Aug 26 2010

Tanzania – diary 2010-06-29 to 2010-08-01

After our rapid escape from Kenya we arrived back in Tanzania via the Lunga Lunga border post. We were relieved to find that our visas seemed to still be valid even after we went to Rwanda from Tanzania in May which was supposed to result in the Tanzanian visa becoming null in void. With a saving of $100 we headed south, on an awful gravel road, towards Peponi Beach, a camp site and lodge that was set along the idyllic Tanzanian North Coast. We settled into our beachside campsite comfortably and enjoyed the views of the Indian Ocean with the fishing dhows sailing in with the day’s catch.

We spent the next 5 days at Peponi Beach where we made friends with fellow campers and enjoyed many meals together, a highlight being a fresh fish braai where we procured the fish ourselves straight from the fishermen who had literally just stepped off the boat. It must have been their easiest sale in months! Peponi was like a breath of fresh air in comparison to the very commercial Kenyan coastline. We truly enjoyed the serenity that the owners have created and will recommend it to many other overlanders in the future. We were still able to walk into the local village and not be harassed by the village folk but rather interact with them and shop at their little stores. We were also fortunate enough to be invited on a dhow ride with some fellow South Africans who we had originally met at Twiga Beach in Kenya. This was an authentic experience but left many of us feeling queasy and looking rather green.

With 2 weeks to go until we were to attempt to summit Kilimanjaro, Kirk and I were getting anxious about being at sea level and felt the need to get to higher altitude, to acclimatise and so decided to head to Arusha and suss out its surroundings. We made the journey through some valleys and across some plains where signs for strong winds appeared very frequently. The wind swept across the flat plains and hit Mvubu with a vengeance. Kirk had a tough time counteracting the short sharp bursts. The terrain changed drastically from lush tropical palms trees and sisal plantations to dry desolate overgrazed land. As the altitude increased so did our hopes of catching our first glimpse of the challenge that we were to embark on in 2 weeks time. She appeared out of nowhere…Kirk spotted her first and I was still uncertain if we were facing Mt Kilimanjaro as there was a haze that was obscuring the outline of the slopes. The only thing that was convincing was the white snow capped top that was peeping out beyond some clouds. As we neared closer it became apparent that we were in fact face to face with the highest mountain in Africa. It was quite a chilling moment and both Kirk and I were ecstatic.

We made our way towards Arusha where the backdrop of Kilimanjaro changed to her older sister Mt Meru, which was equally spectacular although it was lacking the brilliant white snow. We made our way to Shoprite where we bought a few luxuries (Romany Creams and Ouma Rusks) and headed towards the Snake Park Campsite. En-route Kirk spotted a recently refurbished short wheel base 1981 HJ42 Toyota Land Cruiser which made up his mind…we were returning to Nairobi to purchase the green double cab equivalent the following day. He had been deliberating over this for the last 2 weeks whilst chilling on the beach at Twiga and Peopni and had made the decision to buy! This now meant that out trip would have a completely different element to it and I would be allowed to drive Mvubu for the remainder of the trip. For the last 8 and a half moths I had been forbidden to drive but now his affection for Mvubu had been replaced with the love for his new green Land Cruiser, Kobe.

After a good night’s rest we embarked on our journey back o Nairobi. The road was under construction and the dust from the road works added to the dust of the extremely dry plains – the effects of years and years of overgrazing. It was quite a cultural experience driving through Maasai country as the herders were in abundance dressed in their colourful shukas and elaborate jewels.

The border crossing back into Kenya was mayhem; it was the most commercial border crossing between Tanzania and Kenya and every tour guide and his European contingency was out in force. We managed to get through fairly quickly and made the journey back to Jungle Junction where we were to spend the next few days sorting out the admin for the ‘new’ car.

 Jungle Junction – Nairobi

Our time at Jungle Junction was enjoyable. It seemed to be quite a difficult place to tear one self away from as was evident from the number of people who were camped up in the front garden and had been there for more than a week. It became a little community whereby we shared gourmet meals – roast lamb and Mexican being some of our favourites as well as amazing BBQ’s and enjoyed watching the build up to the Football World Cup Final and eventually the final where our Dutch friends were enthusiastically blowing a vuvuzella and cheering for their team. It was nice to be in a city where everything is so accessible and they have amazing shopping malls where one can almost feel like they are shopping in London or South Africa. Nairobi is set at 1800m so we were getting the much needed acclimatisation without even doing anything in preparation for our climb up Kili. After 10 days of eating, socialising and internetting we were able to leave Nairobi and head back to Moshi to meet friends who were flying out from London and to prepare for our trek up Kilimanjaro. The traffic leaving the city on Thursday morning was a nightmare. With Kirk leading the way in Kobe, and me following closely behind in Mvubu, I was forced into a world of African city driving which was enough to give me sweaty palms and tense shoulders immediately. At one stage, it took us an hour to cover 300 meters. We stopped off at Nairobi International Airport to fetch Nils, a fellow South African and made our way back to the Tanzanian border. It was great to have Nils with us as he was given the opportunity to gain insight into just how interesting our lives have been for the last 9 months.

We arrived in Moshi at the Honey Badger Lodge after an arduous 7 hours of driving that challenged me with sand driving, gravel driving and beautiful tar driving. I won’t give prizes to those who can guess which one I enjoyed the most. We met with John, our guide for the Kilimanjaro expedition and finalised all plans as we were meeting the rest of the London crew the following day.

Mt Kilimanjaro – The expedition 

Saturday, the starting day for our trek, finally arrived. Nils, Paul, Kirk and I waited anxiously for John and his team of porters to fetch us from the Honey Badger Lodge. His punctuality meant that we were on schedule and proceeded to fetch Cathy, Laura and Esperanza from the Protea Hotel which was close to the Machame Gate at Kilimanjaro National Park, the starting point for our 7 day trek. It took some time for the porters to assemble our belongings and their belongings and arrange them into 17kg parcels. Whilst waiting we were astounded at the number of busses that were dropping off tourists and fellow trekkers; there must have been close to 200 trekkers that day who, like us, we hoping to summit Kibo peak. We eventually set off after 11am and enjoyed the 1st day of walking which took us through lush tropical vegetation similar to that of the Rwenzori Mountains. When we reached Machame Hut, at 3000m, we were welcomed by our porters who had already started pitching our tents and preparing hot drinks and popcorn for us. This was the 1st experience of the wonderful hospitality that was to follow for the remaining 6 days.

The days to follow were much of the same with us getting woken up by Lucas, our wonderful waiter/host who arrived at our tent with a hot water basin and a cheery good morning every morning, followed by an enormous breakfasts of porridge, pancakes, omelettes, sausages, tomatoes and toast with the occasional treat of fried pork. This hearty meal was enough to get anyone out of bed regardless of how cold it was. Lunches were prepared in the morning and arranged in a lunch box or on every alternate day we would arrive at our camp by lunchtime where we were treated to a 3 course hot lunch. At one stage we were concerned that we were going to be gaining weight rather than burning off the calories that we were supposed to after a long day of walking.

 The 5 days of walking that preceded summit night were delightful in that they took us through some beautiful scenery as well as altering terrain that consisted of valleys and spurs. We rose above the clouds after day 2 where we settled at Shira Camp for the evening and woke, on day 3, to the most beautiful sight – the valley below us was completely engulfed by tick cumulus clouds that resembled an enormous soft, fluffy white feather down duvet. It was simply stunning. On our 4th day we reached Lava Tower, 4600m, where several of our party started to feel the effects of altitude sickness. The most severe symptom was a headache which was easily treated with Paracetamol or Ibruprofen. After lunch at altitude we descended to 3900 where camp was already set up and many of us collapsed into our tents to rest before taking a slow stroll up to 4200m that afternoon where we would get our 1st glimpse of base camp to the summit. The nerves at dinner that night could be cut with a knife and it was quite unnerving to know that in 24 hours we would be summiting the highest free standing mountain in the world as well as Africa’s highest peak.

 The sun was bright and warming the following morning and Kibo Peak was peering over us with her beautiful snow caped crags. We set off for a 3 hour walk to Barafu camp, 4600m, where again we were treated to a hot lunch and afterwards took a slow walk to 4800m that afternoon all in the name of acclimatisation. After dinner we were sent to bed only to be woken at 11pm to prepare for the ascent. Not much sleep was actually achieved due to the cold temperatures and low levels of oxygen but the adrenaline seemed to kick in and motivated us to get out of our cosy sleeping bags and meet in the mess tent for a cup of tea or Milo before suiting up in our warmest gear and making our way to the summit.

 We started the summit at midnight when the stars were out and the ¾ moon was shining its light upon us. The long trail of headlamps lighting the way up the mountain side was encouraging but also unnerving as it highlighted the trail that we too would be ascending. We started the slow and arduous trek up the mountain side starting at 4600m with the desire to ultimately reach 5895m. The 1st 500m went smoothly with all of our party feeling strong and jovial. The singing of the infamous ‘Kilimanjaro’ song by the porters kept our spirits high and our feet in time with the rhythm. The going was slow and when we reached 5100m I started to feel unwell. The day before we did a practice run up to 4850m where I got terrible stomach pains – the gas was expanding as we ascended. The same was happening to me on summit night. I was trying all sorts of things – burping, farting, you name it, to get the gas feeling to subside but to no avail. My head wanted to explode so Kirk gave me a headache tablet which seemed to keep it at bay. At about 5200m I couldn’t hold back the belches any longer and I proceeded to vomit up the entire contents of my stomach – 3 litres of water and some pineapple! I felt instant relief and my headache instantly disappeared. Kirk was standing by my side whilst I was projectile vomiting and all he could say to me was; ’now I can’t give you a big smooch when we get to the top!’ I was very scared at this point as I had consumed the full 3 litres of water in my pack to prevent it from freezing and it was now soaking into the ground at my feet. I did however feel 100 times better and felt that I could continue my attempt to summit Kili. Not long after I had been ill did Kirk start to feel unwell. We had reached about 5500m when we were both crouched over vomiting up the remainder of the fluids that had been in our stomachs. The headaches had subsided but the will to keep our eyes open was dying quickly and at times we were literally walking zombies. We reached Stella Point, 150m below the summit and miraculously didn’t hang around there for too long – a good thing as I probably wouldn’t have got going again – instead we trudged on. Kirk was blubbering at this stage as he felt this was the hardest part of the trek for him. He really did have to dig deep and use up all of his reserves to make the last hundred metres. As soon as the end was in sight we were both a ball of emotions. It was the hardest thing that we have ever done in our entire lives…it took all the mental and physical strength that we possessed but the feeling when we got to that sign, confirming that we were at the highest point in Africa, was utter joy and relief. When we got close to the sign Kirk insisted that we needed to have a photo of just the 2 of us first, which I didn’t think to be unusual as we had reached a huge milestone in our trip through Africa. When we were both standing under the sign, me getting ready to pose for the camera he pulled out a ring from his pocket and asked me, through many tears, to marry him. It was a very emotional moment and I replied with, ‘of course I will!’ gave him a hug and a kiss and then got everyone in to have a photo. The moment was very surreal and quite rushed and there is a classic photo of me with this look on my face as if to say, ‘What the hell just happened?’

The sun rose from the horizon a few minutes after the proposal and spread its warmth onto us which filled us with renewed energy and relief that we had conquered what we had come to Kilimanjaro to do.

 The view on top of the mountain was simply stunning. Glaciers, of mammoth proportions surrounded us and gave off a brilliant white shine as the sun illuminated their shadows. Our heads were still a little fuzzy at this stage and in hindsight I would have loved to have spent more time at the top but the cold fingers and nose were enough encouragement to get us moving and make the descent. The descent took 3 hours, half the time it took us to get to the top and when we reached the base camp we were greeted by cheery Lucas who gave us a much needed cup of juice and we flopped into our tent. We had a good 2 hour sleep and were woken to have lunch before setting off for another 3 hour descent to Mweka Hut which was set at a good altitude that allowed us to recover without a pounding headache. That evening was a jovial one with all 7 of our team summiting Kilimanjaro and feeling great about it.

We arrived safely at the Mweka Gate 2 hours from our set off time the following morning feeling, surprisingly, spritely! It was strange to feel so good after such a physical and mental challenge and have ludicrous thoughts of actually doing it all again…you forget so quickly just how painful a feat it actually is – the euphoria certainly outweighs the despair.

We arranged to meet John and Lucas that evening for a traditional Tanzanian meal and some dancing afterwards which went off very well. The Nyama Choma was delicious and consisted of 4 kgs of BBQ beef and goat served with salad and BBQ plantains. That was all washed down with many Kilimanjaro beers and followed by a night of dancing at a local nightclub that had a live bans. Our muscles behaved themselves and allowed us to party until midnight but as the clock struck 12 our fatigue set in and we dragged our weary bodies back to the Honey Badger where we slept like the dead.

The London crew left the following morning with Paul and Nils, Laura, Cathy and Esperanza making their way back to Nairobi and me getting stuck into the copious amounts of laundry that we had accumulated during the week. It was a wonderful week and the group dynamics couldn’t have been better. The sense of achievement still exists and the surprise engagement is slowly setting in.

Kirk and I stayed in Moshi for a week after our trip up Kilimanjaro as we were waiting for the final papers for Kobe to be couried to us from Moshi. The time was spent relaxing and socialising with John and his family. We spent a memorable Sunday with the family at John’s father’s house in Marangu where we enjoyed a meal of chicken stew with plantain. The Honey Badger Lodge provided a comfortable and safe place for us to stay for the week but our morning lie ins were marred by the inconsiderate Overland Truck companies who would wake up at 4:30am and bang pots and pans, talk at the top of their lungs. Our detest for these people was heightened and the urge to get to the remotest parts of Mozambique became stronger and stronger. The papers for Kobe eventually arrived on Wednesday and we were pleased to be on the road again on Thursday morning…our destination Dares Salaam, 500km from Moshi.

The road was very good and we made it to the outskirts of the city by 3pm but our progress was deterred by large amounts of traffic. This was painstakingly slow and the misuse of traffic lights meant that we were sometimes stopped at intersections for 3 or 4 light changes. We eventually reached Mikadi Campsite at 8:30pm where we were tired, hungry and irritable from the frustrations of African city driving. We set up our tent, scoffed down a meal of fish and chips, enjoyed a hot salt water shower and hit the hay…tomorrow was going to be a similarly long driving day.

The road was equally good the following day with a bad stretch of road covering only 75km for the day. The road was under construction and in pretty good condition so we reached our destination, Seaview Lodge in Kiliowa Masoko where we were treated to stunning views of the Indian Ocean. The turquoise water was the picture of brilliance and offered us a sneak preview of what Mozambique was going to offer.

The next day took us further south to Mamasi, our last stop over in Tanzania before crossing the border. It was a useful town in that it provided us with a great place to sleep, in a clean en-suite room and relatively good fresh produce so that we could stock up and spend the last of our Tanzanian Shillings. We were on the road the following morning bright and early in search of a deserted beach, crayfish, prawns and fresh Indian Ocean fish. Mozambique was calling and we were eager to get there.

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Apr 10 2010

Cameroon – diary 2010-03-04 to 2010-03-18

2010-03-04

 Our exit out of Nigeria and into Cameroon was smooth and easy made better by the beautiful surroundings of tropical vegetation and an abundance of water. Cameron marked a significant milestone in our African adventure as we ventured closer to the equator. The dense green vegetation is evidence of the abundance of rainfall that these parts of the world receive and we were gearing up for some torrential downpours over the next month or so. The road from the Ekok border post in Cameroon to Mamfe is notorious for its difficulty. We were anticipating all sorts of drama and Kirk was even hoping to be able to put all of his recovery gear and skills to use but we were sorely disappointed to see that the road was actually not that bad. The rainy season had not yet started and the roads were still quite solid with minimal mud. We managed to breeze through the stretch of ‘road’ that, in the past, has taken people days on end to get through the cloying mud and arrived in Mamfe 3 hours later. The day was still young and after a cold drink in a local café we decided to push on to Bamenda. The Michelin map illustrated that the road was a national road and so should not take too long to cover the 150km. We took to the open road and were pleased to find that the first 30km was perfectly good tarred road. This then stopped abruptly and we entered what seemed to be a construction sight. The Chinese have moved in and have started building a massive highway to link Bamenda and Mamfe. This will be great for the economic development of Cameroon in the future but it really did spoil the scenery and my heart was very heavy to see the amount of canopy trees they were tearing down all to build a road. We made the most of a bad situation and took in the beautiful surroundings that remained. There are many people living in and amongst the forested area and we saw many women lugging these homemade woven backpacks up steep hills laden with bananas and plantains. Their strength was admirable and one thing is for certain; the women work exceedingly hard in these parts of the world. The unconstructed road wound up into the mountains until we eventually hit tar road again. We were thankful that the rain held out because the roads would have become impassable if there were to be a sudden downpour. We drove on to Bamenda where we located the Presbyterian Church Grounds. They have a wonderful set up that allows for camping and they provide good clean facilities. Upon arrival we bumped into Etienne, Sylvie and Rene whom we had met originally in Bobo Dioulasso, Burkina Faso. It is amazing how the paths of overlanders cross time and time again. We enjoyed a relaxing evening catching up on traveller’s tales and enjoying the much needed relief from the humidity. We were 1200m above sea level and the mountain air provided great relief from the stifling humidity that the coastal areas bring.

 2010-03-05

 After the long days of driving that preceded our arrival at Bamenda the boys felt that they deserved a rest day. A rest day is never actually restful. When you are driving through Africa there is always some sort of admin to do when you are parked up for a day or 2. The girls invariably do laundry, shopping and general cleaning whilst the boys almost always certainly have some form of car maintenance to do. A rest day in overlanders terms means to work hard so that you can enjoy a restful drive the following day! We visited the market after Kirk and Joe had fixed the front stabilizer bar on the Hilux Surf and we were pleasantly surprised to see the abundance of variety that the market folk had to offer. We visited the meat market to try our luck with acquiring some fillet. Chicken was still far more expensive than beef and with the price we were paying for fillet we just couldn’t resist. The butcher that we visited was probably the most skilled we had met since leaving Europe. He didn’t hack at the meat like many of the others and he surprisingly had a good understanding of the various different cuts. He also informed us that the vet comes to inspect the meat every morning to ensure that it meets a certain hygienic standard and is suitable to sell to the public. We were feeling very confident in our meat purchase and set off to buy accompaniments for our dinner. We were getting bored o the usual tomato and onion combination that we had been living on so when we found some green vegetables called Huckleberry, that could be cooked in a similar way to spinach, we jumped at the opportunity. We also found bought some baby potatoes and a variety of fresh fruit. With arms heavily laden with shopping bags we headed back to the camp ground and began the preparation of our evening meal. We enjoyed pan friend fillet steak with baby potatoes and Huckleberry done with tomato, onion and garlic. It was a meal fit for royalty and we enjoyed every morsel.

2010-03-06

 We had a lazy morning and were eventually on the road at 11am. We were heading for the Ring Road, a road that bucks and weaves through some of the finest scenery in Africa. The road is demanding in that it is unpaved for large sections and in the rainy season some of the bridges wash away and the route can become impassable. Our immaculate timing meant that we were not yet in the rainy season and so drove towards the destination of our evening stop. The road took us through the town of Wum and 3km north of town we arrived at Lake Wum, a fine Crater Lake nestled amongst the patchily cultivated hills. The Fula herders were in abundance and whilst we were setting up camp droves and droves of healthy looking cattle came to be watered. Once the cows had left and Kirk had finished taking off the left rear torsion bar (it had broken during the drive to the Crater Lake) we took to the lake and had a bath in the surprisingly warm water. It all made for a very pretty setting but unfortunately where there is water there are bugs and because of the lack of wind or breeze we were inundated with dive bombing mosquitoes and vampire bugs that had us reaching for the DEET and covering our bodies form head to toe. The setting was peaceful and serene and the altitude allowed us to enjoy another cool evening and even allowed for us to enjoy a pot of soup for dinner.

 The local people are very sceptical of the Crater Lakes in the Ring Road area. In 1986 there was a freak gas eruption at Lake Nyos where a cloud of intoxicating gas billowed out of the crater flattening the vegetation and people around it. 3000 people lost their lives on this tragic day. Scientists are still investigating the cause of the eruption. Some believe it was caused by the amount of decaying materials at the bottom of these lakes and have now started venting these Crater Lakes to prevent another disaster.

2010-03-07

 We had planned to do the long route of the Ring Road but since the torsion bar had broken we thought it best to do the smaller loop as we were not sure how Mvubu would handle the rough roads without the added support of this bar. We had been in contact with Etienne who had given us vital information about the upcoming roads. We planned to meet up with them en-route so that we could drive the next part of the Ring Road together. We drove through the most exquisite scenery passing through green countryside and fertile pastures. The Ring Road made us nostalgic as it felt like we were in the Drakensburg Mountains or the green hills of Wales…It was breathtakingly beautiful. There were times where we were as high as 2000m and would then start the descent into another fertile valley. We eventually met up with Etienne at a turn off that would take us to a village called Oku which was also famous for its grand Crater Lake. The road started ascending and continued on this upward journey. We stopped for a bite to eat along one of the road where we enjoyed views of a mountainous region and undulating hills. The road got progressively worse as we went along. It was beginning to become clear that cars do not use the road very often and that majority of the transport that uses these roads was motorbikes. We persevered and enjoyed the opportunity to put our vehicles to the test. Mvubu did just brilliantly and we sailed through some tricky sections. Lake Oku came into view and was dramatic in the way that the ominous looking clouds created an eerie feeling about the lake. It appeared from the top that there would be no access to the lake and that our desires to camp there for the night would not be granted. We pressed on until we reached a cross road. The path down he road led o Oku and the path to the left led to Mbessa. We investigated the road and found that the road to Oku was impassable. We would have had to build the road up in order for us to get down to the village and time was ticking by. We needed to make camp before sunset so we decided to drive towards Mbessa. We had met a herder who told us that we would be able to get to Oku through Mbessa and that the road was much more suited for vehicles like ours. We continued forth and found a great campsite for the evening. 

Perched at 2500m, Kirk and I were pleased to be sleeping at altitude in preparation for our trek up Mt Cameroon in the next few days. We set up camp, had the coldest bush shower of the trip and wrapped up warmly. It was the coldest weather we had experienced in a long time and we were all relishing in the fact that beanies, gloves and thick down jackets were necessary to keep warm. We enjoyed an evening around a campfire where Etienne showed us the photographs he had taken that day.

 2010-03-08 

Nothing beats sleeping in the wild. There was nothing to wake us up apart from the sound of nature. We had picked the prefect spot to camp as it overlooked an entire valley and the views were spectacular. Once packed up we started our journey towards Oku and to hopefully get a closer view of Lake Oku. The road improved marginally but the going was slow. We had to now descend to a lower altitude so with the vehicles in low range we started the slow trek to the Lake. The valleys were yet again being used to their full capacity. There were people working the land and tending to their crops. The children in these remote parts of the country always find it incredibly exciting to see white people driving in their big vehicles. Not many rural people understand what it is we are doing and cannot conceptualise the idea of travel. Most of these people have ever even left their village. They were delightful and we were only met with smiles and calls of ‘you’re welcome’. We eventually arrived at Lake Oku only to discover that access to the lake is virtually impossible. There is a vast amount of vegetation that surrounds the lake so the only view we had was from a piece of land that was once home to a church. We stopped for an hour to enjoy some lunch and then started our journey back to Bamenda. The Ring Road had been a beautiful scenic drive which was an excellent indication of the diversity that Cameroon had to offer. We were really impressed with what we had seen and experienced and we were eagerly anticipating what was to come.

We arrived back in Bamenda in time for Kirk to see Tom, the mechanic, and get Mvubu’s torsion bar welded together and refitted. It was as good as new and we were now good to go again. We returned to the Presbyterian Church grounds, set up camp again and enjoyed the last of our fillet steak.

2010-03-09

It was going to be a long day of driving for Kirk and me as we had an important meeting with Mt. Cameroon. We said goodbye to Joe and Christine and made arrangements to meet up with them after our adventure and hit the road. Again the scenery was magnificent with lush greenery engulfing the sides of the roads providing us with the most exquisite driving experience. We drove from Bamenda which was in the Northwest Province, an Anglophone area, through the West Province, a Francophone area, and into the Southwest Province entering an Anglophone area once again. The difference between the Anglophone and Francophone areas is marked by the language. We went through as series of toll gates where it changed from English speaking ticket issuers to French Speaking. It felt very bizarre to feel a distinct divide in a country. As we drove further south the banana and pineapple plantations were some of the biggest we had seen. Cameroon was certainly cashing in on their natural surroundings and making the most of the land that was fertile and able to produce such high yielding cash crops. The fruit was of export quality and were some of the nicest bananas tht I had ever tasted.

 We made it to Mt. Cameroon Ecotourism Office (Mt. CEO) in the nick of time. We had phoned ahead and spoken to Gwendolyn, a gregarious lady who was willing to wait for us to arrive and not go home at her usual time of 5pm. She gave us a warm welcome and explained the options that we had to climb Mt. Cameroon. A guide and porter were compulsory as there was no water on the mountain and we needed to take all of our own provisions with us. We opted to do the 2 day Guinness Track which was literally the steepest route up and the steepest route back down!  What were we getting ourselves into? We arranged to start the trek on Thursday which gave us the opportunity to get all of our gear sorted out, buy the necessary food items and stock up with water. We went to the Presbyterian Guest House (these Presbyterian grounds are scattered all over the Anglophone Cameroon and have very good facilities and cheap camping) and set up our tent. Sylvie and Etienne were en-route and would be joining us shortly. When they arrived we walked down to a local restaurant where we enjoyed a lovely meal of chicken, plantain chips and fried rice. It was probably the best chicken we had eaten since Senegal and it didn’t break the bank. Kirk and I were starting to feel nervous for our trek up the mountain. Had we bitten off more than we could chew? Our fitness levels were low, we had been sitting in a car for the last 4 months and the last bit of strenuous activity that we had done was Jebel Toubkal! Silently we were both dreading the aftermath of climbing a mountain in the state that our bodies were in.

 2010-03-10

Kirk started the preparation procedure by emptying the entire contents of the roof box onto a plastic tarp on the ground. We had 1 porter each who would be able to carry 15kgs, 6 of which would be water. We had read and heard that the huts on the mountain were rat infested so we opted to take a tent with us and pitch that rather than share a sleeping bag with a rat! The weather can also be unpredictable on the mountain so we needed to take wet weather gear as well. The packing process was a matter of sorting the necessities from the creature comforts and eventually we had condensed our wide range of trekking and camping goods into 2 small bags that would hopefully meet all of our needs. The nerves kept creeping up on us and we both tried to ignore them and focus on the fun side of trekking up an active volcano.

We made our way down to the Mt. CEO office where we met Jackson, our guide. We asked Jackson a few questions about the ascent and descent and when he told us that rain would prevent us from summiting we questioned him and explained that it was imperative that we got to the top. We asked Jackson to explain what merits rain and if it is drizzling would we be able to persevere. He explained that it was unsafe and too cold for the guide as they were not acclimatised to those cold conditions. We offered a warm jacket and shoes and explained to Jackson that we needed to summit for the reason that we were climbing this mountain for UNICEF and that summiting it is the only option. Jackson promised us that we would summit come hell or high water. We left feeling satisfied with the capabilities of our guide and only needed to have faith in ourselves and our capability to get to the top of the mountain.

 We stopped in at the market for some last minute provisions of fruit and bread and made our way back to the Guest House. The afternoon was spent playing with the children from the surrounding houses – Kirk was picking them up by their feet and carrying them upside down saying ‘come on chickens, I am taking you to the market’. This had them in fits of giggles wanting more and more. We enjoyed our last dinner with Sylvie and Etienne. They would be driving south to Kribi and then on to Gabon. They needed to be in Cape Town by mid April and still had a lot of ground to cover. We went to bed with huge butterflies in our stomachs in anticipation of what was to come.

2010-03-11 to 2010-03-12 – Mt Cameroon

I had set my alarm for 6am as we had planned to meet Jackson at 7am to start the climb. When the alarm went off it was bucketing down with rain. Hopefully the rain was not a sign of things to come. We decided to sleep for another 30 minutes and alas when we go out of the tent we were greeted with blue skies. We made haste and made our way to the office where Jackson was waiting with Samuel our porter. We were supposed o have 2 porters but because of the rain we had had that morning the other porter felt that he was not equipped to make it up the mountain. Jackson stepped in and said that he would be our guide and porter. He was going out of his way to ensure that we were as comfortable as possible and that we were going to get to the top of the mountain. We set off, Jackson in a pair of flip flops and Kirk and I kitted out in our hiking boots and walking poles.

The first part of our trek took us though some farmlands that were established way back in the early 1900’s when the Germans settlers were in Cameroon. The buildings that they used to reside in are still used today and are very sturdy structures. The old dairy is now home to a prison and the more lavish homes are used by the presidential party. We started the uphill trek and soon made our way into the forest. It was dense, green and humid – everything a forest near the equator should be like. There was not much in terms of animal life but we were fortunate enough to see 2 Violet Turacos hanging out in the canopy trees. Teir calls were very unique and Jackson informed us that the hunters would use their call as a clock as they sounded their melody every 15 minutes. As we continued the uphill climb we eventually hit the Savannah ecosystem which stretched from 1800m to 2800m. The incline from the forest to the savannah was steep and we needed to put in a lot of effort to get to hut 2, our sleeping spot for the night. Halfway up the Savannah the heavens opened, the rainfall was torrential and the small valleys on the mountain were soon turned into small rivers. Our shoes became slushy and Kirk and I were starting to fear for our lives. We were in 2 minds as to turn around and descend or preserver and seek shelter in the hut. We finally understood why Jackson had told us that it was unsafe except that he hadn’t quite emphasised the extent of the rain and what it does to the mountain. We put on our ponchos, put our heads down and climbed up the treacherous terrain. Samuel, our porter literally ran the rest of the way. His strength and stamina was astonishing and left Kirk and me in awe. Jackson plodded on in his flip flops always ensuring that we were safe and taking the most cautious route to the hut. We made it to the safety of the rat infested huts and set about getting ourselves dry and warm. The rain was still belting down and there were rivers flowing past the doorways of the rooms in the hut. We decided to pitch our tent on the platform in the hut, that way we would have a barrier between the rats and ourselves and be out of the rain. We made some soup and hot Milo which warmed us to the bone. Jackson and Samuel had built a fire in the ‘kitchen’ and kindly offered to dry or shoes over the balmy flames whilst we rested in our tent and had a 2 hour nap whilst the rain continued to pour out of the grey skies. At this stage Kirk and I were beginning to doubt whether we would be able to summit. The torrential rain was detrimental to our attempt to summit Mt Cameroon. We spoke to Jackson and arranged to wake up at 3am to suss out the weather which would determine our fate.

 3am came very quickly. Our sleep was marred by rats scratching at the outside of our tents. We checked the weather and were good to go. With the stars blinking and the moon and our head torches lighting the way we started the steep ascent to hut 3. The going was tough but made easier by our ability to only see 1 meter in front of us. It was an uphill climb all the way and at this stage I was tiring and Jackson was picking up on this. As we approached the hut Jackson mentioned that if I was too tired to summit I should wait at Hut 3 and he and Kirk would make the summit. This of course spurred me on and with renewed energy I soldiered on. The summit came easier than I expected and as we made our way to the top of West Africa a sense of achievement filled our bodies. We had done it! The wind was blowing gales at the summit which made posing for our picture quite a challenge. The descent started as a godsend. Our legs were fatigued by the upward climb and the downhill movement of our legs made for a change. We made it back to hut 2, packed up and started the treacherous clamber down the savannah section. The rains from the previous day had caused the ground underfoot to become lose and treacherous. It took us a long time to   make the descent to the intermediate hut and our legs were starting to feel the strain. We persevered and after 11 hours of ascending and descending we made it back to the Presbyterian Guest House. We were absolutely shattered and were relieved to get our feet out of our boots and sit on the lush green grass. Our feet were broken! Blisters scarred our heels and Kirk and I were both sporting a beautiful black toenail on our left feet. We made arrangements to sleep in one of the rooms that evening as the mere thought of having to hoist our tent was soul destroying. We were tucked into bed and sound asleep by 7pm. We were both very proud of our 2 day trek to the top of Mt. Cameroon and back again.

2010-03-13

 Our legs were in agony. The first steps we managed to take that morning had both Kirk and me close to tears. The pain was an indication of the challenge we had put ourselves through and each aching step filled us with a sense of achievement. We said goodbye to Mt. Cameroon and headed to the black volcanic sandy beaches of Limbe. The surrounding volcanic mountains were picturesque and really added to the tropical atmosphere. Their slopes were lined with abundant green trees which gave an illusion of fields and fields of leafy shrubs. You couldn’t see the slopes, only the mass of greenery. It was spectacular. We arrived at Madison Park where Joe and Christine greeted us and filled us in on their adventures from the last few days.

We decided to head into Limbe as we had heard of a restaurant run by a South African woman and her Cameroonian husband called Arne. It had been given  rave reviews by fellow overlanders who had travelled a similar route to ours the year before and Kirk and I were eager to reward ourselves for the great climb up Mt Cameroon. We were welcomed with open arms by Erika and made to feel at home. We enjoyed an afternoon of great food (the burger was the best I had tasted since London) and some very original cocktails. We headed back to Madison Park and settled in for a relaxing evening. Our bodies appreciated the nourishing food and my bed welcomed me with open arms.

 2010-03-14 to 2010-03-18

 We decided to leave the black sandy beaches of Limbe and head further south to the white sandy beaches of Kribi. Kirk and I were desperate for some Rand R and needed to rest our increasingly weary legs. The road was brilliant and got us to Kribi in no time at all. The beaches did not disappoint ant to top it all off, we had the place all to ourselves. It was a Sunday and most visitors to Kribi are heading back to Douala or Yaounde’ after their weekend of luxury. We stopped in at Tara Plage and set up our camp on the grassy lawn overlooking the calm waters of the Atlantic Ocean. The reality of the oil drilling that occurs in the central parts of Africa was brazen as we looked upon the horizon which was scattered with oil tankers and the bright burning flames of the oil rigs. We settled into our new ‘home’ with ease and enjoyed the beautiful view that we never tired of.

 The following morning saw Kirk carrying out some maintenance on Mvubu. He changed the brake pads and checked the diffs. All seemed to go well and afterwards he and Christine went into town to replenish the fresh produce supplies. They returned with fillet steak, rump steak and some other meat to mince. We had procured a meat mincer in Beau and were eager to put it to the test. It worked a dream and we packed the fridge with our lovely meat and veggies. After dinner the heavens opened and we experienced the first heavy rains of the equatorial region. It was quite something and anything left out of shelter was drenched within a matter of minutes.

 The days in Kribi were restful and just the thing to get our aching muscles back to normal. We went for a long stroll along the beach and dreamed about owning a piece of prime land right on the beachfront. Kribi is still very underdeveloped with miles and miles of untouched beaches and property appears to be very very cheap. That night we enjoyed a feast of prawns and savoury rice. We have unquestionably eaten like kings and queens on this trip. Good wholesome African food at ridiculous low prices. Africa certainly has its pros and this was one of them.

 We awoke to heavy rains. Kirk and I had been on the road for exactly 5 moths and perhaps the weather was a reminder of the weather we would be experiencing if we were still in London only a good deal colder. We were very pleased to be experiencing the tropical weather as it added to the whole experience of being in the equatorial regions. Most of the day was spent relaxing and really enjoying the time that we did not have to be in the car driving.

Joe and Christine went in search of more prawns and came back successfully with another kilogram. The previous night’s indulgence was far too much for Kirk and me so we opted for a prawn curry instead. Again I was delicious and we went to bed satisfied that we had made the most of our stay in Kribi as we would be departing the following day.

 It was an early start the following morning s we had a fair distance to travel. We were heading for the Gabon border and still needed to stop in at Yaoundé to restock with supplies as well as get our tyre repaired that was punctured en-route to Buea when we went to climb Mt Cameroon.

 Yaoundé proved a fruitful stop. We managed to get the tyre repaired and headed to a supermarket where we bought a few more vital supplies as we headed into the equatorial regions. We had heard that Libreville was very expensive and that Gabon imported most of its fresh produce so we stocked up as much as possible. We hit the road again and made it to the border in time. The passport control at Kye Ossi was not too problematic and we managed to get through to the Gabon border post just before 5pm.

 Cameroon is a beautiful country with wonderful people. Our experience of Mt Cameroon made our stay in this country very rewarding. The fruit and vegetables are in abundance and it was a treat for us to be able to buy so much for so little.

The landscape is diverse offering us the opportunity to trek through some dense forest and savannah. The highlands in Bamenda were truly breathtaking as the crater lakes provided an eerie feeling to the green undulating hills.

[book id=’18’ /]


Nov 20 2009

one down, three to go…

With one month down since we departed from the UK we achieved our first goal to raise money for UNICEF. Yes we did it.. We managed to get our unfit bodies to 4167m and summit Jebel Toubkal, the highest peak in North Africa.
After spending a good few days in the desert at over 30 degrees C we made our way towards the small town of Imlil in the high Atlas. We covered aprox 130km of the Tizi-N-Test pass from 600m above sea level to 2100m. That was an experience on its own. Rugged single lane tar with clapped out trucks and prehistoric vehicles speeding down through the bends like they were gunning for pole position in the Monaco GP.. We made it, with a few scares and real close calls (along with witnessing a police investigation of a site where a panel van ‘mysteriously’ ended up 200m down a cliff, all the more nerve wrecking).
So we chugged into Imlil after a good 7 hr drive trough the Draa Valley and the coffin destine pass. Every man, his dog, brother and mule tried to convince us we required their services as guides or to take the strain off our backs and load up their well worked mule (they do work hard, when we were heading back to the town we saw one loaded with bags, supplies and a lazy tourist). ‘La shukran’ was again the well used Arabic I learnt in Egypt many yeas ago and we pressed on along Imlil’s only road with every man’s brother’s brother still trying to convince us. ‘La shukran’ again the most useful and close to only Arabic I knew. We got to the end of the tar and swung right on a steep dirt track that took us 3km to a very small village called Aremd. Starting the trek from Aremd cut off 40 mins or so and was hassle free so we decided to chance our luck in finding a camping area in this 3 mule town which hangs from cliffs and surrounded by skree.
After covering the dirt track we were stopped by non other than… Robin Hood the 2nd… This self named Berber hero admitted he was the first store on the path to Aremd and he was there to steal from the rich and give to the poor… Out came the usual English splab like ‘Ubly jubly’, ‘Fantastic’, ‘No money, no honey, no chicken curry’ etc etc. Good laugh and I bet if a talent scout ever ventured to Aremd, Robin Hood 2nd or his soon to be expected child (Robin Hood the 3rd) would get snapped up for the first Moroccan comedy film.. Robin, after further banter, kindly directed us to his good friend Omar Cherif, a 4 min drive on the cliff lined track, where we set up camp for the night, sans shower to Dale’s dismay however the desert nights bush camping prepared us for the tasks at hand but not for the sudden drop in temps. We chomp the prepared pasta from the previous evening, cleaned up and hit the hay only to be woken up several times by the rocking of the entire cab when the very strong winds swirled through the valley. It starts with a whistle in the trees and then it hits the tent, brace, exhale, then try sleep only to be awoken by the next long whistle and then the same procedure.
So with very little sleep we hauled ourselves out the tent at 6:45 and prepared a quick nosh and packed up. Fortunately we packed our gear for the trek the night before and Dale was not impressed when I cut down the clothing allowance nor when she put her pack on for the first time. Not a word uttered but I could see she was not a happy camper. We headed off on a very well marked path at 8am. I could see Dale was not comfortable so we went through the routine which we covered in the Sierra Nevada to get her pack more comfy followed by a few aggressive words of encouragement, well my way of motivating is the way I like to think of it.
The first day of the trek took us to just under 3200m and we spent the night at the newer ‘5*’ refuge… €40 for the night for the two of us in a dorm room incl. dins and breakfast and a hot shower! The first time we were in a bed since we sailed across to Spain, bonus and a splash out… We met loads of interesting people in the refuge and shared numerous cups of Berber whiskey (mint tea) with them all. The plan was to wake up at 5:45am, pack the bags with supplies for the summit, have a good nosh (breakfast) and hit the skree for the 1000m summit. The nerves were starting to kick in, along with a small headache from the altitude. ‘What was out there? Are we fit enough to do this? We don’t have a guide but we kind of agreed to head off with a bunch of 4 guys from England…’ We hit the hay at 7pm and slept like babies. We were woken at 5am by a noisy Spanish group who were starting their bid early so we ended up surfacing before the alarm went off.
We were out the door at 6:30am and the icy wind hit us. Thermals, fleece, soft shell and gortex jackets held out the cold but our poor tootsies and fingers took a beating.
After, just over 4 hours, numb fingers and toes and a load of skree stomping we got to the summit. The path was clearly marked with lumo orange spray painted dots (they must have used a load of cans to mark that as a dot or arrow approx every meter or so). The water in the tubes or our hydration packs were frozen solid. The task was to now strip off and get our UNICEF t’s in a pic so that everyone who reads this will know they need to get their short arms in their deep pockets and donate to our UNICEF fundraiser. OK a ¼ of what you intend to contribute then…
So after the pics we zipped up, I fired up a fag just to prove smokers are not unhealthy people, shook our fingers and started the decent…
We made it back to the refuge just before 12pm, warmed up, ate fruit and nuts, melted the hydration pack tubes and packed up the rest of the gear to hit the path at 12:30. It was a fairly carefree trek to Aremd and filled with banter with fellow trekkers who were heading back down so time passed fairly quickly. We rolled into Aremd just before 3pm and with jelly legs but perky spirits we got to the area where we left Mvubu. As we approached him I raised my hands and swore! I locked the keys to the safe which had the keys to the back lock in the back so there was no way of opening either. Out came the hammer and I started beating the lock which kept the left spare wheel safe. All the banging attracted Omar no. 2 and he could not understand why I had the car doors open but was stressing about the wheel lock. He ducked off and came back with a chisel and Omar no.1 popped the lock in a second, I took off the spare wheel opened the back, got the safe keys out and unlocked the rest of the cab before getting the spare wheel secured again. We packed up the cab, changed and hit the road to Marrakech.
We got to 4167m and back down in 2 days and then continued the coffin route to get a few days of chilling before meeting up with friends for the next week. Our legs are still like jelly but sense of achievement (and lessons learnt re locking keys away from one self) outweighs the pain and fatigue (note all the emphasis on the effort people).
A good few months to go until the next trek but till then… DIG DEEP!
[book id=’10’ /]


Oct 1 2009

AfriKids and SawubonAfrica..

‘There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.’  Nelson Mandela

I had a great meeting with representatives of AfriKids from London and Ghana today. AfriKids have been kind enough to allow us to join them in northern Ghana and help out with various projects they are currently running.

AfriKids is predominantly a child rights organisation but they believe in creating sustainability in the communities they work with and create an environment for the younger generation to get educated and vocational training, initiating the economical activities which start the cycle for continual economic sustainability.

For those of you who are interested in their projects or the organisation please get online and click www.AfriKids.org to learn, appreciate, get involved or support.

We are looking forward to meeting up with Nich (from AfriKids Ghana) and Richard (from Operation Fresh Start) in Ghana to add value in any way possible. Hopefully we can provide a useful medium to get the exposure they need to continue their sustainability plans for the next 10 years.