From Buean we drove to Doula, the largest city
in Cameroon and the commercial capital. There we found a massive Michelin
depot which meant that we could pick up a new tyre to replace a severely
shredded victim of the Aïr Mountains - three of our tyres have slow leaks
and the spare is a mess as the last tyre shop couldn't get the tyre back on
the bead properly.
We were getting our eleven various punctures
repaired and fitting the new tyre which we had finally managed to track down
when a Land Cruiser arrived for a grease stop, and we got chatting to the
driver, a Frenchman who worked for Cameroon Veneer.
He told us that the Westerly South route
through Gabon was difficult - the ferry was not working, the roads were bad,
there be dragons, and that we really ought to go East to Moloundou, a small
town in the South East corner of Cameroon, from where we could cross the
river and connect with a good road that the Michelin map shows as turning
into tarmac after 150km - he had just come back this way, or so he claimed.
I talked about the route with a few other
locals in Youndé who confirmed the existence of the ferry crossing, which is
not on the map, and so we decided to leave the well trodden path and head
into the bush.
The piste was variable - fast but with some
big holes. We spent the first night out of Youndé at Batouri, cursing the
workmanship of the garage in Youndé where they had replaced the radial arm
bushes, but left one of the arms flapping about like a wet kipper, as well
as 'repairing' the drivers door which now no longer opened at all.
We arrived at Moloundou after dark the next
day with a broken rear right spring, and no chance of repairs. Fortunately
there are two nested springs, and the smaller of the two seems to be taking
the strain well.
The following morning as I was trying to get
my breakfast organised a short fat bloke said I should come to his office
(pointing up a dirt track). I wasn't in the best of moods, having just
changed yet another tyre, and I asked him who he worked for. He wouldn't
tell me, and as he wasn't in uniform I asked to see some ID, which of course
he couldn't produce. Nine times out of ten this would have been a
run-of-the-mill encounter with some idle hustler, but in this case the guy
was for real - he was the equivalent of their secret police chief, and in a
quiet place like Moloundou he obviously has nothing better to do than harass
tourists. So our morning was spent wasting time while our documents got
thoroughly scrutinised, followed by a lecture on respecting officials even
if they are not in uniform and can't show any ID.
Eventually we left for Socombo, a town some
160km East, having found that there was no ferry at Moloundou. It began to
rain pretty shortly after we set out - which made for interesting driving.
At one point we were sliding about on a surface more slippery as ice -
Richard, walking alongside, was able to push the car back on track with one
We spent the night at a charming place that
was in every way a frontier town, full of colourful people, most of whom
seemed to be on the run from Rwanda or Chad. After skilfully avoiding
requests for cash from every official in sight we crossed the river on a
corporate ferry which was free, for a repeat performance with the officials
on the Congolese side, where we found out that there was no road to
Mount Cameroon is about 4000m high, and the
most direct route takes a day and a half to complete, unless you are
competing in the Guinness Race in which case three hours is more acceptable.
The route starts wending its way from town
into the gardens of the local inhabitants, and then leads up woodland paths
via Hut 1 until you break out of the tree-line at about 2500m.
At this point our guide warns you that things
are about to get a little steeper - the next stage is up broken ground and
it is distinctly steep. We set a cracking pace, and by midday, five hours
into the ordeal, we reached Hut 2 where we had planned to spend the night.
It was a little early for us, but above hut 2 firewood is scarce, and an
added advantage was that we were joined by four Dutch and two Germans, as
well as a Cameroonian (apart from the many guides and porters with the other
groups). If there had been a bar the party would have gone on into the wee
hours, but instead we were tucked up early for the assault on the summit the
We set off as a group, and as the altitude
began to show its affects the line soon became a long straggly one. We all
met up again at Hut 3, the last before the summit, and after a quick bite we
pushed on through increasingly cold and windy weather to the cloud
enshrouded summit, which we reached a little before midday. That was the
The descent started off with a rapid run down
to Hut 3, and shortly afterwards the rains, and then hail, set in. By the
time we arrived at Hut 2 we were soaked to the skin (except for the bits
covered by my Gore-Tex jacket). We emptied our boots and had lunch in an
assortment of odd clothing while our climbing clothing was left to drip, and
for an hour or so we were treated to a great example of nature at play, as
torrents of rain swept past the hut.
Eventually we decided it was better to be wet
back at our hostel rather than half way up a mountain, so we set off once
more - and as we stepped out of the hut the rain more or less stopped!
If the ascent was fast I can tell you that
Jonah, our guide, set a cracking pace that stretched our poor ligaments to
the limits. Even with my Leki sticks which were out for the first time on
this trip the going was a nightmare on the knees. Jonah, with the legs of a
stick insect, does the trip three times a week, but we were really
suffering, and each time our turn with the big rucksack arrived we really
noticed the difference. Amazingly we walked more than we slid on our arses,
though at times it was close.
As the day began to fade into dusk we finally
arrived back at the very respectable Presbyterian Hostel where a lovely hot
bucket shower awaited.
As I write this two days later
in Youndé I am still walking like a geriatric, and Richard is no better, but
at least we can boast that we have conquered Africa's eighth highest
After Chad Cameroon is a real relief. Once
again officials treat us as a welcome asset to their economy, and people are
far more hospitable. We enter from the North which takes us through the
beautiful highlands with their dramatic volcanic plugs which soar from the
countryside like giant thingies - (sorry but I couldn't find an
appropriately poetic word there).
Our first stop is a small town by the Nigerian
border which is our base for some illegal currency and arms trading with our
neighbours just across the border. Creeping stealthily along just after dawn
(well OK, 11a.m.) we cross the border and stop at a farm where we meet
a hunter who has an old Nigerian bank not for sale. Richard snaps that up.
Next I ask to see his bow and arrows, and then the haggling starts in
earnest. Eventually I leave with a bow and three steel tipped arrows, and
the hunter is a few thousand CFA richer. I notice that the arrows are rather
dirty, and am about to scrape the crap of the blades when our guide
translated the timely warning from the hunter to beware the poisoned tips.
The road to Douala via N'Gaoundéré is slow and the weather is
distinctly tropical - rain by the bucket-full. After overnighting in the
forest we arrive at the Catholic mission in Foumban which is notable for
it's lack of both electricity and water - despite the fact that it is still
pissing down. Mostly I remember Foumban for the three witches at Restaurant
"La Roche" who, once they had our money, doubled all the prices despite the
printed menu. May their bad luck be exceeded only by their ugliness.
From Foumban it's tarmac down to Buean, an hour
north-west of Douala, where Richard and I had an appointment with Mount