21 May 2018

Dschang and Foumban

Over the long Easter weekend, we made a return visit to Dschang and Foumban, reasoning that Foumban's attractions would remain open given that its residents are majority Muslim.

Along the way we stopped at Chutes d'Ekom Nkam, which we previously saw towards the end of the rainy season two years ago. While the waterfall wasn't as impressive (the rains are just beginning), it did mean that we could get a lot closer than last time.

October 2015.

March 2018.
In Dschang, we stayed at the Keleng Sous-Chefferie - a sub-chieftancy of Foto. Our host was the head of Keleng ("Je suis le chefferie," he said when we were calling to find their location). He then took us to Foto (the main chefferie in Dschang) where coincidentally there were a cultural festival and vendors/businesses fair.

Main entrance to Foto chefferie's palace, Dschang.
Entrance to new museum at Foto chefferie. The panther/leopard
represents power to many West Region communities.

The Petite Futé's description of Keleng was certainly accurate, as the chef happily welcomed us into the family compound, although as our friend noted this included "aggressive West African hospitality" and the occasional yelling at the women of the household. That said, he settled down after squiring us around Foto, and we had a nice evening eating and chatting with his family. The accommodation was quite comfortable (especially with the cool weather), and I'd highly recommend a visit.

"The chefferie: serving the development of the village.

Fire and ice (and palm wine)?

Dschang is reputedly the coldest town in Cameroon, so the French built a "centre climatique" to holiday at during World War II. We stopped by the centre for lunch after visiting the Musée des Civilisations again - an excellent compendium of information on the culture, history, and artifacts of four main Cameroonian settings: the forest, the coast, the savanna, and the mountains. It is also a great reference point for visiting the chieftancies that make up the "Route des Chefferies," including Bamendjinda, Bandjoun, and others.

Passing the chefferie of Bansoa on the road to Foumban: "Together we are stronger."
In Foumban we got to see the impressive progress being made on the new museum, which should be opening shortly. In the meantime, we were still able to visit the palace and see some of the remaining artifacts (some are already in the new museum).

March 2016.

March 2018.

The museum incorporates the main symbols of Foumban's Sultanate:
the two-headed snake ("Double power!") and the spider (wisdom).

After visiting the palace, we proceeded to check out the old war drum of the Bamoun people, kept in a special building next to the market. (The caretaker of the keys is a lady selling bras in the market.) Ali, who also showed us around during our last visit, explained that the drum was used to summon the ruler's warriors to battle.

Old rifles outside the Sultan's palace.

The war drum.
Afterwards we went up the minaret of Foumban's grand mosque. We had some nice views of the market below, although it was a little quiet on account of it being a Sunday.

Sultan Ibrahim Njoya, who shifted between Christianity and Islam as alliances dictated.
The Bamoun people are now mostly Muslim as he eventually settled on Islam.

Foumban market.

Foumban market with drum house.

29 April 2018

Buea and Mt. Cameroon

In March we traveled to Buea for the wedding of a friend/colleague's daughter. Despite it being just a couple of hours from Douala, cooler due to its elevation, and it possessing a number of historical buildings and sites, we had not yet made it to Cameroon's former capital (under the Germans). So we went for the wedding then I took a couple of days off work to climb Mt. Cameroon, west-central Africa's highest peak.

50th Anniversary Monument, Buea.
The principal site of interest is a monument at the top of town commemorating the 50th anniversary of Cameroon's independence and reunification. We were sure that the former colonial governor's residence, built in the style of a German castle and described in our three guidebooks as the Von Puttkamer castle/schloss, would be the key landmark. Yet Buea residents were mystified by references to Von Puttkamer, the schloss, and the old/German governor's residence. We eventually found it, and learned that it's not called “the prime minister's residence.”

The Prime Minister's residence, Buea.
Admission to the independence/reunification monument was quite reasonable – 200 CFA for entry, 500 CFA to take photos (although many Cameroonians present took more photos and selfies with our infant son than of the lesser landmarks). We wandered around the small park and took photos of the buildings bookending the monument – the schloss on one side, and Cameroon's first post office and a fountain commemorating Otto Von Bismarck on the other.

One of apparently many monuments created around the world shortly after
Bismarck died,  the Bismarck Fountain was built in 1899.

One puzzling note about the post office is that while it was founded by the Germans but was “taken over by the British in 1956”...? (Cameroon was split between the French and British after World War I.)

Old post office equipment.
The day after the wedding, I met up with my guide and porter to begin climbing Mt. Cameroon. Incidentally, the trailhead and Mt. Cameroon National Park's office are next door to the post office.

Thompson, of Ecotour Mt. Cameroon, told me quite a lot about the plant life as we passed through the farming zone and the buffer zone before reaching the boundary of the national park. As a sideline, Thompson also runs an organization, Global Hand Cameroon aimed at promoting conservation on the part of people in the Mt. Cameroon region.

Buffer zone forest between Upper Farms
area and Mt. Cameroon National Park.

Thompson noted that some trees are overused for firewood, when they could regrow if people only took branches. He said that Bakwerians (the Bakweri people are the original residents of Buea and the Mt. Cameroon area) are better at conserving natural resources as they know the plants, while newer arrivals (drawn to the region by its fertile land) may not understand as well.

Another plant he pointed out was Fako grass, which I remembered from a staff meeting when a colleague and Buea native jokingly suggested we use it to save money on medical supplies (it can be used as a coagulant). Fako is the local name for Mt. Cameroon.

Mist/clouds making their way up Mt. Cameroon.

Cocoyams are the main crop around Mt. Cameroon, and people come from far afield to buy yams (including from Gabon and Nigeria). Thompson worked as a porter starting in 2007 and has been a guide since 2011.

View of Buea from Hut 2.
Thompson also has started dabbling in beekeeping, and our porter asked him all about it and it was interesting to listen along to the conversation, with my limited understanding of pidgin English aided by some (basic) background knowledge on bees.

Bar/restaurant; bathing spot (Hut 2, Mt. Cameroon).

Our porter recently graduated from a high school in Buea, and has remained in town doing odd jobs. He's from Bangem (on the Southwest side of Mt. Manengouba). Bangem's a smaller town and there've been clashes with gendarmes (over the “anglophone crisis”) so he's based in Buea despite not having any family there. He asked me if there was any “benefit” to going up to the summit to Mt. Cameroon, i.e. What is the point? He had previously earned money carrying construction sand up to Hut 2, the base camp where hikers can spend the night, at a rate of 10,000 CFA (approximately U.S.$20) for two bags totaling 17 kgs (40 lbs.). He had joined a few other hikes, but hadn't gone to the summit (supplies are left at Hut 2). All told, it took us about 6 hours to get from the trailhead (at 1,100 metres) to Hut 2 (at 2,800 metres).

Map showing our path from Buea to the summit.
Hut 2 is also known as Fako Mountain Lodge.
There are several people working at Hut 2. They stay up there for shifts of 2-3 weeks before going back down to Buea for leave. There are several new cabins for tourists and guides, as well as a few camping platforms for tents. I'm glad I didn't elect to take a tent up as it was very cold and even the cabins were chilly at night. There is now a graded access road to Hut 2, so food, drink and building materials are no longer brought up by hand.

Hut 2. Limbe is obscured by the clouds to the left.
From Hut 2 we had some nice views down to Limbe and Buea, and at night you could see the lights in Douala. Thompson explained that September is one of the most popular times of year to climb Mt. Cameroon – even though it is deep in the rainy season, you can see quite far when the rains clear (e.g. to Bioko Island, Equatorial Guinea).

An active volcano (its last eruption was in 2000), Mt. Cameroon is part of a (mostly extinct) volcanic mountain range encompassing Sao Tome & PrincipeBioko Island, Mt. Manengouba, and Mt. Oku, among other peaks.

Volcanic sand on the path up to the summit.
The next day we continued up to the summit (at 4,095 m). This was a decidedly less talkative trip, probably on account of my fatigue and consequent slow pace. Conditions were cold and windy throughout, with a bit of drizzle being blown about. As the summit was quite exposed (everyone's hands were freezing) yet had no visibility, we began our descent after a few photos.

The summit of Mt. Cameroon!

Thompson explained that business has declined a lot since the start of the anglophone crisis nearly two years ago. (In short: many teachers and lawyers in the anglophone Northwest and Southwest regions went on strike protesting marginalization by the central government, leading to a prolonged stalemate and some clashes between civilians and the police and army.) While Buea and Mt. Cameroon are perfectly safe, blanket warnings from western governments against travelling to Northwest and Southwest Cameroon meant that I encountered six other tourists (two individuals, one group) during my three days and two nights in Mt. Cameroon National Park.

Descending from Hut 2 to Buea.

After a second night in Hut 2, we went back down to Buea. This may have been the most difficult part of the trip, as the largely direct route up and especially down Mt. Cameroon was quite hard on the knees. A few slips notwithstanding, the descent was uneventful. From the trailhead I caught a taxi back down the hill and then found a quick clando (private car working as a taxi) to Douala.

Tasty berries in Upper Farm.

View of Mt. Cameroon from our apartment in Douala.

30 March 2017

Visit to Mangroves and Ebikoro

Leaving Youpwe behind.

Fishermen off Youpwe.
As part of advance scouting for a school field trip, we got together a group of friends to visit the mangroves south of Douala off Youpwe. While we've checked out the Youpwe fish market, watched ship-breaking, and seen the (fish and lumber) catches coming in, this was our first boating excursion to learn about the mangroves and fishing villages.

Mangroves creeping down to take root.
The trip was organized through Doual'Art, an organization based in the Bonanjo neighbourhood which hosts art exhibitions. We were ably guided by Caroline, our pilot Oscar, Yves (who works for Doual'Art), and a first mate whose duties included bailing water out of the pirogue periodically.

More mangroves!
Caroline informed us that there were in fact several villages on islands in the mangroves, generally populated by non-Cameroonians – principally Nigerians and Ghanaians. While habitat destruction wasa problem, with people cutting down portions of the mangroves for firewood, there are also initiatives aimed at replanting mangroves – and some experts on this may be joining Blair's 3rd grade class for their field trip!

After a few minutes we were far removed from the hustle and bustle of Douala, and even spotted a few monkeys (including Putty-Nosed Mangabeys) and saw a snake swimming through the water.

Approaching Ebikoro village.
Since mangroves provide sanctuary to fish, as well as protect the shoreline from erosion, there was certainly a lot of fishing happening. We visited the village of Ebikoro, another area where Nigerians have put down roots (see Batete in Equatorial Guinea). Ebikoro is solely populated by Nigerians. We had an audience with the chief, Mr. Frank, who came to Cameroon as a child in 1957.

Church and blackboard in Ebikoro.

The chief's pirogue.
Despite their long-standing residency, the villagers exist in a kind of purgatory – subject to Cameroonian law and the whims of officials, but without the right to appeal for services from the state. Children born in Cameroon are not considered citizens of the country if their parents are born outside Cameroon, and many villagers pay for renewals of residence permits in perpetuity. The chief explained that Cameroonian bureaucrats frequently come to Ebikoro to solicit fees.

Mangrove reflections!
Meanwhile the village provides all its infrastructure. This includes wooden walkways along the main path of the village (to account for high tide) and an electric generator. All food and drink, including water, is brought by motorized pirogues from Youpwe. While there seemed to be a nursery school in the church, older students travel to Douala for school, and many of the older ones board with friends or family. Given their uncertain status, many “return” to Nigeria for schooling. Indeed many members of Mr. Frank's family are based in Nigeria. Ebikoro is fully specialized – they sell fresh and smoked fish in exchange for all their material needs.

Meeting with Mr. Frank (right). The pirogue pilot Oscar is seated to his right.
Local ordinances of Ebikoro.
On our way away from the village, we stopped so the first mate could buy some fish (sole and bar) from a fisherwoman and her daughter. According to Caroline and Oscar, the women of Ebikoro do the vast majority of the fishing, while their (generally polygamous) husbands take 10% of the proceeds. This represented a novel approach to me because, while it is often women who do the bulk of the work, paid work or jobs with cash crops generally are men's remit (thanks to colonial attitudes that made men the interlocutors with Europeans interested in paying, trading or otherwise filching goods and services).

Fisherwoman bargaining over some of her catch as we departed Ebikoro.

The excursion was thoroughly enjoyable and eye-opening. It was interesting to learn about how the people in Ebikoro lived in a somewhat isolated area with no government services. It was thought-provoking in that the mangroves sustain and support a few different villages, not to mention fisherman from Douala proper, but the environment is under strain. If the Cameroonian government had a more enlightened relationship with these (somewhat) far-flung people, perhaps they could create a more sustainable living arrangement for them and their environment.

We passed sections of the port as we made our way back to Youpwe.

As we reached the dock in Youpwe, we encountered a large pirogue/pinasse headed for a more substantial village in the mangroves, in what's called Douala's 6ieme arrondisement. The boat was filled up with rice, drinks, families, electronics, and sundry other merchandise for supporting a community off the shore of Douala.

Hopefully there will be a follow-up post with more information on the mangroves, as the field trip should also feature a university researcher who works on mangrove preservation in Cameroon!