You know, we really had had a pretty easy trip. We got a free, comfortable, ride with the gendarmes, the rain stopped before we got out of the car, we ate decently, and enjoyed American snacks, saw lots of animals, and saw an elephant. What could go wrong, right?
The last full day we had in the park was going to be our longest walking day. We had to walk from the second observation point back to our first campsite, about 4 hours walking. We (the 5 of us) thought that the plan was to stop at the middle observation point for lunch, a rest, and animal watching before continuing to the campsite to set up shop for the last night. Well, we were wrong. We set off walking in the morning and bypassed the trail to the middle observation point — we weren’t lost, our guide just had other plans. Apparently, he thought we were going back to the first campsite to spend the day there. Ca va – we can adapt to a change of plans.
We got to the campsite at about 1pm and made some lunch. By the time we were halfway through lunch the campsite was swarming, and I mean swarming, with bees. We were literally camping in the middle of a beehive. And, to make matters worse, all of the bees wanted all the sugar and sweat that had been collecting on our clothes for the last 5 days and would not leave us alone. Slowly, but surely, we started to get stung. At that point, Shaun, I and the eco-guard took off for a walk to escape the bees (and hopefully see an animal) while the others headed to the river to wash their clothes and try to get rid of them.
About 25 minutes into our walk, thunder claps. Great. We have to turn around and head back to the hive, I mean campsite. When we get back there the boys are wrapping our tent in their two tarps to protect from the oncoming rain. Even though the tent is now covered and mostly waterproof, 5 people in a 2 person tent is a tight fight. As the rain starts to fall we pull all of our bags, and us, into the tent to wait out the rain storm. Between eating the peanut snack packs we brought and sweating to death we tried to devise a plan for what to do at night if the rain didn’t stop.
Our best option was to have the boys make their usual tarp tent and have us sleep in ours, while giving our bags to the porters to keep in their proven waterproof tent overnight. When the rain passed, we dodged the bees and constructed the boys’ tent and crossed our fingers it wouldn’t rain. After a spaghetti dinner we headed to bed and crossed our fingers and hoped for the best.
About midnight the thunder woke us up, damn it! We crawled into the makeshift, yet well-engineered and mostly waterproof, tent and curled up. Five of us. It rained hard the rest of the night and stopped by the early morning. Around 7, after breakfast as we were starting to tear down camp to meet the car at 9 it started to rain. We all agreed to walk out and try to meet the car, as we had plans to drive to another camp about 2 hours away that is on the river between the Congo and Cameroon. We walked for an hour to the rendez-vous point and of course, no car. Soaked, walking between bushes, rain pouring down, and just praying that some of the clothes in our bag would stay dry, we continued to walk down the road to where the car was going to meet us. Along the way the guide stopped us as he smelled a gorilla. No one had the energy to pull out a camera at this point. We stood still, looking around, nothing. As we walked back up the road Ricky had the luck to look over his shoulder and saw a gorilla walk across the trail where we were just waiting to see him. Ricky and the guide both saw it; when he told me just saw a gorilla I thought he was playing a trick my Dad used to do when we were kids. Even though we all didn’t get to see the gorilla, we’re glad someone did!
Hours passed, no car, still raining. You think I would be exaggerating, but this is Cameroon and things are always late. At 1230, when the car was 3.5hours late we decided we needed to stop, try and eat something and try and warm up. Thankfully our porters were fire-starting experts. As we stood around the fire we discussed our options, about how the car may never come if there is a downed logging truck on the road meaning we would have to walk abother 25k to the WWF office, or camping on the side of the road another night and trying to find a different car into town in the morning. As we stood there, wet and frustrated, the car finally showed up, and most importantly, it had the beers we had preordered in the back! We loaded in and were on our way to the camp that was on the river which creates the natural border between Cameroon and the Congo.
As we drove along the park road we had to stop multiple times for someone, thankfully not us, to get out and cut and remove downed trees. All of the boys were impressed with one of the guy’s form – he was quite the expert with a machete. With about 20km to go until we reached the camp we came across a huge downed tree. There was no way a machete would be able to cut up that tree, it called for a chainsaw. Our trip the Congo border ended there, and we had to turn back around due to the blocked road.
We arrived, wet and cold, back at the first tourist camp we stayed at in Mambele. The guy who worked there helped us build a big fire as we created clotheslines from twine we had to hang all of our stuff to dry overnight. We treated ourselves to the beers that we had planned to have at the other lodge and a dinner of spaghetti mixed with a can of raviolis.
After sleeping with a roof over our heads in a dry bed, we packed up our stuff and were ready for the WWF car to pick us up to go back to the office to finalize everything before our gendarme escort met us at noon to go back to Yokadouma. At around 1030 the car had still not showed up and we figured we better start walking to the WWF office. Thankfully, the gendarmes had arrived early and when we were not at the office to meet them they came looking for us and found us on the road, so we did get a ride in afterall. After a little negotiating on reimbursements to account for the change in plans from the downed tree we piled into the truck and took off for Yokadouma.
To thank the gendarmes for their help we all went out for dinner and a few beers once we got to Yokadouma. A few beers turned into a few more, granted there were 8 of us at this point, and it ended up being a really fun night out. I say it was a ‘work’ event, as we were clearly sharing American and Cameroonian culture!
With only one more bus ride left to get back to Bertoua we thought we were finally out of the woods. However, it seems we got the oldest prison bus that the bus agence owned. Within the first 20 minutes, after stopping for gas to leave town, the car was already overheating and needing more oil. We were constantly pulling over to add some combination of water/oil. Another hour later and our back tire goes flat, thankfully there are two spares on the roof. Within the next two hours, that spare blows a hole and we put the last spare on the back wheel. Not even 3 minutes later the bus pulls over again as that tire is too small (I think that was the problem?) and next thing I know the driver is taking off on a moto into town. Ummm, so, how are all 35 passengers going to get back? Thankfully we were only about 7km from Batouri, a larger town in the East. The driver went and got a third spare tire to put on to take us into Batouri. We had a longer lunch break, where many Cameroonians had a beer, and finally piled back into the bus for the 2.5 hours left of the journey. We all know beer makes you have to pee, so I wont even tell you how many more times we had to stop to let people off and back on the bus. Eventually, we made it. All 5 alive and mostly well back in Bertoua.
We walked anywhere from 30-40miles. Saw lots of animals, ate lots of spaghetti, rice and sardines. Drank river water. Showered avoiding crocodiles. Found a few ticks on ourselves/each other. Had a few bee stings. Saw an elephant, saw a gorilla. Experience the Congo Basin, one of the largest tropical rainforests in the world. It was one hell of a trip.