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!