After IST since I was already in Kribi I decided to make a few stops along the way to hit some of the tourist attractions Cameroon has to offer. I headed for Buea where fellow CED Erica was kind enough to host, and what a magnificent host she was! (Thank you for not complaining when I used all your water reserves). Buea is conveniently located at the foot of Mt. Cameroon: active volcano, largest in west Africa blah blah, check Wikipedia. It’s also a short 30 minute drive from Limbe, a beautiful beach resort town.
On Monday the 17th of December we did a day trip to Limbe spending the morning at the Limbe Wildlife Center and the afternoon on the beach. The wildlife center is a rehabilitation project for orphaned primates. There were gorillas, chimps, I think orangutan, drills, mandrills, an alligator, a python, and some monkeys of which I don’t remember the name of the species. We spent hours sitting there and watching the drills socialize in their little habitat.
It was lots of fun to see the different cliques and watch how the larger males would assert their alpha dominance, getting first dibs on food and nice shady spots. There were different groups hanging out together, every once in a while a little fight would break out but would eventually be broken-up by one of the larger males. Then there were the quiet neutral ones who would keep to themselves on the outskirts near the fence, they just calmly sat there with their elbows on their knees observing their surroundings and occasionally chewing on a banana peel.
It’s sort of like Peace Corps: everyone is in a relatively small enclosed environment, not a lot to do, a little drama, and lots to gossip about. At one point some of the monkeys escaped and it was fun to watch the zookeepers throw rocks trying to get the animals back into the caged area. Only in a Cameroonian zoo will you have the chance to sit next to one of the monkeys that you’re supposed to be observing!
After lunch we went to Seme Beach, one of the many beautiful black sand beaches created from ancient lava flows from Mt. Cameroon. The sand is extremely fine-grained and is actually a dark brown color when looking up close. I preferred Limbe beaches over Kribi because the beaches were much flatter and spacious allowing one to go out for some distance into the water without it getting very deep, also the black sand was neat.
Apparently some of the Limbe beaches were featured in the film, “Chocolat” according to my guide book (Bradt 3rd ed.). While walking along the beach we were randomly greeted by a horse, which completed a classic picturesque scene of a beautiful sunset in the distance while riding horseback along the beach, only I didn’t actually ride the horse. I later found out that the hotel offers horse rides for a fee.
The next day, Dec. 18th, was spent planning and researching guides for our hike up Mt. Cameroon. Usually, the full hike to the summit and back down the opposite side would take 3 full days (5 if you opt for an alternate longer route going through the jungle with the possibility of spotting elephants), but since I had already made our train reservations for the day after our prospective hike we wouldn’t have nearly enough time to complete the entire 3 day hike. Instead, we opted for a one day hike up to hut 2 (there are 3 huts in total) and back down in a single day. On Wed the 19th we left to meet our guide early in the morning at the base of the mountain. The first part of the hike consisted of dense jungle with some neat looking colorful birds.
Eventually, we reached an altitude level that simply cannot sustain much vegetation. The dense jungle almost abruptly gave way to a grassy savannah, the change was so immediate that looking down from the top one can see a very distinct line where the jungle stops and the savannah begins.
A little further up there was a lone tree which our guide, Flobear (anglophones have funny names), explained is called the “magic tree” because at an altitude where no other trees could survive, this one lone tree somehow managed to sprout up.
Around noon we finally reached our goal of hut 2 which is about two-thirds to the summit, where we ate lunch on a flat part overlooking the large expanses of grassland below with low clouds zooming past. The cool thin air felt good after a morning of sweating through my shirt.
In Cameroon all of the hiking trails that I have encountered go straight up rather than carve back-and-forth with switchbacks like the ones I’m used to back in the States. This made the hike extremely strenuous going both up and down the steep mountainside, while the loose rocky footing simply added another layer stress. Towards the end of the hike, having not hiked in almost a year my legs were literally dragging at times as I felt my muscles gradually begin to cease functioning. Fortunately, we made it back safely while the following week consisted of a series of moans and groans from soreness each time we would have to stand up or go down a flight of stairs, or really just move more than a few steps for that matter.