A couple of years ago my great friend, Ol’ Sir Phull (as the African staff during our Namibia safari addressed him), booked a self-guided walking hunting safari in Cameroon.
It sounded like a great, although a bit spooky, adventure and, as usual, I was green with envy when folks go off on exciting trips and I am back home trying to decide whether to lie on my left side or my right side on the sofa while watching endless hours of television.
Unfortunately for Phill, his wife became ill so he had to postpone his hunt. His partner went anyway and, the day before the hunt began, he snapped his Achilles tendon at the hotel in Yaoundé. I’ve been in that hotel since, and one could easily break their fool necks on the stairs – never mind some nasty tendon. This guy must be tougher than leather as he went hunting anyway, and ended up shooting both a buffalo and a roan. Both were illegal females but still, it was an amazing feat. I suspect that he dropped some money as a bribe and eventually left the bush a bit early to see a doctor. (Normal penalty for shooting a female is a double trophy fee – US$1,800 for the male buffalo and US$1,600 for the male roan.
The hunters’ hotel in Yaoundé , Cameroon cost them the grand total of US$55 a night , and there were good reasons for the bargain price.
A bit later I invited myself to go along with Phill when the proper time came. His wife got better; Phill went back to work up in the Northern Territories for another year to scoop up a bit of extra cash to pay for the Lord Derby eland that he needed to soothe his savage soul; and by-and-by we rendez-voused in Calgary to begin the long, tedious journey to remote northern Cameroon.
By that time, I’d read the 25 pages of warnings that outfitter Cam Greig had e-mailed me, and I had a serious case of the Dreads. I envied the lucky dudes that were going hunting in Afghanistan, but it was way too late to back down. I just had to remember what folks have been telling me for years when I start to whine about my upcoming misfortunes… “Suck it up, Princess!”
On the 7,474-mile trip (by GPS) there were a few things that happened that added to my accumulation of mental scars that I collect as a hobby.
Ol’ Phill hates omelettes, and yet that’s what he got each morning for breakfast, no matter what he ordered.
Calgary was enshrouded in fog that February, 2010 morning when I sauntered onto the jet that was to take us to Montreal. By then, the Air Canada folks had gouged Phill and me another $50 for bothering them with a gun each.
They de-iced the jet and we were on our way after a bit of a delay. Everyone was running late but we had ample time to make the connections, so it really didn’t matter all that much to us. As we were about to walk off the plane, I thanked the stewardess for the nice flight. Phill turned to me and told me not to bother – “You’re old, fat and ugly.” “My goodness,” I whimpered, “Now I have to spend 12 days in the bush with you.”
A great view from a hotel that must have been great – 50 years ago.
At Zurich we found, to our great joy, that we’d been bumped up to Business Class for our flight to Yaoundé. I sat down on one of those fine, fine seats, and the stewardess offered me my choice of Champagne or freshly squeezed orange juice. She seemed pleased when I informed her that she was my new best friend. The roast beef was superb. The mousse was just plain worth it! And with the extra leg room it made the trip to Africa so much easier than I can remember it ever being. Ahhhh, but it’s good to be a Class Act.
We landed near midnight. The Swiss Air pilot was a bit hard to understand. He mentioned Douala and I watched the plane on the television screen come to Douala and then go another 89 miles. Phill and I got up and grabbed our carry-ons. Just before we disembarked I started to chat with a Danish dude who was also getting off. He mentioned that he was going to a ship just off the coast. I asked the fellow how he was going to get to Douala? He informed me that we were in Douala! Aieeeeeee ! We’d damn near had gotten off in the wrong city late at night with no luggage. It would have been beyond grim and potentially catastrophic. Luckily, I have this habit of chatting up folks.
This expensive “brand-new” tire went flat during the three-hour drive to the village…
We sat back down and a 30-minute flight later we were finally in Yaoundé.
Our hunt organizer, Daniel, met us at the airport and got us through the gun people. Both sets, and a bribe or two. One of the workers admired my laminated stocked Ruger and wanted to buy it. As he caressed the gray stock I had to tell the fellow that the rifle was left-handed. He was shocked and gave up on the idea. Somehow I doubt if he could have afforded it. I know that I can’t and will eventually sell it to some lucky well-heeled left-hander.
We caught a taxi to the Xavier hotel which, about 50 years or so ago, must have been more than a grand hotel. It had not seen any upkeep since I was in grade school, but for $55 a night it was O.K. Sure, it was hot and sticky and noisy in the room that night, and the mozzies had their way with me. But then what says “African-big-city” more than chickens crowing and dogs barking?
Michel, the game scout, had two wives, a French army rifle from the 1930s, and at least one rifle shell that did not fire off, although the primer was dented.
Phill and I had breakfast the next morning. I ordered an omelette and Phill asked for two eggs over easy. We both got omelettes, and with his coffee and no hot chocolate for me – we did O.K. Phill told me that he didn’t find it all that hot. I told the chap that it was only 8.00 a.m.
Daniel was 45 minutes late, but it really didn’t matter. There would be no train to our jumping-off point until 6.00 p.m. He also ventured the information that there were plenty of buffalo. Now, that was good news.
We spent most of the afternoon in Daniel’s little apartment watching soccer in French or Spanish or some such silly language. From there, the taxi took us through some horridly congested traffic to the train depot where we hung around for a few hours. It was most interesting watching the folks wandering by selling merchandise. It seemed like they sold about anything and were not at all rude if one said that he was not the least bit interested in their frickin’ junk. Actually I never actually said or thought that, but occasionally I like to pretend that I am hard to please or to get along with instead of my well-earned reputation of being endearing Human Velcro.
To reach the Chasse Libre hunting area, the hunters first embarked on a 15 ½-hour train ride from Yaoundé.
They even brought us a bottle of Guinness each. So kind yet misguided. We each gave ½ of our bottle to some dudes playing some kind of gambling dice game close by. That is nasty stuff that Guinness. Gives froth a bad name.
The shoe salesmen were rather cute being that they all carried a shoe set on top of their heads to advertise as they walked along. We made sure that we got pictures of this entrepreneurial spirit. I asked if I could take a picture of a cute little girl and the momma declined. Being that we were rare white guys, she might have been spooked by my fair complexion, watery blue eyes and beery breath.
We got on the train about an hour early; the $50 15-hour sleeper train ride was very interesting. I had never been on a train before, as I spend most of my spare time on my sofa back home, so it was all good . Except maybe it was a bit noisy, a bit rough, and the lady who served us chicken and chips that night never smiled at me. As usual, while trying to win new friends I had my mouth and the rest of my face set in a huge smile and my bleary blue eyes never left her as she took our order and eventually delivered it.
The on-the-ground organizer, Daniel, took to his laptop during the long train ride.
The train arrived at our destination around 9.00 a.m. the next morning. I hadn’t slept all that well, but it was good enough. Our gear was carried to the green Toyota Hilux that Mr. Cam’s driver, Pascal, had waiting for us.
For Chapter II of Richard Powell’s 2010 Cameroon adventure, please go to African Hunting Gazette magazine, Vol. 17, Issue 4.