the road not taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

When Robert Frost wrote “The Road Not Taken”, he wasn’t pondering pavement in Central Africa.  He didn’t choose between an 18-hour train-ride and a 2-day long bone-rattling bounce to Yaoundé.

I did.

Most sane travelers head to Yaoundé via the road oft traveled – the well-trodden and semi-comfortable train journey south from Ngaoundéré.   Needing to head back to the capital city for meetings, I could have done the same. But since when have I been sane?

Despite many wide eyes and shaking heads, my musings led me to wonder what the road not normally taken was like.  On the train one slumbers through much of the country’s ever-changing ecosystems, speeds past varied villages and misses countless roadside fruit vendors.

I wondered what was “out there”.

I didn’t think I would get my chance to drive the “long way down” but it came.  VSO was transferring a vehicle back to Yaoundé and Yussuf – the most able driver in the country – said he wouldn’t mind company.  So into the rugged Mitsubishi 4×4 I climbed.

After 6 easy hours on broken pavement, cloying dust soon painted our white vehicle a sanguine red.   Small potholes appeared in the road … then bigger ones.  Soon the potholes hid entire tanker trucks loaded with gasoline heading North.

No exaggeration.

Holes filled to the brim with shifting, semi-liquid pools of dust made us thwump down into unseen chasms. Our bags and clouds of dust soared, dancing midair in a simulated zero-gravity waltz.  Our tightly-fastened seat-belt kept us anchored to the earth.

The dust and mountains of dirt proved too much for lesser vehicles.  Surprisingly, between the craters, I sometimes spied chunks of rotten pavement.  I asked Yussuf about this.

“The road was once paved” he said … “in the 1930’s by the Germans”.

“Was German engineer drunk when he built it?” I asked.

“No, no” laughed Yussuf.  “It’s his Cameroon successors who’ve been drunk ever since!”

In the end, the worst 150 km stretch took us 6 hours to travel.  We passed countless UN vehicles and several trucks with large shrouded boxes probably laden with arms – both headed for Chad.  Eventually we emerged 100 metres from the spicy-sounding border town of Garram-Boulai –  the crossing point into the sometimes stable Central African Republic.

Back on incredibly smooth pavement, we were stopped by the gendarmes and told we needed to take an escort in our car from the BIR – Cameroon’s special forces – to protect us from “bandits” on the road.  I’m pretty sure our unarmed escort simply needed a ride back to the barracks.

1400 kilometres and 24 hours of driving later, we made it to Yaoundé where I immediately drenched myself in a scalding hot shower.  Cameroon’s red earth clung to my clothes, my teeth, my hair. Drying myself, I found dust still lodged deep in my ears.

A souvenir from a journey on the road not taken.

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~ by Greg Spira on January 25, 2010.

4 Responses to “the road not taken”

  1. Will you ever do it again? Great descriptions and photos!

    • I’d do it again! But don’t know if we’ll get the chance! Not every day that a vehicle makes the trip. You can take a bus if you really want to, but the buses that ply the route are rural buses that have wooden seats. Broken tailbone for sure!

  2. Nice article, thanks Greg. I just lived another beautiful cameroonian advanture without even leaving the confort of my office chair!

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