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09 December 2013

UK Based Volunteer Shares his thrilling 10-day-experience in Tofala Rainforest

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Mario Kreixxig

My name is Mario Kreixxig and I am a 41 year old Civil Servant from East Sussex (UK). Having spent 10 exciting days on a field trip to the proposed Tofala Hill Sanctuary in the South West Region of Cameroon, I would say it was educating, exciting, challenging and often just plain fun. I feel quite privileged for having had access to remote communities and areas of rain forest that would have been quite impossible for any independent traveller to visit. Not to mention the knowledge I gained in respect of ERuDeF's conservation efforts and community projects or the good-humoured nature of the people of this country. Staff and ordinary people always went out of their way to accommodate the needs of the volunteers and made me feel welcome at all times. I am struck by the way people deal with their day-to-day challenges with courage and a good portion of humour. People are maybe more supportive of their families here than in many other countries and I found it remarkable that family ties last until after death. For anybody who has never tried the local cuisine, it's fresh, diverse and very delicious. The only exception as far as my tender taste buds are concerned would be Eru – a kind of vine ground into a mash. I'm sure that most Cameroonians would protest at this because it seems a tremendously popular dish and is still worth checking out!

The experience of living and working in the rain forest was truly wonderful. Who would have thought that walking at approximately 1km/hr would result in muscle pains and sweat-soaked shirts? I was also surprised by the few direct observations of wildlife I had. I was not lucky enough to watch any great apes but there were many signs such as nests and feeding signs to confirm the proximity of the Cross-River Gorilla. In fact, I came close to the elusive gorilla on at least two occasions. The first close encounter was near the edge of a plantain farm in the forest. Our guide spotted two apes and another volunteer managed to see part of the animal. By the time the rest of us reached the site, the animals had left silently only betraying their presence by the movement of the undergrowth as they retreated back into the thick forest. Another time, we witnessed the sound of a plantain tree being brought down by a gorilla. Despite our best efforts, we did not get to see the animal but , nevertheless, the experience brought a spark of excitement to the team. Naturally, I felt a little disappointment that I have been unable to see the Cross-River Gorilla yet again but a cool bath in the waterfall outside our base camp helped to overcome the frustration. Our Bio Monitor, Bedwin, deserves my full admiration for not just being the most knowledgeable expert of primates and the most dedicated environmentalist that I know but also for remaining cheerful at the challenging task of feeding 4 hungry men and a lady on a diet based primarily on seemingly never-ending variations of pasta, beans, potatoes and rice. One of the many unforgettable moments for me was reaching the top of a hill and looking down on some of the most magnificent and awe-inspiring landscape I have ever seen. Seeing this alone was worth giving up all the creature comforts of home.

Of all the places I had the pleasure of visiting in Cameroon, I think I enjoyed the village of Besali the most. The place is surrounded by beautiful hills, the people are very welcoming and observing the daily village life offers plenty of entertainment. A memorable moment for me was attending a community meeting at Besali and taking part in the discussions between ERuDeF staff and local women. It was interesting to see for myself how difficult it is for parties to agree even small steps towards more sustainable ways of working. I can now really appreciate the hard work of the conservation officers in bringing about those changes. Another highlight was visiting the local school and helping with conservation education to the next generation. I was impressed by the way the lesson was presented to a class of about 100 children. It was fun and I hope the message of conservation will continue to be taught for many more years to come.

All in all I had a fantastic time in Cameroon. I am very grateful for all the staff at ERuDeF for making this experience so enjoyable and above all I would like to thank them for their personal sacrifices and idealism in preserving the natural resources of this beautiful country.