In early February I had the opportunity to return to Mt. Cameroon as a chaperone for my school's annual climb. Mt. Cameroon, at 4000 meters, boasts the highest peak in West Africa. It is an active volcano and the trail to the top is essentially a straight shot up the side. I've heard many people say that climbing Mt. Cameroon is memory best left and forgotten on the steep black slopes of loose and broken lava. I disagree.
Cloud forrest Even though the forrest has been largely divested of the majestic trees and abundant wildlife that were once common, the remains of this once proud rainforrest are still jawdropping.
Vertical grasslands Coming out of the forrest onto the endless slope of rough grass and shaggy trees is equally awesome. Clouds hang on the slopes.
Sleeping above the clouds The first night is spent at Hut 2, high above the thick line of clouds. My favorite part of the hike is waking up to the rising sun.
The Magic Tree
The peak The 'peak' is reached after a oxygen deprived walk through a moonscape of dusty lava - in which flowers miraculously manage to grow.
So I've had a few complaints from people about the lack of recent updates. Simply regard this as a multiple update update.
1. Moving house. After spending the last year in the apartment of my discontent, grappling with cockroaches and watching paint peel from the ceiling, I finally moved. The new apartment is elegant, pleasing to the eye and soothing to the ear - I wake up to bird song every morning. Here are some views, from the bedroom balcony and the living room balcony respectively.
2. Spiritual retreat. I had the chance to spend a weeked at a silent retreat outside of Yaounde hosted by the local Opus Dei house. Good prayer time and especially good to be out of the city. Here's a view from an early morning stroll, the moist fog of the night just beginning to rise....
3. Getting engaged. As all of you already know, Amy and I got engaged in October, the 8th. At least I think it was the 8th. It's all been a blurr since then.
4. Finding a Church. After much searching, Amy and I finally settled St. Laurent, a francophone church that I think we'll call home for some time. This will also be where Amy and I get married
So, there it is: my 2nd Fall in Yaounde. Quite eventfull, I think you'll agree. The rainy season, by the way, has once again been simply spectacular.
Approaching the end of my summer travels, I land in Plittersdorf, which might come as close as any place to being my "village" in the Cameroonian sense. Much has changed here since the capital officially moved away in 1991 and I've only started coming back recently - since my parents re-relocated a year ago. Pretty much everything I associate with my formative years in Bonn has disappeared - the movie theater, shopping center, teen club, library, and my old high school (BAHS) and the attached Rec Center. Admittedly, it all badly needed tearing down, but still I wince.
Over the past year or so, I've had time to digest the shock of it all disappearing. The old community compound, or Amerikanische Siedlung as it is advertised on Real Estate posters, has taken on a distictive flair of quiet nostalgia. The old bilingual parking signs have been left up, as well as some of the now deserted security booths. Lots of Germans have moved into the apartment buildings, but there is still a strong international presence and even a few old schoolers like my folks. Shapiro Field - where I once played Football - has been turned into a professional baseball stadium (home of the Bonn Capitals) and the fields next to the school play host to three other 'anglo' sports - rugby, cricket and American football. So I come "home" now to a place that isn't the home I once knew but in a strange way feels more like the home that should have been, a truly international community, open and integrated into the larger community .
For the few that might possibly be interested, here's a picture of the new school building (Bonn International School) taken from where the racquetball court used to be.
And the Club? Still standing but in need of a buyer. Currently used as skater hangout.
Fortunately, some things don't change - most importantly Old Father Rhine, always good for an evening stroll.
The expat life in Cameroon also includes summers that are spent in distant, far away places.This summer found me hopping around the East Coast of the United States and Western Europe.Most of my travels belong to the non-edited version of this blog; I do want to share with you of my abbreviated (2 week) pilgrimage with my friend Matt through French and Spanish Basque country.
The trails we walked belonged, for the most part, to the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, or the Way of St. James, which is in essence a network of paths throughout western Europe that lead to the Medieval pilgrimage destination of Santiago (located in the NW corner of Spain).Most pilgrims take about a month to walk the most frequently traveled paths through Spain.Matt and I, with less than two weeks to spare, decided to stick to the routes that lead through the Pyrenees.
El Camino has become popular in recent years and an impressive infrastructure has sprung up to support the throngs of pilgrims that pass through every day.Trails are well marked and often reinforced with gravel.Refugios, places for pilgrims to spend the night, are hosted by local parishes or religious orders that provide large dormitory style rooms to accommodate the large number of pilgrims during the summer months.Walking long distances is an inherently solitary activity, but long days were always punctuated with the good fellowship of others following the same path.
The life of a pilgrim consists of routines.Dawn, around , brings the break of camp.Everyone in the dorm dresses and repacks quickly and silently to be on their way by around .The bulk of the day is spent walking.On “low impact” days we would arrive at our destination at or before and would get to relax, wash clothes and read or play chess through the hot afternoon hours.More often, however, we became stuck hiking through the blazing midday heat, arriving at our refugio beaten and crispy with just enough time for a shower and a quick nap before heading out to dinner.These evening meals usually consisted of satisfying three course “pilgrims menus” offered at a local restaurant at pilgrim prices.Lights out at the refugio was usually , but most of us were asleep before that, resting up for a repeat performance the next day.
As I mentioned earlier, Matt and I walked an abbreviated pilgrimage.I found myself wishing I had more time to complete the pilgrimage properly instead of simply walking parts of it.Nevertheless, even in the short time we had, many pilgrim lessons were learned. The Top 10 Lesson are listed below.If some of them sound familiar, it is because others have gone before us.
Stick to the path
Talk to strangers
Walk through the pain
Pain is Joy
Look for the small signs that mark the Way
If you don’t see any signs, you’re not looking hard enough
If you ignore the signs, you’ll get lost
Take time to look back and enjoy the view
Take lots of pictures – a few of them are bound to turn out well
And finally, drumroll....... 10. The journey is the destination
And here are some other impressions from the road.....
An example of the exquisite agro-industrial landscape around Pamplona
The omnipresence of windpower dominated the skyline through much of the Spanish foothills.
Sun shining through clouds.
At the very end of our travels we spent two days in a small beach town on Cotê Basque.
I came across these pictures of Yaounde recently. Panoramic shots don't really give an accurate impression of a place. Life is in the details. Still, they're nice to look at. The Hilton Hotel is one of the landmark buildings here and has an 11th floor lounge with some fantastic views, best enjoyed with a cool beer on a Friday afternoon......
Driving in Yaounde has been an experience so unique for me that I will find it difficult to adequately convey.There are numerous aspects to driving here that simply don’t have a translation into “Driving in the US”.
I mentioned before that when the President or some other dignitary drives through town, the main road get shut down.These road closings are always unannounced and never have a fixed duration.However, they are anticipated by a special police force lining major intersections in the hours preceding the road closure.So, when members of this police force are spotted, word is spread that “the road will be closed”, meaning that at some point during the day, the road may be closed and if you need to go anywhere, it had better be sooner rather than later.There are times when such rumors don’t spread fast enough.
A Sunday evening a few weeks ago was such a time.I was returning home after a long afternoon of tennis when my plans to spend a quiet evening of study ran into a blocked intersection.It just so happens that the main road lies between school and my apartment.Determined to get home, I followed some back roads looking for a way through.Intersections were all blocked, as I knew they would be.Now, there is one point where the main road runs over an overpass and it is technically possible to drive underneath.However, as this is the only crossing point, you can imagine what the traffic is like:pure hell.I had a choice:go through hell or join some friends who were president watching at the Hilton for a beer.I wisely chose the latter course.Not only did I soon find my friends sitting comfortably in the lobby of the Hilton, in a prime spot to watch the passing of Brazil’s president Lula, I was treated to an impromptu drum performance by Gilberto Gil, who was traveling with the Brazil team as Minister of Culture. Studies could wait for another day.
Part of daily life here is the possibility of electricity and/or water supplies being cut.Cuts happen at random times and have arbitrary durations – anywhere from a minute to a day, typically.At times, in cases of a shortage during the dry season, I am led to believe that this is a systematic procedure, where neighborhoods go out on a rolling basis.More often I would guess the cause is shoddy infrastructure.There are stories of water going out for weeks at a time, but this is fortunately something I haven’t experienced.Those of us with resources provide for alternatives:generators and water tanks.There is a large generator at school, and many homes in my neighborhood have them as well..
Here at my place, the “teacher apartment building”, we have water storage on top of the building but no generator.The water tank lasts for about a day without being replenished, so often we don’t even notice when the water goes out.It has happened though, that I have come back in the evening after a long game of Ultimate, dirty and drenched in sweat, that there is no water left in the tank and I am forced to access the less than adequate barrel of water that is kept in the laundry room for such emergencies, forcing me to experience what it is like for most people here to bathe.Against power outages, there is no backup, which frequently leaves us in the dark and is really not as big a deal as it might seem.Flashlights and candles do the job just fine.