However, this week Marie was very distracted (worried about the future or potential lack thereof of her organisation) and left without me! I was dressed and ready to go well ahead of time, too (5:30am). . . it was a bit discombobulating at first, but then I realised this provided me the opportunity to go explore "la brousse" (the bush) behind our neighbourhood. I ran out there once last week -- there's a village about 5km away, but looking on Google Maps, I saw what looked like a very nice loop -- out to that village, then south along a dirt road for a ways which would eventually meet the asphalt road to the airport (or, back to town in my case). Not too many turns, seemed clear enough, let's go!
It was still early when I left and since it was Saturday, few people were heading to work. Hence, the road was nearly empty. Only a couple of motorcycle taxis running up and down. After a mile, the asphalt ended and I plunged down the hill to the bridge over the river. Hello! A couple of young men washing their clothes. Fortunately, they were still wearing their shorts. I have run past my fair share of young men in pants washing. . . I was wearing my new Luna sandals (original model with new "monkeygrip" top and ATS laces). I'm a little skittish about whether they have enough grip for going downhill, so I take it gingerly. It rained briefly yesterday evening which was enough to tamp down the dust. As I got closer to the village centre, I was trying to pay attention to landmarks because they last time I ran out here, when I turned around I took the wrong route and went 1/2 a mile before I turned around and found the right way. Of course, I'm not planning to turn and come back this way today, so I don't know why I'm checking landmarks, but there you go!
Entering the intersection crowded with shoppers and shopkeepers, another runner is coming up from the road on the right and turns down the road I'm going in front of me. I'm humming along, but (a bit unusually) he's going faster than me, so he eventually drifts away. The road turns and I think to myself he must be going around and around on the loop I saw on the map. I remember that I'm supposed to turn off and as he is turning to the right, there is a well-traveled road right on front of me and I decide that must be the one I want.
Now I am properly out in the bush. People are friendly and fascinated by this running white woman. Those I pass on the road greet me, "bonjour," and I reply, "bonjour!" It is quite beautiful. Lots of flowers on bushes and trees. Very thick vegetation and tall trees. It feels very much like the jungle. The road is hard packed red, red dirt. My path twists and turns and I estimate in my head that I should probably meet the road around 5 miles. At one point I come to a T-junction and I think I am remembering the image of the map in my head. I ask a passing man if the main road is to the right or to the left and he points to the left road. Going down that road, a couple of motorcycles come by, indicating to me that this is the route to the main road. A bit later than my estimate, I reach asphalt at almost precisely 10km (6.2 miles). Again, imagining the map I saw in my head, I turn right because that is clearly the way back to Yaoundé, left would take me towards the airport.
I have run on this road before, but not this far out, so as I run along I am looking around for anything familiar which will give me an indication of how far I have left to go. I see a bar/restaurant which I swear I saw that early, early morning when I arrived and Marie and Boris picked me up from the airport. Great, all is good, I'm going the right way. I casually notice a cement mile marker on the side of the road which says "Mfou" on it. Every couple of kilometres (every mile or so), I think, "is this where I turned around the one time I ran out 5k? It looks a bit familiar." I do this several times. But then things are feeling decidedly more and more rural rather than, as one would expect, more and more urban. A moto taxi guy in a pink helmet stops and asks if I've been running all the way since Yaoundé, "yes" I reply. "Wow! Courage!" he says, clearly very impressed. I ask him about how much further it is this way, "about 5k to town?," "oh, probably about 4k to Mfou," he replies, but I do not really hear what he says -- that is, it didn't really compute. I run onwards. I pass a couple of young guys standing by the side of the road in front of a house. Then I see another of those cement mile markers and I decide to actually go look at it. On my side, it says "Mfou 5" which would be 5km. Then on the other side, it says "Yaoundé 20". Oooohhh. Whooooaaa. And suddenly it hits me. I am 5km FROM Mfou. I am now, somehow, 20km FROM Yaoundé. How the heck did that happen? Is that really true? I stop a child walking by and ask her which direction to Yaoundé and which to Mfou. She confirms my fears.
I have now already run 11 miles and I don't think I'm really up for another 11 or 12. . . What the heck am I gonna do? I walk back to the cool young men trying to come up with some plan in my head. I could get a moto taxi and make them wait while I ran up to my room and got money. Yes, of course, here I am 20km from home no, I am not carrying a cellphone and no, I do not have a franc on me. Clearly I forgot where I am. I used to always carry at least 500-1,000 (of whatever currency) which is enough to get a bottle of water and a taxi ride. So, I ask the cool boys and then explain that I got somehow completely turned around. Yes, I ran from Yaoundé -- they are duly impressed and nicely respectful (age definitely has its advantages in this culture). They ask where I live. "Ekoumdoum," I tell them. "Oh, that's easy then," they explain -- you just get a taxi from here for 300 to Y Escalier and then from there it's 100 to Ekoumdoum. Well, that would be easy as pie if I had any money. . . Then one of them says, "wait, I'll go get money for transport." I'm surprised, but have no other ideas so I chat a bit with the other guy. After a few minutes, the first guy returns followed shortly by his mother and a friend or aunty (likely coming out to verify his rather unbelievable story of a sweaty white woman running from Yaoundé who needs transport money!!!). He hands me 400 francs and I'm gobsmacked. I thank him and greet the women and thank his mother profusely. Within moments, a taxi comes by that is going to Y Escalier and I'm off.
Lots of amazement in the taxi when I tell them where I've run from. One guy exclaims, "these whites do not do sport like we Cameroonians, they are very strong!" Ha! Or stupid, as the case may be. . .
As we drive along, I am still totally confounded about how I got turned around. I keep looking for familiar places and think I see them. But when we get to Y Escaliers, it is not a place I have been before. I feel like I should go to the right, but I remember the young guys telling me that for Ekoumdoum, I should go left there, so I do that. After about 200 metres or so, I suddenly see something truly familiar and realise where I am -- on a totally different road than I thought, on the opposite side of my area. How did I get here?
When I get home, I cannot wait to get my watch off and sync it to the computer so I can see the track I actually took and see where I went and where I went wrong. And voilà! Do you remember the village out in the bush not too far from me? Where there is a loop that the other runner was going around? Well, the road I took off of that was where I went wrong. I should have continued around the loop and take then *next* road off to the left. That would have led me down to the airport road. The road that I took, despite being very well travelled actually does not show up on Google maps at all. It winds around and leads me to the northern road which is the one that goes to Mfou. And so, when I came to the asphalt, I thought I was southeast of home and should turn to the right, but in reality I was northeast and should have turned left!
And so, my friends, the adventure continues!