Checkpoint Charlies

They’re really friendly people here, when they realise that you’re a tourist they wave and smile, today a big mamma sitting at a checkpoint blew me a kiss. Yep, still got it!

Slow progress was made today and we reached what was hopefully the last police or border guard at about 4pm. Once formalities were completed it was 5pm and there was still 30km (18.6miles) to the bridge and border. Michael took the decision it would be best to pitch where we were. ‘You’re having a laugh’ I thought. We’d parked up at a large transport depot with rubbish strewn everywhere and its own pack of stray dogs, with accompanying, dog shit too. After half an hour of searching and debating he eventually came up with the idea of pitching the tents on the first floor of the unfinished office block, which while reasonably practical, it was far from what I’d anticipated bush camping would be. Well this is Africa!

We thought this was the last border check but another four or five followed and there never was a bridge at the border to cross, instead, almost by surprise we arrived at the Cameroon border. After a thorough search of the truck and a haggle over Gunter’s visa we were granted entry. There’d been a warning that the road ahead was blocked by two lorries laden with timber. That’s all they transport around here, massive, great logs or loads of cut timber. We plowed on regardless and a couple of kilometres down the dirt track we came to a halt behind a queue of log lorries. One lorry had broken down in the middle of the road and another attempted to go around only to then be stuck in the mud. A solution was finally found involving a lorry towing the stuck lorry out which would in turn help tow the following one when it got stuck. Hold up behind us we continued into the Cameroon rainforest where we found our next site on the playground of a school.

We’re well along the road to Yaounde and looking for somewhere to stay for Christmas. During the search we stay a night just outside Sangmelima at a church and university campus where the rector informed us over a cup of tea that this was where the Cameroon national anthem was written. The church was interesting too as it was made of stones, almost in a typical English style, something I haven’t seen here yet, finished with the familiar topping of a green roof. After another day’s driving there was another night on a school field.

We’re staying at what is known as an eco site. It’s a beautiful spot next to the river Nyong with wooden chalets on stilts and a bar and restaurant. It’s name is Ebogo, sounds like Um Bongo but isn’t Um Bongo. I don’t know where the eco bit comes in but as they say, ‘this is Africa!’ As we were pitching our tents, some locals arrived and a tall gentleman came to me and introduced himself. He was here to shoot his latest pop video and asked if we would mind. Apparently he’s big in Cameroon but not so in Sweden where he has lived for the past 30 years, check out Jean-Pierre (JP) Melody if you’re into dem African beats! So our afternoon was spent being entertained by his singing and girls doing African dancing while being filmed by drone. I thought, for a moment, that I’d found a clue to the source of Um Bongo but the dancing girl had said ‘tango?’ instead. I declined politely.

I’ve just been for a swim in the river Nyong, Cameroon’s second longest. It has quite a strong current as you move to the middle, I’d guess it’s at least 50m (164ft) wide at this point. There’s a set of concrete steps that lead down and into the water, at the water’s edge are pirogues, boats carved from tree trunks, unsure of the depth I used one to steady myself as I entered the water. The temperature is about 28 degrees and rescues you from the heat of the sun. I’m soon submerged in the rusty, brown water that has been coloured by the rich red soil of the region, imagine swimming in a very large cup of strong tea (no milk or sugar). Around me fish jump out of the dark depths to catch flies hovering just above the surface, they compete with the swallows that do the reverse and swoop to catch the same prey.

Night time descends about 6pm and with it begins a cacophony of sound. Numerous insects, birds and frogs join in chorus to create a loud, almost deafening, noise that I can best describe as a rather pathetic and wheezy diesel engine at idle. This racket continues into the night then strangely ceases at about 1am, I don’t know why.

We went for a boat trip up stream today and entered the mangrove forest. Apparently, the Nyong is 6m (19.7ft) at its deepest and can raise by up to an extra 2m (6.56ft) during the rainy season. If you’re lucky you can see various colours of mamba including the deadly black mamba! There are chimpanzees and gorillas deep within the forest, we saw a white owl of some kind and fish eagles. We landed on the bank and took a short walk to see the biggest, in circumference, tree in the world it’s a giant redwood and pretty big but I’m sure Roy Castle must have hugged something bigger. We’re told it is 27m (88.6ft) in circumference, 48m (157.5ft) high and 1,200 years old and named Kossipo (note; Google says otherwise so perhaps he meant biggest in Africa).

Tonight I learnt the true meaning of ‘biblical proportions’. Generally it gets dark here at about 6.30pm and it had been a busy day for the pirogue boatmen ferrying people up and down stream on tours of the mangrove. At 6pm a group of Austrian kids arrived, they are lead by a Cameroonian who has just qualified as a priest and had returned to his home town to perform his first mass and the kids thought they’d come along for the ride. After a quick chat they climbed into the boats, with two per boat I guess there must have been a fleet of six set off. Within minutes it began to rain, we dashed about getting everything under cover and ourselves under cover of the restaurant terrace roof. By now the rain was getting heavier and the sky was getting dark, when you thought things were easing the torrent would increase. I have never witnessed rain like it. Now, probably an hour into their trip, the boats must have been full of water and the inhabitants soaked to the skin. Concern began to spread around the restaurant as lightning lit up the sky, loud thunder quickly followed and we estimated the storm was within a kilometre (0.62 miles). I studied the river with every flash looking for the silhouette of a boat or two. The rain got even heavier and the lightning got more frequent, truly a storm of biblical proportions, then after an hour there it was, a shadow of one boat returning. Then there were two shortly followed by the rest. They run up the hill and into the shelter of the restaurant, shivering with the cold but glad to be ashore.