Cameroon - Yaounde and Lobéké
Day 138 (20 February) – We drive to Yaounde
Happy birthday Kayleigh! Eowyn didn’t want to forget Kayleigh’s birthday and called her from Yaounde.
Day 139-140 (21-22 February) – Yaounde
Yaounde consists of the usual capital city activities:
1. Visas (Congo, DRC)
2. Stocking up on pampers and food
3. Working on the car
We are camping on the grounds of the Benedictine Monastery overlooking the city. Yaounde is a pleasant enough city and 5 days pass uneventually by. We managed to stock up on supplies in Yaounde before the long drive into the unknown region of Eastern Cameroon.
Day 141 (23 February) – Extra day in Yde for car maintenance
We took an extra day to work on the car before going into the unknown of east Cameroon and Congo. The wheels on the car got a little too much play and the wheel bearings needed to be tightened. In the afternoon the job was done, but then with tightening the last bolt on the red car… it broke… We needed a new wheel bearing hub! We managed to get a secondhand one for (after hard negotiation) a huge price. It was dark when we came back so continue in the morning.
Day 142 (24 February) – Yaoundé to Abong-Mbang
But first, we had to replace the hub assembly housing the front wheel bearings and we were back on the road again!
The road from Yaoundé to Abong-Mbang is newly paved and takes us through beautiful rain forest on our way east. There is little traffic except for logging trucks. The further East we go the fewer other vehicles we see. We are pulled over by a gendarmerie who is obviously drunk. He demanded to see our papers. We hesitated and tried to chat our way out of it thinking which of our papers were ‘least’ valuable and we could pass over to him. We decided not to hand over the car registration papers but did give the Carnet and Julia’s international driving license. He flipped through the documents and started singing “Happy Birthday and New Year!” After a bit of a serenade from the gendarmerie we had our papers back and were on our way. Again driving into beautiful rain forest on a new tarmac road.
Day 143 (25 February) – Abong-Mbang to Yokadouma
We are up early trying to make it to Yokadouma. Our new tarmac road ends here and it is dirt track the rest of the way east. We wake up to thundering, pounding rain which will quickly turn the dirt roads to mud. We leave Abong-Mbang before breakfast which we will look for in the next town on the map, Bertoua. Bertoua turns out to be a frontier town seemingly populated by truckers, loggers and prostitutes. We have a difficult time finding breakfast as most places seem to be selling beer. There is no shortage of drunken people and it is only 9 AM.
As we drive on there is no traffic except for trucks hauling HUGE trees. The trunks are so massive most of the time there are only 4 or 5 trunks filling a flatbed and towering above the cab. We don’t see the damage from the logging from the road (or maybe we do but don’t recognize it). There isn’t clear cutting near the road but we don’t know how they get these enormous trees out of the forest without flattening everything around them. The red roads are fringed by almost neon green grass and then there is nothing but thick green rain forest as far as we can see.
Day 144 (26 February) – Last bit to Lobéké
It was another day driving to reach Lobeke NP and the road is getting more difficult. Uphill Niels’ car got into problems again, one time even the plug blew out of the radiator! Not the best place to get into car problems, we still need to go through the Congo’s and who knows what that will bring us…
Luckily, the radiator was not properly purged and we had spare radiator plugs (they are plastic), and after doing it properly we could continue again. Still there is somewhere a leak in the coolant system, because Niels is still loosing coolant. We decided that the best is to check frequently the coolant level and not overheat the engine to continue. Namibia will most likely be the best place to have this fixed.
We reached Mambele, the cross road town where the entrance and head quarters is for Lobeke. To visit Lobeke National Park you can get information in Yaoundé at the WWF office (N3 53.275 E11 30.572). You should also visit the WWF office in Yokadouma (N3 31.015 E15 03.054); they can tell you all about excess to the park and the roads. At the time we reached Yokadouma office, they were not able to contact the office in Mambele. Apparently their phone was not working and also the radio was broken. But the day after we paid our entrance fees at Mambele the internet was back up and running (not sure if that is the best investment the park can make)… At the Mambele office all arrangements can be made, guides, porters, guards.
Day 145 (27 February) – Rainforest of Lobéké
We are able to arrange for 2 days and one night pitching a tent in the forest. In the morning we pick up our guides Francois and Blaise and a camp guard, Jam. Francois and Blaise are both Baka – from the forest tribes. We distinguish them from one another by saying Francois is the ‘small’ one which doesn’t make much sense because they are both tiny compared to us!
Because of the kids Julia and Stanley each take a day out looking for gorillas.
Day 1: Niels and Julia. Our Baka guides glide silently on barefoot through the forest with only a small back pack between them. They are able to fold together leaves to make cups and take water from the stream, so only carry a small amount of food and their machetes. Julia and Niels bumble behind with cameras, water bottles, back packs, tripping over roots and getting poked in the eyes with twigs.
It is a 6km walk to the ‘look out post’ which overlooks a grassy clearing where forest animals like to feed. As we are walking there is, all of a sudden, a very loud barking. VERY loud – it is very close to us and an incredible intimidating noise. The guides motion us to get closer (not our initial instinct!). It is a lone male gorilla and he is letting us know he is here. He is only 15 meters away but we can barely see him through the thick bush. In other words Niels was looking and looking through the forest but could see nothing... The guides and Julia pointing into the dark forest, somewhere, nothing… Another barking or two and then he runs off, Julia confirms, Niels still nothing.
We spend about 3 hours on the lookout platform. There is nothing. NOTHING. So is the nature of looking for animals in their natural environment. Niels takes to photographing a dragon fly and a flower. Julia focuses on a small ant colony that has attached itself to the side of the lookout station. In turns we take a nap…
As the afternoon is getting on we prepare to head back. On the walk back a storm sweeps in. Our first thought is being in the rain forest is the perfect place to be during a rain shower as the canopy is so thick, little water makes it to the ground. But then come huge surges of powerful wind like a train at high speed coming nearer and it becomes obvious this is the worst place we could be. A guide should always show confidence and it is never a good sign when they start to run!! The guide starts to run and beacons us to follow, fast! In between the surges the guides stop for a moment and listen for the next surge and then run on. You can hear the wind coming from far off as it rips thought the canopy blowing branches and leaves and knocking down whole trees. It becomes very dark and the rain starts to come in sheets just as we make it back to camp.
Day 146 (28 February) – Gorillas
After Stanley’s experience with the kids the previous day (mostly trying to keep Senna from being eaten by or eating a variety of insects) Julia decides to take the kids back to the cabin outside the park (N2 27.241 E15 25.266). A bit defeated and sorry that we didn’t see any gorillas she packed up the car and the kids and left camp. 300 meters from camp just around the corner is a huge silverback on the road. What a site! He grumbles and then pushes into the dense bush and is gone. Wow.
We are almost back to the main road when we come to a large tree blocking the way completely. The camp guard - who had probably been quite pleased with his assignment today since there was no one there - was now called upon to remove an enormous tree, by himself, with only his machete. Sorry, guy. But he manages in 30 minutes to hack through and we are on our way again.
We are almost back to the cabin when there is another fallen tree. You can hear chainsaws all over town this morning, all due to yesterday’s storm. The camp guard goes off on his motorcycle in search of an available chainsaw. He locates one (together with its owner) and they ‘fire it up’. It makes some limping chainsaw sounds but doesn’t sound promising and indeed it takes ages to get through the large tree trunk. Eventually we are into the camp. A 1 hour drive took us 5…
Stanley and Niels started early that morning trying to find gorillas at the same clearing in the forest. We arrived at around 7:30, climbed up the viewing platform as quiet as we can, and a huge silverback was eating away in the grass about 100 meters away! A beautiful site. Niels was taking pictures and King Kong was obviously disturbed by the soft clicking of his camera. Slowly and irritated he moved back into the tree line. Gone…
We were hoping he would re-appear n the clearing but after some 3 hours of relative silence it was time to pack up and return to the camp. With the cameras packed and the rucksacks on our back, Stanley thought of making one last picture of the Black-and-white Colobus who were coming out of the trees into the clearing. Only seconds later followed by some Sitatunga antelopes and a bit later a gorgeous Bonga. Subsequently in the tree line 2 huge blue chickens: Great Blue Turacos! Wow, we were lucky we stayed on a bit. And just when we realized how lucky we were, another gorilla appeared behind us and some chimpanzees climbed high up in the trees…