Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Travel in Cameroon

Thank you everyone for the Birthday wishes!  I am finally back with a new blog.  It has been a while because I have been fortunately busy among other reasons.  One such reason is it can be difficult to find a strong topic and be appropriately sensitive.  Last week however, inspired me to a topic that deserves proper criticism: Travel in Cameroon.

Lets start with the basics.  To leave my post to Ngaoundere, my banking city or Yaounde, the capital, I need to take a 45 minute motorcycle taxi ride (which is usually quite nice and beautiful) through the countryside to Tibati where I take a bush taxi to Ngaoundal.  A bush taxi is a worn down sedan where the driver attempts to fit as many persons and baggage as possible into the car to maximize profit.  This will usually mean four (often five) grown adults in the back seat, two in the passenger seat and one passenger sharing the drivers seat with the driver.  Not including babies and small children who fit into the laps of the squeezed adults.  Sometimes there will be a goat or chicken in the trunk with the luggage.  This journey use to take up to four hours but since smoothing out the road, it takes only two and half hours.  From there I spend the night with the local PCV and take a second class train ticket three and a half hours north to my banking city in Ngaoundere.  That is just for banking (and seeing my friend Jasmine and getting western goodies and wifi) where I spend the night and repeat the journey back down.  To go to Yaounde I take the night train, in a sleeper car or first class.  The trains are not too bad and inside first class and the sleeper cars, they are actually as nice or better than the train I took in Russia.  Just south of European standards, which is nothing to complain about.  Making them run properly can be the problem (I am not saying, “run on time” because that may come off a little fascist).  

That brings me to last Sunday.  I arrived in the evening to await the trains arrival and had dinner with Terry, the volunteer living there.  Upon getting to the station however, we learned the train was not coming, at all.  I was used to the train being up to five hours late and Rachel had experienced much worse, but a full cancellation was new and particularly aggravating since I was going to Yaounde for only two nights to see Rachel right before my Birthday.  Turns out a train derailed and although no one was hurt, the accident badly damaged the tracks.  I had to spend the next day in Ngaoundal (sharing my anxiety and lack of being with Rachel with poor Terry) before finally leaving Monday night.  I woke up the next morning a little before seven expecting to arrive in Yaounde within two hours.  Naive and silly me.  Another train derailed and I was told it would probably be several hours before the train continued to its destination.  After two hours of waiting, I leave with impeccable timing running into another PCV who happened to disembark at the same time from a different car.  We took a moto to a bush taxi to a bus and finally reached Yaounde in just two hours.   

Alas, I spent a lovely couple of days with Rachel and even got to have dinner with a friend of mine who I met in Paris and was a British-Cameroonian businessman who started a new and wonderful restaurant in Cameroon.  At that dinner he explained corruption in the infrastructure in Cameroon and gave examples of how some roads are better than other because they LACK government oversight.  Roads built directly with foreign money often turn out better because corruption eats away at the money provided for road construction.  Thats is why the road from Yaounde to the large city of Bamenda (Rachel's post) is so bad but the one from Bamenda to the Nigerian border is just fine.

On my way back to post, I heard another volunteer got stuck for several hours coming down to Yaounde on the train and sure enough going back, I was delayed too.  Only five hours this time. As I once heard from another volunteer, “In Cameroon, nothing works but everything works out.”

I hope you are all well.