8 days ago we and three other PCVs set off for a week in Lobéké National Park. Lobéké is a tropical forest ran, and mostly managed, by the World Wildlife Fund. Lobéké is located in southeast corner of Cameroon, sharing a border with the Congo and Central African Republic, about 4 days of travel away from our home in Nkongsamba.
The transport to and from the park has to be one of the largest limiting factors for tourists. From Bertoua, the capital of the East region, you have to take a bus to Yokadouma, about 8 to 9 hours away on an unpaved, dusty, road. And by bus we mean an old Soviet-era ‘prison’ bus with no windows that may break down at any moment. After spending the night in Yokadouma, you continue another 8 hours onto Mambele, which is the closest village to the park, continuing on the same dusty road. Given the current war/unrest in the CAR, we stopped by and chatted with the commander of the gendarmes before we set out from Bertoua. (I failed to mention to my parents that we were headed to the border of Cameroon and the CAR, oops). He assured us that we would be safe while in the park, but, wanted to make sure we were safe on our travels there and back as the road runs in close proximity of the border with the CAR. To ensure our safety, he ordered gendarmes to drive us between Yokadouma and Mambele. After lots of confusion, Cameroonian protocol and a democratic vote amongst ourselves to figure out what to do, we finally arrived in Mambele at 12am, not at all what we had originally planned, but we made it. What should have been another 8 hour trip in Cameroonian public transport turned into a 5 hour drive in an air-conditioned truck.
We were dropped off at the WWF tourist camp in Mambele; the camp had lots of little furnished huts and a big open area to stay in. After a quick night of sleep we headed to the WWF office to finalize our trip and get going.
Previous PCV groups that had gone before us told us that we could rent tents from the WWF office before heading into the park. Well, that may have been the case but it’s not any more. Thankfully Shaun and I had borrowed a tent from a friend, and the other three scrounged the WWF office for plastic and tarps to create a shelter with. I cannot tell you how critical these ‘scraps’ came to be! We chatted about our week’s agenda, arranged our porters and guide, made campsite plans, food rations, and costs, and finally headed into the park in the afternoon.
About 10 minutes after we got into the car we realized our required eco-guard was in full rainproof clothes. A few minutes later it started pouring. Absolutely pouring. As the car bounced around the downed trees and jungle roads we all looked around and wondered what we got ourselves into, but hey, no turning back now, right?
Thankfully, the rain subsided and we unloaded out of the WWF truck, put our packs on, and hiked further into the forest for about an hour. We arrived at our first campsite and set up before dark. As the boys tried to pitch their two-tarp tent, we collected leaves to try to make a rain fly for our tent. Note: don’t head into a rainforest without appropriate waterproof tenting, this is a lesson we learned. The rain held off for the night, and we woke up to a misty forest floor to start off our next 5 days in the Congo Basin.