After leaving Nigeria we headed to Cameroon and the beach. It was nice to be in Cameroon and the landscape is now changing to equatorial rain forest and for the first few hours in the country, we were driving through some beautiful lush forest. The forest gave way to plantation and after some oil palms we started to drive through banana plantation, mile after mile of them and as far as we could see in either direction, right up to where Mt Cameroon rose up in the distance. It was a really nice drive to our camp that was on the other side of Mt Cameroon at the edge of the ocean on one side and the forest on the other. It was one of the resorts that let overlanders stay in the carpark but still use all the facilities, including the pool.. and we started to unwind after a stressful week. We are still traveling with Kevin and Steph, and after the night at the resort we ended up staying in the small town of Limbe as their car needed some attention and we all had a lot of laundry to do. Cameroon had a different feel to it with everyone supporting their world beating soccer team. We think the fact that they have such a great team unites the entire country in support and pride sort of how the All Blacks do that with the New Zealand public. It was the first place we had been to in a long time where the streets weren’t lined with trash. It was noticeable! I am sure that it makes people happier to not be living in a rubbish dump! We spent two nights in the economic capital of Douala at a very nice apartment like hotel where we were all able to all stay together. We even managed some work on the cars. Heading to Gabon I managed to get a load of water in my fuel tank from a fill up so we had to stop often (every 20 or 30kms) to drain the fuel filter of water until it all passed through. It wasn’t too bad to have to pull off to the side and have a look at the view every now and then! Luckily it wasn’t a whole tank as the gas station we stopped at had a big Visa/Mastercard sign outside but upon asking inside, they only took cash. Chris had to run outside and get me to stop the pump! The crossing from Cameroon to Gabon was a really straight forward crossing. We drove to the border on an excellent road and after the border into Gabon the road only got better! This was a first for us as the roads to and from the borders are normally unmaintained and often not more than a dirt or mud track.
Gabon is one of the least populated countries in Africa. It’s also one of the most beautiful places we have been to on the trip so far. The land area of Gabon is almost exactly the same as New Zealand. It’s only a 1000sq/km or so different but they only have a population of 1,600,000. We really noticed the difference driving through the villages. They seemed deserted compared to other places we had been through. The forest was spectacular and we drove through mountains and gorges that came right down to the road on either side. With such a small population and such large forests, Gabon can still support hunting for ‘bush meat’. We passed through villages where the shacks had a table and hooks where the hunters would hang their catch out for sale. We didn’t want to stop as we would have looked like customers and the people would have all run out expecting a sale. We did stop a hunter on the road and get a photo of him with his 2 monkeys and a pheasant looking bird that had bright blue feathers (after paying him for the privilege of the photo, of course). We think it would have looked a lot better in a tree or flying away but I guess it would also make a great ‘bird stew’ of some sort too. We are not too sure if it was all for him and his family or if one of them would end up on the hook in front of his house...
The roads through the country were excellent compared to what we had been over for most of the trip so far and it did make the trip across the country really all too fast. We crossed the equator in Gabon which was a landmark for us and another ‘stage’ on the trip completed. It’s not the half way mark even though its half way around the world. Sadly, it was in the middle of the forest so we didn’t have a sink or toilet to test the way that water drains at the equator. They say it will not spin one way or another as it drains, just going straight down with no spinning! Having those sort of unanswered questions is why we do crazy trips like this one…
We spent our last night in Gabon at the Albert Schweitzer museum. It was a really nice night, even though we just camped in the carpark. We had hot showers for I think the first time since we left Europe. Kevin and I did work on the cars. I changed my front brake pads and moved the spare wheel from under the car to the roof and Kevin changed the hub seal to attempt to stop the flow of diff oil running down his rear wheels. We also found the largest snails I have ever seen. The largest was the size of my fist and it left a ‘snail trail’ 40mm wide! All they wanted was Luxy’s food…
We decided to take one of the smaller border crossings to Congo. Smaller because the road to the border post was little more than a mud road for most of the way. We arrived and completed the paperwork with little fuss. The immigration official let us look back in ‘the book’ to see the travelers that had come this way before. They have one book for foreigners and another for locals. They seem to go back for years and it was pretty interesting to see who had come along this way before. They only get a few people a month and the guy let me look all the way back to the last New Zealander that passed the post. It was in early 2016 for the Kiwi on a motorbike but quite a few Aussies had traveled the route. Even though the road was unsealed and mostly mud, there were villages every 10kms or so and this was the first time we had seen the children so excited so see us they would just stop and scream! Others would run along next to the car waving. They really were excited to see us. They never asked for anything, they just wanted to have fun. The road from the border didn’t get much better and around dusk we stopped at a small town to find a place to stay. After discussions with a local we chose the more expensive hotel and he led us to it running in front of the car. The driveway down to the hotel was little more than a mud track and we had to use low range 4x4 to make it down without sliding off it into the bush. We were shown the rooms (in semi-dark because they didn’t fire up the generator until 6pm) and we decided to take the best room with a ceiling fan and ensuite bathroom.. It was really bad once the lights went on. (I took video of this place but it was on the stolen phone..) Not long after we arrived it started to rain. Not your Auckland drizzle, we are talking rain drops that were as big as a 50c coin. What an interesting hotel it was… No running water and no power until the generator went on (and then the power, including the fan, went off 3 hours later!). This was the first hotel where we let Luxy out to explore the place. She really did have fun chasing the bats that were flying out of the ceiling and around the room at dusk…. We think it was unusual for foreign guests to stay and the locals, some of which we think were long term guests, found us amazing and we were able to entertain them by doing things like, cooking dinner in the lounge and sitting around… Christine made a friend who pretty much didn’t leave her sight from the moment we arrived. He was (what we thought) a young man and we ended up feeding him and attempting to have conversations with him but he only spoke French so it was difficult. Christine got out the rum and he was pretty interested in that so she offered him a drink which he accepted. The next day, after a really bad night’s sleep as the thunder and rain went on and on and it was really hot without a fan, we cooked breakfast; eggs from me and the young man, Weetabix for Christine and we got ready to leave. 3 or 4 people including Christine’s friend were standing around with bags packed and we thought they were wanting a ride to the city, but no.. They were waiting for the canoe to go to school… Christine had plied a school boy with hard liquor the night before! We did have a laugh when we realized and we think he might have done a ‘morning talk’ at school on the experience.
We headed out onto the mud road again for what would be a total of 10 hours driving over the 2 days covering only around 250kms. It was a lot of fun, although pretty hard on the car. I was glad I had moved the spare wheel to the roof rack as the mud was deep in places and with the odd hidden hole in the middle, I was scraping along more like a plough than a car. After an especially deep mud crossing after which I had to stop and reattach the front bumper and noticed I had bent the rear bumper after it caught when I was climbing out of a mud hole. If the spare tyre had been under the car I think it would have either dented and or split the fuel tank, which it is secured against, or been ripped off (also damaging the fuel tank) so I was really glad I had moved it. It was an off-roaders dream road with long soft clay sections where we were more sideways than straight ahead, long puddles of water some close to a metre deep and we ploughed through mud up to the axles. Both cars made it to the sealed road without getting stuck although I did come close a few times, and we headed to Dolisie for the night.
Without doubt, the people of Congo really are nice. We had to stay in Pointe Noire for more than one week while we waited for the Angola visa and although it was a drag to have to stay in a city, it wasn’t too bad either. We stayed at a nice hotel that was pet friendly, ate pizza, swam in their pool and watched movies every day! It was nice to relax for a while and Luxy was able to have the run of the entire property which she really enjoyed. The people we met in the city were great and mostly spoke some English so life just got easier for us and we were able to visit a great supermarket for supplies. All we had to do was collect our visa from the Angola Embassy and we would round out a pleasant experience in The Republic of Congo.
We had packed up and left the hotel and I was in the embassy getting the passports when it all turned sour and Christine was robbed in the carpark. One came to her door and distracted her (trying to pull her out by the arm) while the other went to the drivers door and snuck in and took our phones! Oh No.. Oh well, it was only phones and they can be replaced under insurance. Well, we hope they can… We did go to the police and report the theft and they took it seriously and visited the embassy and spoke to the ambassador, but… we had to pay them to start the process and in this country, they do not produce police reports. It is all recorded in a number of big books at various places around the police station we went to, but we walk out with nothing. That’s normal. I went back and pleaded with them for a report so I can claim insurance and I got something from them but whether it will be enough for the insurance company is still unknown. It was a shame that it happened after such a good time in Congo, but it’s the sort of crime that is common in any city around the world.
Off to the Cabinda and DRC…
it's Our Epic Trip...
David & Christine are from New Zealand and are embarking on a trip around the world the slow way, on foot and by personal vehicle. This could get interesting!