Cameroon with Egbert
Dervla Murphy is the author of such memorable travel books as FULL TILT (1965), ON A SHOESTRING TO COORG (1977), and EIGHT FEET IN THE ANDES (1986). Like its predecessors, CAMEROON WITH EGBERT is a pleasure to read because of the author’s enthusiasm for adventure and her skill in translating that enthusiasm onto the page. Her daughter Rachel has been traveling with Murphy since 1973, when she was merely five years old. Murphy is a renowned world traveler, but this was her first venture into Africa.
The journey across Cameroon began in March of 1987 and lasted for three months. A packhorse by the name of Egbert was purchased to carry supplies. For most of the trek, Murphy and her daughter stayed away from the commercial centers. They found the native people to be friendly, but the police authorities in the larger towns were belligerent. Murphy’s description of the local customs is blunt while not being overly judgmental. She does make the observation that European colonization has negatively impacted Cameroon, since Europeans have tended to impose their way of doing things on the African population. The most riveting sections of the book involve the Murphys’ encounters with the countryside. Admiring Cameroon’s impressive mountain ranges and remote highlands, they also reveled in watching warthogs, antelope, and baboons in their natural habitat. The journey was not without its perils, though. At one point, Rachel came down with malaria, which forced them to interrupt their progress until she was strong enough to travel again. Ants were a constant nuisance. It was often necessary for them to strip because their clothes had become infested with ants.
One of the more amusing incidents of CAMEROON WITH EGBERT involved the natives’ belief that Murphy had to be Rachel’s husband, since no mother and daughter would travel without a male companion. On occasion, Murphy was even forced to open her shirt to prove her gender. Toward the end of their sojourn, Egbert ran off after being frightened by a snake. The horse was missed, even though it was possible for them to travel faster without him. Murphy has feared that Egbert may have mistakenly plunged into a ravine and been killed; but she was relieved to find that this was not the case, and Egbert was once again part of the family at journey’s end. CAMEROON WITH EGBERT is a perceptive and vigorous travel book. Dervla Murphy is a wonderful chronicler of what it is like to encounter the wild and largely uncharted regions of the world.