Posts Tagged ‘West Africa’

The moment we left ..24th Oct 2010

Swimming through the Congo

One year, today, we left Hereford and headed for the dark continent expecting to travel around it and return via the middle east it in about 8 months. Well here we still are and as the cold sets in over the U.K. we seek shade in the mid 40 degrees in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum. And being Sudan, a nice bottle of wine to toast the occasion is probably not going to happen. Have one for us!

Horizon to Horizon.. we've never seen the stars so bright

 

In one year we have travelled 23,400 miles across 26 African countries and 2 European. Off road, dirt tracks, desert dunes, good and bad tar and the occasional swamps have been our route . Through the Sahara, through the tropical rain forests of Gabon and the Congo’s, over mountains and ranges above 3000 metres, crossed rivers by canoes and rode savannahs vast and wide. We have seen Cobra to Black Pantha, Cheetah to scorpions and  gorillas too amongst other very varied animals of the African wildlife. We’ve crashed slowly and fast more times than I care to remember and injures have included bones broken like ankles and ribs, sternum  and shoulder. Malaria has visited a couple of times as did typhoid. We have most likely and regrettably forgotten more people than we remember but those that we do will linger in our memories and have been an encouragement to our trip. Weve seen stars from horizon to horizon and looked into a breathing volcano. An array of visas and cultures have graced our journey around every corner as have spanner days and breakdowns.

We could do with a decent peice of meat

From here we will soon head for the Red Sea, Saudi and the Middle East. This will be the second attempt to escape Khartoum after the first was halted by a broken piston and cylinder. From there the plan stands to be Jordan to Israel and then shipping into Europe, maybe Italy. With Syrian borders closed and Iraqi visas illusive to tourists this remains our only way home but the short cut should bring us to our families and friends for Christmas.

Spectacular veiws along the way

 

 

Tequila to Turkey roast is the adventure awaiting! We look forward to seeing all you peoples at home and some of our new friends we have made on the way.

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Namibia written by Kristina.. Pics by Darren

Apologies for the size of the content, there was just too much going on… Russ suggests to put the kettle on…

1.

Beautiful Namibia, as seen falling from the sky

Namibia – wow! This was my first impression overlooking the landscape from the window of a plane on the flight from Cape Town to Windhoek. The same was Darren and Russell’s first impression, when they crossed Angolan border, though for a different reason: ‘’Namibia has road signs!’’ they told me, which apparently makes navigation somewhat what easier. ‘’They’ve got roads! There’re shops, where you can actually buy things! …Are we still in Africa!?” Later we all agreed that the country is incredibly beautiful and Darren said that it was the most beautiful one in Africa so far.

The guys were already camping in Windhoek for couple of days when I arrived. Darren eventually managed to jump-start Russ’ bike  to pick me up from the airport, but on the way to the airport a few streets down from the Cardboard Box Backpackers (the campsite they stayed at), oh dear, the bike died. After 2 more jumpstarts the smoke started coming from under the fairing! “Time to get back to the campsite.” Da, fortunately, managed to get a 4×4 to tow him; otherwise it would have been a matter of pushing the bike for couple of kilometres up the hill! Meanwhile, I was making friends on the border, because the kind officers couldn’t let me into the country until I’d had given them the address of where I was staying and my phone wouldn’t ring Darren for some reason, so they rang him for me, found out the address and said that it would be a good idea to get a taxi.

All good, half an hour later Darren and I were jumping around, hugging each other and being happy to see each other after 5 months. It felt a little bit strange, as if all the good byes, we said to each other in Hereford, were just the day before. At the same time it was unbelievable that it’s actually been that long and that we finally met again. Well, Russ noticed me only about an hour later when I brought him some droewors! It’s a dry sausage that I got in SA – good snack for beer! Or just a good snack…

Ship wreck on the Skeleton Coast

When I first saw the bikes, they looked like wrecks. Apart from serious mechanical problems, mudguards were gone, fairing was all scratched, panniers were bent,  Darren’s windscreen was missing, Russ’ was cracked, indicators didn’t work and were just hanging on the wires, tape patches here and there and only one mirror between both of them. Hm…

We stayed at the campsite for another 4 days. Beautiful weather, pancakes every morning, sightseeing around all the building and tool shops in Windhoek… I actually started suspecting the guys are breaking their bikes on purpose, because they seem to have developed an addiction to taking them apart. This time Darren went as far as changing his head gasket. It’s blown due to overheating in towing Russell in Angola and all the water and oil mix got into the engine and turned into disgusting slime – the sight not for the faint-hearted. All the liquids drained, kerosene/ paraffin put through the system, couple of oil changes, a lot of head ache and we’re ready to get back on the road! As everything breaks on this trip, I had to have something broken as well. So my precious SLR failed in the very beginning of the travels. Unlucky!

The beautiful weather was not very bike repair friendly, because regular thunderstorms in the afternoon were forcing us to go to the bar, which was right there at Cardboard Box, to watch TV and socialize. At some point there was a big Brazzaville reunion. The overlanders, that Darren and Russ met on route and made friends with in Brazzaville, eventually all arrived to the same campsite with a day’s difference from each other. Angolan roads didn’t have mercy on a single vehicle, but everyone made it through, so we all celebrated it with “springboks” (shot of Amarula and mint liquor) and an impressive pizza feast!

Da, Russ and I also treated ourselves for a meal in the restaurant (Joe’s Beerhouse), with loads of beautifully cooked game meat. Between three of us we ate ostrich, zebra, crocodile, springbok, oryx, kudu and chicken! Don’t know how the latter got on the plate, but I liked oryx the best.

Anyway, the idea was that, when the bike is up and running Darren and I will tour around Namibia for a week or so, starting in Windhoek. Then we catch up with Russell again and carry on all together. Eventually the day came. We packed up, finally had a swim in the swimming pool at the campsite, which was so inviting for all this time, but with the amount of things, that had to be done before we shoot off, never spared any time for it! Had some lovely burgers made by Russ, waved good bye to all the lovely people, hoping to catch up again in South Africa or elsewhere. Handshake with Immanuel (handyman at the campsite), who was an absolute star, helping out with the tools to repair the bike and all sorts of stuff. Take care Russell!

Let the holiday begin!

2.

Brandberg Mountains

It is incredible how little populated the county is. More than three times the size of Great Britain with population only about 3 million people (including immigrants and tourists)! From Windhoek we headed north-west towards the Skeleton Coast. We took the minor road and on the first day we encountered only 2 cars while riding, but the amount of wildlife we saw in first couple of hours, was unbelievable: oryxes (gemsboks), baboons, a wild dog, kingfishers and, Darren reckons, a kudu. And actually, unless we were in the city, the situation was similar all across the country – 2% humans, 98% wildlife. Tranquillity.Beauty wherever you go: vast planes with silver grass, an odd tree in a dry riverbed and mountain ridges. We were passing green rolling hills, canyons, sand planes and sand dunes. Pretty much every evening we were observing a display of the most unexpected colours in the sunset that were making the sky look very unnatural And you can see as far as the eye stretches. All these surreal landscapes make you never want to return to civilization!

Before we got close to the coast, every evening there was a thunderstorm with lightning and a downpour. Each time though we were fortunate enough to set up a tent and stick in it all our possessions and ourselves seconds from a chance to soak. In this part of the world even a tiny little cloud has to have its own storm.

Tree of the Petrified Forest and Welwitschia mirabilis

Due to excessive amount of rain all the rivers were in flow and to enter the Skeleton Coast from the north we had to cross two big rivers, and one of them had no bridge. From the beginning we were told that it’s impossible. We weren’t even sure if they let us in to the Skeleton Coast on the motorbike. Thanks to Darren and his determination nothing is impossible. We better go and check for ourselves. Majority of roads were gravel roads, but were in a good condition. It still was quite a demanding terrain for Darren to ride on, with me as an extra weight on the back, especially on sandy stretches. On the way we stopped in Brandberg mountains to appreciate some ancient rock art. These paintings did look amazing and took us back in time. The one we saw is a very well known one, that I’ve never heard of and it’s called “The White Lady”. Then it all gets a bit confusing, because the “lady” is actually a man, the paining depicts the hunt, where some humans have animal heads and some animals – human legs. Very fascinating!

After we stopped at Petrified Forest and had a wander around those trees that had turned into rock millions of years ago. It was hard to believe that this wood is not wood any more, because it hasn’t changed it’s appearance what so ever. Another bizarre and peculiar thing in this area was the plant Welwitschia mirabilis that lives up to 1500 years, but the ones we saw were relatively young – only about 150 years old. It has a hollow wooden stem underground and apart from all the leaves that it grows and sheds, there’re two that the plant keeps for life!

The poisonous one

The rivers that we were worried about, didn’t cause us any trouble, which was a big relief. Approaching the Skeleton Coast park we saw a springbok and got really excited about it, in 5 minutes we saw hundreds of them hopping around. It was brilliant. Inquired by the gate about the permit. Luckily got a free transit for the day, so we refilled our water supplies and off we went into the land where there is nothing. Time stands still there.

We left the national park part of the Skeleton Coast and stayed camping in the dunes. In the morning packing the tent away I saw a little pale scorpion next to it. Quite cute, most likely very poisonous. Later we found out that their poison kills within couple of hours. Probably shouldn’t have been walking around with bare feet so carelessly. By this point of our journey Darren’s bike started seriously leaking oil, so this morning he tried to find a problem and hopefully solution. He fixed the tube going from the oil tank to the engine, but this didn’t improve the situation. Russ had most of the tools, so there was nothing much could be done on the bike in the middle of nowhere and we carried on. The day we spent in the seal reserve in Cape Cross. There were thousands of them! And watching all these seals was like watching a wildlife documentary live.

Cape Cross seal colony, Skeleton Coast

In the evening we arrived to Swakopmund and stayed there for a few days. Shortly after Daniel and Anika also came there from Windhoek and we spent the rest of our time together. (This is the German couple that Darren and Russ first met in Cameroon, then in Congo, Brazzaville.) Beautiful Sunday morning, people do all sorts of things – we all went to skydive! Some basic instructions and into the skies. The air gets warmer as you go higher, so you falling from 10 000 feet with the speed 200 kph in this pleasant medium: on the north and on the east – Brandberg mountains and Naukluft mountains – two highest ridges in the country, Namib desert dunes on the south, right underneath massive Swakop river, which hasn’t flown in 3 years and waves of the Atlantic on the west… You can’t wish for more for the skydive! Especially if it’s the first time experience.

Flamingos

Next stop – Sesriem and Sossusvlei, where some of the highest dunes in the world are. On the way there we saw flamingos and pelicans on the coast. Futher inland we saw two massive birds of prey gliding through the air, not even a single flap of the wings. Supposedly they were bateleur eagles. Then there was an oryx that we had to chase for the photo, off-roading through grass and rocks at 50 kph. It did make me nervous, but eventually Darren took THE photo and it was time to camp. There we saw something furry and nicknamed them “koala-rabbits”, they looked very random and were hopping around (later turned out to be Bat-eared foxes). Also lots of ostriches and springboks that we got used to seeing by then. Next morning we woke up surrounded by all these animals, which was quite spectacular. But it took us some time to find the road again, because chasing oryx took us 20 km into the wilderness.

The best time to see the Sossusvlei dunes is in sunrise. We arrived to Sesriem by lunch time, and to avoid disappointment next morning went to the park gate straight away, to see what they think of the motorbike. They didn’t think much of it, and said it’s not allowed. We’ve got no transport… Tourist option, like safari type 4×4 shuttle, cost was ridiculous. What do we do? Hitch-hike in the Namib desert! We were lucky. Soon after we were admiring the red sand sea from the top of one of the dunes. What also catches the eye is that the oldest driest ecosystem on Earth is covered with patches of grass! Who said the climate isn’t changing?

3.

Corn Crickets, they like to eat each other!

In the meantime, in Windhoek Russ managed to put his bike back on track, get some rest and have some good time with friends. Seems like he really got into cooking since. Now it was the time to carry on our travels together.

Just before meeting up, turned out that there’s no fuel stops on the way and neither of the bikes had enough till the next one ahead.. so Russ had to travel back 60 km and Da – 40 km. But in comparison with 400 – 500 km a day, 40 – 60 km is really nothing. It’s funny how perception changes with circumstances.

That night we camped in the dry riverbed, nothing special, but what a shock in the morning! We got under attack of stink bugs infestation. Our tents were entirely covered with them. Hundreds thousands, they were everywhere! And the corn crickets… We used to like watching them, until they turned out to be filthy cannibals. They fight to eat each other! And they were also everywhere. It was like a plague. So we got out of there as quickly as we possibly could and headed towards the Fish River Canyon. It is the second largest canyon in the world and the largest in Africa. The views from the top were absolutely breath-taking!

The next day we got to the border, where everything went quick and smooth. Big smiles , thumbs up and “welcome to South Africa”!…

Together again at Fish River Canyon



Gabon
Russell writes on 4/3/11 Photos by Darren apart from the one of him:

 

Bathing in Lope

We could see Gabon, but we were just too late for immigration and so had to camp on the other side of the river border in Cameroon. That was probably a good thing because it gave us the whole of the next day to enjoy ourselves on the most amazing road of the whole trip so far! After getting stamped in we set off south to see how far we could get into Gabon, however, it felt like we were in Spain! The road was so smooth, well maintained, curvaceous, with nicely strimmed road sides. What was going on, had we arrived to Europe? With big smiles we made the most of our last day on road tyres and a tar road. We’d almost made it to central Gabon by night fall when we turned off the tar to hit the compact track to Lope, our destination for the night and home to the national park we wanted to visit.

Praying Mantis

After a few hours of travelling we stopped on the track for a break, it was completely dark, no other traffic or people or villages around. Then I froze as I heard what could only be something very large moving and breaking the thick jungle that was our roadside. A deep roar confirmed what Darren was thinking, a gorilla. We sat with lights off waiting for an appearance, one of us with hand on ignition button, the other was getting the hammock out!

We're on the equator then

Lope was smack on the equator, and with some amazing thunder storms we could feel it, literally, the room shook. We hung out here a few days enjoying the chance to relax by the river, swim in it, wash in it, and enjoy some stunning views from its banks.

Sunset over Gabon at Lope

We stayed in the cheap place in town, which was ok, it had electricity, a fan and bucket shower. But it also had the drunken mother and grandmother in the evening, not to mention the very armours daughter!

The locals

Anyway, we decided to try a gorilla trek and arranged what we thought was an afternoon trek, camp over, and another trek in the morning. However, after a 6 hour mission through the jungle we discovered either a complete misunderstanding or a complete rip-off. There would be no camp over or morning trek, it was back to Lope. This was very disappointing as we only managed to see gorilla poo, and some knuckle prints! We did however see some monkeys, including Mandrills, and get a little too close to a large jungle elephant.

Cobra sticks around for a photo

We left Lope via a little detour as Darren’s eagle eye spotted a snake striking at him from the side of the road. We’d not come across many snakes yet and this was a rare sighting of a small cobra. Also along this stretch of road Darren saw the even more elusive Black Panther, leaping from the road into the bush. Finding our track we headed along a forest route to a barge river crossing and on to Makouku in the east. It was along this track we met Rene, who started by helping us with directions in the forest track. We got to know him a bit more as he bought us a drink after the river crossing and we agreed to travel with him as we were going to the same town. When we arrived he offered to put us up for the night with the words ‘my house is your’ marking his generous hospitality. Rene treated us to a lovely meal out that evening and in front of a Manchester United game with a glass of his whisky we relaxed. After the rainstorm the next morning and once the petrol lorry had made it through from Libreville we said goodbye to Rene and headed further east towards the Congo boarder.

Welcome to the jungle!

The route now was more into the jungle and along some logging roads, so we went for a few km and found a place off the road to set up hammocks. Our first jungle bush camp, but with a bottle of French red wine from Rene!

Nice easy logging route

For our next installment from the Congo and our continued trek through the jungle check out Darren’s update above.

We’ve put 3 posts on at the same time. you may want to scroll down and read them in reverse. Remember you can clic on pics to enlarge and leave your comments as its always good to hear you feed back… Cheers, enjoy our story so far

Russell writes on 31/1/11:

Can we put it together again?

There are many things on our trip that are challenging, some are down to rider error, route choice etc. but other challenges just seem to come upon us. My bike’s mechanics being one of them. I’d been suffering from poor fuel consumption since Ghana and advice had been not to leave it in case things get worse. We’d tried looking at the more obvious things first, hoping to avoid the scary prospect of taking the engine apart, but unfortunately, the scary day came. Bike mechanics of this kind is over my head completely, and even beyond Darren’s considerable competency, so I employed the services of Lucas, a local ‘big bike’ mechanic.

The special BMW tool

We’d been careful to select a skilled, knowledgeable and experienced guy, who didn’t have any ‘bush’ mechanic about him. However, this is Africa and if you don’t have the correct BMW tool, a lump of teak will do just fine!

So now my engine is in pieces all over our dorm room floor waiting for parts to arrive from the UK. The worrying thing is we’re still not 100% sure we’ve found the source of the fuel problem, just a couple of small things that may have contributed to it. We will put it all back together this week and hope our changes improve the fuel consumption, but if not, our next BMW Motorrad is Windhoek, Namibia!

Mohammed

Our time in Bamenda has given us a chance to explore the area and to make new friends. The Baptist Mission rest house where we are staying has a mechanic and workshop on site where we met Mohammed, his 14 year old apprentice. He’s a lovely kid with a great attitude, hungry to learn and eager to help us in any way, including laundry, shopping and making us Fufu meals. He’s also been a great help to us with the mechanics.

The Fon's place

He’s never been far from Bamenda before so we took him with us to do some sight-seeing. He’d also never been on such a big motorcycle before so with the 3 of us astride Darren’s bike we took off to see the palace of one of the most powerful Fondoms in the area. On one evening Mohammed took us out to a bar where we were able to relax in front of a Manchester United FA cup game and a couple of beers. A little ‘luxury’ we’d been missing ever since the UK.

Buying the yoghurt

 He doesn’t get the chance to visit his family much so we took him to his home village some 30 km away, where we shared a meal and cup of red Cameroonian tea with his mother, grandmother and siblings. Afterwards he took us up the mountain on a horse, bare-back, to see the spectacular Cameroonian mountain vista. We’re here in the dry season so the Harmattan blocks a lot of the view, the rainy season is the best time to visit Cameroon, but that would make travelling on dirt tracks very difficult for us.

Darren in full flow

On the way back Daren enjoyed the bare-back gallop, and Mohammed took us to buy some cheese and yoghurt. The people here are of Fulani origin and traditionally rear and herd cattle, so it was nice to sample some of the local dairy products.

Harmattan

It was lovely to take some time and get involved in local culture, however, we don’t wish to get too involved, his mother was apparently very impressed with us and seeing as she has a couple of unmarried daughters, it was time to leave or stay forever…we will finish our mission I think!

There is a post just published before this one by Russ. You may want to scroll down to view it first. Also remember you can click on the pics to enlarge. Good to speak to you guys from CLC earlier

Written By Darren 28/1/11. Photogaphy by Darren

We said our goodbyes to Des and his family and hit the road again, easing the growing itch in our feet and our need to press on. Our route was via Takum and thereafter, on rough tracks, south towards Bissaula. Before Bissaula we camped off the track after following a small path for a km and finding a peaceful spot to hang our Hammocks and get a restful sleep (the last peaceful night for a while). Not long after starting our dust eating day, before reaching the police post at Bissaula, I lost view of Russ who should have been in my mirror. I rallied back as quickly as the road would allow, for it was likely he had had a fall. I reached him soon. His bike was lying on the floor facing the wrong way and Russ was sat on the verge holding his leg with grimace in his face. Again, not that long after the previous injury had healed, he had fallen on the same ankle. It predictably started to swell as it had before and again Russ was in a familiar pain. Ouch.. Prayers please.Fulani Wommen In Nigera, on their way to market

It was another 50km to the border on a gradually disintegrating track and over river fords. Eventually by lunch we forded the river that divided Nigeria and Cameroon. The Vegetation had started to become more lush and the relief, mountainous. Africa as it seemed was changing again and signified a new chapter in our journey was about to begin. On the far bank of the river (Cameroon), we prepared lunch after having bathed in the cool mountain water. I shared out some shampoo with a local Fulani woman. I don’t think she had experienced shampoo before and was quite impressed with how it cleaned her and her child’s hair! Will offer some shaving foam next time.

Crossing the border

Clean, fed, happy and relaxed we continued unaware of ‘God Almighty’ around the corner.

'God Almighty' This pic doesnt show the angle nor how loose it was

 God Almighty is the name Russ gave to the mountain track which was the first to defeat us. A section over about 80m was

at about 45 degrees steep and full of loose rock. Fully loaded I managed so far until the front wheel went in the air and bike followed to the floor. I picked it back up but every time I tried to ride up the back wheel traction would fail and I’d only manage to slide backwards.  With Russ’ help we managed to get the bike the few more meters where there was a slightly flattened section about a third of the way up. Then some Kids appeared and offered their help. On top of their heads they carried Russ’ Panniers and luggage to the top and Russ took on the first part of ‘God Almighty’. It started well but after only a few meters the track claimed his attempt too. At this point some men had appeared. The Kids took, to the top, my luggage and us guys spent an hour slowly pushing my bike to the top. Absolutely exhausting!  A short rest and we returned for Russ’ bike until eventually we found ourselves so grateful to be at the top and with bikes in one piece. Down the other side was as steep and braking almost impossible as the bike would slide. Still, it was so much easier and with concentration, quickly achieved. Good bye to the guys and onwards in to the ‘Grasslands’ of Cameroon.

Fulani crossing the border

Not sure why they are called the grasslands. It was a mountain range which has a road circling it known as the ’Ring Road’. It was this ring road that we were trying to get too and the most northern town of it had immigration. The Grasslands area was also historically and presently, where numerous Fondoms (Kingdoms) have been forged. Each one different in size but with a degree of autonomy within Cameroon, followed a similar monarchy structure as to what we know. We never made it to immigration but a few hours short we stopped at a village where we were welcomed and invited to sleep the night. We chose not to take some ones bed but camped in the palace compound and entertained the villagers by simply being ‘white’.  The Fon (King of that particular Fondom) wasn’t at home that evening for us to greet but other villagers we did. One of these introduced herself as Princess Helena. She turned out to be such a laugh and good fun to spend time with. This was probably because she was more confident with us than most.

Pulling water for princess Helena and the white me

 The children that night sang us songs. Beautiful voices with one leading and all the others following in cannon, the children sang church hymns translated from their own tribal tongue.

Bye bye to princess Helena and all, including the Fon who had returned, and we were on our way again. The roads remained challenging but the mountainscapes were fun and picturesque to traverse. We finally stamped into Cameroon and headed South West down the ring road. The roads did not improve but proved to continue to be the most difficult on our journey so far. Large rocks, deep dust and washed away parts of the track that had formed deep gullies, continually threatened to throw us from our bikes, which they did on the odd occasion. It continued like this until we reached Nyos Village where a paved road took us up to Lake Nyos. Here there was a small military camp that had been there the last decade since a gas eruption in the lake claimed 1700 lives below. Their job was to ‘guard’ it. It was quite odd with a fountain in the middle that was allowing the gas to escape. We camped with these guys that night and they turned out to be helpful in collecting fire wood and water. Even our washing up was done for us. The Rest of the way (about 50 miles) was easier with parts of the road tarred. We soon arrived to Bamenda city, 1234m up with a cool mountain climate.

The 'Ring Road'

 And it is here we are again stuck with maintenance issues. At least Russ will get time to rest his ankle and we can wash the red dust from our kit.

Fruit bats off for the night

Russell writes on 28/1/11: Photos by Darren

Abuja, an abnormal city in Nigeria, as the purpose built capitol with nice wide roads and neatly laid out streets, it was a good place for visa shopping. With the lure of apparent free camping in the grounds of the Sheraton Hotel, it seemed an ideal place to rest up for a few days and go looking for the elusive Angolan visa. As normal, the reality is somewhat different to the promise given by guide books and other travellers. The hotel had just started charging for camping, and they put you right next to the hotel dog kennels facing the enormous city mosque. So, as you can imagine, after a few nights of barking in one ear and the 4am call to prayer in the other, we were looking forward to moving on.

Sunset in Abuja

Just so I don’t sound completely ungrateful, it was a cheap place to stay in an expensive city (supermarkets were more expensive than the UK) and we were guided through a neat little loop-hole: free buffet in the casino at 10pm! You have to get there on time or the gambling Arabs will have loaded up all the nice food. One night Darren and I went along to the casino with Ben and Vipka, an overlanding couple who were also camping. We had some 2$ bills burning a hole in our money belts so we went and hit the roulette tables – and promptly lost everything! So we thought we’d try our luck at the buffet, but only to discover that a buffet is like a casino, the house always wins! Also, on the Shereton grounds, Darren Found a Coleny of Fruit bats he liked to hang out with.

On the boat and over the river

With our Angolan and Cameroonian visas neatly in place we were once again on the road and heading south to our next challenge, the back-water route into Cameroon. Taking these routes always proves interesting and challenging, and Loko was no exception. Pulling up for some lunch we were immediately the centre of village interest, like they’ve never seen 2 white people dressed in dust before, and certainly not seen 2 bikes of such presence. We also didn’t expect the ferry river crossing to be quite what it was. I was thinking roll on, roll off car ferry, but when we were led down to the river bank it was soon obvious it was more like a fishing boat – how on earth are we going to get our bikes in that? Well, easy actually, the African way. Get a large number of people and just lift the whole bike, luggage and all straight into the boat! Simples. Back-water routes equal so much more fun and adventure, especially going where the 4×4’s can’t even go!

Harmatan

Getting closer to the Cameroon border and back on the tar, we pulled into Kasina and as I stopped I noticed water pouring out of my bike! Not again! Oil and water had been spreading itself along the side of my bike and over my leg, and if we’d not stopped I could have been in serious trouble. So, now we have 2 problems to diagnose on my bike, poor fuel consumption and water overheating. We were scratching our heads looking at the bike outside a bar, but no one came out to see if we were ok, they were too busy laughing. Then we met the Nigeria we had been used to, a kind and generous guy called Desmond. He took us to a mechanic to help us find the problem, and when they couldn’t find one, he took us back to his family’s compound where we were secure, free from hasslers and free to stay as long as we needed.

Desmond

 Running through a series of theories and tests on the bike it took us another 2 days before Darren noticed something different about my radiator cap. All this kafuffle was down to a small disc that stopped coolant going from the radiator into the reservoir! We’ve learnt to persist until a correct diagnosis is found, because covering the symptoms with a bodge will lead to more trouble. Thankfully, with the bolts, washers and spring from a biro we had, Darren managed to make a functional radiator cap, a correct bodge at least! So a huge thank you to Desmond and his family who looked after us, fed us and showed genuine hospitality, you were greatly appreciated.

Remember guys, click on pics to enlarge.

Darren Writes 12.01.11

Nigeria, The Republic of.  You brace yourself as thoughts of extreme corruption, violence, robbery, gangs and elaborate scams, schemes up to take the dollar from the pocket of even the most seasoned and vigilant person, are conjured in your imagination. Road blocks, one after another, of police wanting to lighten your wallet and locals trampling each other to get ahead.  Bandits awaiting you on the potholed roads and a rip off on every corner are all the things you are preparing yourself to fight or endure.

Starting at the Nigerian embassy in Ghana the hoop jumping and much greater than average cost for the visa never helped to make you feel like you would be welcomed. Yet it was part of our route into central Africa and also a chance to obtain the elusive Angolan transit visa.

Green Turtle Lodge

With the Nigerian visa already secured and sitting neatly in our passports and with all our jobs done and bodies well and truly rested, it was time to pack our tents and leave the super chilled Green Turtle Lodge,  its palm fringed beach and warm waters. First stop was a garage in the first town we rode into and pressure water wash to rid of the salt covering the bikes from the sea breeze. The guys there literally fought to take on the job and the stronger elders won getting straight onto it. ‘Not there!’ I shouted as the pressure wash rose towards the radiator fins and again I repeated and finally threatened not to pay. Ok now they understand! Wow, afterwards, two shinny bikes.

Landy lift to get the bike

Back to Accra and the hotel we stayed at before was full so we negotiated a price to stay on the roof. Good news for our wallets and especially good as I managed to get a beer to share in with the price.

From there we decided to travel up the Volta region and into Togo through a smaller border, the route that would take us through Benin and finally Nigeria away from all the main and hasselfull Customs and Immigration posts along the coast. The only problem was we weren’t sure if we could get transit visas on these as you could on the main route.  So leaving Ghana we explained this to the Ghanaian officials before stamping out and one of them kindly walked us over the border to find out. The podgy Togolese official on the other side didn’t get up to greet us but spoke with the Ghanaian official and agreed we could enter.  Fine, so we checked out of Ghana and rode over.  A 10,000 CFA (15GBP) bribe was what the Togolese officer wanted in order to allow us, with his ‘lad’, to go into town to buy the 10,000 CFA Visa. We protested but each time, he gave us the choice to return to Ghana and go around. Knowing that we weren’t able to cross back into Ghana without a Ghanaian Visa (Which Ghana doesn’t issue on borders) he remained sat on his stool turning his back to us. Life in no-mans land was the only alternative. ‘Ok.. here, have your  10 Grand’. Still sat on his stool he barked instructions for the barrier to be raised and we could see exactly why he was fat! A bad start to Togo but one that was remedied by the welcome of other officials and warmth of the Togolese people. It was therefore a shame not to see more of the county than we did as the dirt road took us laterally across to Benin in a day.

Some are shy, most are not!

Here, a warm welcome and a visa allowing 2 days to transit though. It was getting late so 40 miles later we stopped to sleep. Our first beds in over two weeks were so comfy in a hotel in Amerbey. Onward, with one more whole day allowed, on our Benin visa, we wandered up to the Nigerian border, changed some cash with the money changers and then my heart sunk. Russell’s quickly sunk too as I told him I couldn’t find our carnets (our documents that allow temporary importation of vehicles into most African states).’ Opps… I think I left them on the Togolese/Benin border’. So back west across Benin we went! We had to ride pretty fast to get there and back before our visa expired all the time hoping we would find them. I ran into the immigration office and studied the desk we had previously sat. And there they were piled between some other papers. I rejoiced and then got roared at for my incorrect procedure but ironed things out with the official and off we sped back across Benin to the Nigerian border.

The start of a new Africa

We reached the border by 5 but with all the visa chasing and charging across countries we were quite tired but still bracing ourselves for what we were expecting to be one of the most difficult borders in Africa. ‘Ok so there’s the border. Where are the Immigration posts?’ We found nearby where we could stamp out of Benin and then crossed into Nigeria on a particularly bad dirt road into a Nigerian town of complete chaos. Riding around we couldn’t find the immigration so eventually stopped to ask one of these crazy Nigerians. We didn’t want to be shown the way as inevitably this would require a dash (tip in Nigeria). But lost and tired we agreed.

Smile, you're Nigerian!

In some isolated place accessed by narrow paths we were led to immigration. And then the first surprise… No dash required by our guide… He was just helping out some visitors to his country. And then we walked in to the immigration, met by a big smile and a hearty ‘Welcome to Nigeria’. The most friendly officials we had met were also bending over backwards to try and help us with our onward travel. Over  to customs to import the bikes and the same thing. Not even a hint of a dash or to pin something on us for a bribe. Is this Nigeria? The road there after had several road blocks where we were welcomed. We arrived to the next town, found somewhere to stay and were asked for N3000 (13GBP) for a dirty room without water. We said we couldn’t afford it but had N1500. ‘You are quests… that will be fine’. Is this Nigeria? So far such warm people and no sign of corruption.

Help at every turn in Nigeria

And so it was over the next 2 days and 500 miles to Abuja. Police waved us through road blocks with their thumbs up or friendly waves. Whenever we stopped we were surrounded by people glad to meet us and offering us help with our directions. And in Abuja, we are even camping in the back of the Sheraton hotel. Nigerians, as it seems, aren’t bad at all but in fact are the most welcoming in Africa so far. That said, every one warns against travel at night due to banditry and the travel along the roads Russ calls ‘Road Wars, if you lose , you die’ For Nigeria, though the most welcoming, has got to be the most chaotic, craziest place in the world. Towns go on for ever and are filled with bustling, music and crazy traffic.

Taxi bike, not even fully loaded.

The roads, though full of pot holes and congestion, are racetracks where even when we are at 70 mph we’re being consistently passed in places where you wouldn’t think possible. Oncoming traffic is often on your side of the road pushing off the road whatever is in its way and the verges are lined with the results… wreck after wreck. I couldn’t imagine what the road death toll could be. And we have agreed also that there can’t be any speed restrictions. We’ve passed police cars as fast as we can (after others of course) and no sirens.

"Darren, you've got a flat"

So a lot of fun to Abuja… only because we didn’t lose. One hiccup though in the form of a M12 (12mmwide) 80mm long bolt went through my tire and ripped the inner tube and rubber around the hub. But that was quickly fixed, tyre and tube, and off back to our game of road wars.

We haven’t really worked out what there is to see in Nigeria, but the culture and people here are worth so much more than almost any landscape!