeting hours of sleep, we face a second day of travel much like the first. We were unlucky: we were at the travel agency before it even opened, we didn’t manage to get tickets on the first and only scheduled bus to Maloundoun. We were lucky: they ran a second bus and we were on it. Not that we were feeling particularly lucky to be back on a prison bus only a few hours after escaping the last one. 

Kid selling hard boiled eggs at the travel agency - and rocking an Obama Change shirt.
I won’t bore you with more of the same details about travel, except to note that it was clearly evident that our surroundings were becoming less “developed” and more jungly. We saw more Baka (pygmie tribe) houses, more children with sad distended bellies, and more logging trucks contributing to the stripping of this old-growth forest somewhere just out of sight. It put me in the mindset of Fern Gully, except the scary machines are winning. But for all the sad or heart wrenching views, there were others intriguing or lovely. We saw beautiful blue butterflies, we saw trees so big that Kate, Joe, and I couldn’t hug around the base of their trunks, and FINALLY around 4 pm we saw our destination: Mambele.

In life, stuff goes wrong.
But that only adds to the adventure. 

Beautiful, beautiful Mambele. A tourist attraction in its own right. Wide boulevards, interesting architecture, and welcoming inhabitants. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

East of the Sun Trip Part 2 : In which we find ourselves on a prison bus

Now modern transportation is a wonderful thing. Wheels, awesome. Engines, even better. Jet plans, fantasy come true. However, of the 293 kilometers between Bertoua and Yokaduma, I’m guessing 20km are paved. So of all the modes of transportation for this trip, I’d rank them by preference in this order:

1. My own big 4x4 air conditioned SUV
2. Someone else’s big 4x4 air conditioned SUV
3. Horse
4. Sway backed donkey
5. Big horned african cow
6. My own two feet
7. Prison bus

So did we take our big SUV? Against Peace Corps regulations, and I wish I was that fancy. Perhaps we galloped along through the wilderness, just us and our horses, channelling John Grady? Against Peace Corps regulations, and I don’t know how to ride a horse. No, we were the lucky folks crammed like sardines in option number seven! 

What, you might ask, is a prison bus? Good question! It is rather the size of a minivan, but instead of plush seats, it is filled with four rows of benches in the back. These benches may or may not be padded. To enable people to climb in and out of the front rows, the benches are broken up by one folding-backed seat in each row. This seat is probably not level with the bench to either side of it, and probably doesn’t leave enough room for a 5’6” individual to put their knees straight in front of them. (I would know, as that is my height and had the pleasure of a middle seat.) The driver is separated from his two (or three or four or…) front passengers by the hump of the engine which conveniently heats the whole bus and may need water poured in regularly to cool it; he’s separated from his back passengers by an intimidating metal grate. Thus the name prison bus. Not only does it feel like punishment, but passengers have the impression that they’re top-security-barred-in to protect the driver - and he probably needs the protection after a few hours in that contraption! It is made to seat twenty in the back, but as many as three more may stand in the back, and others might hang off the back on climb onto the roof with our copious quantities of luggage. 
According to the writing, things that are forbidden include: speaking to the driver, throwing glass bottles
out the windows, or vomiting.

Monday, July 27, 2015

East of the Sun Trip Part 1 : In which we plan a trip before a Trip

Before I start this story, I want to add a note... I had written this out as a five part story so that it wouldn't drag on and on and on in one blog post. But, T.I.A., internet and power are unreliable and when one's available the other isn't (yeah I don't understand either how there's enough power for the wifi box but not to charge my computer.) So I'm uploading what I can now, and the rest will have to wait! Fight on :) /\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/>>

As I approach the end of my two year Peace Corps service, it’s not all about wrapping up projects, selling/packing/gifting my impressive quantity of accumulated stuff, and saying tearful goodbyes. That’s the hard side.

The fun side is the Close Of Service or “COS” trip that Kate and I have been planning for months now. We’re constantly whatsapp-ing each other Lonely Planet articles and book suggestions, building our pinterest board, or day dreaming. 

It’s a lovely pastime, trip planning - but it was still a ways off. Six months out, you can only discuss the winery options in Bulgaria and Macedonia so many times, or speculate about Hungarian baths and paprika-laden cuisine, or… 

So we planned a trip before The Trip. 

I wanted to visit the my last (open aka safe-isn) region of Cameroon, the East, and both of us wanted to see some exotic wildlife. To cross these items of our Peace Corps fuckit - ah, excuse me, bucket - lists, we planned a trip to Lobéké Wildlife Reserve. Lobeke is a nature preserve spanning three countries (Cameroon, Central African Republic, and Congo) and run by the WWF. It is also one of the last places where visitors have the opportunity to see wildlife like Western Lowland Gorillas, forest elephants, various monkeys, and a plethora of birds without the menace of Boko Haram. We can’t visit Rumsiki or Waza, so we decided to do whatever it took to get to Lobeke.
Kate's butcher friend, Abubacar, who just smashed a cow head to pieces and
is now showing us the bits of teeth left.