malaria and Getting locked up (Bikepacking Cameroon)
missing my connecting flight
While I didn’t do much interesting riding in Cameroon, there were many interesting things that happened during my 4 weeks there.
I left Nairobi and had a layover in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia before continuing to Yaounde, Cameroon.
Unfortunately, while we were in the air, the weather in Addis Ababa was so bad that no planes were able to land. This meant that we had to land at a different airport a couple hours away from Addis.
We waited there for a couple of hours and then continued to Addis once the weather improved.
However, this delay meant I would miss my connecting flight…and so too would literally thousands of people whose planes weren’t able to land.
This meant that it was quite hectic at the airport. There was literally only 1 person booking new flights and sorting out accommodation for all the people who missed their flights, so progress was painfully slow.
Luckily I was about 10th in line of thousands of people because our plane arrived first.
It took about 3 hours, but i got a new flight and the airline booked me a hotel with a transfer and meals included.
There were still thousands of people who would need new flights booked and accommodations sorted after me. Some of them would have been there all night trying to sort it out.
The hotel was nice and so was the food. I was actually happy because I hadn’t slept the night before because I had an early morning flight and I was going to be camping at a mechanics workshop in Yaounde because it was free…so I really appreciated the nice hotel to catch up on sleep.
I think I ended up sleeping for 11 hours in the hotel of the 14 hours I was there.
I enjoyed being able to drive through the centre of Addis and get a brief look at the Ethiopian people and their culture…but very brief.
VISAS AND CHANGING PLANS
I had been in contact with Kokopelli packrats for a while to test out their new bikepacking bag lineup and packraft down some rivers in the Congo Jungle. But unfortunately, just before arriving the deal fell through as shipping and customs logistics were going to be difficult and expensive, so the deal fell through.
As I mentioned, I was camping at a mechanics workshop in Yaounde that someone had told me about. Didier the owner was a french guy who lets overlanders camp there while they were working on their cars/bikes etc.
It was lucky because there weren’t any cheap accommodation options in the city. But being the middle of the rainy season it was extremely humid, so it wasn’t comfortable to stay there during the day so I’d spend most of my days walking to the cafe and doing research on different route options for the road ahead.
For each country I want to visit, requires applying for a visa at the embassy and waiting a week or more to get the visa back. In the meantime, you can’t apply for any other visas as you don’t have your passport.
The main reason I flew from East Africa to Yaounde was so that I could get the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) visa from the embassy there. I heard it was one of the only places possible to get it outside of your home country.
Unfortunately, 2 weeks before I arrived, they stopped giving out the DRC visa from the embassy in Yaounde.
So I came up with a new plan to instead ride through Gabon and the Republic of Congo (ROC).
As I was waiting for my ROC visa, the news came through that Gabon was no longer visa free and now required a visa to enter. So I would have to wait another week for a Gabon visa if I wanted to go there.
Further more, it seemed that it was only possible to enter Gabon via the airport and not a land border, so after planning an off road route through Gabon, I went back to the drawing board.
I would now plan to cycle to the north eastern pocket of the Republic of Congo where it was less inhabited, plenty of wild animals including forest elephants, goriallas and leopards and pygmy tribes. And once reaching the town of Impfondo, I would take a boat down to Brazzaville.
The plan was now set.
DEALNG WITH CUSTOMS and getting locked up
I had a crack on the seat tube of my bicycle and the bike company had agreed to send me a new bike before going deep into the jungle.
I asked them if they could send it to Yaounde as I knew I was going to be waiting there for a couple of weeks for visas.
The day before arriving in Yaounde (Monday) I got an email saying the bike had arrived and was ready for pickup.
On Wednesday, I went into Fedex, saw the bike, checked it wasn’t damaged and signed all the papers. But before I left, they said that customs hadn’t cleared the bike yet and that I’d have to wait…and so began the fun.
I would be told to come back the next day and then the next, and then on Friday, they told me I’d have to wait until next week.
Actually, in the beginning I wasn’t too worried because I had to wait for my ROC visa until the following Wednesday anyway, so I wasn’t in any rush.
Then the next week came around and I went into the Fedex office everyday.
I would say I spent more than a total of 14 hours in the Fedex office waiting. Each day they told me it would be ready for pickup the next day.
By the time the following Friday came around, I’d had enough. The bike had been there for 2 weeks, I had agreed to do anything they wanted and provide any information they needed ASAP but they still wouldn’t give me the bike, saying customs still hadn’t signed off on it.
So on the Friday afternoon at 3pm, I went into the Fedex office and told them that I was taking the bike today and they have 2 hours to sort it out otherwise I’m walking into the customs area, taking my bike and leaving. In my mind, they were holding the bike hostage as I’d already signed for the bike 2 weeks ago.
But I kept getting the same responses, and they weren’t taking me seriously. I was then told it wouldn’t be ready until next week on Wednesday.
I informed them my visa was running out (it wasn’t) and it’s been 2 weeks and I’m not leaving without the bike today.
At 4.30pm, I proceeded to walk into the customs area behind the gate and began to take my bike as I told them I would. They then locked me in the customs area and took the key.
At this point things had escalated. I’d been so patient and understanding with them for 2 weeks that I think they thought I was kidding when I said I was going to walk in there and take the bike.
So as I was grabbing the bike boxes, they found the key and locked me in there. They threatened to call the police to which I replied “Good, I signed for the bike over a week ago saying its been handed over to me and you are holding it hostage, so at this point, the way I see it, you’ve stolen the bike from me.”
I continued “I would rather explain the situation to the local police than the immigration police for overstaying my visa. I can’t stay in Cameroon forever, you tell me everyday it will be ready the next day for 2 weeks. What am I to do?”
The thing is, they couldn’t give me a reason why they weren’t releasing the bike. It was impossible to get a straight answer from them.
I then called up Priority Bicycles and spoke to Dave on the phone telling him that I’d just been locked in the customs area. It was pretty funny.
The Fedex customs boss then told me if I wanted the bike to be cleared that I would have to go to the Head of customs office directly.
I told him its 4.45pm on a Friday afternoon, by the time I get there, the office will be closed for the weekend and by the time I get back here, the Fedex office will be closed and I won’t get my bike till next week.
I told him that he would have to come with me to the head of customs office if he wanted me to leave.
Obviously, he then just called the customs office directly and he was told the head of customs had already left for the weekend.
I kept telling them that I’d rather get in trouble with the local police than the immigration police for overstaying my visa, so I wasn’t leaving the Fedex office without my bike.
My visa wasn’t actually running out but the situation had just become ridiculous at this stage.
I told him I was camping at the mechanics workshop and it was actually more comfortable for me to sleep here in the Fedex office all weekend than camping at the workshop.
As it got closer and closer to 5pm, the fedex boss started getting angry and realising this was going to be his problem if he didn’t sort it out, so he got on the phone and started yelling at people.
Magically at 4.55pm, they gave me the bike, I signed another form and they let me leave.
The Fedex staff had all agreed with me how ridiculous the situation was as they had seen me in the office on 7 different occasions over the passed 2 weeks being told it would be ready the next day.
I later found out that the problem was most likely because the bike company agreed to pay the customs fee through their Fedex account, the customs agent wasn’t able to get a bribe and pocket any of the money himself. So they make the problem as difficult as possible until you eventually pay them in cash or give them a bribe…although no one directly asked me for any money the whole time.
GETTING MALARIA AND FOOD POISONING
So after 2 weeks in Yaounde and finally managing to get my bike and my ROC Congo visa, I head off south towards ROC.
I only went 50km the first day as I wanted to stay in a room and charge all my electronics before heading further south. It had been 2 weeks camping at the mechanics workshop.
The first day was difficult, it was the first day I’d ridden for about a month and it was extremely humid.
I hadn’t found a comfortable position for my bike seat on the new seat post yet (it always involves a little tweaking), so it was a hard 50km.
In fact, I was absolutely exhausted by the time I got out of the city and made it to a guesthouse 50km away. I decided to take the next day off to recover.
I had been feeling a bit ill for about a week at this point since I’d drunk some “filtered” water from the tap in Yaounde.
I thought a day off there would help me recover.
So the following day I left and kept continuing south. I was making great progress along the tarred road and was enjoying riding through the thick jungle.
It was hot and I was really struggling to ride in the humidity as I wasn’t used to it.
After about 80km, I found some food in a small village. It was a big hairy rodent about the size of a beaver with hair on it. I ate it with some manioc for lunch.
It smelt very strange.
Like really bad canned spam. But I ate it as I was starving and I continued.
I went another 20km or so until I was completely exhausted. I asked the chief of a village if I could camp at the school for the night. He first showed me a room in his house with a dirt floor and a mattress that was covered in 100’s of dead bugs.
I politely declined and told him I preferred to sleep in my tent at the school if possible.
He showed me to the school and one of the classrooms where I set up my tent, spoke with the chief for a little while and then began cooking pasta for dinner.
I was feeling a little exhausted from the heat but not too bad. I knew I was likely a little dehydrated from all the sweating throughout the day so I added a rehydration packet to my water to get some salts back into my body. Even though I’d drunk over 7 litres of water while riding, I felt this was the right thing to do.
I went into my tent to lie down at around 7.30pm and started watching a movie.
About an hour later, I started feeling really bad. I had a very strong fever and was either extremely hot or extremely cold. My throat was completely dry and I kept drinking more water but it was making me feel sick. I even had another hydration packet as I knew I was likely suffering from heat exhaustion.
I’ve worked a lot of time in extremely remote places in extremely hot and humid temperatures, so I am aware how important it is to stay hydrated and reintroduce salts into your body.
Throughout the night, my stomach was aching, my mouth was completely dry and the fever was terrible.
I would summon up the strength to get out of the tent and out into the school yard to do exploding diarrehea 4 times through the night. I had no other option and it was extremely difficult to move.
I was fully hallucinating when I went outside to diarrehea, sometimes it felt like I was dreaming and other times i didn’t even know where I was.
I would always stumble back up the stairs into the classroom and into my tent before just laying their constantly trying to swallow saliva down my throat.
I didn’t get a single second of sleep throughout the night. I knew I had to get up early and leave before 7am as the school was starting.
It was clear to me during my third explosive episode in the school yard that I wouldn’t physically be able to ride the 23km to the hospital in the next town.
At 5.30am, the chief of the village came to the classroom and I told him I was extremely sick and wouldn’t be able to ride to the town and would take a lift.
I slowly packed up everything as it was quite difficult. My body had no energy to do anything.
At around 6.30am, I made my way to the road and the chief helped flag down a car that could take me to the hospital.
It was just a small hatchback car, and my brand new bike was put in the boot with the front wheel of the bike hanging out the back.
I made sure to protect it as much as possible by laying out my sleeping mat so that it wouldn’t get damaged.
We then proceeded to drive in the opposite direction of the hospital as we had to pick up some other people.
By the end, the back of the car was all full of fruit and veggies, drums of oil and there were literally 5 of us sitting in the 2 front seats. It was pretty crazy.
Luckily I was feeling too ill to worry about any of it.
We eventually turned around and made our way towards the town. I was then dropped off in the centre of town where I put my bike bags back on and headed for the hotel.
It was expensive but i didn’t care, i just wanted to go to the room and use the bathroom and lie down.
I was able to check in at 8am and was able to get 4 hours sleep.
Later that afternoon I walked to the hospital and got a poo, wee and blood tests done.
Turns out I had malaria, severe dehydration and food poisoning.
Luckily I came to the hospital.
I was given 4 different medications and I made my way back to the hotel.
The fever disappeared the next day and the dehydration the day after that. I had diarrhea for a few days and a sore stomach.
I ended up staying for 5 nights before eventually feeling well enough to continue south.
Into the jungle
Leaving Sangemelia was hard, I knew it would be quite a while before I would reach the next big town Ouesso 650km away.
The first day after leaving, it started raining heavily in the afternoon around 2pm. There was nowhere to hide, so I pulled off the road and just sat under my poncho for over an hour. When it was clear that the rain wasn’t going to stop, I decided to setup my tent hidden from the road and camp there for the night.
Obviously everything was completely saturated but I was happy that I was finally out of the rain. I noticed several small bugs climbing up the walls of my tent. As I inspected closer, I noticed they were ticks.
I counted over 20 on the outside of the tent walls. This led to a tick hunt inside the tent where I found a further 4. Everything had just been lying on the wet jungle floor while setting up the tent so several ticks had made their way inside.
Not wanting to deal with setting up my cooker, I just had a packet of uncooked noodles for dinner and watched a movie and went to bed.
The following morning I packed up and left.
I made my way another 110km or so to a small town where I had some fish and rice for lunch/dinner. Later that afternoon, I asked the school if I could camp there for the night.
There was enough sun that I was able to dry my tent before setting it up for the night.
I spoke to one of the teachers of the school and he told me it’s very common for people to eat viper, monkey and gorilla in these areas. Just depends what they catch that day and sell to the restaurants.
It was a pretty quiet and peaceful night at the school and I slept pretty well, I was able to dry half of my stuff.
The following day I made my way to the border with Republic of Congo. I planned on staying there for a rest day but there was no phone reception or power during the day so I didn’t see the point to stay more than 1 night. I
wanted to rest my bum before continuing to Ouesso because I still was tweaking the position of my seat to try and find a comfortable position.
CROSSING THE BORDER AND EATING MONKEY
The following morning I crossed the border without any problems and no one asked for a bribe…which I heard was likely to happen.
Over the next few days I would ride along the nice tar road through the jungle through small villages. Most of them wearing very traditional clothing and waving with a smile on their faces as I passed by.
The Congolese people seemed more friendly and welcoming than the people of Cameroon.
Unfortunately, my first night after crossing the border, I got bed bugs. Thousands of little bites all over my body. Luckily I was sleeping basically naked so they didn’t spread to the rest of my clothes/camping equipment.
As it was rainy season, there was rain most days that I would have to ride through as there was no shelter.
I was lucky one time as it started pouring raining, I arrived into a small village. It continued raining for 2 hours and decided to have an early lunch.
Monkey was the only thing on the menu, so I decided to try it.
It was a strange experience to know that you’re eating a monkey since they’re another primate.
I was apprehensive at first and had to really psych myself up for that first mouthful. Pulling the meat off the bones felt very strange for some reason.
And watching the skin fall off the meat also made me quiver a little.
But I began to eat it and my immediate reaction was that it tasted better than the rodent that gave me food poisoning I’d eaten a week earlier.
It also tasted a bit like spam but with more flavour. I think the thought of eating it was worse than the actual taste.
Anyway I ate most of it except the skin and bones and didn’t get sick.
I’m sure I’ll probably be eating more of that as I go deeper into the Congo Jungle.
I often saw people appearing out of the thick jungle with dead animals over their shoulders that they’d just hunted.
Large rodents, exotic birds and monkeys to name a few.
One night after 130km I camped at the hospital of a small town. The doctor came back at around 8pm a little drunk and asked if I wanted to have sex with him.
At first I didn’t understand what he was trying to say but eventually I understood and I kindly told him no and he left after about 5 mins…but I kept the pepper spray close by me for the rest of the night.
He reappeared at 5.30am the next morning giving me his WhatsApp phone number so we could keep in contact, which is very common in Africa.
I spent one last night in the jungle listening to the beautiful sounds of the jungle before eventually arriving in the Congolese town of Ouesso, the largest town in Northern Congo.
I would have a few days off here before continuing into the thick of the jungle…
From here the real journey would begin!!!
Route through Cameroon
Route through Africa so far
malaria and Getting locked up (Bikepacking Cameroon) missing my connecting flight While I didn’t do much interesting riding in Cameroon, there were many interesting things that happened during my 4