We left Kribi in the morning, stocking up on food, fuel and water. We planned to drive through Parc Nationale de Campo – a national park with monkeys, gorillas and elephants which was on the way to the Gabonese border. We were really struggling to find any information about it but it was only 100km away, and it passed a place where you can view sea turtles laying their eggs, so worth a detour. The road was bad, but manageable, and certainly slow going. By the time we got to Campo, we were both fed up with fording huge puddles and mud galore. We checked in to the WWF national park centre and were greeted with the news that it was only 5000 CFA per person for park entry – great, about £8 per day. Also, 5000 CFA per car per day, and 2000 CFA per camera. Oh yes, and you needed a guide at 5000 CFA per day, and a guard, at 5000 CFA. Right. There were no campsites in the park but you can just stop anywhere and, if you don’t have space in your car, you’ll have to rent your guide and guard a motorbike … This was adding up quickly and we had no evidence it was worth the money. Also, the idea of being followed by a motorbike in a national park was very unappealing. We grumpily set off the way we came and thought we’d stop in the sea turtle village for the night to cheer ourselves up. Just as we were approaching the village, our right wheel started screeching and pulling to the right. I pulled the car over and we got the tyre off to discover our wheel bearings had once again shattered.
The car was in the middle of, an admittedly, not very busy road. We set up our triangles and bushes to highlight to people to slow down and found a mechanic in the village. The mechanic took the wheel apart, and James took the part off to the nearest town – 80km away in a shared taxi, four in the front, five in the back of a Toyota Corolla. He returned at 11 at night on the back of a motorbike to find me fast asleep in the back seats. The next morning we tried to fit the part, but after three hours of trying, the mechanic told us the part did not fit. We would have to go back to town. We negotiated with the mechanic to rent a motorbike from a neighbour and James and the mechanic headed off again. They returned (James with a very tender backside after 6 hours riding pillion on a terrible road) with a new part and worked into the dark to fit it. At about 9pm we had a result! It also didn't fit and as the mechanic and the standard crowd of about 20 villagers argued as to who was to blame and what was to be done James and I had a little sniffle. The only advantage was we now had a car with a wheel so we could push the car off the road after 28 hours taking up both lanes. The added bonus being that we could set up our tent in the village, get some sleep, and make some food, both things which we had neglected the day before. Before going off to sleep, we called the taxi driver James had used the day before, and asked him to bring us a mechanic from the town. They arrived at 7 am and within an hour or two the mechanic had disabled the front right drive shaft, meaning the car could be driven in four wheel drive, with only two of the tyres actually getting traction. We slowly limp off towards Kribi, and pull up outside the mechanics, all before 10am. They quickly get to work, and inform us that it would be best to replace both drive shafts, to ensure we have repaired any damage done by the shattering wheel bearings, however, the parts are not here. For that we have to go to Douala – the armpit of Africa… (google it)
Our previous experience with police, rubbish and general grimness has not warmed us to Douala but the mechanic is happy to drive us there and back in his ancient Mercedes. It took 3 hours to get there, and then another 3 hours to find the parts, not originals, but Chinese immitations. Not the ideal but beggars can’t be choosers. We then started the drive home. Our chauffeur, and mechanic, then starts a whole song and dance about his lights not being strong enough, and it is unsafe to drive. James and I exchange troubled looks – this is Africa, no one has lights and, to be fair, his aren’t terrible. He insists we check into a hotel. Stern words are had where James implies if the mechanic won’t drive back, we will and he can rest his tired eyes in the back. We are beginning to loose patience and there is no way we are leaving Stanley overnight. He agrees to carry on, and we realize he is in fact terrified of driving in the dark. My grandma had a similar fear and I would have told her to man up as well. We drive through the dark for a further two and half hours before we hear a soft thud. Another troubled look between James and I – a puncture. We get out and ask if he has a spare. Of course not – how do we have a mechanic who doesn’t even carry a spare. We call ahead to Kribi and get a taxi to come get us and it’s nearing midnight by the time we get back to Stanley. He is at high risk – all his tyres are off and he is at a side street mechanics. It looks like another night at his side but the mechanic, his son and three of his workers are going to stay with him all night. We later found out the owner of the mechanics did not sleep at all as he was so wary of something happening. We check into a grim hotel next door and fall instantly asleep 'til 6am when the mechanics knock on the door as they want to get started.
His drive shafts are changed, after the mechanic realizes he needs a bolt off the old ones, which are in the boot of the car with a puncture 30 minutes away. These are sent for and after 4 hours, he is on his way again. We spend a couple of days driving around Kribi, during which I get food poisoning from some dodgy prawns and I think it is safe to say we are exceptionally fed up. After gallons of water, rehydration salts and evil looks from me as James eats and drinks away merrily, we are good to go and make our way over to the Gabonese border on a road we were grossly misinformed about. 100km of what we thought was good tar road turns out to be piste, knee deep in mud. This was not what we were planning for Stanleys reintroduction but we keep plugging away. Until of course, the inevitable happens and the right tyre starts screaming. We are in a village, if possible even smaller than the one we were in before and there is something seriously wrong with his drive shafts. We decide the most important thing is to get to a town, and put him in to 4x4 and keep going on the horrid road. We make it to Ebolowa and take the wheels off – disaster, both sides are completely shattered. Again! We had pulled up outside a hotel, and we go into to discover they are horribly overpriced. With no way to move Stanley any further, we pay for the horrid hotel room and cold, undercooked food and curl up for another bitterly disappointing night. The next morning, we decide Stanley has to get to the city. We need the best we can get and we head to Toyota garage in Yaounde. If anyone can fix him, they can. We ask a local mechanic to disconnect the drive shafts so we can drive the 150 miles to Yaounde, and drive directly to our saviours. We pull up and wait for them to finish their 2 and a half hour lunch break, and are overjoyed to see the posh garage, with tens of mechanics in grey jumpsuits. The first comes out and asks the problem and we pull two disconnected drive shafts off his back seats – Ah. “I understand.” He comes back ten minutes later and explains they can’t help and it will be 62 days for a transfer box. What!? I don’t need a transfer box. He hasn’t listened at all and has written Stanley off. We speak to the next person up and the next, until eventually we get to the head mechanic. We explain for the tenth time in our dodgy French and he finally understands. He explains that because Stanley is so old they have no expertise with him and they would recommend going else where. We ask would they source the part. No. We ask if we found the part, would they fit it. No. We look around and ever car there is spotless and less than 5 years old. Stanley is up to his axles in mud, with sandladders, jerry cans and his parts scattered over his back seat. This is clearly not the place for him and we leave, with James holding me back as I F* and blind at the people who refuse the help the car that represents everything they stand for. As a parting gift, they give us the name of a mechanic in Yaounde and this turns out to be the best gift they could give.
We limp to a Presbytarian mission in the city, a cheap place to stay with camping in the beautiful garden, and we drink far too much as we drown our sorrows. There is much discussion about shipping parts and finding second hand originals, and we accept that it may take weeks for this to get sorted. Our Angolan visas, only two months long at the outset are ticking away and it seems very likely that these extremely expensive bits of paper may not be able to be used.
In the morning, we meet Norbert. He owns a garage and only deals in second hand original parts. He has the added benefit of being placed next to a great Turkish restaurant. His boys take apart the car for the umpteenth time, and he sends some of them off to scour the city for parts. Within 6 hours, they are back with 2 beautiful drive shafts, used but original. We triple check the part numbers, cross match them with 2 databases and we purchase them. By the end of the day, they are fitted and he is perfect. We spend a few days trying him out in Yaounde, being force fed Mangos by the priest of the Presbyterian church and then, it is finally time to leave Cameroon.
Cameroon has offered plenty of challenges, but overall has been one of our favourite countries. The capital is charming, the people helpful and dignified and the scenery breathtaking. It has a huge amount to offer and we are sad to leave. But we have only just started the central African countries and we have plenty still to go.