"Transport is necessary in achieving a wide range of objectives including economic growth, personal welfare, governance and empowerment as well as security." ~ P. Njenga & A. Davis, Drawing the Roadmap to Rural Poverty Reduction

Friday, June 20, 2008

Return to Meri and The Trip From Hell

We finally arrived home after traveling for 7 days. We had, at that point traveled by plane, train, bus, bush taxi, car, motorcycle, and foot over a distance that would, in the United States, take less than eight hours to drive (less the 7000 miles covered in the lane, of course). So, after much ado, we have finally made it back home to Meri. Air France managed to misplace one of my bags (the one with all the metal, bolts and wires in it - if a bag was going to get left behind, likely for extra inspection, I figured it would be this one). Thanks to that, we had to spend an extra day in Yaounde and 4 hours at an empty airport waiting for the customs worker with the key to get to my bag. We finally boarded the train to Nagoundere that evening, and headed north.

Thankfully, the train went without issue, ,and we met a really nice married couple who shared our sleeper cabin. The woman was a former agricultural worker and her husband a lawyer, both from Garoua. The wife, Lyna, now runs a restaurant a bit off the beaten path on the outskirts of Garoua, which has an extensive menu with some excellent food on it. They invited us to eat there the following evening at 8, and we gladly accepted. We got on a bus that made the trip from Nagoundere to Garoua in pretty good time (about 5 hours), although there was a kid just behind Jess and I that threw up pretty much the whole trip.

Oddly enough, the couple we met picked us up in their car at our hotel (only very rich people here have cars), and drove us to the restaurant, where Jess and I had probably the biggest meal since we arrived. With roast chicken and beef, fries, pineapple, mango, and various other treats, we had a wonderful dinner with the couple, and when we went to pay, they wouldn't let us. This was not a cheap meal! Jess and I agreed we should eat there the next time we're in Garoua and pay for a large meal.

From there, we left for Maroua again by bus with Touristique, the Greyhound of Cameroon. This trip was a lot longer than it should have been (should have taken three hours, but took five and a half), and Jess and I were pretty much totally exhausted when we finally got to Maroua. Yet again, one of my bags was lost on the way, and we spent another several hours setting up someone to pick up the wheels of my makeshift ergometer when it would arrive the next day. We spent the night at the Case (the Peace Corps crash pad, if you will), and took the bush taxi home the next day.

Of course, it wouldn't be the trip from hell unless we got accosted by crooked Gendarmes on the way, so at both possible places to be pulled over, the bush taxi was stopped and we were asked for our papers. At the second stop, the gendarme not only asked to see my passport and visa (which is all the need), he asked to see my airline ticket and any other documents he could think to require, lest I be forced to pay the 2800 CFA fine (about 5 dollars), which he invented on the spot. We sat and argued with him until he realized we were about to phone our embassy, at which point he finally let us go. This is probably my least favorite part of traveling in areas like this - police have a lot of power, and are typically corrupt to the extent of such extortion. We finally made it to Meri that afternoon, exhausted from the trip.

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