Jungle Travel

We left Yaounde with two vehicles, a small European Toyota Corolla and a large 20 passenger Toyota van. All of the luggage on most vans and buses in Cameroon is placed on a roof rack as you can see from the picture on the previous blog post.

Messeman, Zenge, and a little of Dr. Bwelle in the van

So much has happened in the first couple days that I will attempt to capture the few that are most interesting.

There were several reasons I ventured to Africa, one of which was for the sheer sense of adventure. My first full day provided just that, but I can’t even describe the half of it. I left you last as we left Yaounde on the road toward Douala. From that main paved road, we turned off onto a dirt road, more of a path than a road. It was the quintessential African jungle road that anyone would love to take their Land Rover on.

The road to Maboye

Our 20 passenger Toyota van and accompanying Corolla were not meant to conquer the unpaved, red earth road. This access road into the heart of the African jungle clearly explained to me why Cameroonians spend much time, effort, and money building two foot deep cement ditches alongside paved routes. If they didn’t, it would take the rain less than a year to completely and utterly erode away the pavement. The barely passable dirt road illustrates this well.

Laden with rain-induced ruts a foot wide and a foot and a half deep, it was difficult to imagine that we would make it to Maboye without a Range Rover.

After ascending a steep hill of loose red dirt, we arrived at the home of the chieftain of the “sous-prefecture,” what I would equate to a county. It is customary to announce one’s arrival to the chieftain even if you have been invited, as we were.

The chief and Georges discusses in French and from my limited lingual ability and general body language, I was able to deduce that he was not happy with our arrival for some reason. He told us that a Swiss group set up a hospital, brought in lots of equipment and abandoned it two years ago. However, based on what I was told later, my understanding is that the chief was actually concerned about not being the center of attention in the county. He was expecting a medical group of 5-6 black doctors, and when he saw more people and whites among them, he was displeased. When whites arrive, it is apparently a huge deal to the people, and the chief is no longer the star. I guess he was a power-hungry guy and didn’t care about the well-being of his people. We left his hilltop home with his disapproval.

Just prior to our treacherous descent, his wife came out on the porch with what appeared to me to be an expression of regret. What she actually said was to take the alternative route down because it was well maintained. She was a liar.

Now we're really stuck ...

... and so is the back wheel.

Only 50 yards into our descent, the van got stuck in a severe rut, pun intended. It was just like getting your car stuck in 2 feet of snow. However, the road was divided by a large rut that our chaffeur had entered and couldn’t escape from. He tried to really rev the engine and get going, but to no avail. The entire group hopped out of the van and helped to push the van. All of this only 3km from Maboye, our destination.

The effort to push only got the van deeper into the rut. At this point, it was dark, but a couple of locals passed by on motorbikes and saw the headlights of the van. They came up to help, and then went back to their homes to get some gardening tools and a pick-axe. We attempted to dig the van out but that only transformed a hard road surface into a pool of plastic balls at chuck-e-cheeses.

VIDEO: Dr. Bwelle and a Pick Axe

This caused the van to sink further. It became center-hanging, meaning it was sitting on the axles and not on the wheels. At this point Zenge took charge and climbed under the van and starting working some magic. Meanwhile, I was admiring the attitude of the Cameroonians. They are incredibly laid back. We’ve been stuck in the middle of the jungle for an hour with no possibility for a tow, and they’re joking around and not even getting mad at each other. All they say is, “C’est la campagne,” in English, such is the campaign.

VIDEO: Stuck in a Rut

Not only was nothing working, but then the driver let the engine die, so we lost our main source of light. Headlamps came in handy. After over an hour of digging, pushing, rocking the van, and engine revving, a brief glimmer of traction came and the driver was able to gun it out of the rut. He left us behind and avoided the rest of the ruts, a great success!

Check out the videos … and check back tomorrow for more on our arrival in Maboye!

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