A short hop away from where I was living in Togo; Cameroon was a great destination for a spring break.
The thought of travelling there had conjured up images of Roger Milla's goal celebration dance with the corner flag at Italia 90. All in vivid green, red and yellow. The colours of the countrie's flag were well represented by the rich green meadows of the highlands, the red fertile earth, and the prosperity from the country being well-endowed with resources. I found it a fascinating country to learn about, partly because it had experienced both French and British rule, to this day there are English speaking and French speaking regions. On the first day of the trip, I listened long and hard to a multi-lingual chief in a tarpaulin bar after being soaked through having ridden hard-tail mountain bikes around a valley for a day.
After a minor scolding for crossing my legs towards him, "Why would you cross your legs towards me? You people have funny rules of what is ok and what is not in public", he seemed to enjoy explaining some of the virtues of colonisation and the the horror of being its subject. He ridiculed the French for not thinking ahead and praised the Brits for building the infrastructure needed to enforce law. Of course, there was nothing I could offer in return conversation. I was not not going to claim that I understood or accept that I was to blame. I wanted to learn and I could see that was enough for him.
On reflection, I wondered whether if I had chugged into that bar in a white-man's 4x4 in pastel cotton and linen, would I have been invited to join the ever-growing circle of elders, or ear-wiggers that I found myself in the middle of? But as a mere lost-looking cyclist I sat there in my grey-brown sports gear, just being careful to sit correctly and curious enough to want to be part of a debate that was organic . I imagine that people there would likely have been disappointed by my lack of astute counter-assertions, but you know what curiosity did to the cat, so I knew that it was time for diplomacy. Having grown up near Watford High Street, I know that there are some people you don't want to wind up by saying the wrong thing in a weird accent of pidgin English. In this case, could there have been a right thing?
As per normal, I was not planning a relaxing getaway from school, oh no, I had agreed to hike Mount Cameroon with a colleague, and long before arriving in the crazy city of Doula, I could see my nemesis lying there, slightly steaming, 4040 metres of volcanic rock, looming over towns and my conscience. Unlike any other mountain hike I had done, this one would be pretty much up to 4040m from sea level and back down again. I had been higher, but not from such a low elevation to start and finish, this was going to be rather epic. It was. We battled pretty much every element that could be thrown at us on the 4 day ramble. Much of the time in stark rock fields or edging between geysers, other times following elephant tracks through dense jungle and across hardened lava fields dumped by a recent-ish eruption in the year 2000. On one of these hiking sections, in a forest we stumbled across some local dudes. Now I am pretty pale and depending on the season, sometimes skinny, but my hiking partner, whose name I will not state, is even more of these things. So we did not pass them unnoticed. I don't think they will ever forget seeing Jesus that day, and we will never forget the looks on their faces.
Some of these aforementioned volcanic obstacles proved to be impassable on a bicycle as I attempted to take the coastal road around the mountain one day after the hike. So instead I took a moment to relax on the black and red sand beaches. It sure was is a beautiful country and I was happy to have had the chance to visit.