Secret monkey business in Cameroon

Our intrepid Wander Woman discovers that the best place to see primates in Cameroon is Limbe. At closing time

5 mins


I woke up in the nicest hotel in Limbe, Cameroon, startled by the sound of thunder.

Right, so it was rainy season in Cameroon.

That's not all bad, of course. I'd circumvented the tricky muddy roads over the deep green Cameroonian mountains by taking the ferry from Nigeria to Limbe, and I didn't have anything pressing to do today. So I slept in until 8:30, ate a huge breakfast, and washed my laundry in the hotel sink.

And listened to Lady Gaga. Did they only have one CD in the lounge? No, wait... two. Serge Gainsbourg and Lady Gaga on a loop. Not at the same time.

Eventually, the rain stopped. And in time, it occurred to me that I really should leave the hotel at some point, at least to find out how to get from Limbe to Yaounde in the morning.

I went to the front of the hotel and hailed a shared taxi into town, where other passengers and the driver carefully deposited me into another shared taxi, with instructions to go to Mile 4.

"Mile 4?" I asked them. "Isn't this a metric country?"

The driver laughed. The passengers shrugged. They were too used to it, to have given the locations being measured in miles much thought.

At Mile 4, the taxi driver pointed me to some shacks behind a muddy parking area. The touts approached me.

"Where to?"

"I want to go to Yaounde tomorrow."

They pointed behind the shacks, to an open area full of more ramshackle wooden buildings.

I stepped around the mud puddles, found a ticket booth with an attendant, and sorted out that the bus leaves at 8:30, takes three hours, and costs 4,000 CFA. And no, I didn't need to buy in advance.

"Just show up."

I caught the shared taxi back to town (to "Half-Mile," of course). This time, the driver left me with a motorcycle taxi, and instructed him to take me to the zoo.

The zoo isn't really a zoo. It's a gorilla and monkey reserve featuring rescued primates, the Limbe Wildlife Centre. I'd arrived late – only an hour to closing time.

But what I soon discovered is that by arriving late, I'd arrived at dinnertime.

Workers pitched fruit into the enclosures, and the monkeys all went bananas. There were drill monkeys, chimps, mandrills, and even a few grand old mountain gorillas. I stared at the Silverback. After all the trouble I'd gone to in Uganda in 2001 to see his relatives, how dare he laze about here so casually and cheaply? But what a prize. I felt like I'd just been let in on a secret. Secret mountain gorillas, just hanging out in Limbe. This one had been found half-dead as a baby in the back of a bush taxi. What kind of person steals a mountain gorilla from the wild? Not a nice one.

The monkeys eating mango were starting to get to me. I wanted a mango too. And wild mango fruit hung from trees all around the reserve.

Fortunately, when I reached the end of the path, there was a little cafe. Fresh mango juice! One of my favorite things.

Mmmmm. I liked Limbe. But I had to hurry to get to Yaounde in the morning to apply for onward visas. My plan was to apply for one visa a day, beginning Monday morning, with no messing around. Yaounde hotels aren't cheap, and I had to get out of the city as soon as possible.

Cameroon was the place for visas for the Congos and Gabon. Angola... I had no idea how to get that one. Travel-lore said I was supposed to get it in Abuja, but that embassy only gave out five-day transit visas, and anyway, Abuja had just stopped issuing even these. And racing across a huge country chasing a five-day deadline is tough enough with your own wheels. But on the bus...?

Yaounde wasn't going to help me with my Angola problem. But I did have to get there for the other three visas I needed. "Hurry up," I thought as I sat at the Mile 4 Motor Park in Cameroon, waiting at 9:00 for my 8:30 bus to leave.

"We're late today," said the ticket agent sheepishly. "No passengers are here. Not many people are going from Limbe to Younde today."

But lots of cargo was. The bus staff carefully puzzled together the cargo under the bus, somehow making it all fit. We did leave eventually, and the bus filled up en route.

The rain started again as we drove past little girls decked out in frilly dresses and it occurred to me that today was Sunday. No… Easter Sunday.

As in Monday was a holiday.

As in a holiday when embassies would be closed.

I swore silently at my oversight as I drifted off to sleep.

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