Mount Cameroon, at over 4000 meters, could be seen from many miles away as we approached the anchorage port of Limbe. It was a beautifully warm and clear morning, but within a short time after the sun had popped over the horizon, the cloud built and gradually hid the summit.
In our well-practised style, the first tender went over to pick up the officials and promptly caught its port propeller on an underwater obstruction. Once back, the boat was taken out of the water and a mangled tyre was found to be wrapped around the prop.
Over the next hour several more were caught and the sailors had to dredge the tender quay with a grappling hook to remove yet more, which we later found out had been laid by the local fishermen so that their own wooden boats would sit on the tyres at low water and not on the stony sea bed.
We went on the tour that took in, amongst other West African delights, a tea plantation. Although the drive was quite long and the local guide hadn’t the use of a microphone, he still managed to give us the benefit of his knowledge in a lovely accent without ending up with a sore throat.
We passed by the fascinating day-to-day life of various local communities and the busy city of Buea. There were numerous shops, markets and craftsmen practising their trades. Imaginative signs and billboards in an obscure colourful pigeon English dialect offering everything from advanced US recognised qualifications in computer studies to ‘Furniture crafted for the modern home’. And alongside the road, with traffic racing by, were handcrafted sofas, double beds and even coffins with white silk interior linings, open for inspection.
The old tea plantation factory was a picture of old machinery, made in Calcutta or Yorkshire many, many years ago, still managing to be kept going by the use of locally hand crafted spare parts and a certain amount of ‘bodgery’. Unfortunately the factory was in the middle of some power supply problem so we were unable to witness all this Heath Robinson like mechanical marvel in all its glory.
Even so, the place had a great feel about it, freshly picked leaves drying in long bays, bulging sacks ready to be sent out and a few workers hanging around waiting for the power to come back, but watching us with the kind of look that says, ‘What on earth do these white folk want to come and look at this for?’ In the yard, three guys with big smiles were busy unloading massive logs onto an already huge pile, presumably to be used to provide fire for the leaf drying system.
Outside, the tea bushes, some up to a hundred years old, stretched for miles, and our two coaches bounced and heaved over rough ground to get us as close as possible to where the pickers were working. Hard, hot work in the humid climate, and I asked one man if they stopped picking when it rained. ‘No’ was the smiling reply, in fact they looked forward to the rain and its cooling effects.
They earn only the equivalent of $3 to $4 a day depending on the weight they manage to cut and throw over onto the baskets they carry on their backs.
We left the anchorage shortly after 4:00pm for the fast run that would take us past the island that used to be called Fernando Poo, a name to remember from the late sixties and the Biafran conflict.