Please note: We made it home safely on 6/28, and are recapping our last two days of our journey.
Our guide took us to a botanical/floral export plantation, where they grow huge fields of Heleconia, Alpinia, and other tropical plant material for floral arrangements, mostly exported to Europe. An interesting plant crop was the breastberry, Solanum mammosum. It has a unique yellow fruit that would look striking in a floral arrangement.
Off in the distance, beyond the Heleconia fields, were large rows of bananas. They use plastic bags to cover the fruit and keep pests away.
Changing gears, we prepared to see one of the most impressive waterfalls in Africa, Ekom Nkam Falls. This was the film location for Greystroke: The Legend of Tarzan which came out in the 80s. It’s impossible to describe the grandeur of these falls, absolutely breathtaking. Since this is the “big rain” season in Cameroon, both sides of the waterfall were flowing; during the “little rain” season, only the right side flows. We hiked from the observation point down to a lower point where the water vapor rises up and covers the plants with a thick layer of mud and beads of water. We took note of some of the plant material growing in these wet areas, we look forward to identifying some of them.
We drove through the littoral mountain range, closer to the Atlantic Ocean shoreline. Buea, a small college town situated at a higher elevation near Mount Cameroon, was difficult to drive through as mist settled in, creating a white curtain. We couldn’t even see the peak of the mountain, which is over 4,000km above sea level. In 1999, Mount Cameroon erupted, sending lava flowing through the nearby towns and into the ocean. As we drove, we saw evidence of this – large volcanic boulders, main roads destroyed, whole clearings where trees once stood. We made it to Limbé, a port town along the shore. The beaches here are black sands, made up of mostly volcanic rock. A lot of the rocks on the shore are embedded with a beautiful yellow gem, perhaps peridot.
On our last morning in Cameroon, we went to Limbé Botanical Garden, one of the most prominent botanic gardens in Africa. The garden was founded in 1892 as an agricultural research station for the Germans. They experimented growing many types of tropical crops to help determine how to agriculturally develop their colony. Later it came under British control and grew into a world class botanical garden.
We had made arrangements to meet with the curator, Litonga Ndive Elias. His guided tour was indispensable as we would have never received as much information as we did looking around on our own. He told us about some of the work they have done with Kew Gardens studying the Korup forest along the Nigerian border and even offered to mail us seeds of plants we were interested in. Walking through the medicinal plant collection was excellent, and we even picked up a book that discussed the medicinal plants at the garden. The garden has an issue with local people coming into the garden at night and removing bark from their tree collection for personal medicinal use. They don’t have a great system for deterring people from doing so, but had some efforts to protect the trunks on some of their trees.
Another newer but nice feature was the collection of valuable timber trees from Central Africa. While the trees there were only about 30 years old, you could see how they would be a benefit to the garden in years to come. They were planted as an allée along a main path. My favorite part of the tour was the kola nut collection, I had no idea how many different species were used and was excited to see mature trees of the nut I had tried only days before. A few other points of interest included their orchid house, which had many Darwin orchids blooming, as well as their beautiful African Borrassus palms among their palm collection. At the end of the tour, we asked our guide to hopefully ID some of the plant photos we had taken throughout our trip which were unknown to us. He was able to get about half of them from off the top of his head.
As a last stop before heading to the airport, we went into town and walked along the shore where fishermen were bringing in their catch to the waiting masses. We walked along one of the beaches through the big fish market. Here, large wooden boats pull up after being out in the sea for a week or a month, unloading their buckets of fish to sell right on the shore. People crowded around as bucket after bucket were carried in. We had a fish (freshly caught!) and chip lunch and loaded into the car for the drive to Douala.
One common site as we left Limbé was mile after mile of palm oil plantations. We saw trucks full of palm fruit clusters. This is certainly a significant crop in Cameroon, as we learned from all of the food we ate on the trip (almost everything is cooked with palm oil), as well as reading about its significance as an exported product.
Once arriving in Douala we drove around briefly looking at a few sites but it was rush hour and we opted to head right to the airport and headed home. What an amazing trip full of unique, immersive experiences! We look forward to sharing more with everyone and putting everything we learned into the next Tropical Forest exhibit.