Cameroon

From the border to Limbe

 

We were adamant to stick to our plan to get to Limbe by sunset, so as soon as we could, we got moving.  Unfortunately the plan didn’t quite work out as, we reached to border at 7 o’clock, only to be told it didn’t open until 8, However, the crossing was very quick once the officials had turned up.

 

 From the moment you enter Cameroon, you notice the laid back atmosphere. Even right at the border, the officials were having their breakfast of tinned sardines and fu fu and in between mouthfuls of this, the forms were filled in and we were told about how great a country Cameroon is. Another thing that is immediately noticeable is the fact that Congo was Toyota country (as we sadly discovered!) Gabon Mitsubishi country and Cameroon motorbike country. From the moment you cross the border , you are surrounded by them and as we discovered later, they are a huge source of income for the owners as they are mostly used as taxis.

 

Cameroon got its name from the Portuguese, who were only here for a short while but named it “Camaroes” the word for prawns, due to the abundance thereof. The Germans occupied it at some stage, then the British and then the French.  What makes the country even more interesting is that it is clearly divided into a Francophone and an Anglophone section, The Anglophones being the minority as well as the opposition in politics. Needless to say, the area we were off to, Limbe, is a coastal town and in the Anglophone area. We felt the after 4 weeks of French speaking countries, we just needed a few days of being able to communicate with the locals.

 Still trying to "pay it forward" made the journey a lot longer though!Local lady

Turned out our idea of getting to Limbe was a bit crazy, as we traveled for 14 hours and only got to our destination at 8.30 that night…..NOT a good idea, but the roads in Cameroon are brilliant, tar all the way. What makes the journey so long is the fact that you get stopped about every hour or less by police roadblocks, and toll roads,  a great irritation as you cannot always see them and here they adopted the Nigerian practice of placing a strip of wood with very sharp nails across the tar to make sure you stop. Once again the fact that we cannot speak French helped a lot as they all eventually give up asking for bribes as we just play dumb. Also we think all the stickers on the car helps, as they all think we are on some official mission.

The fact that Cameroon has 16 million people is immediately noticeable as there are a lot more villages compared to Gabon. The dress code is not nearly as smart as in the Congo and like in Gabon, both the males and females seem to be working in the fields. They farm with Cassava, bananas, plantains, dates, tomatoes and mangoes. Also noticeable is their pride in their “Lions” the soccer team famous for being the first African team to reach the quarter finals of World cup soccer. There are statues of a lion everywhere as well as billboards featuring the players.

 The ever popular LIONWe are friends!!!

It was easy going until we got to  Yaounde!  OMG what a mad crazy place. We had to change money as we could not find anywhere in Gabon to change our dollars for CFS’s, but this turned out to be a nightmare task. First problem was that nobody wanted to change money and to get around to find out where to go, Stewart had to dodge “starlet” taxis by the hundreds, people crossing the road as if they are on a Sunday stroll in the park, hundreds of vendors, trucks, cars, pushcarts and dogs all camping out in the main streets. We finally managed to get to “Score” the only directions to follow being pointing of fingers in the general direction and shouting Score, Score! Turned out to be a supermarket that arranged for mysterious moneychangers whom you had to meet in the ally to change your dollars on the blackmarket. We had no choice and gladly accepted the rate Isaac gave us.

 Crazy Yaounde "Tits bar" and Starlet Taxis The Blues Brothers traveled far!!

We filled up with petrol and got the hell out of there only to reach Douala, the next big city , even more congested and chaotic.. By this stage the rain started and in addition to the madness of the streets, we now had mud pools as well as darkness that set in. It took us 2 hours to get through the city by which time it was pitch dark. As I cannot see in the dark (old age does that to you ) poor Stewart had to do all the driving despite having driven most of the time to get here. We got lost, got stopped again and again by the now notorious police blocks and by eventually driving right behind a police car, finally made Limbe at 8 O’Clock promising ourselves NEVER to do this again! The end was not in sight yet, as we drove around for 30 minutes to try and find accommodation. By chance we stumbled upon the Botanical garden which is the place we were in fact looking for as most travelers stay in the “guesthouse” here. We were told we are too late, but after explaining that we came all the way from Gabon, the guards took pity on us and took us to the delightful Julia who runs the accommodation side.

 

We had no idea what the place looked like, had a quick meal and passed out on top of the sheets from pure exhaustion.

Limbe and surrounds

               

Limbe Botancal Gardens Guesthouse  in the light of day proved to be run down, dirty and a close cousin to the cramped quarters we had experienced in Matadi, despite the fact that it was situated on the beach..

We decided to pack up and explore the town for alternative accommodation, but not before finding out that the town of Boue, ½ an hours’ drive away, had a Nigerian Consulate who might be persuaded to extend our visas, which would allow us to catch our breath before heading to Nigeria.

 Tropical plants spill right into the oceanBoue the German influence

At Boue we managed to obtain new visas – at twice the cost of the original ones, and experienced for the first time the polite requests for money as a thank you present, with absolutely no attempt to disguise the request for a bribe. We managed to depart with most of our money intact, and on the way out of town also sourced a local MTN sim card. We bumped into a local called Hansel, his German name linking him to the past of the area, when it was a German colony. This is also noticeable in the local architecture. Hansel, a qualified Zoologist, gave up a full time job in teaching at Varsity and is now in charge of teaching 100s of peasant farmers new farming techniques. He was a typical example of the ever friendly Cameroonians who is always ready for a chat and swapping stories. We both felt that this is a charity worth supporting as he is desperately looking for funding, unfortunately we lost his details so if you read this Hansel, please contact us.

 HanselPark hotel MiramarRare glimpse of Mount                                                                                                                                                                 Cameroon, an active volcano and the highest peak in West Africa

We later returned to Limbe and booked into Park Hotel Mirimar, consisting of a restaurant and a series of chalets right on the seafront – and with its own swimming pool! Wow, what more do you want, even if it takes time to get used to the sand and rocks being black from the nearby Mount Cameroun, still an active volcano. Very reasonable, and with hot water and cold beers, we decided to stay here for the weekend, to prepare for the last of the bad roads heading into Nigeria.

 The Drills, only 3000 left in the wild worldwideBoth his parents were killed by poachers and he is now being                                                                                                                                                                     bottle fed by the keepers

 

The big boss of the Gorilla group and Stew helping to feed the animals!

We visited the Wildlife Sanctuary, where we saw gorillas, chimpanzees, and other local endangered types of monkeys, included the odd looking Drill and mandrills.  We met Chris and  Megan, volunteer workers in the Sanctuary, and Stewart later  joined them and a few locals, including one called Bama, for a drink at a local hangout on the beach. Bama is very proud of the similarity between his name and the US candidate and to celebrate this, he promptly offered to purchase Stan when we finished our trip!! Might just take him up on that.

Black sand beachesPicture time

Being English speaking, Limbe was instantly one of our favourite new destinations, especially once we’d found a reliable and reasonable internet café that stayed open until 10pm. The place is like a little separate “colony” even down to the British style plugs and proper loafs of bread, the first we have seen since Luanda.There is a strong Christian influence in the whole area, with every 3rd building being a church of some sort, with fantastic names such as  “The Deeper Life Church”  and “The True and only Church of God”!!

THIS is for my grandchildren to show them how we did washing in my day!!!!Limbe harbour

 We spent time swimming in the pool, and Stewart was delighted to find the tv had Supersport, and managed to watch some rugby. Annaliese decided to “do” her hair, which she did very successfully – that is if you live in Benoni!!, So, if you notice a complete bottle blond anywhere, in fact we do not think there is any trace of colour left in her hair,.,,,,,you know who it is.!!!! Stewart is fast becoming a star motor mechanic and traced the reason why the fan system was not working, to a burnt out fuse.

Cameroonians just LOVE having their pictures taken and “official “ photographers are everywhere, specially at the beaches where they have permanent requests for pictures whilst the locals pose on horses, doing push ups etc.

 Some examples of local food, mashed cocaplant and fresh fish

We also drove up the coast to “Mile 11” beach – so named as it is 11 miles out of town, where we spent some time lazing by the beach and watching the locals running up and down, exercising and stretching, and swimming in the sea.

 

Staying at the same hotel we bumped into David and Megan, who were taking a break from doing some volunteer work in an area just outside Limbe. It was  good to meet and speak to other  people experiencing Africa, specially as David was the first Mormon we have ever met and as he quickly pointes out, Annaliese is the first Afrikaner he has ever met!  

 Our first Mormon friend, David and WendyBrave Wendy and Rob who gave us loads of info

Whilst still at Miramar, we noticed a mud spattered Landcruiser  in the carpark, and upon closer inspection, tracked down Rob and Wendy, 2 fellow explorers who were traveling around Africa in the opposite direction to ourselves. It was great to compare notes, and to exchange information on routes and places to go.Even more so as they were the first couple we met who did exactly what we did, down to giving up jobs and selling houses. They had driven for a day and a half down from the Nigerian border, a distance of 300km or so, and told us tales of  muddy roads that were depressingly familiar. We had been warned this section of the road would be tough, and it seemed it would be so as 65km took them 13 hours! So unfortunately it turns out that the stories we heard about the worst road in Africa is true! The overnight torrential rainfall did nothing to lift our spirits, but spending time with Rob and Wendy soon did. We had a lazy Sunday lunch of seafood on the beachfront, and spent Sunday comparing cars and notes in anticipation of leaving on Monday when we sadly have to say goodbye to stunning fellow travelers as well as a lovely, quaint Limbe.

 

 

 

Limbe to Mamfe, well nearly

We left Limbe after a great breakfast with our newly made friends Wendy and Rob who were off to Yaounde and on to Gabon. After another sleepless night due to the knowledge of what lay ahead, we both felt it is time for us to tackle what we have been told is the worst road in Africa.

The road started off fine and we were driving along in high spirits listening to our newly acquired Cameroonian music CD. We had to stop at Kumba to ensure we have cell phone reception for Stews telephonic interview for one of the teaching jobs we applied for. So needless to say, the nerves at this stage were relatively stretched beyond what they should be. We stopped at a local pub/restaurant for a cool drink and just because we were there, they decided to play their music as loud as possible! We could not exactly tell them that it was the last thing we wanted as the telephone connections were usually bad and it is no fun if you cannot hear what questions are being asked!! But hey, this is typical of Cameroonian hospitality, so Stew had to sweat it out in a hot car with all the windows closed!!

Waiting for the call!!!!

For Anna maria NOTE.... just a BIDI but cannot guarantee it will stay like that !!!

We were on our way after the call came through at the arranged time. The plan was to reach Mamfe that evening to ensure that we can leave for the border and the bad road at the crack of dawn the next morning. As the road steadily started to get worse, I checked the map and saw that we made a note at one place to turn LEFT, but we could not remember why the note was made…..next lesson…NEVER trust a local that does not drive for directions!! As the local guy told us to turn RIGHT instead, we believed him that that was the way to Mamfe, and drove straight into a very BAD road with fading light! LAST thing we needed before we even hit the worst road the next day. The mud was very bad, thick like clay and mixed with loads of water from the rain that day, made driving a bit of a nightmare. The worst happened and we slipped completely off the road and got badly stuck. Thankfully some locals arrived pretty soon and after trying the winch with no success, they got us out when it was already dark. They told us that there was no way we can continue as it got only worse further on and suggested we turn around and go back to Nguti some 30 kms back as there is a “great hotel” where we can stay.

  Getting used to what lies aheadStuck in the dark thank g for locals !

Well, we have been in a lot of places, the worst being the mosquito hell hole in DRC, but this one came a close second. No water, no electricity, smelly bedding but hey, it was a place to sleep!!! Not much of the sleeping happened though as we now had some idea of what awaited us the next day. At least the manager of the establishment promised to find us a reliable driver the next day. We had been warned not to try and negotiate the road on our own as there is no way we will get through. At this stage we due to what we just experienced, we believed it and had no desire to play tough!! One thing we are VERY sure of though is that NEVER again will we pay someone in SA to go on a "4x4 course/track" No more for at least 10 years!!!

Pics taking too ong to load, will update them if we find a better connection

Nguti to Ikom

Imagine:

- a thick red clay track, saturated by torrential rains that soak to the skin in a second, as slippery as a buttered marble;

- a twisty track through thick tropical jungle, teeming with bloodsucking bugs, pythons and razor-sharp thorns;

- huge water-filled holes of impossible depths every 100 metres or so

- a gaggle of 4x4s and motorbikes, all vying for that one imaginary line of least resistance through the chaos.

Yes, we did officially find THE WORST ROAD IN AFRICA!

Made worse by our distrust of Stanruza, we set off early from Nguti, stopping to pick up a “professional driver “ by the name of Elias, to assist us through the 100km or so that lay ahead to the Cameroon/Nigeria border. After our experiences on the muddy track the evening before, we were taking no chances.

We had been warned of the stretch ahead, especially the 65 km from Mamfe to the border, but had no choice in the matter, as we were still expected in Ghana early July, and time was not on our side. Just to add that the other roads in Cameroun had been excellent by African standards, all tarred and with a minimum of potholes. It appeared that money was only spent on infrastructure benefiting the majority Francophone area of Cameroun, whereas the English speaking area north of Limbe was neglected, which led to a lot of resentment on their part. They rightly felt they did as much if not more for the country than other areas, as the area was rich in farming, had a thriving port, and a massive oil refinery, but that the French dominated government was deliberately ignoring their needs.

Starting out Annaliese in the backStan after a few "Heavy" spots

Elias expressed doubt as to whether the journey could be completed that day, and told us it would be “very difficult’. What an understatement. In order to cater for Elias,we had moved the fridge to the back of Stan, and made a temporary seat in its place behind the driver. Elias insisted on driving from the outset, which Stewart almost took affront to, until almost immediately after we set off, an “impassable” stretch of muddy slush of steep decline was negotiated without even a comment by Elias. That was the end of any discussion as to whom was going to drive!

Some of the locals cheering us on and some fellow drivers

Stan literally slid from side to side across whatever straight bits of road presented themselves to us. The preferred way of driving round a bend was to push the car into either the foliage or muddy bank on one side of the track, so as to prevent it from sliding around, and then to drive at an impossible angle until the road straightened. With Stan already top-heavy, this made for some gravity defying moments.

Occasionally the track split around a deep water filled hole , where some or other vehicle had clearly been dug out over many days. Early on we passed an OverLander truck, and the bedraggled inhabitants told us they had taken 10 DAYS to get there from Ekok, the border town.

Any idea which way?Spot the mags

Getting stuck was inevitable. No amount of a mixture of tiptoe driving and Rambo style revving and smoking tires was enough to get out of all the trouble. Vehicles from the opposite direction made things even more complicated, and one vehicle, after charging us R50 to be used as a tow point to winch us out of a hole, promptly drove past and ripped Stan’s wheel cover off!

The winch was proving an invaluable piece of equipment ( than you Liesbeth and others for insisting we get one), but the impossible strains put on the cable, had to take their toll, and on the 5th or 6th time we hauled ourselves out of the glutinous mud, the cable snapped, putting even more pressure on Elias to avoid getting stuck.

This involved much spade digging, pushing and pulling Stan in knee deep mud by ourselves and fellow travelers and locals from the nearby villages. Many locals were amazed to see us, with the children shouting out “white, white” whenever they spotted us. In a mixture of broken English and Pidgin, the locals told us to “go back, is no good”. The camaraderie between fellow strugglers through the mud was amazing, however. At one stage 2 locals had hacked an alternative route around an impassible water-filled pit, and were charging the equivalent of R20 for its use, which we paid gladly.

Not an ounce of vanity left girls! Roadside attraction

The heavy revving and riding of the clutch took its toll on Stan’s weakness, and much to our dismay, the clutch started slipping once more. Elias had no choice but to ignore it as he lurched and heaved Stan ever forwards.

After about 6 hours, Elias stopped for a local meal of fu fu and relish – the relish so hot it was almost unbearable.The meat was of some unknown origin, but we joined him, closed our eyes and ate. He then announced that he believed we would make the border that evening, as we had made such good time , with only 25 km left to the border!

Hot stuff local fufuNo words needed

Well, 3 hours later, and with Stan and ourselves covered in mud from head to toe, we drove up to the border post, much to the amusement of the locals. The usual “go slow” border officials and “on the take” hangers on failed to wipe the grins off our faces of having made the trip in record breaking time - 9 hours!!

WE MADE IT YEEEEaahhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

We paid to have the worst of the mud washed off Stan, having been told the Nigerians would not allow us through the border without doing so, bade farewell to Elias, the best mud driver in the world, and drove over the bridge and onto a tar road into Nigeria. The border post on the Nigerian side was lengthy but friendly and very welcoming , and we were soon on our way to Ikom, some 25kms away (which took only 30 minutes!!), where we booked into the grandly named Heritage Hotel for the night.

Our ordeal was over, we had made it – into Nigeria!

Stats and Helpful Info

The following are some stats as well as some info that might be helpful to future travelers:

 

(Please note that the prices are relevant at the time that we traveled and should therefore be adjusted. The cost of the accommodation does not include some “freebies” like staying at friends or bushcamping, and the amount reflected is per couple per night)

 

Country :  Cameroon (Anglophone) or Cameroun (Francophone)

 

Dates:            18 June to 24 June  

 

Exchange rate:       R1.00 to 50 CFA

 

Number of Nights:    six

 

Distance traveled: 1191 km

 

Average distance per day:  170 km

 

Cost of Diesel: R10.90 per litre

 

Average fuel consumption:  7.59km per litre

 

Diesel used:  157litres

 

Worst Road/s:  … in Africa! -  Nguti to Ekok

 

Best Road/s:  all the other roads (excluding Douala)

 

Favourite new destination:  Limbe

 

Average cost of accommodation:  R266.67 per night

 

Number of Bushcamps:   nil

 

Cheapest Acommodation:  Limbe Botanical Gardens Guesthouse

 

Most enjoyable:  Park Hotel Miramar (great pool and DSTV)