I would like to use these next couple of blog posts as not only a memoir for me but also as a guide for future travelers to the regions that we went to. I also hope to inspire those on the couch reading to take the big leap and JUST DO IT: TRAVEL. The memories you make are worth the jump!

Although I was only on the road for two weeks, it was a great reminder that traveling is not easy. It requires serious patience, flexibility, street smarts, and a good sense of humor. Most importantly, it reminded me that you don’t travel just to see things; you travel for the relationships you make along the way which actually end up becoming more than half the story you remember. Like they say,

"Life is not about the destination, it’s about the journey."

The epic ‘tour du Cameroon’ was in the making for a couple of months and became more solidified just the week before our departure. There was a possibility, depending on time, of crossing through 7 out of 10 regions. A friend of mine Megan and myself had planned out our next 2 weeks+ of travel throughout the lower half of Cameroon. Our plan was this:

Of course we didn’t stick right to the plan, we made some small alterations which you will read all about in this post and the ones to follow.

The Ring Road: Bafut, Wum, Fundong and Belo in Short:

People: My Bamenda family (mumi, dadi, angel, JP, and all the rest), Lionel, Derek, Vera, Queen Mary, Price Desmond, Price Allen, Prince Elvis, Epie, Vera, Pius, Vivian, Paul Nguo, Oliver, nice papa who served tea, Joshua and Ina.

Places/Things: Family house, cabaret, best cappuccino and Greek salad in all Cameroon at PresCafe, Bafut Palace, Mayor's brother's funeral, Prestige (the bar), Wum and the 2 lakes, countless moto bike rides, RUDEC.

For future reference: 500fcfa = $1.

First, we took a night bus from Buea to Bamenda  [5,000fcfa] which is the capital of the Northwest Region (the only other Anglophone region in Cameroon). We thankfully got a ‘coaster’ (picture a big grey hound style bus) instead of a regular bus (picture a 14 seater van that crams 20 and flies around like a bat out of hell). This bus was even equipt with a television which played Elizabeth Teke music videos for the first couple house and then switched to other local Cameroonian artists. We finally left around 10:40pm and reached Bamenda around 6am (Friday). I was so sleepy I don’t even remember the “break” that all buses take in Melong (about half way).

I have family in Bamenda so when we arrived we visited them and were welcomed with fresh local coffee! You have no idea what a treat real coffee was - I drink nescafe/instant coffee with instant milk everyday. I visited with the family for a few hours and caught up. I brought them pictures from the last two times I visited so they could add them to their collection. Photos are very prized possessions here. If you are invited to someone’s house, or if you pass by for a visit, the first time you come, there is a very good chance that one of the first things they will bring to you is their photo album for you to look at. Photos show the good times; they make you forget about the suffering and the struggling that is inevitable at some point or another over here. They were very pleased with the photos, it brought a smile to everyone’s face. We didn't have too much time in Bamenda so in the early evening we left the house and said goodbye.

My little sister Angel and I at home in Bamenda.

Since we didn’t have time to go to Mamfe, I had a couple a friends come and visit me from there (only a couple hour drive). The evening was spent going to some local cabarets and dancing to familiarly melodies from Richard Bona and other popular artists (check out the classics HERE).

After an early breakfast and a failed attempted to find a tour operator or even anyone that could direct us to some local caves which we read about, we took a bush taxi (small car that crams 4 in the back, 2 in the front passenger seat) to Bafut for 400cfa. Bafut is a town or village which is also a traditional fondom and a modern commune in the Mezam sub division. It has around 80,000 inhabitants and is famous for having preserved its structure as a traditional kingdom AKA "fondom" which is under the leadership of the Fon of Bafut. Its traditional power structures operate in harmony with its modern local government council. It’s so interesting to see places where traditional law and statutory law coexist peacefully.

When arriving in Bafut the driver dropped everyone else off and offered to take us to the palace which was where we had told him we were heading. We told him that was a nice offer but we weren’t prepared to add anything on top off the price we paid. He literally drove us another 100 meters and told us that the price of the taxi was 2,000fcfa each. These sort of things happen all the time, they try to charge ‘whiteman’ more money because they think we don’t know the price and they think we are made of money. Because Megan and I have been in this situation in the past, before we even found the taxi we had asked some locals how much the taxi was so we couldn’t get dooped on the price. After whipping out a little bit of Pidgin English and showing my knowledge of the culture, language and price, we paid the correct price and took out bags out of the taxi.

A few young guys were outside of the palace and they offered to get us a guide. Megan and I privately discussed the price we would be happy paying to get a tour. When the guide told us the price, 2,500fcfa, we were a bit surprised and tried bargaining. Unfortunately, this was one of the only kinds of situations in Africa when you cannot bargain -- it was a set price. So we paid the price and began our tour. Since photography was an additional 2,000fcfa, we opted out of that and instead snuck photos when no one was looking. Our guide ended up being one of the 48 queens living in the palace. Her name was Queen Mary and she was an exceptionally delightful woman. She gave half the tour in Pidgin English and the other half in regular English.

We walked through the Bafut museum which was filled with several rooms containing artifacts dating back to the 17th century. There were several wars between the Bafut people and the Germans who have now in return given money towards the construction and maintenance of the museum. Seems like some sort of a: “Sorry for slaughtering your people and attempting to destroy your culture” gesture, not all that different from all the foreign aid going to Rwanda after the genocide: “Sorry we knew genocide was going to happen and didn’t do anything then turned our backs and allowed more than million people to be slaughtered – here is a couple million to rebuild some roads.”

Inside the palace.
We also were shown around the Queens, Princess and Princes living quarters. Each Queen had her own small house. As I mentioned, the current Fon has 48 wives, several which were inherited from his Father who was the last Fon and died in 1968. The current Fon has been ruling since then and is only in his 60's now (if I am not mistaken on what the Queen told me)  meaning he was really young when he came into power. 

Statue in the Museum of Bafut
Halls of the Museum of Bafut
Along the tour, we were asking the Queen where we could find some good Achu or Kati Kati (two of the main local dishes of the people in the Northwest region). To our surprise, she said that she cooks and serves Achu (yellow soup inside an eatable bowl. You eat it by swooping your fingers around the bowl while scooping a little of the bowl [called 'going around the world'] and then you dip it into the yellow soup sitting in the middle. Its a serious technique) at her house and we could come eat there after the tour. While we were eating one of the boys who was chatting with us outside the palace gate entered. I offered him some Achu and we all ate together. All of us were just discussing when this boy, Allen, offered to take us to a funeral where the Jujus would dance. A Juju is a fetish, charm, or amulet of West African peoples. Depending on the Juju and the tribe, there are countless significations and reasons for the juju. They can be good or bad. They can bring peace and unity or in some cases, they can bring infertility if seen by a woman when it is forbidden. 

Outside the Palace.
Bafut Museum
Without hesitation we accepted and were on our way with our new friends. Queen Mary allowed us to leave our bags at her house. The funeral was that of the Mayor's elder brother meaning it was quite a ‘big man’ in the village. As we sat around and watched friends and family dance in their ashwabi (a matching traditional African fabric that unites a family or group for a certain occasion. It is sewn differently by each person but the fabric remains the same and unites them as one. Also used for weddings, church groups, women’s associations, etc), I noticed some Jujus approaching from behind where everyone was gathered. I knew the festivities were about to begin. 


If a juju gives you something, whether it be a blade of grass or his staff which he carries, you must return it with a gift (money). I forgot to bring change, so half way through the dance I had sent a small girl to the roadside with 2,000fcfa to get my change so that I would be able to pay. It is also seen as good luck and protection if you give the Jujus money. After about an hour or so, Allen advised us to go or they would bother us the whole night for money. Alas, we left the funeral and headed to a local bar (one of the only pastimes in Cameroon). A couple of other people showed up and we were all just chatting away, sharing stories, telling jokes and talking about our lives (work we do, where we come from, how we see Cameroon, etc). Soon, we started talking about the palace and the Fon – one of them states “well you are sitting with Princes” – Megan and I looked at each other in a surprised way. Yup, three of the guys we were sitting with, Desmond, Elvis and Allen were Princes of Bafut. We were already enjoying ourselves but that just made it that much more interesting.


Traditional Dress of the Northwest people

Soon Queen Mary came around looking for us. She told us that we could stay inside the palace at her house since our things were already there. WOW! We all danced the night away listening to Davido, P-Square, Stanley Enow and other popular hits (for a fun list of Cameroonian hip hop artists click HERE). The memories made in Bafut will not be forgotten. 

Queen Mary and I
Another Princess. She liked me. No one thought she would sleep,
but she ended up falling asleep on my chest after I covered her eyes.

 We ended up sleeping INSIDE the palace at Queen Mary's house!!

Queen Mary's Princesses and Prince and a neighbor Princess
In the morning Prince Desmond and Prince Allen took us out for breakfast and Desmond walked us to get a bush taxi which would bring us to Three Corners. From Three Corners we tried to find a moto bike to take us to Wum for 3,000fcfa (the normal price) but since the bikers saw ‘whiteman’ no one would go for less then 10,000fcfa. In the end, we waited for a car to come from Bamenda with a few open spaces. Prince Elvis saw us waiting and hung out with us until we left. We paid the driver an extra couple hundred francs to stop by Menchum Falls for a couple of minutes so we could take some pictures.

Menchum Falls in the dry season.
We had arranged to stay with my friend Laglan’s brother, Epie, who lives in Wum. Wum is a town and commune with a population over 80,0000 people. It is the capital of Menchum division and is actually the third biggest town in the Northwest Region. Its situated on a plateau around 1100m. The dialect of the Wum people is called Aghem or Wum.

When we called Epie he was actually out of town but on his way back to the village so when we arrived in Wum we just wanted at a place called “Guinness Bar” situated at the main round about for him. Once he arrived, we shared a drink and met some of his friends: Pius and Vivian. As the sun was beginning to go down, our friend Pius who is by day a moto-bike driver took the 4 of us to Lake Wum with another moto-bike driver.

Lake Wum as the sun goes down
The next day was Monday and Epie had to work but he left us with his girlfriend, Verra, who took us out for cornchauf (corn, beans and tons of oil) for breakfast. We met up with Pius again and the 3 of us went to visit Lake Elum, another crater lake a bit out of town. We drove drove drove drove and then stopped on the side of the road for a nice short hike up a big hill to view the lake.
Lake Elum
Vivian wanted to cook us the traditional meal of the area, Kati Kati which is njamanjama (a green leafy vegetable similar to spinach) with chicken that is prepared in a special way and fufu corn. Because Megan and I didn’t have all the time in the world and the meal takes a while to prepare, we opted to just find a good place to eat it, and chop together. So, Epie, Verra, Pius, Vivian, Megan and I all went to a small ‘mami putam’ they called Mama G’s. It was actually the best Kati Kati I had ever had. A ‘mami putam’ is what is referred to as a small room that is used during the day as a restaurant type place. The ‘mami’ who serves and cooks food usually prepares at home and brings it in giant flasks for food. She serves all day until her food is finished. You can ask her to ‘putam’ (meaning put it) for nearly any amount. For example, she can put beans and rice for 300, 500, 600, etc. You can ask for an extra piece of meat or another piece of fufu for additional prices. 

Wum Village
After we finished eating, we went to the bus park to look for a car to go to Nkambe which was our next village on the ring road. After much debate….we concluded that the only way to get to Nkambe was to take a bike for 20,000fcfa each ($40) or to rent an entire car just for the two of us for 30,000 ($60) because we were the only passengers wanting to go. The way taxis work here is, they wait until they ‘fill up’ with passengers. Each seat has a set price and the driver won't leave until all the seats are taken or someone offers to pay for an extra seat. Megan and I were not prepared to spend that kind of money so instead we took bikes into the heart of the ring road heading towards Fundong for 5,000fcfa each.

A bit more than half way there, we started to feel rain drops. We were right on the verge of wet season so we had been dodging sporadic rain showers. It started to get a bit heavier so we decided to pull over an wait it out in the nearest village which was called Bavmen. When we arrived, got off the bike and took off our sunglasses to look at each other, we both busted out with laughter. The road had been soooooo dusty that out faces were covered with red-orangish dirt. I had put chapstick on before the ride so I had a solid ring around my mouth.

We missed the torrential downpour by like 45seconds. As soon as we unstrapped our bags from the back of the bikes it really started to rain. Like nearly everyone else around, we all huddled under the nearest shelter available, a bar of course. 

Rain has stopped and everyone is back to work in Bavmen
Our drivers knew some of the people there so they got offered a beer (just one, don’t worry!) and started chatting. Soon we were pulled into the conversation and offered a drink. We started discussing wet season vs. dry season. Many people actually prefer wet season because there are less illnesses. Because of the amount of dust on the road, people get serious lung and respiratory infections and illnesses. This really got me to thinking about life expectancy not just here in Cameroon (which is 51 years by the way), but in all developing countries. We (Westerners) usually assume its things like HIV/AIDS and hunger that attributes to most deaths, and while yes they are major contributors, so are the poor poor living conditions and consequences of the poor infrastructure. Dust and other toxins caused by vehicles that have literally black exhaust can cause serious problems when breathed in day after day. Everyone was saying how even if someone from the village who became rich wanted to fix the road, the government would not allow them. The government would want the rich person to give the money to the government so that they could hire their own people who would in the end pocket money and do a terrible job. Meehhh....corruption. 

Side Note: In my YAN classes, I have a student researching corruption - she found that Cameroon was rated the most corrupt country in the world by Transparency International in 1998 and 1999. It's rampant here and gravely hinders development.

Our divers must have really wanted to get back to Wum because they found us two other bike drivers to take us the remaining way to Fundong. One thing that never got old alone this trip was the drives -- the scenery was gorgeous. Absolutely stunning. Megan’s driver, Paul Nguo, was extremely nice and showed us around Fundong once we arrived since it was his village and where he grew up. He was great! Fundong is a town and commune in Cameroon . It is the capital of Boyo Division and has a populatoin of about 20,000.

On the road towards Fundong
It was so very cold that night so after we settled into the hostel Paul took us out to find some hot tea. While drinking tea we met two more memorable fellows, Oliver and the Papa who owned the small café where we drank tea at. We all waited for the papa to close the store so the 5 of us could go…yes…you guessed it, grab a drink somewhere.

Side note: The drinking culture is just unreal here. It is actually all there is to do. I am not saying that you always have to be taking alcoholic drinks because I surely do not but that is all there is to do. Go to a bar and drink. From 8am-8am the next day. In between the drinking (whether its alcoholic or not) you can also go to eat somewhere. Most bars have a mami who comes to sell food during the day anyways, so you don’t even have to leave the vicinity. Also there are football (aka soccer) games the play all the time and most Cameroonians are serious fans.

We called it an early night because we were both tired and headed back to the hostel to sleep. In the morning we found puff puff and beans and ate for just 200fcfa. Puff puff is pretty much sugary fried dough in the shape of a circle and then beans are just regular cooked brown or black beans (with tons of oil and Maggi). Following breakfast and a stroll around the small village, we found a bike that would take both of us for 2,000 to Belo. 

One bike. Two massive bags. Three people. :D

On the way to Belo
In Belo I had arranged to meet with with Joshua Chiamba who is the director of an NGO called Rural Development Center (RUDEC). In winter 2012 when I was researching an NGO to do my 6 months internship in 2013 I stumbled across this organization and applied. It didn’t work out for me to work with them, but we had been in contact since and I thought it would be great to stop, visit the place, and meet the man that I had known virtually for over a year and a half. Not to mention, RUDEC is part of the Omprakash network and as part of my responsibility to them, I am supposed to find current partners and see who they are doing as well as search for new potential partners.

Joshua and RUDEC were great! We met a new volunteer from Florida named Ina who was teaching English and working with the orphans. Joshua is a genuine guy who has a real passion for the work he does. Please, see their work on their website and if you know anyone interested in volunteer work, this would be a great place to work. Belo is a beautiful village situated close to Bamenda and the NGO has projects for everyone, teaching (tons of subjects), eco adventure tourism, climate change awareness, several youth programs community empowerment and more. For those who can't get over to Belo, Cameroon for the hands on work, there is also an opportunity to sponsor an orphan. This I can vouge for – while I was there I met Valentine who was a sponsored orphan learning how to weld for a trade.
Joshua (Director of RUDEC) with Valentine (one of the sponsored orphans)
Since Ina was still pretty new, I wanted to take her out to eat some Kati Kati and try a Booster (whiskey cola drink that’s very popular here. It comes already botteled and mixed). The 4 of us went to a local bar/restaurant and enjoyed a meal, a drink, and a great discussion about Cameroon. Then in the blink of an eye we were in a taxi heading to our next destination....   

Ina outside of the new RUDEC office in Belo.

(To Be Continued....)