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Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Cameroon Part 3 - Yaounde, Kribi, Lobe Waterfall and the Gabonese border.

Beach tarp pealed back, Berbs peeps out over the top of the truck.
Back "On the road again" (Canned Heat, and yeah, I played that one on the truck stereo too) we made our way to Yaounde (Cameroon's capital). As we left the tiny village we'd been stuck in, everybody was knackered but the sun was blazing and as seems to be the custom these days, me 'n' Berbs pealed back the 'beach tarp' (covering the front half of the back of the truck) to take it all in as the rest caught some zzz's. The sun held out for most of the day but as we headed further south the rain clouds caught up with us and the heavens opened; just in time for us to reach the dodgier roads! Yep, Rubes got stuck again. As she was slipping and sliding all over the place, Norm asked us all to jump out - "just in case". We'd just come down a really steep muddy slope and as we stood in anticipation for Norm to get Rubes out of the mud, we could only laugh at the numerous mini-buses and taxis that had come from Yaounde and further south trying to make it up the slippery hill we'd just come down. Needless to say, a few of them ended up sliding into each other, the bushes that lined the road, and of course, back down the hill.

Me, rocking the wind-swept, Ace-Ventura look after a stint peering out of the beach tarp.

Son - jus' chillin' in the truck after a few difficult days.

Karen (Squirt Sr.) catches some zzz's

Like mother, like daughter: Squirt - exhausted after all the burrowing underneath the truck.

Yoichi - caught catching a "rare" nap

The truck was on its way to Yaounde via The Land of Nod.
Meanwhile, Norm was having no luck with Ruby so we got the mud mats AND the tyre chains out. With both of these in place Norm gave it another go. She moved forward but only enough for us to fetch the mudmats from behind the back tyres and stick them in front of them again. We did this a few times but didn't really get much further and the rains showed no signs of relenting. So Norm parked Ruby up (or was it the other way around?) on the side of the road and we set up camp for the night in the pouring rain. Cook group was more than a little stressful for poor old Berbs and Yoichi that night as we all huddled around them whilst they cooked in the shelter of the truck's side tarps (Ruby's bingo wings). Regardless, they cooked up some cracking tuna melts and we waddled around the tables in ankle deep mud to collect our grub (it could have been worse if Berbs hadn't had the foresight to get us digging a drainage ditch.)

Not far out of Garoua: One of the many tiny, dubious-looking bridges we've crossed along the way. Not sure if you can see in this photo, but one truck never made it over the bridge.
Yep - this is a MAIN road. Cameroon's M1.
To make our camp safe we went down the road about 200yds in front of and behind Ruby and blocked the treacherous road off with small branches and bushes. However...this didn't deter the first few truckers that came our way: they drove straight through our makeshift blockade only to slalom their way down the road dangerously close to our camp. As night fell, other truckers started to see more sense and pulled up on the road behind us...there must have been a tailback of about 30 or more long-haul trucks all waiting patiently for driving conditions to improve.

You can see how easy it is to get stuck when the heavens open.
We woke very early the next morning to the sound of said trucks thundering past poor Ruby - the sun was already out and apparently this was enough to convince the truckers that the roads were good. The truth is they weren't good, they were just a little bit better than they had been. We jumped in the truck traipsing mud everywhere and all singing "Mud. Mud. Glor-i-ous mud" (but nobody knowing where this song is from...any clues from you readers? A film? Cartoon? Advert?) as Norm guided Ruby through the dirt behind the other trucks.

Not far down the road, the conditions were much better so we stopped to take the chains off the tyres and a few of us nearly had a heart attack when Kayelene let off a blood-curdling scream...she was fine, but apparently shocked at the sight of a goat that was tied onto the top of a minibus falling off and dangling by its neck. We stopped the minibus and helped them push that goat back up before consoling Kay. ("Don't worry Kay! We saved it from hanging so it can be butchered for their dinner this eve!")

We drove on cautiously for a few hours and eventually came across a big line of trucks all parked up in the road. This time a big section of the main road was officially closed off due to shitty weather and wouldn't be open again unless the sun stayed out and dried things up. Fortunately, the sun was out and whilst we waited for the road to be deemed safe again we found the only tv nearby so we could watch the Ghana vs Oz World Cup Group Stage game. Another 1-1 thriller: Oz scored first and not long after Kewell was controversially sent off only for Ghana to equalise from the subsequent penalty. From memory I think Oz had to win it to go through to the next stage - the patriot in Norm was pissed off, but the rugby player within him didn't give a toss.

Back on the truck (and away from the small, hot, hut filled with 50 bodies around a tv), we got the go ahead to push forward. We did so, but the mad rush of long-haul truckers vying for pole position was possibly as dangerous (if not, more than) the slippery roads. (Especially when most of the trucks were carrying tankers labelled 'Highly Inflammable' - I'm still trying to convince Lara that inflammable doesn't mean the opposite to flammable.)

Mad rush of trucks once the roads were re-opened.

"Eat our dust overland tourist punks!"

Jostling for pole position in the semi-wet conditions, with poor 80km/h..

For some, the pace and excitement of the afternoon was all too much...(above and below).

Yoichi catching another "rare' nap.
Laraldo - wearing her Cameroon colour sin her sleep.

Yours truly. Caught by the paparazzi in reflective mode.

Kay, what's she dreaming about?
I reckon it begins with 'P'. (Private joke.)
Along the way over these few days, we stopped off in various different towns for lunch (and an occasional beer whilst watching the footy) and to do our cook group shopping. In one town, Sonya had her wallet in hand and was paying for something when some wee twerp jumped out from inside the shop and grabbed her wallet whilst it was in her hands. As strong-headed as Sonya is (none of us boys would f*ck with her) (I take offense at that - I have a sweet side, honestly!!  -Son) she kept hold of her wallet and was ready to clock the little f**ker but thought better of it...mob rule 'n' all that. Nothing was stolen or lost in the fracas, but Son came away with some pretty nasty looking chicken scratches on her knuckles. This was a sign of things to come...

It has to be said that, thus far, Cameroon was the second friendliest country we'd been to. Surprisingly (at least for me) Nigeria is still way out in the lead as the friendliest country we've visited on this trip, in spite of its dubious reputation...Back to the point: Cameroon WAS the second-friendliest country we'd visited on this trip until this incident with Sonya. As we headed south towards Yaounde we all picked up negative vibes in these towns and just didn't feel like we were welcome there. Yaounde was no exception  - and I suppose big cities are the same the world over. As we drove through waving and cheering, proudly wearing our Cameroon footy t-shirts, more birds were flipped than in a KFC kitchen (maybe not a good metaphor: if rumours are to be believed you won't find many birds in a KFC kitchen)...What I mean is, middle fingers were everywhere - I even got a couple of 50 Cent wannabes doing gun signs with their hands at me. We didn't feel threatened...just a bit disappointed that the hospitality we'd received in rural Cameroon had come to an abrupt halt. We'd got nothing but 'tude here and the feeling was punctuated as we passed a place called 'Le Musee de Blackitude'. (In hindsight, it could have been because Cameroon were already out of the World Cup by this point. The country was in mourning; missing the days of Roger Milla.)

On the way into Yaounde.
Muslim call to prayer by the side of the road.
Football fever alive and well despite the country's early World Cup exit. I love this ad. It's on the side of an entire multi-storey building. Ma-hoo-sive!
We rolled up to a Swiss-looking Presbyterian Mission in the centre of town. It was run by a moody-looking (but actually alright when you spoke to him) Swiss-French guy and his Cameroonian wife/girlfriend (?) and the many members of her extended family. They were welcoming enough but charged for everything (water and electricity used) and were pretty strict: if you were staying in a dorm in the building, you had to be in by 8pm. Fortunately, we were camping in the backyard so the curfew didn't apply - but this also meant that we didn't get the benefit of the inside toilet and shower after 8pm...we had to make do with the out-house, where I think they were secretly hoping to invent a new strain of hepatitis. As you could have guessed, we all got mild stomach upsets there and had some adventurous trips to said out-house in the middle of the night...wading through the creatures that swam in the puddles on the floor. 

The Presbyterian Mission - Swiss-looking.

Pass us the bog roll, mate!

Mmmmm! Hepatitis!!!
The plus-side of this place was Geoff and his room/pub: Geoff was the son of the Swiss guy's wife/girlfriend. He'd converted a truck container into a long, thin room decked out with bar, fridge, sofas and a tv. I imagine some of the boys back home (The Big Stinking Ang, ShevvyChenks and Slug) will appreciate the name of the pub - see photo.(Private joke.) 

Geoff's pub - some of the fellas back home will appreciate this.

Over the next few days we busied ourselves wondering around the town and dropping off our passports at the DRC and Gabonese embassies (to get our visas) and if we weren't doing that, we were grouped around the tv in Geoff's bar watching the footy. (Here was where we watched England win the last group game 1-0 only to quickly change channels and see the Yanks go through in the 3rd minute of extra time. Neal and Berbs were both ecstatic that their nations had made it through.) One day, Lara, Sonya, Kyle and Kim strolled off with one of Geoff's rasta friends to have some drumming/bongo lessons at a 'cultural centre'. From what I'm told, the guy had toured Europe giving these lessons along with his dancing counterpart. The report I had was that Laraldo had a natural talent for all of the instruments they tried. She does me proud again! 

The gang; passing time at our camp in the grounds of the Presbyterian Mission, Yaounde..
As there was a good market in Yaounde (a luxury given what had been available up until now), Kyle (Homeless), Leon (Happy Hippo) and me (AK) decided to bring our Fez hats out of retirement and reform 'Team Amazing' (the cooking super-group that we formed at the start of the trip in Morocco). The reason? To make 'Beer-up-the-butt chicken'. One of my best mates (Basil Brush) from back home had told me about this a while ago, saying that it was a common thing in Oz. At the start of the trip the three of us vowed to do this and had been talking it up ever since. Finally, the time was upon us to stick a beer can up a chicken's arse. I think it was Shakespeare that said "Some men are born great, some achieve greatness and some have beer-up-the-butt chicken thrust upon them."...but I may have misquoted.

 The idea is, you take a beer can, drink about 1/3rd of it (or if you're Lara, enough to get you pissed), then you cut the top off and infuse the remaining beer with plenty of herbs ('erbs if you're American) and ram it up a chicken's backside. You then stick the chicken - now propped up vertically by the beer can - in the barbie (braai as the Saffers call it) and close the lid for a few hours allowing the evaporated beer to get absorbed into the chicken. As we didn't have a proper braai/bbq, we emptied out one of the metal utensil tins and put hot coals on top of and beneath it. The result? Some of the most succulent chicken we'd ever tasted - it really was that good so I highly recommend it. It was made even better by the beer, 'erb and chicken juices gravy that had collected in the base of the tin. We made plain toast for the veggies...only joking. (It was buttered.)

Yours truly. Getting intimate with a dead chicken.

Beer-up-the-butt chicken!

Pop 'em in the BBQ/braii for a couple of hours and away you go. (We emptied out one of the metal utensil tins and put hot coals on top of and beneath it.)
Our DRC visas came through and rather than wait a few days in Yaounde for the Gabon ones, we decided to head to Kribi (on the beach) for some R&R in the sun and sand. Before we could go, we had to each get official, stamped letters from the 'Commiseriat' (not sure of spelling, French for police station I think) saying that we were who we said we were and that we were ok to travel without our passports (which were at the Gabon embassy). Berbs, HH and me all went to get them done on what turned out to be a pulling mission for the two singletons: firstly, hot photocopying woman at the photocopy place took a liking to Berbs. Next, at the police station, the big, black mama who was dealling with us took a big, bad liking for our big, white papa. Double-H was in there!!!! (...but she said that it was on the condition that he shaved his beard and gave her his footy jersey. Fortunately for HH's beard and his jersey, the mama's feelings were unrequited).

With the official letters in the bag and now in Kribi, we stayed at a sleepy wee place called "Sweet Beach" where we were looked after by three siblings - George (small and surly), Petit Papa (hard-working and English-speaking) and Rose (mad woman and matriarch; speaking French incessantly despite us not understanding much of it). For the few days there, we watched tv under an ample gazebo-type set-up, complete with kitchenette. A few us (including Lara and I) upgraded to one of the small, basic rooms they had with en suite shower and toilet...but no water.

Sweet Beach at Kribi - gazebo for chilling out (on the right) and our wee room at the top of the steps on the left (in front of the semi-ruined circular building).

Another beautiful African sunset.


By day we played Yahtzee, swam, chilled in the sun or watched football and by night we watched more football and ate our fill under the gazebo (one night, Rose - aided by the girls - cooked us up an awesome local fish stew with plantain). Nights in the room were also made entertaining by the family of lizards that co-habited with us: instead of moving stealthily in the darkness, they struggled for grip on the linoleum floor and scuttled and slid about noisily all over the place in the middle of the night.

Can't have palm trees on a beach without hammocks.

L to R: Kyle (Homeless), George, me, Lara, Neal (The Prof), Kay, Petit-Papa, Rose, Mark (aka Dave aka Berbs), Yoichi (Yamato), Victoria (Squirt), Leon (HH), Kim (newly-joined, Kyle's other half) and Karen.
The day before leaving, we did a truck clean in the early afternoon sun before watching England get thumped 4-1 by Germany. That same day, the small toe on my left foot started giving me jip, so I, under the guidance of nurse Lara, started investigating it with a needle and knife in the hopes of finding a worm or insect buried in there. (Along the way down, we'd heard several stories from other travellers and Matt at The Sleeping Camel about 'jigger fleas'. You can read more on them here: but in essence they bury into your skin and lay eggs in there which grow into an oozing boil before popping out weeks later.) I thought I may have picked one or two up after our time spent in the mud up in Garoua and Waza...but after prodding at the suspect area for half an hour or so, nothing popped out and it only felt worse so we resolved to see a doc when we were back in Yaounde.

Karen, HH (Leon) & Squirt (Victoria) just before "truck clean."
Nurse Lara helps me investigate my toe. No jigger flea...this time.

It's worth mentioning that there is a supposedly stunning waterfall (Lobe waterfall) to see just outside of Kribi, where the fall goes directly into the sea. We toyed with the idea of going, but as we were staying about 6km out of Kribi, and the falls were a further 6km out, the taxi fare was pretty high (18,000 CFA per taxi of four passengers was the lowest price I could negotiate). We couldn't take the truck there either as the roads close to the falls weren't safe. If any readers are thinking of going, I'd recommend staying closer into the town (as idyllic the setting at Sweet Dreams was).

Back in Yaounde, we picked up our passports from the Gabon embassy and stayed one more night at the Swiss-looking mission. That night, Lara, Sonya, Leon (HH), Yoichi, the family (The Nutty Prof, Karen and Squirt) and I treated ourselves to a slap-up meal at an Indian restaurant (I forget the name, but it was right next door to an Indian-owned supermarket. It was well worth going as the food was awesome. In fact, The Nutty Prof said it was one of the best Indian meals he had ever eaten - and he's travelled extensively in India. (Incidentally, we also saw 'Brad' from the US Peacecorps in there - the guy who had helped Kay and I do our cook group shop in Maroua.) Before going there, The Prof (possibly prompted by Karen taking out the braids that she'd got done in Ghana) decided to look semi-presentable for the occasion and called upon Homeless's (Kyle's) haircutting skills as he'd decided time was up for his pony-tail (he kept his 4-year-old braided beard though...much to everybody's dismay). 

Poor wee Squirt; studious as ever, has to do her homework whilst the rest of us chill..

Back in Yaounde, we find (more) time to chill out.
Karen takes her braids out...

...and The Prof gets his hair cut (finally).

The point of no return (different to the one we saw in Benin)

Now you're talking!

"I suppose you guys are finding this funnel?!"

All this time, my toe was hurting more and more and was oozing puss. The pain and swelling was spreading through my foot so much that I had to loosen my left Converse All-Star. With this in mind, the next morning Lara and I headed out early doors to a clinic for expats ("Centre Medico-Social De La Co-Operation Francaise"). The taxi (eventually) found the place and I headed in to a small, but professional looking place where I was greeted by a local Cameroonian who took my details, asked for my symptoms and told me the price of the check-up (10 or 15,000 CFA). He took my temperature using some kind of hi-tech laser thing he pointed at my forehead (scenes from "No Country for Old Men" ran through my mind) and weighed me on his scales (I'd lost over a stone since the start of the trip) before leading me into the office a the French equivalent of Doogie Howser: the doc was really nice and spoke good English, but by mine and Lara's reckoning, can't have been much older than 12.

My French prescription.
Depsite his good English, I wanted to use some of the French words I'd looked up in my pocket French dictionary especially for this occasion: I'd looked up worm (ver), spider (araignee) and insect (insecte) only to be told I had a bad case of 'pied d'athlete' (you don't need a dictionary for that one). Kind of relieved, kind of disappointed, I made my way back to the nurse's room for the guy who'd taken my temperature to clean up my foot. Whilst lying there, I had a niggling doubt about this diagnosis - I'd had athlete's foot before and this seemed different. I shared my doubts with the nurse and explained about the 'jigger fleas' and he wasn't convinced either. Then a stocky looking old Cameroonian doctor came into the room to get something and the nurse sought his opinion which was met with an instant 'Ce n'est pas pied d'athlete'. At this point, Doogie was called back in for another inspection. The three of them were still confused and Lara and I could barely stifle our laughter as we heard conflicting French babblings of "je pense c'est un champignon" (I think it's a fungus/mushroom) ..."mais non, je pense c'est un ver!" (no, I think it's a worm!). Still undecided, a fourth opinion was sought and a female French doctor entered the room, took one look at my foot and told me that yes, I did have a bad fungal infection (athlete's foot) BUT from its exposure to all of the grime and mud over the previous few weeks, I had contracted a secondary bacterial infection that was spreading up my leg. Nothing to worry too much about, but as we were heading into the jungles and muddy roads of Gabon, Congo and DRC for the next few days, it was important that it healed as these things can rapidly get out of hand in the Tropics.

With my foot now cleaned up and the charge for my consultation waivered out of kindness for a traveller, Lara and I laughed our way to the chemist before catching up with the rest of the guys in an internet cafe before jumping in Ruby to go south towards the Gabon border.

A few bush camps later, we were there...but I'll let Laraldo tell you more about that in our next entry (due imminently!)


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