Monday, March 24, 2008

Obudu Cattle Ranch, Calabar and Arriving Home

From Afi we took a 2.5 hour drive up north to Obudu Cattle Ranch situated on a plateau that is just over 16oom above sea level with much milder temperatures than the lower lying areas where we have been staying. The ranch is a very popular tourist destination in Nigeria with a water park, cable car and a dairy farm to name a few attractions.

The road up to Obudu Cattle Ranch is the site of an annual run called the Obudu Mountain Challenge that ascends 810m over 11.25 miles. I hope to do this race one year.

This picture was taken on the way down to a place on the river called the Grotto, an area with small waterfalls in the valley in the picture below. The FEED ME trash can in the picture below has no container in it and the trash dumps right onto the ground! I had to make this comment but I am not surprised to see this here!
The Water Park (slides not in view) at the base of the mountain. Our flight departed out of Calabar (back to Lagos) so we spent some time visiting the Drill Rehab & Breeding Center (DRBC) or Drill Ranch in Calabar. Pictured below is Kazeem, Sharon and Jonathan's driver, Samuel, our Nigerian Police man who escorted us with his AK47 for protection, and Niyi, our driver.
Here we are... all safe back in Lagos. We had a fantastic trip with great companions!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Drill Ranch at Afi Mountain

From Calabar we headed up to Afi Drill Ranch (~5 hour drive), one of the sites that Pandrillus operates in an effort to save the endangered drill monkey and chimpanzees that are orphaned. Pandrillus was started by Liza Gadsby and Peter Jenkins in 1988 and is a Nigerian-registered non-profit company and is also registered in the USA as a 501 c 3 non-profit organization. Donations are welcome.

There are three sites that are run in Nigeria and Cameroon; the Drill Rehab & Breeding Center (DRBC) or Drill Ranch in Calabar, Nigeria, the Drill Ranch at Afi Mountain, in Cross River State, Nigeria, and the Limbe Wildlife Center in Southwest Province, Cameroon. A great summary of Pandrillus’ activities can be found at this site along with contact info.

The accommodations at the Drill ranch are quite nice with screened in cabins, most having a view of the drills in an enclosure or you can camp if you choose (we did). There is a nice clean pit toilet and community shower. Here we are in the kitchen area of the Drill ranch where there is a stove, a refrigerator and electricity (110V), all powered by solar energy. We mostly ate back packing meals (freeze dried food) as they were easy and we did not have to shop en route to the Drill ranch.

Our first visit to the Drill monkeys with spectators on both sides of the electric fence (see pic below). There are five enclosures that house the 400+ monkeys, many which have been bred in captivity. They plan to reintroduce ~100 monkeys into the wild in the next year or so and their progress will be monitored.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner for the drills and chimps consists of plantains, bananas, avocados, ground nuts, and more. We enjoyed the avocados!

The Alpha Male with mother and child.

Just hanging out!

Showing some teeth!

There is one enclosure for the Chimps. Here are three adults and a baby chimp.

Munching on some sugar cane.

Pablo, a young chimp that looks old because he had a really high fever when we was rescued and the fever impacted his development.There is a variety of things to do from swim in the Bano stream, which was not flowing too strongly when we were there, or walk on the Kache BanoWalk-a-Way, Africa's second largest canopy walkway. The largest is in Ghana and was built by the same Canadian company.

On the advice of someone who has been to Afi Mountain area many times, we hiked up Afi Mountain and a few of us hiked over Afi Mountain into the next town. It was a VERY hot and humid day and like Mt. Cameroon the hike was straight up. The view from the top was not too spectacular because there was no peak, per se, therefore the view of the surrounding area was clouded by the trees. Once we reached the top we decided to go on to see the research facility where Kelley McFarland studied gorillas from about 1996 to 1999. Her goal was to determine the requirements needed to start a gorilla sanctuary similar to those created for the Drill monkeys and Chimpanzees.

We lost significant altitude on the hike to Kelly's camp so we decided to continue hiking down into the village of Boje where we met the Chief. We did not take pictures in the village because there was one villager who was strongly opposed (and maybe drunk) and therefore we were uncomfortable even after others said it was OK to "Snap". Hiking through the village put us on the opposite side of the mountain from where we wanted to be so we had to take an okada ride for about one hour on hilly dirt roads for the cost of 500 naira ($4.20) per person. After about 40 minutes on the bike, I had to make the driver stop so I could stretch my legs as my thighs/quads were cramping from holding on tight while going up the hills. Ouch!

Pictures are a compilation of those I took and those from Sharon, Jonathan, Kevin and Susan. Thanks!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Boat Ride from Cameroon to Nigeria

Route taken is shown in yellow below, starting in Idenau, Cameroon and ending in Calabar, Nigeria, through waters at the center of a heated border dispute (Bakassi Peninsula). Note the scale for reference.

The day we departed Cameroon started early. We left Limbe via taxi for Idenao at 6:15AM and arrived Idenao port at 7AM, where negotiations for the boat ride started and immigration stamped our passports (1.5 hours); the negotiations were over the fare and ensuring each of us had a life jacket (or tire inner tube). There are ferrys that travel from Idenao to Calabar but they take about 8 or more hours so we opted for the "flying boat" that would take 3 to 4 hours. The flying boat is an open boat (boats in foreground of image below), about 18 feet long, with one engine and two large fuel cans. The larger boats in the background are Ghana fishing boats.

In the port of Idenao there were many spectators watching us as we finalized negotiations and finally departed for Nigeria. The boat ride started out with calm waters until the captain drove directly into a black squall with INTENSE DRIVING RAIN and lightning. We were comforted by the fact that for most of the boat ride we could see land and Bob had a GPS so we could ensure that we were being taken where we wanted to go. The rain was stinging and pelting us due to the speed of the boat and the wind. It was coming down so hard that I ended up getting very wet even though I was wearing a rain jacket and pants. Our luggage was in plastic bags but some of it still got wet too. We did get pulled over by some Nigerian Police once we entered Nigerian waters but there was no issue... but the boat captain did get distracted and then grounded the boat on a sand bar, which luckily caused no problems.
This is the only picture that was taken on the boat trip; it was taken early, before the deluge began. There I am peeking around from behind Sharon! ; )
Coming into Calabar with the Nigerian flag proudly flying. Once we finally got to the port of Calabar (after the 3.25 hour ride) we searched for the immigration office, where our drivers and security were to meet us, and a suitable place to dock. we were very happy to see our drivers! There was no place set up to disembark from a boat this small and we eventually had to climb aboard another boat (see rusty boat in pic below) and then cross a sketchy ladder to get up to the level of the dock. There were lots of people around watching the "oyibos". We were greeted by Samual, a Nigerian Police man, who helped keep the atmoshpere calm while we made our way off the boat and to the immigration office, which was a smooth process where surprisingly no one asked us for money to facilitiate the paperwork.
When we arrived in Calabar we were expecting to see three drivers but there were only two. One of the drivers got into an accident along the way and rendered the car unfit for the rest of the trip. On to the Afi Drill Ranch...

Monday, March 17, 2008

Limbe, Cameroon

After hiking Mt. Cameroon we relaxed on the beaches of Limbe, formerly known as Victoria, which was pleasant. Cameroon in general is cleaner than Nigeria and they definitely have a better grasp on near constant power. Anyway... we stayed at a hotel on the beach of Ambas Bay called the Miramare Hotel, located within the Botanic Garden built in the early nineteenth century by the Germans. Nearby is also the Limbe Wildlife Center that we did not visit but really wish we would have as there are a number of different species of monkeys and some Western Lowland gorillas in the rehabilitation center. I have read that they also have the only Cross River gorilla in captivity.

View of the Limbe harbor from the hotel with some of the many small islands within view.
Here I am relaxing on the beach before dinner under a pink sunset.
The largest island in Ambas Bay used to be inhabitated by people from Equatorial Guinea (if I recall correctly) but living there became too difficult as all food and water had to be brought to the island for the growing population of over 300 people. Jonathan, Sharon and I drove in a taxi to nearby Bota Town to hire a boat to take us around the islands. Once underway we went back to the hotel to find Bob so he could join us but he was not in his room (he was supposed to be resting from his Mt. Cameroon illness but he can not sit still long). Bob was lucky that day because he was walking back in from town and saw us just as we were about to give up on him. He had to hike down and run into the water to get on the boat, protecting his Cipro from getting wet by rolling it up in his sleeve.
The boat ride was nice but as expected the trip was not all that we had asked for. We wanted to go around all of the islands but as we got closer to the island farthest offshore we started running out of gas... so then we went stright to see the de populated island. A closer view of some of the islands. Notice the arch on the right and the mainland in the background on the right.
To see where the the people used to live we hiked up a steep staircase from the water.
Sharon and Jonathan at the top of the stairs.The only remnants of the island city are the foundations of the one room buildings. The island is still used today for traditional rites and ceremonies, which take place in the straw huts.
Back to the mainland...

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Hiking Mt. Cameroon

Bob, Sharon, Jonathan, Kevin, Susan and I set off on an adventure that started with a flight from Lagos, Nigeria to Douala, Cameroon. The flight and immigration went smoothly (which is unexpected because K&S forgot their Yellow Fever vaccination cards) and to our surprise a van/bus organized by Mount Cameroon EcoTourism Organisation (Mount CEO) was there to pick us up and take us to Buea, a town situated near the base of Mount Cameroon (1000m elevation), where the tourism organization was located. Before dealing with planning for the hike we were taken to check into our hotel and to a restaurant for dinner, which we preordered on the drive (chicken with rice or chips/fries). We then met with Gwendoline at Mount CEO to start making arrangements for the hike to the top of Mount Cameroon (4,040 metres (13,255 ft)) which would start the following morning. We opted for the 2.5 day trip starting at Buea, sleeping at Hut 2, then summiting and hiking to Mann Springs to camp and then into Bokwaongo, where the hike ended.

We woke on Saturday morning, ate breakfast at the hotel and headed over to Mount CEO to meet the guides who would each be carrying 15kg of our camping gear and water (required to have one guide per person to support the org). The hike started about 9:30AM.

Here is a photo of Bob and me the morning of the hike.
Hiking through the farmland where cocoa yam, banana or plantains, and cocoa were the primary crops, typically tended to by the women.
The two-horned chameleon. In my short search on the web I could not find pics of this species.
Stopping for a short rest in the forest.
Hut 1 and lunch!
An intermediate hut.
Does this picture give you an idea of how steep the slope was?! Cameroonians do not believe in switchbacks... they just hike straight up!
We arrived at Hut 2 (2852m) around 4:30PM, where we set up camp. Bob was not feeling well early in the hike and by the time we reached camp, extreme fatigue and fever had set in. He immediatley crawled into the tent and tossed and turned in pain and discomfort all night. By morning he decided (a VERY tough decision for Bob as he is not a quitter) that he could not go on to the top of the mountain and had to go down, while the rest of us went on.

Am I a terrible girlfriend?? He insisted that I go on without him. Really!
Sharon & Jonathan at Hut 3. The temperature had obviously dropped and we were all wearing our cold weather clothes. The afternoon hike from here to the summit (about the last 300m)
was not as steep as the hike up to this point, which was a relief! The wind was a bit gusty with complete cloud coverage! Sharon and I at the summit! We made it! Unfortunately the group pic was blurry and there was no view due to the clouds!
Once we hiked down the skree on the steep slopes of the mountain, the temperature quickly warmed up and we spent a good chunk of time hiking over a lava field and then through the savannah.
Our knowlegeable guide Samuel. He was amazing at estimating times to the next stop!
Looking back onto Mt. Cameroon after crossing the lava field.
The 1982 and 1999 craters. Beautiful!
The contrast between the black lava and the vegetation was striking! Sharon will never buy a pair of REI boots again! Always bring gorilla tape and string/rope.
After almost 10 hours of hiking we made it to our camp for the night at Mann Springs situated at the edge of the forest. The guides slept in the straw hut and we slept in our tents. There was a spring where we filtered and stocked up on water for the next day of hiking.

The next morning we hiked out of the forest and back onto the savannah / lava field.
Back in the forest.
Unfortunately we heard chainsaws and saw the evidence of the logging that is currently taking place. Our guide said most of the big trees are gone annd that loggers are now supposed to get permits to cut down trees but we were not sure how well that process is regulated.
Back in the farmland. Our guide Samuel is holding up the cocao yam.
In Bokwaonga, happy to have completed the amazing journey to the summit through many landscapes and happy to be finished!
The group... reunited!
One of the guides chose to carry the bag on his head... and at the beginning of the hike it weighed 15 kg (33lbs). The black bag belonged to the one of the hikers and the plastic bag belonged to the guide. The striped water jug was full at the beginning of day 1!

Flip Flops!!!
Plastic Sandals on sharp and rough lava!!
There is a race every year from Buea to the summit of Mt. Cameroon and back to Buea (the Guinness route, the route we took up the mountain) and the fastest runners do it in 4.5 hours in plastic sandals! They are amazing!