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The Africa Tour - page 6 of 11

 5. Stage (June / July 1990): Benin City (Nigeria) - Gara Boulai (Cameroon)

I am approaching the really rainy parts of Africa; Northwestern Cameroon and the areas reputation is making itself felt already. I need to get an order for spare parts to the back-up team, my mother, in Bad Soden. After numerous failed attempts to connect with Germany telephonically, despite great efforts of two maize chewing operators, I am more successful by radio. From the private mansion of a road construction contractor in Enugu, I correspond with an amateur radio-ham back home who in turn phones my mother. She will arrange for the required parts to be sent to the next "Post office" along my way.

One last confrontation needs to be withstood, a Jehovah's witness is trying to convince me of his views but eventually takes up flight. Then, as I exit Nigeria and enter Cameroon the latent fears fall by the wayside. The infrastructure of this country, parts of which were once colonized by the Germans, consists of gravel roads, with a few tarred exceptions between the two bigger cities, Douala and Yaounde, a railway system that ends somewhere in the forest and a national airline. My path takes me along a gravel road that could better be defined as non-existent due to prevailing rainfalls and into the misty, mountainous rainforest. Mosquitoes everywhere! The current soccer World Cup is an event that is not taken lightly here. In every village I get to hear reports on the latest developments; Germany makes it into the semi-finals. In Mamfé, a little settlement in the jungle, where I stay with a development worker from northern Germany and his family, we are awoken one night by an unanimous outcry of despair that echoes through the village; Cameroon has lost the match against England. This, however, doesn't conclude the soccer reports. It goes without saying that most Cameroonians now back the German team and after their victory, I sense a certain attitude of reference toward me.

Villagers are helping cleaning off the muddy bicycle

The return of the national team is repeatedly shown on television, the government exploiting their sensational achievements for propaganda purposes. Time and again, my arrival in the tiny villages seems to cause a general standstill of public life and the most frequently asked question is, whether Germany, after its reunion, is unable to provide me with a more appropriate vehicle for my journey. I fail to convince the villagers of the fact that this trip is a private and non-profit undertaking.
I spend one night in one of the traditional clay huts, shifting my mattress and mosquito net across the room trying to dodge the leaks in the roof; the typical reed roofing is not always particularly watertight. In Limbe, a village beautifully situated between the over 4000-meter high Mount Cameroon and the Atlantic, I am invited by an Irish tea farmer who gives me a tour of his plantation, 1000 meters above sea level. It is interesting to learn how many varied factors influence the resulting quality of the actual product. The constant rain makes it impossible for me to climb Mount Cameroon unfortunately, but I do catch a rare glimpse of it's mighty slopes, rising up through the all-engulfing clouds.

With a last swim, I part from the ocean for months to come.
Due to political unrest in Gabon and the erratic rainfall patterns in the south of Zaire, I have changed my route and will now be trans cycling the Central African Republic, across North Zaire and Uganda, to Kenya and then southward, through the highly acclaimed Tanzania, to Zambia and finally to South Africa.

Dirt road in the west cameroonian jungle

The lasting rain turns mud baths along the road of west-Cameroon into routine. As I am slowed down to a pace of 80 km a day, dragging, when not carrying my bike through the knee deep boggy morast. Busses, trucks and other heavy vehicles don't seem to be making any faster progress, with every slope posing the threat of sliding off the track and into the forest. I often see all passengers of the crammed Busses having to disembark and jointly push-pull their coach back up, onto the road, out of a ditch, or up a slippery hill.

An altogether different scenario awaits me in the savanna of east-Cameroon. Here the tracks are turned, by a short suspension of the rainy season in July, into vast dusty stretches; and I throw myself into the bushes that flank on the road each time a car announces itself with the familiar flagging column of dust. Here I wait for the dust to settle before even surfacing.

I am sitting in front of one of the comfortable brick-houses of the American mission, in Gara Boulai, a nest close to the border of the Central African Republic. In the south the thunder speaks to me of the usual evening thundershowers. Hungry baboons are trying to make their way past the security bars of the pantry window. This is a truly fascinating country, but it faces immense problems. In the capital, Yaounde, municipal employees have not seen their wages for over four months now. Banks are releasing only small amounts of money as everybody is trying to get to their savings while they still can.
At a dinner with the Belgium ambassador, he even mentions the likelihood of an evacuation of all foreigners. The situation is becoming increasingly dangerous as general dissatisfaction reaches a peak.

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