A year on the road

This day last year saw the grand departure from a very wet, cold and blustery London. It was a great day to leave as the memory left an indelible impression on both of us. As we rode out through the streets of London I can vividly remember thinking ‘thank god I’m leaving this s%$t behind’. The idea was to hit Cape Town by late April and having only made it as far as Ghana by then it was clear that the plans had changed.  We then pushed back the idea of Cape Town to 5 months or maybe 6 and then in Nigeria in a moment of clarity we were struck, as if by lightening, that no plan was the best plan.

Currently we’re in Limbe, Cameroon. There was a plan to make Cape Town by February but it only took 3 days before we remembered the great discovery made in Nigeria. We celebrated Christmas, New years and even Jeremy’s birthday here. What a strange but fantastic moment Christmas day was. Sitting at the bird watchers club poised on the balcony with the waves crashing on the rocks 20 meters below us. It was 30 degrees Celsius, the sun was shining and the skies were blue. There was even a fine breeze coming off the ocean to keep us fresh and cooled. What a great setting in which to enjoy the next treat. A gourmet 6 course meal which comprised of none of the traditional turkey, ham or stuffing. Instead there was salmon, foie grasand duck. It was fantastic and we hardly even noticed it was Christmas, at least in the sense that the shops weren’t crowded, it wasn’t full of commercial messages of buy buy buy and fake piped music full of Christmas cheer, and where the real point of the celebration was totally ignored!

As we look forward to the road ahead it brings us many questions as to what to do, but I’m sure we’ll find our way in our own time. We are certainly keen not to miss out on all the wonderful people who have touched our lives with their incredible generosity during this past year, those who have opened up their lives and their homes, fed and watered us and given us their friends details along the way or just jumped on the back of the bike to show us how to get to a place when we merely asked for directions! This is I guess the true spirit of Christmas and really shows mankind on it’s best day, something that happens a lot more than the news would have us believe!

Leaving Nigeria

After 6 months of working at Drill Ranch in Calabar Jeremy finally got back to Nigeria so that we could get rolling on the road again. Jeremy had just acquired a 48 hour transit visa and my Cameroonian visa was about to expire so we had to get out pronto. It had been an awesome and compelling 6 months working at Drill Ranch and it was sad leaving the team behind. There’ll be more about DR in another post.

So with everything packed and the route ahead planed we set out to embark on the notorious stretch of road to Mamfe, often known as one of the worst stretches of mud road in Central Africa. The road is in Cameroon and lies between the border town of Ekok and the inland town of Mamfe which is located about 70k’s away. On leaving Nigeria and entering Cameroon the road instantly goes from nicely paved tarmac to complete dirt road.

We made it to the Nigerian side of the border crossing around 2:30pm after having fuelled up the bikes and ourselves at Ikom. The border crossing itself took an eternity. There was a sea of bureaucracy on the Nigerian side (5 guys had to individually take our details in their books and the boss man had to finish his lunch before he would check everything was okay!). There was also a small problem with my visa on the Cameroonian side.

As usual it all takes time here in Africa, and by the time things were all sorted it was getting late and a huge downpour broke upon us.  On finishing immigration one of the women who worked there took a long and judgemental look at us. She made a kind of grimace and asked if we had ridden the bikes all the way from Europe. We retorted with a triumphant ‘Yes!’ and then she said ‘Next you’re going to see my road. After that you’ll really know what Africa is-o’. With that she turned and walked away with a sadistic smile on her face. It was clear that the road ahead was not going to be a walk in the park.

As usual we were offered the ever amazing African hospitality. The border officials offered us a place to pitch our hammocks for the night. It was like an open air rectangular bandstand. The main thing is that it was free, dry and had the the ever present sound of the jungle to send us fast asleep.

In all fairness the road was probably very manageable 2 days before we set out on it but with massive downpours on the last two days it was wet, muddy and slippery. There were a few events, non-events and falls. The funniest of which saw me ride straight into a deep patch of  mud. It took an hour to dig the bike out with my bare hands.

Finally we got to Mamfe after the 4 and a half hours it took to clear 70K’s of slippery craziness. However all was not well. After setting out from Mamfe to Limbe Jeremy’s bike decided it had had enough. His bike kept dying every 10K’s and we were forced to make 10 minute stops before the bike would start going again. The problem kept deteriorating and the intervals were going from every 10K’s to every 2k’s. We knew it was a fuel delivery problem so we stopped in a small village and ripped out the entire fuel delivery system right down to the carburettor which was completely full of dirt. After 3 hours of meticulous cleaning the carb was clear but it also became very clear that we weren’t getting to Limbe that night. It was 6 o clock and we decided to stay in Manyemen for the night.

We arrived in Limbe the next day after riding through awesome roads and scenery. Limbe is a spectacular and beautiful place on the Cameroonian coast at the base of Mount Cameroon – it’s truly idyllic and the people are great. We started out staying at the botanic gardens on the edge of the sea but then met Jules who has put us up in his mansion to house sit while he’s gone to Gabon. Cameroon is like getting back to real Africa again. It’s bursting open with cheap food, beer and great bakeries. The people are also super friendly and the weather, apart from the odd bit of rain, is hot and sunny. We thought we were only going to be here for a couple of days to recharge, sort out any niggles on the bikes and get ready to move on to Douala but my bike decided to put a spanner in the works and up and die. The TDC sensor inside the engine is toast. It took around 3 days, numerous diagrams and a multimeter to figure that one out. So now we’re waiting on a part to be flown in from Europe. I suppose waiting in a mansion with views overlooking the sea in one of the most idyllic places on earth really isn’t so bad.

More pictures in our new Cameroonian gallery here.

What really happened

So comes the long awaited answer to the mystery of what really happened to Jeremy’s bike. I’m sure many of you out there have suffered hours of lost sleep pondering the infinite possibilities. Yeah right!

After a good day spent in Accra we returned to Amamomo camping and parked both bikes on the ledge just to the left of Jeremy’s bike in the picture. From here even we’re not sure precisely what happened. Unfortunately there were no witnesses present. So nobody knows for sure. What is sure is that the bike fell to its right and amazingly managed to remain upright albeit in the wrong direction. Our theory is that the soft ground gave way and the bike fell to its right.

Sadly not so spectacular after all but you have to admit it made for quite an interesting and unique picture. I’m sure most bikers would balk at ever having to see their bike from this angle. Thankfully the only real victim of this incident was Jeremy’s GPS mount. The bike didn’t even have any scratches. A testament to the rock solid robustness of the bike itself. Now we have no GPS mounts. Mine was a victim of the infamous Ronda road. Let’s hope that the next 8000 kilometers down to Cape Town can be had with the rubber side down.

Goodbye Togo

One week, one super friendly guest house, one uber-unfriendly guesthouse, one bad mistake, two repaired bikes, more fan-action than you can shake a stick at and the best fast food in all of west Africa. I suppose that’s the short and fast version of our time in Togo.

We were sad to leave Togo but we didn’t leave empty handed. The bikes are now in tip-top condition. Dider, the resident KTM mechanic, fixed our chariots up nicely. We both have new tyres, new chains, clean engines and a lot more confidence in our machines. Lots of thanks to Dider and Michel at Toni-Togo for their expertise, advice and help.

While in Togo we muddled around a bit with Accommodation. The first guest house we stayed in, hotel Le Galion, was owned and run by a Swiss family. The day to day running is dealt with by Yawu the youngest of the clan. Yawu is an earnest and impressionable character who’ll take you out on the town after the hotel bar closes its doors. Unfortunately we hadn’t found this out before making our only mistake. We moved!

We stayed at Le Galion on the first night as Rich and Sash had been there on the two previous nights and we thought there might be a chance they’d still be there. Sadly they’d moved on. However we did manage to catch up with them later on in Benin. The next day we made a terrible decision, me being 99% responsible for this one, and moved on to a bad overlanders site outside Lomé. Normally these places are teeming with fellow travelers. This place was a great exception. I pity all overlanders who see Lomé through the doors of Chez Alice. It’s a vacant, run-down, expensive and uber-unfriendly place

Gutted that we’d made a terrible blunder we reconciled and retreated to Le Galion with our tails between our legs begging Yawu to take us back. Being the gent he is he even gave us a 30% discount. Awesome!

So it was with sadness that we departed. Yawu tried his best to keep us though. However his cunning plan was foiled and by nightfall we arrived in Cotonou, Benin. Sash, Rich and Kru had all but given up on us and were about to turn in just as we rolled in at 11 bells.