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13 - 28 June

The vast flood plain was featureless apart from the odd tree surviving by virtue of the almost insignificant mound of higher ground it was growing on. After about 20 minutes of best guessing our way, we came across a lone Camerounian border guard sitting on a bench under a tree; he was in military combat uniform, a bright red beret perched precariously on one side of his head and a rifle slung over his shoulder. With a maze of tracks ahead and needing directions, we stopped only to be told that the route we wanted was impassable; there was no longer a bridge over the nearby river and the water was too deep to ford due to recent heavy rains. A big blow, we would now have to divert south some 40 miles before coming to a bridge over the river at Tchambe. The guard waved his hand in the direction of another featureless expanse of flood plain, trying to explain the route we would have to follow to a village called Beka and the track leading to Tchambe. As we were commenting on the way family names kept cropping up (first Jos, now Becka!), a young motorcyclist stopped and, after a brief talk with the border guard, offered to lead us there. What a relief!!

We set off in convoy and thanked our lucky stars we had a guide; we would never have found our way there, the plain was full of misleading tracks and peppered with ponds, muddy swamps and deep drainage ditches. In Beka there were no customs or immigration officers, so we checked in at the local gendarmerie post, which at the merest whisper of ‘change money’ almost immediately doubled up as a bureau de change. Then, with a good sandy piste stretching ahead of us to a gap in the mountains, copious directions and renewed confidence, we set off to Tchambe.

The Customs Man
We crossed through the Atlanatika Mountains, part of a chain of mountains that separates the Cameroun from Nigeria and turned south. By lunchtime we were travelling alongside the River Faro; half a mile wide and fast flowing, how on earth had we had thought we could wade across it! We stopped for lunch beside a picturesque water meadow, with the khaki brown river on one side and green forested mountains the other. Life was good; it was proving to be such a beautiful route.

Continuing towards the bridge, now less than 10 miles away, we were stopped on the outskirts of a small village by two men, one of whom wore customs insignia on his uniform. Peter explained that we were on our way to Tchambe, where we would get customs and immigration clearance for the vehicles and ourselves. The customs officers insisted on escorting us to the customs post; so, with a growing feeling of déjà vu, we followed them as they bounced down the sandy track on their motorbike.

After about 5 minutes they flagged down and stopped a motorcyclist and the one in uniform seemed to be threatening to appropriate the motorbike; after much pleading and hand wringing the man, plus his bike, was allowed to continue with his journey. Oh lors, we thought, here we go again; only this time it was two out of control, bully boy customs officers on the take. Like lambs to the slaughter we continued behind them, passing through what we assumed, with growing alarm, to be Tchambe and on the far side they again stopped a motorcyclist coming the other way. The uniformed officer seemed to be asking for documents which couldn’t be provided; two large sacks that had been carefully tied down on the pillion seat were then pulled off the bike, thrown to the ground and opened. The uniformed officer then mounted the young man’s bike and looked set to continue, whilst his accomplice remained shouting at the victim who, with his head in his hands, by now was looking a picture of despair.

Liz found witnessing all this, with its echoes of Nigeria, really upsetting. This was all too much; Peter got out of Boris, walked over to the uniformed officer and asked what was going on with the young man and why we had passed through Tchambe and not gone to the customs post there. At this the officer smiled and explained that the bridge with its customs post was still a small distance ahead and that, as the young man couldn’t prove he had paid the purchase tax on the goods in the sacks, the motor cycle would be impounded at the customs post pending provision of proof of payment and the young man would be taken home to find the paperwork. Well, on reflection, we hadn’t seen a bridge over the river at Tchambe and the second officer did seem to be putting the boy and his sacks on the back of the other bike; it seemed believable and our experiences in Nigeria may have been affecting our judgement. We trusted that this was the case as we continued to follow behind the officer on the impounded bike, then we turned a corner in the track and there, to our great relief, was the bridge and at the far end the customs post.

The officer in charge of the post couldn’t have been more helpful; our vehicle carnets were stamped and, as the immigration post was closed, the immigration officer was phoned and told to get back on duty. As his post was about 5 miles away and in a direction we were not going, he was told to come and escort Philippe and Suzanne in their vehicle plus all our passports to his post. They seemed to take forever and when they returned with the passports duly stamped it was now late afternoon; this must have been the longest border crossing ever, taking 10 hours to complete all the formalities!

As it was nearly dark we bush camped close to the customs post in a shallow gravel quarry, and, as Liz prepared our supper, we were deafened by croaking frogs, the noisiest ever. One appeared to be right beside us, searching for what we assumed to be something the size of a dinner plate, we had almost given up when Liz’s head torch shone on a minute frog, partly hidden by a leaf; the noise it made was astounding, we just couldn’t believe it. The frogs kept up their vocal communication all night long, making sleep almost impossible. Oh dear, such is the life of bush camping overlanders!!

Lagon Bleu

The following day, 14 June, under a deep blue sky, we drove through beautiful remote wooded areas; the rolling green blanket punctured every so often by the dramatic, barren, skyward pointing fingers of granite inselbergs, at one point passing close to a town called Poli (cripes, not another family name!!) and most the time travelling along rarely used narrow, overgrown and seemingly impassable tracks; it was exciting and testing.

Our choice of a northerly route into the Cameroun from Nigeria paid dividends: the tracks were dry and passable; the rivers, their bridges long since broken and abandoned, easily fordable. Although at one point Philippe and Susanne’s Landrover did break through the hard baked mud surface into the treacherous soft goo underneath and looked as if it would turn on its side. Bravely he remained, white knuckled, at the wheel, rather like a captain preparing to go down with his ship and his nose almost in the mud, whilst we dug a route out.

We didn’t encounter another vehicle all day and the villages were few and far between. The huts were no different in design from those we had left behind in Nigeria, circular mud huts with a grass roof; the people bare foot and dressed in what amounted to no more than rags were perhaps astonished to see our vehicles and much more reserved, tending to stare rather than smile and would only wave if we waved first.

After a very long and exhausting drive we reached Lagdo a village where our Rough Guide told us there was ‘one of the most tranquil hotels in Cameroun’; the German-run Lagon Bleu Resort was ‘set on the beautiful Lagdo Lake’ with ‘terraces overlooking the lake and colourful flower garden’, there was also ‘a good bar restaurant’. Boy, were we looking forward to a bit of indulgence: air conditioning, splendid accommodation, a hot bath and good food; a dream come true. Sadly it was not a dream, but a nightmare. In the five years since the guide had been published the German owner had died and the resort had been bought by a Camerounian. As we had discovered elsewhere in Africa, it is a sad fact that the African is often unaware of the general consumer needs of a service based business and in particular the value for money expectations of the western tourist. There had been absolutely no investment in the business, no maintenance had taken place and as a result the resort had become very dilapidated. The terraces were disintegrating, the flower gardens bare and unkempt, the beach area littered with empty bottles and broken sun loungers, the paving on the walkways raised, uneven and dangerous and their lighting had long since ceased to work with wiring exposed and broken, the restaurant was now no more than the equivalent of a roadside chop stall with chairs and tables to match, the bar nonexistent and everywhere the once attractive blue paint was fading and peeling. We had no alternative but to stay here; it was late, we were exhausted and, as a result of our expectations, we were in a ‘room, bed, shower’ mindset. The price asked might have been justified in the past, but not now; no way Jose. After lengthy haggling and still paying well above the odds, we made our way to our room; a little round brick built hut up along a broken pathway that overlooked the beach, or rather would have done if the rampant bushes had been cut back. The air conditioning didn’t work, only one light had a bulb in it, the door didn’t lock but the shower did have water, even if it was cold. Thank heavens for small mercies!

Despite the conditions we stayed for two days, long enough to get all our washing done, get to a bank some 30 miles away and have a few walks along the pretty sandy lakeside beach. As with everything there was an upside; the views across the huge lake with its islands were fantastic, Liz had a magical, close encounter on the edge of the beach with at least twenty vervet monkeys who jumped up and down with excitement when she passed them on her way back to the resort and on our last afternoon pitch black clouds gathered overhead, a precursor to a spectacular and dramatic thunderstorm over the lake. Forks of lightning illuminated the gloom whilst a sudden wind, driving opaque sheets of rain before it, whipped the water into large white crested waves that crashed onto the beach. Unsurprisingly we were the only guests and we left this rather sad little spot early on the 16th June, feeling sorry for the staff caught in a downward spiral to oblivion that was not of their own making.

Returning to the main road and we began to head south to Yaoundé, still some 2 to 3 days away, the tar road was in reasonable condition, the traffic infrequent and the police at the checkpoints friendly and smiling, what bliss!

Having bought some delicious food at a village market, we stopped for lunch as the road ran alongside a forested National Park, closed for the rainy season, and a haven of trees, colour and wildlife compared to the ugly, vacant and deforested moonscape on the opposite side of the road. Pressing on, as great black threatening storm clouds gathered ahead, we began to approach the escarpment of the 4200 ft high plateau that covers most of central Cameroun. We drove right into the storm which, combined with the increasing altitude, sent the temperature plummeting; we were just not used to the chill of 70F!

The storm passed but by now the gloom of a grey, cold and damp evening was enveloping us. The others opted to bush camp in the hills, whilst we two wimps headed for the comforts of a hot bath and comfortable bed at the Transcam Hotel in the nearby regional capital Ngaoundere, where they joined us the following day for lunch.

Chutes de Tello

The reunion was short lived as we had already decided to try and visit some waterfalls, the Chutes de Tello, about 50 kilometres away, whilst the others wanted to go in the opposite direction to a nearby lake. Having agreed to meet again in Yaoundé, we left and headed to the tourist office (a novelty for us in Africa!) to try to determine the route to the waterfalls. With some less than perfect directions, our next task was to ensure that we left Ngaoundere on the right road. As usual there were no street or road direction signs, so we stopped a passing ‘moto’ (motorbike taxi) and paid to be led to the right route out of town. The rider, dressed in woolly cap and thick jacket (for the ‘cold’ weather), took his task very seriously risking life and limb to turn almost completely round in the seat to ensure we were behind him (he had no wing mirrors) and riding slowly, so much so that we became the head of a long procession of assorted vehicles weaving its way out of Ngaoundere.

Once on the muddy piste that led to the waterfalls we passed through the rolling open grasslands of the high plateau sprinkled with small pretty villages. The huts here were much larger than those we had seen further north, their grass roofs came almost down to the ground giving them a strange hay stack look, through which seeped the smoke of a warming fire. The muddy piste became treacherously slippery as we drove and then slid, through a storm of biblical proportions, in places covering the surface with a swift flowing, blood red river of deep muddy water; this was the Cameroun we had been expecting.

To our surprise and relief the turning to the falls was indicated by a hand written sign, testament to the fact that at one time the area of the falls had seen some investment from the tourist board. Although the storm had passed, the narrow track to the Chutes was nearly impassable, but following what we assumed was the track and not the river, we made our way towards what turned out to be the tree covered edge of a 150 foot cliff, a little way along which a plume of mist rose slowly into the air. We had arrived!

In bright sunshine we walked over to the lip of the falls and saw what we took to be a pathway down the cliff. It was a pretty route lined by ferns and Busy Lizzies, but turned out to be less of path and more of a slip and slide; there were some heart stopping moments as we descended to the base of the falls. Luckily the sun continued to shine, creating spectacular rainbows in the spray that then drifted down river, soaking us as it did so, but we wouldn’t have missed this treat for anything and so enjoyed the solitude and splendid isolation of this peaceful spot. We returned to the top and bush camped close to the lip of the waterfall where, lulled to sleep by the dull roar of falling water, we slept amazingly well.

Although it had rained overnight, when we left the falls and returned to the main piste, the water had disappeared leaving a layer of drying red mud that made driving difficult but not impossible. It was so cold, we couldn’t believe how chilly we felt and had to put on our fleeces for the first time since Morocco. In the villages we passed many people were dressed in old ski jackets and woolly hats and most huts had a fire inside. The open rolling countryside was lovely, slowly it began to take on a more commercial aspect as we increasingly came across the large fenced areas of grassland necessary for large scale cattle ranching. We stopped in the middle of one village when we noticed a young lone white girl on the road side with a group of people, holding the hand of a little boy. We were intrigued and pulled over to talk to her. She was an American called Alison, a US Peace Corps volunteer helping to run a health centre for the local area. She was half way through her two year stint and we couldn’t help but admire this sweet, pretty young girl living in such a remote place all on her own and in a world so different from her own. She was delighted to see us and just wanted to chat in English for a change!

The Road to Yaoundé
We descended from the plateau, left the piste and rejoined the main road to Yaoundé, making the best of its good surface; just as well, for within a few miles the road became an unsurfaced, rutted, pot holed, corrugated hell. As is often the case the cause was commercial transport; in this case a toxic, dust enveloping mix of speeding fuel tankers moving to and from the nearby terminal of the Chad pipeline, Mersk container lorries (Alex, you have a lot to answer for!!) and convoys of brand new Toyota 4x4’s destined for government troops in Chad embroiled in a civil war. The roadside ditches were testimony to the general lack of roadworthiness of the lorries and the awful driving skills employed by the drivers; rusting twisted carcasses, often stripped bare in the search for spare parts, were everywhere.

We were brought to a halt by one container lorry (Alex!) that had turned over three days earlier effectively blocking the road in both directions. Although in the middle of nowhere, some locals, knowing that it would be days before the vehicle would be recovered and with an entrepreneurial flair not often seen before, had turned this into a money making opportunity by cutting a narrow bypass through the roadside trees and undergrowth allowing all but the larger lorries to continue their journey, providing a toll was paid. Those that couldn’t pass this way were lined up on both sides of the upturned tanker; some drivers asleep in the shade under their vehicles on an assortment of rugs and blankets, others were cooking a meal on small wood fires, one doing this under his fuel tanker! .. the food bought from a posse of women patrolling the queue, their wares balanced on their heads. We paid the toll and manoeuvring around the stranded lorries and sleeping drivers, we finally made our get away. Not surprisingly the road became very quiet, as the word must have got round that this was now a near impassable route. With greater freedom to avoid the pot holes we enjoyed this stretch, now dust free and peaceful, it was so pretty with huge swathes of yellow daises on head high bushes lining the route.

We eventually arrived in the small, down at heel, border town of Garoua Boulai, right on the border with the Central African Republic. Here we had hoped to spend the night at the Catholic Mission but there was no room for us; a small locally run hotel was recommended by the Mission. A new one storey complex of rooms, already showing signs of imperfect materials and construction, it was not an unpleasant little place at all, although the shower was home to hundreds of mosquitoes (cue panic over malaria!). We had supper, the standard and palatable bicycle chicken (don’t ask!), spicy sauce and rice and, ignoring the whine of blood crazed insects, spent a comfortable night. When we came to leave, a member of the hotel staff was standing beside a gleaming, sparkling clean Boris, This was something we were getting used to when staying at an hotel; unasked, Boris would be cleaned and there would always be someone waiting expectantly when we came to leave. Liz was always delighted at leaving in a clean car and the individual’s enterprise never went unrewarded!

That day, 19 June, after leaving Garoua Boulai we drove south -praise be- on a perfect, tarred road to Bertoua; what a relief from the numbing, bone shaking ride of the previous day. Heaven! This regional capital and logging centre stood on the edge the Cameroun rain forest marking the end of the scrub savannah we had been passing through. Throughout the morning the various shades of browns and yellows on the hills increasingly turned green, roadside bushes to trees and the trees became more and more imposing.

The Fulani
We were also passing through an area peopled by the Fulani, a tribe scattered throughout West Africa and one we had first come across in Mauritania. They were once nomadic pastoralists and there are many legends and theories explaining their fairer skin, straight hair and long nose; ranging from descendants of Roman soldiers to a lost tribe of Israel. Historically those mainly in what is now western Cameroun retained their traditional way of life, elsewhere they became a devoutly Islamic, educated elite. They intrigued us, in particular the women with their very distinctive bright dress and pretty jewellery. Their villages were a mix of round and oblong grass roofed huts; scrupulously clean the ground between the huts was swept clean each morning.

We stopped at one Fulani village that lined the roadside and, using a mix of French and sign language, made ourselves known to these very gentle people. As we showed an interest in aspects of their daily life, they warmed to us and showed us around, happy for us to take photos and delighted to see the result on the small screen at the back of the camera. When we left, Liz gave the women gifts of cosmetics, their puzzled looks turning to smiles when she explained to them how the lotions should be used; they had never seen anything quite like it before.

As we have observed before on this journey, it is always the women who seem to do the bulk of the work. Here was no exception, at irregular but frequent intervals on the tarmac along the side of the road women and young girls were hard at work carefully laying out to dry the cassava and manioc they had harvested; in some places, despite the fierce heat and in full sun, the dried cassava was being pounded to a pulp.

It was also obvious that girls from a very young age are tutored in the role they will act out throughout the rest of their lives; some as young as 4 or 5 years old would be walking on the roadside with wood or a large pot balanced on their heads and we often slowed down when we crossed rivers to watch the women and their young daughters washing clothes or cleaning pots and pans.

We were at last travelling south for an extended period, with Nigeria behind us we were no longer navigating around the ‘hump’ of Africa and, looking at the GPS readings, the map and the route to Cape Town, Liz was now confident that it was South, South ,South at last! So, heading inexorably towards the Equator, we started to pass through the first vestiges of tropical rain forest. It was a stunning revelation of just how many shades of green nature can provide; from almost black, to the faintest of light, almost yellow, green; everywhere green, green, green. In Bertoua we stayed at the Hotel Mansa; the best in town, well the only one in town and it had seen better days! We were starving and one of the first things we did was to find the restaurant and pre-order a meal from their limited menu. We were told we the earliest we could only eat was 7pm, some 2 hours away. Having seen the hotel pool, half full with water a peculiar whiter shade of pale, we decided to give swimming a miss and killed time watching some young boys swimming in the nearby hotel lake; whenever they came out of the weed choked water they brushed themselves off with their hands, getting rid of either snails or leeches. Yuk, bilharzia or what!

7pm came and we sat down promptly eager to eat our bicycle chicken and chips, but nothing and no one came; the only people in the restaurant, we waited and waited until we could bear it no longer and ferreted out someone to ask where our supper was. There was no knowledge of any food being ordered and were told we had to order again and it would be another hour before we could eat. Oh no, how would we ever last out! The only good thing was that now it seemed to be fish on the menu and when it eventually came it was absolutely delicious.

The Rain Forest
The following morning, the 20th June, it was raining as we left Bertoua for Yaoundé. The 200 miles of main road through the rain forest was reportedly part gravel and part axle deep mud; rain was only going to add to the problem. At first the narrow route seemed to confirm our fears with thick red mud slowing us down to a slip-slide crawl. But we were now travelling through unfettered rain forest, almost hemmed in by it and it was majestic, magnificent; the shades of green, the mist, the giant trees reaching skyward from the thick blanket of greens at their base, it was just awesome.

Driving through it was a delight, everything we had hoped for; the villages too were a picture, flowers growing around the huts and banana and plantain trees between them. Then after 20 miles or so we came across all sorts of earth moving equipment and the wide red scar of the widened, straightened road they were creating. The rain forest suddenly lost some of its magic; it no longer pressed in on us, it was being ripped apart, the debris of this new creation lined our route and the villages were distant and remote, rebuilt over 200 yards away at the edge the new road.

The delicious bananas, small and so sweet, were still everywhere; along with plantains they were for sale on the roadside, growing in small plantations at the edge of the forest and in or on nearly every lorry we came across. We had an introduction to the downside of rain forest life when we pulled off the road for our picnic lunch; Liz went for a leg stretch and accidentally set off a trap, animals we callow westerners would rather see alive in the wild are bush meat here and part of the staple diet, then within minutes tiny insects (no-seeums) were biting us so badly we could stand it no longer, we wolfed down the food and just couldn’t get back into the car and be on our way quickly enough.

The Catholic Mission Yaoundé
It was getting late when we arrived in Yaoundé and we went straight to the Catholic Mission. We had heard it might be a good place to spend a few days whilst we got visas for Gabon and the Congo’s, restocked the food box, washed clothes and got onto the internet. It turned out to be a great choice; built early in the last century, the Mission was an oasis of tranquillity in frenetic, noisy Yaoundé with a large courtyard-cum-garden, on one side of which was the chapel and refectory, opposite was the two storey hostel where we had a lovely upstairs room with a balcony. We were made to feel very much part of the community, welcomed by the Reverend Mothers staying in rooms close by and at the dinner table that evening regaled with stories of Africa by the Fathers dining with us.

Relaxing on the balcony after a much needed shower, we watched an open sided marquee going up in the small car park in front of the chapel for a celebratory parish service the following day, Sunday, with tables and chairs being set out on the lawn for the lunch that was to follow the service. Early the next morning Liz was woken by the incessant and annoying bleating of a goat, her fervent prayer that someone make it stop was almost immediately answered; the goat stopped in mid bleat followed by strange gurgle and thud. Reassured by the power of prayer, Liz slid back into the land of nod. Peter got up at 6.30 and descended into the courtyard to listen to the hymns being sung, African style, at Mass in the chapel. As he crossed the lawn, there on a large piece of wriggly tin was the goat, now a deceased goat, being expertly butchered for the celebratory lunch! Liz, overcome by a feeling of irrational guilt, was happy not to have been invited to share lunch with the congregation that day.

Parishioners started to arrive after breakfast, all looking incredibly smart, the women in particular were beautifully dressed in the most colourful of outfits. We sat on the balcony and listened to the choir and swaying congregation singing hymns in French, with a distinct African harmony and cadence, unaccompanied apart from marvellous rhythmic clapping; it was very special.

Lambert Ndzana
The service was being filmed by an engaging young Camerounian film maker whose uncle was an administrator at the Mission. We had met Lambert Ndzana as we arrived the previous evening, he spoke good English and had been intrigued by our journey and was a great enthusiast and incredibly hospitable, inviting us to accompany him after the service to his house and celebrate his little son’s first birthday. We all squeezed into the front of Boris Lambert giving directions and, after a tour of central Yaoundé, arrived at his house shortly after midday. It was such a happy sight, balloons and birthday bunting adorned the gated entrance and despite the continuing preparations, his wife welcomed us whilst finishing dressing their son in his birthday best, a tiny black suit and tie. He looked so sweet!

Lambert really was a man with a mission; he was a talented independent film director and producer who had so impressed his French counterparts that he had been invited to France to attend the French film academy to make the most of his talent. Instead of taking the easy option of remaining in Europe, Lambert had returned to the Cameroun determined to kick start the film industry there and in North West Africa, a tall order.

Whilst his guests, all dressed to the nines and bearing gifts, were arriving, Lambert showed us around his extensive single storey house. As he produced all his films at home it served as his film studio; two rooms functioned as his editing-cum-production suite whilst Lambert had also converted several rooms into sets for the sitcom he was producing for Cameroun television. As we were touring the studio Lambert, ever the enthusiast, told us of the plans he had to extend the house and establish courses for students in cinematography, direction and production. He knew the talent was there, African talent that he wanted to discover, train and mobilise, and in so doing, convince the (western based and run) international film industry that the taboo on using African expertise should be broken.

We returned to the Mission to find that our erstwhile companions had arrived safe and sound. Together we began to prepare for the next leg of the journey. The Mission was ideally located, close to a good supermarket, an internet cafe and the district housing the embassies. Our preparations were at the mercy of the daily periods of torrential rain; it was torrential rain with a capital ‘T’, the water cascaded out of the darkened sky as if someone had turned on a giant hosepipe, making any movement on foot totally impossible. As ever obtaining the visas was laborious, expensive and time consuming. On one afternoon what should have been a 20 minute trip in Boris for to collect visas from one embassy became a frustrating wait for Peter and Ralf; the President was attending a football international and his route to and from the match was cleared of traffic and sealed hours before the kick off to ensure his uninterrupted passage. Traffic throughout the capital came to a standstill, drivers left their vehicles and gathered patiently at roadside stalls chatting and drinking, whilst the afternoon turned into evening as the sun set. Eventually, cutting through the darkness, the flashing blue lights of police out riders and military escorts announced the departure of the President from the stadium and the reopening of the road. Slowly, painfully slowly, the gridlock unravelled allowing Peter and Ralf to return to the Mission some 7 hours after they had set out!

Yaoundé was at an altitude of over 2,000 feet, making the day time temperatures bearable and the evenings quite cool. Built on several hills, Yaoundé tried to liken itself to Rome; well it was chaotic, crowded and noisy and, although they could not compete with the Forum or the Coliseum, the one hundred year old German and French colonial buildings in the centre were both attractive and potent reminders of a previous era. As usual there was no public transport to speak of and thankfully, unlike many other African capitals, there were few motos, instead unroadworthy and over laden yellow ‘share taxis’ were everywhere, crammed with people and the car boot, lid open, stuffed to gunnels with bags, boxes and assorted livestock. In the centre of the city was a huge roundabout with the only working sets of traffic lights in the city and from it trunk roads radiated to the rest of the country. It was a cauldron of human activity, the pavements around it were crowded with people desperately selling everything and anything; some had makeshift stalls, but the majority just used a blanket on the ground to display their goods. The area was crowded; people were pressed against each other making it a magnet for thieves. Perhaps they were both becoming complacent, but both Peter and Susanne became victims, Peter had a pocket picked and Susanne her backpack cut open, in neither case was anything of value stolen. This did nothing to dampen Liz’s admiration of the local men, whom she thought to be amongst the most handsome she had seen in Africa.

We enjoyed our stay at the Mission; the hymns at morning mass, a good breakfast of baguette and tasty chocolate spread, accompanied by mug of Mocha and the very vocal Grey Parrot that lived in the Refectory and was caged overnight but, after breakfast, free to roam during the day.

More of a problem was the two quite large Alsatian dogs that were tied up in a kennel in the garden during the day and let out at night to guard the compound. Liz had such a fright one night when, needing to visit the loo down on the ground floor, she was confronted in the stairwell by two barking, angry, snarling dogs. She retreated, going backwards up the stairs squeaking, ‘sit, stay, nice doggies’ and hoping that they understood English! She never made the loo and had to keep her legs crossed for the rest of the night!!

Whilst at the Mission we were joined by a fourth overland vehicle belonging to a large Dutchman called Johan, a friend of Ralf’s and also heading for South Africa. He, poor chap, had been very badly bitten by mosquitos and had scratched the bites until his skin was raw, developing a dangerous infection. Johan was running a temperature and was fortunate to have two highly trained nurses (Liz and Susanne) to take charge of him. They cleaned the puss from the open wounds and started him on antibiotics and, as we about to leave, ordered him to stay put and if there was no improvement, to see a doctor which we hoped very much he would do. As we wanted to spend a night at a hotel with wifi, Philippe Suzanne and Ralf left ahead of us, but not before Lambert wanting some material for a forthcoming documentary, had interviewed us all (including Johan) on camera in the rain!

We spent the night at the Merina Hotel, using the internet connection in our room we were able to catch up with everyone at home and most importantly of all, discuss weddings with Louisa. We were relieved and impressed to find that she, with Nick’s support, was managing brilliantly without us. Nonetheless Liz couldn’t help but feel that she should be right there with her. The next morning, 28 June, before leaving Yaoundé we needed to go to the post office, to post all
your post cards. It was close by, but on the far side of the dreaded central roundabout. Liz hated the area and, with the cards and money to buy the stamps deep inside a zipped pocket, she found navigating around it, crushed, pushed and tripping over the legs of the street sellers in between the near suicidal crossing of five busy roads with a hundred and one other people a complete nightmare. Peter almost had to carry her, she was so overwhelmed by the traffic and pedestrians!

The Road to Gabon
Despite the special almost spiritual tranquillity of the Mission, it was with some relief that we left Yaoundé and headed southwest to the Gabon border. It was good feeling to be on the move again; an excellent tarred road led all the way to the border and along it were the police checkpoints we had come to expect. As this was a route well used by overlanders and their vehicles, we were the subject of several attempts by the police to get money or alcohol from us. It was a depressing farewell and something some of our fellow overlanders have brought about by foolishly giving in to these demands. We continued our practice of not doing so; Peter’s refusal backed up by a combination of good humour, patience and, if being asked for alcohol, being Baptist and coming over all sanctimonious and teetotally religious, seemed to always do the trick! We reached the border early in the afternoon, the Camerounian officials were pleasant and efficient and we were soon crossing the bridge over the Ntem River that served as no man’s land and into Gabon.

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