Cameroon

Stergios GogosAround the world on a Vespa1 Comment

I don’t know how to start my story about Cameroon: should I write about the problem with my vespa first? About the carefree days in a christian mission in Yaounde? About the beautiful North with the brand new roads (I desperately needed some new roads…)? About the South with the exotic beauty and the nice people? Let’s start from the beginning: what a relief being at last in Cameroonian territory! We had made it! We wouldn’t see the Nigerian police again and luckily we hadn’t faced the difficulties we had been told about Nigeria. Steven and I drove until the town of Bamenda.

Cameroon is a really beautiful country. The Cameroonians say that their country is a “mini-Africa” and by that, they mean that here someone can find everything that characterizes Africa without having to visit the rest of the continent! I cannot say if it’s true because the only thing I did was to cross the country from the North to the South. However, what I saw totally worth it! After a small 2-days pause to dry ourselves from the constant rainfall and eat some fish (rich in Ω3!), our ways split and we arranged to meet again in Yaounde.

Next week, Steven’s parents will be in Cameroon and he wants to plan a tour with them in the coast of the country (they intent to rent a motorcycle) and in the northern part of it around the lake Bamendjing. Steven will be busy going to hotels to find good prices and organizing their trip, so we decided to split for some days and meet again in Yaounde. As I will be traveling alone, I don’t want to put myself into many adventures, so I decided to head directly to the capital.

Some strange things happen to my vespa…and it’s not the first time. By saying this, I refer to all the problems it had from the time I bought it until today. From May 2006, when I bought it second-hand, it has never let me down during a trip. The only problems I ever had were 2 cut threaded rods and a broken clutch (totally my fault!). And what’s the funny thing? All these problems happened in a distance not bigger than 1 kilometer from my house in Thessaloniki. I cannot blame my vespa for giving up on me…it’s like a loyal wife! So, why am I telling you this story? Because for once more, my vespa didn’t give up on me! I started my trip from Bamenda early in a cold morning and at a speed of approximately 90km/h so that I could cover the distance of 400kms until sunset. Despite the great number of policemen on the road and the heavy rain, I achieved my goal. However I could hear something in the engine not working well. At first, I thought that the “heavy-breathing” of the engine was due to the high altitude and the lack of oxygen but, this wasn’t the case.

When I entered the city, I immediately started looking for the Benedictine monastery on the Mont Febe. I already had the exact location on my GPS but as I realized later, there was a mistake: it drove me to the Hotel Mont Febe (5*!) and not to the monastery. The only problem with that was that the 5 stars of the hotel Mont Febe were too many for my budget, but as the security guard at the entrance of the hotel informed me, the monastery was really close to the hotel. With great relief that I had found the monastery and impatient as I was I quickly tried to start my vespa so I could be there immediately. But with no response from the poor vespa! I also tried to start it by driving it down a slope, but the moment I stopped accelerating, the engine went off again. I decided to take a break and think about my options. I left everything as it was and entered the hotel to ask the price for a room. It was only(!) 150 euros for a room with a view to the mountain and 200(!) for a room with a view to the town. I was so desperate that for a moment I thought I could stay there. But I preferred to stay for a while and drink some coffee at the cafe of the hotel and use the WiFi connection to talk with my family, relax a bit and see what I could do next. Fortunately, when I thought about the cost of one night there, I realized that with that amount of money I could stay at any other place for at least one month. To cut a long story short, until 23.00, I was trying to fix the vespa by myself but with no luck. The only option was to take a taxi. So, I put all my stuff in a taxi, locked the vespa in the parking of the hotel and went to the monastery. I would come back next morning to see what I could do.

Steven had found this monastery on the internet and I had no idea what to expect from a monastery. Especially the people who were in charge of the guest house, were pure capitalists! At first, I asked for the price of the rooms which was at 11,000 CFA (16.5 euros per room, per night), and it was reasonable enough. However, for our budget and having in mind that our intention was to stay for several days, the cost was a small fortune! I asked them if I could pitch my tent in the backyard and they were ok with that as long as I would pay 10,000 CFA! 11,000 CFA for a room and 10,000 CFA for a tent!

But sir, we have too many expenses!”, was their excuse!

So, I started the negotiations and finally, I managed to lower the price at 4,000 CFA per night. It was the most expensive camping, but at least I would be next to our Lord!

We had a great time in Yaounde: many rides in the city on Steven’s motorcycle (the vespa was resting and waiting for the spare parts it needed), countless movies on my computer (Steven’s computer was stolen in Mauritania along with almost all his stuff)…

When Steven’s mother came, we felt like little children waiting for Santa Claus to bring them their gifts! Apart from the big bag she was carrying full of spare parts for the motorcycles (shock absorbers, brake pads, bearings, cleaning sprays, various tools etc), cell phone chargers, clothes and many things Steven needed, she also had a bag full of delicacies with her! One kilo of candy for each, chocolates, cheese, cold meat and even some Greek feta cheese especially for me! There was also a pack with Liam’s name on it but probably the delivery to its owner wouldn’t be that easy. The problem with my vespa proved easy to solve. The damage was due to a thing called “pickupwhich is a small electric component that I replaced and the engine was brand new again!

Next day, Steven and his parents went downtown and bought a brand new Chinese motorcycle to travel around Cameroon. When they’ll get back, they already have agreed to sell it back to the same store without any particular loss. Here, our ways split again. Steven and his parents went towards the northern part of the country and I, after a lonely Holy Week, I started my trip to the Congo on Easter Sunday.

I had made the best choice! There was no traffic even in the city, the weather was ideal and the route I chose to take was perfect! Few kilometers before Sangmelima and after only 170kms and some thousand “clicks” with my camera, I stopped at the first guesthouse I found and without asking too many questions, I just went to sleep.

From where I was up to the borders with Congo, nothing worth telling happened to me, apart from my conclusions about the people in the rural areas (and not only, here in Cameroon) who are really hospitable, kind and simple! Especially the Cameroonians, have this “gentle power” to win you: they don’t harass the travelers with too much attention but they are not impolite either. Perfect balance. Their smiles are 100% genuine and if you are nice to them, they will help you without expecting something in return. They stole my heart!

Of course, there is an exception to every rule. So, only a few kilometers before I got to the border of Cameroon, I had a unique experience with the police, as usual! The very “friendly” policeman who stopped me, asked me to give him every document he could think of (my papers spread like a tablecloth on his desk) and after he realized that nothing was missing, he concluded that my vespa was…overloaded! I laughed a lot! Of course, this is partly true but if you compare it to the locals’ motorcycles (loaded with all the equipment a house needs), my load is nothing! It was obvious that he just wanted a small bribe to let me go. While I was there trying to find out what to do, 2 motorcycles passed before our eyes: the first one with 4 passengers on it and the second with a flock of sheep and some chicken tied on it!

Are these motorcycles not overloaded, my dear police officer?”, I asked him laughing.

I know them! I have written down their names in this paper and they owe me money! I will write down your name also!”, he replied.

No problem. I have already talked to the embassies of Cameroon and of Greece and they have reassured me that I’m 100% legal…”, I informed him.

I don’t have any problem either! But you know you can avoid the fine…”, he tried again.

I can pay you the fine but make it a bit quick please, because I have to go now…”, I continued.

That was it! He got tired of trying to make me give him a bribe and let me go. What a performance!

Luckily, the chapter “Cameroon” closed in an ideal way for me. My last night there, I stayed with a family hosted in their yard. While I was ready to pitch my tent in a nice spot I had found near the side of the road thinking that no one could see me, suddenly about 10 people were standing next to me with the best intentions! One of the elders, Gacon, invited me to his family house. I wouldn’t miss that opportunity even if until that day, it was something I usually avoided. When I was tired from one whole day on the road, spending a night at someone’s house would tire me more and I preferred to be alone even for a while. I was completely mistaken!

Gacon’s family let me rest as much as I wanted and they treated me like family. I felt like I was their son! I pitched my tent in their yard and washed with the water they brought me (there is no electricity or water or telephone in the village) at the outdoor bathroom in their backyard. The whole family came to meet me and after talking with them for a while (I don’t speak French, they don’t speak English, so the body language was the only language we had in common), I went to sleep with happy thoughts on my mind.

enjoy the ride 04

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