Limbe, Cameroon — From what little of Cameroon I have seen in less than 24 hours, Douala is to be flown into and exited shortly there after. Limbe, on the other hand, eases up naturally on the senses. Nothing about the equatorial hot, humid confusion of Douala is inviting, nor the industrial confusion of the Bonabéri, the suburb lining the western side of the port. But 30 odd kilometers later, the minute you veer left at the split in the rural town of Mutengene (a town you apparently pass through and never stop — based on the diversity of thieves and their ways — trust me Ivo (Ivo Ngome, my driver and shadow for the next 30 days) gave me a running monologue about the dangers of this place including how the local thieves can hypnotize you and steal you blind, “even the police here are frightened, very frightened”) the thin tarmac road begins a gentle roller-coaster ride through green hills rowed in palm oil or banana. Between plantations tattered islands of remnant rainforest crest small hills and ravines, hints of what once was. Much of it is second growth forest, still, it reminds me there was once a lush rainforest sweeping over this landscape. Ivo, who grew up here, says it was always this way, always oil palms and rubber and bananas, “even from British times.” He is in his mid thirties, before him there was a different time.
As an aside, Easter Sunday morning in a land under the sway of Catholic mythology is perhaps the best time to travel the normally crowded and chaotic road from Douala west to Limbe. Everyone was in church and most of the thousands of motorcycle taxis were in want of fares, while all the lorries were at rest in front of shanty bars, sleeping off last night. The only real life was under the eve of the boulangeries where non-believers gathered with loaves and baguettes tucked under their arms out of the rain.
A clap of low thunder just after 3am that woke me and turned the torrential spigot off, leaving Douala under a tropical drizzle, has continued west and south to the Limbe coast. Entering Limbe I immediately like the place, maybe it’s the green, maybe it’s the warmth of the smiles that greet Ivo as we drive through town, maybe that is the answer to why Limbe Wildlife Center is really here, if you are going to have to deal with the sadness of baby chimps and gorillas orphaned from the bushmeat trade better live in a place that can hoist your spirits once in a while.
We turn into a rocky dirt drive between the unkempt botanical gardens, Ivo complains the French (meaning French speaking Cameroonian politicians) “have forgotten this place” and now look at it, he jesters with a glance of exasperation, (more on that relationship later) and a distant banner which Ivo tells me is the entrance to Limbe Wildlife Center. The road leads 300 meters to the coast and a scattered collection of round cinder block huts in a natural amphitheater — Park Hotel Miarmare — home for the next week while I work with LWC. Waves crash a surf wall in front of the Miramare, a passing rain still drips from everything, the power is out (temporarily?), a lazy smile greets us, in English, this is the British corner of Cameroon.
It hasn’t taken long to discover the center of the Cameroonian wildlife Universe is Limbe. Not necessarily the natural epicenter, but history has chosen it—why exactly is still a mystery, I suspect the British had something to do with it, but over the next few weeks I hope to find out why.
2015-2016 Global research and reporting on great apes made possible in part through the generous financial support of the Philadelphia Zoo