Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Anglophone adventures


So I spent the last two weeks taking my moto through the NW and SW (anglophone) and W (back to francophone) regions of Cameroon. Internet was pretty terrible througout, so I stockpiled stories and photos to dump them on you now. Rather than try to do anything chronologically or choose between photos and stories, I have instead plopped all the most interesting photos here with all of the memorable stories. 

On the road! This was taken before most of the dust happened...


First off, some bad news: I won't be taking my moto outside of Cameroon. I had high hopes for the Cameroonian bureaucracy, but it turns out that it will take anywhere from a day (heavily bribed) to months (average) to get my registration and an unknown amount of time to get the license plate. Both of these things I need to apply for my Carnet de Passage from the CAA (Canadian Automobile Association) so that I can legally cross borders with the bike. The Carnet takes a minimum of 6 weeks processing time, plus shipping. I don't have that much time, so I'll be headed to Gabon and Congo the old fashioned way.

Stamps and photos. That's what makes it official


The gendarmes set up roadblocks all over the place. I was a little worried about them at first, since they apparently stop everyone. However, I have only been stopped twice thus far and they've looked at my (incomplete) paperwork, nodded, and waved me on. I think they're afraid to argue with a white guy, or they just don't care.


Over the two weeks and couple thousand kilometers, I saw all sorts of roads ranging from the high-quality multi-laned paved variety to... other. 

Sometimes they were smooth

Sometimes they were rough

Sometimes they were hilly

Sometimes they had lava
Sometimes they were idyllic country carriage roads

sometimes they were rutted (i watched a box truck half disappear in the rut to the right)

sometimes they were muddy

Sometimes they were more like single-track mountain bike trails

Sometimes there was no road

Peace Corps Volunteers

Up until now, I'd been staying with locals or Couchsurfers for most of my trip. Once in Cameroon, however, Evan and Lisa introduced me to a whole new jackpot of free housing and local knowledge: The Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV). Lisa had been one here a few years ago and put me in touch with her friend, Ryan, in Buea, through whom I met Nate, my next host, who told be about Ashley (below) and Ryan and Jamexas in Kumba, who set me up with some people in Mamfe who ended up not being around, but connected me with Cynthia and Eric in Bamenda, then Kristin in Njinikom, who introduced me to Steven and Alina in Fundong and called ahead to Christian in Kumbo who put me up for a night and we had drinks with Shannon and Ryan before heading down to meet 13 PCVs who all happened to be meeting up in Mbouda to celebrate Eric's birthday. They're the ones who gave me Annie's number, with whom we'll be staying in Ebolowa in the South before going to Gabon.

A common PCV (and Cameroonian) pasttime
PCVs are great for several reasons: 1) a refreshing taste of American culture in a very different place. This can be a good and bad thing, as it does remove one a bit from the local culture. However, this is why it's great that they are 2) very well connected with the local community, introducing their guests to interesting local people, cuisine, culture and places. 3) They all tend to be pretty cool people, as it's a self-selecting sort who decides to leave all that is familiar and comfortable and well-paying for two years to bucket bath, eschew moto riding (as per PC rules) and eat inordinate amounts of cassava on the other side of the world.

if I were a baby still, I would want to get weighed every day just to sit in this swing
As someone who came very close to becoming a PCV myself (I deferred my application in lieu of Outward Bound and independent travel the day my acceptance to PC Armenia was sent. I still have the welcome packet), it was great to get a glimpse of what life is like for a PCV on the ground.

Educating the mothers
Another side effect of staying with a tight network of PCVs all over a country is that you become intimately familiar with all of the Peace Corps drama and gossip. After a week, I had gathered enough gossip from my previous hosts that I was actually the bearer of new information for my next hosts, as I knew more than even they did. I still hope that I never actually meet Josh, knowing about how he's getting med-sepped from PC because he got robbed in Bamenda, but it's not so surprising that he's leaving because he wasn't so comfortable here to begin with and he's kind of just using it as an excuse to leave without having to ET which is worse and it sucks that he got robbed but he was kind of dumb for walking around commerce ave at 2am when there are always tons of taxis around and he was kind of asking for it to begin with but he's still a cool guy and will probably be missed when he's back in the states. Especially since he has no idea who I am.

The PCV gossip mill: "the only thing that actually works in Cameroon"


The first word I learned in Pidjin, a language spoken in the anglophone regions of Cameroon that's loosely based on English. It doesn't quite have a direct translation in English, but it's used daily here whenever you see someone in an unenviable position. Carrying a heavy load down the road? Ashia. Working in the hot fields? Ashia. Crashed your moto? Ashia. Hung over? Ashia. Have to go to work? Ashia. No job? Ashia. Riding your moto on a local street? Ashia. The response is almost always a smile and "thank you!".

"White Man!"

First off, there aren't many white people here. Those who are here are generally government or aid workers and mostly concentrated in major cities. A few make it to the villages, but usually in a taxi, company car, or riding on the back of someone's moto. When I come riding through, the look I get is generally ambivalence (lots of motos around), confusion (why is he wearing those weird clothes?), recognition (Whoa! Is he white??), and reaction (Waving, pointing, smiling and screaming "White Man! White Man! White Man!"). The same is true for white women, or people of any ethnicity who are culturally western or "white". Even some local Cameroonians who have lived in the states or Europe for a few years can lose their "blackness" and get nicknamed "the white" by their friends.


Once, I realized I missed a turn, so I pulled over to look at my map. The road was mostly deserted, but a young boy was walking his bicycle up to me, so I took off my helmet, turned to him and said, "Good morning! How are you? Is this the road to Buea?" The boy froze, his eyes went wide, he fumbled with his bike to try to turn it around, gave up, tossed the bike to the ground, turned tail and sprinted 50m away to stop and watch me cautiously. Dumbfounded, I just sat there watching and thinking, "This actually happens?" He didn't return to his bike until after I had ridden away.


After a few days of unseasonal rain, the true dry season set back in. The result is a lot of dust. I'm told it's better than mud.

Not the best fashion choice in a society that would rather "buy clothes than buy food"


On the way way from Kumbo back to Njinikom, the road turned back into the crazy single-track that I'd seen before. This time, however, I had to go up and over a 2500m (8200ft) pass. At one point, the road was so steep that even gunning it in 1st gear wasn't working and I stalled out. It was too steep to push the bike up on my own, so I put it in gear and ran alongside it while gunning the engine of the passengerless bike. After about 10m, I realized that I was running uphill pushing a motorcycle at 8000ft and collapsed, panting. About an hour later, I finally crested the summit and prepared for an equally steep downhill on the other side.

unfortunately there is no inclinometer on my bike, but you'll have to trust me that it's steep


I took my first (and hopefully only) two tumbles on the bike around the ring road. Both times I was barely going walking pace, if that, so I was fine and the bike was fine. The first was on a super steep, rocky, single-track of a road from Fundong to Bua Bua. I had stopped to let another bike pass (the locals are crazy on these bikes... I'm impressed) and getting started on the downhill again was tricky, leading my to tip my bike over. No biggie. The second time was taking a turn up a hill on a crazy dusty road just before Kumbo. Turns out dust is slippery. A bruised foot, loose mirror and plenty of "ashias" later, I was back on the road without a problem. 


Despite my bike being new, I've had to do a few repairs. I intentionally bought a cheap Chinese bike because I knew it's what all the locals rode, so if I ever had any problems anyone with a wrench could probably help me fix it. In most ways, I was right. My starter cables got caught in my chain once, locking up my chain and back wheel (I was going slow, thankfully) and rendering my bike effectively dead. Within moments, someone passed by, took a look at the damage, and started loosening bolts, tearing out wires, twisting them back together, taping things and tightening bolts again. I was back on the road in an hour. 

Clearly the best location for a repair shop

Other times I'm not so lucky. My front brake was rubbing, so I took it to the street where all the mechanics hang out. Apparently anyone with a box of tools can set up shop and pretend. I think they just mess with people's bikes until eventually they learn what they're doing. The guy who I came to dismantled my brake, then jammed his screwdriver between the pads to jack 'em open (rather than try to adjust the spacing and alignment, which is what I was thinking the plan was). So not only did he mangle the pads, but he also took off a little rubber gasket in the process and took 30 min to put it back together. When he was finally finished and the brake was still rubbing, he said, "oh, it's squeaking?" and applied oil to the disk. Thanks, dude. Nothing is better for a brake than greasing it up, I'm sure. It took a full day of riding the front brake to squeegee all of the oil off so that it could actually provide some stopping power. Win some and lose some, I suppose!

you can see a bit of my starter cable on the bottom there...


Most of the places I was in were hilly jungles, which leads to lots of waterfalls and pretty vistas:

they smelled nice

NW Cameroon

Met these guys while riding around Mt. Cameroon. They took me to see their swimming hole

This waterfall was surrounded by a church and images of the virgin mary

almost hidden waterfall in a not-so-hidden valley


In Africa, you see some crazy bridges. Some are super-modern overpasses that connect to dusty dirt roads on either side:

not nearly enough use to justify it, but it was nice to ride on

Some are leftover from pre-WWI German colonialism:

People still use this one

And some are straight out of Indiana jones:

Locals opt for the ferry here


I passed through tons of villages on this trip. Some big, some small, some anglophone, some francophone, some with electricity, some not, some with paved streets, others with walking paths. Here are some of the images:

Back in the land of Christ (with some juju mixed in)

Mt. Cameroon (4000+ meters) beyond Buea

A small village school

Said small village (I unfortunately forgot the name)


I saw this snake jump from a tree to attack the frog:
Then I think we scared it off and it let go:

End of story.


Africa has lots of them. I've seen some crazy spiders and crickets and cockroaches, not to mention all of the flying things that like to eat us.
That's a big pile of termite house

Whatchu lookin' at?


In Kumba (SW region), I stayed with a PCV named Ashley for a couple days. She, another Canadian aid worker, and I went up to a local crater lake to go swimming. There are these crater lakes all over Cameroon, and some spit out toxic gas from time to time and kill everyone and everything in the area. We just hoped that this wouldn't happen and headed on up. On the walk in, Ashley was explaining that there were rumors that you could see monkeys along the trail, but that nobody she knew had seen them and the locals all said they had moved away from where people are. As such, we didn't see any monkeys on the walk in despite our eagle-eyed attention to the jungle around us.

Then, while swimming, we heard an insane ruckus from the treetops across the lake. Pretty soon we saw two chimps chasing each other around the trees (it sounded like it must have been at least a dozen, I guess they're just really loud...). Even the locals were psyched, as seen here:



Unfortunately, I didn't take many photos of food this time around. Imagine lots of root vegetables (cassava, manioch mostly), or rice or plantains with some sort of sauce or beans or meat.



Off to Gabon and Congo! Hopefully I'll be able to upload some photos along the way.


  1. poor josh. he's become immortalized in the pc grapevine and you, too, my friend, are being talked about in close knit pcv circles maybe even beyond camaroon. you have no idea how larges those gossip circles become when other news is old news. no one is immune when there's new faces or newsworthy items to share in your slice of the rural developing world. since you won't be cos'ing or et'ing to become an rpcv anytime soon nor do i doubt you'll find yourself seeing the pcmo or apcd of any of these countries, you should just do your best to keep the pcv's entertained and to learn as many applicable acronyms as possible. you're in the inner circle. and you have as much to contribute as you have to learn. enjoy!

  2. Although the story is mostly true, i tried to protect "Josh" from too much worldwide gossip by changing his name...