Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Biting dust and mud

Ngaoundéré has the feel of a border town. Going south, the Sahel shrubbery is suddenly replaced by mango plantations, pine and deciduous forest, while the reasonably good tarmac changes into a not so reasonably dusty dirt road for the next 600 kms or so. The French tourists we met in Waza were going to take the train from Ngaoundéré and we soon understand why. Landscapes are beautiful but deserted. We had not expected that villages would be so few in number and short in supplies. As soon as we realize, we stock up on water and pasta to enable us to camp if we don’t make it to the first larger town, 281km ahead. Luckily we discover that the tiny shortcut south has been upgraded into a decent graveled road. As the quality of the road increases, so do our speed and the clouds of dust that we produce. Tibati is home to a rusty filling station and several hotels. We can wash the “fond de piste” off our faces with running water. Hooray! 

Leave early in the morning, we were told, to stay ahead and out of the dust of the trucks. At a surprisingly early 7.40 am, we are on the road. No trucks yet, only schoolchildren and mopeds. Only 30 kms further, Isabel has a flat tire. Shit! Somewhere in the process of getting the unwilling rear tire off the rim using my bike’s side stand, my bike tips over and my rear view mirror – undamaged for 20k kms! – breaks off.  On top of that we’re under attack from bees that must be coming from a nearby hive. Our raspberry jam doesn’t distract them in the least. I finish the job quickly and we set off. After I have rescued my gloves from the bees, that is.

We have lost 3 hours and a lot of sweat, but are nowhere near our destination yet. Moments later, the sky begins to darken. After Rabat, Kumasi and Abuja, will this be the 4th storm on our trip? At first only drops, then a shower pours down on us. We don’t mind so much for the temperature and for getting wet, but all the more for the road that gradually becomes muddier, making us slide uncontrollably.  Instead of stopping in Banyo, we decide to try to ride another 114 kms to the next town where we will find a hotel: Bankim. Luckily the steepest slopes of the Massif du Mbam are tarred, but the rest is mud. At least the dust is gone…

For more pics, see album "Biting dust and mud".
After a long descent, we suddenly find ourselves in a different world. Palm trees, towering moss- and epiphyte-covered trunks, climbing and hanging lianas, badly weathered earth and wood cabins instead of thatched huts and colors are deeper and brighter than ever. We arrive in Bankim after dark and find Hotel “Le Temple Royal” to be everything but royal: no electricity, no running water, but plenty of mosquitoes and a cockroach.

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