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Monday, 9 January 2012

Cameroon, part 6 & Central African Republic, Part 1

Day 28 – 28/12/11:

Today is a relatively quiet day as we are staying in the same place tonight as well. We slept in and had a lazy breakfast before Ray took the car down to the local mechanic to have the door to the accommodation module mended, after the accident on the way to Ouesso. Hayley and Peter decided to stay at the hotel for the day.

Avril, Gabrielle, Ray and the tour guide went to Bafut and visited the famous chefferie of Bafut (Unesco World Heritage site). One of the queens of the palace guided them around the museum and some of the palace. Of particular interest was the various places virgins (both male & female) were sacrificed and where adulterers and fornicators were tied and forced to eat parts of their bodies as they were cut off day after day. We then watched a traditional dance. The dance was very active and given that it was done in with bare feet on dirt, the dust caused us guests to get very dirty. The queen is one of the Fons 8 wives that he selected. The Fon  also inherited 48 wives from his father. Also of interest to Ray was the implement used by the Fon to beat his wives, it was a mini whip that was appropriately decorated.

We all enjoyed a very nice dinner at the guest house.

Day 29 – 29/12/11

After a leisurely start to the day we had a short drive to the Zwinkles trekking camp at Belo. We lazed around whilst the rooms were made ready, then checked into the cabins.

In the afternoon we (sans Hayley who was not 100%) went for a walk through some local villages.

In the evening we chatted to some other campers, had a few beers, dinner and bed.

The scenery is spectacular, a series of ridge lines (rather than rolling hills) fade into the distance. The camp is at 1,700 m and at a guess it would be over 1,000 m from valley floor to the crest of a hill. Unfortunately there is a constant haze, from when we get up in the morning into the evening. This makes photography almost impossible – Angola all over again.

Avril driving. 2 hours. 50 km. N 060 11’ 28.1’’  E 0100 22’ 57.1’’ 

Day 30 – 30/12/11

We had another lazy start then set off for a four hour return walk to a crater lake, beautiful scenery along the way. We stopped for a while to eat our packed lunch, we packed bathers hoping for a swim, however the water was far too cold. We arrived back at camp early afternoon then spent the afternoon playing travel Scrabble. Hayley was educated on the Betros way of winning, let’s just say that she won’t be so naïve in future games.

The novelty of the day was a hot shower, the past few days have been mediocre.  

Day 31 – 31/12/11

Early start to the day, we set off at 7am in order to get to our New Year’s Eve camp in Melong before dark. We stopped in Bamenda, the main town of the North-West region. As today is Saturday, market day and NYE, the streets were heaving with shoppers getting their produce for the New Year’s Day feast. We saw ladies dressed in their best carrying live chickens by their wings and butchers hacking up meat with their huge cleavers. We collected our standard lunch items (baguette, avocado, tomato, cheese) and continued the drive.

Along the way we stopped at Ekom Waterfalls, infamous for their role in the Tarzan movie. We were nearly eaten alive by little flies, they just hang about in the humidity.

The hotel for the night were traditional circular mud huts with thatched roofing, they were lovely and cool inside. We spent a few hours in the afternoon reading by the small river that flowed past the site and chatting to a group of German tourists, they were all very interesting. The hotel was full for the night so there were about 20 of us for the special NYE buffet dinner, all very tasty food. We sat with a South African family who have done a great deal of travelling. The parents have four adult children who all live in different places around the world, they have spent most of their life in Asia.

After we were treated to some theatrical sketches by some of the local youngsters, although it was all in French we could get the gist of what was happening, was very funny. We then watched some traditional dancing with very loud drum beats and a few other traditional instruments. None of us made it to midnight!

Avril driving. 243 km. N 050 04’ 16.1’’  E 0090 53’ 08.3’’

Day 32 – 1/1/12

We had a reasonably early start, left the hotel at 8.30am, followed by a relatively short drive (approx. 3.5 hours) from Belong to Buea. As we approached the coast the weather became very humid and a lot hotter than what we have experienced for the last few days. Along the way we passed a few more road blocks (no surprises there), however this time they are checking driver’s licence for exporting to Nigeria. The usual story at the road blocks, they let the tour company car past then they see that our car has the steering wheel on the wrong side and because we are white they stop us. We explain that we are tourists, they insist on seeing the registration papers, we hand them over one of our fifty copies, they try to hide their confusion because they are Australian papers and they have no idea what they’re looking at, then to save their embarrassment they let us through. This happens approximately 2 – 5 times each day, sometimes more. For about two hours of the drive the road is lined with huge plantations of bananas, rubber trees, papaya and pineapples. As far as the eye can see from the road it is healthy trees, irrigation and perfect rows of plantations. We understand that they are mostly exported, a good thing to see.

We arrive in Buea at 12.30pm, Ray, Gabrielle and Peter check into the hotel as they will stay here for the night before they start the climbing trek of Mount Cameroon. We all say our goodbyes and Avril and Hayley drive to Limbe to the beach resort where they will stay for the next few days.

Avril and Hayley arrived at the Seme Beach hotel at 4pm, there are cars and people everywhere. It is New Year’s Day and everyone is on holiday at the beach for the day. We are told it’s the nicest beach along this coast line and it appears that some people are just here to be seen. We weren’t able to check into our rooms until after 6pm, we had to arrange for the rooms to be cleaned as the previous occupants had only just left at 5pm (knowing that check out time was 11.30am), however they hadn’t paid for the extra time. Avril whipped them into line then we checked in.

Peter, Gabrielle & Ray relax in the hotel and at dinner use the excuse of a long trek to do some “carb loading” – solid and liquid (beer having all the essential nutrients needed for life).

Avril driving. 243 km. N 040 03’ 41.6’’  E 0090 03’ 25.6’’  .

Day 33 – 2/1/12

After a slow start to the day for Hayley and Avril, they did the washing (by hand) then spent the afternoon at an animal park. We now know where all the animals from the Dja Reserve are!! There are a few large families of gorillas, including four silverbacks (grown male), monkeys, chimps, drills, mandrills and baboons. We understand that they confiscate animals from illegal export and markets where they are tied up for people to look at. Most of the time the animals are severely dehydrated and traumatised, so the park spends a lot of time rehabilitating them into their new environment. The enclosures are well kept and are a reasonable size. They seem to be doing something right as every enclosure has young offspring or animals that are pregnant. We could watch all the different groups for hours, watching the young ones wrestling with their young friends or siblings, the mothers carrying their young either underneath their belly or on their back. There is always some sort of action, Billy is bossing Mary around, Benji stole some food from Jane etc. We were quietly standing watching the large group of drills and all of a sudden one of the teenager equivalents is out of the enclosure hunting for food just outside. It appears that he has done this before! He scurries along the outside of the enclosure, looks for food, finds a banana in the grass, peels it, gobbles it up, makes sure there aren’t any other morsels he has missed then promptly jumps back into the enclosure under the electric fence. The rest of the group get a bit cross with him, probably just jealous that he has the courage to get out of his enclosure, risking an electric shock or trouble from the keepers and gets extra food. The keepers probably know that he gets out, but as long as he gets back into the enclosure they probably don’t mind, what a smart little guy, just bending the rules!

After breakfast, Gabrielle, Peter & Ray are ready at the nominated time, 07:00. They go to the Ecco Tourism office and wait & wait & wait (Peter quotes Leonardo DiCaprio from Blood Diamonds – TIA; This is Africa). Ray says every minute we have to wait reduces the tip, so with in 5 minutes we are on the way! Later it turns out that our guide & porters had to come from a village far, far away. And, this being the day after New Years Day, everyone is hungover and there is no transport. Still, we fare better than the large German group we have been shadowing for a few days; they had to find new guides & porters.

We started the walk at ~ 09:30. Through agricultural areas and rain forest to hut 1. We are powering at this point and feeling pretty good about our progress. Then comes hut 1 to hut 2 where we will camp the night. Peter powers ahead and Gabrielle is not far behind. Towards the end of the day Gabrielle gets her 2nd wind and goes ahead of Peter. Meanwhile down the rear end the guide is encouraging Ray who is huffing & puffing. 2 steps then a break. It is not the altitude, rather the relentless incline up. Ray reckons this is the hardest day trekking he has done, but eventually arrives at hut 2 at ~ 15:00, 30 minutes after the kids, but still well ahead of the guide book times.

The wind is howling and it is freezing at the site. The porters are late in arriving (turns out they had to go back and buy their food etc). Still, our porters are 1st to arrive and we can pitch our tents in the light. Then our cook prepared a nice meal of spaghetti followed by pineapple. We are better off than the German group whose porters arrive after dark. We assisted them in pitching their tents. A very windy night means lots of tent flapping and Gabrielle got little sleep.

Day 34 – 3/1/12

As Hayley and Avril were walking to breakfast there was a group of eight policemen with the biggest guns we have ever seen walking past us. We asked one of the cleaners what was going on and it appears that a group of American tourists are here for two days to learn where their ancestors left for American as slaves from Cameroon. Not sure why they need to have the huge group of police as their entourage, unless the hotel is insisting on it.

Hayley and Avril went to the Limbe Botanical Gardens, some of the trees are so huge. They have tried to represent all the provinces of Cameroon and the typical trees that would be in that area. The garden are flanked by a beautiful river that flows to the see about 200m away. The afternoon was spent at the beach, lapping up the sun and the waves. Due the beach being close to the bottom of Mount Cameroon, which is a volcanic mountain, the sand on the beach is dark brown and is fine like dirt, however doesn’t discolour the water. When the waves flow over it there is a sheen left on top that makes it look like fine chocolate, it is the exact colour of Cadbury Dairy Milk Chocolate…you can imagine how Avril reacts, I think she wish she could scoop up handfuls of it.

Gabrielle, Peter and Ray are up early and get everything packed up very quickly. Breakfast was some of yesterdays baguette with laughing cow cheese. Then we are on the road. Gabrielle had a cold so it is hard going for her. However, we all made it to the peak of 4095 m between 11:00 and 11:30.

Then we started the decent – the part Ray fears most. Long story, short – we all made it to Mann Springs. But it was a hard long trip down and we were all very sore at the end. We set off down steep slope with deep scree, then a long way across the 1989 lava flow, past the 1999 craters, more scree and finally to the tents.

Ray had set some expectations for the porters in the morning and they had pitched our tents (in the best spot) and had hot tea waiting. Very nice. Dinner was rice with a tomato sauce. The overall site was super crowded with us, the German group, French family group (6) and two other couples all with guides & porters squeezed into a small space. And no arrangements for toilet – you can imagine. The highlight of the evening, based on the chatter in the morning, was Rays RSM scream at ~ 21:30 “shut up! We are trying to sleep”. The yell did work.

Day 35 – 4/1/12

After another breakfast of baguette (3 day old, but Ray toasted it) & laughing cow cheese, Peter, Gabrielle & Ray were on the track by 07:15. It was a quite tedious trek mainly through rain forest. The highlight of the day was crossing the 2000 lava flow. It really did look like a river running down off the mountain. We arrived at the car park at ~ 14:00 and our trusty driver was waiting. We had a beer with the porters, went to the Ecco management office – more faffing to get some certificates (Peter;  “TIA”) and finally to Limbe for a shower, salad prepared by Avril and some rest.

Avril & Hayley worked hard to make sure every thing was super nice for when the trekkers arrived.

Day 36 – 5/1/12

The trekkers were very, very sore. So, it was a late start for all. As Hayley & Avril had had such a great time at the Animal Sanctuary we all decided to pay a visit. We were all entertained by the shenanigans of the primates. Then we went to a fish restaurant – fresh grilled sea food, eaten with our hands. We did wash our hands very well before & after eating.

We all went to the beach for a swim and then had (final) drinks and dinner.

The hotel proved to be more ludicrous than Fawlty Towers. We lost water twice during the day, the rooms were in an advanced state of dilapidation and as Trip Advisor had stated, the staff were rude. Anyway… Ray & Avril went up to pay the bill so we could leave early the next morning. The Manager was there (and knew Avrils wrath from previous encounters) with one clerk, trying to check in a very large number of people and more kept arriving. Mmm, we wanted our bill and did not want to wait for ever for all the other folks to be checked in – Ray is not known for his patience! So, the old contractor discussion, I am not interested in your problems, I have enough of my own. As a guest I want you to concentrate on my problems and not try and make your problems mine etc etc (decades of practice at this). So, in a fit of pique the manager says we do not have to pay. Ray;” no we really want to pay”, Manager now more bolshi than ever, no need to pay (he must be very scared of Avril). Alright then, if you insist, we will not pay.

Day 37 – 6/1/12

A sad day as the kids left to return back to Australia. We hope you have enjoyed the guest blogger, it is now back to the drudgery of Ray & Avril.

An early start to the day, and yes the water was off so Ray rushed around to fill empty bottles from the vehicle so everyone could have a bit of a wash.

Avril had been in communication with the Kenya Airways head office re the kids treatment over the late arrival of their bags. On arrival at Douala airport, she spotted the Kenya Airways office and went up to talk to the (very chastened) manager. The airline had done the right thing. The manager apologised for all the hassle (head office had also been embarrassed and apologised) and the kids were upgraded to Business Class for the Kenya Airlines part of the trip to Nairobi and then Bangkok. A very nice gesture and much appreciated. So, many thanks to Kenya Airlines a good recovery.

With sad hearts we headed back to Yaounde. We had a good run except for the last road block where we were held up for 20 min. The cop clearly wanting a bribe but could find no reason to demand it. We were treated like friends at the mission, checked into “our” room then went off to do some shopping. Ray managed to get a decent hair cut albeit at Aussie prices this time. Then we had a delicious Turkish meal (Andrew: sorry, there are NO Greek restaurants here!).

Ray driving. 4 hours. 328 km. Back at the Catholic guest house.  

Day 38 – 7/1/12

A day of shopping and catching up with friends. We spent the morning tidying up the vehicle and then shopping for the next period. We are unsure of when we will see a large supermarket again, so we stocked up on cheese, meat (in the freezer), toiletries (in addition to those left by the kids), tinned veggies (cause fresh is in very short supply), lots of chocolate (for Avril) etc.

We had lunch with Bridgette & Iain from WWF, a couple we had met whilst traveling around the ring road. Then afternoon drinks with Mark & Karin (also from WWF) who had recently been to CAR and the Sangha lodge. They were able to give us some good tips e.g. park 5 m from the police barriers or else an official fine will be imposed.

Day 39 – 8/1/12

On the road again! We made an early start to Batouri and after driving through the normal end of city markets (which were very lively on an early Sunday morning) made good time over good tar and then reasonable gravel until ~ 30 km from Batouri. We stopped to assist a vehicle that had a flat tyre – they had a spare but used our compressor to inflate it. Then we noticed a large amount of fuel dripping from our vehicle. Bugger! Fortunately we had filled the tanks ~ 60 km before, so we had sufficient fuel to get to Batouri.

We drove straight to see our good friend Fr Patrick and he organised a mechanic, immediately. Not bad for a Sunday. The mechanic seemed to find a number of leaks where rubber tubes joined onto steel pipes, and set about using jubilee clips to get a better seal. We are not sure why the fuel system should develop multiple leaks; maybe there is a deeper problem or there was only one leak and we tightened up a lot of other stuff anyway. The repair seemed to work, however we noticed a leak when we parked the car for the evening – so further repairs are needed tomorrow.

Fr Patrick took us to see the hospital they are building etc. Plenty of work for skilled volunteers there!

We had dinner with the sisters, who were also entertaining a group of Dutch folks from an NGO

Avril driving. 7 hours. 411 km. Back at the Bishops residence in Batouri.

Day 40 – 9/1/12

After a poor night’s sleep (lots of noise) we were up early to get the vehicle sorted out. The mechanic turned up at 07:30 and we started to fix the remaining leaks. After about 2 hours work the leaking seemed to have stopped. Ray also contacted home office technical aka Peter (the knowledgeable) Mitchley. We agreed there may be a blockage and after some research Peter suggested it may be the solenoid that transfers fuel supply from the main to the sub tank. As a precaution we switched tanks a few times in the day and the leaking seemed to be gone – fingers crossed.

For those keen readers with a good memory, you will recall the road out of Batouri is described in the Rough Guide as the worst in Cameroon, and again, we found the description accurate. Very corrugated and rough gravel with the added hazard of logging trucks travelling at speed and demanding all the road. We normally go to the very edge of the road and stop whilst a truck passes.

The vegetation was more like a dense scrub rather than rain forest. Along the roads the plants are coated with red dust which is kinda like a science fiction view, driving along a dusty road with red vegetation. Also today we noticed that it was a lot hotter than it has been recently.

Cameroon immigration and customs is at Kentzou, ~ 13 km before the frontier. This was seamless with no demands for money.

Central African Republic – Part 1

Day 1 – 9/1/12

We approached Central African Republic (CAR) formalities with some trepidation, given the reputation of CAR. However, these were completed very professionally, with no demands for money. You do most of the formalities, including a health check at the border, but immigration is stamped in Gamboula town.

We stayed at the Baptist mission ~ 3 km out of Gamboula. A real oasis, very clean and with great gardens. A lovely American couple, Tim (doctor) and Ann (teacher) welcomed us and very nicely asked us to dinner.

Ray driving. 4 hours. 143 km. N 040 05’ 50.7’’  E 0150 09’ 09.8’’.

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