Before I left the cock roach infested hotel in Kalsina, I foolishly emptied my water out from its container and emptied what fuel I was carrying in to the bike to lighten the load in preparation for today’s journey in to the Cameroon jungle.
I crossed the border from Nigeria which surprisingly cost me nothing. I just try to smile and make jokes with the border officials in hope they don’t ask for anything. Unfortunately they did but I explain Lagos has taken up most of my Naira. They understand and wish me a good journey but not before a stern warning of the condition of the road on the other side.
I crossed a well-built but old iron bridge over the river in to Cameroon en route for Mamfe. I was relieved to be leaving Nigeria knowing Cameroon would be a safer place. The mannerisms changed immediately and was shown when the Cameroon border officials came out of their hut to welcome me to their country. They also warned of the poor road ahead and advise of the easiest route to take which is to Bamenda.
Once across the bridge the pot holed tarmac turns in to a dirt track which is manageable at first until I turn off in to the Cameroon jungle. Approximately one mile from the border post I cannot believe what I am seeing. There are giant mounds of sludge twenty feet high and either side is dense jungle. I stop, stare then cry. Is this the end of my journey I think to myself? The huge dips are filled with water from the rain the previous night, well it is rainy season what should I expect. I cannot see a way through for such a heavily loaded motorcycle and seriously consider turning back. I take a minute and a cigarette to consider my options. A 125 cc scooter rides by and to my disbelief rides straight in, under and through the quagmire. His bike momentarily disappears as he paddles chest high through the water then comes out the other side with a swift spurt of mud coming from his exhaust.
The thought of returning all them miles through Nigeria give me the enthusiasm to make an attempt. I turn off the abs and anti-skid electronics take a deep breath and open the throttle. The bike slips, slides and bumps over the deep water filled ruts until it stalls. I’m surrounded by walls of mud as tall as a house. A crowd gathers to watch and as I restart the engine they cheer me on through each rut as the bikes clutch smokes beneath me causing a terrible smell. I try to aim towards the sides where the mud is firmer but the ruts are too high to cross so the only way I’m heading is the way the ruts run which are straight for a deep pool of sludge. I accelerate more to help me through and close my eyes hoping for the best. The bikes exhaust blows bubbles from the beneath the deep mud then suddenly I feel traction and the bike propels itself up the other side. I’m relieved but exhausted. I continue a further 100 yards around the corner, only to find another longer, deeper stretch of swamp like dips in the road only this time the walls much higher. My heart sank and I again consider turning back. I can’t, I have to do this and surely there can’t be many more sections like this. I manage the second alone as the crowd still cheers me on. By now I’m exhausted and dehydrated almost to the point of collapsing; I need water quickly. Blast, I haven’t any. I stumble off the bike and down the bank to a nearby stream. I don’t care of the quality. I fill my water bottle and add the Chlorine tablets I brought from home shake the bottle and drink the whole two litres although I had probably sweat three litres just attempting the two sections.
Each section is getting worse, so I consider cutting a path through the jungle. I can’t, it’s too dense and I have no machete plus the ground appears just as damp and steep. I attempt the third, but get stuck and the bike stalls again. Three of the onlookers ask if they can help for a fee. I agree and detach my heavy panniers which had been cutting there own way through the mud it was that deep. We tied the panniers to one of their scooter which are much more suitable to this terrain (maybe that should be my choice next time). The young man drives ahead indicating the best route to take whilst the other two stronger men remove their shoes and push the motorcycle from behind as I gently let the clutch out. I managed the third section with the help of the young men but when I approached the fourth section, it was the end of me. I had no energy left and in my eyes there was absolutely no possible chance of the bike or a person come to think of it ever passing this section. I make enquires in the crowd to see if there is a truck available. There is but at great cost and the truck would have to travel from Bamenda which could take three days through this terrain. The young men could see my desperation and said if I continued then I would need hospital treatment from exhaustion by the end. The strongest of the men offers to try and ride the through as we push. Before I had chance to reply he mounted the bike with no shoes I hasten to add and opens the throttle. Knowing there usual mode of transport is small scooters, I’m worried he cannot handle the weight or the power. To my astonishment, this guy actually rode the bike better than I did and with no shoes. The bike, its rider and the two of us pushing are by now waist high in mud but we get through. The young men warned of worst to come. I felt like leaving the bike and walking to the nearest airport which would of been a long way considering I’m in the middle of the jungle.
The rider successfully managed the next four sections with us two behind still pushing. I cannot describe how physically and mentally exhausting these roads are, each day, Africa throws a new adventure my way which to be honest is why I’m here. I thanked the helpers profusely, if it wasn’t for them this journey would have come to an end. I must have paid them well as they didn’t ask for more money. To me there help was priceless.
Once passed the 8 mile quagmire, we all take a rest next to a lady selling oranges. I buy us all two each whilst one of the young men fills up several bottles with water from a nearby stream.
I attach the panniers and bid them fare well. There were still some tricky sections leading to Mamfe but the worst was over.
Riding through the villages the locals still shout out “white man” as soon as they hear the motorcycle. I return a smile and a wave and that keeps them quite so not to attract the attention I enjoyed so much when I first began this journey. Now I try and go unnoticed and just observe the wonderful things I am witnessing. This journey will most certainly change any man.
From Mamfe to Bamenda, the road is converts to race like tarmac with bends twisting through the surrounding jungle; its bizarre and beautiful, I cry again and cannot believe where I am. Climbing the hills along the tarmacked road the oncoming scooters continuously flash. I had become used to this because of my head light being permanently on as it is designed to do, though they dint realise this. Only this time they seem to be flashing more than usual so I slow down. Around the next few bends there have been landslides from the hills above where large boulders as big as houses had come to rest in the road still leaving space for cars and motorcycles to pass.
During a hydration stop, the fuel attendant tells me of a super African Highway being built through the jungle which is in progress and being funded by the Chinese so long as it’s finished within three years’ time. It makes me wonder if in three years the Chinese would have excavated all the minerals and iron ore they need until the earth is bare hence the dead line. Knowing the Chinese are building such roads is one of my reasons for attempting this trip now rather than later as Africa will no longer be the challenge she is now.
Climbing the lush green jungle tarmacked road I pass gushing water falls falling on to the road below, quite often than not around these areas are prone to landslides as previously witnessed so I take great care not to hang about too long. The cars ahead divert to the left rather than continue on the road. I stop and ask directions to which I’m told the road is still unfinished and there is a diversion through the hill side village. The track was unpaved and narrow. Ahead there is a queue of cars, I leave the bike to see what the problem is up ahead. There has been a collision between a truck and mini bus but still just enough room for my motorcycle and I to pass. I precariously guide the motorcycle between the truck and the cliff face with heart stopping success and continue.
I can see a storm blowing in across the tree tops perched high on the hill sides and prepare for the worse. The rain starts with large heavy droplets which sting the skin as they hit your face, almost feeling acidic. I’m tired but need to get to Bamenda to find any decent kind of accommodation so continue. Coming down from the hills I see a huge hotel named Azam probably built for the Chinese ex pats. The Hotel manager comes out to welcome me and the porter tales my bags. There are several Unicef vehicles in the car park who come out to take photos of my motorcycle. I and the bike were still covered from head to toe in thick mud which had now dried like cement. At great amusement to all I undressed in the car park so not to dirty the reception area and checked in wearing my underpants, I didn’t care. I was cold and wet and just wanted to get a room and have a hot bath which I did.
I order a meal from the restaurant where the waiter stands behind me whilst taking my order and positioned about three meters away. “Sar” he said, “can I take your order please”. I say “please my friend do not be afraid I’m just only a white man, please come closer”. He takes just one step which makes me giggle so I swivel around and placed an order of Steak and Chips which was delicious. When the waiter brought my food, he still wouldn’t come close and served it at full arm’s length maybe feeling he wasn’t worthy to be serving a white man. I’m quite considerate when dealing with this situations and try to place myself on his level until he feels brave enough to come closer which he eventually did with a typical Cameroon smile. I love it here.