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Crossing Cameroon's border

2006-06-27 09:31
DAYS 21 to 25: 15 - 19 June

SENGAL: Dakar - Kaolack - Tambacounda - Kidira MALI: Diboli - Kayes - Diema - Didiena - Kati - Bamako - Bamako - Segoué - San - Djenne - Mopti - Douentza - Timbuktu - Sévaré - Mopti - Dogon Country: Bandiagara - Sanga - Bankass BURKINA FASO: Ouagadougou - Kantchari NIGER: Niamey - Birni Nkonni NIGERIA: Kano - Bauchi - Yankari Game Reserve, Wikki Warm Springs - Maiduguri - Banki CAMEROON: Limani - Mora - Maroua - Garoua - Ngaoundere - Tibati - Banyo.

Our last night in Nigeria was spent at Maiduguri, a hot, sprawling and brawling place where we took ages to find a hotel (men on scooters offer to guide you through the chaos for a small fee, but ours kept NOT taking us to where we wanted to go).

In the end we settled for a room where the water from the bathroom next door seeped under the wall into ours. Not a place we'll rush back to.

The Nigeria-Cameroon border crossing was interesting though: it was right in the middle of a village, just a battered metal boom across a dusty track, and village life passing freely back and forth between the two countries.

Not us though, we had to stay firmly on the Nigerian side (persuading mango sellers to come over) for the hour and 10 minutes it took for our passports to be stamped.

Our first stop was Maroua, where we had a fascinating walk around the market (Day 23), reaching Garoua that evening, after a day the Fortuners and Cruisers spent swerving around some impressive potholes.

Before heading on to Ngaoundere we stopped off in a village called Pitoa, which was having its weekly Sunday market.

People from as far afield as Nigeria and Chad come here to buy and sell goats, cattle, traditional medicine, bicycles, enormous clay pots, plastic kettles, soap, spices - it was an overpowering mix of sounds, smells and bustle.

Day 24, while accompanied by some officials from the ministry of tourism, we had our first hint of possible danger along the roads here.

Habiba, who was travelling in our car, became very agitated when we had a quick pee break on the side of the road. We were travelling through the Bénoué National Park, but surely wild animals were a remote danger?

Then she explained about the coupeurs de route, highway robbers who have a particular soft spot for 4x4s. And our convoy of brand new Toyota Fortuners and Land Cruisers, decked out with full expedition and camping gear, would probably be like winning the lottery.

We got back in the car.

At a village called Wack a large gendarme with an AK47 climbed into the car, and we followed another soldier in a bakkie as they escorted us for an hour-long steep climb up a mountain pass.

This was perfect territory for coupeurs de route, the major explained, as the cars get slowed down by trucks labouring up the pass, making it easy for the robbers to block the road, aim a gun at the driver and take your things.

"And if you don't, you?ll be dead in the road," he added comfortingly.

We made it to Ngaoundere intact, but there was more drama to follow the next morning, Day 25.

Just before Tibati we drove into a crowd of fairly angry men crowding around a peage, or toll. We threaded gingerly between the crowd and a line of trucks, with money ready to pay.

An angry chorus of shouts in French and wagging fingers made us rethink paying the toll, just as three trucks pulled in to block the road ahead of us entirely. Things weren't looking good.

It turned out they were all truck drivers protesting at having to pay a toll for dirt roads that were in incredibly bad shape.

Our cars, especially the Fortuners, make the shockingly potholed roads fairly easy, but crawling along in a huge truck must be a nightmare. We could see their point - but it was getting late, and the last thing we wanted was to be driving in the dark in bandit country (especially minus our major).

So a plan was hatched. Two local villagers jumped into the two Fortuners and took us off-road right through the village, then on a back track through the bush to bypass the toll altogether.

With villagers cheering us on, we crashed back on to the road some distance past the toll and sped on. That night we bushcamped on a soccer field in a tiny village, with the permission of the chief, in front of the school house - in the pouring rain.

Cameroon is entering the rainy season, creating beautifully threatening skies that offset the lush scenery we're now driving through. Everything's green and wet, with tall trees and dense bush right up to the side of the road. Perfect for hiding coupeurs de route, as we were to learn the next day.

Adelle Horler and Geoff Dalglish

Visit the Toyota Timbuktu Table Mountain Web Log for updates and photos at http://blogspace.mweb.co.za

With thanks to our sponsors Toyota South Africa, Megaworld, African Outback Products, Pertec, Garmin, MWEB @ Home - iPass, African Stuff, Toshiba and DataShuttle. Thanks also to CFAO Toyota dealerships in Senegal, Mali and Ouagadougou for their enthusiastic assistance.

* Catch the television series on this expedition on SABC TV3 on Sundays, starting on September 3 at 5:30 pm.


A journey's end

2006-08-04 15:31

Inside Wheels24

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