Our ferry experience!
OK, we did it! And after hearing reports from others about the Mamfe road and how long it took and the road condition, we're really glad we did it. BUT it was not without it's hassles.
Nothing is completely straight forward, and you can't sort anything out till the day the ferry leaves anyway - in our case, it was Calabar to Tiko (22km from Limbe) on Tuesday morning (Limbe ferry was broken, should run again soon). You have to bargain a price for your bike to go on the boat - we managed 45,000FA in the end (roughly £65) - after trying twice and even getting a better deal but then the ship's manager upped the price on us!! The bike was ridden on by Xander across a thin gang plank, with help from the loading crew. 50 guys wanted money for their help loading, we were able to get away without paying anything. We did get help from some guys on the dock (dealing with procedures etc), one wanted no money, another was OK with just a small amount for a soft drink.
Tickets per person are 6500 naira second class, 10,000 for first class. DEFINITELY get first class tickets - you go on the boat as soon as you like on Tuesday afternoon, you sleep on board then boat sets sail at 5am Wednesday morning. It's aircon, you get breakfast and lunch provided (and it's nice!), and there are few enough people that you lie down on the seats to get sleep. Crossing is pretty smooth - MrsX gets seasick and got through fine. In 2nd class, you are absolutely crammed in with everyone else, can't sleep and no aircon. It really isn't worth the hassle! Passport control for Cameroon is completed on board, it was straightforward and cost 3000CFA for each passport to be stamped (everyone paid, and it was all explained onboard beforehand, so no funny business - it cost more if you didn't do it yourself, by the way!).
Offloading is where the biggest stress and hassle came in. Xander was told after loading the bike that we would have to pay 100,000CFA for a crane to offload - he said no, we'll wait till everything is offloaded then bring the bike off. Seemed no problem. We arrived at 3.30pm Wednesday, to be told we had to come back Thursday morning to offload. Xander arrives Thursday, the dock manager starts at 200,000CFA for offloading the bike - and no crane!! He says no, dock manager won't budge below 150,000CFA. After boredom and sitting around for several hours, Xander starts helping offload the bike. This shocks everyone - a white man working? Cameras everywhere!! At 3pm, having already given Xander a cold drink, the dock manager says he has to charge for offloading the bike and can't do it for less than 20,000CFA. Considering 10 guys lifted the bike off the boat and another 10 guys collected it by hand on the dock, and they are all paid for the offloading work they do right across the boat, it was worth it and actually very reasonable.
Take from our experience what you will, but a bit of hard work and relating to local people can really pay off if you're on a budget. Xander made a lot of friends, got lots of offers to visit etc. If you try the ferry, see if you can find Paul the cook - lovely guy, offered a very cheap place to stay (nothing fancy for 5000CFA) but good food where he co-runs the restaurant, and helped us alot.
Cheers, Xander and MrsX