Monday, April 11, 2005

Cameroonian Road Rules

Bertoua is not far from Yaounde. Only about 210 miles. That’s about the distance from our old home in Dallas to Austin, a trip we made often to visit family. Down I-35, that trip usually took about three hours or so.

But the trip from Yaounde to Bertoua takes about twice as long – at least six hours. That’s because half the journey must be made on red dirt road. Now don’t be fooled – all dirt roads are not the same. There are a variety of kinds of roads, especially in Cameroon.

For example, the first stretch of road once you leave pavement outside Ayos is what I call “washboard road.” There are shallow parallel ruts that stretch across the road surface, making the car sound as if you are literally driving over a washboard. You don’t want to be sitting in the back seat …

Then there’s the “speedbump road.” This refers to the kind of road that has hidden bumps and holes. You have to keep the speed down because you never know when a small hill will suddenly appear, causing the car to leave the ground and sail a few feet.

Much of the East province is rain forest area, and thus, there are a good number of logging companies at work. The roads are heavily traveled by huge logging trucks, which carry as many as four or five huge trees. But these trucks create the dreaded “truck-rut roads.” When the roads are dry, the best strategy is to try to drive in the tracks of the trucks. But if it’s the rainy season, watch out … We had a good rain the night before we returned to Yaounde, and so ran across several stretches of “river-rut road” that were covered in pools of red water. Several times we crossed bodies of standing water with a quick prayer!

Finally, there’s the “loose dirt road.” These stretches are particularly dangerous; cars tends to slip and slide, as if the road was covered by ice. Throw in a little mud and the situation can be especially precarious. I was riding with Pastor Billong once on a moist “loose dirt road” as we approached a narrow, guard rail-less bridge. He slowed down to a crawl, but we still slid onto the bridge, listing dangerously to the right.

That’s why I am especially enjoying my day off – I don’t have to be in a car, driving anywhere, for any reason! Today, I give thanks for my comfortable rolling desk chair!