We were supposed to leave Bangui at 8 am, but I didn’t see anyone around the hotel. Finally, at 8:40 someone picked me up and we drove around town picking up various supplies (solar panel, eggs, car batteries) and people. In the end there was the driver, a local WWF staff member, the Cameroonian consultant, a teenager from Bayanga and myself. We finally got on the road at around 10:30. The condition of the roads, paired with the driver’s speed made the ride the bumpiest of my life. I felt like I was getting a minor concussion every hour. I didn’t notice how hard I was gripping the handle above the window until I released it, and felt my palm burn from the blood rushing back to it.
Google thinks this 506 km (314 mile) trip will take 7 hours and 59 minutes. Hahahahahahaha.
We stopped for food: steamed fermented kassava, with barbecued meat. And of course, an assortment of beer. I haven’t seen any of these men drink anything else yet. The driver opts for a lighter beer instead of Guinness, the usual fare. The men have a lively discussion about the percentage of alcohol in various beers.
It started raining. Uh oh. At one point we got to a “rain barrier”, where it is a man’s job to not let cars through when it rains. After a little talking and a bribe, he let us through.
Around 6pm, we could not continue any further. The road was blocked by horrible muddy conditions, rain, and a stuck flatbed truck to boot. We got out of the car and investigated the situation on foot. I managed to step everywhere you were not supposed to and my feet would sink into the mud with each step. I was being the complete opposite of Legolas. Despite my several pairs of hiking boots and a pair of tevas in my bag, I was unprepared for this mud trek. My poor birkenstocks.
We turned around to the last village, which was thankfully nearby, and got out. I was cold, wet, tired, hungry, muddy and not amused. I waited under the awning of a store, though I wasn’t sure what for. This was not my definition of adventure, though I suppose it wouldn’t be a real adventure if I were allowed to define it. Eventually I was led to a wooden hut where a lady made me rice served with a thin, oily beef sauce. It was bland and lukewarm, and I ate by lantern light, but I was dry and it was decent so it was delicious.
The men went to a shack where you could use the phone for a fee, since there was no cell reception in the area. The Cameroonian man called home, and kept saying how he was stuck in “la brousse” (the bush), in the middle of the forest, in a tiny village in the middle of nowhere. Though he was being a bit dramatic, I decided that if he could complain then I could feel a little sorry for myself. The Central Africans started calling it to the bush too; I definitely could whine!
The shack doubled as a bar of sorts, since they sold unrefrigerated beer and boxed wine. The men opened up several, and again tried to get me to drink.
“If you drink, you’ll forget everything”, he said, gesturing to our surroundings, “and you won’t have to be lost in your thoughts!”. I declined, saying that I’ll have water instead since beer is dehydrating. “But beer has water in it!” Correct, but you pee it all out. “Yes, it cleans your stomach out!” Another helpfully added: “Your kidneys, too!”. They then proceeded to talk about how crazy the Cameroonian was for occasionally cooking, as it is the Central African custom for men to never, ever cook for themselves—it was their wives’ job! At one point I asked where we would be staying the night. No one seemed to know.
It turned out that someone did know: they had found a little “hotel”, the last available in the village. I didn’t have access to any of my stuff. It was all stuck in the back among all the other supplies and bags and boxes. I did manage to pull out my sleeping bag and clean underwear. I tried to hide the fact that my pillow for the night was going to be a stuffed turtle (his name is Squirt).
My room for the night was rustic, but better than I expected. I was ready to sleep on the roof of the car. It was a rough night’s sleep. My room was in between the men’s, who spent much of the night snoring and producing other bodily noises. The villagers, along with the roosters and goats, also wake up early (at 5 am) and like to play loud music.
The car next to our hotel, the morning after. Note that I was sharing a roof with goats.
Next to the rooms were the owner’s house. The shack on the right was the toilet. I was about to go the night before, and decided against it when I noticed the giant toad sitting on the edge of the hole.
In the village, where I had a breakfast of coffee and an omelette sandwich, there was an adorable puppy all by himself.
He appeared to have been semi-adopted by a herd of goats, which I saw following him around curiously a few times.
Because we packed up and left, I assumed the road had been fixed sometime in the morning. I was wrong. But it turned out that it didn’t mean we weren’t going through it.
The men helped the car off the “road” and into the bush, where the car could still at least theoretically pass.
The view from the other side:
We made it through!!! Unbelievably, while the men were still cheering from the success, a pick-up truck revved its engine and barreled down the path our car just went up like it was Monster Truck Rally: CAR Edition. I’ve never seen a car bounce around or come so close to flipping so many times. He didn’t even stop on the other side, he just kept going on merrily to his destination.
We had picked up a lady and her adorable, fat 5-month-old baby who were also stuck in Yamando. The men refused to have their legs closer than a foot apart, which is to be expected as I have learned after many car rides in Ghana and Cameroon. I had one buttcheek on the seat, a metal part jammed into my back, and my shoulder crushed against the hard side of the car. Against all odds, with my head repeatedly banging into the window and my shoulder getting more and more bruised, I managed to fall sort-of asleep a few times after the previous restless night.
We had several terrifying brushes with cars. Sometimes, with huge trucks carrying giant tree logs. It was pretty heartbreaking to see, especially since I never saw trees that large during the ride. They must have come from deep in the forest. My spirit was squashed a little more when the Cameroonian, a self-proclaimed passionate worker in the fight against poaching, threw a plastic bag out the window. I don’t doubt his passion, but there is not much of a culture against littering in Africa. The world has a long way to go.
Eventually, finally, thank the Lord, several hours later, we made it to Bayanga where the WWF offices are. Everything was 10 times better than I expected. I was to stay at Angelique’s lovely house (pictured above) for the next two nights before I headed to Bai Hokou, the camp.
That evening, I had beer at Doli Lodge with the other volunteer named Tianna, a German phD researcher, the new Rwandan head of community development, and the local WWF director’s husband. The lodge (which doesn’t seem to have any guests at the moment) is right on the river.
After the miserable two-day ordeal during which I had many doubts, I felt like I was in heaven.
Though I had spent the summer in Cameroon and the fall in Ghana, I finally felt like I was back in the Africa I loved—the beautiful, wild Africa I experienced in the continent’s Eastern and Southern regions back in 2008. Welcome to the Dzanga-Sangha Forest.