It had been firmly on our list of things we wanted to do in Cameroon, but we had not anticipated doing it with a new-found local friend: the Ring Road in the Grassfields region in North-West Cameroon. While we were on our way back from Foumban to Bafoussam, our smart friend realized that there would be elections the next day, and it turned out that transportation would be suspended as a consequence. Instead of a relaxing evening, we therefore decided to get our things, and to take yet another motorbike ride to the agence taking care of transportation to Bamenda, the gateway to the Ring Road. We first had a wok-like dinner at one of the many stalls nearby, and then, a long wait followed. It was dark now, and there were some particularly shady characters hanging around the area. It took quite a while before the minivan finally filled up, and we were on our way to Bamenda. The drive itself was not even too bad, and we found a place to sleep before midnight. The next morning, we woke up to a sunny day, and directly took a taxi to the agence for Wum. This was the start of the Ring Road, and even our friend was excited, as it was his first time, too. The streets were quiet, and indeed, at the station, there were not too many passengers. We were able to have breakfast before the goods on top of the Vatican van had been secured, and we left, on the way to new adventures. The passengers turned out to be a happy bunch of Cameroonians, and the ride was a nice one, even though we were crammed in like is the norm in these parts of the world. The driver was even kind enough to make a short stop at the Metchum Falls, impressive falls, where water forces its way through a narrow rocky gorge. It had started to rain now, and it was still not dry when we arrived in Wum. We found ourselves a place for the night, in a room with comical plumbing problems, and when the rains had cleared, we arranged for bikes to take us to nearby Lake Wum.
They dropped us off at the far corner of the lake, where boys were in the water, trying to catch fish. We walked around the lake, over the ridge of the caldera - after all, this was a volcanic lake - with fantastic views over green, rolling hilly landscapes in all directions and the mysteriously calm waters of the lake itself. We had seen a herd of cows with long horns, and got a little nervous once we got closer, as they appeared to be curious about our presence. Their cowherd even seemed to make them chase us for a second, but they ended up walking a different direction. From here, we had good views over the rim of the crater lake towards Wum, and could hear people chatter in a distance. It was the end of a Sunday afternoon, and smoke was filling the valley in which Wum lies: people were starting to prepare dinner. When we reached the outskirts of Wum, we tried some palmwine in a friendly setting, before heading back to our rickety hotel. That same evening, we arranged two motorbikes to take us to Nkambe the next day, as there appeared to be no regular transportation. We fell asleep with the prospect of more adventures the next day. Our motorbike drivers were waiting for us, and we were on our way after some final checks were done, and our bags were secured to the bikes. The drivers were going quite fast, and I had to get used to the idea that we were speeding on unsurfaced, red roads. But as soon as I forgot the fact that we had no protection whatsoever, and gave in to the situation, I felt an immense feeling of freedom - despite a police checkpoint and a flat tyre. The weather was great, and we could enjoy the landscapes much more than the day before, while the wind was blowing through our hair. We went over several mountain passes, sped through remote villages, and never stopped wondering at the great landscapes of hills, valleys, and rivers opening up before our eyes.
We took a turnoff to Lake Nyos, a place of beauty and tragedy at the same time. In 1986, an explosion in the lake caused around 1700 people to die; according to some, it was a natural disaster because of the gases in the lake caused an eruption, but others, notably locals, believe that Westerners, ie. the French, had caused the disaster. Nyos Lake is now permanently observed by scientists, and three outlets have been created inside the lake, to let the gases escape gradually and preventing a build-up. The brownish colour of the lake, and the steep cliffs on one side, certainly made it look awesome. We continued on our way east, and it seemed the landscapes were getting even more beautiful. We crossed rivers, passed rocky mountains, empty roads, had a pineapple in a village with a wild west feel, and ended up driving over a mountain pass covered by heavy clouds before we finally reached Nkambe. We had a stroll through the lively village, walked over the big market, and back on the main street. Fog had arrived, and it was even chilly at nearly 2,000 metres altitude. We came back to town in the dark. After a night in a particularly small room, the sun was out again, and we found a small Japanese car to take us to Kumbo. We had seen full cars before, but now were in for a particularly crammed ride: we were four passengers on the back seat, and four in front - a young guy was sharing the drivers seat! We passed tea plantations, but otherwise, were happy we could open the doors and stretch our legs. We wanted to visit a cavern with human bones, but it turned out to be difficult to find someone who knew what we were talking about - and then, we found ourselves on the back of motorbikes again - so much more comfortable than the packed car we had just taken. A hike through a forest and a lush valley took us to a small waterfall, where we had to cross the stream, climbing over boulders, to reach a steep trail that landed us in the cave. But alas - missionaries did not agree on the practice of keeping human bones here, so they had been removed; all that we could do, was walk through the low cave, and return the same way. I had been stupid enough to put my sunglasses on my shirt, and when I realized I had lost them, I knew that it would take a miracle to find them. Alas - even with the help of our local guide, we were not able to locate them. The day was drawing to a close, and we still wanted to reach Bafoussam; we found a driver who was willing to take us to Bamenda for the price of two motorbikes. The views of Lake Bamendjing were not as great as we had hoped, and we reached Bamenda just before nightfall. We had completed the Ring Road, and it had been a great adventure indeed!
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Grassfields Ring Road (Cameroon). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Grassfields Ring Road.
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