Friday, March 8, 2019

Still On The Road, March 6, 2019

We left our bushcamp at 7:30, hoping to make the Gabon border at Aboulou. We crossed a few narrow bridges and at one, we were met by a mob of men.  They seemed drunk and were demanding money to cross their bridge.  A few had machetes that they were waving around, not in a menacing way but as if they were talking with their hands.  Richard and I were negotiating with them and I kept asking them to stop yelling.  They would look at me sheepishly and try - it's hard because they just yell all the time.  One man grabbed another's arm and took the machete out of his hand and tossed it to the ground.  Eventually we gave them a large bag of half rotten sweet potatoes - (not sure why anyone buys them, they're terrible) and then a few cans of pilchers.  They're canned fish, sort of like sardines.  They didn't seem happy with that so all of a sudden everyone came out of the truck and it seemed that our height and numbers persuaded them to get the hell out of the way.  We also had to stop at a couple of check points but usually they just wave us through although one woman did ask if we were travelling with any wild meat.  Gross!  About 3, we came to a stop where the cop must have been bored to death because he made us get out of the truck, line up and show him our passports.  He said he had to write the information down in his notebook, even though we gave him a passenger list.  He found the writing too tedious after the first person, I guess 21 passengers was way too daunting for one day!  He then just browsed our passports, checking out the different visas we have, then got tired with it completely and announced we had to go to"the brigade" which was the police station, a few kilometers away.  We followed him there and then the fun began.  Because I'm riding shotgun today, am a woman and can speak French, it was my job to do the talking.  After a bit of stumbling and saying a whole lot of nothing, he announced that it would cost us each 3000 CFA ($7) for 'registration".  I told the group and a couple came unglued.  They recognized the bribe that I did not!  So, we talked, he talked, I talked, he talked, explaining a bunch of crap about needing money etc.  We said we weren't paying, that we wanted to see his receipt book and now could we go please?  Their tactics are to delay you as long as possible so you become impatient, just give in and pay.  That wasn't going to happen with our group.  He then asked to see everyone's yellow fever certificates but couldn't really read.  He declared that Clarissa didn't have hers - he was looking at her typhoid information.  He said April's was expired until I explained that they are now good for life.  He kept saying "permettez-moi" ... to talk but what he said was all a bunch of b.s.  He called in another "cop" who looked through our passports then stared at the blank pages, rocked back and forth and fidgeted.  He probably wasn't even a cop!  Then Richard pulled the trump card.  He had the business card of the head ambassador for Cameroon in Calabar, Nigeria who had told him if we had any trouble with the police, to give him a call!  Richard did just that and soon the ambassador was speaking to the cop who was lying to him, telling him our visas were no longer good!  Then he must have been told to get things sorted because he kept saying there were no worries here, no problems, blah, blah.  After the call to the ambassador, the cops had their own little chat; we figured they had to figure out how to save face without looking like thieving assholes.  After a few minutes, they announced that I would be translating for Will, who as the owner of the company had to answer questions while others searched the truck.  Search the truck I said!  They gave me a dirty look and carried on.  We went into the office and sat with this seriously dumb man who kept staring out the window, checking on the search progress and thinking of the most tedious, repetitive things to ask.  The first thing he did was pick his nose - he shoved his finger practically up to the first knuckle and twisted and turned it in there!  Then he continually snorted and when we were almost through, he started cleaning his ears with q-tips!  He asked us such stupid questions, it was obvious he was just putting in time.  He wanted to know what we were doing in Nigeria - tourists.  Where were we from?  How many of us were there?   How many men?  How many women?  Where had we come from?  Where were we going?  Before each question he would pause, think and then ask something more stupid than the last question.  He had such dim eyes- oh so dumb but at least he was wearing a uniform!.  Finally, his buddies came in to the office and we were finished.  I kept asking if we could go and reaching for the passports because I was getting really impatient.  That's not a good thing because they want you to get angry and then they just keep you longer until you finally pay.  The last thing he asked was if I had a 'cadeau' for him!  After all that!  I said no, but did he have a 'cadeau ' for me?  He pulled out a warthog tooth and explained it could be worn as a necklace.  I couldn't imagine he was going to give it to me - he probably wanted me to pay for it but I stood up, gathered our passports and walked out.  Two and a half hours wasted!  I was so angry.  Will laughed and said one time he waited 6 days before they were released, without paying too!  We carried on and it started to get dark.  There were no suitable bushcamps in sight so we ended up pulling off the side of the road in a small clearing.  We set up our tents practically on top of each other and tried to get cell service to cancel our Gabon hotel bookings we need to cross the border.  Apparently immigration even phones the hotels to make sure you have a reservation.  We walked along the road hoping for a hill but the only thing registering was a Gabon company so I knew my card wouldn't work with that.  Will even went up onto the roof of the truck but no luck.  If I didn't cancel one room by midnight, I would lose 80 Euro!  Anyway, by 9 or so, everyone was in their tents when a group of men showed up on motorcycles.  Richard talked with them for a long time and then they left.  I'm hoping for a great sleep without further interruptions in the quiet dark and that all these people who have been telling us there isn't a bridge at this crossing are wrong!  

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