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Gabon: hello, wet season!

The wet season. My least favourite of all the seasons. Especially when you live in a tent.

We met the wet season almost straight away after crossing the border from Cameroon to Gabon. After scarcely a day of rain between the Western Sahara and Cameroon, suddenly we were hit with it every single day, from afternoon through until breakfast the next day.

Our tents were saturated. Our clothes were saturated. We were saturated. It’s a testament to the awesome group of people on the trans that the only thing not dampened was our spirit.

Lunch stops quickly became the only chance possibly to dry our clothes. We’d pull over on the side of the road and race to put up our tents in the midday sun. We’d cover every single bush, tree stump, and even the roof of the truck in wet clothes, and lay our damp sleep mats out on the ground. Often the dark clouds would roll in during lunch and it would then become a mad dash to pack everything away before it rained again.

 

The unlucky few on cook group would huddle under a tarp chopping vegetables, trying to keep the fire going as best they could. One poor group spent three whole hours just trying to boil potatoes one night!

Those of us who had become die hard sans-buggers would often go to sleep thinking it was a clear night, only to have to race onto the truck at some ungodly hour dragging our wet sleeping bags behind us. Some nights we’d actually set our sansbugs up on the truck and have a sleepover just to avoid having to set up another wet tent.

Gabon, when it wasn’t raining, was an incredibly fun country.

We drove through winding jungle roads, where the plants lining the road were coated in red dust kicked up by passing trucks.

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We whiled away a whole day (our one day of sun) by the world’s fanciest pool in Lope National Park. Dodgy overlanders that we are, we snuck our toiletries bag and towels down there with us to squeeze in a quick shower.

We even passed the equator for the first time! Next time will be on the way back up the east coast.

We had an absolute ball. A slightly wet, slightly rainy ball, but a ball all the same.

 

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All aboard the good ship Newsway

Not long after her health scare at Mile 6 we had to say a teary and indefinite farewell to Ishi so she could fly back to the UK for tests and treatment. We waved goodbye to Mama Squish at a bus terminal in Douala and promoted Steve to the role of TL. Steve Newsway, or Papa Smurf as we affectionately know him, is a bit of a legend in the overlanding world. An enigma if you will.

He’s old school. He’s been everywhere. And there isn’t an overland driver out there who hasn’t heard of the guy.

With Steve at the helm for the weeks that followed, and no Squish to ensure regular coffee/cold beer stops, things certainly ran a little differently on our big yellow truck.

Our first night without Ishi we set up camp for the night in a local football pitch. We woke up the next morning to find everyone’s thongs had been stolen from right outside our tent doors. As if to pour salt in our wounds, the thief had even stolen our beloved eski. It was always more a foot rest/card table than an eski, but it had a very important place in our truck!

Steve’s approach to food shopping reminded me a lot of Extreme Couponers. We began buying in bulk. Serious bulk. Instead of buying 20 bananas, we would buy an entire branch. Instead of buying enough onions for a few days, we would buy enough for a few weeks. At one point we were storing near on 20 butternut squash in every spare space available. On another occasion poor Susumu spent days shelling monkey nuts because Steve had bought kilos of the things.

Cook group became less of a, “What do we want to cook tonight?,” and more of an, “Oh dear God, what can we concoct out of our recent bulk buys?”

Lunch stops became synonymous with river washes – one of our favourite things. We would pull up each day, race down to the river to wash of the morning’s drive day dust, then come back and try to stomach whatever tinned meat surprise we were trying to use up that day. Believe it or not I have a newfound appreciation of paloney – fry it up crispy enough and you could almost pass it off as a bacon sandwich. Honest!

We had no idea how long we’d be without Ishi, but life certainly became a touch more eccentric during our weeks aboard the good ship Newsway.

Me and Papa Smurf

Me and Papa Smurf

 

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Beach time in Cameroon

The sands of Mile 6 Beach are volcanic, turning the beach from the golden hues that I’m most familiar with into a rich blackish brown. I was super excited to discover what a black sand beach looks like, but when we got there my inner beach snob got the better of me and I decided that it just looked dirty.

We spent 3 awesome nights at Mile 6, whiling away the time playing beach cricket, swimming, catching up on much overdue laundry, and just generally kicking back.

Photos of Mile 6 courtesy of the wonderful Helen

Photos of Mile 6 courtesy of the wonderful Helen

Beach cricket

Beach cricket

At night we would head down to the nearby bar for a cheeky sunset beer and a game of football. There was lady at the bar who, without explanation, was permanently stationed in front of the TV with a gun laid out on the bar top. Let’s just say that the guys never once argued when she decided she’d had enough of the football for the time being and changed the channel to a Spanish soap opera!

It was at Mile 6 that we realised Ishi, our usually larger-than-life TL, might not have fully recovered from her run in with typhoid in Ghana. Her body decided that it wanted to competely shut down on her for an afternoon and we had to rush to her hospital. Got to love African hospitals – they didn’t care so much about her recent typhoid diagnosis, decided she probably just had malaria, and sent her packing. TIA, right?

Just in case one lazy beach stop wasn’t enough, after Mile 6 Steve and Ishi surprised us with a detour to yet another sleepy beachside town named Kribi Beach. I was in heaven from the moment I stepped off the back of the truck. It was beautiful. In fact, I loved Kribi Beach so much that when a woman in the markets took a liking to me and offered her son’s hand in marriage, I said yes without so much as asking his name. Alas, the engagement didn’t really take off and I now have no legitimate excuse to move to Kribi.

Failed marriage aside we had a ball here, morning yoga on the beach, walks along the sand, intense jenga sessions in the bar. We even visited the local fish market so our resident sous chef, Susumu, could whip up a fresh caugh sushi feast for dinner one night! If we were 100% relaxed after Mile 6, we most certainly were after Kribi.

Perhaps one day I’ll come back here to climb Mount Cameroon myself, then spend a full month at Kribi, cocktail in one hand and a good book in the other. A girl can dream.

 

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Cameroon: French snobbery, the first lady of fashion, oh, and a really big mountain

Cameroon was supposed to be the ultimate in rainy, muddy, bog-worthy roads. The Trans crews of old would have spent days travelling mere kilometres. Unfortunately China is quickly whipping it’s way through Africa building super roads, so we had rather smooth sailing.

The big draw card here is Mount Cameroon, and we headed straight to the beautiful mountainside town of Buea (pronounced boo-ya!) as the base for the climb. For those of us who weren’t climbing, it meant we had three much needed nights to just chill out and regroup. For those who were climbing, they were up before sunrise to start the overnight hike. We made their breakfast, packed their lunch, and waved them off like proud and worried mums. For the next two days we would constantly wonder how they were, if they were having fun, and if they were okay. The fret alone was enough to put me off having children for years.

When they did come back to us the next afternoon they looked as though they’d spent the entire hike rolling around in a big vat of coal. You couldn’t see skin through all the dirt. They were tired, sore, and missing toe nails, but they couldn’t wipe the grins off their faces.

Cameroon celebrated the 50 year anniversary of their reunification while we were there, and the entire town of Buea was readying itself for a visit from the president himself. I’m a bit vague on the history, but Unification day is basically about British Cameroon’s unification with French Cameroon. A bit of a “one people, one nation, two languages” feel good kind of day. It’s a pretty big deal for the whole country. I couldn’t help but laugh though when I found out that the actual 50 year anniversary was 4 years prior. Apparently the president had been busy that year, so they postponed it.

Only in Africa, right?!

Cameroon is supposed to be bi-lingual, which had me bursting with excitement after so much hand gesturing and awkward language barrier moments in the other French colonies. Unfortunately the French contingent didn’t quite embrace the whole unification theme and stared blankly at me whenever I tried to speak English. Then stared blankly again when I tried my hand at French. Sigh. Got to love a bit of good old fashioned French snobbery.

Cameroon itself was a beautiful country of lush green forests, untouched beaches, and friendly local markets. But I think looking back, the thing I loved the most was the first lady’s hair. In fact, with her Fran Fine meets Dolly Parton look, Chantelle Biya might actually be my new style icon. Her fabulous hair adorned just about every street sign in Buea. For those of you know my love of big hair, you won’t be surprised by my fascination.

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Our time in Buea was as relaxing as it could be, at least for those of us who weren’t climbing the mountain. But there’s a whole other side to Cameroon along the coastline, so we said goodbye to our little mountain hideaway and headed to the beach for even more relaxation time.

Hang in there – beach side adventures to come when I can next score decent wifi!

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Nigeria: Afi Mountain Drill Ranch

Poaching is a serious problem throughout Africa, and Nigeria is no different. Throw in a morally bankrupt government, locals desperate to put food on the table, and little to no education, and what chance can nature possibly have?

The Afi Drill Ranch is tucked away in the mountains of the Cross River State, surrounded by lush green jungle, the likes of which you scarcely see travelling through Nigeria. It provides a sanctuary for native Drill and chimpanzee, with the long term goal of releasing drill back into the wild. Despite being the world’s best protected area for drills, our guide told us they could still hear the gun shots of poachers from their beds most nights.

We spent most of the drive to the ranch on the floor of the truck, avoiding incoming branches and swatting unwelcome spiders off our shoulders. Safe to say the road was not built for over landing trucks! In fact, the last 7km of road are so bad that the truck couldn’t make it at all and we had to spend the night camped in someone’s front yard. Little did we know we’d crashed a funeral party and so camped with about 100 drunken locals partying in amongst our tents (Funerals in Africa are not quite the somber occasions that we’re familiar with back home).

We set off at the crack of dawn on the 7km trek up to the sanctuary and were greeted with an unbelievably warm welcome. I get the impression that Afi Drill Ranch isn’t smack bang in the middle of the tourist trail, and they were thankful to be able to share what they do and why they need our support.

The walk to the sanctuary

The walk to the sanctuary

Our tour started with the drills. They’re startling creatures, with mask-like faces and party-like butts. The drills were being fed while we were there and it was fascinating to watch the power plays and fights that go on over a bunch of oranges.

After visiting the drills, we moved on to the chimps. I hadn’t done the chimp trek in Guinea, so this was my first time coming face-to-face with them. All I can say is wow! They are massive, beautiful, strong and intimidating, all at the same time. I could have sat watching them for hours. I might have done just that if one of them hadn’t taken to throwing coconuts and logs at me through the fence (coconuts hurt!).

We finished the day visiting the canopy walk. A massive corner of Afi’s property was washed away during landslides in recent years and they are still trying to rebuild. A huge Drill enclosure, and most of the canopy walk was ruined. It was sad to see.

The volunteers we spoke to at the sanctuary were fiercely passionate about their work but it’s a long, hard, and expensive road. The disheartening part is that with each passing night, more and more primates are killed just so that someone can enjoy bush meat for dinner.

It’s a tough fight with a lot of road blocks, but Afi are working their butts off to change things and it’s a cause that they left me believing in wholeheartedly also.

If you get a chance, look up their website: http://www.pandrillus.org/projects/afi-mountain-wildlife-sanctuary/

And if you’re ever in Nigeria, take a little detour and pay the sanctuary a visit. There are few places in the the country more deserving of your tourist dollars, and few places more beautiful to while away a few days.