Brazzaville was an unexpected pleasure of the trip with a nice laid back atmosphere, good food and of course the benefit of a free air-conned room at the 'Hippo Campe' didn't hurt either. In Brazza I met up with the four Norwegian guys who are travelling in a 4wd that I had met first of all back in Windhoek applying for the Angolan visa.
We decided to travel together. Or rather I asked if I could go with them as I knew the route to Gabon would be remote, rough and pretty much traffic free. In return I offered them my services as a French translator. Anyone who knows my French could testify that it wasn't much of a deal.
We set off North to the town of Oyo along the only decent long stretch of tar road in the Republic of Congo. Even the road out to the second city, Point Noire, is a mess. Funnily enough the President of Congo lives in Oyo.... Getting to Oyo it was evident that there was money there and that it had been spent on ameneties. Street lights, pavements, lawns; all quite unfamiliar luxuries in the region. It's a great African leader's ruse though. Misspend the nation's wealth but make sure you look after your own and you'll be OK. Or at least when the rebel troops come in you'll have somewhere safe to hide.
So it was that we had chosen this route through Congo and Gabon as by coincidence President Omar Bongo lives just across the other side of the border from Oyo and there is a good stretch of road around Bongoville too. Separating the two towns lie some 200km of jungle tracks and amazingly this is the best route between the two countries. The other route through Point Noire and North from there is, if you would believe those who had passed through, a mess of bad roads and threat of danger from the 'Ninja' rebel groups in the area.
The track started off fun. A lot more fun than the potholed roads of Angola, light sand across narrow tracks. Easy enough to ride, slightly technical and smooth. Then at the Congo Customs post which was some 100km before the actual border the Officer told us that we had a bad stretch of 5 or so kms and then it was good all the way. As it happened it did indeed get worse, but it stayed worse and then perhaps got worse still. The landscape became more hilly and the track became two deep ruts in soft sand. Keeping up speed I could ride it but every so often the ruts narrowed, I stopped, and then I got bogged. The Norwegian lads really helped me out here, though possible to get out alone, having two pushers was a marvellous luxury.
It got worse as 50ish kms before the border the gear change mechanism return spring broke. On most bikes this would mean no gear changes but a fellow Bullet rider will know that the neutral finder can be used to crash into gear in an emergency, though missing the gear is a more likely occurence. The point is that at least you can maintain forward motion after a fashion. So I rode along, kept a pace through the deeper sand sections, then lost pace a bit with a hill, needed to change down, missed the gear, slowed quickly, missed the next down, started to weave and then fell off. Repeat this several times and you get a picture of the journey.
We made it across the border the same day but found that customs had closed, the officer wasn't at home and our planned stop of Franceville was still 100kms away. The customs post was in a nice enough place so we pitched up tents there and waited to the following morning. When the customs guy turned up late in the evening he was charming and let us cook our food on the office veranda and even offered to sort out the paperwork that evening if we wanted. This was the way it went on in Gabon, people were extremely friendly, most waved as I passed by on the bike and all were easy going and helpful.
A short day the next and we stopped at Franceville. I spent the day fixing the bike's gear change issues and giving it a general service. The guest house had a wide, varied and slightly alarming selction of bush meat on offer on their menu. As my French didn't run to exotic species the chef kindly brought out a sample of each to our table. Porcupine, Genet, Boar or Pygmy Deer anyone? I settled for fish. You have to assume that in Gabon there is so much jungle and so few people that away from inhabitation wildlife thrives but anywhere there are people there is not an animal to be seen save hanging on a stick being touted roadside.
We were told in Franceville that the roads onwards to Lobe were in excellent condition and tarred. They were for 100km but after that it was more jungle tracks. Thankfully not deep sand as before but slightly rough none-the-less. We were extremely grateful to make it between tar roads in Congo and Gabon in the rainy season without seeing any rain at all. With a bit of water things could have really turned messy. It was dark when we arrived in Lobe, but riding with a Land Cruiser with multiple 500 watt search lights takes some of the edge off of night riding on the dirt roads.... Arriving late had been caused by another woe for the Bullet. The new chain I had bought in Windhoek (made in Thailand - beautiful country but not exactly noted for manufacture of quality engineered spares) had streched quite radically to the point that it was regularly falling off on bumps. Eventually it mangled the chain guard too. The chain guard was dumped and the following morning the chain shortened with a lot of filing.
After all the excitement of the previous few days the next two to get up to Yaounde in Cameroun were mostly on tar roads. A jungle bush camp saw the Norwegians' roof tents invaded by sandflies with unpleasant results though the 'coffin', as my tent is known, proved to be impregnable. I however had a fly that looked like a housefly on steroids (literally five times as large as) fly up my sleeve and bite me. Though it felt like my arm had been pentrated by a needle made to break through rhino skin nothing more happened than acute pain for the next half hour.
The Norse lads seemed to have a penchant for moving in the dark, maybe they're missing their winters, so instead of stopping before Yaounde we pushed on through and arrived into terrible traffic in the dark. My previous coveting of their GPS was less as were were led in an hour long circuitous route through a warren of stinking, polluted and busy streets to arrive somewhere we could have found using my map within ten minutes.
Though the roads in Cameroun have so far been generally good actual conditions are appalling with some of the dodgiest driving on the trip so far. After a while I came to think that most of those comedy motoring idiocy picture emails that get sent around must have all been taken in Cameroun. Four passengers (two adults, two babies) on a 100cc motorcycle taxi. A small motorcycle carrying an upright fridge freezer on the luggage carrier, a minibus that had been rolled so that the roof was of a level with the dash with a guy driving it managing to poke his head out of the side window which was now at a near horizontal. It's kind of comical but then ludicrously dangerous too.
In Yaounde we split company. Though we had a great time together we had plans to head in different directions. They are heading North and I to the Southern border with Nigeria. I'm hoping for another boat journey as I seem to have developed something of a fetish for getting the Bullet onto boats it should not really go on. The plan is to take it on the ferry from Limbe, here on the Camerounian coast, to Calabar just up the water in Nigeria. The decision to take the boat has been pretty much sealed by the fact that, with all the crashing potholes of late, my rear rim and hub have started to disintegrate and the road to the border is notoriously rough.
Next stop Nigeria. There's a nice chap I've been in touch with I've been meaning to meet for a while. His late father was a Colonel in the previous regime and he's been having terrible difficulties getting the money out of the country.
Hopefully Nigeria will in fact prove to be an extemely pleasant place populated by friendly folks. Will let you know...Posted by Richard Miller at February 12, 2008 11:24 AM GMT
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