Cameroon- Part 5 of 5

Beach fun- Football match- Incredible seafood- Craft market

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12/12/2016- So strange to wake up near the sea. I could hear the waves and smell the salty air. Lovely! Me and Kasia went to meet the boys near the pool and we all did some bird watching. I saw three different species of Kingfisher in the space of half an hour! The giant kingfishers were incredible, they are massive. Had a breakfast of omelettes and bread with jam. It was so exciting! We then headed to the beach. We got a taxi and then walked down a small track and ended up at a lovely beach side complex. It was extremely basic, we ended up drinking most of their beer! The sand on the beach is volcanic and black, so it burnt your feet, but it was quite nice to feel it between my toes. It was so relaxing. We went in the sea and enjoyed jumping in the waves. They were quite big! Tomasz discovered that if you wait for a big wave and then, whilst facing it, jump backwards, it will force you into a backwards summersault. We all spent a while trying to perfect the technique, but mostly just had a lot of salt water up our noses! Me, Kasia, Paweł and Michał had a quick game of football which was really fun. Then the boys stepped it up. They played with some local lads. Our guys won, despite the fact that I’m not the best cheerleader in the world. I just ended up talking to a boy about different parts of Cameroon. After the beach we all got changed and headed to the port. We chose some seafood and had it cooked for us. The langoustines were absolute perfection. They were huge and tasted so fresh. The crab was tasty, but took too much effort to bother with. There were lots of royal terns, black kites and cattle egret flying above. It was beautiful. When dusk hit, we looked up and saw thousands and thousands of bats flying above us. A local man told us they were moving between roosting and feeding grounds. They were flying over for a good half an hour. It was absolutely amazing.

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13/12/2016- Today we went to the port in the morning to get more incredible seafood. We chose more langoustines. I waited with Paweł and watched the women prepare them for us. She took out all the innards and washed them. Then we took them to a lady who cooked them for us. They were so tasty. We stayed at the port for a while and then went back to the hotel to relax by the pool. Me, Kasia, Paweł and Michał had a game of basketball which was fun. Then me, Paweł and Michał played piggy in the middle in the pool. I was usually the pig….In the evening we headed back to the port and enjoyed an evening there. We had even more seafood and even more beers. It was such a lovely day.

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14/12/2016- Up and ready by 11 to get the taxis to Douala. It was so hot and humid and the traffic was so bad. We got stopped at a security check and they took ages to check our passports. They all wear full army uniform, I don’t know how they cope in the heat! We eventually got to Douala and had some lunch. Me, Kasia and Michał then headed into the craft market. It was amazing, so many stalls filled with amazing treats. I got some gifts for everyone back home. I had to barter with the men but they really enjoyed it. They were laughing at me but I think I got quite good deals. After we all got our purchases we headed to the airport and waited for a while until we had to check in. Can’t believe this amazing adventure is over.

A note- Cameroon is one of the most exciting countries I have had the opportunity to visit. It is nice to dive head first into a simple life of living in the mountains. I didn’t have internet, didn’t even have the basics like clean water. But I loved it. Some many things in daily life are so unnecessary, it’s nice to disconnect from them sometimes and just live submerged in nature. Waking up to an alarm of francolin calls will always be magical. Although the trip was very tiring, in a way it woke me up. I know what is really important.

Thanks for being beautiful Cameroon.

Until next year.

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Cameroon- Part 4 of 5

Big Persol- Bird Watching- Packing- Leaving the Mountain-The Bus Journey from Hell

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07/12/2016- Woke up the earliest out of the group today, shortly followed by Paweł so I went to help him set the mist nets. Last day of ringing today which is quite sad. We saw the three lovely Great Blue Turacos which was a nice surprise. Ringing was a little bit slow, we caught lots of wattle eyes, and nearly caught a Jacobin’s cuckoo but unfortunately it was too big for the net and made a quick escape. We saw a Black-winged oriole which was nice, the song is beautiful, really unusual. After ringing me and Kasia went for our penultimate stream wash. For lunch we used the left over Ndola, it was much nicer having left it for one day. Me and Kasia decided to hike to the top of the Big Persol. We set off in the afternoon and found our way to the top quite easily. It was quite nice to have a girly adventure! The view was absolutely beautiful. We sat and ate some biscuits and enjoyed the cool breeze! Cameroon is beautiful. It’s strange looking at the campsite from such a high viewpoint, it looked so small. And you can see just how isolated it is from the world.

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08/12/2016- Went bird watching with Adrian this morning which was really nice. We went to a new part of the forest. It was so steep and the soil underfoot was so loose! For most of the climb down I just slid down on my bum. It was so fun! This forest fragment was so beautiful, the trees were much taller than the other fragments I’d seen so far. We saw a new species, a lovely Green longtail. The closest thing I can compare it to is the long tailed tit we see in Europe. It was so beautiful and had a lovely song. As soon as the sun came up the forest came to life. About 7 white-bellied crested-flycatcher’s started singing and performing some sort of feeding behaviour. They would sit on a perch and push their wings out and then do a quick swooping flight down and around and then back on the perch. It was so nice to watch. Cicadas started buzzing and the forest had woken up. On the way back, near camp, I saw a red-throated wryneck which was brilliant. What a lovely, bird filled day.

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09/12/2016- Woke up and tried to make a cup of tea, but the firewood wasn’t great and it took ages! Eventually the water boiled and I could enjoy a nice warm drink. Packed everything up this morning. It was strange seeing the square of flattened grass where my tent was. My little living space would just be pasture again, ready for the cows next visit. Went for a last wash in the stream. We just got everything ready for tomorrow and stayed around camp. We all stayed in the hut to sleep. It was really exciting, like a big sleepover! Or maybe I just found it exciting…. We all chose our spot on the floor and set out a roll mat and sleeping bag. Last day in the mountains done and dusted.

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10/12/2016- Up and ready in time for the porters arrival. They were taking our huge bags for us. We set off shortly after them. Me and Kasia stuck together and made our way down behind the boys. We both fell flat on our faces, it was so funny. The paths are so slippy from dew. We were singing Christmas songs which got us quite excited for home. We got to the bottom of the mountain and had a wash in the pool from the stream and carried on to Big Babanki. From Big Babanki we got a taxi to Bamenda and found our hotel. Def Hotel. Words can’t describe how horrible Def hotel is. Me and Kasia turned the light on in our room and about 20 cockroaches ran across the floor. They were all over our luggage. Ugh. Me, Kasia and Tomasz went to the market with Ernest to get some last bits and then met the others at a bar. We sat and drank lots of black smirnoffs and beers. Mainly to block out the night in Def Hotel that lay ahead of us. Me and Kasia decided to sleep with all our possessions on the bed with us to try and keep the cockroaches off them. And we had the main light on all night. We didn’t sleep.

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11/12/2016- Got no sleep. Me and Kasia got ready really early and went outside to wait for the boys, it was better than staying locked in a room with all the creepy crawlies! We all went to the bus station and Paweł and Michał went and sorted our tickets to Limbe. The bus station was so so busy. There were people everywhere and huge coaches weaving in between all the madness. It was crazy! Eventually our bus arrived and we loaded our luggage on top. It was so so squished. They fit one more person on each row than they should, so everyone is wedged in, sweaty, hot and flustered. It was a nightmare. The journey lasted about 8 and a half hours and we stopped once. One thing I really enjoyed about the journey was seeing how the landscape changed. It changed to more tropical forest with lots of banana trees and coconut trees. It was beautiful. In the darkness of night we got near Limbe and then had to swap buses to arrive at our final destination. We arrived at Miramare hotel and it was such a breath of fresh air. It looked a lot cleaner than Def Hotel and had a swimming pool! We could smell the sea too! It was like we had arrived at paradise. We sorted our rooms out and then went in the pool. It was so relaxing.

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Cameroon- Part 3 of 5

Music- Oxo- Baby boubous-Confetti butterflies- Being poorly- Cows & Nets- Cows at night- Boubou nest- Ndola

25/11/2016- Bird ringing again today and got a new species, a beautiful Green-headed sunbird. We all had lunch sat around the one big pot, forks at hand. For some reason today the usual one whiskey turned into several, and we all got quite drunk. It was really nice to just chat and laugh and after a while we all crashed out. I fell asleep outside my tent on the grass in the sunshine, which unfortunately led to some slight sunburn. We all woke up and continued the drinking. Tomasz set up the loudspeakers and put some music on. It was such a lovely evening, we had a dance and just enjoyed listening to music. Polish music is actually really good. I had no idea what they were singing about but the tunes are nice.

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26/11/2016- Woke up and went and did experiments. In a few days we will have finished the duet playback experiments and will be able to start new experiments using just male calls. The female birds seem really interesting to me, they seem to move around more and some do strange calls. Got back to camp and went to wash in the stream with Kasia. The cold water doesn’t even phase me now, it’s just part of the routine. Me and Kasia were in charge of lunch, we had some meat left from the market so we made a meat stew type thing. I added a few oxo cubes I’d brought from home to try and give it a British-stew flavour!

27/11/2016- Woke up with really bad stomach pains today and felt quite sick. Stayed at the camp and did bird ringing with Paweł. We caught females from two different territories which is amazing!

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28/11/2016- Still don’t feel good today. Stayed at the camp to try and rest. Paweł came back from bird ringing and told us that he had found a boubou nest! After lunch me him and Adrian went to investigate. As we got there the largest of the two chicks had fledged so we took the opportunity to catch it and apply rings. It was the most beautiful bird I have ever seen! When we had processed the first chick I climbed our handmade ladder and reached for the second chick. This one was slightly smaller and was making a lovely call. I got to hold my first ever boubous! After processing, I climbed the ladder and put them back in the safety of the nest. They were happy enough and didn’t try to escape. Climbing the ladder was so funny. It involved Paweł holding the bottom because there was nothing for it to lean against. It was so shaky but fun! We were all very excited because we might be the only people in the world who have ever held Yellow-breasted boubou chicks!

29/11/2016- I love the sky when I first wake up. It is still dark and I get to see Mars, the plough, Orions belt and the seven sisters. It’s one of my favourite times of the day. Stargazing whilst brushing my teeth! Still not well so I stayed to bird ring again. We caught another female boubou which is great.

30/11/2016- Very bored of being ill. Stayed at camp again. When we ate lunch there was an eruption of beautiful white butterflies. There were hundreds. They were floating about on the breeze and looked life confetti. I was watching them all for ages. Some of them stop on perches and eagerly await a visit from a partner, some aren’t so successful. It was such a nice sight.

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01/12/2016- Ill still. Paweł brought back a Petit’s cuckoo shrike he had caught whilst bird ringing which was nice. It was so beautiful! Plain spaghetti for lunch.

02/12/2016- Felt really poorly this morning. Helped Paweł with bird ringing. Found some antibiotics in my first aid kit so started to take them. Rested for most of the day and then we all sat around the fire and listened to music. Me and Kasia had a bit of a dance which was nice. Paweł had a dance too! It made me feel happier and took my mind off of my stomach pain!

03/12/2016- Still ill.

04/12/2016- Slightly better today, stayed at camp to rest some more. Two of the mist nets we use for bird ringing were destroyed by cows overnight. Me, Paweł and Adrian removed all the debris but unfortunately they were too ruined. I was talking to the Czech team about Christmas traditions. They told me that Father Christmas visits on the evening of the 5th of December and leaves sweets for the children to open on the 6th. On Christmas Eve it isn’t Father Christmas that visits with presents, but Little Jesus. I enjoy listening to all the different traditions.

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05/12/2016- Still ill so stayed at camp, but feeling better than the previous days. During the night the cows had entered the camp and you could hear them munching away. They got chased away though incase they decided to take a stroll over our tents. Had a wash in the stream in the afternoon to try and feel better. In the afternoon I went with Paweł to retrieve the now empty boubou nest. It was so small! And so beautiful. They make the cosiest homes. Sat around the fire for the evening as usual.

06/11/2016- Feeling better and so finally back in the field. Went to new parts of the forest which was nice. The male only playbacks are interesting, the boubou pairs seem to respond for a longer time compared to the duet playbacks. Got back to camp and the boys prepared some traditional Cameroon food for us. We had Ndola which is a bit similar to spinach, fufu which is ground corn, and then a stew. It was really nice. For a snack, me and Kasia have taken to haven rice mixed with Brolli. Brolli is the local condensed milk and it is amazing! When you mix it with rice it tastes like rice pudding. AMAZING! In the evening I saw three beautiful Great blue turacos. They are the best bird species I have seen here so far. They are huge and have really long tailed and large crests. Just beautiful.

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Cameroon- Part 2 of 5

Dragonflies- Crater walks- The big storm- Polish lessons- Renovations- Persol ringing- Market day

18/11/2016- Today was very windy, so we weren’t able to go to an do any recordings. I ended up assisting with bird ringing. We caught a beautiful nightjar and a blue-billed fire finch as well as both individuals from a pair of boubous!! In the afternoon I decided to sit in the porch of my tent and listen to some music. I was in a world of my own and when I looked up the sky was alive with movement. The first layer of life came from hundreds of dragonflies out to catch their smaller pray. It was beautiful. I’ve never seen so many. Above the dragonflies were lots of swifts. I’m not sure why they were all out, but I didn’t mind. It was lovely to watch.

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19/11/2016- A normal day today. Went and did 5 successful experiments. Feeling inspired today about possible avenues to go down with the research. I think the females are extremely interesting. I’m already excited for next years field work topics.

20/11/2016- Another windy day today so we took advantage of it and went to the crater Mbe. Paweł showed me, Kasia and Adrian the way. It was quite a long walk but most of it was quite flat and we didn’t have to scrambled through too much vegetation. We crossed lots of streams and came across lovely open pastures with a few grazing horses and cattle. We stopped near a stream at one point and I was about 15 cm away from a long, thin, green snake. I quickly retreated and it decided it didn’t want a confrontation. I know there is a green mamba in Cameroon but I’m pretending it wasn’t that. Don’t like the thought of being so close to such a venomous snake! We arrived at the crater and it was more beautiful than I imagined. It was massive! The sides were sheer drops down into an edge of forest. The centre of the crater is flat and stretches so far. Paweł says it’s used to grow the local tea. It looked so tempting just to run across. We stayed and watched vultures overhead and enjoyed a bag of whiskey each and a tin of sardines with some sliced garlic. After seeing Mbe we went and saw an older crater which was very different but equally lovely to look at. The walk back was tough, we were running out of water, it was very hot and very long. But we made it back. Saw so many new bird species today. I think my favourite is the blue-breasted bee-eater.

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21/11/2016- Had the worst night sleep. But probably one of the most exciting of my life. There was a huge thunderstorm. I was woken up by a huge flash of light and a massive crashing sound right above me. We were camping in the middle of the storm. Unfortunately I’m not very clued up on how to keep safe in thunderstorms whilst camping on top of a mountain. So I was a bit of a wimp and went and stood in the hut. For some reason having a solid structure around me made me feel safer. It was amazing. I sat with Kasia under a blanket and we ate some chocolate spread. The worst of it lasted for about an hour and then I decided I wanted some sleep so retreated to my cosy tent once again. After the excitement of the night time storm it turns out the birds didn’t want to cooperate and did’t call too much. Had a wash in the stream and then there was another storm. This weather is apparently strange for this time of year. I sat with Kasia in the afternoon and she tried to teach me some polish. It’s so hard! But I am determined to learn.

22/11/2016- Today I was bird ringing with Paweł. We didn’t stay at the station, we went and made a temporary base at the bottom of small persol. We caught a beautiful diabowski’s twinspot, they have eyes the colour of blackcurrant juice. It was a great morning and we caught a boubou which was a bonus.

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23/11/2016- A normal day today. Lunch was exciting, Michał and Paweł made chips from batats and plantains and they were amazing.

24/11/2016- Today was market day. Me, Michał, Kasia and Adrian took the 3 hour walk down to Big Babanki to get more supplies. On the way down we stopped at a small pool formed by the stream and washed. Me and Kasia fashioned a swing from a low hanging vine which was quite fun. We arrived in the town and enjoyed a cold beer. It went straight to my head! After enjoying some bananas we headed into the market. We found most things we needed, although this market is a lot smaller than the one in Bamenda so we couldn’t find and tartina, mayonnaise, luncheon meat or coffee. Me and Kasia decided to buy lots and lots of biscuits and sweets. Our base at the market was the market pub. Locals were enjoying listening to Bob Marley and so were we. As well as drinking more of the lovely Castel beer. Eventually we had to make the return journey back up to camp. We set off later than we should of and most of the journey was in darkness. And in rain. It took ages to climb up but eventually we did it.

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Cameroon – Part 1 of 5

Arrival-Bus Journey-Market-The Hike- Stream washing- Lion D’Or- Fieldwork-Bird ringing- Czech arrivals-Small Persol- Stars and planets- Various foods

07/11/2016- Arrived in Yaounde in the Evening having started the long journey from Warsaw at 04:00. Stepped off the plane and was instantly hit by humidity and heat. We took a short drive to the hotel where we were staying that night. First impressions of Cameroon were that it is very lively! The roads seem to have no rules, just drive. There was lots of music playing and people selling various foods at the side of the road. We got to the hotel and left our stuff so we could go and eat. We were all security checked and scanned before being allowed into the bar. We had some amazing fish cooked by a “big mamma”. I noticed the moon was upside down and looked like a thin smile in the sky, a nice welcome to my first time in Cameroon.

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08/11/2016- Got a taxi to the bus station, this involved me (the smallest of the group) sitting on the gear box section. It was very busy but I went with Paweł to buy the bus tickets. This was just a small, windowless hut. We waited for a couple of hours, filling the time by eating bananas, doughnuts and drinking beer. When the bus set off a preacher gave a very expressive speech about how Jesus was with us on this journey and would keep us safe. He was extremely passionate.  The journey in total lasted about 8 hours and was pretty horrid. We were in a huge coach but the roads are so pot-holed that we were constantly swaying from side to side and being bounced around. By the end of it I felt so ill. Every now and then the bus would stop and local people would try and sell food through the windows, at one point a couple of women actually got on and rode with us for few hundred meters. We arrived in Bamenda and quickly got a taxi to Big Babanki. We met Ernest, the man who helped arranged everything for us. Everyone was saying that we are welcome which was nice.

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09/11/2016- Market day is mad. We went to Bamenda and set up camp in a bar for the day. In small groups we delved into the market and searched for what we needed to take up to the mountain. There is everything you can think of. Me and Kasia were put in charge of getting toilet rolls and went quite over the top. The smells were amazing, especially near the spice markets. It was quite exciting trying to barter with the different characters. At the end of a very long day we headed back to Big Babanki with all our goods.

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10/11/2016- Today was the day of the hike. It was so hard. Local guys helped carry our bigger bags and market goods up. We all walked at different paces. Paweł took the lead and I broke off from the others in a desperate need to just get to the top. We both ended up walking together for the second half of the hike. I was so tired that he ended up taking my bag for me. The landscape is beautiful, although apparently a lot of the forest that was there last year had disappeared to make way for fields. We made it to the top and set up our tents. There is a small hut up there for all our equipment and food and apart from that its just the birds, bees and trees with us. I went with Kasia to the stream and we had our first wash in days. The water was so cold!!!! But i didn’t care, I just wanted to feel clean. I tried my first sachet of local whiskey, Lion D’Or. It is 45% and tastes like caramel.

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11/11/2016- First day of fieldwork. Went with Tomasz to find boubou pairs for our experiments. It was nice to see more of the forest. After being out all morning we got back and everyone enjoyed lunch. Me and Kasia tried to find the stream to wash our clothes but got completely lost. In the afternoon I went with Paweł and Adrian to check other territories and we did some bird watching. We sat and looked out at the amazing view over the valley. We saw a beautiful African Blue Flycatcher. Today I saw my first boubou.

12/11/2016- More fieldwork today. Me and Kasia were more successful and actually found the stream so we could wash our clothes.

13/11/2016- First day of experiments. We completed 5 playback experiments which was so exciting. Got back to camp and did the usual. As it is Sunday we got to drink our nice whiskey we had brought from Europe. Me and Kasia played cards with the Czech boys which was fun. Although I usually lost!

14/11/2016- Bird ringing in Africa!!!! I helped Paweł with his bird ringing today. We caught lots of different species. Greenbuls, wattle-eyes, african thrush, pin tailed whydah, various sunbirds, and A YELLOW BREASTED BOUBOU! I got to see how to take blood from a bird, we took feather samples and applied colour rings so we can identify specific individuals for experiments next year. Whilst writing down all the measurements we decided that Paweł would help me learn Polish numbers. They are so hard!

 

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15/11/2016- New people arrived at camp today. The team from the Czech Republic. Now the camp was very busy but it was a nice change. As the surroundings of the camp were our bathroom, bees decided to show up. Lots of bees. They didn’t bother us though, just hummed a lot.

16/11/2016- Usual field work in the morning. In the afternoon me, Kasia and Adrian hiked up the smaller of the two mountain peaks near our camp. The view was amazing. We could see Big Babanki in the distance, I couldn’t believe we had walked that far to get to camp. In the evening we all sat around the camp fire like normal. We did some star gazing. Every night we can see Mars and thousands of stars. I learnt a new constellation, the swan. It was so peaceful.

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17/11/2016- Another bird ringing day. Me and Paweł experimented with rice. First we had it with mayo, tomatoes and some mystery hot spice. Then later we had it with Tartina, the local chocolate spread. Both dishes were very tasty! I went to try and record new boubou pairs in the afternoon but they weren’t calling. In the evening there was a storm, we all stood under the shelter and watched it. It was so exciting. After it passed we got warm around the fire. Michał made batats (sweet versions of white potatoes) in the ashes of the fire. Sprinkled with some salt they were amazing!!

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