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…..