The Road Chose Me – Nigeria to Cameroon
The main road from Nigeria to Cameroon has long been the stuff legends are made of – mud, mud and more mud for days. The one hundred kilometres of jungle track can often take a week, and getting through often required being pulled by tracked machinery. This road is one of the major reasons I chose a Rubicon with factory diff locks.
Unfortunately, none of that is true anymore. A Chinese crew recently finished paving the road, and it can now be driven with cruise control set on 60 miles an hour. That type of road does not appeal to me, so after a lot of research I have found another possible crossing. I can not find a map that actually shows the complete road, and my GPS lists part of it as a walking track, so I am uncertain if it will be possible in the Jeep.
To add to the uncertainty, The crossing is a little further North. I am hoping it isn’t too far North, into the no-go Boko Haram region of Northern Nigeria.
Anticipating a massive final day in Nigeria, I am on the move early once again. I top off everything I can at the only functioning gas pumps in town, before heading out on an extremely potholed and bumpy road. At a few Immigration, Police and Military checkpoints I am warned of occasional bandits on the road ahead. Apparently they don’t pose much of a threat to me – so long as I don’t stop – and so I continue on my way, now much more alert. Thankfully, I see nothing.
After many hours of nasty potholes, I arrive at the tiny border town of Bissau. As I pull up I watch a uniformed Policeman stumble from a bar, throw a beer bottle onto the ground and attempt to straighten out his uniform, all while doing his best not to fall over. The entire town has come to greet me, and everyone is extremely friendly. In three minutes I shake more hands than I can count. The Immigration officer has not seen a single foreigner here in his three month posting, and is very impressed I have managed to find this remote border post. His stamp only goes up to 2009, so he stamps that in my passport before crossing out the date and writing in a new one. That all seems very official to me!
A couple of guys on motorbikes escort me through the village and point out the direction of the correct track – now obviously only used regularly by motorbikes. The jungle is growing in on all sides, and at times I tackle loose rock scrambles. The hours roll by as I cross a few small rivers and walk a couple of sections first to see what is around then next corner. My GPS shows the the International border is a slightly wider nondescript river, completely un-signed and with zero official presence. I take a few photos, and the guys washing their motorbikes in the river either don’t know the significance of the river, or they simply don’t care.
There is no Immigration or Customs on the Cameroon side, and so I just continue on.
Now technically – though not legally – in Cameroon, the track winds on through thick jungle, with steep rocky climbs where I use low range first gear and both differential locks. The sun beats down relentlessly, and every time I step from the air conditioned Jeep I am instantly soaked in sweat. Progress slows to a crawl to the point I cover less than eight kilometres in an hour.
Afternoon turns to dusk which slowly dissolves into a moonless, starry night. With little other choice I continue crawling forward and eventually come to a tiny mud-hut village in Cameroon. With the permission of the friendly locals I setup camp right in the middle of the village. Children and adults alike stare with wide eyes as I transform the Jeep into a house before I say goodnight and fall into bed without dinner, completely exhausted.
Mercifully the temperature and humidity drop, and I fall asleep quickly.
In the morning I am woken by the sounds of the village – people chatting happily and making fires to cook breakfast and brew tea. As a thank you I share out massive pots of tea and coffee, the locals heaping in the sugar as always. Another hour on the road sees the jungle track increase in size, then after another thirty minutes I am a little shocked to arrive at a full size and heavily used road.
I have arrived at a bustling market on the junction, and a couple of friendly locals explain this is all trade between Nigeria and Cameroon. Swinging North on the major road, I head directly back towards Nigeria and the larger border crossing at the town of Abonshie.
One look at the overloaded wooden canoes crossing the mighty river in Abonshie confirms my earlier research. I don’t swim to find out, though I can clearly see the water is at least a couple of meters deep and flowing fast. With no bridge, there is no way to cross with the Jeep here.
After tracking down an Immigration officer he explains he has never seen a single foreigner in his three year posting here, and he is extremely proud to welcome me into Cameroon. He says it is absolutely no problem that I spent last night camping without being legally in the country, and even asks what entry date I would like stamped in my passport.
Setting off to explore Cameroon I am now on roads shown on my maps, which I assumed meant they would be much larger and better than what I have just driven. I was wrong.
As I drive into the huge mountains rising around me, I am extremely excited to explore African country number thirteen.
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