We crossed the bridge demarcating the border between Nigeria and Cameroon with a sigh of relief. We had heard wonderful things about travelling through Cameroon especially when compared to the challenges of transversing Nigeria.
We arrived in Ekok, a typical little border town in Cameroon. Grubby and very busy, as it is the primary smugglers route for goods being moved between Nigeria and Cameroon. We booked into a little inn and although exhausted I lay awake and listened to all the comings and going during the night. There was so much activity that I was quite convinced our cruiser would be missing some wheels in the morning, it certainly sounded as if the inn was being packed up.
The Ikok to Mamfe road is perhaps the most notorious road any overlanders face in West Africa. It is bad, really bad. Too describe it as a road is misleading. It is a track hacked through the jungle by locals and others desperate to pass. During the wet season it is impassable and we were at the end of the rainy season and were hopeful it would be dry enough for us to tackle alone. But we wondered what the day would hold.
It took us 6 hours to drive the 60km and there was a real sense of relief when we reached the village of Mamfe. Our day consisted of serious technical 4X4 driving, as well as having to use the high lift jack, our sand ladders and our spade to dig ourselves out from particular bad spots. Eventually we made it through the jungle, tired, sweaty, dirty and full of black fly bites.
We are relieved when after a 10 hour intense drive we arrive in Mamfe exhausted but happy and relieved. We book into a hotel instead of camping and take a few hours to organize the cruiser.
The view from our hotel balcony shows how dense the jungle growth is. But it is stunningly beautiful.
Here we were told that the road ahead was impassable and we would have to retrace our route back towards Ekok and take a track down south towards the town of Kumba. We were later to learn the reason we had been detoured was because the town we had been heading for was under siege by bandits. Shortly after we left Mamfe and headed south into the dense jungle we came to a little village and noticed there was a ceremony, a local witchdoctor had summoned a juju to save a man who was sick. Tom and I stopped in the village and asked for permission to photograph and videotape the ceremony. Initially they were very reluctant but after some negotiations they agreed to allow us to photograph and videotape this amazing ceremony. An elderly man explained what was happening and we watched in fascination a world so far removed from ours in Calgary unfolded before us.
We felt so fortunate to have stumbled on this secretive ceremony. after a couple of hours it was time to move on. We still had a lot of jungle to cover before dark.The drive was beautiful, the road was barely a road but the sun was shinning and we were deep in a tropical rainforest surrounded by towering trees, dense vegetation, crystal clear rivers and huge colourful butterflies.
Unfortunately it is being logged for its valuable hardwoods. I wonder how long this magnificent and important ecosystem will survive.
We had thought that once we were out of Nigeria the police road blocks and threats to impound our car would end. But as we drove out of the town of Kumba heading down the main road towards Douala we were pulled over by the Cameroonian police and it was a frightening and nasty experience, far worse than anything we had experienced in Nigeria.
The large man sauntered over to the cruiser, the spike belt positioned across the road, guns hanging from their shoulders and we were informed that they were going to impound our car as it is a right hand drive.
“It is illegal to drive a right hand car in Cameroon” we were informed. We pleaded we were tourists that our car had been legally stamped into Cameroon by the customs officials.
“The customs don’t know anything” he boomed back to us and then added, “and I am going to arrest you for driving an illegal car.”
We asked to go to the police station and the police then tried to get into our car which fortunately was locked. I reached for the cell phone to call the Canadian Embassy to alert them of our impeding arrest and impounding of the car. I was at the wheel so was not sure if only I was to be arrested or if we were both were going to be arrested.
The police remained angry and threatening and we were backed into a waiting game. Finally after assuring them we would leave Cameroon immediately they allowed us to go on.
We drove in silence to the village of Limbe; so far our travels in Cameroon had been difficult.
Limbe is situated on the shore of the Atlantic Ocean, a little fishing village at the base of Mt Cameroon the 4th highest mountain in Africa. We booked into a hotel located on the beach to review our options. We had been debating what to do about traveling through the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). We had been watching and following the news carefully. We had no sense of urgency to travel to the DRC or Angola as we had been in both these countries last year. Perhaps it was time to end our trip.
We wondered if we would be able to ship our cruiser from Douala, the port city of Cameroon to South Africa. We contacted a shipping company AGS and after several days and many phone calls it was agreed they could ship our vehicle and we would need to drive it to Douala.
We donated our medical supplies to a Cameroon Medical NGO, gave away other supplies that we would not need and left for Douala. We were within meters of the AGS offices in the city of Douala when there was a loud crash, the passenger window shattered and the car door moved. We had been hit by an earth moving equipment bucket which had been suspended above the road.
Another sign that this trip should come to an end. We handed over the keys of the cruiser to the shipping agent, with a sense of relief, sadness and yet also with wonderful sense of accomplishment. West Africa showed us life at its best and at its worst. We learnt and saw many things; met some inspiring people, our experiences and memories will last a life time.
But Overlanding is in our blood so where to next???