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Friday, 16 April 2010

Togo, Nigeria and Cameroon

Mike and I took a day on a mixture of tarmac and good graded road to get to the border with Togo. The border crossing was hassle free aside from the standard customs official pretending not to know what a carnet de passage was. Through into Togo, no cadeaux paid, we made our way down the main north to south highway and camped just outside of Kande. We were buggered and after we had put up our mozzie nets and Mike whipped up a feed, pretty much fell asleep before our heads hit the pillow. The following day we made our way south to Atakpame where we turned off the main highway and headed into the jungle.

It was late in the day and we still had 80km of potholed jungle road before reaching Badou. Leaving the hot plain we climbed through wooded hills before finally reaching a huge plateau with dense dark jungle as far as the eye could see. It was humid, hot and steamy. Strewn through the jungle were plantations of banana, coffee and cocoa which supported the many villages which lined the road on which we were riding. The going was slow though and 20km before Badou the sun set. Possibly the most astounding sunset we'd ever seen. Massive orb falling into the jungle's skyline, bats flying all around us. Amazing. The jungle closed in and the last kilometers in the dark were challenging as we dodged large potholes and avoided dazzling oncoming traffic.

Badou is a town nestled in a valley surrounded by impenetrable jungle. Quite a surreal place. It was muggy and just after we arrived it hosed down. Really heavy rain for half an hour. We opted for a room instead of camping, the odour coming from our motorcycle boots filling the small room we shared. The next day we rode 10km on another jungle road to the small village of Akloa. There we hired a local fella to guide us to the nearby Akloa falls. The walk to the falls took around 45 minutes and it was hot hot hot. Humidity must have been close to 100%. Our guide made it look easy setting the pace through the jungle track.

We arrived at the falls drenched in sweat but it was worth it. Spectacular falls with a huge pool at the base to swim in and cool down. We spent a couple of hours there swimming and relaxing before heading back. That evening we headed to 'town' for a few beers and ended up sitting in a corrugated iron shed, surrounded by jungle and jungle noise, where they were showing Arsenal vs Hull City on a flat screen telly. The beer was cold and Arsenal got up and won 2-1 with a late winner. A fine end to a good day.

The following day we were keen to get to Lome and catch up with Hans. We had no idea if he had managed to get his bike from Ouagadougou to Lome or not. Turns out we needn't have worried. Not only was he there he had managed to get his biked shipped there for free on the back of a large lorry. Result. Hans had arrived a few days earlier and Didier, the mechanic at Toni Togos, the KTM workshop in Lome, had managed to fix his clutch already. We stayed at a place called Chez Alice about 10km out of town right next to the beach. A great spot, we pitched our tents in the courtyard and awaited the arrival of our fourth member. Mad Dog turned up a couple of days later full of tales of Ghana and the villages he had stayed in. It was good to all be back together again.

The following day we were invited by Didier and another friend we had made Sandro to go and watch a motocross race about 20km out of town. On the way Mad Dog reached a huge personal milestone. He had brought his bike new in Australia and pretty much shipped it straight to Santiago, Chile. That was 16 March 2008 and he had been going ever since.

Here on the outskirts of Lome in Togo, West Africa his speedo ticked over to read 100,000km. As soon as it ticked over we all pulled up and Mad Dog punched the air. He was absolutely ecstatic and rightly so. Handshakes all round, a banner made from toilet paper and a few photos to comemorate the occasion. It was a great thing to be able to share this moment with the old Dog.

We spent the day watching some great offroad race action. Our mate Sandro did well, coming fifth, but Didier cleaned up. He was awesome, head and shoulders above the rest of the field, making it all look pretty easy. We donated a bottle of cheap bubbly for the winners 'podium' and all got a tee shirt to remember the occasion by. A brilliant day out.

Our other main task whilst in Lome was to obtain our visas for Nigeria. We knew this could be a bit tricky so ended up making plenty of copies of our bike, carnet, passport and vaccination paperwork to submit with our applications. Upon arrival at the embassy, we approached the lady at the visa counter and were told that it was impossible for us to be issued with a visa for Nigeria. Impossible?! We were taken aback but after some fast talking managed to get her to consider our applications. We were asked to return the following day at 4pm to receive the answer. The following afternoon we returned and found we had been approved but only for a seven day transit visa. Damn. Nigeria is a pretty big country and we needed a couple of days in Abuja to apply for our Cameroonian visas. It was gonna be tight and we prepared ourselves for a few hard days riding.

With the bikes all fixed and serviced we said goodbye to Chez Alice and the people we had met in Lome. We had been there for ten days and had met some great people but it would be fair to say we all had itchy feet. It was a great feeling to be back on the bikes. We left Togo and crossed into Benin where we stayed one night before crossing into Nigeria. The border was pretty hectic and it was hot but we were getting used to it by now. We were however surprised when a health official asked to see evidence of our vaccinations for meningitis. Suspecting this was a ruse on his part to hopefully catch us out and take a bribe we kept things pretty light even though we knew there was no way that a meningitis vaccination was compulsary for entry into Nigeria. We he finally asked, "What do you have for me?", Mike, determined not to part with any cash, suggested we give the gift of song. But what song? "Waltzing Matilda", said Mad Dog. "Oh God no" I said. But it was too late. We were now surrounded by by a number of border officials all insisting we start singing the Matilda song. And we did. Not our finest hour and they probably won't let me and Mike back into New Zealand now, but we got into Nigeria without too much hassle so it was worth the humiliation. I think.

Soon after crossing the border we ran a gauntlet of checkpoints. It was comical really. After the first checkpoint we'd ride twenty metres to the next and this repeated for at least ten checkpoints where we would be asked the exact same questions as we had at the previous checkpoint. Security looked tight here and all of the soldiers were carrying Kalashnikovs. Most held their weapons casually but with their index finger curled around the trigger at all times. One bloke had a sticker on the clip of his AK47 with the word 'Jesus' on it. Hallelujah.

We rode into the outskirts of Lagos then took the bypass through towards Benin City. The road was okay but every now and again we would come accross crater like potholes. I think we all hit one or two at speed. There is nothing worse than that nausiating feeling you get when you see a pothole too late to avoid it and you know you have to ride over or through it. All you can do it give it some throttle, try get the front wheel over the worst of it and hope the impact with the rear wheel doesn't cause any damage. Not nice. We camped our first night in the jungle just outside of Benin City. It was hot and sticky and as we set up camp the sweat poured off us. We combatted the dehydration as always with plenty of cups of hot sweet tea and a spicy dinner.

The following morning we set off early. We had to reach Abuja which meant an ass numbing 600km day on the bikes. This was the worst days riding I had had since leaving the UK. The road was dodgy at times, the checkpoints tedious but it was the standard of driving which made for an extremely stressful day. Basically we spent all day being cut up by car and truck drivers who just didn't have a clue or an ounce of consideration. Every 20kms or so we would pass the mangled wreckage of a car or truck on the side of the road which didn't seem to deter the locals from driving like idiots. I think we all got road rage at least once that day, even laid back Mad Dog found himself chasing down a bloke in a car a letting go at him with a tyrade of abuse.

We reached Abuja late in the day, all quite frazzled but very happy to have arrived in one piece. We stopped and congratulated each other for making it in alive and headed to our accomodation for the next two nights, the Sheraton Abuja. The Sheraton? A bit fancy for us isn't it? Well yes. But for some reason overlanders are allowed to sleep for free in the carpark. The great thing being that we could use the pool and other facilities essentially for free. The pool was great and the bar expensive but it was great to unwind after a stressful couple of days.

The following day we headed to the Cameroonian embassy and submitted our visa applications. With nothing much else to do while we waited for the visas we spent most of the day lounging by the pool, reading and planning our route out of Nigeria and into Cameroon. After three nights in the Sheraton carpark, visas in hand we headed northeast towards the border with Cameroon. Two days later we crossed. On the Nigerian side, just outside of Mubi, we were stopped by an immigration official who tried his best to get some money out of us before letting us through. We tried not to laugh as he sternly proclaimed, "Now before you can leave Nigeria we are going to play some game of hanky panky". We didn't hang around long enough to find out the rules of this game, grabbed our passports and headed towards the border. There would be no 'hanky panky' this day.

Cameroon. What would it hold in store for us? Quite a bit as it turns out.

We decided to head to northern Cameroon, following a good tarmac road through Marua and on towards Waza National Park. Our guide book mentioned that elephants, giraffes and even lions could be spotted there. Hans, having missed out on the elephants in Nazinga was particularly keen to see some wildlife. When we got there we were disappointed to discover that we could not take our bikes into the park. Weighing up the cost of hiring a vehicle and driver we decided to give the park a miss and headed south again.

That afternoon we arrived at a small village we had stopped at the previous day. They were lovely people and we asked if we could sleep in the village for the night. Happily the elderly headman and headwoman agreed. We spent the afternoon tinkering with the bikes, surrounded by curious onlookers. Hans put up his hammock which was a definite hit with the kids and the adults alike. It was really nice to spend time with the people of the village. We gifted some sugar and soap to the headman and woman, who by this time we were all calling papa and mama respectively. It was a great experience to spend some time with these people who didn't have much but were happy to share their village with us.

The following day we headed south, stayed the night in Maroua where we met a couple of VSO volunteers. We camped in the courtyard of the cheapest hotel in town which we later discovered turned into the busiest brothel in town after dark. That night Mike, Hans and I went out for a couple of beers with the VSO volunteers and left Mad Dog back at the hotel. By the time we returned business was in full swing and poor Mad Dog hadn't had a wink of sleep due to the busy goings on of the establishment.

Back on the road the following day we continued south. We stopped in Garoua in the early afternoon for gas. Turning my back for a second after filling my tank three guys on a moped pulled up and stole my wallet out of my tank bag. Shit! I felt ill. Passport, cash, cards, the lot were in there. Gone. So began a long tedious afternoon of police reports and immigration questionaires. Feeling a bit crap, I resigned myself to the fact that I'd have to make it to Yaounde and try and sort out a replacement passport and cards from there. Not in the mood to ride much further we stopped just outside of Garoua and met a kind lady who let us camp in the carprk of her bar. We wanted to camp close to the river but that was impossible due to the real danger of hippos coming ashore at night to graze on the riverbank vegetation. This was confirmed to us later when Mad Dog went down for a look later that night and spotted one close to where we intended to camp.

South to Nagandere we ran out of tarmac. The route turned into a wide graded red mud road, some muddy patches and stretches of fine red sand. Of course there were some decent potholes too and our old friend the corrugation.

Generally the road was okay though. Traffic was light. The main problem was for Mad Dog when we had to cross muddy sections of the track. Like Hans he was still wearing road tyres but the big GS1200 was sliding around a bit in the slimy red mud. The going was slow but fun. Mike especially was loving his KTM in these conditions. Hans changed his tyres after the first day, fitting a set of Karoos to the GS800 which made the going a bit easier for him. I was still wearing the TKC80s I had fitted back in the Western Sahara. The had rounded off a bit but were still okay. After a couple of days on this road we reached Meigoudou. Hearing that the next 100km section was probably going to be more muddy that what we had just come through, Mad Dog decided to find a truck to take him and the GS across and we would meet in Garoua Bulai where the tarmac started again.

Soon we found a truck and after negotiating a fair price managed to get Peter's bike strapped on the the back. He and the truck took off and we followed soon after. We crossed a few massive sections of sticky mud and huge water filled potholes. I managed to drop the AT once but generally the going was pretty good. Peter probably made the right decision to truck the GS across as he might have struggled a bit without knoblies through a few sections. Later that morning we passed Peter's truck on the road. We stopped about and hour later for a breather and made a cuppa. We also made Mad Dog a coffee and passed it up to him in the cab as he passed us in the truck again. The truck didn't even stop but Mad Dog was all smiles as we gave him his caffiene fix.

Just as we were finished packing up a moped pulled up and the bloke on the back asked if we were mates with the white guy in the truck with the motorcycle on the back. "Yeah" we replied. To our horror he then informed us that Mad Dog's truck had crashed a few kilometers up the road. Fuck. We rode like madmen to get to our mate. Upon arrival the scene we met was horrific. The ten ton truck was on it's roof 30 meters off the side of the road down a steep bank. The cab was crushed and there was blood everywhere.

Mad Dog had a split on his forhead three inches long and was bleeding quite a bit. He had some nasty lacerations on his arm but thankfully no broken bones. He was in shock. So was I. Hans took charge and I have to say was quite brilliant. Calm and thorough he gave Mad Dog a once over and started cleaning and bandaging up his headwound. The hardest thing was getting Peter to sit still as he was worried about his gear and of course his bike which was upside down on the back of the trailer.

Whilst Hans poured iodine into Peter's wounds and applied bandages Mike and I recovered his remaining gear. Four blokes in a 4X4 stopped and we asked if they would take Peter to Garoua Bulai where we knew there was a hospital. Hans and Mike remained at the scene and I followed the 4X4 on my bike.

Upon arrival, the hospital looked rough but apparently they performed surgery there so at least they had the means to stitch up the split in Peter's forehead. I grabbed my sterile kit and stood over the doctor insuring he used the sterile needles and syringes I was carrying, paranoid of the risk of HIV infection which is endemic here. The doctor piled in two syringes of local anasthetic before Mad Dog could bear the pain of the cleaning and stitching. The power had gone out in the storm so we used my headtorch so the doc could get the stitching done. He did a pretty decent job.

By the time we left the hospital it was nearly dark. I decided to get Mad Dog to a hotel and a bed to rest up before trying to contact the others. We made our way to the only hotel in town down a track which had turned to slippery mud with the rain. Mad Dog was ahead on a motorcycle taxi and I followed behind. I must have been tired, lost concentration and managed to drop the AT on the slippery track. Shit! Struggling to pick up the laden AT, I looked up just in time to see Mad Dog running towards me to help me out. Running! The guy had just been through a hell of a day, was lucky to be alive and to see him swathed in bandages, covered in dried blood running to help me just sums him up as a person really. A real good bloke and as tough as they come.

The next day Mike and Hans turned up at the hotel. They had done a great job of getting the GS off the upturned truck and onto another which would take Peter and the bike to Yaounde. Uncannyly the truck was almost identical to the one which had crashed and as Peter boarded and the truck pulled away with his bike strapped to the back an awful sense of deja vous came over us.

Our route to Yaounde was different to that which Mad Dog's truck would take. We headed south on possibly one of the amazing roads I have ever seen. Wide, fresh black tarmac, huge sweeping bends snaking it's way through virgin rainforest. Not a pothole in sight. This road was made for motorcycles and we all loved it. I think we all needed the release that road provided after a couple of testing days. We also saw our first bushmeat on this road. Blokes standing at the roadside, one with what looked like a large spotted cat and some huge ratlike animals. We'll stick to the pasta thanks. After a night camped in the jungle we reached Yaounde the following day. Mad Dog arrived a few hours later and we rented a pickup to go collect him and the BMW from just outside the city.

Camped on a fantastic lawn at the Presbyterian mission in the centre of Yaounde we were able for the first time to survey the damage to Peter's bike. Amazingly it's not as bad as we first thought. The forks, frame and rims are fine. The dash and headlight are gone and there is some damage to the subframe near the pillion pegs but Peter reckons it looks repairable. Well, what he actually said was, "There's life in the old girl yet". More good news. My passport had been found and handed in to the police in Garua. Result. One less thing to take care of in Yaounde.


  1. Seems like you have new meanings for "hanky Panky" and singing for your supper.Amazing action packed blog.Hope that Mad Dog recovers well and that no one else tries to look into his head.Any celebrations on the 14th? Travel safe , our thoughts with you always.
    Dad and the family.

  2. Glad you didn't hang around for the 'Hanky Panky' - I'd rather not think what that might have been!!!!!!!!!
    Hope Mad Dog is feeling a lot better now - it looks like he is lucky to still be alive. Hope the next part of the journey is a lot calmer for all of you.
    Keep a close watch on your belongings - the rotten beggars! Hope you celebrated your Birthday in style! Take care all of you. Lynda & Keith. xxxx

  3. Even though you told me all about Mad Dog, I still cringed reading this!!! He just seems such a cool bloke. In fact the photo of him appearing behind the bikes (in your 10th pic) made me giggle a little! You keep doing this for the rest of us, I think we are all pretty jealous and are enjoying the trials, tribulations and of course, most of all, the excitement and adventure through your eyes. You guys are pretty tough, hats off to you all, especially after this last installment... Glad to see the t-shirt fits well! ;o) Suits you sir!! Must get one for your homecoming!! x

  4. What a read!!! Seeing that upturned truck and feeling sick...what a lucky escape for our Mad Dog (I think we are all a bit attached to the gang). I hope his (and his bikes) recovery is swift. So glad the passport turned up too!
    Now... waltzing matilda!!.. really!!
    Hope you enjoyed some Birthday celebrations!
    Love you lots!! P.S you are going to be an uncle again in October xx

  5. Remember, hold your cards closer to you chest. hope you all have better luck for the rest of your journey. Great blog. Im now riding Fazer 600, Y2005. Hope you got something out of the book I sent. Pete Eileen & the girls.