Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Cameroon Border, February 20, 2019

I had a great sleep under the watchful eye?? of the Cameroon military.  After breakfast, (we luckily found eggs down the street), Will, Mark and I went back to Nigeria to see what the results of all their phone calls yesterday might be.  Much to my surprise, they had a plan!  We had to take our passports and the truck papers to Iwon to be photocopied, I had to write a couple of letters stating our desires and then after almost 4 hours, we came back to wait by the truck for Cameroun to make their move.  The group had made a delicious lentil soup and then we waited and waited some more.  We have worked out a deal with Nigeria that they will let us come back into their country, spend the night in Iwon and drive north to the border we wish to use.  But, that is only if Cameroon will cancel our entry stamp.  Our group, except for Andy who just recently joined us, all have double entry visas to Cameroon but we want to save the second one for when we leave Equitorial Guinee.  Few of the Oasis group have double entry visas so they are a bit hooped.  Will and Mark have spoken to immigration numerous times and even taken a "void" stamp in with them to help them along.  If they won't cancel our entry stamp, Nigeria won't let us in so we may be here awhile!

6:20 pm

After much negotiating with both the military and immigration, even though the Cameroun border is closed, we are on our way back into Nigeria!. The military is very drunk and walking around waving rifles, there has been an argument/scuffle between a couple of passengers – that's what happens when you have nothing to do and all afternoon to drink and so we are definitely needing to get out of here.  I'm looking forward to sleeping in a bed with air conditioning!  

Mamfe to Cameroon Border, February 19, 2019

We woke up with high hopes of going to Limbe and then on to Douaia but when the military showed up, they informed us, after much discussion, that they would be returning us to the border because they could not guarantee our safety.  WTF we said?  They showed us a letter from the consulate in Calabar where we obtained our visas that stated we had bought ferry tickets and that the reason we had been granted our visas in the first place was because that's how we were going to Cameroon.  We explained that that had been our initial plan, wink, wink, but the ferry wouldn't take the truck because it's too big so we had no option but to drive.  There was no more discussion- we were on our way to nowhere!  A soldier jumped into the truck and sat with me-

two were in the cab and away we went.  

Once back at the border, we walked across the bridge to the Nigeria side to try to cut a deal.  We needed Nigeria to let us back in (only 5 of us have multiple entry visas) so we could drive north to cross into Cameroon at a safer crossing.  We sat and talked and sat and talked some more.  Finally they told us we would have an answer by the end of the day but the Cameroon border closed at 6 pm so we had to go back to our truck.  

Back in Cameroon, we were not allowed in the police compound to sleep so had to set up camp on the street!  I thought we were in a dangerous area?  Anyway we went for supper and found the best grilled chicken chunks and pineapple so far!  I was in bed by 8 and soon asleep.  I'm hoping that tomorrow we get on the road to somewhere!  

Monday, February 18, 2019

Ekok to Mamfe, Cameroon, February 18, 2019

I had a great sleep inspite of the bright flood lights in the compound. The rocks under my tent and the constant conversation by the police.  The generator's constant hum muffles a lot of the noise so that's helpful too.  There wasn't any shooting in the night so we all woke up alive and to soldiers gathered around the flag.  It was like a staff meeting with the chief barking orders to the men.  They fiddled with their rifles, twitched, shifted their weight and changed positions numerous times.  It was quite comical watching them!  Eventually I got bored - they were performing this right beside my tent, so I got up.  Soon the customs officials showed up and wanted to see everything on our truck.  I was the first to show them into my backpack and thought if I bored them they would not bother with every bodies things but no, that didn't work.  They painstakingly went through everything, then the Oasis truck was next.  All of a sudden, a green truck pulled into the compound and voila, that was our escort!  We were excited and ready to move but then it drove away!  I guess they'd been told to return at 12 because the customs inspection would be over by then.

You're not supposed to take pictures of anything military but he didn't seem to mind-

Too funny!

I had planned to ride shotgun but soldiers hopped in the front with both Will and the Oasis driver Liam.  The soldiers took off in their green bulletproof truck, followed by Oasis and then us.  We drove close to 90 km/hour to Mamfe on excellent roads.  Because it's Monday, it's 'ghost day' and vehicles are not allowed on the roads and the villages seemed deserted.  People seem to be living in fear-

Once in Mamfe, we went to the police station for a few minutes, then they escorted us to a hotel where we are spending the night.  Apparently in the morning we will be getting another escort south to Limbe.  I do not feel the least bit afraid - to me it's a great adventure and I'd love to be riding in the back of the green lead truck with a machine gun in my hands or else riding shotgun in our truck with a rifle!  Others on the truck are nervous wrecks!  I find that funny because we have seen nothing the least bit dangerous - it's all stories we've heard and news we've read.  It's interesting to me how fear, which is imagined, can control people.  I'm really looking forward to tomorrow!

Ikom, Nigeria to Ekok, Cameroon, February 17, 2019

What an awesome room I had!  It was a suite with a king sized bed, air conditionner that worked and  ceiling fan, my own bathroom and a sitting area with a tv, another air conditionner that worked and another ceiling fan.  I felt like a queen after that shithole in Calabar!  
We met Mark Dawson, my Cairo to Cape Town tour leader with Oasis who was waiting for part of his group to show up from Drill Monkey Ranch.  We planned to go to the Cameroon border together and Oasis had a commander hired to escort us to Limbe.  After leaving the hotel and fuelling up, we were on our way.  At the first check point, we had to show our passports and it was then that Lutz remembered his was still under his pillow back at the hotel so I flagged down a passing cube van that took us part way back and then we hopped into the driver's car to go the rest of the way to the hotel.  Luckily, and no surprise at all, the room had not been cleaned so his passport was there and in no time we were back at the truck.  Once at the border, Will and Mark made numerous trips to the immigration office with our passports, bringing back forms and waiting for Nigeria to decide who knows what.  We were parked next to a home with a deck and cold drinks and just a few meters away from grilling beef, omelettes, noodles and cow soup.  We were well fed and watered during the hours and hours we spent waiting.

The family run business included three sons named Good Luck, Faithful and God's Gift-

Our truck looks gigantic beside Oasis'-

Finally we were stamped out of Nigeria and crossing a river in No Man's Land to get to Cameroon-

Once on the Cameroon side, the shit show began.  What on earth were we doing here?  Didn't we know they were in the middle of a civil war?  Didn't we know it was unsafe to be here?  Because I speak French, I had to speak to "mon patron" on the phone.  He asked over and over how did we know one another.  I kept with the lie we had used in Calabar - we met on Facebook and on other trips.  He didn't believe me.  Finally he said we must return to Nigeria and fly to Douala.  I stared at Mark and told him what he said.  Returning to Nigeria is not possible for most because they only have a single entry visa and once stamped out, you are out.  I have a double entry but have no intention of returning.  Mark talked about an Oasis trip that spent 7 days at a border and Will shared some stories too.  I am not looking forward to days and days at this place!  There was a lot of yelling going on in pidgin French.  Some of us left the compound to change money and we met an army truck with a machine gun mounted on its roof and about 10 soldiers in the vehicle.  When we got back to the compound, the chief of police was furious that we had left.  We were not stamped into the country so we had no business going into town.  

They've obviously had some problems because numerous places are sandbagged including the entrance to immigration.  It's well protected-

We set up our tents and kitchen and went to bed after being told that the militants have fired into the police compound but not for a month.  We are hopefully far enough away not to be struck!  Things are getting more exciting all the time!  

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Calabar, Nigeria, February 15, 2019

We had one goal to accomplish today and that was to obtain our Cameroon visas.  Because there is fighting along the west border of Cameroon between English and French speaking citizens, in order to get a visa, a person has to buy a ferry ticket because driving across the border is not permitted.  So, we hopped in cabs and went to the ferry terminal to buy our tickets.  $85 later, we had them even though we have no intention of using them and we were on our way to the Cameroon Consulate.  Once there, we had to fill out a form, attach 3 photos - why?, as well as 2 copies of our passport - why? why?, our yellow fever certificate which is a normal requirement, pay $123 and then we each had to meet with the vice chancellor.  I was sure someone was going to blow our lie and say we were travelling by overland truck but no one did.  It took about 5 hours for everyone to be interviewed and finally about 6:30 pm our visas were in our passports and we had permission to attempt going to Cameroon.

The hotel where we're staying is an absolute dump.  Some rooms are missing light bulbs, the air conditioners don't work in the few rooms that apparently have them, there are five gallon pails in the tubs for bucket showers, some bathrooms don't have any water, some fans don't work and on and on.  My room is okay, except the ceiling is dripping and I'm just hoping it's clean water not sewer water.  

For supper we walked to the corner where there was all kinds of meat grilling:  chicken of course but also turkey, beef with onions and peppers as well as gizzards.  The street is dead in the day but packed at night.  Africans have figured out that it's too hot to be out mid afternoon, something we haven't realized yet.

Tomorrow is Election Day and absolutely no vehicles are permitted on the streets and all business will be closed.  That prevents us from heading to the border so it will hopefully be a nice restful day.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Trouble Posting, January 29, 2019

I have been unable to post my blog for over 2 weeks.  I had hoped that once in Ghana, it would work again but no.  I'm continuing to write but will have to post whenever I'm able.  I'm currently near Accra, Ghana, sweating my ass off but really enjoying the trip.  Things are good!  

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Monrovia, Liberia, January 15, 2019

What a great sleep I had, inspite of The Exorcist singer who had moved down the road a bit and the 3 am and 6 am bells that they use as a security measure.  Poor Shelby woke up around 4 swollen up from some allergy so she tried sleeping outside, then vomited and was still puffy this morning.  I'm glad I'm avoiding those ants!  She isn't the only casualty today.  Terry is limping around and we all gasped when he showed us his leg-

He was taken to the hospital where his wound was cleaned and he was given a couple prescriptions of antibiotics.

We went back into town, first to the National Museum which is excellent and not even mentioned in Lying Planet.  Naturally, photos weren't allowed but I did managed to take a couple.  There are 16 different tribes in the country and each tribe has its own style of mask.  They are worn for ceremonies and during rituals-

Sometimes, complete costumes are worn as well.  They must sweat buckets-

From what I learned in the museum, Liberia was doing very well with William V.S. Tubman as president from 1944 - 1970.  He increased the value of foreign investment by 200%, improved roads, developed a railway, sanitation systems were built as were hospitals.  In the 1950's, Liberia had the second highest rate of economic growth in the world.  In 1971, they had the largest mercantile fleet and the world's largest rubber industry.  Tolbert became Vice President in 1952, working well with Tubman, but when Tubman died, Tolbert changed a lot about the country.  Liberia had been closely tied with the U.S. but Tolbert stopped this.  He joined forces with Cuba, the Soviet Union and China - quite the switch and eventually the people rebelled.  

The first civil war started in 1989 and lasted for 8 years.  250.000 were killed.  The second civil war started in 1999 and lasted 4 years.  300,000 died.  As the country was getting back on its feet, Ebola hit in March 2014 and lasted until June 2016.  There were only 50 doctors in the country, one for every 70,000 people.  10,666 people were infected and 4806 died.  The country has come a long way considering all they've been through.  

Next we hopped in a cab to see the Ducor Hotel which was destroyed during one of the civil wars.  It was a five star-

with a beautiful entry and staircase, all gone to shit-

It had a swimming pool-

and the view would have been lovely-

On the top floor was the lounge-

and this was the bar-

The only thing remainung is the marble floor-

Of course vandals have "decorated"=

We hired a cab to wait for us at the hotel and then drive us to the Ghhana embassy.  There we learned that the Côte d'Ivoire embassy required some more information about the contents of the truck and that was easily settled.  
The centre of town is where it's really happening and where the Liberians hang out-

Eventually we got back to camp, only to learn April had fallen at the museum and was in the hospital with a back issue.  Three people down in one day!  Hope she'll be all right!  We are picking up Côte d'Ivoire visas tomorrow at 2 and then heading out of town.  I'm looking forward to moving on!  

Monrovia, Liberia, January 14, 2019

I had a horrible sleep - awake lots and especially when it sounded like someone from The Exorcist was singing by the front gate.  I tossed and turned in the heat but at least I avoided most of the fire ants that were nibbling everyone else!

We caught a cab to The Junction for 50 cents - so cheap, then a government official picked us up in his air conditionned Acura and gave us a ride close to the Ivory Coast Embassy.  After about an hour, we went to the Ghana Embassy where luckily we met Thomas and Carole who had just come from there.  Will needed a letter of explanation for Ghana so we walked to a nearbycorner to type it and print it.  Right on the street!

This is a book read in local schools.  At least it appears culturally correct, not the murder part but the cassava part-

Once the application was accepted at Ghana, we headed for lunch at a nice but expensive Lebanese restaurant where I had kebbeh - delicious and tabouleh.  I enjoyed it a lot.  All of a sudden, Laieb showed up, he's the owner of the school, and he gave us a ride back to camp-

I went across the road with Norm and Leanne for a beer-

where I guess you're not supposed to just hang out-

The Ghana visas will be ready tomorrow but those from Ivory Coast won't be ready until Wednesday at 2 pm, so we are here for another couple of days.  Going to explore the city tomorrow1

Monday, January 14, 2019

Monrovia, Liberia, January 13, 2019

We had a leisurely drive into Monrovia.  We stopped at a village to fill our water tanks-

Most villages have water pumps-

The villages are usually very excited to see us and these kids were singing and dancing for us-

We stopped at a proper modern grocery store, then carried on, looking for a camping spot.  Even though it was Sunday, there was a lot going on-

There's lots of garbage -

We ended up camping at Bethesda Christian School and tomorrow, I'll go into the city to see the sights.  

Liberia Bushcamp to Robertsport, Liberia, January 11- 12, 2019

The first part of today was on nice pavement but then we had about 40 km on bumpy gravel that took a couple of hours.  Along the way-

Liberia appears very clean and green.  The people are friendly but there doesn't seem to be much to eat.  We passed through numerous villages and all they had for sale was gasoline in old whiskey bottles.  Once in Robertsport, we set up camp on the beach-

It wasn't as nice of a beach as Bureh and i'm getting bored with beaches.  There isn't much to do but drink but at least I was on cook group so that was something.  I got into the gin a bit too hard and in the dark, wiped out coming down a bumpy hill from the bathroom--

My upper lip was swollen, I have big scratches on my right breast, a headache and a sore nose but nothing is broken!   Better stop drinking gin!

The next day a few of us went for a walk along the beach-

There's a shipwreck on the other side of these big black rocks-

but I didn't go see it.  I hate climbing on these rocks.  If they're wet, they are very slippery.  I was also carrying my camera and water bottle so my hands weren't exactly free to catch me when I'd fall.  

The current is very strong too so I didn't go in the water-

Lunch was Grouper.  First they used a machete to scrape off the scales that were white and the size of a quarter.  They cooked it in an awesome peanut sauce--

For supper we had shark soup-

We're heading into Monrovia in the morning, hopefully to a big and modern supermarket (fingers are crossed) and then camping on the beach south of the city.  It's not supposed to be a very nice city but we will see.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Sierra Leone to Liberia, January 10, 2019

Going was a lot slower than we hoped.  Roads were rough and we had to wait for the ferry to cross this river.  The EU is funding a new bridge and highway that's not ready but apparently the bridge will open in 3 months.  I didn't think we could cross on this little boat-

And I was right!  Luckily, there was a construction ferry that we were allowed on "when the boss had time" which really meant when there was room.  We carried on through jungle and red roads-

Driving through Zimmi, which became our lunch stop, I noticed a shop that I thought was selling wall hangings.  Once there, I found it was a tailoring school.  They use treadle machines and you chose your fabric and design and they make it to fit in a couple of hours-

I had eaten lunch at the ferry so found the only place in town for a cool, not cold beer-

Billboards in Zimmi-

What a great idea, but I don't think it's working-

The barber shops also have posters where you can choose your hair style-

He's hard at work wearing headphones.  I guess he doesn't like the small talk-

Back at the truck quite a crowd had gathered including a woman selling ice, something we are always looking for.  As she was digging it out of her cooler, the mob of kids stole everything from her-

Assholes!  We gave her some money to help her out.  

Carrying on, more rough red roads and jungle-

Eventually we arrived at the Sierra Leone border which was pretty easy.  We could see pavement in our future!  Once in Liberia, we had to show our passport a couple of times while they checked that we looked like our photo.  Then, the waiting began.  I got a SIM card that I hope someday will work and checked out the food booths.  While I was gone, Brad apparently came by to collect our yellow fever cards but they didn't get mine and it didn't seem to matter.  Such a bunch of BS!   Meanwhile, Will, who has 2 passports, did not get both stamped at the Sierra Leone border, so he had to hop on a motorbike and go back, leaving his yellow fever certificate at the Liberian border.  He had to pay a fine for not having it and then, he had to buy another visa to enter Sierra Leone to get his passport stamped!  They had tried to get a bribe out of all of us when we were there but they didn't succeed so this time around, they were going to make sure they cashed in!  It cost him $100 U.S. which was kind of fitting because Liberia is his 100th country!  

We left the border at dusk and quickly found an awesome bushcamp.  Tomorrow we're off to Robertsport for the weekend on what is promising to be good roads!  

Near Tiwai Island, Sierra Leone, January 9, 2019

We were in a very quiet camping spot near the river so the breeze was cool all night.  Such a relief!  The village is so rustic - no power, no running water and no toilets but they do have a solar panel or two because a huge yard light comes on for a couple hours at night and some have radios that they play at full volume.  There are about 375 inhabitants and many many children.  The homes are made of adobe with thatched roofs-

There are no glass windows and the doors are either made of thatch or are just a hanging curtain-

Chickens run wild, pecking all over the place.  The well is chained shut because it's muddy but they do have a good supply of water once it settles.  They cook on wood but I'm not sure what they eat:  I've seen large beans drying in the sun as well as chilis but other than that, not much.  They do have a small store that offered candy and toothpaste!  I wonder what they think when they see us.  And I wonder how often they leave their village because there are no cars, just a few motorcycles and the 22 km to the nearest town is a very bumpy trail.  They speak Mende and my favorite word is a mmmmmm sound which means something like yes they agree.

Last night driving in, the largest leaf spring snapped on the driver's side so that was the job of the day.  First, the truck was jacked up-

And then the springs were removed and the top one replaced.  It was a dirty, long job-

Ryan's job was to guard the tools.   Kids were everywhere and seemed honest, except for one who had his hand in more than one pocket.  Luckily we had a bit of relief when the kids were in school but school hours weren't long enough!  They were crawling all over us, wanting to be picked up, sitting in our chairs - just being kids I guess.  One woman offered us her 5 month old daughter.  She was her sixth and last she said!   Their school uniforms are some sort of green-

Later in the afternoon I went on a boat trip in the Moa River with Tiwai Island on the right hand side.  It's only 12 square kilometers and is rainforest, some of the last in West Africa-

We saw a few monkies swinging in the trees and a few birds including a vulture and this Ibis-

We stopped at an island-

and also met some men who had captured baby alligators that they were going to move to a different place, or so they said-

Some went on a night walk to see Pygmy hippos but instead saw a green mambo that slowly slithered across the path.

I still haven't received a copy of the receipt my two "friends" in Freetown were to have sent once they paid the 50,000 Leones to the bank to pay for my police report!  I am not holding my breath!

Tomorrow, we have an 8 am start as we hopefully get into Liberia and to Monrovia.  Martin and JohnCarlo fly out Friday so we hope to get them there in time.  Looking forward to moving on!  

Cameroon Border, February 20, 2019

I had a great sleep under the watchful eye?? of the Cameroon military.  After breakfast, (we luckily found eggs down the street), Will, Mark...