Nothing is what it seems. It is whatever transpires on the road. I know this now for certain. Learnt my lessons the hard way. And I am still learning.
We spent time in Brazzaville decompressing and debating which road to follow north. We learnt that our north going German overlanders had driven directly north from Brazzaville to Quesso in north west Congo and over the border into Cameroon. By choosing that route they missed out on Gabon completely but got to Cameroon in record time. So we debated. Do we follow the Germans and drive north-east or do we take the main N1 and drive north-west thru Gabon. In the end Gabon won because we were keen to see the turtles and do some fishing at Sette Carma.
But it was not just destinations that drove our choice. It was also the road. On the map the west road appeared as a big bold blue line – stronger than any other. And it was marked N1 – indicating a main highway. Or so we thought. We imagined this meant a good asphalt road all the way to Gabon.
We were half right. Until we reached Dolisi the road was a big sprawling double highway. It was free of vehicles and free of potholes and full of tolls. Go figure. It was when we turned north from Dolisi that things changed dramatically. We went from good dirt road to deep rutted and potholed mud roads to mud tracks with large deep pools of water across them. Mud and water and slide and grit again. So severe that a one stage I submerged the entire vehicle so that the water covered the bonnet of the car and a third of the way up my windscreen. Miraculously the vehicle went under and through and out. And we breathed. At another we submerged our wheels in soft mud up to the chassis and had a few minutes of white fear as we rocked the car forward and back to be free it. Miraculously again the car screamed and heaved and managed to free itself from the fastening mud grip. And that’s how we rolled. A high tension drive. Bit by bit. Counting kilometers and hoping we will make it through. Hours passed until eventually we arrived at Ndende as the sun set. Relieved to be out and able to sleep.
The day had more in store though before we slept. On inspection we found that the left and right support stays for our rear bumper that holds the dual wheel carrier were both cracked. The bumper and wheels could be lost at anytime. So we were left with no choice but to offload the two spare wheels and place them in the vehicle to reduce the pressure on the bumper. And that’s not all. We also discovered that the feeder pipe for our water supply had been ripped out on the road and we had lost our store of water. So we are without the pleasure of water for a shower after a long drive. It is what is. I will repair it when I have a chance.
So suddenly everything changes. Without water we can’t get to camp out with the turtles like we planned, or go fishing at sette cama. We have to find a village that can help us weld together the broken bits and fix our water supply. Long held dreams get ditched in an instant and old plans are scrapped and new ones are made. Our priorities shift from turtles and beaches and fishing to car maintenance. It’s our house and means of transport. It takes priority always.
I keep thinking about that thick blue line up the west on a map. It’s so deceptive. The N1 is a track. A mud infested track. And I think about why so many overlanders just miss out on Gabon and go direct from Cameroon into Congo from the centre to east side. And why I never clicked. Never even thought. Never even imagined. Nothing. Africa has its way of presenting things way beyond what we think and imagine. Way, way beyond.
In the end we made it to Ndende and from there to Lambourine where worked the roadside welding repair job on the dual wheels carrier bumper and made a temporary fix to restore our water. And headed out to Lomé national park for new year. Wild camping on the way and treating ourselves to spaghetti and veggies in a lodge for New Years. A Lomé game drive delivered our first sightings of forest elephant and water buffalo and a bunch of birds. And some spectacular scenery in the park. But most of all Lomé delivered three days of chill time and restored us for the road ahead to Cameroon.