10 April 2009

dispatches from the volcano

Limbe, Cameroon - I'm down to about 48 hours left in Cameroon, and it feels like I've been here forever. I realized with some surprise that if I put the countries I have visited in order of the time I have spent in each one, Cameroon would come in 4th place, behind the US, the Philippines and the UK. We're wrapping up in the humid beach town of Limbe, stuffing our faces with delicious grilled fish, fried plantains, and ice cream after three challenging days of hiking on Mt. Cameroon.

By now I am used to the fact that the culture of backpacking is different in developing countries than in the US, so it came as no surprise that we had to hire a guide and porters to carry our stuff on Mt. Cameroon and that Leave No Trace would be a foreign concept. So while it was still a little difficult to be shorn of my independence and to see trash lying all over the campsites, I was more or less able to tune that part out and just enjoy the mountain.

At over 13,000 feet, Mt. Cameroon provided me with a new personal record for altitude. Happily, I had no altitude-related complaints apart from the expected shortness of breath-- though I'm sure that if I were administered a math test at the summit I would have done poorly. For me, Mt. Cameroon's most appealing feature is its spectacular variety of landscapes: its base is wrapped in rainforest mixed with the occasional cultivated plots, which gradually gives way to grassland dotted with scrubby trees. The mountain's upper ramparts are scarred with craters and lava flows from its many eruptions (most recently in 1999 and 2000), though fortunately the summit is easily accessible.

We made the trek with a couple of Kate's Peace Corps friends, in addition to our required complement of guide and porters. Apart from a few wipeouts and an attack of biting ants at our second campsite, everyone emerged from the trip unscathed and probably a few pounds lighter. I will have buckets of pictures to post once I get back. But for now, my turn at the internet cafe is running out and the grilled fish are waiting...

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