ACoN Diary 6: Jungles, local drunks and monkey sanctuaries

Want to know more about Equatorial Guinea and Gabon? You're in the right place. Here's part six of Jonathan Wilson's Africa Cup of Nations diary 

The guide-book doesn’t offer much in the way of tourist attractions on Bioko, the island part of Equatorial Guinea. In fact, it suggests just one thing: the monkey sanctuary near Moka.

So, taking advantage of some spare time between the group stage and the quarter-finals – and of a photographer with a car and the need for some feature shots – I at last headed into the interior.

The jungle that edges the coast road from Malabo to Luba is the closest I’ve come to the stereotypical jungle of children’s adventure books.

In Borneo, India and other parts of Africa I’ve always found it a little disappointing, like British forests but more so, the thick canopy meaning all that can survive are the tallest trees and a scattering of scrub. Here, though, in what I assume is secondary forest, the vegetation is thick and lush, and dominated by banana and plantain. Walking through it would be impossible.

As we turn inland, and twist and turn our way up Mount Cameroon, the forest thins. Pockets of low cloud lie in hollows, so the effect is a bit like parts of the Lake District, only 30 degrees hotter. We get to Moka, but there’s no sign for any monkey sanctuary.

Following the road, we end up in a half-bit compound surrounded by orange concrete walls. That should have been a warning: the president, Obiang Nguema, loves orange concrete.

A soldier turns us back, telling us to present ourselves at the local mayor’s office to get “authorisation”, although for what is unclear. On our way, we saw a new-built road off to the left. Checking the soldier wasn’t following us we turned off, and almost immediately found at another junction.

The road to the right stopped after a few yards, so we went left, and found ourselves on an implausibly straight stretch of flat tarmac. At the end was what appeared to be a roundabout, but when we got there turned out to be a helipad. That was when it dawned on us that what we’d thought was a road was a landing strip.

A little later, a construction worker confirmed the president was having another residence built up there at the top of the mountain.

We never did find the monkey sanctuary. Back in the village various people admitted it existed (once we'd got over the confusion of me saying 'monjes' - 'monks' when I meant 'monos' - 'monkeys') but everybody seemed very concerned we should have “papers”. It would take an hour to walk there, somebody said, and offered to take us to see some waterfalls instead.

He then offered some horses and, when we turned that down, said if we came back at the weekend he would take us to a lake. In the end, we gave up, and settled for a couple of beers in the local bar where a local drunk insisted Equatorial Guinea would beat Ivory Coast on Saturday. They didn't, but were comprehensively outplayed in a one-sided 3-0.

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