"Everyone stays at the Ranch Hotel," my husband assured me. On this occasion "everyone" was us and we received a warm welcome. The view from our cabin was splendid - if we stood on tiptoe to look out of the bathroom window. The attractive little verandah faced a blank wall.
In the humid heat of the deserted bar we sipped warm soda water but were promised the fridge would be working and stocked with beer next day.
The dining room was vast and the scraping of our chairs on the cement floor echoed in the emptiness and alerted the ancient waiter to our presence. He announced that the menu choice was beef, chicken or porcupine.
"Porcupine," I said, and the waiter beamed with approval.
The smell of my dish preceded him as he bore it proudly into the dining room. This was obviously one of those unfortunate animals one saw strung up, dead, by the roadside, rotting gently in the tropical sun.
The meat lay accusingly on my plate in greenish lumps. There was enough of it to feed a whole Cameroonian family. I felt quite incapable of hurting the feelings of our amiable waiter by sending it back but the smell was making me nauseous and eating it was out of the question.
I put our two - fortunately substantial - paper napkins together and shovelled the meat into them. Clutching my bundle I crept out of the dining room. It was pitch dark outside so I dare not throw it where daylight might expose my crime but decided to place it in the wastebasket in our bathroom until I could dispose of it safely.
The next day we decided to follow the suggestion of our guidebook and seek out the Trou des Fantomes - a yawning chasm where chained monsters were rumoured to live. We climbed into the car and were already half a mile down the road when I remembered there was half a porcupine in our wastebin. We swung the car round and raced back to the hotel.
"The cleaner has your key," the receptionist told me and I ran to the cabin to find him just entering. "Forgotten something," I muttered pushing ahead of him into the bathroom and, grabbing the greasy parcel, shoved it into my pocket.
Back in the car I gingerly extracted the meat and discovered I was not the first person to get to it - a mass of happy ants were swarming over the porcupine, my pocket, my legs, the car seat...
Never before have we driven so far in Cameroon without finding a hungry stray dog. In the end it had to be a well aimed shot into the bushes.
And the Trou des Fantomes? After a tedious drive down a muddy track we trekked through cocoa groves with a rather surprised local to guide us and found an unimpressive depression where the roof of an underground stream had caved in. The monsters were not at home.Reuse content