Friday, 4 March 2016

Cameroon

Leaving Nigeria and moving onto Cameroon was an interesting morning.. Arriving at the first immigration check point Charles, Mwandy and Rob were informed that our visas had expired previously and we were illegally in the country. The officer told us to carry on however as we were already headed for the border. This left us with a slightly worrying thought about the border to come and the possibly implications.  We had not realised we had over stayed at all, mainly due to our visa being 30 days (we arrived on 15th Feb) and not seeing the arrival stamp in our passports which gave us an exit date (this is due to the stamp being on a completely different page to the visa and us not checking), so it genuinely was an honest mistake. Anyway we carried on and got stopped again, again they picked up on our visa. We accepted that we had overstayed and we explained to them why we didn't realise. They accepted our version of events but told us it was down to the officer on the border to give us however much time he wanted to.. This seems rediculous to me as we had paid (a lot) for a month visa. They officers also could not understand the visa either.. On there it says you have 3 months from date of issue (5.1.16) to use the visa and once it has been presented at a border you have 30 days in the country.. Again another instance (like Burkina Faso) of immigration officers not being able to understand what the visa says.. We were allowed to go without a problem and headed to the border. Once there we expected the worst, however we got out passports stamped out, the officers there were fine with it and after a questioning session abut our next movements they let us out - I think the questioning was due to the fact that we were heading to Cameroon and they wanted to make sure we knew what we were doing.. They had loads of posters of known terror suspects all over the walls so I guess they can't be too vigilant! We crossed a bridge onto the Cameroon side and waited in the boiling sun for our passports to be stamped.. Back to French was tricky.. Having spoken English for the last 2 weeks it slowly returned! Getting our Carnet stamped was simple, the customs officer knew what it was (that's a first) and we were allowed in Cameroon. 

We decided to head to Mamfa, the first major town from the border.. We needed money (go to Central African Francs now.. Different to the CFA in Western Africa annoyingly! But the same exchange rate) which was easy to find, we picked up a SIM card and found some street food. The road to Mamfa was amazing, English like! The Chinese were everywhere building roads, and they were immaculate! We were stopped only twice, mainly to have our names written in the visitor book and sent on our way! The hotel we stayed in was a bit of a dive, it was cheap however fairly unclean and all through the night we had visions of creapie crawlies running over us! It made getting up and going very easy!

Another long drive and we got to Kumbe, or K-Town to the locals! A bustling town which we welcomed after kilometres of red piste. Fuel was also welcomed as we had almost hit empty! We stopped off for some food, rice and bean stew for 60p, a huge plate which as wolfed down! We found a hotel with secure parking and asked for a room. We were very fortunate, we got a big air conditioned room with a living room for 12500CFA (cheaper than it should have been). We went and bought some boxed wine and watched a movie. It was great to relax on comfortable chairs!

(Looming rain clouds above Mount Cameroon)

(Our first roads with red mud! It will only get worse from here)

Heading to Limbe the next day was easy, it wasn't a too long drive and we arrived at an amazing hotel. We were allowed to camp (nice and hot), and it was right next to the sea with a breeze! Wifi was also free so calls home were done all around! It was nice to cool off in the pool, and was even nicer when the temperature dropped and thunder and lightening ripped through the sky!

We began the trip towards the capital the next day. We have some time restraints mainly due to not having the Angloa visa yet. We thought we would be able to get one in Yaounde however when we looked there was no embassy, this leaves us with Dolise, Brazzaville (both in Congo), or Matadi (DRC). The second catch is our DRC visa starts on 21st March and we have only 8 days to get through. We decided to get to Congo quickly to maximise our time to apply (can take up to 5 days), so we can be in the DRC the day our visa starts. As we are in rainy season as well we need all the time we can get to cross muddy, wet and dangerous roads! Stopping in Yaunde for the night we arrived at beautiful camp site on the grounds of an old Prespetarian church, we were surprised to see a UK number plate. We set up camp, went out for a curry (a bizarre experience - curry in Camerroon), and when we got back our neighbours had returned from the embassy. They were a family of four, who had had more visa issues than us (driving back to Ouagadougou to get a Nigeria visa when they could not get on in Benin), and were very knowledgable and friendly (the parents, Claire and Eddie had done this trip already!). We chatted to them for a while and sadly we left the next morning due to wanting to get to the border (another 300+ km away). They were able to share so information about the Angola visa with us however, a mutual friend we had met in Togo had just got theirs in Dolise, so fingers crossed we will be able too!


(This is geobunny, a teddy who has travelled the world. We were given him in Benin by Andi, and finally manage to pass him on on Cameroon! It is amazing the places he has been to!) 

After driving for about 9 hours we realised we needed to find somewhere to stop. Arriving in the biggest town we had seen for hours we began the task of finding somewhere to stay .. After going through the town twice we accidentally took a wrong turning and ended up near a church. As we went to turn around we saw some European looking people walk towards us.. As they came over we realised they were Spanish however could speak English. We spoke to them about needing so,where to stay and they offered us a piece of land in front of their NGO. We were introduced to all the volunteers (about 9 in total) and over a beer found out about the work they do there.. They work with the local community, mainly the Pigmies (the native people of Cameroon) who have been displaced from their homes. They were all very passionate and it was interesting to hear about their successes as well as their struggles. We had had no food since lunch and tagged along to their normal Sunday dinner of grilled fish and accompaniments (a almost hard version of Foufou - nice though). We were told that one of the guys was heading the way we wanted to go the next day to fix a well so we could head out in convoy with him. Early start, early night!

We awoke at 5.45am and put the soggy tent down! The evenings are a lot cooler at the moment so we are getting condensation on the tent!  We made a stop at their trusted mechanic to get some welding down, and were on the road by 8am. We pulled up at this tiny village deep in the heart of the jungle and were ushered into a school room where a man was giving the villager a lesson in well maintenance. We were told this well had been broken for a while and problems occurred because the villager did not know how to fix it - also children had been dropping things into it affecting the water quality! After the lecture it was the practical! We watched locals and experts put the cleaned well back together again, however it was in vain because the water level had dropped too far and they would need to order another pipe. Despite this it was interesting to watch and speak to those who are volunteering their time to help those in remote places in the country. As time was ticking on we sadly headed off on our way to the border. Find out more about the NGO by visiting www.zercaylejos.org.

(Watching the locals fix the well)
(The local children!)

(Our view most of the time in Cameroon).

Driving towards the border we got to Mtam (the border town) at 3pm. We were stopped by a policeman rushing out the bar to check our paper work and chatting to him he told us there was an Auberge nearby. We wouldn't be able to cross the border tonight he said, because it was too late and there was nowhere to stay after it. We took his advise and went to the Auberge. Now we have stayed in some interesting places however to say we opted to stay in our tents over a room says a lot! We bought one room for the shower however! Red dust from the roads means a decent shower is needed! We wondered back into the village stopping off for a drink and some food, true to form the police officer was still drinking at the bar we left him at, getting slowly more and more intoxicated, whilst stopping vehicles! Madness! He eventually stumbled back out, then came back shortly later to order another beer! Whilst in the bar we met a man from Yaounde who transports and sells cows in Congo. It was interesting listening to him, and we went to see some of the 84 cows he was transporting! We think we get hassle at the borders.. We listening to his stories sew realised ours was easy in comparison! We ate dinner in our rather dodgy camp spot and had an early night! 

I have loved our short stay in Cameroon, it feels like, and is that, we have driven literally from place to place never really getting a chance to visit anywhere - and there is a lot to visit. This is due to the previously mentioned time constraints. It is a shame it has happened in this country. The people are lovely, the food amazing and scenery stunning! We have had issues with the police, not as many stops or asking for something as in Nigeria, but due again to the right hand drive we have had some lengthy waits at stops... Some are due to the police not knowing the laws around the temporary import of cars (we are legally allowed with a right hand drive for 6 months), and once they speak to their bosses they tend to apologise and let us go. We had one painful incident when a high visibility jacket police man (I don't even think they are police.. But road safety men), stopped us and told us we had to pay 25000 CFA because we could not see out our back window... Yes laughable compared to some of the overloaded lorries we pointed out as we were sat there. He then told us we were illegal and had to pay. We sat there and said no, then asked for a receipt. He couldn't provide one, but kept saying you must pay.. We kept saying no.. At this point his co worker came over and rolled his eyes at him (there always one officer who can't be bothered to play the bribe game and at that point you know you just have to wait it out). The man gave up and said how much do you want to give me., our reply was nothing and we sat there again in awkward silence for a while. He then told us he would take water.. We again said no.. When this didn't work he asked Charles if we were married.. Charles said no to which he replied well I will take her for my wife instead.. It was comforting to know that on the bribe scale it went money, water then me...! In the end we just laughed at him/with him and drove off. That has been our worst here and for those travelling who are put off by horror stories don't listen.. Again I wholly believe it is your attitude to police which guides your interaction with them and how much rubbish you get! 

In conclusion we all wish we had more time to spend in their beautiful country, they love and welcome tourists so it may be on the list for another visit in the future.. roll on Congo!


#africa #overlanding #travelling #thisisafrica #cameroon