an island in the storm

Our final push on to Cameroon’s Extrème Nord began amidst a flood of humanity.  Yaoundé’s central train station vibrated with shouting porters, cursing passengers jostling for space, wailing babies, and the shrieks of over-amplified speakers officially pronouncing that CAMRAIL was not responsible for “lost” baggage.

Train Couchette

Our 1st Class Couchette

No kidding.

Within this maelstrom of activity, five VSO volunteers and a VSO staff encircled an island of baggage that had been stacked by

our contented porter from whose brow (and everything else) emerged a torrent of perspiration.  A quintet of blancs and nine massive bags was quite the motherload.   The competition between porters for our business had seen fierce squabbles, cajoling and professions of undying friendship.  One went so far as to call his “boss” who asserted he had a firm contract to carry the bags of all voluntaires who transited through Yaoundé’s gare central.

Nice try!

Once inside, we watched as the station rapidly filled with fellow travelers huddled around their own islands of baggage.  Perhaps inevitably, the press of bodies reached a saturation point and the station’s main gates closed.

Those remaining outside let out an ululating wail.  Periodically – after those inside had settled, freeing up small pockets of space – the police cracked open the bars to admit a few more lucky souls.  With each opening of the breach, the crowd outside surged forward and pancaked the front of the “line” against the bars.  Unbelievably, no one was hurt in this quasi-stampede.

Clinging to each other for a couple of hours, shrieking speakers suddenly announced something – perhaps “ALL ABOARD!!” ?? – the gates opened and the entire river surged forward.

We stayed put.

Latched on to our island, we waited for the torrent to pass.  Our couchettes were reserved.  Our porter guided us – and our bags – past remaining obstacles and through checkpoints, avoiding both crowds and officials tasked with either weighing bags or extracting a cadeau.


Misty Morning Train

Darkness descended as we settled into our basic, but comfortable, 4-person couchette.  Dinner was served, consumed anddigested happily.  We then began a running battle with an army of cockroaches, adding to the pounding staccato of flip-flops striking the walls and floors in other compartments.  After a few hours the offensive and defensive scurrying subsided – perhaps due to exhaustion on both sides.

Morning arrived and lush forests and humble villages paraded by. At the train’s many many many stops, children and women sold all manner of fruits, snacks and even bottles of locally collected honey.  A surprisingly pleasant 15 hours and 800 kilometers later, we arrived at the end of the line at Ngaouderé where we relinquished our compartment back to the tattered remnants of the insect army.


Fast Food for the Train Ride

Porters once again took charge of our bags, navigated a course through another foaming and frothing sea of humanity, and then dropped us off on another island of semi-tranquility.

Huddled around our mountain of baggage, we waited for the next leg of our journey – aboard the Touristique gros bus – to begin.

Maroua was still nine hours away.

~ by Greg Spira on November 11, 2009.

2 Responses to “an island in the storm”

  1. wow!

  2. Nice article

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