Cameroon Jungles, December 24 - 27, 2007

Trip Start Sep 19, 2007
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Trip End Jan 05, 2008


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Flag of Cameroon  ,
Friday, December 28, 2007

Cameroon is a country with a very diverse population and no single dominant tribe.  A former German colony that was divided between French and British control after WWI and with landscapes ranging from near-desert Sahel in the north to tropical rainforest in the south, the country is one of great variety.  Unfortunately, our route took us only through a small part of tropical forest and seaside locales in southwestern Cameroon at our journey's end.  But that was the original plan and stated itinerary, so I guess I can't complain. 
Cameroon sits at a crossroads between West Africa and even more exotic and unexplored Central Africa, fitting at times into both geographical designations.  One example of it being part of Central rather than West Africa is its currency; Like Chad, Gabon, Congo, and Central African Republic, Cameroon uses the Central African Franc, a currency with the same value as but not interchangeable with the West African Franc we had been using throughout French speaking West Africa.  In the post-independence years Cameroon was one of the more prosperous African countries, but declining commodity prices and serious official corruption have tarnished its economic success over the last quarter century. 
Because Cameroon was split between British and French control for five decades before independence, both English and French are official languages with each dominant in the former colonial power's region of control.  There advantages to both sides of the country's linguistic divide.  Whereas it was easier for us to communicate with people in the English-speaking provinces, the bread, pastry, and other found was infinitely better in the French-speaking areas.  Some things just never change wherever you go in the world.  We entered Cameroon in the English speaking western region near the Nigerian border and finished up in the French dominant region around Douala and Kribi. 
The three days from the Nigerian border to Limbe turned out, as expected, to be the biggest adventure in our 15 week trip.  Now you might expect that there would be numerous border crossings on good roads along the 600 mile border between Nigeria and Cameroon, two of Africa's more prosperous countries, but you'd be wrong.  There are only two - one in the south and one in the north, and the northern one is supposedly only marginally better than the absolutely atrocious southern road.  The poor roads on Cameroon's side of the border reflect the country's long concern over a possible invasion from far larger Nigeria, a risk stemming partly from a border dispute over the Bokassi Peninsula, an oil-rich coastal area over which the two countries fought brief wars in 1994 and 1996
Our bureaucratic Christmas Eve formalities on the Nigerian side of the border ended just before dusk, necessitating that we camp for the night at the Cameroonian border post at Ekok.  As so often seems to be the case in Africa, the Cameroonian border guards found an issue, this time with the validity of the visas of the six Australians who had obtained theirs back home rather than en-route like the rest of us.  Dave's extensive negotiations over the "fines" for these infractions eventually ended in an agreement that each of the Australians with a visa issue would have to personally provide one can of cold beer from the truck to the border guards.  It's amazing how many "fines" in Africa can be bargained down from large sums of money to a few cold beers for the police or other officials. 
By this point I had honestly gotten quite tired of evenings that consisted of drinking lukewarm beers at the campsite around the truck and ready for a short escape from the stifling cocoon of truck life.  The alternative available this evening was to leave our fenced in compound at the border station and walk a hundred yards or so to the cafes lining the dirt main street (only street) in Ekok.  Richard was the only one who joined me, most of the others fretting that, "It's not safe!" when I asked them to come along.  We had a couple bottles of local Castel Beer, and the small crowd of Christmas Eve celebrants was as friendly as welcoming as people throughout West Africa had been. 
Then on Christmas day the real fun began.  The 60 mile or so of road from the border to Mamfe must surely be one of the worst in the world.  Completely impassable much of the year during the rainy season, some of the craters and ruts in the road are deeper than our truck was high.  Fortunately for us, it hadn't rained much in a couple months and the road was mostly dry, saving us the travail of sandmatting through deep mud and digging Daphne out.  Rather, our roadwork consisted largely of widening the deep ruts with shovels where the track dug deep into the dirt was too narrow for a vehicle of Daphne's size.  Although we only traveled about 30 miles (50 km) the entire day, it seemed to me like about half of that was on foot with shovel in hand.   
About halfway through the day we passed the ROTEL tour truck we had heard about back in Benin that had been stuck in the mud for nearly two months, something that became a significant "sight" for us on the overlanding experience.  We also passed through a few small scruffy jungle settlements where little children, all dressed in their Christmas best, called out to us in unison, "White, white, give me present!" as the truck went by.  While we were "Obroni" in Ghana and "Oyibo" in Nigeria, we seem to just be addressed as "White Man" in English-speaking Cameroon. 
Then later in the day we crossed over a high bridge over a shallow jungle river with a "Bridge Over the River Kwai" look about it.  We all charged down the steep banks to jump in the fast-flowing river to rinse off the dense layers dust, sweat, and muck caked onto our skin.  We camped that night a little further on at a roadside clearing and had a meal of mashed yams with canned weenie sauce.  "Isn't this the best Christmas ever," we joked as we drank beers around the campfire we built to chase away the mosquitoes. 
The next day was a near repeat of the first - generally flatter terrain but roads still painfully potholed and dusty if somewhat less cratered than the day before.  We passed through a few settlements including the medium-sized town of Mamfe.  The poor conditions of the roads in these parts are probably less a reflection of Cameroon's bad relations with Nigeria than part of a general neglect of the country's western English-speaking provinces by Cameroon's Francophone majority, a situation that has led to separatist movements in the English-speaking provinces.  Our second roadside campsite in the jungle looked so similar to our first that we questioned whether Dave and James had actually spent the day driving us in a big circle. 
In the morning after the second night of camping in the jungle, Dave Hatter immediately came over to me after he got up and climbed down from the roof of the truck.  I had already been telling others about my amazing dreams that night, and he continued the dream talk.
"Wazza, you were a very bad boy in my dreams last night.  Shame on you!"
"Uh, oh, what did I do?"
"You took some people on a caving expedition in the jungle and you got them lost in the cave.  I think it was Ian and Wesley and Jordan and Kathie and I can't remember who else.  You found your way out but left them in there.  It was a major international rescue mission to try to find them in the cave, and it was all your fault.  There were helicopters and UN Blue Hats and everything."
"I'm sorry.  I promise I won't do it again."
"You better not.  If you do I'll kill you!"
The dream must have made an impression since I overheard him telling others about it at lunch that day.  I was glad to see I wasn't the only one having amazing Lariam dreams.
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