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Kwagene gorilla sanctuary field trip

posted Jan 20, 2010, 4:30 AM by Reinoud Vaandrager   [ updated Jan 25, 2010, 8:18 AM ]
After a few days acclimatizing in Belo village, I set out with Joshua on a 2 week field trip to the interior of Cameroon. Our objective was to visit 7 villages situated around the Kwagene Gorilla Sanctuary near the Nigerian border in the North-West of Cameroon and check up on their beekeeping activities after a training earlier in September 2009. This beekeeping project is being run in collaboration with the Wildlife Conservation Society as part of an effort to empower the local communities around the Sanctuary by providing sustainable sources of income and by doing so protect the endangered cross-river gorilla and it's habitat.

We took the usual taxi from Belo to Bamenda (1 hour, 1000CFA pp, 4 people in the front, 4 in the back) and from there a motorbike taxi to Ngwo(3 hours, 7000CFA Shared). The road was very rough so a motorbike was by far the best option, even then our motor driver had a hard time and at one time slipped of the road to fall into the bush beside. Because it is currently the dry season and there is so much fine red dust on the roads everywhere, you leave behind a huge red cloud wherever you go. It was a good idea to wear dust caps in front of your nose and mouth.

I was a bit anxious about wandering into the interior, since the villages are totally cut of from most infrastructure including running clean water, sanitation, electricity, cell phone coverage, and only accessible by foot. If I would get sick or injured during this period that would pose a serious problem as transportation is hard and the nearest hospital far away.

At each village we would look for the chief (or fon) and assemble community members for a meeting as well as a hive inspection. All villagers were extremely friendly and would usually speak pidgin and some broken English next to their local dialect. After the meeting it is usually the tradition to drink palm wine and have some 'chop' or local food such as bush meat. The palm wine is usually tapped fresh from the palm trees in the morning and evenings and has a milky colour and slightly sweet taste. When fresh it is only mildly alcoholic, so they usually let it ferment for a day. After two days it is strongly alcoholic and after 3 days it is practically undrinkable. The bush meat would often be a porcupine, that would first be dried and smoked and then chopped up in bits and served in a soup. Taste is a bit salty but not bad.

Most farmers in the village live off their own land, and many also produce coffee. Funny thing is that nobody actually drinks coffee since they don't know how to process their own beans. Instead it gets exported, and those who do drink buy imported processed coffee.

Between villages would usually be a 2 or 3 hour hike through stunning landscapes. We tried to hike in the very early morning (around 6 o'clock) each day as the temperature would still be cool. Between 12 and 3 the sun would be so blazing hot that hiking over hills without vegetation and shade quickly turns into quite an ordeal. Often I found myself thinking about my job at Google where the rule is that an employee can never be more than 30 meters away from a nice cooled drink or snack ;). Man, I would have killed to get my hands on a cool coke at some points, but neither coke nor cool were within the realm of possibility. That said, the hikes were a great experience and doing long hikes over rugged terrain each day made me quite fit in the end :)