(Continued from 17.10.2019. Abridged excerpt from the book “More Than An Adventure”)
Finally, the day to "break camp" had come. The 7-day trek on the “Gorilla Trail”, through the unknown and unexplored jungle of South Cameroon, was about to start. The luggage was ready and waiting in front of the house where they had had to wait for a permit. That had taken a couple of days.
Each of the carriers then received his piece of luggage. Everything landed on the curly heads of the carrier team. Slowly, the caravan started out, led by Ernie Tanner who carried his camera on one shoulder and the tape recorder on the other. On his belt, he had a small water bottle. He had a bush knife in one hand and a spear in the other. Marcel, carrying the video camera, formed the rearguard. The villagers lined the road, watching in astonishment. Snakes and other creeping things fled at the constant, pounding sound of feet as the group moved on. The sound of birds squawking nearby shattered the stillness. Hardly a word was spoken. At the onset, the path was a regular one in the woods, lined by low bushes, with bush trees forming a canopy above. After every hour they would take a short break to drink some of the filtered water. Then, they would exchange loads and march on, mile after mile.
If they reached some houses, a village or a clearing toward evening, they would stay there for the night. The first village they encountered was Mbol. The children stood in the doorways of their houses, staring at the strangers. The first order of the evening was always finding the head of each village. Sometimes, the chief would look at the new arrivals with skepticism. Sometimes, he looked rather aggravated! Then, Ernie would quickly get out his Polaroid camera and make signs that he wanted to snap a photo. He would try speaking in French or ask the interpreter to explain why they had come. As soon as a chief would see his photo, his antagonistic expression would usually vanish, giving way to a grin. Ernie had been looking forward to the demonstration: he had bought the camera for this very purpose. The photo would then be his gift, sealing the brief friendship between the chief and himself.
Night after night, they would meet with the villagers and their respective leaders in the chief’s hut. They would tell everyone, both young and old, about why they had taken this long and arduous path and about God’s eternal love. In the morning, they would say goodbye to their new friends, often receiving a touching send-off, and continue on their journey. After a while, the path became nearly impassable. Often, gigantic, fallen trees would block their passage. Each time, it took a special effort to overcome these considerable obstacles with their heavy loads. They also had to cross many rivers, some narrow and some wide.
At one point, the group heard yelling behind them. Three women were waving and shouting, trying to get their attention. “They want to talk to the white man,” the interpreter said. Panting, sweating, excited and determined, they approached the caravan. The interpreter told Ernie the women’s concerns. A long time ago a man had come to visit them, one woman began. He had told them about a God who had come down to earth to help mankind because He loved them. He, however, had been killed. Everything went silent. “The man told us that this God would come back again," the second woman proceeded, "and would gather all those who believe in Him to Himself. Surely, the white man must know whether He has already come,” a third woman concluded, gesturing toward Ernie. Full of anticipation, all three of them stared at Ernie who had sat down beside them on the trunk of a fallen tree. Once again, there was silence. Ernie was deeply moved, and he had to search for the right words. Was it possible? These women had heard about this God only once and were waiting impatiently for His return. Nothing could have given him greater pleasure than breaking the bread of life for these three hungry hearts. After a time of fellowship, the women allowed the group to proceed – with great reluctance. Their faces were radiant as they said good-bye.