Many people had told me Cameroon is a major highlight of the West Coast, and so I came in with high expectations. After roaming around, I can honestly say those high expectations were met and exceeded. I have covered almost 1,400 miles here and I know I will have to come back one day, hopefully when the North is safer and more stable so I can really explore.
I move South on the paved highway, and stop for lunch in the busy town of Ambam, not far from the border. The pace here is frenetic, and the buzz of life much louder. Motorbikes, scooters and cars revving engines zip every which way much faster than I am used to, and ladies selling everything imaginable yell to anyone and everyone. Lunch is a delicious meat sauce on rice, and I enjoy watching life on the streets around me.
Further along the highway I drop down into a huge valley, at the bottom of which is the Aïna River, forming the physical border between Cameroon and Gabon. A barrier blocks the way, and so I jump out and have some military guys enter my details into a ledger. After less than twenty yards the story is repeated, then again, then again. All along the way everyone is friendly, and genuinely happy to hear I have enjoyed my time in Cameroon. Everyone wishes me a safe journey. When all is said and done I have an exit stamp in my passport and the paperwork for the Jeep is cancelled. Now I am only ten yards from the new bridge spanning the river, which clearly replaces the old ferry I can see half-submerged in the river.
Immediately across the bridge I stop at yet another barrier and I can instantly tell the military guy posted there is having a bad day. He is very short with me, and is not happy when I say I am a tourist. At first he says I can not enter because I need a visa, and he is obviously not happy when I say there is one in my passport. As with all people in power, once I have handed over my passport it is a serious breach of protocol for me to reach over and take it back. Now he has it, he wants to hold onto it, knowing he can wield power over me while he controls it. To find my visa he must flip through over thirty pages of visas and stamps, and he repeatedly cuts me off and tells me to be quiet when I attempt to show and then tell him where to find the Gabon visa. Flipping through page by page is painfully slow, and he repeatedly stops to talk on his cell phone or otherwise do nothing.
Eventually he resigns himself to doing his job, and insists I go away and wait in the shade by the Jeep, which I am happy to do. After a while I am called back over, and the man insists on getting the full list of countries I have visited since leaving Australia. When I try to say there are a lot of countries he again cuts me off and says he didn’t ask that, and so I rattle off the names of over 20 countries, much to his disbelief. He actually takes the time to write down each and every one, I think trying to find a hole in my story.
Amazingly, this guy is not even Immigration or Customs, and is just writing down all my details onto a piece of paper, some kind of pre-admittance type of thing.
While going through all of this I watch a guy trying to get through in a car hand over some cash, which gets the barrier immediately lifted. Apparently this is how people deal with this guy. After driving through the guy in the car walks back over and asks in English if I need any help. He explains he is from Cameroon and we are all in this together, before going on his way when I insist I will be fine.
As I have learned, being patient and keeping a smile on my face is key. As always, I only have to wait patiently and not get frustrated, and everything works out. The guy finally hands back my passport and the pre-admittance form, and the barrier at the end of the bridge is lifted.
Finally free to leave I jump in the Jeep and move off, though less than thirty yards later I am once again stopped and the process repeats. This time the guys are friendly and in no time my details are in the ledger and I am free to move along. After a few more similar stops I find my way to Customs, where for 10,000 CFA (about $15USD) I am issued a one month temporary import permit for the Jeep with no hassle at all.
Finally arriving in Bitam I find my way to Immigration where I hand over my passport, pre-admittance form from my friend earlier and a couple of passport photos. After a few minutes waiting I receive an entry stamp, and am finally legal to drive off into Gabon.
Country number fourteen, I am excited!
For all the details to drive your own vehicle into Gabon, including obtaining a tourist visa, gas and diesel prices, border procedures, paperwork, insurance, prices, camping and more, see http://wikioverland.org/Gabon