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Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Cameroon, part 4

Day 12: today we started our quest for the next batch of visas. We went to the Chad embassy first. Fortunately they were prepared to issue the visa in a few hours. We found out when we got the passports back that the visa is valid from the date of issue, not the date of entry. Mmm, so instead of 1 month, we need 3 months. It is CFA 40,000/m per person. Ray explained that really this was a bit much, so we compromised, 3 months for CFA 80,000 per person. The counsel then changed the visa with tipex. We are not sure what happened to the additional CFA 80,000, but ask no questions.

Then to the Niger consul. After much discussion, it turns out we have 3 months to enter the country and then a 1 month visa. CFA 45,000/m per person. Ray did all the forms whilst Avril had her hair done.

So, talking of bad hair days... Avril decided on what Ray describes as Russian prostitute red. Apparently despite instructions of NO red, the stylist though some bright red would be just the thing. An interesting new look.

In the evening we joined Philip Olivier from GDFSuez (who happened to be in town) and the local office at a very nice restaurant for an evening of talking and catching up. Very pleasant, we only got back to the mission at midnight.

Day 13: we spent the day arranging to get work done on the car; a new tyre for the one slashed in the accident in DRC and a full service. Avril tried to work on the internet, but the connection was at best only available intermittently and was frustratingly slow. There are no suitable BFGoodrich in Cameroon and really no suitable 4x4 tyres. So we have made do with a Michelin tyre which is the same size as the others (CFA 200,000). After the pounding the tyres have had, we were fortunate that the balancing was straight forward.

Day 14: Ray got up early to be 1st in line at Toyota. They gave the vehicle a full service. The dirt & water + bad & mountainous roads together with the vehicle weight meant a new set of rear brake pads were needed. Again a very expensive, but necessary exercise. Avril worked on the internet getting out a news letter.

Then we went to collect our passports from the Niger embassy. On the way a policeman tried to stop us, due to the steering wheel being on the wrong side of the car – sure. We told him we had been through many Cameroonian road blocks and there was no trouble, gave him a copy of the Victorian registration and drove off, much to his surprise (we hope it is not like Kinshasa where the cops started to recognised our car and that was a sign to try and stop us and extract funds!).

When we arrived at the Embassy, there was a very large crowd of excited people. So, Avril waited with engine running and Ray ran the gauntlet to get into the embassy. There was no animosity towards him and the (men) there were pleasant. Turns out they were there to vote for the President of the youth league or such. The good news is that we got the passports.

Then off to the CAR embassy. We made application for a visa. CFA 55,000 for 1 month + CFA 15,000 to have a 1 day turn around rather than 4 days (we will not be around in 4 days).

Visas & cars:  an expensive exercise! But fingers crossed, we are OK for the next bit of the trip

We went for a drink in the evening with Mark Van Boekel & Karin from WWF. On the way to the restaurant our friendly policeman saw us and we had a bit of a debate, with us insisting we could not speak French. Eventually he handed back the tattered copy of our Victorian registration. Ray made the mistake of saying merci! So then another debate, we actually could speak French. I wish.

Day 15: a slow day. Picked up the visas from the CAR embassy (after waiting for 1.5 hours) and then cleaned the car and did various chores.

Day 16: another slow day. Shopping & chores.

Day 17: today we drove to Douala and are staying at the Catholic Mission in town.

Driving in the Yaounde & Douala is an interesting challenge. Both cities have hundreds of thousands of small, yellow taxis. The taxis provide the main (only?) form of public transport. All the main roads are basically a long taxi rank with potential passengers trying to get to the start of the road to be in the best position to grab a cab. The taxis then slowly drive along and potential clients call out their destination. If the driver is interested he (always a he) will pull marginally off the main road to allow the passenger to get in. The driver will make sure that he has an exit back onto the road, hence more often than not he will block off the whole road, particularly for a bigish vehicle like ours.

So, this means that you are never sure whether or not a taxi is going to stop and if he does how far off the road he will go.

Another custom here, the opposite of Australia (and to be honest other western countries), is that in Cameroon you NEVER make eye contact with another driver. That way you do not have to consider what they may want to do. Now, that is OK, but most vehicles will head directly onto a main road from a side road without looking, trusting that those on the main road will some how see them and give way.

To add to the colour, in addition to the car taxis there are countless motorbike taxis filling in any space that may remain. There are more motorbike taxis in Douala. All manoeuvres are carried out at a pace and tolerance (we are talking mm here, not cm) between vehicles that would be considered suicidal in Australia.

The entrance (and exit) roads from all major cities in Africa are lined with local style markets. Invariably this causes massive traffic jams with the shoppers, stalls, taxis slowing down/stopping, huge numbers of pedestrians, kids running on the road etc.

To add to the delight, most vehicles seem to be in need of a cylinder rebore and new rings. The engine oil companies must love it here. The average punter must spend more on oil than fuel. This results in a thick black, acrid smoke that not only impairs vision but makes your eyes water.

For us white coloured folks in big 4WDs, the entry and exit to towns and cities holds a special pleasure, the road blocks. We get stopped at most road blocks and go through the inevitable question and answer session. The unwritten part here is that if a flaw in documentation is found, then this would be a “serious” violation and an equivalent fine (non receipt-able of course) would need to be paid. In the entrance to Douala today, we passed through 3 road blocks. This took ~ 40 min in total. One police officer (with very strange hazy eyes, wonder what that was) decided that we could not drive with a right hand drive. How to explain that we have been through lots of road blocks etc. No, we do not have anything for you. No, you cannot have my pen etc.

All in all makes driving in Egypt/Cairo look like a beginners program.

In the evening we had dinner with Eric Woodward and a friend of his. Eric is the son of a friend of my sister Susan and is the 1st foreign student to be accepted into a Cameroon university.

Ray driving. 246 km. 5 hours.  N 040 03’ 26.6’’  E 0090 41’ 83.3’’

Day 18: the big day arrived. The Kenyan Airlines plane landed almost exactly on time. We had been at the airport a bit (OK, well a lot) early in case the plane was early. Unfortunately the kids were sans checked in luggage. The Nairobi end decided to leave the baggage on the tarmac.

Then we drove down to Kribi to the Hotel Ilomba, which the guides say is the best in the area. A swim and lots of talking. A few beers and food.

Given the torturous route, long breaks etc, Gabrielle, Peter & Hayley were pretty wrecked, so had an early night.

Ray driving. 246 km. 5 hours.  N 020 53’ 31.3’’  E 0090 53’ 57.2’’

Day 19: after breakfast we walked to the Lobe Falls, where the river of the same name falls directly into the ocean. Then a pirogue trip up river for ~ 30 min to visit a pygmy village (very uninspriring, but the good news is that we were only in the village for 5 min). After the return trip Avril & the kids had prawns, chips & beer. Then spent the afternoon at the beach

Ray went with the tour driver back to Doula (6.5 hours in total) to collect 2 of the 3 missing bags! Mmm, 3rd trip raspberry goes to Kenya Airlines, what a useless bunch. Totally not passenger or customer focussed.

A wonderful meal on the restaurant of the hotel.

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