Friday, January 10, 2014

It's not where you're going, it's how you get there.

Today's blog comes from the writing I am presently in the middle of, Short Journeys: Cameroon. 
After writing this description of the journey from Kribi in Cameroon's south to Limbe, north of Douala. It is a true example of what an adventure travel can be in Africa. Although it sounds like a hell of a day, there is something awesome and fun about this sort of adventure.
Or maybe I'm just crazy!
Typical scene when a bus stops in West Africa - from Kribi to Douala.

Getting from Kribi to Limbe

Waiting in Kribi bus station to leave (Centrale Voyages).
There was no direct transport to Limbe, around 170km by road from Kribi, so we needed to go via Douala again. This meant taking the Centrale Voyages bus to Douala and changing there. We ended up taking a share taxi from Douala to Limbe. We arrived at 10am or so at the bus station in Kribi, but it turned out that getting there early was unnecessary as the next available bus was 12.45. Much later than we had wanted and with more than two hours to fill. We couldn’t book the day before, and the timetable at the bus station had a list of buses to Douala, except that 12.45 was not one listed, and others appeared not to be running. Rule One of travelling in Africa – don’t expect things to go as planned, and don’t expect listings to be accurate. You have to be able to go with the flow. At least this allowed an early lunch, and we had boarding tickets (it was a first in, best dressed kind of affair). We would be boarding 5th and 6th so only four people on before us.
Dice, footballs, it's all the same.
The journey to Douala was uneventful, but slow. As we entered Douala, everything slowed down to a practical halt. The bus was very full, we had a box right next to our feet with a hole in the top. A chicken popped its head out of the hole frequently, but not when I had my camera ready!
The biggest issue was the bag compartment under the bus. It was full of a lot of different things, bags of vegetables and coolers of fish and meat. They leaked terribly during the bus journey, and when we finally alighted in Douala, well, the bottom parts of our backpacks had been soaked in the fishy water. And yes, now, they did stink. Of fish. Not much we could do though, don’t think we would have been allowed on the holding our bags, and we probably would have had to sit with them on our laps too. It took days of washing in Limbe to get everything cleanish and not too smelly! Ahh, the little adventures along the way of the big adventure that is travelling.
This bus journey was the most memorable one of my time in Cameroon, albeit not all because of good reasons. The TV blared loudly showing at first a movie and then some stand-up by a Cameroonian comedian named ‘Major Asse’. I didn’t understand what he was saying, but he certainly had a very amusing name!
We must have arrived at Centrale Voyages depot at around 5pm or shortly before. The traffic was getting worse. We had to take a taxi to the ‘Gare Routiere’. Basically in French West Africa this is where you go for shared taxis and mini-buses to other locations, it’s the main transport hub of a city or town. When we arrived there we found our way to a share taxi which was basically the same price as the mini-buses. They all leave when full, and taxis move faster and take less people, so it was an easy decision to make.
And then bam! We left the Gare Routiere to Limbe, and hit peak-hour traffic. A complete standstill. It must have taken a couple of hours to get out of Douala. We are talking a distance to Limbe from Douala of around 65km, but boy it took a while, maybe 3 or 4 hours. Less than one once we were out  of the northern Douala suburbs. Once we cleared the traffic we whisked along at a fair old rate. And the best thing – everyone in the taxi got to enjoy the smell of fish emanating from our backpacks in the boot of the car.

It was well and truly night by the time we got to our hotel at around 9pm, and the taxi driver was nice enough to actually drive us to the hotel, which was past the botanical gardens down an old dirt track. In Africa it doesn’t have to be a long journey to be an eventful one!

'Short Journeys: Cameroon' will be released on Amazon Kindle around the end of January/early February. 
Visit the World Journeys website to find out more about my writings!

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