Friday, April 5, 2013

Sarah and Leanne tour the North West with RUDEC

 Sarah and Leanne tour the North West with RUDEC
I had always wanted to see the mountainous beauty of North West Cameroon. I had heard stories of endless savannah stretched across rolling hills and soaring peaks, of mythically-loaded waterfalls and volcanic crater lakes hidden amidst dense forest. I’d heard travellers’ tales of Fon palaces and small villages that could be hiked to and explored by foot or by motocylcle. So, when my friend Sarah decided to come visited me in Cameroon, I knew exactly the region we should go travelling in!



 And I wasn’t disappointed. We spent three days in Belo, a small town about 15 minutes from Bamenda and used it as a base to explore and weave our own stories of a magically beautiful place. Thankfully, we had heard about RUDEC from a friend who had travelled with them over Christmas and had been in touch with Joshua who turned out to be a real gem of a guide.
What I discovered during our brief stay was that everything I’d heard about the region was not an exaggeration!
Day 1: Ndawara Tea Estate
When we arrived in Belo, we were warmly welcomed by Joshua who lead us to the cosy volunteer house where we ate breakfast, chatted and got to know each other. After resting a bit we, we headed off on our first excursion: a trip to a tea estate on a neighbouring mountain peak. Not wanting to hike all the way up the mountain, we took motorbike taxis up the rocky road through magnificent scenery: bright green hills with dramatically dropping cliffs and misty, blue mountains in the distance.
Being the tea-lovers that we are, Sarah and I both found the (free!!) tour of the tea estate fascinating. Dismounting the bikes, we were hit by the sweet smell of tea all around us – a smell we have been used to encounter only in our tea-cups! Joshua took us first to meet the manager who answered some of our questions, showed us some pictures and passed us on to our guide for the morning. We were then shown how the tea was dried, shredded, oxidised and packaged, and when we left we were given free boxes of tea to take home.

                
We hiked from the tea estate back down to Belo – a hike of about 4 hours through the same magical scenery we had witnessed on the way up. Fortunately, we missed the rains that day (thankfully, it was still only the beginning of the rainy season), but that evening they poured down and we had the joy of listening to it from the cosy abode of our beds, with hot cups of fresh tea!
Day 2: Mount Oku Crater Lake
The bike ride to the lake took us over soaring peaks, down into lush valleys and through tiny mud-hutted villages, past farmers in their fields and tumbling waterfalls, over peaceful rivers and across grassy plateaus. In all honestly, I have never been on a more beautiful bike ride in all my travels. I barely noticed that it lasted for two whole hours (one way) and that the pathway was often bumpy and muddy; I only had eyes for the landscape.




We reached Lake Oku in the late morning, where we bumped into the brother of a friend who also happened to be travelling in the area. The peaceful blue-green waters of the lake, surrounded by forest, made for a restful picnic spot and the three of us ate, dipping our toes in the cool waters, while Joshua narrated the stories and myths of the sacred lake and its spirits. He then took us up to a viewpoint from which we could see the lake stretched out amongst the forest below. Up there in the cool breeze, with that view before me, I was pretty sure I would never see anything as beautiful in the rest of my travels.
Day 3: Mbingo Waterfall Hike
Both Sarah and I had thought that nothing could beat the scenic ride to Lake Oku. We were wrong: the following day we encountered scenes that surpassed everything we had witnessed before. Joshua took us and Sean on a 6 hour circular hike to a nearby waterfall. Part of the journey included a stretch of hiking along a mountain ridge which overlooked Belo and its surrounding villages on one side, and wild grasslands with Fulani cattle herders and wondering horses on the other.
   
At the waterfall, we picnicked and swam in the cool waters. Climbing over rocks, we made our way to the foot of the waterfall where a sweet pool welcomed us. After about an hour of swimming and resting, we started the hike back to Belo.
Thanks to RUDEC
All in all, our stay in Belo was made as wonderful as it was because of the efforts of Joshua and RUDEC. Throughout, Joshua was a reliable, knowledgeable and safety-conscious guide who made all our excursions flow as easily as the rivers. By ourselves, we would not have been able to negotiate all the transport, find the right paths or learn about the area as we did. "See our tourism  page at www.camast.com by Joshua"
We also found the volunteer house warm and welcoming. For only 2000 CFA per person per night, it provided a homely sanctuary for our time in Belo and also the opportunity to meet other volunteers working in the area and listen to their stories and knowledge. What’s more, we were also offered help in the form of a cook and someone to wash our big load of dirty travellers’ laundry, for which we were only asked to give a donation. 
Yet perhaps the best part of travelling with RUDEC is knowing that our guide and accommodation money is all going to a good cause. During our time in Belo, we learnt a lot about RUDEC and the work it does, met the people behind it and saw its impacts; I’m happy that I was able to support an organisation that I respect while having a quality vacation at the same time.
Thank you, Joshua! And thank you, RUDEC! We look forward to coming back for more.

By Leanne (SA) and Sarah (UK)

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