Cameroon - Ring Road
Day 122 (4 February) – Around town in Bamenda
We all meet up again in Bamenda. A comfortable regional capital city in the Anglophone Northwest Province with a good bakery and grocery store. We spend an afternoon and the next morning here catching up on internet, laundry and grocery shopping before going on the “Ring Road”.
Day 123 (5 February) – Ring Road: Bafut and Lake Wum
The “Ring Road” is a route through mountainous grassfields, past crater lakes and numerous kingdoms (Fondoms). Our first stop on the ring road is Bafut, a 700 year old Fondom. There is a large fon’s palace and a museum sponsored by the German government. The Germans have a significant history in the area and were once at war with the Bafut. Our guide is Constance, the 3rd (out of 8) wife of the current fon. This is one of the best sites and guided tours we have had in the whole of West Africa. It consists of a museum, palace compound (residence), sacred achum and sacred forest.
The museum is in the old house that was used by writer Gerald Durrell (he was there for several years as a guest of the fon). It is filled with artifacts including huge mocking statues of the initial German emissary and his wife. They were carved with monkey-like toothy grins in a mocking fashion. Constance explained that since there was no written language everything was expressed through art. Bafut has been a written language for only 12 years (twelve years!!) and is now being taught in the local schools. The museum also houses justice statues that predicted the guilt or innocence of those accused and statues to protect the villages. Also, personal effects of past fons, musical instruments, masks and photographs.
After the museum we were led through the living compound of the king and the wives. Current wives live in one section. Surviving wives of the previous fons (for which the current fon is still responsible for) in a second compound. There is a sub section of this compound for princes. They are taken aside and taught before they leave home. The fon has a separate residence (which we only saw from the outside).
The Achum is the most sacred building which can only be entered by the fon, members of various secret societies and on special occasions the wives of the fon. It has intricate carved columns outside and an enormous thatched roof. Behind the achum is the sacred forest which can only be entered by the fon.
The palace and grounds were well kept but modest. The wives houses are locally constructed mud brick with swept dirt yards. Constance worked as a teacher in order to make a living.
That night we camp at the side of one of the sacred crater lakes, Lake Wum.
Day 124 (6 February) – Ring Road: Rough roads to Kimbi NP
The next day we continue on towards Nkambe. We have decided to do the ‘large ring’ (instead of the small circle which turns south past Fundong) as we are told the bridges are intact. We continue to Lake Nyos, site of a huge natural tragedy and now a dead village. In 1986 a mysterious natural gas eruption with a massive cloud of suffocating carbon dioxide and other gasses was released. An estimated 1,800 people and countless animals just dropped dead on the spot.
The crater lake is now a military outpost. We ask at the outpost about the road to Nkambe. They tell us it is bad. This is significant because every road we have been on Cameroonians have told us is a ‘good road’ or even a ‘very good road’ (and some of the good roads have been horrible). So when they told us it was bad we knew it had to be very bad. And indeed it was. The road was consumed by a deep rut that became more the size of a canyon. The cars were clinging to the edge with the very real possibility of tipping over.
Just before Niels had picked up two locals needing a ride but our prospects looked to bleak that one guy got out to walk. The second passenger was a young boy. He hung on probably just to be able to look through Niels’stuff and stay out of the hot mid day sun. He reluctantly left his spot on the back seat when it became clear we were going to be there for a long while…
We were out of the cars surveying the situation. Reversing would be difficult but going forward would require some engineering and construction efforts to at least fill in the deepest sections. While we were debating whether we should try and do only enough to turn the cars around or do more to get the cars through and hope this was the worst of it, a motorbike came by. It turns out we were on the main road so our only option was to go back the way we came completely or continue on. They assured us this was the worst section of the road, wished us luck and carried on.
For the next 2 hours we moved stones, dug dirt and tried to make something of the road. In the end we made it through but it was after 5 when we passed the worst of it and we ended up pitching the tent on the side of the road (there certainly wasn’t much traffic!).
Day 125 (7 February) – Ring Road: Wild camp South of Kumbo
The next morning we crawled on. The GPS reads between 3.9 and 4.1 km/h. The scenery is beautiful with red dirt tracks and lush green hills and fields. There are mushroom shaped termite mounds throughout the grassy fields. Past Nkambe it becomes much more populated, there is a huge tea plantation and it is more difficult to find a place to camp. We settle on a gravel pit off the main road.
Day 126 (8 February) – Ring Road: Last bit to Bamenda
Day 4 we complete the Ring Road and make it back to Bamenda.
Day 127 (9 February) – Vehicle check in Bamenda
After the Ring Road we took some time to make a thorough check of the cars. They seem to do still fine. Some loose bolts are tightend, oil is changed (the used oil is gratefully collected by the locals to feed the dogs and keep ants away from the trees, not sure if it will not do more than that…), new air filters placed. The cars are good.