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Bamenda's impossible beauty

2006-06-29 19:10
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 - Foumban - Bafoussam -Bamenda - Ring Road: Bafut - Wum - Bamenda.

Saami, driving Brutus, stopped suddenly while overtaking a truck, thinking he didn't have enough space. And Colin, driving Skywalker, thought he did, and went into his bumper.

Luckily the bullbars and spare wheel brackets absorbed most of the impact and the damage was minimal.

Then just after five, in a village called Magba, some gendarmes stopped us and said the police were up ahead, waiting to escort us.

This was unexpected and unplanned ? and we figured we were out of the danger zone.

Turned out we were only just going into the thick of it. And waiting for us was a small battalion of burly men, all in full uniform, bullet-proof vests, tin hats and armed to the teeth with a variety of automatic weapons.

This was getting a bit too real for us ? and where were our bullet-proof vests anyway?

Three men immediately climbed on top of the cars and spread-eagled themselves on the rooftop tents, rifles aimed. One sergeant climbed into our car, rifle barrel cocked out the window, and three more lined up on the back of a bakkie, guns bristling.

As the sun began to slide towards the horizon we set off like a small army, all of us staring at the bushes.

Two hours and 10 dusty minutes later, in the pitch dark, we arrived in Foumban.

The poor police on the roofs were coated in red dust and coughing for water, and they must have been sore: the road twisted, turned and bumped, through major potholes and around sharp bends, and we were travelling quite fast through the dark.

How those guys stayed on, just bracing their feet and their hands full of rifle, we're not sure.

Next day we toured the Sultan's Palace at Foumban, a gorgeous, vaulted ceilinged building with a fascinating museum outlining the Bamoun Dynasty's history, which goes back to 1394.

There was even a female ruler at one time, but her reign lasted just 30 minutes, before she handed over to her son.

Thankfully we had good tar (with the obligatory potholes) from Foumban to Bafoussam and Bamenda, and our moving average speed leapt from 39Km/h to a whole 49Km/h - a welcome and more comfortable improvement.

Bamenda was our base for the Ring Road, one of Cameroon's highlights.

It's a red dirt road with intermittent stretches of tar that winds up into the Grassland Highlands.

It's impossibly beautiful ? bright green vegetated mountains against blue skies, acres of palms and giant trees blanketing the slopes, their canopies reaching for the sun.

This is volcano country, with the road meandering up mountain passes and down into dense valleys with raging rivers running through them.

You can make trips off the main track to beautiful but rather ominous crater lakes, including Lake Nyos, where over 1 :800 died in 1986 after a natural gas eruption from the water produced a massive cloud of suffocating carbon dioxide with a force that even levelled some trees.

We'd actually been warned against doing the Ring Road due to the condition of the road, but we figured this was a good chance to put the new Toyota Fortuners through their paces.

What we couldn't cope with though was the time factor: what with stopping to take photographs and see the sights along the way (including the Mankon and Bafut 'fondoms' - the king is known as the Fon - where we toured museums and met one of the Bafut Fon's 600 wives), we made it as far as Wum (and sadly not Bum, one of the next villages) before we had to turn back as it got dark.

Ideally you need at least two days - if not more - to properly enjoy the spectacle of the Ring Road. We'll have to come back.

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.


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