Apr 25 2010

Angola – diary 2010-04-01 to 2010-04-04

2010-04-01 to 2010-04-04

With time ticking by it was 11am before we were eventually given the go ahead to continue our journey south. The Angolan officials were very pleasant and efficient in processing our passports and Carnets as quickly as they possibly could.

The views of the Congo River were still breathtaking and inspiring. The heat of the day was already upon us and the knowledge of only having 4 ½ days to traverse Angola made us as anxious as ever. We were uncertain about the quality of the roads and we had a great distance to cover. As we pulled away from the Immigration office we were thrust straight into the horrendous roads. The tar resembled that of a piece of Emmental cheese with holes stretching from one side of the road to the other. The following 120km took us over 5 hours of painstakingly slow 4×4 driving. Mvubu was put to the test and Kirk’s driving skills were exemplary. The road was not a complete disaster; we were afforded the opportunity to see a very long snake, a family of mongoose and a diverse selection of birdlife. Just before we hit the town of Tokosane we hit the most exquisite ‘Chinese Piste’- these are times when I want to kiss the Chinese. They had built this beautifully smooth piste where we could push to cover as much distance as possible before it became too dark. We managed to get to the town of N’Zeto just after dark where we found a bushcamp down a sandy track right on the beach. As we were driving towards the beach our headlights caught a jackal scurrying off to find shelter from these human imposters. The waves of the mighty Atlantic were crashing onto the sand and gave us a sense of being in the South. We could smell Namibia and if the road continued as it had been we would be there before we knew it.

As we sat enjoying our dinner we reflected on the beauty that Angola had to offer. The north is extremely desolate of people and is covered with thick vegetation. There is so much potential for development of farms in these areas and it had me guessing why it has taken so long to initiate these sustainability programmes. The civil war has obviously left some scars in the people and the land but the remnants are no longer visible.

Our alarms were set for 5:30am. We still had a fair distance to travel and the more we could do in one day the better. We aimed to get as far as Luanda on Day 2 and were successful in reaching that goal; in fact we made it 120km south o Luanda. We stopped briefly in Luanda where we visited Shoprite only to come running out with our tails between our legs. The prices were exorbitant and far too expensive for our likings. We bumped into a South African man working in Luanda and he reiterated our findings that Lunada is one of the most expensive cities in Africa. We managed to get a spectacular view of the natural harbour that is home to Luanda’s port where most of the countries supplies arrive from further afield. Luanda itself is a shambles. There is so much urban sprawl which has resulted in the development of shanty towns, which surround the city. The split between rich and poor was evident when we saw the presidents mansion perched upon a hill in all of its glory only to have a whole shanty town as his neighbour. The rubbish cascades down the terraces and creates an unsightly view of this once beautiful city.

The roads South of Luanda were exceptional with beautiful tar. We drove to another waypoint that directed us to the beach again. Here we set up camp right on the beach where we again were treated to an exquisite sunset. We took our bath in the ocean by having a swim, lathering up with soap (Kirk dropped the soap in the sand so I got an exfoliation too), rinsing off in the salt water followed by a quick freshwater shower. My hair was desperate for a wash but the loss of our 20L water container meant that we were on water rations until we reached Namibia. We were officially rouging it and loving every minute of it.

The following morning was much the same as the previous 2 mornings. We took to the road and drove along the beautiful coastline. The Atlantic was a sapphire blue colour and it crashed into precipitous cliffs giving Angola a feeling of true wilderness beauty. As we neared Lobito we drove through an area called Morro del Mocol which bore a resemblance to a Moroccan village in the Atlas Mountains. There was very little greenery and foliage and evidence of quarrying in the region. The road then took us to the port of Lobito which again was mesmerising as huge ships were anchored in the pristine waters of the bay.

The day was filled with magical wonders of nature. The heat of the day fed the clouds in the sky and we watched them grow bigger and bigger and bigger until they could no longer hold their load and released it in one of the biggest downpours we had experienced. It brought cars to a standstill – we had luckily pulled into a fuel station just as it started- and prevented Kirk from getting out of Mvubu to pump up the tyre. (a 3rd rim was leaking air) The roads turned to rivers, the storm water drains flooded and we were in the height of a mammoth thunderstorm. The experience was grand; we loved every minute of the grandeur of this natural environment. The rain soon subsided and we were able to continue on our way. We entered the town of Lubango, got a quick glimpse of the Christo Rei statue perched on the hill and then proceeded to find another bushcamp for the evening. We had covered a whopping 804km and were in desperate need of food and sleep. We found a great spot just off the road and again had an undisturbed night of peaceful sleep.

It was Easter when we awoke and probably the 1st Easter where I did not eat chocolate for breakfast or have a great big fry up to celebrate the holiday. Instead we were on the road by 6:45am and heading for the border. We were on the home stretch and our excitement was becoming difficult to contain. Nothing in life comes easy and the road to the Namibian border was far from easy. We were forced to drive on a muddy waste zone that was slippery and badly potholed. The pace was agonising and Mvubu was starting to show signs of fatigue. His rear shocks were starting to make horrible sounds every time we went through a big pothole and we were becoming increasingly aware of our very bad luck with our tyres so were watching those more closely than ever. The road was not showing any sign of improvement but after an agonising 120km we were rewarded with a tar road again. We made excellent progress and pushed on. The rain the previous evening had filled the flood plains of the Cunene and provided good fuel to maintain the grazing pastures.

 We filled up at Santa Clara and proceeded to the border. We had done it…1800km in 3½ days; some great roads and some that brought us to tears. We had crossed the unknown in 1½ days less than or allotted time and were rewarded with a great big fat juicy Wimpy Burger!

[book id=’21’ /]


Apr 25 2010

Congo & DRC – diary 2010-03-28 to 2010-04-01

2010-03-29 to 2010-04-01

We managed to cross through the Congo in no time at all which is a shame really as it is such a beautiful country and carries a vast amount of natural scenery to see. We however needed to make tracks as we were falling behind schedule and we needed to get to Namibia as soon as possible.

We had a good nights rest at the school and were up early enough to avoid the masses of the village folk that were eager to see the tourists. We registered with the Gendarmerie who had kindly allowed us to camp in the school grounds and were once again sent on our way. The scenery was beautiful. Congo is a vast land filled with undulating hills and forests that line the horizon. It was completely different to my expectations and was yet again stunning. We had experienced some problems with our brake pads in Gabon and they needed some repairing. The spring clip had come loose and we ad lost the anti squeak plate but the braes were still in working order albeit rather loud and squeaky. We were told that we would need to register with the police and immigration at every town from here on until xxxxxxxxxxxx and were dreading these constant stops as they were time consuming and really quite pointless. We managed to skip past the last stop as 2 big logging trucks had parked in front of the immigration office and we managed to drive by undetected. We were now on the open road…a road resembling much the same as the one in Cameroon. It wound its way through the forests and the Chinese were here in force and were ‘building’ a new road. My emotions are pretty mixed when it comes to the presence of the Chinese in Central Africa and I am not sure if I should kiss them or curse them. They are doing good in that they are improving the infrastructure of these once war torn countries but they seem to be exploiting Africa in many ways and deforestation seems to be one that gets my back up. Cameroon, Gabon, Congo and DRC are some of the only natural rain forests left in Africa and the Chinese developers seem to have no foresight in sustainability and conservation of these endangered forests. The number of logging trucks that we passed was staggering and once more we passed many more that were returning to collect another load of these precious trees. It really did enrage me and took a huge thunderstorm and torrential rain to cool me down.

The dirt roads turned to rivers and we had great fun driving through deep puddles and slipping and sliding across the road. The fun ceased as we neared Pointe Noire. The road became tarred and the traffic became congested as it does with any other city. We navigated our way to the Pointe Noire Yacht club where overlanders have, in the past, been able to camp for free. We were all game for this ‘free camping’ and were directed to the ‘camping’ area by one of the yacht club employees. The yacht club was not open on Mondays which meant that the showers were unavailable but at least there was a toilet that we could use. We hosed off the cars and went in search of some food. Just around the corner was a pub selling reasonably affordable food that was tasty and filled the gap. We made our way back to the yacht club, hosed ourselves off and climbed into bed. We planed to stay in Pointe Noire for one more day so that we could do some laundry and prepare ourselves for the forthcoming days of driving.

The following morning as we were about to sit down to a cup of coffee the manager of the Yach Club came to see us and explain that the Yacht Club no longer offers free camping to tourists and that we would have to pay CFA 3000 (€5) per person per night. These costs were of course not what we had planned and we were disappointed to find that the rules had changed. At further investigation we also found that our 20L water container and Christine’s laundry and bucket had mysteriously vanished during the course of the night. We were certainly not going to pay for camping when a simple thing like security of our goods could not be guaranteed. This was the first bad thing that had happened to us during the course of our travels and we were annoyed with ourselves for being complacent about leaving things out of the car. We promptly packed up and headed for the Congo – Cabinda border 20kg’s lighter and Christine a few clothing garments less.

The border crossing was complete mayhem. A truck had become stuck in the middle of the road and was not budging. Its driver was really not too bothered about the fact that he was causing the most horrific traffic jam and once more we had a great distance to travel and his unperturbed approach to the problem caused Kirk to take the reigns and attempt to get the path cleared. Kirk managed to round up a few bystanders and ordered them to push. The pushing was not even budging the truck as the driver, who was controlling the brake and clutch, was not doing a very good job and appeared to be holding the brake when everyone was trying to push. Kirk told him to get out and he took over the controlling position and with a lot of heaving and thrusting the truck was out of the road and cars were free to move. With Kirk’s blood pressure now reaching explosion point we took a minute to compose ourselves before presenting ourselves to the Immigration, Police and Customs officials to officially leave Congo. This all seemed to go smoothly and about 20 minutes later we drove to the Cabinda border post.

Cabinda is an Angolan enclave between the Congo and DRC which requires one to use their Angolan visa to pass through. We had only managed to obtain a 5 day transit visa for Angola in Abuja and we were very concerned that our entrance into Cabinda would mean that we would only have 4 days to cross 1800km of the Angolan mainland. We decided that once we were through the immigration process we would make our way to the Immigration office in Cabinda and see if there was any way to extend our visa. The procedure at the border was painfully slow even though they had proper scanning machines and computers which should speed up the process. We had to fill in a series of form and eventually, after and hour and a half, we were able to proceed. The road was superb and beautifully tarred. We stopped at the first fuel station we found and filled our tank with the ridiculously cheap diesel. It cost less that $0.30 per litre so Kirk filled his auxiliary  tank up too We were carrying and extra 170kgs of weight and Mvubu was feeling sluggish under the strain.

The stop off at the immigration office did not prove to be as successful as we would have liked. The very helpful second in charge informed us that there was no way he could issue us with tourist visas but he assured us that the 2 entry 5 day transit visa meant that we had 2 entries of 5 days each. This confirmed that we had in fact 5 days to traverse Angola mainland and not 4 as we had originally thought. One extra day meant that we could relax a teeny bit but it still meant that we would not be able to explore Angola and its beautiful beaches.

We legged it for the border. Cabinda did not have much for us to see apart from the very well maintained Portuguese buildings and beautiful tar roads. The Portuguese language had confused us all and we were trying our hardest to string together sentences that would make sense except that French kept slipping out. We were quite fearful by the inability to communicate in this very foreign tongue and were struggling to pronounce the phrases from the Portuguese phrase book. With 3 hours of sunlight left we arrived at the DRC border post and were surrounded by ‘officials’ of all kinds. The mood seemed somewhat tense and there seemed to be an awful amount of shouting and directing. We were all on edge by the sudden change from composed Cabinda to this chaotic border where people were tugging at our sleeves to follow them or give them our passports. Kirk was in charge of Passports and Yellow Fever Vaccinations whilst I was sent along with Christine to the Customs office with the Carnet. We walked into the office and felt unnerved by the presence of so many men and not one single female. When the big chief of customs arrived we were shown into his office and the calmness seemed to return. He filled out the carnets in no time at all and we went in search of Kirk, Joe and the passports. The DRC border post was in the midst of a facelift and they too had fancy new computers and passport scanners. This did not however speed up the process as they were still a little uncertain about the efficiency of the computes and still preferred to copy our details down in triplicate into various different ledgers. As we got into our vehicles and made our way to the boom that separated us from the border officials and the DRC we were stopped one last time, showed them our passports and off we went. Borders always seem so chaotic and there are many people loitering around on either side of the barriers trying to sell something or offer their services as a guide etc.  We had a snake in a packet thrust into our faces; I cringed whilst Kirk drove on and navigated his way around a detour as a huge puddle had flooded the main path. We really felt as though we had been submerged into the real Africa. The tarred roads of Cabinda had disappeared the minute we left the Angolan enclave and the road became a sandy track between elaborate plains of green grasslands. There was not a settlement in sight and the excitement grew deep within our souls. We were in the DRC our 15th African country.

The open savannah that stretched right from the coastal plains had a special air about them and the existence of oil in these regions was as clear as day. In and amongst these grassy plains stood intermittent oil pumps, which slowly pumped oil from the land. These did not seem to be owned by big private oil companies as there was no signage depicting who the owner of these fields were. At one stage we bore witness to a huge flame of burning raw oil. It was quite an impressive sight and a surreal experience. We made our way to a Catholic Mission in Muanda where we were charged $20 per couple to camp. We were shattered after successfully exiting and entering 3 African countries. Sleep came easily that night only to be awoken by the sound of rain pitter pattering on the top of our tent.

We were up early and managed to pack up without getting soaked by the drizzle that started again shortly after we had awoken. We made for the road south where we passed through numerous villages where people in high spirits smiled and waved at us as we drove by. It never ceases to amaze me how the local people who have been subjected to war and hardship all their lives still manage to smile and be cheerful about life. They are super friendly and contradict every report on the savagery of these people.

The Congo River was the top priority on our sightseeing agenda today and as we continued along the road to the south we were teased by glimpses of the delta and waterways. The Congo is truly monstrous. We made our way up a small hill where we were afforded the most exquisite views of the mighty river. Its depth was evident by the number of cargo ships that were effortlessly navigating their way p and down the channels. It was a sight to behold and an image that will last in my memory for many years to come. We continued our journey to Matadi where we would spend the night and head for the border the following morning. We wanted to get a full day of driving in the following day as it would be day 1 of our Angola visas.

The sisters at the Catholic Mission were very welcoming and after some negotiating about price we settled on $20 per couple again. I managed to do some laundry in the afternoon and we waited in anticipation for the spectacular show that the ever building thunderstorm would provide us with later on that night.

We departed from the Mission at 6:45am and arrived at the border by 7am. We were in for a long wait. We were told that the big Chief would only be arriving at 9am and he was the only person with the authority to stamp our passports. All we could do was wait. At 9:30am he eventually graced us with his presence and we were finally allowed to leave the DRC and re-enter Angola.

[book id=’20’ /]


Apr 25 2010

Gabon – diary 2010-03-18 to 2010-03-28

2010-03-18

We arrived at the Gabon border, 100km from Bitam, just after 5pm. We were met there by a very excitable border control official who was super excited to meet South Africans. Before he took our passports he started saying that visas for Gabon were not necessary for South African passport holders as there was an agreement between the 2 governments. We were again a little peeved by this news as we had spent CFA35 000 per person (€50) on these visas in Lome’. There was nothing we could do about our monetary loss and so just wanted to get on the road and ead to the immigration office in Bitam. The office closed at 6pm and our friendly border control official was just not letting us go. Eventually at 5:30pm we were handed back our passports and wished well on our travels. We had over 100kms to travel before reaching Bitam and we knew that it was going to be impossible to check in with Immigration before their office closed. The road was a perfectly smooth tarred road that guided us through villages and thick impenetrable jungle. We made it to the immigration office at 6:15pm and were waved away and told to return the following morning. We made our way back to Auberge Menage and checked in for the night. The expense of Gabon was evident in the prices of the rooms – CFA7000 (€11) for a very basic room. We took the room and used their kitchen facilities to cook spag bol for dinner. The air was thick with humidity and our skin was constantly clammy. The presence of an abundance of bugs and flying insects was a good indication that we were in the heart of the tropical rain forests and created a hum of excitement.

2010-03-19

Today would mark a very important day in our African adventure. The previous months driving had brought us closer and closer to the Equator and today we would potentially be crossing it.
We had woken up very early due to the early hour we had retired to bed the previous evening. The air was still saturated with warm humid air and the bugs were still in abundance. The humidity was already oppressive at 7am and the best thing we could do was get on the road to create some wind and cool our sticky bodies. We arrived at the immigration office at 8am and were greeted by a very unfriendly receptionist who demanded all sorts of documents from us. We had gone through all of this when we applied for our visas and we were now being asked to provide almost the exact same documents. Once more, they referred us to the photocopy shop across the road that was ridiculously expensive. We reluctantly made the copies and returned to the immigration office where we were told to wait. 40 minutes later our passports were returned and we were free to proceed.

The road was fantastic as it meandered through the tropical jungle giving us a true sense of being immersed into the thick of things. The jungle was impenetrable and we could not see more than 10 meters beyond the dense vegetation. This beautiful road and scenery took us as far as the equator, where we stopped to have the mandatory photograph, and then it just dies. The smooth tar came to an abrupt end and we were thrown onto a mess of a road that was full of potholes, puddles and ruts. The road was in an appalling state only made bad by the numerous logging trucks that hogged the road as they transported trees that must have been hundreds of years old. This enraged me and made me question the government’s claims that something like 70% of the land is national reserve. This is undoubtedly not the case if they are letting these foreign companies come in and take the natural resources that are so vital to the earth’s future existence.

We proceeded on to Libreville where we were welcomed in with our first tropical thunderstorm. It was glorious as the rain cleansed the air, roads and cars. It did however reduce us to a crippling pace as we could barely see 10 meters in front of us at times and the potholes were concealed by puddles of water. We made it into Libreville where we set us camp on the basketball courts at a Catholic Mission. The rains did not let us and that night Kirk and I were awoken by huge gusts of wind that lifted the roof top tent and caused us to zip up all of the flaps as the rain was coming at us horizontally. The thunder was deafening and the rain came crashing down onto the tent. We lay under our sheets waiting for the next attack but managed to drift off into a peaceful slumber.

2010-03-20

The previous night’s rain caused some mischief in the morning. Kirk and I leave our flip flops at the base of the ladder before we climb into bed and when I made my way down from bed they were mysteriously missing. The rain had been so sever the previous evening that it had flooded around the car and had washed our flip flops to the end of the basketball court. Everything was wet and there was no sign of the sun making an appearance for a while. We packed up in the rain and ventured towards the supermarket. We were going to be heading to La Maree’, a restaurant we had heard of via the overlanders grapevine, where we would be able to camp for free provided we had lunch at their restaurant on either Saturday or Sunday. Before we could venture north to the restaurant we had to get the tyre repaired again! It was becoming a nuisance and irritation as it would not stay inflated. The patch that had ‘repaired’ it in Yaoundé had come undone and was not strong enough. We stopped in at Michelin where they tried their hand at repairing the puncture. After copious amounts of patience we eventually made our way to La Maree’. We were welcomed in by the owners, Francois and Jules, and Jules cooked us the most delicious lunch. I had a whole grilled Red Roman which was celestial and had me wanting for more. Kirks Beef brochette was equally good and Joe and Christine savoured every mouthful of their fish brochette. The price was quite a lot more than our usual budgets would permit but we knew we would be camping on their front lawn for free for the next 4 days. Their restaurant/house was set in the most pictorial setting; right on the beach where the ocean laps up onto the white sand. The sea was as flat as a duck pond and the most perfect temperature. Nothing beats a sunset swim and then rinsing off with rain water that is caught and stored in large containers at the back of the house. We were really in paradise and were relishing every moment of it.

2010-03-21 to 2010-03-24

The sky was a beautiful shade of blue this morning and with no sign of further rain we took the opportunity to wash laundry and bed linen. The sun was scorching and provided the perfect temperature for the washing to dry quickly. La Maree’s restaurant is only open on Saturday and Sunday and we were told that Sunday is by far their busiest day. We had to ensure that we were not taking up too much space as the lawn fills up with expats 4×4’s as they make a b-line for beaches away from the city. The first guests arrived just after 10am and had brought with them everything for a full outing at the beach. We pottered around our cars and eventually made our way to the beach where we took a long stroll up the beach and into the next few coves. The beaches were the picture of beauty and were completely isolated.

The following days each resembled the next; Monday brought with it the stillness of peace and tranquillity as no visitors to the restaurant. Justin and Dianne arrived on Tuesday morning and stayed with us for the following 2 days. The boys tried their best to catch a fish but the only lucky fisherman was in fact Dianne who managed to catch a very small grunter. The rains did not cease and although the days were rainless, the dark ominous clouds lurked above head and provided us with some fabulous thunderstorms in the evenings. We again had our fill of fish and seafood. One of the local fishermen caught a 7kg Red Roman on a hand line that he had left out all day. We promptly bought it and had a wonderful fish braai with savoury rice. We also enjoyed clams steamed in beer and garlic again provided by one of the local women. We were enjoying every moment of this indulgence but knew it would have to come to an end art some point. The following morning Kirk, Diane, Just and I would be leaving La Maree’ but would be heading to another paradise…that of Nyonie’, a private beach and game resort south of Libreville.

2010-03-25 to 2010-03-27

Our private boat was set to leave Michele Marine at 9am. Kirk and I had a lot to do before we could board the boat so we left La Maree’ bright and early. We made it to Mistral Voyages to pay for our excursion and eventually made it to Michele Marine where we met up with Diane and Justin again. We arranged to meet Joe and Christine after our exclusive escape and bid them farewell for the next few days.

Our boat took us an hour south of Libreville. We passed through exquisite mangroves and were able to view many beautiful birds along the way. As we pulled onto the mainland again we were greeted by Marcelle and a waiting Land Cruiser. We tumbled into the open back and enjoyed the 40 minute drive to Nyonie’. The drive took us through some open savannah grasslands as well as the equator once again! The lodge was made up of relaxing beachside bungalows that provided Kirk and I with some much needed comfort. Nyonie’ only offer an all inclusive package so all drinks and food is provided for the duration of our stay. An hour after our arrival, the owner rang the bell for lunch and we experienced the first of many enjoyable meals. It was 3 courses with as much wine as you wanted. Kirk and I were in heaven…to have someone cook for us and then clear up all the dishes afterwards was certainly a novelty we had not experienced in a long time. We relished every moment of this culinary bliss! At 4pm we were whisked away on a 3 hour game drive which took us into the thick forest and then opened up into the most beautiful green plains that were interspersed with clusters of dense trees. This is where the forest elephant hang out and we would be lucky to see them. They are somewhat shy compared to that of the African Elephant and would rather run away than stand and pose for a photograph. We were however fortunate enough to bear witness to 3 of these bashful creatures and managed to get a quick snap of them before they retreated into the safety of the forest. As we neared the camp we ran into some buffalo that were grazing by the moonlight. The terrain around these areas is awe-inspiring and I find it difficult to describe it in words as I fear they will not do it justice.

Our evening meal was again tantalising and we enjoyed being waited on hand and foot.

We were up early the following morning…at 5am! We had a 3 hour hike planned and we were hoping to see some interesting forest animals. We were greeted by Salvador, our cantankerous guide who did not speak much English at all. He walked ahead of us, bush knife in hand, and casually pointed out animal spoor and the occasional bird. We had seen some leopard spoor that was relatively fresh as well as buffalo tracks. We were starting to feel a little despondent at the lack of fauna at the early hour until we heard this hiss coming from the right bank. At closer inspection (I was rather hesitant as I feared it may have been a snake) we discovered a baby Cayman sitting in a puddle of mud. He smiled merrily for us, or perhaps it was a snarl, whilst we photographed him from every possible angle. The rest of the walk was unsuccessful with regards to animal spotting but it was lovely to be walking through the forest and breathing the pure air.

The morning was spent fishing and relaxing on the beach. Lunch was again spectacular and afterwards we retreated to our chalets for a siesta before venturing out on another game drive. The heavens opened during our game drive but the spotting of Buffalo, antelope, monkeys, elephants and numerous birds kept our spirits high. Kirk and I were soaked to the bone as we had forgotten to pack our waterproof jackets and they were sitting in the dry comfort of Mvubu.

After a shower and drying off we dressed for dinner and reconvened at the bar for dinner. It was lovely to spend some time with Justin and Diane and speak about future plans. Dinner was greeted apprehensively this time round. We were so full and our bodies, unused to eating so much rich food, were struggling to digest the lunch we had eaten 5 hours prior to dinner. We managed to wolf down the food, it was too good to resist and we left the table feeling like swollen ticks. We slept well that night in the comfort of the air conditioned room.

Our time at Nyonie had come to an end and we were sad to say goodbye but we had an appointment with Mvubu and we were set for another mammoth adventure driving session. We said a fond farewell to Diane and Justin and made our way back to Michele Marine where Mvubu was waiting patiently for us. We packed our bags into the car and headed south to meet up with Joe and Christine. They had found a great bush camp just outside of Lamberene where we enjoyed our bath in the great Ogooue’ river and settled into the comfort of our Eezi Awn tent for a night of undisturbed rest.

2010-03-28

When camping in the wild, one does not need an alarm clock to wake you up. The sun rises splendidly and throws the most spectacular array of hues into the sky to provide the most tranquil setting to rise out of your slumber. The best time to get any form of work done on the car is just after sunrise as it is the coolest part of the day. With this in mind Kirk set about changing the oil and filters in Mvubu. We were about to embark on a mammoth driving session through 3 countries in as little time as possible and we needed Mvubu to be in tip top working order. We were on the road by 10:30 and travelled the distance to the Congo border. We went through a series of checkpoints and were eventually signed out of Gabon. A few kilometres down the road was a boom marking the entrance into Congo. It was a Sunday and there seemed to be a large Church celebration going on just up the road from the boom. We made our way into the immigration and customs office where our names were entered into a series of ledgers and we were told to proceed to the Police office 200m down the road. Before we could go any further, the great boom had to be lifted but this was not going to happen until we paid them ‘something’. Kirk promptly refused this request and pointed to the UNICEF stickers on the car and proceeded to ‘spank’ the customs officer on his bottom. This created great humour and we were allowed to pass through without paying a solitary cent.

The Police were just as friendly and smiley. They were very interested in us as people and were asking all sorts of questions about what we do and about the trip so far. This was of course communicated in half broken French and English but we managed to have a good laugh and were finally sent to the last office – the office where we would be given the last stamp in our passports and be free to proceed. It was getting late by this stage and we still needed to find somewhere to camp for the evening. After filling out a series of forms we were on our way just after sunset. We drove on for 10km where we eventually came upon another checkpoint just after a school. We asked the Gendarmerie if we could camp at the school ground for the evening and he was very obliging. We set up camp in front of an audience of girls from the nearby village. The oldest girl was very affectionate giving me hugs and holding my hand. They watched us cook our dinner and when we were about to eat they bade us goodnight and returned to their homes. We were in bed shortly after dinner as we were aware of the strenuous task that lay ahead of us for the next few days.
[book id=’19’ /]


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.

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