Once in Nkongsamba we ordered sandwiches and Blair commited the faux pas of attempting to combine fish with avocado, causing one lady to walk away suppressing a laugh. The vendor demurred so we settled on chicken meatball and avocado combinations. From Nkongsamba we continued to Melong then back south to Melong II, where we negotiated for transport down to Chutes d'Ekom Nkam. We'd been advised by Joseph, a school security guard, to bring a bottle of something for the chief before heading to the waterfall. We found a much more formalized affair, so we paid our entry fees and did not get to meet the chief.
|Mist from Chutes d'Ekom Nkam.|
|Approaching the falls.|
The next morning we set off for Mt. Manengouba's crater lakes with our guide Alain. Alain was recommended to us by a Peace Corps volunteer who recently finished her service; she was posted in Mbouroukou. As we strode past small coffee and banana plantations on the lower elevations, Alain stated that Mbouroukou's citizens were virtually all of the Mbo ethnic group (there are some 250 in Cameroon, along with sundry indigenous languages). Alain and his family grow maize, beans, tomatoes, cassava and lettuce. Given the long rainy season in this region, Alain just has to plant his tomatoes and leave them to grow. By contrast, women in The Gambia drew water daily to support their vegetable gardens.
|The start of our ascent of Mt. Manengouba.|
|The peak of Mt. Manengouba.|
After a long hike up narrow muddy paths (which we routinely saw women carry 100 lbs of goods down) we reached the top of the crater (Manengouba is an extinct volcano, part of a range stretching from Equatorial Guinea's Bioko Island up through Cameroon's southwest). The crater was largely treeless, a result of being clearcut for pasture for the Fulanis' livestock. The descent to Manengouba's twin crater lakes wasn't much easier for us as the grass grew thickly in uneven clumps so the crater floor was not flat at all. Five hours after departing we passed the “man” crater lake (which is sacred and so people are proscribed from using it, although I suppose it's a good source of groundwater) and reached the larger “woman” lake, which people can use for fishing and swimming. We enjoyed some lunch, a good rest, and a swim in the lake.
|That's the woman crater lake in the distance.|
|The sacred man lake - no swimming!|
Given our rather slow ascent, Blair reasoned that we would likely be clambering down in darkness had we returned the way we came. So we continued 7 kilometres down the dirt road to Bangem, the next town. The road was of course washed out, but you can walk on it (gingerly in our case) as well as ride motorbikes up and down. I later learned the road will be graded in the dry season – an annual tradition? About halfway across the crater we passed our second school of the excursion, with a sign that let us know we had entered the Southwest Region – it was an anglophone school.
|School on the French side of Mt. Manengouba.|
|Muanenguba government school on the anglophone side.|
Once in Bangem the first course of action was to put our feet up and have a drink. As we were getting settled in, an American guy invited us to join him and, per Cameroonian norms when inviting others, promptly bought the first round. It emerged that he was a Peace Corps volunteer in Cameroon several years ago, and was back in the country to conduct Ph.D. research on the fish populations of various crater lakes. We learned from him that the fish in Manengouba's woman lake were actually introduced by PCVs in the 1970s for either subsistence or income generation. He reckoned that he'd take several hundred ziploc bags of preserved fish back to the U.S. While he's been able to visit many of the crater lakes in Southwest region, the fons (local kings or chiefs) in Northwest region were less accommodating so he's not studied as many of them.
|The walk down to Bangem.|
As dusk was approaching we decided to look into transport back to Mbouroukou and our hotel. Given the late hour, the moto drivers tried to take advantage and hike their rates so we were at an impasse. This was broken suddenly by a heavy downpour of rain which forced us to seek refuge under the nearest vendor's awning. Once the rain ended we decided it was too dark, and the roads too muddy, for us to leave. Alain was a good sport and agreed that we'd have to stay in Bangem. After procuring a couple of cheap rooms at the Prestige Inn we returned to the bar for meat brochettes, beers and grilled fish and batons (rubbery boiled cassava sticks). In addition to our Ph.D. candidate and a couple of Cameroonian friends of his, we were also joined by Bangem's current Peace Corps volunteer.
|Our Mbouroukou lodgings.|
Back in Mbouroukou we went to visit another Alain, who is the proprietor of a small cheese-making outfit, Le Bon Fromage. Alain buys milk from the Fulani women who bring milk down to the village from Monts, then makes a cheese which is similar to the Tome style of French cheese (I was not familiar with this variety). Alain learned about cheese-making from a Cameroonian woman who had a yearlong internship with Land O Lakes, after meeting some Land O Lakes people in her village near Nigeria (where her family owned cattle).
|The route to Barombi Mbo.|
We got off our transport outside the entrance then proceeded to trudge up to the lake. The road was largely impassable by vehicle, with the exception of a Hilux pickup truck that gradually spun through the mire. It carried crates of beer, which gave us hope that the small restaurant was not only open in the dry season. It turned out that the beer was fated for across the lake, with the driver collecting empties and sacks of cacao to take back down to Kumba. The roads to/from the village cannot be used at present so the lake (which is 2.5 kilometers long) serves as a transit and freight route in the meantime. We got a short pirogue ride on the lake then walked along a track near the shore, enjoying views of skinks and a wide variety of butterflies.
|Cacao from across the river, along with empty drinks bottles.|
Back in town we wandered around the market and ate Cheese Balls/puffs (imported from Nigeria) then went to a bar for, yes, beers and brochettes of grilled meat. They were out of Beaufort and Beaufort Light so Blair tried the Beaufort Tango, which was a light beer filled with citric acid (or the synthetic equivalent); none of us managed more than a sip.
|The lightbulb in this lion's mouth (standing sentry outside our Kumba hotel) hasn't been replaced for some time now. Photo credit: Blair.|