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999 Days Around Africa: The Road Chose Me
I move South, continuing to follow the coast to the end of the road in Cameroon, at a small town called Campo. I stop in town to buy lunch and supplies and locals are immediately friendly and welcoming. Here I am right next to the Ma’an National Park – impressive for it’s gorillas and elephants, and with the help of a couple of friendly locals I end up following a military guy on his motorbike to the ranger station. After introductions all round I meet the head man, who very kindly takes the time to give me the run down. Even in French I understand almost everything, and the head officer is patient enough to tolerate my terrible accent.
The new “tourist” facilities are not quite finished yet, and so any visit to the park is kind of ad-hoc. I will pay to enter the park, pay for a guide, pay for a gorilla guide, and tip that man if we find gorillas. Because of the long hike I will be forced to stay overnight, so I must pay for a cabin and pay for another day of park entry. I must also pay to have a camera in the park, pay for fuel for a generator and pay for gas for the guy following me on his motorbike. The price is already into hundreds of US dollars, and I get the feeling more items will crop up if I keep asking for clarifications. It seems like the guys in the park know where the gorillas are, and likely I would see them… but for that price I decide it’s not worth it. With lots of thankyous and friendly handshakes, I get directions for tomorrow’s drive and head directly back to the beach.
I find a quiet place right on the mouth of the Campo River, and am a little shocked to see a substantial town on the other side – Rio Campo in the country of Equatorial Guinea. The country interests me, though my research says a mainland visit is virtually impossible. Chances are I would be issued a visa if I tried, though I would be denied entry on a mainland border, even with a perfectly valid visa. Equatorial Guinea ranks in the twenty most corrupt countries in the world, likely due to it’s oil reserves and what’s happening to the environment and eventually the money generated. While it is permitted to visit the island where the capital city is, the extremely corrupt government wants to stop people visiting the mainland and seeing the truth. I decided I while back I would not risk trying to enter – if I am stamped out of Cameroon and then denied entry into Equatorial Guinea I may very well find myself stuck in no-mans-land with no way forward or back.
It feels strange to camp so close to a country I know I will not be visiting.
A friendly man walks over and introduces himself as the caretaker of the “eco hotel” I am evidently camping at. the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) built this hotel and gifted it to the town of Campo, on the condition the locals stop eating eggs of the sea turtles that nest here. The plan was for the town to earn money from the hotel because of the visitors that come for the national park. Unfortunately the hotel has already fallen into disrepair due to a lack of maintenance. When I ask if the locals have stopped eating turtle eggs, the man grins from ear to ear and shrugs.
I think not.
In the morning I set out to drive directly West, through the heart of Ma’an National Park – because I am only transiting I don’t need to pay entry. I make my way through thick jungle on perfect gravel roads that are only occasionally a little muddy. Along the way I pass tiny villages, some of the most isolated people I have seen yet, with little more than tin shacks and rags for clothes.
I see elephant tracks and dung on the road, and a few times I see many monkeys scurry across the road and quickly climb into the trees. It’s a huge day of driving in intense heat and humidity, with massive thunderstorms building on the horizon for the entire day.
In the late afternoon I am still pushing forward when I find myself going downhill a little faster than I would like. A small amount of brake pedal has the Jeep sliding sideways, and I have my hands full all the way to the bottom attempting to stay on the road. I had not even noticed it had rained here, and now the mud/clay surface is slick as ice. While the downhills are sketchy, the uphills are full of wheelspin and flicking mud. After passing two abandoned vehicles that have slid off the road I realize this is no place to be, and find a small a side road with a clearing that I can home for the night. As the rain falls harder and harder I know I made the right choice.
In the morning I move tentatively on the still very slick surface, though I have no trouble. Eventually I find my way to a brand-new paved road that is basically a highway, leading into a massive Chinese dam under construction in the middle of the jungle.
I stop to air up my tires before pointing South to Gabon.
I have immensely enjoyed my time in Cameroon, now it’s time to move on.