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Tuesday, 22 November 2011

RoC, part 5 & Cameroon, part 1

RoC Summary: all in all we quite liked RoC. The people were very friendly and you can walk around, even after dark, with out fear. You are not hassled when walking along.
It is not ideal to travel in the wet season, but this really only impacted us at Bomasa and the last 200 km to Ouesso.
From a corruption perspective, it was only at the exit border crossing we were asked for bribes.
The game viewing is different, and we are more used to the savannah game drives. It is interesting to see the forest animals, but this takes time and patience.
There is a lack of fresh fruit and vegetables outside Brazzaville, and we do like these. So that is a bit of a negative.
We give the Bradt guide a pass; 5/10. It was only moderately accurate and not all that helpful.

Day 20: we needed to leave at 04:30 to ensure our German companions could get the plane back to Brazzaville. We decided on a boat trip rather than a drive as this is more enjoyable. So we were up at 40:00, then as we left our rondavel the sky’s opened up. It belted down. So there was nothing for it but to wait. Eventually we decided to change to a car and left at ~ 06:30 – a wise decision! We got to the pirogue crossing on the Sangha river in good time.

We picked up the car from the WCS office and booked into the hotel. Then went to the Lebanese restaurant for lunch with our fellow travellers

In the afternoon we went to the port to confirm the border details to go to Cameroon.

In the evening we went back to the Lebanese restaurant for dinner. Following lunch this was small. But the owner, Ali, had been to the market to get us some nice fruit. Then he insisted that we not pay. Unexpected generosity. 

Day 21: we got up early to be ready for our crossing. Unfortunately the hotel dinning room decided not to open for breakfast, so we went without.

We decided to have a guide assist us through the day, as we did not have any details of the route in Cameroon. First we went to the crossing at Maboku. We did the carnet very quickly, unfortunately the immigration folks decided not to show up until 08:30. Then we got a ferry across the river. The ferry and the road in Cameroon are owned by a logging company, so it is kept in good nick.
Cameroon, part 1
Day 1: The Cameroon border formalities are completed at Sokambo, ~ 12 km from the river. This also took some time.
Every official on both crossings asked us for money, but we resisted.
Then, the drive to Yokadouma. Everyone had assured us that the road was good. After workshopping this, we decided that “good” meant that you could get through. It did not relate to the actual condition of the road. Of course, as is our habit on not so good roads, it rained or drizzled most of the day, making conditions uncomfortable for Avril (she is still driving as Ray’s vertigo has not cleared yet).
The road is through rain forest, all the way, including a crossing of the Lobeke NP (with The NNNP and the Dzanga- Sangha NP it forms the renowned Congo Basin Rain Forest tri nation national park). Along the way there were 2 tree falls at different points across the road. At these points, the locals gathered to clear the road, using just pangas (machetes). For this service you pay a couple of dollars. Unfortunately at the second tree the vehicle in front of us (carrying a Spanish tourist) decided not to pay. Mmm, angry locals, eventually they grudgingly pay.
For this road, there is an interesting mechanism to prevent trucks destroying the road in the rain, the road is closed at a number of points with a barrier and trucks are not allowed to pass.
We did 314 km in ~ 11.5 hours, including the border crossings.
We stayed at the Elephant hotel in Yokadouma, cost is less than a lot of camp sites.
Day 2: unfortunately this morning we discover we have a problem charging the accommodation battery. The problem is beyond Ray’s capabilities and will need the assistance of an auto electrician. We do a little shopping and buy a Cameroon SIM card.
The plan is for our guide to take us out of town and then return to Ouesso. Before this can happen, as we leave Yokadouma, we are stopped by a customs officer who is clearly under the influence of something. After some debate, we have to go back to town and see the chief of customs. Ray goes into the office and Avril protects the vehicle outside. We then have a farce of taking down some vehicle particulars and silly talk, before the customs chief hits Ray up for CFA 20,000. By this time he is not in the mood and lets the customs chief know – then calmly sits with arms crossed, silent. After 15 minutes, the customs chief decides we do not need to pay and we are on our way. 2 hours wasted. We drop the guide at an appropriate spot and we are on our way.
The Rough guide to West Africa describes the road we now travel on as the worst in Cameroon, and we certainly hope this is right. It is a mixture of rough corrugations and pot holes. Some of the pot holes are of Angolan proportions.
Eventually we reach National Road 10. Now dear reader, we are sure you will as shocked as we were to find that there was no difference between NR 10 and the “worst road in Cameroon”. So on we trudge. Not even 100 m of remnant good road all day.
As we have been delayed 2 hours, we decide to stop at Batouri, 90 km before our intended destination of Bertoua, We read in the Rough Guide that the sisters at the local catholic college welcome guests, so we go there, but they are not in. So we try our luck at a “petit” seminary up the road, but it is not appropriate. However, the priests there say we should be able to stay at the Bishops residence/guest quarters. We are a bit dubious, but follow them to the residence. The bishop is not in, but we are allocated a guest room and a place to park our vehicle. Then the priests ask a nun from the nearby hospital, Sister Frieda, to come and chat to us (as she can speak English, she had worked in RSA with disabled children for many years).
We are asked to dinner with the sisters and then meet Sister Susan (both nuns are from Belgium) a medical technician at the hospital and spend a very pleasant evening chatting. So the delay of 2 hours gave us a unique experience and a very pleasant time
190  Km over 6 hours. N 040 25’ 48.4’’  E 0140 21’ 57.6’’
Day 3: we are up at 05:30 to go to the English language mass at 06:00. We hear a great & amusing sermon from Fr Patrick (who had been a missionary in Mongolia! He is very tall and the folks in Mongolia thought he was an NBA star). Then the sisters invite us over for breakfast.
Sister Susan is driving to Yaounde today and we ask if we can follow. S. Susan knows some forest roads which mean we do not need to continue on the “worst road” in Cameroon. The road is mostly passable. An added bonus is that we follow directly through the road blocks and this must have saved us at least 2 hours on the day.
Then at some point, we reach a tar road. We luxuriate in the smooth ride and the lack of shaking and bumping.
Along the way we stop and buy some pineapples (~ $ 0.30 each). And continue on to Yaounde, closely following S. Susan in the city. We had thought that we would stay at the catholic mission mentioned in the guide book and used by other overlanders, however S. Susan takes us to another rest house, which is very pleasant.
Fr Patrick also came to town a bit later and took us to his family home for a traditional Cameroonian dinner. Fruit, fish, beef & vegetables etc. It was very nice and very generous of the family. He then took us for a drive around the city showing us the most important sites.
 Avril still driving. 396 km over 8 hours.  N 030 50’ 24.9’’  E 0110 30’ 28.8’’
Day 4: a very lazy day. Following a very fierce storm (despite promises that in this area the wet season was over) we got up late after our late night. We went down town and drew some money from an ATM, had the car washed and bought some fruit & chocolate ice cream (for Avril). The walk around town was easy with only a couple of persistent beggars. For the first time we see them annoy a black person, who turns and gives them a wack!
We went into a super market down town and were very pleased as this is probably the best one we have seen in Africa (including RSA). There is even diet Coke.
Avril was not a 100%, so she rested and Ray worked on some GPS maps for our future travel.
Fr Patrick & Ray went to the Toyota dealership ( Fr. P has a cousin there) and they confirmed that the clutch is gone. Fortunately there is one in Doula and Fr Patrick is arranging for this to be bought over tomorrow. Seems he has a lot of cousins who can assist in most things.
On the way back from the Toyota Dealership, Ray is stopped by a police (clearly wanting $). Ray explains to Fr Patrick this is normal, but he is not all that happy. And even less happy when the policeman also hits him up for a few bob. “You would even ask a priest for money??” Suitably ashamed, the policeman apologises and lets us go. But, we fear next time will not be so easy.
During the day, Ray also tries to discover the problem with the electrical system.
We have dinner at the mission with 2 bishops! Our strong impression is that the clergy here a very humble and the leaders very approachable. There does not seem to be the aloofness that  sometimes the Australian catholic leadership seems to display. 

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