December 2016 - May 2017
  • Day139

    Fugitive

    April 18, 2017 in Cameroon ⋅ ☁️ 19 °C

    I'm probably at my 500th check by some kind of officialdom, but this one goes a little differently. I pull up to the rope across the narrow dirt road, the gendarmerie person slowly approaches, rifle in hand and asks for papers. Hand over the passport, all fine. Next he wants my driving license, all fine. Next he wants my vaccination card. At this point I know he is fishing and I just have a sense he is going to be difficult. Next he wants the motorcycle registration, but i make a point of taking back my other papers first.

    Surprise surprise, my registration is 'not valid' as it's not issued in Cameroon. This is complete rubbish! He also says I don't have correct insurance - I do. It's quite clear that he is looking for some money, but I've got this far without paying bribes and don't plan to start today. Normally these situations can be solved by making it clear you're not going to pay and generally making their life a little difficult in return. So I start deploying my array of tricks.

    After 2 hours I've made some progress, I've got myself to the other side of the rope and I can tell he is getting fed up with me, but he is still asking for a 'fine' to be paid. I've been exercising the 'I've got all day technique' whilst remaining sat on the bike, but it's not really working. So for the last hour I've had another plan. The bike is pointed in the right direction, I've left it in gear and the ignition is on. So all I need is for the guy to go to the bathroom. Lets face it a guy need two hands for a rifle and one for a piss, and there is no way he is going to turn around and prioritise the rifle midflow!

    The only problem is the guy just doesn't need to go! I'm getting bored of this and I see he has his gun in an awkward position under his leg whilst he is laying down. Starter hit, revs up, clutch dropped, gendarmerie covered in dust - heart beating just a little fast. He still has my registration, but that's why I have colour photocopies - to leave with the gendarmerie!

    Onwards I go as fast as the rocky dirt road will take me, in a different direction to what I told the gendarmerie. After another 2 hours I nervously approach another gendarmerie checkpoint. Asked for passport, go to hand it over.....can't find it! I can't believe this, I'm sure I took it back earlier, I can't have been so stupid as to speed away without my passport. I really can't face the idea of going back. Found - I'd just put it in a different pocket. Through the checkpoint without issue.

    Another hour and the bike has overheated...in the middle of nowhere. After looking around I find the water pump is leaking. It must have been damaged when the bike blew into the ditch a few days ago. After a short walk to the nearest village I've filled up the radiator. Surprisingly it lasts to a garage to be fixed without overheating again.  Turns out to just be a damaged hose rather than the actual water pump.

    The next couple of days see me visit a stunning tea plantation, but first I had to negotiate the hardest road yet, all on my near bald rear tyre. First I choose the wrong path and get stuck in the mud as the path narrowed and deepened. After digging through the mud I find my clutch pedal, put it in neutral and get some help to pull the bike out. Then all I need to do is Straighten the brake pedal and follow the right path. I end up going through a puddle that has water up to the seat! Luckily I don't stall or drop the bike and I get out the other side. As always the cheap little Chinese bikes seem to negotiate this terrain much more easily!

    Photos
    1) The mud roads of Cameroon
    2) How I looked after the mud
    3) Just before Gendarmerie
    4) The Bamenda ring road
    5) Tea plantation
    6) Banana anyone?
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  • Day137

    Simply stunning

    April 16, 2017 in Cameroon ⋅ ☀️ 12 °C

    If first impressions matter, then Cameroon is going to be a corker! After crossing the border I'm greeted with 100 miles of beautiful smooth tarmac sweeping side to side and up and down through the greenest rainforest. I'm in a post malaria euphoria and having a ball.

    Even the small niggles are just entertaining at the moment. On leaving Nigeria I got told off for parking too near the flag pole. Oops! Then on the beautiful smooth road I stopped to water the rainforest - as I finish I hear a crash. The wind has blown over the bike....into a ditch! No problem, wave down the next car, get 4 people to help me retrieve it, then back on the way.

    I arrive in Bamenda earlier than expected, so go and visit one of the many crater lakes nearby. Wow is this a stunning setting, beautiful clear water surrounded by forest.  It's also brilliant because this area is at altitude, and so I have bearable temperatures. That evening I'm back in Bamenda and whilst watching the football in a bar I get speaking to a couple of guys who tell me all about Cameroon. When I said I'd been in Nigeria their comment was "you've passed through hell my friend" - maybe a tad harsh.

    The morning comes around and I'm off to travel the famous Bamenda ring road, 250 miles of mud track in the mountains. Well I'll admit to being a tad nervous, the rains should have started already, and I still don't have a new rear tyre - I have no idea what's coming. Well the answer is a bit of everything. I've had smooth tar, sand, dried mud, rocks...but no rain.

    On the way I stop at a traditional fondom. These are local chiefdoms that have existed several hundred years and have largely been left to exist by the German, British and Cameroon governments. So I get shown around the Fon's complex by one of the Fon's wives, but I'm a week too early for their grass cutting festival. The political structure is really interesting and developed, but too long to explain here. There is also a museum with amazing wooden life size carvings, but unfortunately photos aren't allowed.

    Onwards I move and go to stock up in the last town before the wilderness really begins. This proves quite difficult as today is 'ghost town' day. Every monday the 2 english speaking regions go on strike to protest about the treatment from the francophone government. In these areas there has been no schooling for 6 months and 3 months ago the government cut all internet to the regions. This is one of the reasons my update is late, but it's probably for the best as criticising the government can get you up to 11 years in jail!

    Photos
    1-3) Lake Awing and surrounding mountains
    4) The bike having a lay down
    5) The Fon's temple
    6) Pimp my ride African style
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  • Day130

    The Fearsome Nigeria

    April 9, 2017 in Nigeria ⋅ ⛅ 27 °C

    "Nigeria is not a great country. It is one of the most disorderly nations in the world. It is one of the most corrupt, insensitive, inefficient places under the sun. It is dirty, callous, noisy, ostentatious, dishonest and vulgar. In short it is among the most unpleasant places on earth". This is how one of Nigeria's most famous writers describes his country. So you can imagine I approach with just a little trepidation, especially when you add that the driving is known to be extremely aggressive and mugging, kidnapping and hijacking is not uncommon. The plan is to cross as quickly as possible in 2.5 days.

    Day one goes relatively well. A full day riding with only a few interuptions from officialdom, no attempts by the famous 'stick boys' who shove a big plank of wood with nails in it across the road to demand a fee to pass. Also none of the absolutely kamikaze driving I was expecting. The only problem was 3 hours of intense rain, and a truck driving through a puddle, covering me in its bow wave. I arrived half way across the country and poured the water out of my jacket, trousers and shoes, but overall a success.

    Day two was a little more challenging. It starts with incessant rain, so I put off starting until it stops at midday, leaving me with a lot of miles to do before dark. 5 miles in I've been stopped twice by the police, each asking for all my papers... and then some money for the service. The second stop goes like this. I hear the officer go 'white man', then smile and wave me over. He then conducts the entire stop in a fake squeaky voice with all kinds of sarcastic comments like "how can I be of service to the white man". Hmmm, maybe I was just lucky yesterday! I continue for the next few hours revelling in the surprising greenness of a country with 180m people. I was also enjoying petrol costing 30p a litre as well as a few random sites along the way;
    - a naked man walking along the motorway,  casually covering himself with a palm leaf.
    - a navy campus 200 miles inland

    I was making good progress when suddenly the road seems to end and I'm faced with flooded mud roads. After my short mud journey in benin, I'm rather apprehensive, but it goes ok. I can scoot round the edges of most puddles and it doesn't seem too slippery. That is until I try to go round the edge of one puddle to find the path stops. There's no way back, but the puddle looks OK. Well I slowly go into the puddle.... good, good, drop down 1ft, not so good, please don't stall, please grip...and I'm out, breathe again. After that the road improves to just be bad and slow and its looking difficult to get to my destination, Calabar, by dark. Then I get called over by the police again. I don't have time for this. I give my passport and registration and say I'm in a rush to get to Calabar before dark. This is a high risk move, either they understand, say yes and I can go quickly, or they will delay me to try and get me to pay to go quickly. It goes well the officer says ok, I can go...but just as I'm about the pull away the boss shouts over. He walks, ever so slowly towards me, then just says "do you have any money for the police". The rest of the conversation goes like this:
    Me: No
    Police: Are you sure you don't have anything for the police?
    Me: I have nothing to give, this is all I have (pointing to all my stuff)
    Police: Are you sure you don't have anything? This is a lot of baggage.
    Me: This is my house, I'm sure your house is much bigger. I don't have anything to give.
    And I'm back on the road, and it becomes good again. Still I arrive in Calabar at dark, and get to the place to stay and find Nicholas and Olaf there. I'm dehydrated, hungry and tired, so a quick chat, some food and water and I'm off to bed. Only to have a terrible night with mosquitoes, a horrible mattress, noisy generator and sweltering heat.

    Next morning I feel completely drained and still dehydrated with a headache. I know I've done too much in the last 2 days and not drunk and eaten enough. But it's fine, I'll pack away the water this morning, we'll get the Cameroon visa and be in Cameroon by the end of the day. Oh how ambitious! The Cameroon visa takes an age, then on leaving I get a flat tyre. Nicholas and Olaf, bless them, stay and help me fix it in the midday sun. By the time this has finished I feel pretty terrible, hot, tired, dizzy, a bit sick, even though I've had 3 litres of water. I say to the guys I'm going to stay in Calabar another night and find a pharmacy. They insist on looking after me, escort me to a nice hotel, check in with me and find a good medical clinic. I'm feeling even worse. After an appointment with the doctor I'm on a drip full of quinine, and staying in the clinic overnight. They think I have malaria. 2 hours later Nicholas and Olaf come back with some snacks, toothbrush etc - I'm a little out of it. Holding conversations and forgetting about them immediately after.  Then come early evening, the nurse changes shift and I'm told that my new (and very cute) nurse "will be sleeping with me tonight". The best i can manage is a smile and to fall back to sleep.  Test results back and I do have malaria, the worst kind...and I also have typhoid! Amazingly 18 hours after treatment starting I feel better again. Unfortunately, by this time the night nurse has gone.

    Refreshed, it's onwards to Cameroon. Nigeria has been surprising to say the least!

    Below is a link to the journey from Guinea Bissau to Nigeria.

    https://youtu.be/4EdbB-jhosE
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  • Day127

    Kings and voodoo

    April 6, 2017 in Benin ⋅ 🌬 7 °C

    Into Benin...what a disappointment! After dealing with the usual border checks in triplicate, I was all excited about going to Ouidah, the home of voodoo. It turns out that it's not that amazing, once in a while someone throws a live chicken on a fire, not that I even got to see this. However I did go to the main temple which is dedicated to the python. After paying my money I get shown around a courtyard before being draped in a few pythons, and get photos taken of me looking like a weirdo. Overall it feels like I've just been to the tourist site equivalent of those crappy winter wonderland experiences that pop up every Christmas. Although after I did go to a good art museum, where I saw various head dresses people where at weddings to signify what they wish for. I was particularly struck by the one hoping to avoid a motorcycle accident.

    After this excitement I then end up at a rubbish 'hotel'. After negotiating a fair price, I move all my stuff into the room and prepare for a well needed shower, only for a knock on the door to say the price is now double. Now I really don't want to move everything again, but I also don't like being screwed over. After 5 minutes of terse conversation the price is reinstated, but I'm grumpy, and this is not made better by being devoured by mosquitoes in the night. However,  before I even get that far I go out to find food. As I start eating it seems like the entire atlantic ocean has been sucked up and emptied on Ouidah... the electricity goes instantly. I spend the next 2 hours waiting for this minor hurricane to end so I can go back to the hotel.

    Whilst packing up to leave I discover the luggage frame is broken, yet again. 5 hours later I'm still at the local welders waiting for electricity and I'm resigned to staying another night. I get it fixed the next day, and have now reimforced the whole set up, but my frustration and disappointment follows me around southern Benin for a few days before I head to Abomey, the seat of a once powerful chiefdom. Whilst it turns out to be a little unimpressive, at least I get to stay somewhere nice and eat well for 2 nights.

    To put it into context the highlight of Benin has been the hotel owner in Abomey, who would say 'cheers' whenever I sneezed.

    Photos
    1) Weirdo photo with sacred pythons. Not a pic for online dating!
    2&3) outside the python temple
    4) head dress wishing to avoid a bike accident
    5) took this because it looked good at dusk
    6) what the bike looked like after going down the road in the previous pic after rain. I really need a new rear tyre as I was sliding all over the place
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  • Day118

    Togo

    March 28, 2017 in Togo ⋅ ⛅ 29 °C

    Togo has been treating me well. It is a long thin country stretching from dusty savannah to a humid coast with riptides that will take you away never to be seen again.

    I have spent a couple of long riding days in the north where I saw Somba houses. This is a group of people who fled from various chiefdoms and protected themselves in fortified homes to resist the chiefs'efforts to round up people to sell to the colonial powers as slaves. In the north I also get my luggage rack welded for the 4th time. If only they made dirt bikes that could actually deal with bouncing up and down on the dirt, while carrying more than a bag of feathers!!!

    As I head south the views open up as the surroundings get greener and hills start to come into view. I turn off and start chasing these hills and after lots of fun riding reach the top of a mountain ridge to find a massive Swiss(ish) style chalet nearly completed with the most amazing views. Though I'm not quite sure where they expect to get the tourists from....and neither do they it seems.

    Anyway, I continue on with the aim of reaching a village in the coffee growing region that has a mountain where my 1999 guide book promises me stunning views. Wow though do I have fun getting here, riding single track paths across the mountains.

    I arrive and deploy my new camping solution. My tent is so unsuitable for the heat that I've been avoiding camping, but now I have the perfect answer. I just hang up my mosquito net, weight it down at the edges and let the wind blow on through. Perfect, if slightly lacking in privacy.

    Afterwards I arrive in Lomé and the humidity really cranks up, which means I spend as much time in my room as possible with a fan positioned about 50cm from me twirling in overdrive. This also has the added benefit of limiting the mosquitoes ability to latch onto their favourite meal.

    Being here allows me to sacrifice more of my wallet to the visa gods and means I can also get proper work done on the bike from a competent European standard bike mechanic. Well that's what I thought, but it turns out that I can't get a new rear tyre here like I was relying on... this will make the wet clay roads of Cameroon and the Congos interesting! Oh, and the mechanic forgot to tighten the bolts on my front brake caliper, luckily a fellow rider behind me saw them bounce down the road and flagged me down, otherwise I'd have come up to the next set of lights only to have no brakes!

    At least the time here has meant I've caught up with Ferry, Gulcin, Nicholas, Patrick, Cemil and Laura that I met in Bamako, as well as meeting a new biker Olaf.

    Photos
    1) My new 'tent'
    2) Somba house
    3) View from the Swiss chalet
    4) One of the tracks that day
    5) The view my guide book promised
    6) Just an everyday sight
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  • Day114

    Bazinga in Nazinga

    March 24, 2017 in Burkina Faso ⋅ ⛅ 22 °C

    William, Ricardo and I ride to Nazinga national park in Burkina and absolutely hit the jackpot. We meet a Spanish guy, Consalo, with a pickup touring the area, this means we don't need to hire a 4x4 and can spread the cost of the mandatory guide between us. Still in this part of the world the national parks offer no guarantee of seeing anything given the hunting for bushmeat.

    Wow, were we lucky though, after a few brief glimpses of antelope, we stumble across a family of about 40 elephants walking right past us! In our few hours out at dusk and dawn we also see plenty of antelope, buffalo, warthogs and a few baboons. Unfortunately being perched on the back corner of a pickup while it bumps up and down is not always conducive to good photos, especially for the baboons that quickly run away. It is also not the best position for comfort or frankly for staying in a moving vehicle - numerous times I almost fell off!

    Afterwards we head to Tiebele a local royal court where we visit the palace and its intricately decorated buildings - after the now standard haggling on price.

    William and Ricardo now head to Ghana, as I head on towards Togo, but I'm sure we can meet up again.
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  • Day111

    School trip

    March 21, 2017 in Burkina Faso ⋅ ☀️ 26 °C

    As good as The Sleeping Camel has been I've had itchy feet for a while, and happy to be back on the road with a safe working bike.

    Just a quick update on the last few days.

    I've visited the grand Sikasso regional museum. Built on a big compound in the centre of the city, this museum was built by the EU....but I was the second visitor of the week!

    I've also had the chance to ride with Ricardo and William who I met in Bamako.

    I'm now just over the border in Burkina Faso and taking the opportunity to hippo spot. Unfortunately, all I spot are heads, still impressive though. However in standing down by the lake, I've been descended on by c.70 school children on their yearly school trip, though it makes for some good photos.
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  • Day108

    Sleeping Camel

    March 18, 2017 in Mali ⋅ ⛅ 36 °C

    The bike and I have been recuperating for the last 2 weeks in Bamako, Mali at the wonderful overlanding hub of The Sleeping Camel. But this doesn't begin to explain the ups and downs we've had.

    On leaving Nzérékoré I head north on more beautiful EU funded road...until the road abruptly stops and I have 200 miles of rough track. Whilst not fundamentally difficult I really wasn't mentally prepared for hours upon hours of slow progress. Along this journey I stop to help some khaki clad men by the side of the road. After much sign language I understand they're out of fuel and duly siphon some into their tank. I'm sure the good karma will revisit me.  Well, this clearly didnt happen, as about 50 miles later I hear bad noises from behind me. It turns out I'd lost 2 screws from the rack that supports my luggage and the whole assembly had bounced up and down many times, broken the plastic fairing and twisted the frame lugs. This means I have to unload all my luggage in the midday sun and start bodging for an hour, so i can get moving again. This was probably the result of some exuberant riding to make my destination before dark. I failed and also ran over a 3m high tree in the process - don't ask how.

    The next day I'm back on tar for a relatively short dash to Bamako. All goes well until I arrive and realise that the lining of my spare helmet is missing. Not such a big deal...apart from this is where I had $1400 hidden. The helmet must have been damaged yesterday when the frame broke. Some Malian is very happy at having found about 6 months earnings....at least someone is happy...I was not that evening!

    My long stay in Bamako is mainly due to a whole new rear wheel being sent from the UK. So I have some other bits fixed by the motorcycle mechanic for the Mali president's motorcycle outriders. He fixes my blown fork seal, straightens the bars, cleans the air filter and fixes an idling problem. I also get the Nigerian visa, a visa that is more expensive if you're British.

    The Sleeping Camel is a great place to stay as I've met more overlanders here than in the previous 3 months combined. I bumped into Ferry and Gulcin again as well as meeting another 6 bikers and 4 in 4x4s. It's pretty cool to have some familiar company even though we've not met before. The owners Matt and Phil are great and laid on a free boat trip for us down the river as well as helping do some welding to permanently fix my frame. By the time of leaving The Sleeping Camel I'm very much part of the furniture! I've also learnt after 13 nights of camping that my tent is truly horrific in the heat!

    Photos
    1) The overlanding roll call - William, Ricardo, Cemil, Laura, Ferry, Gulcin, Nicholas, Daniel and Josephine.
    2) The rescued Guinean environmental police
    3, 4, 5) Boat ride up the Niger river including the man who walks on water
    6) local rock band at the Sleeping Camel
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  • Day95

    Chimps

    March 5, 2017 in Guinea ⋅ 🌙 26 °C

    From my hiking spot I had 40 miles of the rock road again and then I was on tar. My knees, my back, my wrists, my everything was relieved!

    On my way out of Fouta Djallon I had one last stay in this scenery with amazing 180+ degree views, as the second photo shows.

    Now I had 250 miles planned to the rainforest region of Guinea, with a little nervousness of quite how bad the road would be, especially with my dodgy wheel. Well my prayers were answered, with mile upon mile of beautiful smooth tar that had lots of sweeping corners through the hills. My destination, Nzérékoré, is where Ebola was at its worst and so there is a lot of aid going into infrastructure, just in case it flares up again. I'm on a French vegetarian diet here. I.e. I'm eating everything but red meat. One theory is that monkeys are more prone to Ebola, but that it is transferred to humans by eating undercooked bushmeat...and from all the hunters I see, there is a lot of bushmeat on the menu.

    After a recharge day in Nzérékoré, I head off in hope more than expectation to look for Chimps in a small village called Bossou. I'd heard of a Japanese research station where I might be able to see chimps. They're particularly interested in this group as they are the only ones in West Africa that have been known to make tools. After a short 30 minute walk into the rainforest, I'm with a family of 8 wild chimps. They're amazingly disinterested in our presence, apart from the baby who seems to enjoy throwing branches at us. The alpha male, just casually walked past us and started munching away.

    Video at https://youtu.be/JnOHJZ_mk4o
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  • Day88

    Chutes, snakes and ladders

    February 26, 2017 in Guinea ⋅ 🌙 26 °C

    My mood was starting to improve but then there's been yet more problems with the bike. Firstly the rear wheel bearing completely collapsed, though I initially felt lucky that I found a mechanic who could source the same size bearing. Unfortunately I later realised his thuggish hammering at the wheel had chipped and cracked the cast alloy hub. Some mechanical advice from back home confirmed my expectations, the whole rear wheel is @#$&€£.  The crack will propagate and the whole rear wheel will disintegrate and it's impossible to tell if that's in 10 miles or 10k miles. As you can imagine I'm pretty urgently trying to source a new rear wheel from the UK. Then 2 days later I start an oil change at a rural campsite and find out half way through that the thread in the oil sump is stripped and I can't do the bolt back up. I'm in the middle of nowhere with a bike I now can't start!  I temporarily use threadlocker 'glue' to hold the bolt in. Hopefully that lasts!

    So I tentatively head off to a 'highlight' of the trip I've been looking forward to - the Fouta Djallon highlands. Unfortunately it turns out the roads to this region are terrible. They're mostly solid volcanic rock, meaning I need to lean forward and ride on the pegs nearly the whole way to keep as much force away from my fragile wheel as possible. I'd heard so many good things about this area from other overlanders and people in Senegal, Gambia and Guinea itself, but as I get into the region proper I find myself a bit disappointed. It's interesting and provides something different from the flatness of the past few weeks, but it's not stunning.

    Well my opinion and mood has changed after 3 days of brilliant hiking and bouldering.  On foot you get into the really interesting areas. My guide has themed walks such as 'Indiana Jones World' and 'chutes and ladders'. The latter involves climbing down 200m by a waterfall, repeatedly crossing it, and then climbing back up later via ladders made of branches tied together with vines. Although I think this may be better named snakes and ladders, after we came across a cobra. I'm glad he was ahead of me! I'm now in much better mood after being looked after with great local food and having no mosquitoes at this altitude. I'm now ready to get back on the bike, although the hiking and riding on the pegs have given me throbbing thighs and the knees of a geriatric.

    P.s. I'm sure everyone will be amused to hear the legs of a plastic patio chair broke while I was sat watching the football, while 20 of the village children watched me and the football. 2 hours later I also fell out of a hammock...but no one saw this!

    Photos
    1 and 6) The ladders!
    2) The plateau where every trek starts...downhill
    3) The start of the descent
    4) The waterfall bouncing off my bald head
    5) Another waterfall that I later swam in
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