Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Journey to the North

As you may have noticed there has been a lack of blogging this is beacuse last week we took a mammoth trip to the Extreme North province. We travelled approximately 1120 km (695 miles). The point of this trip was to visit Waza national park but as with most things in this country the trip there was an experience in itself. Our plan was a six day trip, two days to get there two days in the park and two days back, it ended as a eight day trip with only one day in the park! Travelling in this country is such an experiance in iteself it deserves its own (rather too long, sorry) blog entry.

Step one: Bus from Buea to Yaounde

Buea to Yaounde is a five hour journey so we allowed eight hours to do it in order to catch a train at 6pm. We left Buea at 10am, well we left out house at about 10, we left the bus park in Buea at about 12:30 after waiting 2 hours for the bus to fill. Well not to panic we allowed time for bus filling, it usually about an hour but some women were faffing for ages about getting on the bus. The journey was going well, we passes through Douala in good time and were on the main road to Yaounde. Ahead I saw huge cloud of smoke and commented to Joe 'something is on fire' it just so happened that that thing on fire was a 70 seat coach. Our bus joined a queue of traffic and almost immediately people on the bus knew it was a bus on fire and which company bus which was impressive as we could not see it from where we were. Everybody got out of the bus and many started walking towards the fire, I did not like to go a watch but was slightly concerned there was no medical help on site yet. So we wondered down to the site of the fire, which was not too far from our bus. What looked like an army ambulance arrived soon after we started walking so I knew my medical expertise would not be required and soon after that a fire engine came too. There are of course no emergency services as we know it in Cameroon, the fire engine would have had to come from Douala or Yaounde, which are miles apart with no other services in between. Soon followed a replacement bus for the passengers, there had been a leak in the fuel pipe and the driver noticed the smell or something and evacuated the bus and got the luggage off before the fire really started so thankfully no-one was hurt. The fire crew put the fire out and we were able to pass the smoking shell of a bus - which I am guessing will be left there to rot now. At this point I was singing to myself 'the comedy on the bus goes on and on' oh how true!

OK so running a little behind schedule now but we still have time to get to the train station, well we did have until we joined another queue of traffic. A tanker had crashed and traffic was being diverted on to bush paths, not really suitable for a bus but the drivers do not care about that. We were going along this tiny busy road pretty well until we passed traffic trying to come the other way which made difficult passing, the local villagers were helping out. We then had to pass an uneven bit of road which out the bus on a really steep angle everybody panicked thinking we would tip over, I was really quite worried at this point. So we all got off the bus Joe and I trying to advice on weight distribution, which was not listened too. We all got out and the bus safely passed. By the time we got back on to the main road we were not very hopeful of catching our train. We arrived in Yaounde at 6pm, the time the train was due to leave but as this is Africa and nothing happens on time we decided to try catching it. We got in a taxi and raced across town to the station, the train had of course gone. Our taxi driver had the idea of driving to the next stop about an hour away to try and catch it. He seemed pretty hopeful we would be able to get the train so took his advice and chased the train. As we arrived at the station the train was visible but moving 'arriver ou depart' our taxi driver was asking, turns out it was departing. So back to Yaounde we go to find some food, have a beer and sleep.

Step two: Train from Yaounde to Ngaoundere

Getting the train was good fun, getting the tickets was the hard part, we spent all day in Yaounde train station trying to buy tickets. Our plan was a cabin for 2 for me and Joe and a comfy seat for Didimus, however he got confused when buying his ticket and ended up in the second class over packed plastic seats - poor Didimus did not sleep all night. Anyway our taxi driver from the previous night collected us at 10:30 to take us to the station to buy tickets nice and early. We arrived at the station to discover the ticket office opens at 12:00 - I am sure he knew this all along but wanted to be at the station to met the incoming train for some business. So he conveniently left us at his sisters bar to have a drink and wait for the office to open. At 12:00 we went to the office, we were told to wait until 1:00. Then we were asked if we had reserved, we had no idea we were supposed to, so we were told to come back at 4:00 to find out the availability of the tickets. So we go out in Yaounde for a few hours and visit some of Didimus' family. We return at 4:00 and are told to wait until 5:00 when we got called and finally given tickets for a cabin for two. The train left on time and was much better than we expected. Clean cotton sheets, a sink in the room a lovely waitress who gave us dinner and breakfast - even though she spoke no English.

We arrived in Ngaoundere at 10am, according to the guide book the train should take 12 hours, but also according to the guide book it leaves at 18:30 and arrives at 08:30 - which by my calculations is not 12 hours - so I do not believe much of what Ben West says. I think we made pretty good time.

Step three - Bus from Ngaoundere to Maroua

Didimus had bought bus tickets on the train in advance so we were expecting this to be easy!! They keep the tickets then call your names out as you load the bus. Joe got called out Didimus and I did not, so Joe was on the bus and we were still outside and the bus was full. So Joe jumped off - through the window, not much choice when the bus is so packed. And we argued with the bus company, having already paid for these tickets we were getting a little stressed although we were assured another bus was coming and the three of us would be one it.

Half and hour or so later another bus did indeed turn up and we got up, eight hours later we were in Maroua. pretty smooth journey once we were on the bus. Even spotted a few Baboons on the road side on the way - very exciting. Arrieved in Maroua about 8pm, again Ben West gets it wrong five hour journey to Maroua, I think he meant the previous town Garoua, journey took us 8 hours.

Next instalment will actually be about the park!!

1 comment:

Dad said...

What a palaver! You were right when you said 'Dad will not like the long journey'. And I know exactly what it is like waiting for buses which never seem to come, then never seem to go.

Still it was an experience. Something to look back on and laugh.