Bus to Yaoundé

Twelve hours in transit. Shorter, I suppose, than it might have been, but not at all the day we'd planned. Kara and I began our journey to the north with a bus ride to the south hoping to catch the train for N'Gaoundéré at 18:00. Turns out at Guarantee/Garanti bus lines, there's no guarantee of being on time.

Our plan was for all this to occur in one day. Emmanuel, who tried unsuccessfully to book tickets for us a day early, reported the bus should leave at 8:00. Accordingly, we arrived at 7:30. Our tickets (printed out by a real computer on professional-looking ticket paper) read departure 9:00 am.

Cheered by the sight of a big coach to travel on, rather than the smaller Coaster buses, we were less happy to see the bus leave the park shortly after 8, but supposed that filling up gas before leaving was a good portent. Unfortunately the bus didn't return to the park until 9:30...but it was washed. Given we're now half an hour behind schedule, one would think loading would begin, but first they changed the tire. Waiting, waiting. Multi-tasking has just not caught on. Loading, when it finally began, involved one or two people working while a throng stood around yelling contradictory instructions.

Around 10 am, another passenger who'd just bought her ticket speculated they'd probably begin loading soon since all places were nearly sold now. Leave on time if the vehicle isn't full?--what a waste! We boarded around 10:30 and even began to pull out of the park, but something detained us, so it was 11:00 am before the bus actually hit the road.

The time we spent waiting allowed us the opportunity to purchase drugs from the vendors running around selling miscellaneous medications out of suitcases or baskets atop their heads. If that wasn't enough, a number of them boarded the bus and extolled the many benefits of their wonder drugs as we travelled. "It's like an infomercial," Kara quipped, "only you can't change the channel or turn it off." In lieu of those options I tried to fall asleep but with limited success. It seemed to go on for close to an hour.

Until the journey neared its end, things went smoothly. There were the usual myriad stops at péages and gendarme checkpoints, and the sun bore down with great heat even through the frosted windows, but rumours of strikes in response to the constitutional amendment proved false, though there was a heavier than usual military presence on the road, including soldiers in the bus itself.

At last, Yaoundé--much later than the anticipated 6-hour journey. Arriving in the city limits as darkness began to fall, the bus meandered for what felt like an hour as the darkness grew thicker (and I grew tenser!). We halted at a bus park who-knows-where-in-Yaoundé in the complete darkness of 7:30. This was NOT what we'd planned. Yaoundé is dangerous after dark, as our taxi driver was eager to remind us.

As soon as we'd disembarked, we grabbed our bags and snagged the first available taxi. To get across town to the missionary family--with whom, in the lengthening hours of our journey, we'd arranged to spend the night (thank goodness for cell phones)--the taxi driver quoted a price almost equal to that we paid to take the bus from Bamenda, and wouldn't budge when I tried to bargain. Grudgingly, we agreed and climbed in.

The taxi driver said he was a gendarme. As our conversation was all in French, I'm not clear on the details, like whether he works undercover as a taxi driver or moonlights to make extra cash. (I suspect the former because in a corrupt country like Cameroon, there would be no need for police to take an extra job to get more cash--they can just take more bribes!) He expressed great concern for us having arrived after dark and warned us repeatedly about "voleurs" (thieves): at night, near the train station, in the unfamiliar city in general. Be careful of the voleurs!

More than 12 hours after we'd left the Baptist compound in Bamenda, we arrived, tired but grateful, at Colemans' for the night. Not according to plan--an appropriate beginning for our northern adventure.


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