July 8, 2024

Reunification in Cameroon

Deafeningly loud African music blasts out in the small restaurant, where there is only room for 4-5 people around the table. Restaurant is perhaps as much said. Kiosk with the option to buy a meal is perhaps more appropriate. I try for the third time to shout through the music, but have to give up trying to get through and instead point to the pan that is on a small gas burner behind the counter. It ends up that the kiosk owner seems to have understood my desire to buy a meal, but I have no idea what I'm getting. He finds a bucket of cooked spaghetti and throws a handful on the pan. Breaks out an egg and comes in. Opens a can of sardines, which is also mixed into the frying spaghetti.

It's not because I'm stingy and have chosen the cheapest place in town. I have chosen the only place in town.

I sit down at the rickety wooden table where two other guests are sitting and having a beer. It's certainly not the first of the day. The mood is high, the smiles are wide and the desire to talk is great. I try my best to drown out the music with my sparse French to answer their curious questions while I fork over my warmed spaghetti with sardines inside.

The mood is top notch. The culinary experience is bottom line. And that's probably how I can describe my experience in general in northern Cameroon.

In many places you can only get rice and beans. But it's good to ride a bike

Museum in a giant spider and snake with two heads

Two men and a goat on a motorcycle

Another man is out for a walk with his pig

Rubber stamps for sale

First impressions in Cameroon

I am on my way to Foumban. The main city in the region and an exciting old kingdom. In particular, I am looking forward to the new museum, which has just opened, in a giant spider, wrapped around a snake with two heads.

In Foumban I have to meet up with two other cyclists; Ward from Belgium and Theo from Switzerland.

I've been writing with Ward for some time. In a WhatsApp group for cyclists in West Africa, he asked if someone could help him with a package from Europe. It coincided nicely with Marie flying to Yaounde in Cameroon and she offered to bring some things to him.

Ward is not the only one with worn equipment. My own clothes are literally hanging by the laser and the bike is in serious need of a major service. But that is not the only reason why I am looking forward to Marie arriving in Yaounde soon. The most obvious reason is, of course, that I miss her. I miss being on adventures with her. Cycling alone can also be fun, but this is our adventure!

I have just one more week before I arrive in the capital Yaounde and can pick Marie up at the airport.

The first days in Cameroon are really beautiful. The landscapes are green and lush with endless rolling hills. The rust-red dirt road winds in and out and up hilltops with great views. In the cities I am met with many big smiles and helpfulness and the checkpoints I had feared are instead staffed with friendly guards who always wave me through without any problems.

There are some border issues between Nigeria and Cameroon, so the border crossing I have chosen is not officially recognized to cross between the two countries. Nevertheless, I knew that they still let people travel across the border, just with the caveat that you don't get your passport stamped. That, combined with the fact that the visa is applied for online and then printed on paper, means that you cannot show a valid entry into the country in your passport. I had heard that it would be a problem to explain at each and every checkpoint throughout the country, and that it would cost me at least 5-10 kroner each time in bribes. But the worries were put to shame. Everyone accepted my black and white hard copy of the visa without any problems.

Beautiful and peaceful in northern Cameroon

Endless green hills

I miss the tent

In the first town after the border, I look for a hotel. I have not seen any opportunities to wild camp, although I have been looking forward to it, after too many hotels in Nigeria. But there are people everywhere and the sun is setting, so I have to find a room.

I buy sim cards from some young men who have a wooden bench under a yellow parasol that says MTN. The local telecommunications office. I strike up a conversation with a young man who wants to show me where he thinks I should live. I follow him through the village, where many people pass me comments that I don't understand. My new friend turns to me and says, “People like you. They say they love you!”. Still, I have a strange feeling in my body as he takes me to the edge of town, to a motel-like place next to a large bar. Here is not is eye. He assures me it's a good place, but can't find the owner and asks me to wait while he goes out to look for him. Then I stand there and bloom. After 10 minutes I decide to cycle back into town and look for another place.

I find a small guest house that is recommended on iOverlander. We get the bike towed inside and a lady begins to do the necessary cleaning. There is no electricity, no water. I need a bath. In the room there is a tray with some dry bread. I point to it and ask if she takes it out with her after she has washed the floor? She replies: "It's for you". I don't know how long it's been there, but I know I shouldn't ask for anything.

I ask several times for the price, but they keep talking about it. The city's curious kids have joined in and tinker with the bike a bit, while sweetly asking about everything. But I'm getting tired and need a bath and rest. I say I want to know what the price is and finally I get an answer which is far above what I have read in the recommendations. And far above the standard on site. Normally you can negotiate, but when I propose half, I am sent across the road to discuss with a man sitting comfortably planted in a red plastic chair. I introduce myself and explain my errand, but he is not one to cut or poke. It probably also develops a bit into a cockfight, because I think he is too arrogant. When I say what I want to pay, "take it or leave it", he says: "But it's not my place at all, so I can't negotiate, I can only tell you what the price is!". Cool. Thanks for wasting my time. I get my bike out of the room.

My friend from earlier has found me again and tells me to come back to the first place. He has found the owner. And sure enough, there is now a long-haired freak who has opened to a few rooms I can see. I'm pretty sure people don't rent them for a whole night, but only for a few hours. The room is the most miserable I have seen so far. And I've seen a lot. In the room there is a bed. That is it. Nothing else. In the bathroom there is a toilet. That is it. Nothing else. There is no door between the room and the toilet. The price is DKK 35. The cheapest I have seen so far. I ask if the rooms in the other wing are better, can I see them? My friend replies: “These are the VIP rooms. You don't want to see the others!”. I ignore the cockroach under the bed and take the room for a night. The owner fetches half a bucket of water, which I can use to wash myself in and to flush the toilet during the stay.

I lie down on the bed and dream of a bit of luxury in the main town of Foumban, in a few days.

DKK 35 for a hotel room - then you can't ask for much

Cycling company

When I get to Foumban I find Ward and Theo in a hotel. I check into a room which is far worse than I had hoped for. But I can open the door to a balcony and get some fresh air in to replace the sick musty air in the room. Along with the fresh air, however, also come mosquitoes. You have to prioritize hard. The dream of a little luxury is postponed indefinitely.

Ward and I go out and find a patisserie with reasonable coffee and cake. I will be absolutely delighted when Ward orders cake again the second time. Finally someone to share my insatiable cycling hunger with. The conversation goes easily and Theo approaches. The political situation is turning and turning and I am completely happy to once again have someone to share thoughts and experiences with. I am confirmed in the fact that when you choose the bicycle as a form of travel, you do so to get closer to the countries and the people you travel among - and that it gives food for thought and reflection. Theo and Ward are in any case deeply engaged and interested in politics and society in West Africa. We don't agree on everything, but we discuss passionately.

Ward and Theo have been cycling together through Nigeria, but time has come to split up. Although Ward wants to experience much more of Cameroon, he asks if we should be accompanied to Yaounde so he can get the things Marie has brought. It's great to have company again on the bike and even if some of our discussions develop heatedly, with different attitudes, we find each other again and get along well together.

The first night it is again difficult to wild camp and we end up in a motel so that we can also have a shower. The rooms are cheap and we ask to see the selection before paying. The room that the hotel manager had set out for us has a sloppy one-and-a-half-person bed. I must withdraw. I think it's just early enough to lie around sweating in a spoon with Ward. The lady also has two smaller rooms. There are cobwebs all over and the toilet hasn't been flushed since the last resident's bad stomach. The bed has a foam rubber mattress without the sheet and the spiders are crawling everywhere. I don't think I'm sensitive myself, but it's too much. The hygiene is completely abysmal and I am genuinely afraid of getting sick if I have to sleep there.

Instead, the lady reluctantly agrees to us pitching our tents on the terrace facing the road. We each get a bucket of water so we can wash ourselves in the parking lot in front of the motel.

Camping at motel Grace Land

We managed to have good evenings with wildcamp later

Ward on his touring bike

Ward and I ride well together. He fires it. Almost sprints on good stretches. Bulls his heavy bike up the hills while standing on the pedals. But often needs a break and food. In that way, we fit well together.

My bike is squeaking more and more. My crank set is completely worn out and I can't tighten it anymore, so I have to be careful to make perfect round threads so that the whole thing doesn't clank and clank. Although there is a short for Yaounde and Marie's rescue package of new spare parts and new clothes, I am getting more and more nervous about whether I will get there before it all falls apart.

At one point, Ward asks me: "Would you actually be familiar with cycling in that T-shirt at home in Denmark?". I mutter a half-hearted explanation that I don't have the opportunity to buy merino wool T-shirts in Africa. And that I don't want to buy things that I will soon throw away. But deep down I feel really guilty. People here have so little, but they are always dressed nicely and presentably. And here I come, who is relatively rich, but looks like a lazeron. I know I can't be familiar. But just a few more days and Marie will come and save me.

The hair needs a pair of scissors and the T-shirt is ready for the bin

Nothing to be proud of, but the large holes in the T-shirt gave burns from the sun

Corruption or Chaos

Ward has a thing for rivers and bridges. We therefore stop to take a picture on a bridge. Everything is good. Until we get back on the bike and put our foot on the pedal. Then two military men come out of the blue and stop us. They tell us not to take pictures because we are close to a military complex. We look around and can't see anything. They point. We narrow our eyes. In the distance is a small building which is supposed to be a military facility. They say a drone patrols the area every half hour and has seen us taking photos. They are threatening to call our embassy. It's all a bit screwed up. I don't know French, so I mostly stand and watch the scene between Ward, who insists that there is no photography prohibited sign, and the two military men who talk about all the problems we've gotten ourselves into. In a special way, it's one man quite friendly, while the other puffs up a bit.

It ends up that they want us to go to their office and show our passports.

We go back over the bridge and they place us on two plastic chairs in front of a building by the road where we can see their beds through the window. It's not an office, but a barracks. They are going hard with fire and fire. They will summon a military truck to take us to Yaounde, where we will be arrested until a solution is found. Ward explains himself again and again.

After half an hour they call their boss. At the same time, we have been joined by a guy who knows English, who helps me translate a little. When the boss comes, he is vinegary. They are scolded with evil eyes. For some odd reason, it doesn't affect me that much. There is something strange about the whole situation. Something that doesn't fit together. It's all a bit over the top. After a long discussion, the boss says: "You can be taken to Yaounde and put in prison, or we can fix it here and now!". Aaaahhhhh – first the ten falls. They just want money. We should have smelled that a long time ago. All the threats are fake. They don't have a stick on us. It's all a scam.

When Ward translates their money demands to me, he says himself: “That's something I never want to do. I am ready to camp here for five days, but I will not pay corruption!”.

I say to our friend who is translating: “Now I can understand that it is no longer a matter of national security, but of simple corruption. So I guess we are free to go?!”. Ward told me afterwards that our friend translated what I said and with a smile on his face he himself added: “You've got the wrong ones. These two will never pay”.

The boss got really mad and gave me really bad looks, but they had lost the battle. After an hour in their company we jumped back on the bikes and rolled triumphantly across the bridge.

Later we found out that other cyclists have been stopped in exactly the same place, with exactly the same scam.

20,000km from the North Cape on the bike

Reunited in Yaounde

At Yaounde airport, the joy of seeing each other was great. Marie arrived as planned by plane and all her luggage and the bicycle also arrived.

The next days were spent catching up on each other's experiences while we ate good food.

I had become quite thin from the lack of nutrition in northern Cameroon, but we found a good Lebanese restaurant next to the hotel. We ended up eating there every day and got through the whole menu.

A whole day was spent changing spare parts on the bike and generally servicing and inspecting, lubricating and polishing everything. A few days ago I rounded 20,000km on the counter, since Nordkap. You can see it on the bike and it felt really good to have everything taken apart and smeared in grease and love. Sand was brushed out of all the nooks and crannies and in the end the bike stood sparkling clean and ready for the next 10,000km through Africa.

After a few days of much-needed rest, we were ready for new adventures.

We have rounded the innermost corner of Africa and thus replaced West Africa with Central Africa. Therefore, the compass direction is now south again, instead of east.

However, we first wanted to head over to the Central African Republic, where the world's second largest rainforest is located in the Congo Basin.

But that's how it always is with us. There are many detours along the way.

Everything on the bike was fine-tuned again

0km vs 13,000km

Sex isn't it

The shorts couldn't hold together anymore either

Then spare parts have been replaced

Nice to have a varied diet in Yaounde

Obtained by the hygiene

Even though the rest days in Yaounde were good, Kenneth still didn't quite make it to the top. Something teases in the body. Fatigue lurks. So when we got to Bertoua after a few days of cycling in the big forests, we stopped by the hospital for the by now somewhat routine blood test. And this time there was a full plate. In addition to malaria, Kenneth also tested positive for typhus. A disease that is very common here. That meant another few days of rest, as Kenneth had to go to hospital and have injections three days in a row. The poor food and hygiene in Cameroon had a price anyway.

It is a daily battle, choosing between not getting enough to eat, or taking the chance with hygiene and eating the food we can get in the small street kitchens. In general, Marie is probably a little better at looking after - and Kenneth is a little hungrier.

Back in proper element

Towards new adventures in the jungle

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