DAY FIFTY-ONE We had an early start today, aiming to hit the border at around 1 o’clock. The country continued rolling and bush-clad and gradually the faces in the villages began to change from predominantly black African to more and more Arabian looking.
More and more of the men wore wore white robes, the women clad in brightly coloured clothes with their hair long and finely braided.
We stopped for lunch near the summit of a gently rising range overlooking a wide valley, then got to the first police post at 2:30. Surprisingly, all the checkpoints were lenient apart from one, when a bribe had to be paid for a fault in a vaccination certificate.
While we were waiting for the formalities to be completed at the Cameroon border, I spent 20 minutes playing with a balloon and a group of local children. There were no problems at customs and we drove into Cameroon, our 5th country.
It took about an hour to find a quarry and we camped the night under a bright moon shining down from a clear sky.
DAY FIFTY I got up at 5 and took my camera gear down the hill to a disused crane at the bottom of the quarry. I climbed up on top of it and sat for an hour and watched as the pattern of cloud and mist shifted across the plains as dawn came.
In a similar way to the fog on the hill at home, misty rain blew in and in next to no time it was raining heavily. Linda and Russ cooked up French toast for breakfast then we packed up and drove the remaining 5 km to Chutes Bouali.
We had to walk the last few hundred metres to the falls as the road had been badly washed out. The falls were a magnificent sight. The river tumbles 70 or 80 feet in a brown and white wall over the falls and brilliant green creepers cling to the rocks protruding from the water. A wall of spray is flung up from the rocks at the foot of the falls and through it comes glimpses of the misty blue hills rolling away into the distance.
We spent half an hour there then drove back out to the main road and proceeded to drive for the rest of the day.
The country was very pretty, a lot like Australia only greener. The hills roll away as far as the eye can see, clad in subtropical forest rather than jungle, and above, a turquoise sky dotted with clouds. We stopped and made camp in a small quarry in the early evening and after tea, we made some bread in the oven.
DAY FORTY-NINE We got up and potted around packing up and left camp at about 10 after filling up the water tank. We drove into town and went to the Post Office then Linda, Snake Russ and I spent an hour in the market buying food and being hassled by the ladies while outside a huge storm pelted Bangui with rain.
Disaster struck when we returned to the truck and it was discovered that Mike’s satchel with all the food kitty¹ money in it had been stolen. Luckily our passports we’re still at the Cameroon Embassy because if they had been stolen we would have been in serious shit.
As it was we still had the visa kitty and the truck kitty and Scotty telexed Kumuka to get them to send money to us in Kano. The worst part of the whole deal is that Mike is responsible for the loss and it comes out of his pocket!
We picked up the passports on the way out of town and passed through K-12 without any hassle.
That night we camped in a quarry near Bouali Falls, with a beautiful view out over the hazy blue rolling hills.
¹Our trip funds were divided up into three “kitties”: one for food, one for truck expenses and one for visas.
DAY FORTY-EIGHT We had an early breakfast so that we could be in town at 8 to finalize our Cameroon visas. I changed 300 French francs at a bank and got 15000 CFA then we went to the Post Office and everyone posted their mail.
We then filled in a couple of hours taking turns to go to the patisserie and wander around the town then went in search of the fabled Artisans Market. It turned out to be a good place to buy souvenirs but they saw us coming and put their prices up. I bought a leather bracelet for 1500 CFA and Linda bought two ebony bracelets, a pair of malachite earrings and a leather bracelet for 2000 CFA.
We went back to the camp for lunch, then at about 3:30 Russ, Di, Jo and I caught a taxi back into the market. I wandered in and out of a few of the shops, then began to bargain with a guy selling figure heads and masks carved from ebony. After a beer in the bar while I planned my strategy I first bought a male and female set of heads for 5 US dollars and 1000 CFA and he threw in a small carved elephant as a cadeau¹. Then we did some further bargaining and I swapped my watch and singlet for a beautiful Ebony mask. A hell of a good deal.
We caught a taxi back to the camp in time for tea then I went to bed as all of the bargaining was too much!! (or was it the beer?!)
¹ French for a gift. The phrase “donnez moi un cadeau” (give me a gift) is a phrase we often heard from children in Francophone Africa.
DAY FORTY-SEVEN Today was the day of the long-awaited Kumuka Olympics. The games started at 3 p.m. with a boat race followed by egg throwing, then dry oats eating, gumboot throwing, volleyball, a 4-legged race and finally a condom throwing contest in the gathering dark. Our team of Snake, Bron, Linda and me came last reflecting how seriously we took the games. Some of the others got a bit too serious but that was to be expected as they are wankers anyway!¹
After an… unusual tea of lentils (man) and rice, all the guys walked up the road to a picture theatre where we caught the enthralling piece of cinematography Break It 2: Electric Boogaloo. What a load of crap it was: French-speaking, Puerto Rican break dancers starring in a cliche ridden movie along the lines of Fame. A good laugh though and there can’t be a hell of a lot of people who can say that they have been to the movies in Bangui.
After the film we had a drink in a dingy bar then caught taxis back to the camp.
¹ As is often the case with group travel, a number of the participants had become dissatisfied with the way the trip was being run. Stay tuned to read about how this divisiveness plays out.
DAY FORTY-SIX With not much to do we just sat around all day. I wrote quite a few letters sitting in the bar drinking pamplemousse (grapefruit) fizz and spent an hour or so photographing a praying mantis.
Late in the evening, a few of us hit the gin, which effectively buggered us for the rest of the night!
DAY FORTY-FIVE We had a reasonably early breakfast then went into town and spent a couple of hours looking around in the rain. Linda and I negotiated with a street vendor and bought a framed set of 9 butterflies and 12 notelets and envelopes for 4,000CFA.¹ Not a bad deal considering he wanted 7500CFA at the opening of bidding.
We spent the afternoon keeping cool.
¹ The unit of currency in the Central African Republic was, and still is, the CFA (informally called the “See-fa”) a currency used by eight independent West African States. CFA is an acronym for Communauté Financairé d’Afrique. The currency was introduced in 1945 by the French, who had colonised many of the West African states.