Travel Through Cameroon on a Harley-Davidson

By Peter & Kay Forwood

Cameroon on a Harley (16/12/00 - 28/12/00)
Distance 1965 km (211025 km to 212990 km)

This is part of the Seventh section of our around the world trip.
Complete Trip Overview & Map

Coming from  Central African Republic
 

16/12/00 Into Cameroon and the same requests, different answer, "Phoned Yaounde and they say no pay at border". The locals however held to ransom and were paying a couple of dollars each. Instantly more facilities, an electric petrol pump, the first in a month, cheaper petrol, more vehicles, many motorcycles and of course the rubbish that goes with it. Seems a European aid agency is paying for a western standard new road and the 260 km to Bertoua via Ndokayo is mostly asphalt and what isn't is graded ready and will be sealed soon. A great surprise turning our expected four day trip to Yaounde to three days. Five more police checks after the border but generally polite and no requests for money. A nice hotel and the first hot water shower in a month.

17/12/00 A disappointing start with 200 km of good dirt road destroyed by trucks, mostly timber trucks carrying logs and returning at ridiculous speeds tearing up the road. The good dirt road, probably built by a western donor country, not maintained and destroyed. It in turn now destroying the trucks. About 40 broken down, mainly tyre, axle and suspension problems. Four loads were lying on the roadside having parted company with their truck, and one petrol tanker carrying kerosene was on its side half submerged in a swamp. An environmental disaster in the west as the kerosene was leaking. But here all the local villagers were finally getting their revenge for being covered in red dust every time a truck passed,Collecting kerosine from an overturned tanker and were scooping up as much kerosene as they could carry in whatever containers they had. The last 150 km sealed to Yaounde. The governments actions often reflect the peoples of the country. We are getting quite fed up with the lack of local initiative. The grab what you can mentality. Really little new has been built in Africa since the independence of these countries that wasn't paid for with foreign aid. What has been built with aid money isn't maintained. The people aren't working, saying no jobs, but there is no initiative to start their own business. We are staying at the Presbyterian Mission, recommended for travellers in Yaounde, a lovely old colonial building. But the plumbing had a problem years ago and now the shower and toilet require buckets carried in each day. The refrigerator and deep freeze remain but long ago stopped working and the beds and mattresses are antiques. The whole place hasn't received any maintenance and they wonder why there are no tourists here! No money is put back into anything. This was a popular place when the tourists were coming, what happened to the money? The same question all over Africa.

18/12/00 EquatorialRed dust kicked up by trucks settles on the roadside trees Guinea visas in a day, $US 50.00 each. While in the city, in a crowded area, I caught a man with his hand in my jeans pocket. Grabbed him and held him calling out for the Gendarme. After a few calls, I looked around to see a couple of hundred people gathered. The police arrived, plain clothed, uniformed and hangers on. We were both escorted to the nearest police station. A busy place, where I was informed they could do nothing as he had stolen nothing. Understandable, but as pickpockets usually work in pairs passing the stolen goods to the second person it is almost impossible to catch them with the goods. Obviously I would not have caused such a commotion had there not been an attempt to steal. A more senior policeman said they would take care of the situation if I would leave it with them. What that meant I'm not sure but that is how it finished. The rest of the day more relaxed talking to the lone other traveller at our hostel.

19/12/00 370 km to Bamenda and the Cameroon highlands. Not quite an Indian hill station. We have been impressed by the village signage in Central Africa. If you want to sell bananas, stand roadside holding a banana leaf, cigarettes, a cigarette box on a stick or if it's a roadside restaurant placeStill cutting down the rainforests a plate on a stick. A small pub would have crates of beer bottles roadside, etc. Much cheaper than sign writers and more impact. Since hitting our first sealed road in the C.A.R. there have been toll booths on every sealed road including today's. Metal spikes on boards deter motorists from trying to avoid paying, but luckily motorcycles are considered insignificant and don't have to pay. This area of Cameroon much wealthier, we didn't see a grass roofs anywhere. Brick and tin, not quite western, home made bricks and usually two small rooms, no paint or gardens but electricity and occasional TV aerials.

20/12/00 Our first day of rest for a while, nothing specific to do. This English speaking enclave in a French speaking country easy for us. A thriving bustling market town. People getting last minute preparations and presents for Christmas. Hundreds of small stall shops selling and sewing women's garments, the loose brightly coloured flowing robes of this region. The festival we had hurried to see had changed its date this year to last weekend, the next one, next weekend. So we will miss both. Although on the outside the region is very western festivals are celebrated the old way with an obvious mix of new.

21/12/00 SettlingRoadside rest and food stop into life at our favourite restaurant, locals already, and wandering the streets. It's a shame the view is obscured totally, down to about half a km, by smoke, haze and pollution, as the view is rumoured to be beautiful. But like, any equatorial regions, if it is the dry season there aren't views, only when rain washes away the haze can you see clearly.

22/12/00 Central Africans are very polite about taking photos. Those that have a little money will hire the local man with a camera to photograph them with our motorcycle. They always ask us first and then a series of friends, one after the other, stand next to, behind or crouch down for the camera. The hard part is keeping the other bystanders out of your photo as everyone wants to be photographed, a refreshing difference from East Africa where they want money if you photograph them. This doesn't happen only once, almost every time we stop, for a meal etc., we will get a request, we always say yes, obviously don't ask for money, it costs us nothing but a few minutes. Across to Buea, in the foothills of Mt. Cameroon and at 1500 metres nice and cool in the other English speaking areaMt Cameroon in the background of Cameroon. The winding road to get there from Bamenda through lovely mountain scenery of coffee plants below palm trees, bananas and papaya dotted hills amongst villages.

23/12/00 Flushed the petrol tank, filter and carburettor of all the dirty petrol and dust of the last couple of months, plus a few years of earlier dirt. This took most of the day and hopefully will lead to the bike running smoother. It has been missing and running hot, probably from a fuel shortage. Up town for a late lunch and people watching.

24/12/00 Headed for Douala, but a big cold city, not the place to spend Christmas. Being flexible is essential, so when we weren't happy in Douala we decided to head to Kribi, the beach place for locals and expats. Down the coast past palm oil plantations, large stands of bamboo and some rain forest trees. A group of nine VSO volunteers from the U.K. are staying at the same hotel but no sign of other travellers.

25/12/00 Bike still running rough and spent a lot of time trying to work out why, no success. Spent Christmas with the VSO's at a beach hotel getting inebriated. The locals were out in there finery of new clothes promenading the town and visiting the local eateries and boozeries. Quite festive. Kribie, for a rest and Christmas, some NGO's also here

26/12/00 Bike still running rough, and spent a lot of time trying to work out why, no success. Either the vacuum operated electrical switch is sending the wrong message or it is getting scrambled in the ignition module. The idle jumping from high to low.

27/12/00 Bike still running rough and spent the morning trying to work our why. No real success but it's running better. Almost sure now it's the VOES but as we don't have a spare will have to live with it. Have given up on total success and spent the rest of the day relaxing. In our investigations we did manage to find other potential problems and fix them. The alarm has been behaving intermittently, worn through wire. An electrical three pin connector smashed against the frame by a rock and causing missing in wet conditions located and fixed. Both problems a result of Congo. The beaches today frequented by Muslims, the end of Ramadan. Men swimming in shorts, women well dressed on the shore watching. Not as hectic as Christmas but the population of Muslims only a small percentage and no alcohol.

28/12/00 I am writing this while sitting at the Equatorial Guinea border trying to leave Cameroon. The man with the key is missing. Almost no vehicle traffic passes here, just small man pulled wagons that can fit underneath the locked chain, as there are three keys locking the chain. The police, the customs and the gendarme. Don't know the difference between the police and the gendarme but it appears the gendarme key man is missing. We have already processed all the required paperwork. Despite all avenues of pressure there seems to be no response. Calling gendarme had no response, playing loud music attracted a large crowd but no response, people as usual wanted to take photos and we virtually stopped any cross border trade. This annoyed the police but still no key from the gendarme. These situations start with annoyance and then rapidly turn to ridiculousness as a jovial calm settles over the situation. This border town in Cameroon like any other border town, full of the most shady characters happy to smuggle goods or bribe officials to make their profit. Shops sitting right on the border, trade goods wheeled across in small carts and loaded on to vehicles on the other side. Wines from Spanish speaking Guinea and manufactured goods from Cameroon were passing us as we waited. The police are drinking beer in their office and the gendarme finally arrives smelling of alcohol but no key. As I wait I picture the friendly efficiency of the Singapore/ Malaysia border where thousands of cars cross each day. To Europe where there are no border crossings. The border closes at 6.00 pm and we were mentally preparing to camp at the border when the man with the key arrived. Of course a bribe, what he expected, would have brought this about earlier. Even though many locals understood the ludicrous situation I don't think they comprehend its effect (the fat policeman stops the taxi for money and the poor passengers pay. Yet they somehow still respect the official position of the police). The border police had already asked us for money, so we asked him for his identification papers to report the request to the capital, a light chuckle from him and our papers were returned processed. We finally leave.
 

Move with us to Equatorial Guinea , or go to our next visit to  Cameroon .
 

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