Monday, September 19, 2011

The Road Home

The Road Home

After a week of work in the bush I was ready for home. It was a long and cold hike to get to Bermin. Then it was a week of living in a bush village with no electricity or running water(we filtered our water with Joe's portable filter). Tons of biting insects and rain that seemed to go on for infinity. Thus, it is no surprise I wanted to find a quick ride back to my post. It would save money and a lot of time. So I took the chance when a cocoa truck arrived to transport the harvest back to a city for export. I was lucky enough to be the only person desiring a ride back to the city, so I hopped in shotgun and hoped the ride would be quick and smooth.

The first problem we came across was a large tree that fell across the road. Storms had raged the previous night and this did not bode well for traveling on the terrible dirt roads of the South West region. The driver and the worker hopped out of the truck and then trekked back to Bermin to get help. After about a half hour of waiting a group of villagers arrived with machetes and an ax. They hacked the tree up and we continued on our way.

At various points I had to exit the truck while the driver tried to make it up various steep and muddy hills. Luckily we did not get stuck for more than a half hour at a time. It is not uncommon for trucks to become permanently stuck in the mud. We continued our journey on a muddy dirt road that did not let up until we made it out of the bush. Their was one more hiccup before we got off the bush paths. Well, I wouldn't exactly call this a  hiccup but more of a close call. A few hours into our ride we came to a bridge. We had already crossed several bridges so this was no bid deal. Bridges in the South West range from small wooden planks that span a chasm ten feet deep to larger river bridges that are composed of shaky planks(actually all of the bridges are made of shaky planks). These wooden bridges generally have solid foundations but the planks that you actually cross on are usually quite shaky. So there are large bridges that cross big rivers, and small ones that cross creeks. This bridge was of the latter type. It was maybe ten feet off the ground over shallow running water. It was maybe fifteen feet long. For whatever reason we had a difficult time getting onto this bridge. The worker riding on the back of the truck hopped off and gave instructions to the driver so that he would get his tires onto the correct planks. We got onto the planks and began crossing the bridge. Just as the front tires reached the other side and we were almost off the bridge, the left plank snapped causing the truck to lurch back and to the left. We were falling off the bridge, so the driver slammed on the gas and we flew forward off the bridge. For a brief moment the driver did not have control and we almost crashed into a ditch. However he hit the brakes and the worker hopped on the back and we continued. A truck pulled up just as we were driving off, took one look at the bridge and turned around.  

The rest of the ride was uneventful but long. It took a total of ten hours to get back home. Rainy season in the South West region destroys the unpaved roads but it can make for some good adventures. Overall the trip to work in Bermin was one of my favorite trips. The scenery was gorgeous and the work was good. It was quite the memorable and amazing experience. Well worth it.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Bermin II

A great thing about friends is learning from them. Joe had brought a birds of West Africa book and knew quite a bit about the various birds we saw. Right outside the training building were a couple of widowbirds. The female looks rather plain but the male has vibrant dark colors and a long tail with which to attract the female. The male we saw was dancing around in the air and trying to impress a female. It is incredibly interesting because the male was having a difficult time hovering with such a long heavy tail. The length of the tail increases chances at mating but decreases the chance of survival(due to increased weight and thus decreased agility). The males with longer tails can attract mates easier but make for easy prey. Its a give and take.

Back to our training schedule we found that many people were simply too busy with farming to make time for trainings. Even the kids were reluctant to show up to environmental education because they were busy with chores and who really wants to learn during the summer? The sessions were generally small,  maybe eight to fifteen people each, however this made it easier to personalize the sessions and have one-on-one discussions beneficial to the group.

During the week we had to hike to the village of Mbang to complete a community mapping project Joe was assigned. The hike was near the center of the South West region which is complete bush. Thick, beautiful jungle surrounded the foot paths we trekked. We crossed several rivers by hopping the stones and never saw the sun due to the thick canopy and overcast sky. Half way through the hike the light drizzle turned into a downpour but the canopy prevented us from getting drenched. A funny thing about hiking these bush paths alone is that you often come to crooked forks in the road where the locals tell you to just keep straight. Thus when our bush path emerged perpendicular to a dirt road we had to make a choice. Usually a flip of the coin suffices, but I decided we should head up the hill. Luckily we choose correctly and arrived at the chiefs hut in the pouring rain. The community mapping went well but the rain shortened things. It was getting late in the afternoon and we did not want to be hiking in the jungle at night.

The chief insisted we take a guide just to get us across the first river which we rock hopped initially. Due to the continual downpour this would not be an option for crossing back. The river had flooded and all of the stones were below three to five feet of running waters. The Cameroonian went first and slowly but surely navigated across the river. Step by step he found footholds on rocks to support his body which was constantly pushing back against the current. At times he was chest deep in the water. He made it back just fine but Joe was against trying to cross the river. I searched a little south and found another entrance to the river that looked easier to cross. We made our way down and the Cameroonian hopped in and found a slightly easier path across. He took our bags across first and then one by one led us both across the flooding river. He stood in front of us and held our hand while taking the brunt of the force from the river. Keep in mind that me and Joe were wearing hiking boots while the Cameroonian was wearing jellies(weird rubber sandals), shorts, and a flimsy yellow rain coat. And he did everything nonchalantly. 

We crossed fine and continued our hike. It was beginning to get dark but we could still see the path fine. Our boots and pants were soaked so it didn't matter how we trudged through the mud. We wanted to hurry so that we wouldn't be hiking by flashlight. We crossed the second river just fine and were almost to the outside quartier of Bermin. Along the way I found a river crab on the path, probably displaced by the floods. I grabbed him and asked our guide if he would eat it. He said yes and as we parted I gifted the crab to him. Thinking back on it we really should have kept the crab and had the chiefs wife cook it for us. It was as big as my hand and I probably won't get many chances to eat the fresh water crabs around here. In the end we made it back fine just as the night sky was turning dark. Sure we were soaked and exhausted but it felt great sitting with the chief for dinner and taking a warm beer.

The rest of the week went well. Joe planned the sessions thoroughly and a decent amount of people showed up. For the environmental education sessions we took a group of kids down to the lake and discussed basic science and ecology while they fished. As the week wrapped up an opportunity arose to grab a ride with a truck back to my post.  This meant I would have to leave two days early, but it wasn't an issue because the last two days were light sessions and Joe was more than capable handling them alone. This also meant I would not have to hike twelve miles back up a mountain in the cold rain. However the road back home would prove quite interesting.