It is time to leave the hospitable Calabar. I went around Cross River National Park, passed Ikom and got to Ikok – the border crossing point. In just a few kilometers before the border control I stopped at obstacle – tremendous board with nails layed across the whole road. These things are not uncommon but they usually consist of two halves making it easy to drive between them incidentally waving to greet the authorities cooling off in the shade of a nearby tree. This time it was not possible to go around the obstacle, but what strained even more – a man without a uniform was approaching me. Long before that, when I crossed the border to Nigeria one of the guards gave me advice: never stop at checkpoints, if you can not see around people in appropriate dress.
Middle-aged nigerian man in camouflage pants approached me and asked for documents. As answer I asked him, with a smile, where his uniform is. He calmly pointed to his pants of army colors. No, I said, that is not working like this, a man at the border told me that I shall not give anything to anybody without epaulettes on a shoulder. He laughed and asked where such a smart person like me going to. To Cameroon, I said, but in general to South Africa. Man than again asked to see the documents. Again I asked to see the uniforms. We both laughed. Then he waved to some lad nearbuy and he pushed the nailed board to give me a ride. And thank goodness for that.
At the border, at Nigerian side there was no problem, even despite my concerns about the overstayed visa. Whether the attention is not paid, or the value is not given – good for me. On the contrary I was dragged out of waiting line, got some bananas and water and wish of good speed. Goodbye Nigeria and your good people!
I crossed the bridge over the river with a symbolic name Cross and got on the territory of Cameroon. Friendly and polite border officer asked in what place I was going and if I have friends there. It looked, however, not very much in greeting, and I was plagued by vague doubts that he was very worried about my fate, rather in the air there was a light veil of money. Fortunately for me, I remembered that in Burkina Faso my friend Moussa gave me the phone number of his friend named Anatol living in Douala and speaking in Russian. I asked for the phone to call Anatole. Next, speaking in Russian with Anatol I asked apology for being sudden out of the blue and told him the situation and asked to confirm that he is my friend. So he did. Bored border guard fumbled with papers and put a stamp of the entry.
Then I had to deal with documents on transport. Accordingly to instructions I went through dusty road to house on a side where I was registered and received a welcome. I then returned to the road and heard that somebody crying to me. Another checkpoint. Rope (improvised barrier) wasn’t raised, and oh, better if I did not stop. But acquaintance with a foreign country in violation of the order (particularly in Africa) is not a good idea, so I landed at person who yelled to me which was looking like proper official representative. He demanded the documents for the bike, and then said that the house behind him is the management of customs, and I need to stamp the carnet de passage there. Oh boy, there we go… nope, I said, I don’t have this piece of paper. And no, I do not need it in your country officially, it is only recommended. Pasavant, you know? Laisses Passer? TIP? That’s my way of travel, temporary import permit. The officer, being surprised told me to park and wait. He himself went to the customs house apparently looking for the advice from higher rank. I parked and looked around. Typical African border town. Nearby there is a parking lot with dilapidated station vagons of all kinds – shuttles run from the border to the nearest large settlements. A little further on the road I heard subwoofer pumping the air – most likely bar. All of this is stuffed with selling booths, shelves and street vendors huts. evening was approaching. My hopes to reach Mamfe slowly dissolved in customs procedures.
Officer who stopped me went out from a customs house with his colleague (probably a senior in rank). They headed toward me. Senior again asked me about carnet de passage. Again I said a bunch of incomprehensible words for him. He asked to see a sample. I rummaged in old papers and found a sample of Laissez Passer from Burkina Faso. He thoughtfully look at it and said that he would like to write a similar paper but he can’t. To my question – and what shall I do? – He said to wait. To wait for what? – I asked. He answered: – Until you see the main boss who is entitled to write such a paper. Which, of course, already gone and only appear in the morning.
No problem, – I said, – Where can I pitch my tent then? It appears that my answer was surprising them. Ha! Been there, done that! After spending the night at Mauritanian border nothing can scare me. After a little thought a senior said that if I wish I can spend the night in the customs house on the floor. Even better! Senior left, junior officer went back on duty at the checkpoint. I parked the bike back and lit a cigarette looking around. If I correctly assumed there is a bar further down the road which means beer. This is a border town so I can probably change here the Nigerian Naira to the Central African Franc. They will rip me off, of course, but at least the rest of the evening could be not that boring.
I pulled the bedding out of luggage and asked the junior customs officer at the entrance to the house if I can bring things and place them inside. He shook his head, but answered in the affirmative. I fell into a stupor. I asked again. He pulled the earphone from his ear and repeated that I can stay inside. Later I found out that a characteristic feature of this area – the gestures of agreement and disagreement are on the contrary. If you’re nodding – it means no. That’s funny. I pulled stuff inside the house picked cozy corner, opposite the entrance, and prepared a bed on the floor. Then went out on the street again and again appealed to the customs officer. Tell me, sir, do you have any hot spots in the area, where you can exchange money and also get a beer? He whistled to one of the shuttle drivers from the parking lot across the street. The rates were, of course, predatory.
The shuttle driver took my money and went back with local currency. I strike up a conversation. I can hear music down the road, – I said to him. Probably a bar with beers? He answered positivle and offered to accompany. As I guessed correctly before – music ran from the bar. While we were on the way there, I talked a little bit about myself and my trip. And after that all of a sudden I got free beer from him. Groovy! Moreover, he was a friend with the local customs so that upon return we pulled a few plastic chairs from the house and sat down with junior customs having a chat. Unhurried conversation ensued and somehow by itself I ceased to regret to the lost balance of the day. We sent local kids for more beer and then went to shuttle parking lot where I got acquainted with half of drivers and checked up the simple life of the local transport system. It looks like, of course, not as what the average person accustomed to seeing. In the night at the yard someone was sitting on the trunks, someone nearby sleeping on the ground, everyone waiting until the seven-seat car check in at least ten passengers going in the similar direction. Pricing principle is simple – one ride worth some money, which is shared among all passengers. The more passengers – the less to pay for each of them. I hung around for a while and went to sleep.
The next morning the long-awaited chief showed up and was even able to finish with me at about ten o’clock. The process itself took no more than five minutes and after all I was holding that significant piece of paper. Finally, without much hope (probably understanding that I showed up the day before and spend the night at the border) the boss asked if I would like to somehow help him in return for his help with the writing out of paper. The document being held in my hands so there was no interest to break a comedy. I shrugged and said that I am traveling without money. He wished a good day and I went out.
I was lucky with the road from Ikom. Just a few months ago the hard-working Chinese people completed a brand new two-lane highway. GPS was persistently trying to guide me along the old road having no idea about the new one. Sometimes a new road crossed the old one (the first was almost a straight line while the second was writhing in every possible way) and I shuddered inwardly. Clay, all over with ditches and tranches, billowing in the next steep slope, the old road left no doubt – it is a challenge. Another turn forced me to stop, get off the bike and rise up my head to the sky. Before me stretched giants were piercing the sky. Famous Cameroonian Rain Forests. The feel of it is difficult to convey in words – the gigantic trees that are so dense and widely grown, so you can see only the first line of them. After stopping the motorcycle engine you can hear the sound of Windows95 sound environment with the “jungle” theme. Subsequently I have repeatedly made such a stops unable to get used to this kind of picture.
In Bamenda I bought a local SIM card and then dined at an outdoor “cafe”. Aside from the fact that the road began to deteriorate all went well. People were friendly unobtrusive and spoke in English. Cameroon is officially bilingual country and Cameroonians are very prod about that (comparing themselves with, for example, Switzerland where the population speaks both French and German). In fact, the North of the country speaks in English and South speaks in French. It is rare to find someone who speaks both languagesat once.
I gradually moved south and streetsigns increasingly began to apeear in French and the area has become a become a very high hills. Well, or low mountains. It was similar before too but with the advent of the camping search time it became particularly noticeable. A more or less suitable piece of land that is different from the vertical was inhabited by people and therefore the question of the place for the tent became very urgent. After about an hour of unsuccessful searching, I turned on the promising path and stoped in front of a garden which looked abandoned in the middle of the jungle. The sun had set behind the horizon and being desperate to find something more suitable I dismount from the bike and walked toward nearby hut with intention to ask the owners about the possibility to camp the night in their territory.
The house looked deserted as well as garden. I knocked on the door, silence was an answer. I knocked again. Waited. Then I tried to slightly push the door and it opened being unlocked. I looked inside. The spectacle was gloomy. Remains of daylight illuminated randomly scattered garden tools, household items, cobwebs in the corners and a bonfire in the middle of the room. By all indications, it seemed that no one has been here for a long time. Shrugging, I went out and my eyes stumbled upon wicker bowl filled with berries. Berries were looked fresh as if freshly picked. Mystic. Anyway. I went back to the bike and examined once again the abandoned subtle garden and decided that this garden cannot be worse anyway. I stopped under a tree, had dinner, spread the sleeping bag between the furrows and stared at the stars. The air was full of smells and sounds of the night life, the sky looked at me with its distant suns and all that lulled me quickly so I went into the arms of Morpheus.