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Sunday, 1 August 2010

Cameroon - Part 1: Rhumsiki, Maroua, Waza National Park, Garoua & The Hippo Man

I should point out that Laraldo The Great wrote the last few blog entries and that the one about Togo and Benin was using my log-in but written by her...I did NOT comment on the voodoo statues saying 'Look at the willies...tee-hee!' as some of you have asked.

So...not to be mistaken for the Khmer Rouge, Cameroon proved to be yet another action-packed chapter in this African odyssey. I might have to do it in a few posts although I'm conscious of the better half watching over me like Sauron to make sure I get this done...

On the day the World Cup started (Friday 11th June) Marjane (driver Mark) took us over Cameroon's border with Nigeria via a different route to the one he has taken before. As he went through the usual rigmarole with customs, we sat in the back of the truck listening to South Africa's 1-1 draw with Mexico on Neal's radio. Initially we thought the game must have been great for spectators but we shortly realised lots of static is similar, but not the same as, a roaring crowd.

Now on the Cameroon side of the border, we bush-camped in a random field where the well-camouflaged locals kept a roving eye on us from the bushes (see photo).

The well-camouflaged locals kept a roving eye on us from the bushes.

Squirty Dobkins gets some good karma

The following day we moved on to a small village called 'Rhumsiki' (3,500 inhabitants from least that's how many I counted). The views in Rhumsiki were nothing short of stunning and were made even better by the fact that, due to the extortionate prices at the town's hotels/hostels we were told by locals that we could camp out under the stars at a point in the town that had a panoramic view of the entire place: as far as the eye could see, undulating hills were pierced sporadically by HUGE pinnacles of rock; the Nigerian border about a kilometre to the North West and the rest of Cameroon ahead of us.

The views in Rhumsiki were nothing short of stunning.

Once parked up, a few of us lads (Berbs aka Dave aka Mark, Yoichi, Marjane and me) sauntered our way into the (only) local boozer where we were treated like kings as we sat with the locals and watched two World Cup games back-to-back...the second game seeming so much more exciting than the first...but in hindsight, I think that was just the 33 Exports we'd been chugging all afternoon. If truth be told, the most interesting part of the afternoon was when saw-dust started sprinkling down from the ceiling and dusting our heads. When we all (locals and tourists alike) looked up and saw a termite nest in the roof we thought nothing of it. Minutes later a mouse fell from the rafters and broke its two back legs on the guy in front of me's head. Had it been my sparsely populated head and not an Afro, it could have been end of days for the poor wee blighter.

Interestingly, one of the patrons at the pub was the village chief who went by the name of Don Quixote (no joke) but by then we'd already met Julius Caesar and a couple of other fictional and historical legends too. Like me, The Don commanded respect wherever he went and with his very good English invited us to his place for what turned out to be a 5 course dinner (with pizza for starter) as we watched yet another 'thrilling' World Cup 1-1 draw...this time between USA and England. Berbs and Neal had already settled their patriotic differences in the car park.

Berbs & The Prof settled their patriotic differences in the car park.

We never could convince Neal that football (or soccer as he calls it) is the only real football. (The vest says 'Obama - A change we can believe in.')

Dinner at Don Quijote's place.

A night under the stars.
We all slept out on one giant mat at the panoramic point for a truly awe-inspiring night under the stars (the Milky Way was so clear it looked like low clouds). When we woke the next morning, Berbs had moved his sleeping mat to a distance that he had obviously hoped would have put him at a safe distance from Kayelene's snoring.

Embarrassingly, I fell within the first 5 mins of our trek.
After breakfast, Julius Caesar (yep) took us on a 3 hour trek around the hillside (embarrassingly, I fell within the first 5 minutes...on the flat too)  and his local village complete with market (where me and Berbs tried the local home brew called 'billebille' - not sure of the spelling) and witch doctor. We all got to ask the witch doctor one question (for the price of a dollar) and he'd answer by spitting on a crab, putting it in a bucket of sand, mirky water and a couple of symbolic runes, putting a lid on the bucket, shaking it and then opening the lid to see what symbolic mess had been made. I won't tell you what I asked him, but put it this way, he painted a prettier picture of my future than the Cuban voodooman that 5 years ago told me I'd die before I'm 30 from an STD or in a car crash...I'm 30 in October and I'm travelling around Africa (where AIDS popular) in a truck. Sweeeeeeeeeet!

Half-way through the trek...

Me 'n' Berbs sampling the good stuff in the village market at the end of the trek.

The entrance to the local market in Rhumsiki.
Going to see the witch doctor: "Oo ee oo ah ah ting tang walla walla bing bang."

Laraldo does her bit for UNICEF.
Once back at the truck we handed out a few 'cadeaux' (by way of old clothes, pens and balls) to local kids ( that was 'PENS and balls' for those with bad eyes) we said our goodbyes and made our way to Maroua - a decent-sized town where we'd finally get to see our host country play a game: Cameroon Vs Japan.

Kayelene & I return from our cook group shop on the back of our taxi.
We had a few hours to kill prior to the game so everybody explored Maroua whilst Kayelene and I did our cook group shop (pointed in the right direction by Brad from the local US PeaceCorps contingent). The town was proudly decorated in the now familiar colours of red, yellow and green; flags were flying everywhere and vuvuzelas were being blown all over the place (I don't know who these vuvuzela guys are but they seem to be very lucky). On seeing the flags we decided we had to have one for Ruby (the truck) so we asked a shop-keeper if we could buy the one flying outside his shop. After us refusing his extortionate price and him refusing our counter-offer of 5,000 cfa (about $10) his neighbour (a tailor) dashed out excitedly to tell us that he could make one in 5 minutes for that price. 15 minutes later (African time, remember) we had our flag and it was tied to the side of the truck. Aces.

Watching Cameroon V Japan with the locals.

Check the guy with the Cameroon flag on his arse!

By kick-off we got into the spirit of things with the locals and all donned our Cameroon t-shirts and prayed to see the African nation thrash the Japanese on the tv we were watching en masse on the roadside. (Much to the dismay of Yoichi our Japanese travelling buddy...but he wanted us to tell everybody he was Chinese, just in case there were any bad feelings.) Japan won one-nil and the locals seemed pretty downhearted but that didn't stop us driving through town with our newly purchased Cameroon flag down the side of the truck, Marjane beeping the horn and me and Berbs at the front of the truck wearing our Cameroon shirts and cheering with pride. We got plenty of whoops, smiles and cheers and we even had a few people yelling and gesturing what I could only assume meant "Get T.F. outta here!" too. We thrived on it all.

That night we made a bush camp near 'Waza National Park' and the next morning got up at about 4.30am to get to the park when the gates opened. (As Kayelene and I were on cook group that morning, I thought it would be good to wake the camp up with 'The Lion Sleeps' by The Tokens.) The park was pretty low on wildlife but we saw about a dozen giraffe (two of which we saw just chilling on the roadside BEFORE we'd paid to go into the park), a couple of jackals, topi and warthogs as well as numerous cool birds whose names I failed to get.

Sunrise on the road to Waza National Park, Cameroon.

Most of the animals in the park must have died before we got there...

Just some of the many birds whose name I failed to remember... (No double entendre there, I promise.)
Although the park was pretty empty, none of us were disappointed as most of us are doing the entire trans around Africa and have the east coast to look forward to (those that aren't doing the east coast on this trip had already done it on previous ones anyway). Besides, our time in the park wasn't entirely without action: within about half an hour of entering, Ruby was well and truly stuck in the mud so we had to all jump out (ignoring the warnings at the gate about never leaving your vehicle) and dig her out. It was pretty cool being up to your nuts in thick mud and wondering if a pack of lions might be waiting for the perfect opportunity to pounce. The reality is that we were stuck in the mud because it was rainy season and this also meant that the animals had plenty of places to go for a tipple (and that's why we never saw many at the few waterholes en route). As the usual route was so muddy we were back out of the park within a few hours and at a nearby hotel/lodge negotiatng the price of our first shower in days.

Safari lookout point from the top of the truck before the brown stuff hit the fan.

True to form, Sonya's first out of the truck to get the shovels out.

Son & I pulling the mud-mats out of the trucks side lockers.
Laraldo gets stuck in (...the mud).

Yep - we're fooked!

During the process, we all got a new pair of socks...

...which we washed off in nearby Puddles (of Mudd).

Me 'n' Berbs launching a mudmat on to the hard ground so as to get the dried mud off.

Me, Berbs & our French (crap) guide.

Yoichi, Squirty Dobkins & Karen get stuck in cleaning the mud mats once we left the park.

Kayelene, hard at work overseeing the clean-up operation.

Once clean we settled for another bush camp on our way to Maroua and the next day we were visited by the chiefs of the village we'd happened to be camping in. They were a bit pissed off we hadn't asked them for their blessing but were placated by Kay's awesome doughnuts (not a euphamism). Back on the road we went into the centre of Maroua and picked up some grub before heading to Garoua to hunt down 'The Hippo Man' (Marjane had been told about this guy by one of the other African Trails drivers who had passed through there the previous year).

After driving back and forth we asked a local policeman who didn't have a clue what we were talking about so we carried on up the road in dismay. We'd only got 500 metres when said policeman overtook us on his motorbike and flagged us down. It turns out that some of the locals had overheard our plight and pointed the cop out to Mr Hippo himself (sat at the foot of a tree with a hand-written sign on it saying 'Call XXXXXXXXX for the Hippo Man').

Hippo Man lead us down the road where his cronies met us with their wee dugout canoes and beckoned us in so they could take us to see the giant grey rocks that were moving in the river about 200 metres away. Yoichi, Sonya, Squirt, Neal, Laraldo and I all got in the boats which sat with their bows about a millimetre above the water level. We were taken across to a small sand bank where the Hippo Man got to work calling the big mammals over; slapping the water and throwing some feed from his bag. Sure enough the hippos came up and out of the water where Hippo Man fed them with his hand in their mouths and patted them on the head. Laraldo, Yoichi and I waded out from the sand bank and got as close as the the Hippo Man himself, but you can see that in the photos below (and these are NOT photoshopped as some have already suggested). Question: If the plural of hippo-pot-am-us is hippo-pot-am-i, what is the plural of what-a-twat-am-us?
Why are those big boulders in the river moving?

Lara and Yoichi "Fat Bastard" Oguchi in the dugout canoes on the way to see the hippos.

Hippos are down there somewhere.
Lara does her impression of a hippo to Squirt's amusement. (Real thing in the background - very hard to tell the difference.)

Hippo Man throws out some feed.
The hippos were not amused with Lara's piss-take.

That's right: Hippo Man's hand is in the hippo's mouth.

Getting closer now...

Crap photo, but at least I caught the split second Lara would turn her back on the hippos.

Here they come!

Not brave. Just stupid.
Back ashore and after some hard negotiating over the price of the experience, we set up camp up the road on the banks of the river, put the tarps out on the side of the truck, put the kettle on and watched an awesome electrical storm close in whilst sipping a brew. I even saw at as an opportunity to offer up a wee dram of the expensive Scotch ("Caol Ila")  I'd bought at Gatwick airport. The night was tainted for Laraldo as she trod - in her open-footed sandals - ankle deep in a cow terd. I found it pretty amusing.

After setting up camp, everybody watched the sunset over Garoua on the other side of the river.

Watching the storm come in, whiskey in hand...
The next day we set off early to give us plenty of time to get to Yaounde via the notorious Cameroonian roads...


  1. Sounds like you guys are still having an awesome time!

    Loving the pictures.

    Keep up the good work

    Anna xx

    ps glad to see that 'laraldo' has caught on, i knew if i called Lara it for long enough others would follow!

  2. Hi guys, just a quick note from a couple of strangers. My boyfriend and I are booked in to do the 16week cape town to cairo with african trails in april 2011.
    We so look forward to reading your new blog posts, I check every couple of days to see if there is anything new.
    It has been great fun so far, living vicariously through you!.
    Keep up the good work, the funny posts, and the amazing photos.. it will make out 252 days (but who's counting, right?) pass much quicker!
    Leah & Alex (australia)