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Friday, November 22, 2019

INTO THE JUNGLE - CAMEROON & GABON


We have a further 40km of terrible roads to reach Banyo and the final paperwork at the Customs – stamping of our carnet. It is getting late so when they suggest we camp in their carpark we jump at the chance. Traffic dies down and it is a peaceful night.

We thought the bad roads were over, but oh no how wrong we are. The main road heading south has not been repaired for years – it is a red track winding through the jungle.  It is slow going, picking our way through massive ruts, avoiding holes and massive mudpuddles. We do 150km at about 20km per hr. There is not much traffic. A few trucks, some overloaded hatchbacks – all with the hatch open and goods hanging out, plenty of motorbikes – with up to 7 people on the back, and some overloaded vans. It is all very green & jungly with countless small villages.

At 3pm we reach the tarseal. What excitement! We decide to continue to the town of Foubam to visit the Sultan’s Palace. Suddenly we are in a big town with lots of traffic & as usual I get John snarled in the middle of the market that is spreading all over the road. And of course, we cannot get out, so have to turn around and go right back through it. Phew we find the Palace – a rather untidy looking manor house and do the obligatory guided tour just before closing time. Time to find our hotel carpark, but when they want practically the cost of a room we drive on (a mistake!) There is a convent 20km out of town – so we head there. Sadly, the incredibly narrow, muddy side road gets wetter & wetter, until the puddles becomes a lake. It is nearly dark, so we simply camp on the road. After all who else would be crazy enough to drive down this road (only motorbikes!)

Even getting back out in the morning is a bit dodgy using full 4-wheel drive. Very relieved it didn’t rain in the night. Today we head through the much bigger town of Bafossam and on to the city of Yaoundé. We are hoping to get to the DRC Embassy today to organise our visas (the last visas to get for this trip) and we are excited to get there in time. No crazy paperwork required – they just need a form filled in, a few photos & plenty of money. Even better we’re told to come back tomorrow at 11am to collect them. We head up to the Presbyterian Guest House tucked up a hill overlooking the city. Aa amazingly quiet oasis in the middle of this crazy city. Just one minor problem: recent road works have put a trench around the whole yard. And these locals don’t hurry. Finally, a wobbly bridge is made for us to cross. In the morning the bridge is re-erected and GR2 crosses – with plenty of wobbling by the planks! Actually, rather scary, but we are out and head off in the crazy mayhem traffic to find an ATM, then a supermarket & finally the Embassy for our visas.  Chores easy, but the Embassy says no it will be ready tomorrow. Bother! What will we do now? It is no point leaving the city as it takes ages to get anywhere, so we hunt down a workshop to get a grease and adjust brakes and return to our spot on top of the hill. We plan to camp over the road, but no we must be inside her property. It is much safer, even though there is no fence, so a new bridge is made. This time a secure concrete/dirt one.

Back to the Embassy and with our passports collected, we exit the city. Lots more jungle and of course small villages. Also, lots of rain. We finish the day in a hotel carpark not far from the border and we head off early, but too early for the Customs guy. We end up waiting for an hour. Finally, on to Immigration. Our details get written up at numerous places before we are finally stamped out.

 Hello Gabon. There is a sort of preborder area with horrendous reports about a very officious officer – fortunately he is not on duty and the process is very smooth. Then we need to drive some 40km to the town of Bitam to be properly stamped in. Here too it is relatively simple. They need a few photocopies & proof of our Hotel booking. (Tomorrow we must remember to cancel it) Finally we are off and in through more lush jungle. There seems to be at least 2 police checkpoints before and after each biggish town. A bit tedious, but generally Ok.  Oh, and by the way the roads are excellent. What we do notice are the logging trucks – heaps of them, filled with humongous logs. When we stop for the night beside a rather grotty motel, we meet a Chinese guy. He is in charge of one of the numerous plants here. Interestingly there are 40 containers of wood that are shipped out of here every week. And he has been here for 2 years!  That is a heck of a lot of trees going out!  The extra payback for Gabon is the great Chinese roads. Hopefully they will be maintained once the Chinese leave.

As we drive through this country John asks what the favourite accessory is. Mmm is it a mobile phone? No, it is a machete! The ladies pop them on their heads, the men swing them back and forth, and even the kids take them to school – it looks as if they have to slash the school yard before they can have play time.

It rains all night & I am getting agitated because we have another long section of dirt road (300km), and then it keeps raining on & off. This jungle is dripping with water. We make the decision not to do the extra drive, in and back out on the same road, to Libreville (the big smoke in Gabon). After all it is just another port city. Instead we carry on to Lambarene – a biggish town bisected by a massive river. Here we stop riverside for lunch. There on through flatter countryside towards the border, finally looking for our hotel in the town of Mouila. As usual I am on the lookout as we drive in for backup camp spots. And as the hotel carpark is not big enough, we head back to the nearest backup. Itis a big Immigration building and carpark secured by fence & gate. It takes a while to get the boss’ approval, but yes, we can stay. At dark the gate is locked and a guard on duty. Perfect.

Off early to Ndende (the border town) on more great roads, but once we turn to head to the border the seal vanishes and we are back on dirt: potholes, ruts, puddles & all. We stop to get our carnet stamped out and discover that Immigration was back at the town. Oh well, too bad. We just don’t have an exit stamp in our passports (and no one is bothered). Over the rickety bridge is the Republic of Congo.

More to come…..


CAMEROON & GABON - PHOTOS

Hello Cameroon

The road/track

We really did drive right beside this waterfall - in the water


Favourite toy


Markets always overflow on to the streets


No not a walking track - the main road south in Cameroon

The Sultan's Palace - he had to house his 684 wives elsewhere

In the fields (pity about my little camera)

Actually not as overloaded as some of them

The 100 year old Guesthouse

Getting in to the Guesthouse - those planks moved!

The fancy part of Yaounde


Yaounde Cathedral

What's for dinner tonight!

Some of those logging trucks


The huge river in full flow or overflow

Hunting for a number plate

Dinner (NO!)

Lunch stop beside the river

At least they have lawns here

Watching us fill up with water

Ahhhh the road/track to the border

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

NIGERIAN CRAZINESS


Well here we are in Nigeria and it is pitch black. Something we try to avoid at all costs. There seems to be never ending villages and then crazy police/military/vigilantes shining bright torches at us. Stop, stop nearly every 10meters. They are brandishing guns and or large sticks. Apparently, the borders are closed to goods so they all are checking what we have on board. Absolute madness!!! We find the first hotel we can and stop. Not the best scenario as the generator is roaring on one side of us and the nightclub on the other. Definitely a sleeping pill night! We head off in the morning. It is Friday and we have only 80km to get to Lagos to the Cameroon Embassy to get our visas.

Hmmmmmm! Broken roads, mud and then finally motorway. We should make it, but a wrong turn takes us to truck gridlock a mere few kms from Victoria Island, and 2 hours in total gridlock means we arrive late. The ambassador has gone. We will have to wait until Monday. We head to a hotel complex that has a huge carpark and take a room if necessary. But again, traffic is gridlocked. There is a massive party (we discover it is for the death of the King) and the carpark is packed. One crazy story though: At one gridlocked intersection there were about 6 guys (military & police) who practically came to blows when they try directing the flow of traffic. A lot of yelling & shoving!  Eventually we find a small hotel and end up camped outside. The next day we head back to the Eco Resorts, park GR2 in the huge carpark and settle in for 2 days of enforced R&R. There is a lovely pool and it will be our last relax before the long haul through our last section of this trip. As we head out for dinner one night we are amazed at the queue of expensive cars & the huge number of guards with large guns – inside the complex!

Monday morning, we head to the Embassy & 30mins later we have our visas. The very helpful man rings the DRC Embassy in Yaounde – and yes, we can get visas there. Fingers crossed all goes well there – this will be our last visa to collect. So, we plunge back in to the Lagos traffic, but apart from the area around Vic Island & Lagos Is it is flowing smoothly and continues for the rest of the day. We drive across an amazing bridge that edges the city, then motorway for miles – and yay no police stops. This of course changes once we turn and head east. On the whole they are easily distracted by me saying “Good Afternoon Sir “and “Is this the right way to……….” and generally chattering on until they wave us on. We end the day at an hotel at Ore (a much bigger town than marked on my map) & squeeze in. Noisy, but they have a pool!

Ready to leave bright and early, but squeezing out is tricky. I get extremely flustered trying to give directions with 10 locals all yelling different ones! After filling a pot hole that threatens to tilt GR2 into a nasty wall, John manoeuvres her out. Phew. All day driving today. Lots of great double-laned roads, but plenty of broken up stuff too. Main roads that have closed down, meaning detours through mud and heaps of police stops. Our last stretch is appalling. We move at a snail’s pace, totally relieved to find our hotel carpark in Enugu.

We cannot use the main border as it is closed to foreigners so we are heading north to cross a small border at Gembu. The day we left Lagos a Secret Service officer stopped us and spent nearly an hour going over maps and working out a route for us. He even rung a few people to check road conditions, so we will follow his instructions. Fingers crossed.

So again, another day driving. Fortunately, the guys at our hotel tell us about a better road heading north (better than returning to the main road on that nasty broken up stretch) – it is awesome and we soon find out why. There are height barriers. Fortunately, we can squeeze around them, but large trucks wouldn’t be so lucky. Back on the main roads of course there are more potholes and police/military stops (64 today). Many ask for water, but when we offer them some they say” No, No, money to buy some”. We arrive at Ghoko by 3pm. A bit early to stop but there are a few hotels here and who knows how long it will take to get to the next decent town. Our third attempt finds Jovan Hotel with a big enough entry and carpark. And the generator is turned off as they don’t have any other guests

We wake early/it’s still dark, when the groundsman starts washing GR2. At least we can leave at first light. The roads are generally better now as there are a lot fewer trucks. Sadly, the police stops are not reduced. Today our total is 120 in just over 300km, taking all of 9 hours. Most are Ok but a few are a real pain. One even had a list of crazy infringements to fine us eg overloading: excuse me have they looked at Nigerian vehicles! Scenery wise everything is lush & green, there are countless mudbrick/thatched villages & larger scruffy towns. People are everywhere and the number of school kids is booming. Maybe it is something to do with no electricity at night! When we stop for diesel, we are the circus freaks. Don’t think these kids have seen whities before! We pull over for the night at Matum Bigu – there are 3 guesthouses on our list, all rather hard to find. The first 2 have arched entries. Our friendly motorbike helper leads us to the 3rd one, again down a dirty sandy track and yes, we can fit. Awesome. A night on the street surrounded by dozens of kids doesn’t sound like fun. Oh and today I broke my camera again (the on/off switch this time) so it is back to the box brownie!

Again, an early start. We are turning off the main road to head south east to our border. Who knows what the roads will be like – so we plan to drive about 200km and stop at the National Park. To our surprise we get there by 11.30am as the roads are pretty good. The Park is flooded, so we decide to continue our drive to Gembu, straight up to the mountains on a crazy broken up road. Slow going, but really gorgeous. Then on to high plateau. We could be driving through NZ farmlands. And of course, there are the numerous stops. The villages are pretty poor & scruffy so we really want to find our hotel before dark, but the stops (naturally) get more bothersome. It is nearly dusk as we wind down a narrow back street. I am crossing all my fingers hoping for a tall entry gate and Yes, they have one.  Gech an House of Hope in Gembu is a lovely place to stay. They run a hospital, guesthouse, restaurant & church. Here we meet Jeff who is a missionary working between here and Cameroon. He fills us in with border info & Cameroon as a whole; we shout him dinner: it is money well spent.

Our final day. We have to back track 40km, then we have 80km of rough 4x4 driving to do before the border. And what a challenge it proves. Absolutely no sign posts, just follow the most used track. Fortunately, it is mostly dry, but there are huge sections of rock, very steep sections requiring low range 4wd, rivers to cross, huge ruts and some very dodgy bridges. As we end up following a convoy of overloaded old Landrovers we assume this is the correct track, and then the worn track where small 6wd trucks carry cheap fuel to Cameroon. Then the border formalities, followed by another 40km of just as bad road on the Cameroon side. Phew. A huge day with some of the hardest 4x4 driving we have done in GR2.

John reckons the first words they learn in English is “give me the money”. Oh, and in total we were stopped well over 300 times. (I forgot to count the first night in the dark!)

 Goodbye Nigeria – this has been one crazy ride. I for one am glad to leave you!


NIGERIA - PHOTOS

Our room with a view - Eko Resort in Lagos. We spent ages in the pool

Our view of Victoria Island

The bridge that bypasses Lago city

And the town we bypass!

Collecting another number plate

Oh the rubbish!

And John is worried about GR2 doing an afterburn!!!  Cough, cough, splutter

Plenty of these 

And plenty of bad road

Why did this car roll! Just being flipped back over by lots of locals. Naturally it is full of people - so tight they can hardly move

Bridge over the massive Niger River

Just the usual street scene

This is the main road

Oranges to market

On the bottom - long horned cattle. On the top - goats

Pounding up the yams

Grinding & drying yams

There are plenty of villages

And plenty of stops!

On the side of the road - sadly not such a good zoom on the old camera

Heading in to the gorgeous hill country


Camping in Gembu at the Guesthouse

On our way to the border. Lots of villages 

Checking out the river crossing

Following the convoy of local landrovers

The Pinzgauer 6wd all terrain vehicles that take fuel to Cameroon

Hope that bridge is strong enough - we can't go back now