April 22nd: We drove from Calabar to the border today. The border crossing was essentially a bridge, when on the one side
you are in Nigeria, once on the other side you have entered Cameroon. While still on the Nigerian side we saw a "head
platter vendor" selling plantain chips, which at first we didn't consider buying. But once on the Cameroonian side, while
dealing with customs, the chips lady followed us across. At this point we couldn't help ourselves anymore and brought 9
packets at 900 Naira, in Cameroon where the currency is CFA. Hows that for foreign exchange/trade, the customs officials
even told us off for buying Nigerian produce because it "wasn't as good" as the local stuff. The border crossing was quite
simple, just with the extra "crew" it took a bit longer than originally anticipated. Anyway, once across the crossing we slowly
began to realise the magnitude of the task ahead of us. The roads were dirt roads, but not just dirt, with the rain they had
become an obstacle course of mud troughs, deviations and hill climbs through the bush. Eventually after a heavy days travel,
and with storm clouds building on the horizon, we began to search for a suitable bush camp. We finally found one, which
wasn't ideal and had a big bog in the centre, but it would do. We quickly set up camp, collected wood for a fire and I began
chopping vegetables for the poetjie. Sometime during the fire making process we realised that it was going to be a trying
affair to get a decent enough fire going to cook on, so we chucked the fire idea. Fortunately the dutchman Kees' van has an
external gas cooker that works just brilliantly. The Poetjie this evening was a real winner.
april 23rd: We packed up early and made a move. I decided the action would be best recorded from the top of the car, so
I took up position and strapped myself in for an eventful drive. The top of the car was actually the best place to be, it was less
muggy, and the monstrous black flies that constantly harass you when riding inside had a hard time getting at me. The ride
was going well until we reached what appeared to be a fairly inconspicous bridge. The view was beautiful so everybody
jumped out of their vehicles and began taking photos and camera footage. We were on the bridge for about ten minutes without fault. Then, as soon as we crossed and took the first corner, there waiting for us is a bleeding road block, with a fat, obnoxious looking official and his ankle biting minions. They had seen us taking footage and insisted that we give them our cameras. I replaced the video tape with a blank and quickly hid the camera. When we refused to hand over the cameras they then told us that we couldn't pass unless we gave them the memory cards and tapes. Everybody began to covertly replace their tapes and memory cards with blank ones. They managed to get hold of Patricks memory card and pocketed it, everybody else succesfully avoided relinquishing theirs. This caused the situation to depreciate somewhat, there was a lengthy debate, a bit of arguing and timid negotiation. Ben played the charity card, and finally, after we had traded four beers and a bag of basmati rice, we were given our memory card back and allowed to pass.
The drive didn't change, if anything it became a lot more treacherous. The dips became deeper, the mud softer, and
everything just generally less navigable, especially for the truck. This wasn't made more clear than at one point in the road.
When we arrived at it we had four options: the first on the left was blocked off by logs and trees and had a gutter on the side that was deep and muddy and clearly impassable; The centre path which was literally a massive three metre deep mud trench that had been filled in with tree branches; The right side road route which was deep mud, with a wall on one side and a deep mud gutter on the right, yet possibly our best option; And finally, there was a deviation route which went up the hill on the right, through the bush, and down on the other side of the road. The Nissan and the Land Rover took the third route and got through with relative ease. However, due to its weight and width, it didn't seem possible to go the same way in the truck. So we opted to take it on the deviation route. Once we had cleared the path as best we could Kees made the attempt. It was an abysmal failure, The angle was too acute for the truck to make the turn, and the gradient was to steep for it to climb, and with heavy hearts we watched as it lurched to a halt just before the hills apex. This failure meant that the route the other vehicles had taken was to be our only option. So, Kees psyched himself up, said a silent prayer, blasted some dutch music on his sound system, and took a leap of faith. The leap of faith ended abruptly, and it ended dirty, and it ended everything, literally. Ok, no, sorry, it started a few things: It started a day of digging and sweat, it prompted fatigue and dehydration, it birthed cursing and anguish, and inevitably culminated in a lot of dirty people and clothes.
We arrived at the "mud trap" at approximately 10am, got stuck, dug and tugged, moved an inch,got stuck, dug and tugged and pushed, moved another inch - nearly tipped the truck over, dug and tugged and pushed and pulled, moved truck another inch - it's now sitting at a 45 degree angle with just the hill alongside it holding it up, diesel is now pouring out the tank, unidentified water pouring out engine, more cursing and worry, dug and tugged and pushed and pulled and farted, cut down trees, moved branches, drove an inch - sunk deeper, van at 50 degree angle. More tugging, more digging, all I see is mud, everywhere mud, damn mud sucks off the sole of my boots! I curse and kick the truck, hurt foot, fix sole back on with duck tape - I begin to wish that duck tape really could fix everything. Hitched winch to a tree on the right, attempted to accelerate up the hill with aid of the winch then back down and out - it sounded like a good idea at the time... It wasn't, we went straighter and deeper into the mud gutter. Attempted to dig the gutter away completely for three metres, clearing enough space to gain momentum and plow through the last ten metres - it sounded like a good idea at the time... It wasn't, we got 1 metre and sunk even deeper ( I know! How bloody deep can mud be for Petes sake!) Hitched the winch to a tree on the opposite side of the road and tried to drag it out, accelerated to soon and too quickly, dug into mud some more. Finally, we gave in to the inevitable, dig up the whole road! The whole bloody thing!!! So, with the aid of a pink tank topped, painted toe-nailed, gay local, we dug up the road flattening it from the gutter where the truck was trapped to dry land at the road centre. we then winched the truck to another tree (that was nearly ripped out) and finally managed to draaaag it out. It was after 5pm.
We thanked and paid our effeminate aid for his services and he informed us that our best bet would be to head to the next village ten kilometres down the road. So after a quick vehicle assessment (fortunately nothing was wrong besides some ripped off mud guards and linings), we hurriedly made tracks. We drove into the village as the sun was setting and the head guard/customs official said it would be fine for us to stay, and arranged for us to camp on their soccer field, all we needed to do was make a donation to the village. Then, noticing the state we were all in, he led us to what I can only imagine is their bathing/clothes washing pool. The water in the lagoon/pool/bog was stagnant, there wasn't an ounce of movement and I, despite my desperate need to cool down and get clean, didn't go in any deeper than my ankles, and even then I was stressing because the bite on my leg had spread over a good portion of my calf. All I could think was, "on top of everything else, here comes bulharzia, great!". Anyway, somewhat cleaner, we returned to the campsite where we celebrated with some beers and mingled with the locals.
24th April: Day 3 of the great Cameroonian expedition and I believe that at daybreak we'd travelled a sum total of 30 kms!
bloody amazing that! We got going really early in the hopes of leaving this deathtrap of a road. Half an hour down the road
we hit what has to be termed "the abysmal dip of neverending woe and unhappiness", fortunately just not for us. What had happened is that over the past two days, within the 200 metre stretch that is the death dip of sadness, no less than 3 big rigs carrying plywood, 5 all terrain vehicles, 6 bakkies (ok fine-pickups...ingrates), and 1 or 2 regular cars had become completely and utterly stuck. Apparently every vehicle driver and most of the men from the nearby village had pitched in, creating a roadworks force to be reckoned with, and had dug up the entire section of road. Over the past three days, approximately 50 men dug and toiled, removed tons of rock and mud, and resurfaced the road to a point where it would be capable of navigation, not easily navigable, but just slightly better than impassable. So, with the gods good graces, and our previous days suffering, we happened upon all of this in the two hours before its finalization. All the work had been done for us and we just had to sit out the two hours, and watch as the vehicles came gradually trickling through.
Once through the dip, and after issuing some locals with cheap, charity sunglasses we were on our way again. An hour down the road we came across a large bridge with a beautiful river flowing beneath it. With everybody still feeling inadequately cleansed, the temptation was just too great. We came to an immediate halt, and like an unkempt, unwashed mob we stampeded to the water. I swear, if I had the capacity for high pitched singing, or pre-pubescent gonads for that matter, I would have broken out in song, something along the lines of "The hills are alive with music" or "You're beautiful" by James Blunt, but I can't, and don't, so I didn't.
Moving on, two hours down the road, and all of a sudden, unexpected and out of nowhere, TAR! A ROAD! Heaven for wheels, guts and gonads alike. For the first time in three days we were actually able to make some distance. We drove to the first town and stopped for lunch. Here is where I attained my much sought vermin revenge. I ate grass cutter stew!!! MWAHAHAHA!! (evil laugh) Doesn't matter how weird it tasted, it doesn't matter that I knew I was eating vermin, Even the funky aftertaste for the rest of the afternoon didn't matter!! I ate it, and I bloody well loved it!!!
We made as much ground as possible thereafter, eventually stopping in Kumba, where we found the Azi motel. On arrival there the manager was exceptionally generous and helpful. He insisted that there was no way he could charge us for camping, so we made a deal that we would pay for a room for the facilities, and we'd also eat at the restaurant and drink very well at the bar - and we did, very well. The food in the restaurant was superb (gotta do some PR).
25th April: Drove to Limbe today. It's situated at the coast, very near the base of Mount Cameroon - which, thanks to Ben, we
intend to climb tomorrow. Once in Limbe we had to have photocopies of our passports legitimised at the police station. Once
that was completed we spent the rest of the day at the Miramar hotel. It is a beautiful place, and really well positioned on the
beachfront. You can lounge by the pool and look out over the ocean to the mountain on the island of Equatorial Guinea.
Unfortunately we did have to leave at some point in order to embark on our mountain climbing expedition. So when the time
came, we said goodbye to the manager and told him we'd be back on Sunday if the price is negotiable.
The drive to Mount Cameroon was a short and simple one. Once there we had to register at the Eco-tourism office, as well
as pay for the hike, the guides and the porters. The total cost for the climb was 22000Cfa per person. Once everything was
organised we were still in need of accomodation. Eco-tourism is affiliated with a really crummy, overpriced, local guesthouse,
and insisted we go there. We did, and weren't too impressed. Pat was adamant that we would be better off staying at the
Presbyterian mission, so the party split up. Our group went to the mission while the rest remained at guesthouse crummation.
The Presbyterian was honestly the best choice, it was cheap, the facilities were good and we were allowed the use of their
26th April: Today saw the beginning of the allmighty Mount Cameroon mountain climb. We were up and at the eco - tourism
office by 6am. We got properly packed and organised and our guides and porters were introduced to us. Then it was time,
time to climb, and climb we did. It had begun to rain in the evening, and as of yet it hadn't let up, we could all look forward to
a wet two days, which I guess is just ever so slightly better than hiking in the sun and heat. The walk was slow and torturous
going. We began walking past some farmland, the landscape changed rapidly as we continued to rise, before I knew it we
were in a forested area. The forest was relatively simple, and I was beginning to lull myself into a false sense of security by
thinking that if the whole 4000 metres was like this it would be a breeze. We had two rest breaks before reaching the first
rest hut at around lunch time. We were soaked and the temperature was beginning to drop quite rapidly now. It was at this
crucial moment that the porters decided to drag their feet. They duly informed us that they hadn't been provided with raincoats
and that we wouldn't be continuing until the rain had stopped! What the bloody hell did they expect! it's the bloody rainy season
for f*@k sakes! You would have thought that, being locals, they would have had an iota of a brain cell between them damnit.
Anyway, we sat and waited, froze and sat some more. After about two hours of getting progressively colder (Sarah was
turning blue) people began getting just a little agitated. We turned on the guides and informed them that we were paying them
a bloody fortune to climb this mountain in two days and that, if we didn't get moving, there would be absolutely no way in hell
we'd be able to accomplish the task within the allotted time. What really got them moving was the threat of us being refunded,
Immediately we were up and off again.
The next stretch was quick to beat the false sense of security out of me. It became increasingly difficult and the gradient just kept on getting steeper. I pushed on as hard as I could and made it to the next rest stop in decent time. We stopped for twenty minutes, regained some energy, re-hydrated, got some food in (peanuts and bananas being the only things we'd brought) and then we were climbing again, literally, we were climbing. If I'd thought the previous stretch had been difficult, it now seemed like a walk in the park in comparison, It had become a living nightmare. The trek was rock and mud, and so steep at points that we had no choice but to climb on all fours. By this point the group divisions were becoming clearer. Ben, who'd conceived this stupid mess of an idea, was in the head group along with the guide, Amon and Breanna. I was in the middle group with Kees, Savannah and Pat (who dropped back at some point to help the stragglers). The stragglers were Sarah, Alex, Kerry, Brandon and Maggi.
Towards the end of the days haul I could barely put on foot in front of the other, my right leg was aching and my feet felt like lead weights. My breathing was becoming laboured and I was dizzy and dehydrated. The only thing that took my mind off the pain was to tell Savannah the most tragically bad and lengthy joke I'd ever heard about three different coloured brothers and their brick throwing contest. Finally looking like a re-animated corpse, I reached rest camp two and instantly fell into my sleeping bag and passed out. Our sleeping quarters consisted of a raised wooden platform inside a rickety plywood hut which we all had to share. Despite Ben's snoring right next to my ear I slept like the dead.
27th April: We woke at 4am and continued the climb in the dark. Our starting altitude was 2800 metres, we still had just over
1200 to go to reach the summit. 100 metres from the camp all the girls except Breanna (I'm really starting to believe that she's a bit of a freak of nature) dropped out and headed back. We pushed on, it was still raining and freezing cold. I began to lose the feeling in my extremities, rings were forming around my eyes and my mouth and nose had turned blue. My legs were really struggling and the climb was brinking on excrutiatingly uncomfortable. It wasn't quite as steep as the last stretch of the previous day, but no less gruelling considering the facts: that it was dark, freezing and we were reaching much higher altitudes - it's possible to be affected by altitude sickness at 3000 metres. We climbed and climbed, pushing ourselves as hard as we could, in order to break out above the clouds that were closing in around us and threatening to freeze us even further. I was just managing to keep up with the lead group when, just as the day was beginning to lighten (around 7am and at a height of 3200 metres), we broke out above the clouds, and I saw the sun rising.
Even if the summit has nothing to offer, even if the only thing I gain from this experience is the pain and opportunity to say I've done it, despite all these things I can honestly say, that this moment was worth every belaboured step. It was something I'll remember for the rest of my life. The view was something that couldn't be recaptured by film or done justice through impotent words. It was a vision from the most vivid of dreams, a dream I've never had or could ever hope to comprehend. The clouds looked so real, so solid and soft, if I'd had the strength I might have taken the step just to see if they could hold my weight. The sky was awash in a kaleidoskope of colour that left me breathless and wishing I could soak it up instead of trying to commit it to the faulty camera of my mind. The air was crisp and clear and the clouds so white. For five minutes I forgot myself and my pains as the morning sky bathed me in hues of red, blue, orange, purple, pink and green.
Then, as suddenly as it had begun, it was ended as more clouds encapsulated us. And we were climbing again. Onward and upward, over and around. Nearing 4000 metres and everybodies breathing was becoming laboured.The landscape around us was changing visibly into something more of what one would expect of an active volcano. First, at approximately 3800 metres the slope began to ease off and "flatten", making the walk as easy as lets say, climbing the Eiffel tower via the stairs. All around us there were hardened volcanic boulders that were similar in appearance to well fortified turds. Then, as we began to think that things were getting easier we hit the rock fields. The whole area was just layered in magma rock, any pathways we found had obviously been created by the lava flow so many years before, and they had filled up with extremely gravelly, yet soft, crushed magma rock and dust. These were to be our pathways the rest of the way to the summit, and it was gruelling. it was a repeat of the dune climb in the Sahara, just with an extra day of absolute torture mounded on top. It was a slap in the face, if I'd been given a choice of doing this, or strapping a chronically obese, sweaty, incontinent man to my back and running the comrades, I'd be hard pressed to make the choice. Every footstep was an earth shattering event, every new breath was an accomplishment, the precipitation on our jackets had begun to freeze as quickly as it collected. We were beyond caring about the other climbers, there was you, your bleeding feet, and the demon that is the mountain. We pushed ourselves to levels beyond mere physical endurance, we were passed feeling the pain and the cold, we became something other than human for those last two hours, we were seekers of the end, of an accomplishment that was inevitable and foreseeable. If any one of us was to give up now, just sit down and rest, stop, then we'd fail, and with that failure would came a lifetime lived where we'd never be able to forgive ourselves (and there was no chance in hell we'd attempt this s*"t again!). Then, hanging onto consciousness (and even sanity a bit) we heard a cry from out of the mist. We couldn't see anything, but we knew that at some point Ben, Breanna and the guide had broken ahead. Then we heard it again, a shout, a victorious cry, elation. Suddenly energised by the prospect of the end we were awakened from our stupours, our feet moved quicker of their own accord, pain and fatigue was side-lined, for a moment each one of us was his own Samson. And then we were at the top. It was 10am, we could see nothing, it was freezing, and we were above and beyond being tired, but we were also filled with elation, a sense of achievement I've felt very few times before. And just as I was preparing to head down again, the clouds abated, for just a moment, just long enough to see the world, to feel the heat of the sun running through my veins, to comprehend just how small I really am.
The walk down was supposed to be easy, after everything already done it was meant to be the next best thing to a walk in the park. Well, it broke me. The pressure on my right leg was becoming unbearable, I hadn't even registered just how steep the climb had been until the descent. It was a whole new punishment, both physically and mentally. By the time we reached rest stop 2 (our camp) I could feel that my toenails were being ripped out, but I didn't care, I wanted off and out of this hell. I pushed on, the forest was my first target, I had to get there before I even thought of resting. At the steep section just before the forest my leg gave in, I fell, I rolled, I hit rock and I landed hard on a pile of rubble 3 metres down... I didn't care, I think I may have even laughed a bit manically (obviously after some swearing), I got up, brushed myself off, shouted to Pat that I was fine and stumbled on. Before I knew it I was in the forest, and pushing so hard that the lead group was actually running to get away from me and the hysteric look in my eyes. I was a moving stream of curses and profanity. I can even pinpoint the moment when I felt my big toenail rip out of the socket. It was just as I was climbing over a tree trunk that had fallen over the pathway, and it was an absolute blessing, with the toenail out it no longer hurt as much as it did when the shoes were trying to force it off. Finally I reached rest stop 1. I took ten minutes to recuperate, I loosened my shoe laces but didn't dare check the damage, and then we were off again. For a good portion of the forest walk I was actually at a run, but I couldn't maintain the pace and slowed up towards the end. Then, suddenly I was out, and we were at the bottom, and I was lying on the tar road as a cattle herder herded his animals around me. It was over, I was done, it was the best feeling ever. I checked my toe, the nail had indeed been ripped out and the toe was yellow and pussy, I didn't care, it was done. We had left at 4am that morning to reach the summit, when I reached the bottom and collapsed it was 3pm. We had walked solidly for over 11 hours...
As we drove away, and the mountain became smaller in our rearview mirrors, I vowed never to visit it again - unless it was to see it explode. We returned to the Miramar hotel for some rest and recovery.
28th April: We moved at a relatively relaxed pace today. I believe everybody is still recovering from the climb, I know I am, I also think I ate something dodgy last night because things aren't exactly peachy (or maybe a bit too much so) in the digestion category this morning. We are heading for Yaounde today where we'll be organising most of the remaining onward travelling visa's, particularly Gabon, Congo and DRC. Our aim was to be in the city by 2pm at the latest in the hopes that we could fast track the application process and get at least one visa completed. We arrived at midday and headed straight for the embassy's. We had heard that there was a possibility that Gabon would complete them on the same day, so they were our first port of call. Things started going downhill immediately, they would have to take two days to complete them. Not wanting to waste that much time we decided to quickly check in with the Congolese embassy. Once there we were pleasantly surprised, the officials were exceptionally friendly and helpful (I think the fact that Ben was flirting with her aided matters somewhat). She informed us that if we gave her our documents then and there, as well as the cash, then she would try her best to have the process completed by before 3pm. This was just brilliant, if we could have this application completed today before 3pm then we may just be able to sneak in one of the other embassy's. So we completed the necessary paperwork, Ben took the officials phone number (she was more than pleased to give it to him), and we were off to collect the paperwork for the Gabon and DRC embassy's. Everything in check, we went to find our accomodation which was going to be the Foyer International Presbyterian mission. We had a bit of difficulty finding it, but with a bit of local aid we arrived to find that Kees had beaten us there, and in the process had also broken down their little wooden bridge/ramp with his truck. It was a quick fix, then came the price negotiations, they took a bit longer to fix. Kees was on the case though, and he has a knack for getting us good deals, so after about three hours of fluctuating number exchanges we came to an agreement, it would cost 1500 Cfa per person per night. satisfied we settled in and waited out the next few anxious hours, each of us hoping the visa application would be successful - this is Africa after all. At 2pm we sped to the Embassy... The visa's were done! Yes! we raced to the Gabonese embassy, and, guess what! for an extra 10 000 Cfa per person they can rush the visa process and have them ready by tomorrow morning! Bonus, lady luck really is smiling on us right now.