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Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Cameroon, part 7, cont

Day 42 – 16/1/12

We started the day with chores. Avril cooked up the great batch of vegetables we had bought from a gardener in Gamboula. Ray had the car serviced. Buy the filter from one shop, purchase the oil at the service station (A$ 100) and use the service station pit to change the oil. The air filter was cleaned by a person at a tyre repair shop and we went to the bus station to get someone to grease the car (A$ 10). All done in 90 min.

Then we drove the horrible road to Bertoua. It is as bad as we were warned and the guide book says. Very bad corrugations that travelling at speed does not make any better. Really awful.

We drew money from an auto teller in Bertoua and filled up with gasoil. Then we drove on a wonderful tar road to Garoua Boulai. We arrived at a decent hour and stayed at the Lutheran mission. No camping, we have a large flat.

We are well and truly out of the rainforest now. As we drove north the vegetation changed to woody savannah and as we drove further north the trees were sparser and smaller. The country side was mainly flat with the exception of one area that was sort of like the Pentland Hills.

The local houses in the south and west tend to be a light weight timber frame, closely spaced to allow mud to be packed into the spaces or alternatively sun dried mud bricks, generally with a corrugated iron roof or grass thatch. As we approached Garoua Boulai we started to see some traditional round houses with either mud or grass walls. We have been told this becomes more prevalent in the north.

There were not too many road blocks which made the day more pleasant.

 Avril driving. 6 hours. 332 km. N 050 53’ 02.8’’ E 0140 32’ 87.9’’ 

 Day 43 – 17/1/12

After buying our baguettes and talking to the kids, we set out on the journey to Ngaoundere. The 270 km took 5 hours and was a mixture of “the agony and the ecstasy”. The best part was the new ~ 150 km tar in a few sections. The agony was the rest of the trip. Ray reckons as a former bush boy used to dirt roads and he knows about dust. But we have never seen dust like this, in places it is many cm’s deep. At one point a vehicle decided to overtake us, we had a dust fall down on us like a rain storm for a few minutes. For the 1st time when we arrived at our destination we had a lot of dust on the accommodation unit.

We stopped at Ngaoundere over lunch, had the car washed (essential after all the dust) and got refuelled – diet cokes & gasoil. The town is very clean for an African town. There are also a lot of ATMs which is handy. We both had salad for lunch – Avril thinks we will get some fatal bug, but lets see.

We decided to drive onto the Benoue Mational Park and to be honest with quite low expectations. We did the 126 km in 90 min (Bradt 165 km, Reise Know how 110 km). The road was all tar, but badly pot holed in sections. As we descended down from Ngaoundere it got noticeably hotter. There was a very thick haze. The locals say this is due to the dust from the Sahara, we think the heat and grass fires (there are lots of them) may have something to contribute as well.

It must be the time of the year to re-thatch. We see big piles of new thatch in the villages along the way. Folks seem to be working hard putting up the thatch. The houses are set in small kraals with thatch or woven rattan (?) fences. The woven fences have a chevron design woven into them.  

Avril thinks the country side is like the northern Transvaal (we do not know new name).

We had thought that there would be a shortage of fresh fruit & veg, but the folks up here seem to be quite industrious and where there was water there were market gardens. We bought up big. We also bought some local honey from kids at one of the police stops, lets see what it tastes like.

The drive into the park started as expected, little game. But as dusk started to fall we saw lots of game (and this is only a single road in – no game drives). We saw some large monkeys, giant eland (unfortunately too slow to get good pictures, however there were ~ 6 and it was a magnificent sight), small antelope (grey duiker ?) and what looked like a large Impala -the horns were those of an impala but it seemed a bit bigger, lighter in colour and its coat seemed to have more fur. We are at a bit of a loss on identification as we only have a southern Africa mammal guide. As the guide book notes there are lots of birds.

We arrived at the Campment de Buffel Noir around dusk. We camped in the small camping area and were given the keys to one of the rondawels for ablutions. The facilities are in need of modernisation, but are very clean and well maintained. Importantly, they have cold beer!!!

Ray driving. 10 hours. 414 km. N 080 07’ 02.2’’ E 0130 32’ 49.6’’ 

Day 44 – 18/1/12

We decided to spend the day at Campment de Buffel Noir. After a bit of a sleep in we set about doing some chores. In the afternoon we went for a game drive. We were fortunate to see quite a lot of game; lots of the buck similar to Impala, grey duiker, what we assumed to be red duiker (very red, large body and short legs with black socks), Bush Buck, Water Buck, baboons and a couple of enormous northern ground hornbills. At the river we saw hippos and crocodiles. Quite a successful drive.

The days are now quite hot but we need the doona at nights.

Day 45 – 19/1/12

May you live in interesting times! We left Campment de Buffel Noir early in the hope of seeing some game. We were not disappointed. We saw a herd of + 25 giant eland on the move and managed to get some reasonable snaps (very exciting), bush buck, the impala like antelope which we think in the local lingo is Cob de Buffon, baboons, monkeys, red duikers (?) and hartebeest (excited about as well) all with in ~ 10 km of the camp. We decided to take the track that follows the park boundary north. The track was quite bad in spots and we only saw a couple of Cob de Buffon, baboons and some monkeys.

We re-joined the main N1 road north which is tar but badly potholed in sections – vehicles weaving like Angola to miss the bad places. We stopped off at Garoua to do some quick internet, refuel (diet coke & gasoil), fresh fruit & veg, bread etc. Again we were impressed by a town in the north. They seem to be much better organised, cleaner and have some civic pride, for example there are large trees along the road into most towns.

After we left the National Park the country got quite barren, sort of like the pastoral plains north of Adelaide. Then it got even drier, very little in the way of trees, mostly grass lands. Avril still reckons like the northern Transvaal.

The road to Guider is tar. We stopped off the see the Kola Gorge just before Guider. The EU (bless their little hearts, they seem determined to do a Kensyian pump priming exersize all over Africa) has erected some picnic facilities. There were a large number of guides all wanting some work. Unfortunately, the gorge is not really that impressive. It is in the middle of a river bed in black granite with white stripes,  ~ 20 m deep and 5 m wide. It runs for ~ 100 m.

At Guider we turned towards the Nigeria border. The road was tar up until you head north at the town of Dourbeye. The road north is Green on the Michelin map and runs along north along the Nigerian border, with mountains all the way. It is very bad road/dirth track.  At one town there was a donkey was aggressively chasing another donkey and they crossed the road a few times, unfortunately just as we drove passed they decided to cross the road again – you know the rest. The 1st donkey ran straight into the drivers side door. Bugger, fortunately there was no damage to the car. As per SOPs we continued on and did not stop.

Later we had our first puncture of the trip. As seems to be the norm on our trip, a motor bike with two chaps on it stopped and immediately took over the tyre change exersize – no point in Ray getting his hands dirty. Absolutely amazing how they just see an issue and get on and fix it. At the end we just could not seem to be able to get the tyre up to pressure. Turns out the ARB inflation tool pressure gauge is U/S, fortunately we have a manual spare.

Slowly the road got worse and the light faded. We got to our destination, Roumsiki and asked a local chap where Camp Roumsiki was, he proceeded to jog along the road and we followed. Then < 100 m from the lodge the draw under the vehicle tray fell out. Seems that both the latches decided to give up (also gives an indication of the rough treatment the roads have given us). Immediately there were many people around helping to lift the draw and put it back (which took some time) and then tie rope around to keep it in place. Again, folks came up and assisted, unasked. We always give some money at the end.

There was some discussion at the lodge, they prefer not to have campers (there is a camp ground up the road) but at the end they let us camp.

After Ray had a shower we had some cold beer or G&T and dined at the restaurant.

Ray driving. 11.5 hours. 402 km. N 100 30’ 57.0’’ E 0130 35’ 16.5’’

Day 46 – 20/1/12

What with donkeys, “mad dogs”, chooks and general animal noises, we had a poor nights sleep. Village life is definitely not for us! Still we had a bit of a sleep in.

The previous evening Avril had chatted up one of the local lads whilst inspecting the alternative camping accommodation. This chap showed up at a respectable time to assist with any repairs. With another by-stander they look at the latches and within 30 minutes had replaced the 2 broken ones – with a new spare and by using another one that was not really needed. Ray chipped in occasionally with some management advice!

Then, they took the punctured tyre to be repaired. We settled down for a late breakfast. Turns out they did not have the glue in this village, so off the assistant went on a motor bike to get glue from the next village. We relaxed and read a bit. After some time the tyre was returned, sort of repaired. Looks like the puncture is more of a rip so we may need to buy a new tyre. Bit of nuisance as this was the new tyre we had just bought in Yaounde.

At around 12:30 (mad dogs and Englishman) we went out for a trek. Roumsiki is renowned for its spectacular scenery. There is a large basin with a number of dramatic volcanic plugs. We took a guided walk around the perimeter of the basin for a bit, then down to the basin floor before returning to the village. We had asked for a 2 hour walk but it turned out to be 4 hours. But it was well worth it for the great scenery. We also went with in meters of entering Nigeria.

On return, after the normal hassle with guide payment, Ray went for a swim in the artic temperature swimming pool. Avril watched!

Then we had an early dinner and went to the bar for some drinks.

Day 47 – 21/1/12

Knowing we only had a short distance to drive, we made a leisurely start to the day. The local guides had assured us that the road north was better than the road from the south into Roumsiki. Mmm, no it isn’t. The road is horrible all the way to Mokolo and on to Koza (we never got out of 2nd gear), after that it improves marginally. At Mora we rejoined the N1 north – as per the guide book it is terribly potholed. At times we wish we were back on the bad secondary road.

The dramatic Roumsiki scenery continued on the way north, more volcanic plugs. After Mokolo we drove through some very interesting mountains. The locals here have the back breaking task of terracing the hillsides and clearing them of rocks. The terracing is extensive and with the family compounds seemingly growing from the rocks it makes quite an impressive scene. We then understood and appreciated that the guides had insisted we take this route.

At Koza the mountains stop and the industrious people of the north start irrigating the lowlands. We think we see sorghum, lots of onions and cotton. We stopped for lunch at the edge of the Mogozo-Gokoro National Park, which is not nearly as interesting as it sounds.

Back on the N1, the scene is more arid, very dry. The huts here are made of grass. Again along the route the locals have made an effort to plant trees at the entrances to the villages/Towns.

We are camped at the gate to the Waza National Park.

Avril driving. 7 hours (and we did not have many stops!) 180 km. N 110 23’ 30.5’’ E 0140 33’ 48.2’’
Day 48 – 22/1/12

The day started rather badly. Ray went to get the (compulsory) guide for Waza National Park and Avril started the vehicle and drove to the camp ground gate – with oil pouring from the engine! In typical Cameroon/Africa style we soon had a number of helpers. Initially we looked for the bottom drain plug, then one of the keen observers saw that the oil filter was not screwed in properly. Mmm, so the mechanic in Batouri had not properly installed the filter and the very rough roads it had shaken it loose (may have had something to do with the hang over he was suffering from??). Luckily we had the tool needed to re-tighten the filter and one of the helpers tightened to filter. Lucky as well we had a 5 l container of oil bought from Australia. The manager of the park had another 3 l, so together we had enough.

So, we set of for our game drive at 08:00, with all systems go, Ray on the roof rack. We saw a few large groups of giraffe (the signature animal of Waza), lots of herds of Topi, our 1st ever Roan Antelope, Cob de Buffon, wart hogs and the most exciting sighing for many a day, a serval cat. We followed the serval for some time and got a lot of glimpses, but not a photo. Very, very exciting. We also saw lots of interesting birds; blue roller, vultures, ostrich, grey crane, caribou stork, eagles etc.

Whilst we were relaxing at camp from the hot afternoon sun a French overlander couple drove up – also very exciting. In broken English and Rays pretend French we managed to swap information. They had recently come via Chad, Niger & Mali and were very positive about these countries.

We went for an afternoon drive and were fortunate to have Ross McLeod along on the roof rack with Ray. Ross has been travelling around Cameroon after teaching life saving courses in Kribi, we had met him in Roumsiki. We saw a lot of the same animals on this drive (but no further serval) plus a large group of small mongooses and near the park exit a couple of jackal.

After pitching camp, we had the French overlander couple and Ross over for some drinks and snacks. A very pleasant evening.

 Day 49 – 23/1/12

Another leisurely start to the day. The road to the Kalamaloue NP was tar, but badly potholed, so we took it slowly. The only trees along the route now are those planted in towns. The landscape is quite bleak - very short if any grass and there is a long way between villages. The huts are circular and made of the locally available grey mud with a thatched roof.

The National Park was established to protect the elephant migration routes and is situated on the banks of the Chari River.  

We arrived ~ midday, but decided to wait until it cooled (the thermometer was at 38oC, and it is only January) a bit before going viewing. We went on a game drive in the afternoon and saw the promised elephants, a large group of > 50. The park is pretty run down so there was not a lot else; 2 different kinds of monkey, a mongoose, hippopotamus and crocodile.

It appears that the camp facilities are not yet open, but we camped there anyway; sans loo & shower. All the staff went home for the evening, so we were left to ourselves and the not too distant sounds of elephants.

Avril driving. 2.5 hours. 122 km. N 120 08’ 85.2’’ E 0140 52’ 97.9’’

Day 50 – 24/1/12

As it was only a short drive to the border, we had a bit of a sleep in. We breakfasted with the elephants! About 100 m from our camp site, through some thin bushes there was a parade of elephants probably on their way to the water hole. They seemed to pass by single file for about 60 minutes. To be honest, this also involved a little bit of fear on our part, we made sure we could pack up very quickly.

On the way out, almost at the park gate, we saw a jackal.

We stopped before the town centre at Koussari to complete customs formalities. It turns out there is no gasoil in N’Djamena and maybe in all of Chad, hence as well the border town of Koussari theoretically had no diesel. At the customs post Ray asks one of the assembled locals about the possibility of getting fuel. Yes, we can buy it at a price. So we purchase ~ 47 l from the road side at ~ A$2/l. Still we would rather have the fuel.

We drew some money from a “hole in the wall” (lots of theme here) and bought some engine oil – but from the Total station.

Then we were off to the border. We have not seen chaos like this for many a day. They are building a new bridge, but in the mean time traffic is restricted to one direction for a time, then the reverse direction. Through the great mass of motor cycles we manage to work out where immigration was and get our passports stamped. No bribes asked for by any official.

Then we wait for the Chad direction to have its turn to cross. Of course the motor cycles at our end pack the entrance, so folks coming from the other direction cannot get off the bridge. Avril finds it frustrating (particularly as the cattle get top priority), Ray enjoys the carnival.

Finally after 1st arriving in Cameroon on 18th November 2011 and spending 50 days in the country we finally leave to the north.

Cameroon Summary

First the good points; Cameroon in general has wonderful people. Always ready to assist. We have always felt safe the whole time. Despite our whinging, there is quite good infrastructure; even remote villages have electricity and the road system is better than a lot of other countries.

We were fortunate to leave from the North as the folks here cannot help but leave a positive impression with their industrious nature and quiet and pleasant temperament. The national parks in the north were also good from our perspective as we saw lots of animals we had not seen before.

The customs people in Yogaduma to one side, requests for bribes were for the most part implied and not pushed too hard. However, the number of road blocks really did start to get annoying.

The east of the country is clearly the poor cousin. This may impact the local people as they do not seem as keen to get on with stuff as other places.

Our trip with the kids was coloured by the very poor experience in Dja NP and the large distances (and hence time in the car) we had to drive. The low point was the Seme beach hotel – a complete dive.

Maybe we spent too much time here, but Cameroon does not really have the tourist infrastructure or attractions to keep you engaged.

1 comment:

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