It was an even more misty morning than usual when I started cycling toward Bitam, the last town on the Gabonese side of the border.
I reached Bitam just as the immigration office was opening. There were two other people waiting with me, a man and a woman. We handed in our passports. The woman was dealt with first and sent to get some photocopies. She then called us forward. “Samuel.” We both stood up. She did manage to guess which of us was the Cameroonian Samuel and which the British.
I got my exit stamp quickly, with no requirements beyond a photocopy of my passport. From Bitam it’s another 30km to the border – I’m very glad for iOverlander as without it I could easily have shown up at the border and had to backtrack 30km for a stamp. Then again, perhaps if I bothered to stop at any of the police checkpoints they’d have told me.
Even the checkpoints by the border didn’t seem fussed about stopping me so I rode straight over to the Cameroonian side, where the friendly immigration officer entered my details into a book, and stamped my passport.
There was a couple there at the same time. They were visiting family across the border – many Cameroonians work in comparatively wealthy Gabon. There’s a system where people in the border regions can cross with just an identity card, however the woman’s card stated she was resident in Libreville – not the border region. The guard let her in anyway after a bit of discussion.
As I rode away, I was waved over by a woman sitting at a desk in the shade of a broken down truck. After finishing her phonecall she asked for my vaccination papers. I got out my Covid and yellow fever vaccinations, she took a photo of my Covid vaccine certificate, and I was free to go. It did seem strange they were checking this after I’d already been stamped in; it seems the wrong way around. I wonder what would’ve happened if I hadn’t had the certificate.
I was stopped briefly by some friendly Gendarmes but then was able to ride through the other checkpoints, which remain quite frequent. This part of Cameroon seems pretty similar to Gabon, though there are a few differences. I saw more goats and cows in one village than I saw my entire time in Gabon. Motorbikes are back to being the most common vehicles, though traffic is still pleasantly low. The rate at which people yell out “Le Blanc” has increased somewhat.
Shortly before sunset I stopped at a school. I checked with a man in the adjacent house, who said I was welcome to camp there. I set up my tent in a sort of semi-outdoors classroom, roofed but with walls only half the way up.
I was very glad for the roof as, about an hour after sunset, it began to rain, crescendoing into a torrent. I would have got pretty soaked in the time it took to put my tent’s rain fly on, were I outside. As it was I stayed dry as I listened to the rain amplified by the metal roof. The rain did not last long, but I could still hear thunder and see lightning after the storm had moved past.
In the morning I rode to Ebolowa, a large town where I stopped to get a sim card. The woman working there couldn’t process my passport so she kindly used her own ID to register the sim card. Most of the other people at the shop were there to access money – as is common throughout Africa, mobile networks double as banks.
Ebolowa was a fairly big town but once I was through, I was surrounded by forest once more. After an uneventful afternoon of riding, I stopped at a hotel. I asked how much their cheapest room was. “12,000 Francs.” Do you have anything cheaper? “Oh, we have one for 10,000.” “Anything cheaper?” “8000.” “Anything cheaper?” “Oh, there’s a 5000 franc room.” The 5,000 Franc (£7) room seemed pretty good to me, with running water, electricity and a fan.
The next day I rode towards Yaounde, Cameron’s capital. For the last 15km or so as I approached the city, there was a brand new highway with almost no traffic, certainly nothing close to being proportional to the size of the road.
When this road came to an end I reached a road that was much narrower and had far more traffic, driving in the typically chaotic African way. Most of the cars were taxis, which would stop in the road if they thought they saw a likely customer. A few vehicles drive on the wrong side of the road, which doesn’t help. Motorcyclists squeeze through any gap that appears. As ever a significant number of people seem to think all this will be solved if they honk their horn enough.
Slowly I made my way into the city, stopping at a few supermarkets on the way. The first didn’t have much stock, the next was ludicrously expensive, but the third was pretty decent. I bought some food then headed on to the hotel I’d booked online. It started to rain but I made it without getting soaked.
I made the most of being in a big city, by going out a few times for pizza and other fast food. The pizza was underwhelming, but I thought their TV was interesting. French is the main administrative language of Cameroon and it was a French TV channel. There was an advert celebrating pride month which showed some gay couples kissing – interesting because in Cameroon, like much of Africa, homosexuality is illegal.
A surprising number of people here spoke English (after they realised that my French wasn’t great). English is also an official language in Cameroon but it’s mostly spoken in the west.
After a couple days rest I set off cycling. It was a Sunday so traffic wasn’t quite as busy, except when the road passed through a market.
The road descended gradually away from Yaounde. Traffic initially got worse as trucks and larger coaches joined the road. With the “might makes right” system, these heavy vehicles force other vehicles to the side, adding an extra level of chaos. After a couple of hours the road got quieter as I resumed cycling through forest.
While stopped at the side of the road, I was surprised when a white man approached me and started talking in English. This was Edgar, an American who lives in Yaounde, teaching at an international school. He takes occasional multiday motorcycle trips to different parts of Cameroon and hopes to do Cairo to Cape Town someday. It was nice talking to a fellow Anglophone!
I rode on, crossing a bridge over the wide river Mbam and reached the town of Bafia in the early afternoon. Here I left the main road and, after reaching the edge of town, started cycling along a dirt road.
I stopped for a break at the edge of the road and suddenly what had been a quiet road became busy with a stream of vehicles passing me. Looking at my map, I realised why this was: there was a ferry 1km ahead, crossing back over the river Mbam. I figured I might as well rest there so I put my things back on the bike and rode another kilometre.
I arrived just as the ferry left – if it wasn’t for the bike, I probably could have jumped on. There were smaller boats I could take but since I’d been planning on stopping for a break anyway I decided to wait for the ferry.
The ferry did take a bit longer than expected and once it got going it was moving almost imperceptibly slowly. But it got to the other side and off I went.
At one point two guys made me stop. Mostly I ignore such people but these two seemed like they were really going to make me stop if I didn’t do so by choice. They seemed to be trying to pretend to be officials of some sort. They asked where I was going and demanded money; I said no and rode off.
I reached the village of Ngoro about an hour before sunset. This is a pretty convenient time – late enough that I’m comfortable stopping, early enough that if I look for a cheap hotel and can’t find one, I still have time to ride on and camp. The village hotel had rooms for 5,000 CFA (£7) and I decided to take one. It didn’t have running water but they brought me a bucket of hot water to wash with. This was my first time washing with hot water since Namibia, I think! The hotel in Yaounde had a hot shower, which I used to do my laundry. But when I went to actually take a shower, the water had stopped working and it never came back.
In the early hours of the morning there was a fierce thunderstorm. It continued to rain for several hours afterwards, letting up shortly before dawn.
Unsurprisingly this heavy rain had a significant effect on the dirt road – that is, it turned to mud. I had to go slowly as my wheels were prone to slide sideways. Some climbs I had to push as my rear wheel couldn’t get traction. Still, it could be worse. I only saw one truck, and it had slid off the road into a ditch.
After an hour or so there was a fork in the road and I took the smaller road – more of a track, really. Here the mud was worse. Often it was deep and sticky, clogging up the wheels and getting everywhere, making a mess of my brakes and drivetrain.
This made for some very slow, rough going. The sun came out in the late morning and the road dried, improving it significantly – though it was then very bumpy instead.
It was generally quite quiet, with not many people around. Those I did see were less likely than elsewhere to shout at me, which was very nice! Greetings were more common than comments about my race.
It is very humid here and I’m constantly soaked in sweat. I’ve been drinking enough water but, judging by cramps, haven’t been getting enough salt to replace what I lose. Consistently damp clothing makes for some uncomfortable chafing, too.
At one point, after cresting a hill, I thought the dirt ahead was a different colour. Then I realised: there was tarmac!
The tarmac only lasted a few hundred metres but after that the road was, on average, better. There were sections of gravel interspersed with rough dirt.
It was a bit more populated here, with some huge cornfields. Shouting was still low, though I did have one unusual encounter. Two men were walking along the road toward me, when one ran in front of me and laid down in the road! It’s a classic scam, to throw oneself in front of a vehicle then demand a payoff, but it’s a bit ridiculous with a bicycle going uphill at about 10 kph. I went around him and rode on while he yelled at me.
I wanted to try and camp in a village, ideally in a school or somewhere that I would be sheltered from the rain. I passed some houses shortly before sunset but there was a man yelling drunkenly and I decided to continue on.
There was then an unusually long gap to the next village, with a climb along the way. By the time I arrived, it was completely dark. I found the chief’s house and asked if there was somewhere I could camp. He kindly invited me to stay in his spare room instead.
I saw some lightning during the night, but no rain. Therefore the road was much better than it had been the previous morning, especially as I approached Ngambe Tikal, a large village.
Later on the clouds ahead of me began to grow dark. A strong wind picked up, and I heard thunder. It began to rain, drizzling to begin with but getting stronger. The clouds changed, growing lighter, and I thought it unlikely the rain would become torrential so I kept cycling.
I reached a river which, according to my map, had a bridge. I don’t think there was ever a bridge here but there was a free boat crossing. It reminded me a bit of Bangladesh where the waterways are the main transport network.
Back on dry(ish) land I continued on, reaching the town of Bankim and joining a highway. Other than being wider, it wasn’t much better than the tracks I’d been on. There was one climb in particular which was very bumpy and slippery. Thankfully the main “path” used by the motorbikes went along a rut rather than a ridge, so my wheel couldn’t slide far to the side.
The rain lessened to an on-and-off drizzle that lasted the rest of the day. I passed through a village where I was called Mbele, which I haven’t heard since the Congo. I’m often called “Wat” which seems to be a corruption of the word white. I heard the word “Nasara” often enough to guess it was something about my race, which I asked a local to confirm. As usual I’m also “Le Blanc,” “China” and “white man.” One person even called me the n-word.
The north of Cameroon is predominantly Islamic, while the south is Christian. As I ride north I can see this change happening, with more men wearing skullcaps and women wearing headscarves.
I approached a climb that rises about 400m, taking me to an elevation of about 1200m. It had an average gradient of about 8% so I was pleased that there was tarmac for the duration of the climb.
By the end of the ascent I was in the clouds and couldn’t see far ahead of me. The road returned to dirt, with occasional tarmac for the steeper stretches. Up in the highlands herding seems more common, and I saw several herds of cows and goats.
Around sunset I made my way over to a collection of huts and asked if I could camp nearby. They seemed to belong to one extended family and the man, Amadou, kindly invited me to sleep in an unused room instead. With the increased elevation there were no mosquitoes so I didn’t bother setting up the tent.
June 14: 134 km
June 15: 149 km
June 16: 58 km
June 19: 152 km
June 20: 92 km
June 21: 109 km