Fried rat and deep waterholes

Tara Plage, Cameroon (where else!)
The hotel manager in Mamfe warned me: it’s a long day’s drive to Limbe. “When you leave at 8.00 you will arrive around 18.00 o’clock. It’s also a scenic drive and I have the first part to Bamenda for myself, no cars, no trucks. I arrive in Limbe at 16.00. The first hotel doesn’t want Thimba so I drive westward out of town. A second hotel is “fully booked”, but the parking is empty: message is clear. A third hotel has only one room left, well over my budget. But I’m tired and so is Thimba, so I take it. After 5 minutes the telephone rings:
“The manager doesn’t want the dog in the room.”
“O.k. I’ll let her sleep in the car,” I reply.
It’s getting dark, I’ve parked the car near the room, and they won’t notice when Thimba stays in the room or in the car.
After another 10 minutes the phone rings again, and I am kindly but firmly requested to put Thimba in the car. So – after a walk on the dirty, black lava beach – that’s what I do.  I don’t sleep well. Keep thinking I hear Thimba, remove my earplugs, listen, hear all sorts of strange noises but not Thimba. Get up at 5.30. When I open the door of the car, she’s just waking up. What a dog!
The next day it’s an easy drive to Kribi, Tara Plage.

Tara Plage, Kribi Cameroon

Tara Plage, Kribi Cameroon

Decisions, decisions
I leave Kribi for Ebolawa together with two bikers: Steven and Francis. Steven is a 24 year old German world traveller, rode all the way from Malaysia to Germany and is now on an African tour. Francis is French, my age, travelling around the world on his beautifull BMW motorbike. We may be teaming up for the crossing into the Congo, which can be somewhat difficult on a bike, especially when it has rained. And he can help me in situations when native French is required. Steven wants to take an unusual route through the north of Congo and I agree to accompany him.
When we are staying in Ebolawa it rains all night and I reconsider my plan. With so much rain the bad road will become impassable and I don’t want to take the risk, so I decide to take the well-travelled and easier route through Gabon. Ride safe, my friend. You’ll get through!

Albert Schweitzer and immaculate nuns
I had never heard of  Lambaréné, a small town in central Gabon. All towns are small in Gabon compared to Libreville, the capital, where one third of the population lives. Gabon is rainforest, over 75%.  With chimps, gorillas, mandrills, forest elephants, buffaloes, crocodiles, antelopes, hippos, monkeys of all shapes and sizes, leopards, red river hogs and a rainbow of rare birds.  I only see bushmeat, being offered at roadside stalls, mostly antelope and the odd monkey. It’s a good business: an antilope sells for 20.000 cfa (just over 30 euros).

Bushmeat seller

Bushmeat seller, Gabon

Bushmeat seller, Gabon

Bushmeat seller, Gabon

Life magazine called Albert Schweitzer ‘The greatest man in the world’ in 1947. It was in Lambaréné that he founded his hospital to treat leprosy and it is here that he and his wife are buried. ‘Everyone has his Lambaréné’, Schweitzer said, and his is a gentle, green place. I am staying at a mission post, Mission de Soeurs L’Immaculée Conception. The beautiful stone buildings look French rather than Gabonese. The grounds are very well kept and have a great view of the river. Provence in Gabon.
The rooms are all booked for the long weekend, starting tomorrow, May 1st. But Francis and I can have a room for one night. A big room with three beds; Thimba would want her own bed, of course,  and it’s immaculately clean (pun intended).

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Catholic mission Lambarene, Gabon

The road in Gabon is not only very good tar, it’s also practically empty. A car now and then, no lorries. And – thank you Gabon! – no speed bumps. It looks much more developed than Cameroon. Many stone buildings and even the small wooden huts have a satellite dish. As we approach Mouila the landscape gets flatter. No more hairpins and steep climbs. It’s only about 90 km to the Congolese border but we decide to call it a day. Always do a border crossing fresh and relaxed in the morning! Besides, Francis has a flat front tyre that needs repairing.

Crossing the equator, Gabon

Crossing the equator, Gabon

Towards the end of the afternoon heaven opens its gates, filling the muddy potholes in the road to Dolisie for tomorrow.

Fried rat and palmwine
We are looking for a shady spot to have an early lunch and are invited by Olivier to sit under his palmleaves roof. He’s a muscular man in his forties and uses his makeshift workplace to sell whatever he catches in the forest and the river. Francis checks what’s cooking, and it’s rat, being fried in a coal fire. Olivier catches the rats with traps he makes from tin cans, a piece of rubber string and a twig. He explains that some cans are better than others: Coke cans are pretty worthless and sardines are good. He dreams of having his own little restaurant here to support his wife and three children. But he doesn’t even have the money for a bicycle, so he walks the 13 kilometers from his village to his camp each morning, and back in the afternoon.

Fried rat on sandwich

Fried rat on sandwich

Lunch with Olivier

Lunch with Olivier

We make some sandwiches and offer Olivier one. But first he wants to show us how he produces his palmwine and takes us a few hundred meters into the forest where he taps the juice from fallen palmtrees. He cuts away a small slice of the tree and covers it carefully with a piece of plastic (bees also like palmwine). This will be ready for a tap tomorrow, he explains. He folds a piece of leaf into a small funnel, puts some herbs in it, and pours the palmwine through the funnel into Francis’ cup.

Freshly produced palmwine

Freshly produced palmwine

When we get back to his camp Olivier’s sandwhich is gone. Thimba puts on her most innocent face.

Border post Gabon-Congo

Border post Gabon-Congo

Some serious off-road driving in Congo
After the border at Ndendé the piste offers new off-road challenges: mud and very deep waterholes, filled to the brim after heavy rainfall. It’s impossible to know the depth of these holes, and in some of them the Land Rover nose-dives so deep that the water flows over the bonnet and reaches the front window. It’s incredible how capable the car is in these circumstances (and with an experienced driver, of course, ahum..).

And then I make a beginner’s mistake. I stay in some ruts too long, they get deeper and deeper. I know I should stop, reverse, and continue on the shoulders, but I think I can just make it, accellerate some more to keep momentum, and the rear differential buries itself deeply in the hard, crusted earth. Complete standstill. All four wheels are free and I try to see if I can negotiate myself out of this, but there is no way out of this but the dirty way: jacking and shovelling. I use the Hi-Lift to jack up one side of the car when a young man on a moped stops and starts to dig out the differential, lying under the car in the mud. After half an hour he has removed enough earth, I lower the car and manage to reverse the car out of the ruts.

Stuck, just after the border with Congo

Stuck, just after the border with Congo

A helping hand!

A helping hand!

We reach Nyanga by the end of the afternoon where we book into a a hotel. They have a simple room for 7.500 cfa, and a better room for 10.000. The last one has a bath and a fan and we think we have deserved this luxury after a hard day. However, there’s no running water and no electricity.

Rood, with his homemade truck, Nyanga, Cong

Rood, with his homemade truck, Nyanga, Congo

I ask Steve about the road from Dolisie – where we hope to arrive tomorrow – to Brazzaville, about 350 kilometers. “It’s a very good tar road” he says. He speaks surprisingly good English and is keen to practice it. He thinks Dolisie is a great city with lots of cybercafes. We will enjoy the route and the town. Why doubt his words?

With Steve, Nyanga, Congo

With Steve, Nyanga, Congo

The Dolisie Road
Congo’s President, Denis Sassou-Nguesso, who has his office in Brazzavile and lives in Oyo, a day’s drive north of the capital, looks well after himself. The road between the two cities is one of the best sealed roads in the country. Oyo has an airport with a new terminal that would make many European city jealous, and the president owns an enormous estate in his hometown. You would be highly surprised when lower echelons civil servants wouldn’t follow their leader’s example. And so, even in the smallest village, between ramshackle poor dwellings, you’ll find a new Préfecture with the aspirations of a French palace, fully airconditioned and including a collonade and a timpane roof.
Mr. Sassou-Nguesso probably never drives the N1. It is the main road between the two major cities in Congo, Pointe Noir and Brazzaville, it’s one of the worst dirt tracks in Africa and it certainly is my most challenging off-road experience so far. My adrenaline is as high as the waterholes are deep and I can feel my heart beating in my head. I have some scary moments, afraid to get bogged down here, in the middle of nowhere. But I get through and find Francis at a roadside restaurant for a break, enjoying a beer and a simple meal. He really knows how to find these lovely places!  He is fond of the local dishes, especially bushmeat. He sadly just missed the Boa that they had to offer until an hour ago and settles for a piece of antelope instead.

Landy's got a beating!

Landy’s got a beating!

A couple of hours later I find him on the side of the road, but there’s no cafe or restaurant. He has a broken clutch. Trying to adjust the tension of the clutch cable helped in the last couple of days, but the clutch is now completely gone. He suggests that I tow him on the bike. I consider the option for a moment, but it is far too dangerous under the circumstances. He would be just 5 to 10 meters behind the Land Rover, not seeing anything because of the dust I create, and runs the risk of hitting a pothole and being thrown off the bike without me even noticing that. So we stop a truck and the driver agrees to take Francis and the bike to Brazzaville.

Francis' stranded BMW being pushed onto a truck

Francis’ stranded BMW being pushed onto a truck

In the next village the road is blocked by a turned-over truck. I reverse and stop at a local cafe to ask advice. There is an alternative route which bypasses the blocked road. Francis arrives with “his” truck and we discuss the options. It seems that the alternative route is also blocked by a truck, stuck in the mud, and that I would be able to pass it with my car. When I reach the spot it looks just possible. I think of the similar situation in Liberia when I hit the truck and tore off my jerrycan, but since this looks less risky I decide to give it a try, manage to pass and arrive in Mindouli at 17.00.
The military have closed the road for the night. Too dangerous, tomorrow is no problem. I can pass if I take a military escort with an AK47 in the car to Kinkala. But I don’t have a passenger seat, am very tired, and don’t want a military escort anyway. They direct me to a local hotel where I can stay the night.
From Mindouli the piste gets better but with some very bad mud parts. In one of these a truck is bogged down. I prepare to stay the rest of the day, or even the night there, but they manage to get it free in an hour!

Bogged down truck, blocking the road, Congo

Bogged down truck, blocking the road, Congo

After Kinkala the road is good tar and I get to Brazzaville at 12.00 where I find Steven at the Hippocampe Hotel. Free camping, good toilet and shower, bit noisy.

In the evening I send a text message to Francis to ask if he’s o.k. He replies a couple of hours later. The truck got stuck in the mud at Mindouli, and they are staying the night in the truck.

4 thoughts on “Fried rat and deep waterholes

    1. Gee Post author

      Hi Deniese,
      And I didn’t taste it! But sometimes you just have to eat what’s available. I am so glad I have a fridge, so I can stock almost anything I want -:)
      Love, from Brazzaville, Congo
      Gee

      Reply
  1. Trundlingjack

    we have eaten most types of bush meat but like you I think I would draw the line at fried rat but apart from that you make the trip sound amazing and the pictures are pretty good .
    Keep us informed all the best trundlingjack

    Reply
    1. Gee Post author

      Hi Trundlingjack,

      Yeah, rat is too much. The antelope looked all right though.
      Cheers from Brazza, Congo,

      Gee

      Reply

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