We are running out of time even though we have only been in the road for two and a bit months and we already cutting north through Cameroon. Heading for Yaounde to try again to get our Nigerian visa extended. We tried first time in Brazzaville but the Nigerian embassy there advised us to to extend the visa in Yaounde. Now we are walking the streets of Yaounde to the Nigerian embassy to try again. No luck. They won’t extend. Say we must do it at the border or anywhere in Nigeria.
So we are compelled to drop our dream of visiting the coastal village of Kribi in Cameroon and just keep heading north to get to the Nigerian border with sufficient time in our visa to cross Nigeria before its expiry – just in case they deny us again the extension of our visa.
It plays on our mind. Puts us under pressure to keep moving. We can’t risk not getting into Nigeria, or not crossing it in the time deadline of our visa expiry date, since anything goes in Nigeria. And everyone knows that the Nigerian visa is the toughest to get of all west African visas. We can’t risk a reapplication. So we just must keep on moving.
We drive north. North to the lovely city of Yaounde. We spend three days walking its streets and visiting galleries and markets. It’s alive and bustling and very, very welcoming. There are no street smart husslers here. No beggars. No fear. Nothing but warmth and friendship. It’s full and vibrant. And always welcoming. Even through the densest traffic and busiest street markets, we never experience a moment of discomfort. It is nothing but alive and warm and welcoming.
Moving on we drive north to Bafoussam and then west to wild camp at a Catholic Monastry that housed about 18 monks in long robes. We meet some of them at our campsite. They are evolved and refined people. Serene. Seemingly totally at peace with themselves and the world about them. And they kind of carry some gentle aura about them. Like they have been reincarnated and know all about them. No surprises. Just simple, peaceful serenity draped over them like a thick mist. It makes me think about my life as an atheist. Did I miss something ? Did I lose a path to inner peace and serenity ?
The highlight of our trip north and then north east of Yaounde, was our visit to the town of Foumban where the Sultan Ibrahim Njoya (1860 to 1933) Royal Palace was built just after the First World War. The sultan is best known for his creation of a new religion after his journey into Christianity and the moslem faiths. Neither worked for him. So he created his own religion. And that too was not enough. He also invented the an entirely new language – the Bamum language – created from the oral history of his ancestors. And he wrote numerous books, including a book on love and an original African karma sutra. All of this whilst he held 641 concurrent wives and invented a hand powered mill for grinding corn and other cereals.
His palace is a spectacular example of ancient African architecture. It is adorned everywhere with a logo that include a spider, two headed snake and a pair of bells. Our guide explains that the spider is the symbol of industriousness and hard work. It never stops working. A call to his kingdom to apply themselves to hard work constantly. And the two headed snake is a reminder of war. A war fought in both flanks of the kingdom. And finally the bells are the symbol of the summoning of the people to ritual or war. Or both. Alongside the palace the grandson has had built a giant museum in the shape of a massive eight legged spider, adorned with hairy legs. We can’t go in because it hasn’t been officially opened yet, but even from outside it is truly something to behold.
We spend hours in the markets of Founbam engaging with the people selling their wares. Everyone is warm and friendly and kind. And suddenly Africa feels like we have arrived in Mecca. More Muslim than Christian. Robes and fez headwear and soft spoken peaceful people everywhere. Something inside me lights up : it feels like I have arrived in another Africa. An unfamiliar new Africa. One I have read about but never immersed myself in. And the journey has just begun. I’m excited. And cautious. And committed. Before me lies the Banyo to Gembu offroad crossing into Nigeria. It beckons us and seems to boast with stories of its treacherous road, occupying my every thinking moment.
At dawn we are at the Cameroon immigration office of Banyo. Trying to get stamped out. We wait three hours for the officials to arrive. And finally get our passports and carnet stamped and we are good to go. Climbing up the first of multiple steep, rutted and rocky, offroad climbs. My heart is thumping with constant low level fear and trepidation. My head is alive with images from stories I have heard from south going overlanders of what the road will throw at us. River crossings, steep climbs, narrow tracks on the edges of deep fall away cliffs, huge ruts and holes in the ground. Some mud maybe, but the dry season has begun I think to myself. All of this is inside me as the purr of the cruiser gets us going up and over the first mountain.
We are navigating big time – point by point. On my dash the Garmin 276Cx, loaded with OpenStreetMaps, shows a purple line to follow. On my phone is loaded maps.me and we are following the waypoints, marked out by south going overlanders, of the villages we need to pass through. So we go. Checking waypoints on phone and marking them into the Garmin on the dash. Step by step. It’s slow and rough. But bit by bit the cruiser eats whatever the road throws at us: a deep rut here, a huge hole there, a river crossing, a balancing act across a narrow mountain track. The scenery is spectacular. We are climbing into savanna highlands and wide open fields and mountains. Up and down into the valleys below. All feels good and is good. I keep telling myself that I have the best vehicle for this and nothing can go wrong. It’s like a kinda wish and a prayer and an act of blind commitment all at the same time.
Despite everything things do go wrong. We take a wrong turn and suddenly we have dropped off OpenStreetMaps on our Garmin, as well as maps.me on our phones. Now we are chasing a dot on a screen with no route line at all. We are relying on the word of villagers to direct us and in presumably in good faith they send us on the toughest road ever: a shortcut to Gembu we are told. The road turns into a motorcycle track. We cannot see any car tracks for kilometers. We are stuck in forward motion. We cant turn the vehicle round because the road is too narrow and so you just have to keep going forward into the unknown. We are so affixed to the road we scarily take a picture. We hold on to the line and just try to keep our resolve up. Kilometer by kilometer, moving at an average of 10kilo per hour.
And going forward means some insanely narrow rutted tracks on steep cliff edges and hectic rocky climbs. Every moment I feel like we can just fall off the side of the cliff. Or drop into an immovable hole. We arrive at a huge wide river crossing and plunder recklessly through it. Determination and resolve is now all we have. At times we are white with fear and talk about stopping. Giving up. And then we know that we can’t go back. So we have to go forward. Still there is no line on the Garmin or our phone. Just a triangle showing our location in a blank space. But we soldier on. Knowing and believing that the villages we meet can’t all be telling a falsehood. Gembu is somewhere at the end of this track. We must soldier on.
Finally a line appears on the Garmin. We can work out that we will rejoin the main road to Gembu. We are inspired by hope and plunder on until our dot merges with the line and the tar all at the same time. We have made it !! Found the road to Gembu. Just as the villagers said. A huge relief swells in my chest. We hold each other as though we have just been rescued from a stormy sea. It feels glorious. A palpable relief surrounds the cabin of the car. We can breathe again. And again and again. It was hard. But we made it out thanks to the Troopy. I’m just so grateful for the work of the cruiser. I am in awe of its power and offroad capacity. Amazing vehicle I keep thinking to myself as we drive into Gembu, Nigeria.