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Published: February 11th 2008
"It's all part of the trip" people say about breaking down.......but why did it have to be in the middle of a two day jungle crossing between Cameroon and Nigeria?.......
Flying into Douala on the west coast of Cameroon reminded me of the Apocalypse Now movie - the wooded and thatch huts surrounded by flooded jungle and a dense thick humid air. Not really the type of scene that wants to make you leap out of the plane and jump straight down the throats of bribing French speaking customs officials, but it was going to have to be that way.
One of the initial things I noticed about being in West Africa for the first time was that people were more traditionally dressed than what I had seen in East Africa and that their dress was made up of the most insanely beautiful bright colours - an awesome sight for wary eyes. Our luggage eventually surfaced under the black covers of the airport luggage carrousel and we made our way to the Cargo Terminal where the fun really began. I had been reading the French phrasebook on the flight but was dubious that was going to help get the bike
Flight preparations Take II
Squashing down the volumetric weight - every cm3 counted!
out of Customs any faster since it was getting towards closing time on a Friday afternoon. In a very rough French translation, “Ah, it is getting late, come back on Wednesday”. “Wednesday, why do we have to wait until Wednesday?” I said - Christmas Day was next Tuesday with loads of public holidays in between for shopping - “Oui, or maybe we can sort something out. Come with me…” You can imagine how it goes, but after a lot of following ‘helpers’ around and saying “Bonsoir” to everyone the papers were signed and our wallets a little lighter. Maybe I should mention the part where the officials in the Cargo Terminal told me it was too late and gestured towards more bribes to be paid....until I just jumped over the rope and started pulling the motorbike crate off the pallet myself! They gave up and came over to help me, which is something I’ve noticed in West Africa so far. Once you get over the money issues at hand they are genuinely friendly and welcoming. By the way, Transparency International rated Cameroon 129th out of 146 countries on its corruption index, so the CFA 20,000 (US$ 40+) in ‘Handling fees’
Flight preparations Take III
Packing up the bike at Nairobi's Int. airport
and CFA 2,000 (US$ 4+) in bribes weren’t unexpected.
We dismantled the crate and put the motorbike back together in the dark. And after organising some fuel rode off amongst the hectic honking traffic breathing in the hot humid air relishing the fact that we had arrived.
After enjoying the French influences in Douala we headed to the coastal town of Limbe where Gwen had a friend living there that had helped her get her Cameroon Visa. Bea and her partner Prezo met us in the bustling centre of Limbe which is surrounded by lush forests and Oil Palm plantations and we followed her to the Miramar Hotel where we could camp.
The entire coastline around Limbe is really stunning and with Mt Cameroon - being West Africa’s highest peak at 4095m - as the coastal backdrop its not hard to see why. As fate would have it I met an English guy working for his Embassy who had brought his surfboards with him - nice one brother! I was stoked to be surfing that day and glad I took the opportunity as the next day - Christmas Eve - I came down with Malaria.
Unable to drink beer
Flight preparations Take IV
Packed up and ready to fly outta here!
at Christmas (I can’t even remember the last time that would have happened!) and rapped up in a hoodie sweating if I wasn’t shivering, I still enjoyed the awesome hospitality that Bea gave us and really enjoyed meeting her family and friends. It was a different Christmas routine to what I was used to with friends popping in all day to wish Merry Christmas and drink a beer while they were at it, and Bea’s family went off to do the same. Co-incidentally Cameroonians are the largest beer consumers in all of Africa and it is drunk at any time of the day - something they are very proud of. Even Bea’s baby Lona at 6 months old got a few sips on Christmas Day.
Late on Boxing Day I decided to go for a Malaria test after three full days of high fever and even saw the little spirally shapes of the Malaria parasite in my blood through the microscope - time to Nuke them!
I felt too rough to travel further until the 31st December when I was determined to get to Kribi beach in the south to celebrate New Years. Riding through the jam-packed traffic of
Douala we were rear-ended (luckily no damage was done) before carrying on south to Kribi passing untold car and bus wreckage and finding a place to camp at Auberge Terra Plage. Two Dutch couples were already making preparations which we soon joined in on - the beer hitting the spot after so many days of abstinence.
It was awesome to have my appetite back again and enjoy the great seafood in Kribi - big juicy prawns and fresh fish with names like Captain and Bar thrown onto the bbq were a regular feature.
We spent a couple of days relaxing on the white sand beaches body-surfing the heavy shore break before admitting to ourselves that this was too much fun and we better start acting responsible again - no better way than heading to the capital city Yaounde to obtain the Nigerian Visa.
After riding around totally lost in the rabbit warren city of Yaounde for 3 hours (that guy must have meant go right when he said “Go straight”) I decided that in the future I would get more GPS co-ordinates in advance! Even though it takes some of the local interaction out of the equation when you
A Cameroonian Christmas 2007
Bea's family on Christmas day 2007 at their house in Limbe Cameroon.
don’t have to ask directions it definitely saves the nerves when the people you do ask don’t even know what street they are on and just wave their arms left and right and say “Go straight!” So, for any overlanders that are intending to stay in Yaounde, a great place of solitude from the bustling city is found at Foyer International de I’Eglise Presbyterienne, GPS co-ordinates:N 03 52.774’ E 011 31.340’
Obtaining Nigerian Tourist Visas are infamously hard, especially if coming from the south, with X amount of document copies and Invitation letters required. Sometimes you have to be lucky, and with the unlucky death of the Nigerian Ambassador to Cameroon three days prior to our application they whipped us through there with granted visas in three hours! No copies, no Invitation letter, but a whopping visa fee for sure!
Bamenda in the west of Cameroon was next on our hit list. Along the way we dealt with the plethora of Police Checkpoints with the usual “What gift have you got for me?” questions. At one of the Checkpoints during the standard procedures another Policeman came over and pointed to our number plate while saying to the other “CA”.
Gwen and Bea enjoy whole cooked fish, rice, casava and plantain washed down with some of Cameroon's finest beers!
The Policeman quickly apologised and said to Gwen “Excusez-moi Madam” and sent us on our way. In Cameroon 'CA' on a number plate means “Communitaire Administrative” - basically the vehicle is registered to the government. In our case 'CA' is just the two letters on our number plate (CA for Cape Town where we brought the bike in South Africa) but I stored that one in memory for future reference!
The particularly scenic part of Cameroon known as the Ring Road that surrounds Bamenda was only partially explored by us…..a fantastic local bar in Bamessing serving up the finest Palm wine being the distraction! It’s always great hanging out with local people who are genuinely friendly and interested to know why in hell you are travelling through their country and drinking Palm wine in their local? The villagers were intelligent but obviously poor, and it was a realisation when one of the guys started reading sections from the Lonely Planet about Cameroon, ‘For sit-down meals there are chop houses, often with just a table and bench.’ He looked down at his rickety table and bench on the dirt floor and started laughing. I hoped local people don’t read comments like
this and think that we look down on them. Still, they didn’t kick us out and it was interesting listening to them talking about corruption within the government and the lack of opportunities in their rich country due to too many hands in the cookie jar. It hits you in the face so to speak, when you meet these educated people who are struggling without employment and are so frustrated with their government that they want to leave their country. No wonder when I go into internet cafes around Africa that 70% of all browsers are looking at Green Card Lotteries for the USA or Study visa's for Russia etc. We did manage one excursion outside the bar to Sagba Hill, a short 15min climb to the top which offered a peaceful retreat and beautiful views to reflect on the day's events.
With my visa running out we had to head for the border of Nigeria which involves a two day ride through the jungle on dirt tracks that literally shouldn’t be classed as anything more than dirt tracks! The road is impassable in the wet season with pot holes big enough to swallow a truck. There are little
shacks on the side of the road where local entrepreneurs have set up a ‘Help push you out’ business and have also built bush detours around the worst rutted sections. It’s definitely a very beautiful part of the country and one you wouldn’t be travelling through unless you were going overland, but that didn’t make it any more rewarding when I noticed hot radiator coolant spraying onto my leg! The rough roads had meant that we rode the entire day in first and second gear. That, combined with the irrepressible heat cracked the radiator and overheated the bike. We crawled into a town midway to the border called Mamfe, found a place to camp and set about trying to assess what damage had been done. In Africa it doesn’t matter what motorbike you choose for an overland trip, a Yamaha, a Honda, a BMW, a KTM - it doesn’t matter because what the locals ride are cheap Chinese 125cc motorcycles like Nanfang, Qlink, and Handa, and that’s the spare parts the locals have. So if you break down and aren’t carrying the parts you need you are screwed. Of course I tried getting the radiator fixed - that’s when I
Bea's family Christmas portraits Take III
Bea's brother Thomas - A.k.a Jared. Shirts from western clothing donations that have names and logos printed on them are trendy in Cameroon, as Thomas and many others guys wore around the country.
noticed oil coming out of the water pump weephole - but it didn’t hold two minutes and certainly wasn’t going to last another full day of punishment. A major problem facing us in Mamfe was that there was no internet access and no courier service (not surprising with the roads in and out of town!), so no way of finding out about parts or even getting them if we could. Another thing prompting us to get out of the seriously hot and humid Mamfe were the two nights in a row where we were forced out of our tent by ant invasions! Ants are amazing…just not when they’re literally inside your pants and everything else you own biting you to no end! Millions of them swarmed the tent, ate our food, ate the sweat off my socks and inner-soles of my boots (thanks guys) and cleared off again….until the next night! All this happened as we scrambled around in the dark trying to save what food we could while being constantly bit in the process. It must have looked hilarious!
I bargained hard and eventually organised a pick-up truck from Mamfe to the Nigerian border of Mfum. The next
morning a Mitsubishi Pajero came to pick us up - of course it wasn’t the vehicle we had agreed on and “How the hell is the bike going to fit in there!” But it did and we made our way to Nigeria with our driver Tabe and his other cargo of booze. The road was just as horrendous but this time I could sit back, eat some wickedly hot Cameroonian Pimenta (hot chilli) and enjoy the scenery. We had to pay some pretty hefty bribes leaving the Cameroon border town of Ekok for Tabe to be allowed to enter Nigeria without a permit as he had agreed to take us to the next town on a major road. The Nigerian border officials at Mfum were painfully slow and lazy, just flicking through our passports looking at other countries stamps, or putting the passports down to read up on car manuals, then look through our passports again….and this went on and on. Sensing bribes were the order of the day I talked with them about one of the border officials interesting tribal scarification on his face (something I’ve seen throughout Nigeria) which passed the time and buttered them up for a
gift-free border crossing.
Now officially in Nigeria and heading to the town of Ekom at dusk I started thinking how the next part of the journey was going to pan out.....And as people say, "It's all part of the trip!"
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