Our coworkers from the Afi camp didn't keep their promise to hold us hostages to the project. We secretly wished that somehow we could linger longer, in spite of the pricey Cameroon, Congo and DRC visas already in our passports. But our time to move on had come. And we have been dreaming of Cameroon - nicknamed "miniature Africa" - for a long time. The 9th of October presidential elections had passed peacefully, instead of turning into a bloody conflict, as predicted by the foreign news agencies. Paul Biya had paid for 7 more years of direct acces to Cameroon's wealth and power with a few campaign t-shirts and some bags of cash.
We had taken the visa in Abuja: 1 photo, application form and 50000 CFA. Gas is aprox. 595 CFA/l.
9th of November, last days of rainy season. We zoom from Afi to Ikom, where we fill up for the last time with the dirt-cheap Nigerian petrol and call home. 20 km farther we cross the border from Mfum to Ekok, where the Cameroonian customs officer has some troubles figuring out that our visas are still valid. A few hours and 7000 CFA later we have a Laissez passer for 14 days and we start rolling - late as hell - on the dreaded Ekok - Mamfe road, possibly the most difficult of its kind in all of Africa.
A Nightmare Begins
We are fierce and climb steeper and steeper hills of unsealed mud that has petrified under the scorching sun. Where pools of water linger, the laterite sinks our tires into a sticky swamp of hell. The Chinese are working at this road and they say in 2 years the legendary over-lander's nightmare will be buried under smooth tarmac. For now, the beast is alive and is claiming all our mental and physical energy. Ana walks the toughest parts. It's all challenging, but we are coping well.
Romanians say that "one must not celebrate before the race is over". At a crossing, through a crater the size of a lorry, I feel the clutch on fire and my rear wheel just dead. I'm stuck, I have no clutch and people come running. I know I don't have a spare clutch, nightmare begins. As it turns out, we are on a plantation, where a 10 houses community has set camp to profit from the traffic to Nigeria. We carry alu-boxes, dry sacks and our frozen souls under a palm shed, then we push the bike uphill. A woman fetches us water to shower and plant on Ana's lap a 7 months baby who makes a wee. At might we drop exhausted and in a state of disbelief on our punctured mattresses. In the morning we begin the damage control operation: we have some food (oats, tea, 2 cans, 1 soup) and 4000 CFA (6 Euro). We buy garri, sweet potatoes, Magi, sugar, bananas and oranges and we sent scooter-taxis to Ekok to charge a borrowed SIM. After 4 weeks of conservation work in Nigeria, there we were, living among poachers, smelling the daily catch of bush meat (porcupine, monitor lizard, tortoise) in the villagers' pots and listening how illegal loggers cut rare trees, then ship them to Nigeria on floats during the night. We have to renounce all privacy, constantly scrutinized and hassled by curious passengers, dozens of truck drivers and mechanic wannabes. Kids begged for any plastic spoon and old sock we dared to use. By the third day we were forced to buy at inflated prices the oranges and potatoes that villagers had picked from the floor behind their house. By night, drunken people debating loudly our situation kept us awake, with alarming key words like moto, rich, money, Abuja, kidnapping. When we barely managed to close an eye, the goats and roosters would begin a delirious routine, feeding our paranoia. Every day we felt more tired and hopeless. We missed our scheduled live TED conference, but we somehow managed to contact our Abuja friends and our families. Harry bought a replacement clutch, FedEx-ed it to Abuja, from where it would be trucked to Ikom, then carried over the border by a taxi.
It was the 5th day in Nsanaragati when saw the first white faces. Another overlander's vehicle had gotten stuck in the pothole that had claimed our Tenere. Jacques, Delphine, Lea (4,5 yrs) and Elisa (3 yrs) had left Toulouse for a year long African adventure by Land Rover Defender. It was Elisa's b-day, Lea had a fever, but all they said was: "rescue team is here". We took their generous offer to be towed to Bamenda and after 30 minutes of packing, we were attempting something we'd only seen at Dakar.
Lea is resting with high fever while Gillian is watching.
The shed where we lived for 5 days. © Delphine
The impossible becomes possible on the infernal 10 km to Eyumojok. No image can begin to describe what is like to actually be doing what we did, but that's all we have to remind us of this improbable experience.
One day the Chinese machines will burry the Ekok-Mamfe legend under tarmac.
Resting on some cocoa bags with a high fever from exhaustion. In the background, the car we later helped out of the mud.
The epic day ended with Elisa blowing her 3 candles at the bivouac. © Delphine
Campbells … in Africa
We wash our vehicles.
The road to Bamenda took us another two days, because the good tar is alternating with unsealed patches.
Brilliant camping spot, in the middle of the primary forest. Rain comes over indeed, but we medicate with Pastis and hot dogs.
In Bamenda we camp at Foyer Eglise Presbiteriene and spend our time doing laundry, shopping for necessities, finding a shoe guy to sew our disintegrating slippers and emailing home.
Concha, a protein powerhouse served for breakfast in the north-west
The other overlanders we had met en route are already in Congo and informed us that DRC and Angola visas are impossible to get now, because of the upcoming Congolese elections that are expected to become violent in the buildup. They got stuck in Pointe Noire and had to ship their vehicles (2 cars + 2 bikes) to Namibia and fly via JoBurg. A very scary and expensive option, we are hoping that as we already got our DRC visa we might get lucky with Angola as well in Matadi, if we can reach it before our Congo and DRC visas expire. In the meantime, our clutch arrived in Abuja and will be shipped to Yaounde where we will pick it up next week from the UPS office. With days to spare, we decide to take a joyride on the famous Ring Road in our french friends Landie.