We headed out of Cameroon, keen to finally add another flag to Stanley, and on to Gabon. Gabon is relatively wealthy by West African country standards and this was immediately obvious. The police were extremely officious and suspicious of our adventure but they stamped us in and we made great time on the spectacular roads that Gabon had to offer. The country is almost entirely rainforest, with one of the highest proportions of nationals parks in the world, including the famed surfing hippos and more species than you can shake a stick at. Unfortunately, they are aware of the money this can bring, and all national parks are well out of our budget, and extremely difficult to reach. We make it to south of Oyem on the first day and follow some GPS coordinates we have from our new Italian friends for an Evangelical church that will allow you to camp on their land. We pull up in a tiny village outside a house in the middle of a field, and the lady of the house agrees that of course we can stay, and it will be completely free. Better than that when the priest comes to say hello later, he brings us a huge bunch of bananas which they have grown. We walk into the village and immediately get ushered into a bar for a drink, and I am adopted by my new Gabonese mother. We set up our tent in the field, make some dinner and get to bed extremely early with lights off – the insect life seems to have intensified ten fold on entering the country.
We wake up at sunrise and are keen to make some more miles, so James gets down first to make the tea – I am a pampered lady. Immediately, he starts shouting out. Well, really, if you’re stupid enough to go down the ladder with no shoes on in a rainforest, you get what you deserve. I venture down to find that we have accidently parked in an ant nest, and these ants are nasty. They must have been plotting all night, as tens of them make their way up each of our legs, despite the walking boots and socks and long, waterproof trousers. After a few minutes, we are both shouting out at each bite, and pulling our trousers down to try and find the suicidal bastards as they make there way to our nether regions. I think the priest and his family enjoyed a good show for their hospitality, as we tried to take down a tent, brush our teeth and finish making tea whilst getting bitten every few seconds, and climbing all over Stanley to try and not touch the grass.
The next stop is Lambarene, but there is one important stop off en route. The equator. This is very exciting and we eventually find the dilapidated signs and become the tourists we are, with photos and signing the sign. It feels great to have got Stanley his far and we happily drive into Lambarene, and find our accommodation for the night – a Catholic mission which is also a school. We arrive at 3pm and school is still well in swing. A French nun, who is pushing 80, invites us in and sets us up with hot showers and WiFi, and we shower happily in the middle of the school. We quickly leave to allow the kids to go home without getting distracted by white people sleeping in a tent on their car and we walk along the river in this exceptional town, made famous by Albert Schweitzer for his hospital and humanitarian work. The next day, on to Ndembe, the border town of Gabon and the Republic of Congo. On the way into Ndembe, we notice all the bush meat on the side of the road. As you’d expect there are small antelope, rodents and bush pigs for sale but what is amazing is the diversity of animals that could be your dinner – we see monkeys, crocodile and worst of all, a pangolin. A pangolin you may never of heard of, and that would be completely understandable. They are exceptionally rare, on the endangered species list and we have literally seen a menu with their name on it.
On the road to Ndembe, we are pulled over by the police. He kindly informs us the road is flooded and there’s no way to pass, and people have been sleeping on the road. We explain we have to see it for ourselves, as this is really our only route – unsurprisingly a country made of rainforest has very few roads even if they are spectacular. We pull up 40km later, just shy of the town, and the road is well and truly blocked. The floodwater has totally consumed the road and there is a line of traffic, which has been there for varying lengths of time. We hear the usual mantra of Africans – “You have 4x4? Oh, you’ll be fine.” I would say African’s trust in 4x4 is substantially more than ours, as we stare at the torrential water, which has pulled the entire road into the river. We also see something we have never seen. The road workers, working on the aforementioned spectacular roads, have left there road building and are building a bridge across the newly formed ford. With their bulldozers, Cats and trucks they are flying along and we wait a couple of hours til they have built half a bridge and dammed the river enough for us to get across (after we’ve seen a couple of other 4x4s achieve this). We arrive into Ndembe and find the Catholic church for our nights accommodation. It is, of course, free and we camp in the church ground, with use of the Priests house for a bathroom, falling asleep to the sounds of the choir practicing and waking up to morning mass.
It’s a real shame to rush through this fabulous country but we both agree this is the sort of place we would happily return to for a two week holiday – it’s just not made for overlanders on a budget and we have a deadline to get to Angola.
The next day is a big day. We are heading to the Republic of Congo and we know this is where the trip is going to get difficult. Stanley is as good as he can be, after a good servicing in Cameroon and we are keen to crack on and get through. We drive on through the rest of Gabon, a bad piste to the border and get through. After James takes the three security experts at the border through the car – No, we do not have diamonds in the Jerry cans. We have diesel. Knives and forks are not dangerous weapons, but helpful for dinner, whilst I deal with Immigration and get a job offer as the latest recruit. We finally head off on the terrible road.
We drove through the rutted, flooded road which had been massacred by huge trucks. We were doing well, but definitely needing four-wheel drive. Up ahead was an extended piece of flooded mud, broken into two parts. The first we traversed easily and the second looked short and not too deep, despite the water covering the whole road. This is when we did something beyond stupid. We drove into it. As we drove on the left hand side, the sand pulled the car across to the right, where the sand was exceptionally soft, and also two feet deep in water. Stanleys two right wheels disappeared and we were not going anywhere. James got out, took three steps towards the back tyre, and disappeared into the sand up to his waist. This was not good. We tried a few maneuvers, back, forward – no relief, we pulled the sandladders off the roof and dug, but every shovel of sand we emptied was immediately replaced by the flowing river we seemed to have ended up in. After a few hours of fruitless digging, pushing and pulling, a truck drove past and we asked them to stop and pull us out. They agreed, grudgingly, as they were on a schedule and we pulled out our 5 tonne Halfords tow rope and wrapped in around our front tow point. This was all very embarrassing but was surely going to be fixed in a few minutes, and we would be hours behind schedule and have to sleep in a village, but all manageable. The tow rope immediately snapped. The truck drivers produced their tow rope – which also snapped. We hired a bike to drive to the border town and find a tow rope, and after twenty minutes, he returned with a tow rope as thick as your arm, made of metal. Surely this would do the trick. The truck drivers explained their best tow point was at the back so they would have to drive past us and pull us backwards, and we then proceeded to watch a twenty tonne truck drive into the side of Stanley as they tried to navigate past him in the soft, flooded sand. Okay, still manageable, they seem to have taken off the plastic wing, but no damage to the wheel. We wrap the tow rope around our tow bar as we can’t reach the tow point on the back as it’s below sand and attach it to the truck. The truck pulls off, and our tow bar, and part of the chassis comes flying off. Shit. The truck drivers give up and drive off. We stand staring at Stanley, his entire right side buried in quick sand, his exhaust below water, bubbling air, with parts of him littering the ground. This is starting to look really bad. The motorbike takes our new tow rope off, as he says it’s only borrowed, and we chat with the locals. There will be another truck and that will pull us out – at maybe eight tonight. We wait the intervening few hours, trying to find a way to dam the continual flow of water and dig enough, so that when the truck comes, we will be ready. It arrives on time, and agrees to help. We try their tow rope but to no avail and we realize we need the tow rope we had earlier. I jump in the truck, the transportation for this part of Congo, and we head off to the border town where I haggle, extremely poorly, for the tow rope. I can barely lift it, but I get it into the truck and jump into the back to escort it to Stanley. We explain our back tow point is gone, so the truck drives carefully past and positions himself to pull us from the front. We connect up, and he pulls whilst the locals and myself wiggle the car from side to side. The tow rope comes loose at the truck end, and the truck drives at full pelt away, with his passengers and helpers running after him. Maybe he wasn’t so committed to helping us after all.
It is now very dark. We are in a flowing river in the middle of the Congo with no clear way to get out. On the plus side, we have beer, so we drink it all and fall asleep in a mosquito filled, flooded car. A local hunter walks past us with a rifle and reassures us there are no bandits in these parts and we are safe with them. Phew… We are up at 5 and have a plan. Obviously, things are pretty grim and the water has, if anything, got higher. Stanley is now unable to get into gear so he is clearly sustaining substantial damage from this. We have the number of the British consulate and we will call as soon as they open, and formally request emergency help. I pack our bags ready to abandon ship if it becomes necessary and we can’t quite believe it has come to this. One of the local walks past, and says, “I don’t know why you don’t just go to the white people with big machines.” WHAT!! There is a Malaysian logging camp 10km away, with bulldozers, fork lifts and trucks. Why had no one told us? We walk to the village and organize a motorbike to take me there, we both agree it will be harder to turn me away as I am currently capable of crying at request, knee deep in mud and feeling spectacularly sorry for myself.
I arrive at the camp of Asia Congo and it looks like heaven. I get invited in and am given a cold can of coke and a swiss roll – actually the only thing I have eaten for 24 hours. I explain our problem to the boss, who is Filipino and obviously speaks English, and he immediately jumps in his Landcruiser. When we arrive back at Stanley, all hell has broken loose. There is another truck and they have been trying to pull him out, using the truck tow rope. This will unfortunately not fit on our front tow point and keeps slipping off. Louis, my Filipino hero, drives back to camp and returns with a wire they use for securing the trees they fell. He attaches it to our front emergency tow point and to the lorry, and the lorry pulls. And the tow point flies off. We now have no tow points. I am near tears, and James looks completely broken. Louis appears completely unflustered and wraps the tow rope around the chassis at the front, carefully avoiding the radiator. I take my usual position, behind my hands, and the truck pulls. Stanley rises out of the mud, and I scream in celebration, jumping up and down, and burst into tears. The thirty Congolaise who have arrived to watch the spectacle, turn to watch the latest one – Me.
The next problem is clear. Although Stanley is now moving, it is certainly not under his own steam. Three of his wheels are not turning and he is being dragged through the mud by the huge truck. Stanley, who we turned off after five hours under water, is restarted past the river and a gallon of water and oil is immediately expelled from his exhaust. We try to put him into gear, but it’s not happening and Louis tows us the 10km back to camp with occasionally knocking from the rear of the car. He’s not looking healthy.
We leave Stanley in the garage and get shown to a room we can use, with a bed, air conditioning, bucket shower and a toilet - we are overjoyed. The mechanic is in the forest, so we are told to shower, get some lunch and then nap, something we are both in desperate need of having not eaten or slept in the last day. The next morning, the mechanic looks at Stanley, and after two hours finds the problem. His rear differential is completely destroyed. In our desperate attempts to free him it seems we have obliterated it. We are currently in a logging camp in the middle of the forest, with butterflies the size of your palms, elephants and gorillas near by in the deep forest and praying mantis's walking the bannisters. We have three buildings and a mechanics yard, 226km from the nearest small town on some of the hardest road the Congo has to offer, and we need a new rear axle. The day after, we organize to meet a taxi 40km up the road, the last place a taxi can make it to. He unfortunately cancels after an apocalyptic storm hits and he can’t guarantee his Toyota Corolla will make it. Louis immediately steps up to do the 500km round trip. We would love to decline as this is a stupidly generous offer but we are in no position to turn down his generosity. We head off on the rough track with our formula one driver for the next five hours. We arrive in Dolisie, and Louis calls the man in charge of procurement for his international company to find our part, which we have brought from the camp. Even he fails to find it in Dolisie and it becomes clear we need to make our way to Pointe Noire, a further 150km away. We get dropped off at the taxi station, and get a shared taxi to Pointe Noire, with James and I sharing the front seat, and our precious part in the boot. After 9 hours on hard roads, my bum is in agony and we find a dodgy hotel near the spare parts market to spend the night.
The next morning we go in search of our part. It is a Sunday, and everything is shut, but a couple of calls to some numbers given to us by the Procurement chief of Asia Congo and doors open. We go to a warehouse, where they fail to find the part new and then wait whilst the boys are sent out of mopeds to search the second hand market. Seven hours, and several rejections later we have our part. I could have taken up a high-end coke addiction, but instead, we buy second hand parts for Stanley. We jump back in a taxi to Dolisie and arrive in late, but happy with our two rear differentials. The next day we hire a taxi to take us the initial 180km and are greeted by Louis, to complete the 226km. We are both exhausted from carrying around two 30kg parts for Stanley, and we collapse back in our emergency bed in Asia Congo camp. The mechanics set to the next day and before midday, the part is in. He has looked better. His brakes don’t work, his ABS has broken, his bonnet no longer shuts without a well placed cable tie, both wings are no longer attached and live in the back seats but he will now go into gear and his engine roars like he was never submerged in water for 36 hours. Neither of us can believe he is still working and are overjoyed to get back on the road. Yes, we had to stop twice on the way back to gaffer tape parts of him back on and place the odd cable tie but he made it back to Dolisie. We finally get a chance to appreciate the amazing scenery that the Congo has to offer with rolling hills, savanah and deep rain forests all in what appears to be uninhabited terrain.
We can now start thinking of what is supposed to be the most difficult part of the trip. A 200 km trip on awful roads into the DRC, cross the mighty Congo river in a barge and then make another 200km in the DRC, noted for corrupt police to boot, to reach Angola. And we need to get there by May 2nd or our 190$ USD visas expire in a country where new visas are not issued easily.Time to finish what we started.
Many thanks again to ding.com for communications support all the way! In addition, we cannot even begin to thank the Congolese villagers who worked tirelessly to help us get free, the truck drivers who pulled us out for free or the spectacular staff at Asia Congo, who offered us lodging, food, mechanical assistance and salvage out of the kindness of their hearts. This trip has shown us a lot of things, but first and foremost it has taught us that the kindness of strangers is infinite, and the perceived differences between different nationalities and races pales into insignificance when you actually need help.
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.
Before leaving Nigeria, after receiving our Cameroonian visas at the extremely efficient Calabar consulate, there was one place we had heard of that we wanted to visit - the Drill Sanctuary. Drills are one of the most endangered primates in Africa, and neither James nor I had ever seen one (James had never heard about them at all). It was a seven hour drive, vaguely in the direction of the Cameroon border so we made the slight detour. The ranch is located up in the Afi mountains, in pristine rainforest. 95% of Nigeria's rainforest has disappeared and this national park and the monkey sanctuary is trying to hold on to what is left. The way to tell you're getting close to the sanctuary, as you are driving over dubious bridges and through small rivers, is you start noticing the high levels of banana traffic. The sanctuary has promised to buy all bananas or avocados grown by the surrounding villages, and this has encouraged a huge banana trade, with every truck or okada you pass holding great piles of fruit. When you get to the sanctuary, the staff, after many incidents where a lot of good bananas were lost, keep the fruit locked in a giant electrified cage.
We spent a day with one of the managers of the sanctuary, Innocent, who spent hours telling us about the different monkeys, their personalities and stories, whilst we watched them play and fight. They also have a large chimp population and there we met Bella. She was bought by a couple by the roadside in Nigeria when she was a baby, and grew up with the family. With the outbreak of Ebola, and the hysteria that went with it, the neighbors of this family threatened to shoot Bella if they didn’t get rid of her, and that is how she made her way to the sanctuary. She is a strange chimp. She refuses to sleep on anything other than a bed, she only wants humans to groom her and requires shampoo when she washes. As you can imagine the other chimps are not loving this, and she is now in the process of being trained how to be a chimp.
nThe American couple who set up this sanctuary now have over a thousand Drills, and have even released over two hundred back into the wild, up in the mountains away from human settlements. Unfortunately, the majority of the Drills returned due to too little food and water now available for them in the wild. It was a beautiful and extremely interesting place and we happily spent a few days there, watching the monkeys and walking through the rainforest, making our dinner illuminated by fire flies and falling asleep to the sounds of the monkeys and the forest. One of the nights, we were woken by the sound of a old musket blast, and discussed it the next day with Innocent. He explained hunting is still a big problem for them and this was most likely someone hunting porcupine.
From the sanctuary, we headed on to Cameroon. Immediately, you see the difference in population size compared with Nigeria, and you drive through huge areas of rainforest on the way into the towns. This portion of Cameroon is English speaking, and we drive into an adorable town, Mumfe, on Easter Sunday. We find a small hotel run by Madeleine and spend the afternoon being looked after. She is quite a women, running her own hotel as well as making and selling her own spices and oils through the women's cooperative, and we stock up on African spices before heading to Limbe the next day.
Limbe is a town on the sea, overlooked by Mount Cameroon and it is charming. We find a hotel (to camp in) behind the botanical gardens, overlooking the oil rigs out to sea and spend a few days visiting the fish markets and eating piles of fresh fish and shellfish, and relaxing on the black volcanic beach. After a few days, it’s time to address the real reason we are there – the mountain. Mount Cameroon is the 8th highest mountain in Africa, and the highest in West Africa. It stands about three times higher than Ben Nevis at 4,100 metres and is renowned for its gradient. There is a yearly Guinness race, where people race up and down the mountain, with the record currently being four hours and twenty nine minutes. This is not the time span that we are looking at achieving, and we book in for a two day hike to the summit and back, accompanied by a guide and two porters to carry our tent, sleeping bags and food.
The first day we walked for seven hours, starting walking through gardens and farms, and then up into the rainforest. There are several huts that you aim to make it to, and we made it through Hut 1, Intermediate Hut and eventually up to Hut 2, at 3000m, by four o’clock, and this is where we set up camp for the night. Mount Cameroon is a national park, sponsored by the WWF, and it certainly seemed very organized on the ground in the tourist office where the lovely Gwendoline had talked us through what we needed to bring. But as we went further up the mountain, the huts became increasingly dilapidated and dirty, with rubbish and graffiti all over the place. Hut 2 is in the process of being renovated so we set up our tent on a grassy verge and try to get to sleep, ready for the 4am start to get to the summit.
We start the assent in the dark, with head torches strapped on, and within minutes start to notice the effect of the altitude. Every step I take becomes a huge effort, and I’m breathing like I’ve been sprinting up the hill. The going's slow, and we’re both suffering. By 9am, we have made it to Hut 3, at 3850m, and after a pep talk from James and our guide, and more biscuits then I thought possible to consume in one sitting, we go for it. We reach the summit within the next hour and spend a few minutes being barraged by the winds, as we are lucky enough for the clouds to clear and we are rewarded with a spectacular view. However. the plan is to get down today, so we need to start going. It is such a relief, with every step our breathing gets easier and I feel like I could run down the mountain. This feeling does not last and after a few hours of going downhill, with different muscles being pushed to their limits, and many a tumble, we’re starting to flag. After hours of walking we arrive back at Intermediate Hut, and we are shown how incompetent we are as two girls, aged 8, hike up to Hut 2, skipping along and our porters run past us with their huge backpacks. We just continued to get slower and slower, and fall more and more. By the time we were on the home stretch, our legs were struggling to remember which direction they’re meant to bend, and our guide struggles to know how to manage the sobbing, limping mess in front of him. He offers to carry me. I don’t think he’ll ever offer that again after my sharp response, as James tries to explain I’m slightly too stubborn to allow such a thing. By seven, we have been hiking for 15 hours, and the guide says we still have an hour to go “at our pace.” We call down to Gwendoline and she arranges for a taxi to meet us at one of the highest farms, and despite it being a Saturday night, she comes to meet us. She asks why I didn’t call her and tell her to carry me, and I have never been so glad to see anyone. We all fall into the taxi, and this car, with broken suspension on terrible farm tracks, with four people in the back and three in the front, is the most comfortable ride of my life. Two days later, we are still broken. Mount Cameroon is a formidable opponent, and we are both extremely proud we managed it, although I wouldn’t say we did it in style… and neither would you if you saw my method of getting in and out of the tent over the last few days.
We drove on, when we were capable of clutch control, to Kribi, through Douala. Douala is known as the armpit, of Africa, and it certainly lived up to this name, although we did spend a lovely few hours in a Spar buying meats and cheeses. Cameroon has a reputation of being one of the most corrupt countries in the world, and we had up til now not seen any of this – except for a rather bizarre request for our toilet roll in exchange for letting us keep driving our right hand drive car (we kept the loo roll). Crossing the river in Douala, there are police pulling over every car and you can see the locals in fierce discussions with the gendamerie, before cash changes hand. Armed with the knowledge there is nothing wrong with our car, we clash horns with them and after showing them our fire extinguisger, driving licience, carnet and triangles, they ask us to show them our cal metallique… What? Sure we’re right that this is not a real requirement, we sit it out. They say the fine is 75000 CFA, around £90 and we tell them we have no money. They need to give us a ticket and we will go pay at the police station. We repeat this over and over and no ticket is produced. They say if we don’t have 75000 CFA why don’t we write down what we do have. Yeh right! I produce 2000 CFA in the wrong currency and say this is all we have - £3. After 40 minutes, they take the £3, which they can never use and let us go. As we drive through Douala we see countless shops selling triangles, fire extinguishes and cal metalliques. It seems the law has changed and it is now essential to have two of these contraptions– a metal choc for the car. We buy two quickly. How we got away with that I will never know.
We set up camp in Kribi, a beautiful seaside town, which seems to be entirely populated with curio sellers and start the planning. Next up is Gabon and the Congos, which we think will be the most challenging yet. Hopefully my legs will work by then.
Many thanks to Ding.com for their continuing support with communication, most of the thanks coming from my Mum.
Liz Jarman & James Nunan
Our trip from Essex to Cape Town & back again
Km travelled : 50818km
Countries visited: 30