Ca-Ca-Ca-Cape Town!!

Cape Town at its finest… welcoming us with a gorgeous sunset over Table Mountain

Table Mountain 1

Table Mountain 3

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After 24 weeks and 19 countries of West African adventuring, we made it to Cape Town!

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We have spent the last few weeks enjoying the best Cape Town has to offer; climbing Table Mountain, exploring the wine country and finally being able to meet up with Jas & Bart and their trusty Landcruiser!

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Photos from Namibia, Tourist Heaven!

We were fortunate to see some of Africa's finest wildlife in Etosha. This gorgeous giraffe was grazing at the top of a tree right next to road, giving us a great view.

We were fortunate to see some of Africa’s finest wildlife in Etosha. This gorgeous giraffe was grazing at the top of a tree right next to road, giving us a great view.

This black backed Cape Jackal was soaking up the arvo sun, not seeming to have a care in the world.

This black backed Cape Jackal was soaking up the arvo sun, not seeming to have a care in the world.

We saw zebras everywhere throughout Etosha, but these lovebirds were especially cute.

We saw zebras everywhere throughout Etosha, but these lovebirds were especially cute.

What's not to love about the springboks?!

What’s not to love about the springboks?!

I never got tired of seeing a Gemsbok - with those huge horns, they're stunningly majestic.

I never got tired of seeing a Gemsbok – with those huge horns, they’re stunningly majestic.

This huge lioness was sunning herself in the grass  no more than a metre away from the road. Although she acknowledged our presence with the landy, she wasn't too bothered by us.

This huge lioness was sunning herself in the grass no more than a metre away from the road. Although she acknowledged our presence with the landy, she wasn’t too bothered by us.

With perfect timing, we parked at this watering hole just in time to see a herd of about 40 elephants crushing their way through the trees for an afternoon drink. The zebras, giraffes and springbok that were already there quickly moved to the side and let the ellies enjoy for about half an hour.

With perfect timing, we parked at this watering hole just in time to see a herd of about 40 elephants crushing their way through the trees for an afternoon drink. The zebras, giraffes and springbok that were already there quickly moved to the side and let the ellies enjoy for about half an hour.

One of the baby elephants imitating his elders. He was very playful in the water, but as soon as the herd left, he protected himself between the legs of his mum.

One of the baby elephants imitating his elders. He was very playful in the water, but as soon as the herd left, he protected himself between the legs of his mum and the other ellies.

One of the highlights was seeing this huge male rhino. He had a fresh cut bleeding on one of his ears and plenty of scars and scratches all over his leathery skin. After being told of their limited status in the park later that day, we felt very fortunate to have spent so long admiring this guy.

One of the highlights was seeing this huge male rhino. He had a fresh cut bleeding on one of his ears and plenty of scars and scratches all over his leathery skin. After being told of their limited status in the park later that day, we felt very fortunate to have spent so long admiring this guy.

One of our campsites in the north of Namibia had these two warthogs wandering around every afternoon to cut the grass. Cute in a sort of ugly way!

One of our campsites in the north of Namibia had these two warthogs wandering around every afternoon to cut the grass. Cute in a sort of ugly way!

My favourites, meerkats!! Paul spotted these guys out of the corner of his eye while we were driving down the coast towards Swakopmund. When we stopped, three immediately ran into their holes, but these two were just so curious they kept popping their heads up to check us out.

My favourites, meerkats!! Paul spotted these guys out of the corner of his eye while we were driving down the coast towards Swakopmund. When we stopped, three immediately ran into their holes, but these two were just so curious they kept popping their heads up to check us out.

This is what much of the landscape looks like in Namibia - a dry, desolate moonscape. It was one of the most boring countries to drive through, but rewarding once we reached each destination.

This is what much of the landscape looks like in Namibia – a dry, desolate moonscape. It was one of the most boring countries to drive through, but rewarding once we reached each destination.

The northern entrance to the Skeleton Coast National Park. There wasn't a whole lot to see, but it was an impressive landscape to drive through.

The northern entrance to the Skeleton Coast National Park. There wasn’t a whole lot to see, but it was an impressive landscape to drive through.

Our only wild camp in Namibia was on this very windy beach, surrounded by fishermen.

Our only wild camp in Namibia was on this very windy beach, surrounded by fishermen.

After already crossing the Tropic of Cancer and the equator, it was nice to pass through Capricorn aswell!

After already crossing the Tropic of Cancer and the equator, it was nice to pass through Capricorn aswell!

The amazingly red dunes at Sossulvlei. We were lucky enough to see the colours of the dunes change at sunrise and sunset. One of Namibia's highlights!

The amazingly red dunes at Sossulvlei. We were lucky enough to see the colours of the dunes change at sunrise and sunset. One of Namibia’s highlights!

17. Dunes

Deadvlei. The white clay pan contrasting against the barely surviving trees and striking red dunes makes for a pretty amazing sight.

Deadvlei. The white clay pan contrasting against the barely surviving trees and striking red dunes makes for a pretty amazing sight.

The dunes kept changing colours as the sun went down, with our shadows getting longer and longer.

The dunes kept changing colours as the sun went down, with our shadows getting longer and longer.

All smiles! Getting up at 5am was definitely worth it to see the sunrise while drinking our morning coffee at the top of the dunes.

All smiles! Getting up at 5am was definitely worth it to see the sunrise while drinking our morning coffee at the top of the dunes.

Welcome to Namibia. I've never seen so many roof tents in my life.

Welcome to Namibia. I’ve never seen so many roof tents in my life.

This is Muckie, the 1 year old Springbok who was rescued and raised by a wonderful German couple. She is absolutely gorgeous and kept us company while camping at their place in Helmeringhausen. And, as you can see, she loved Paul!

This is Muckie, the 1 year old Springbok who was rescued and raised by a wonderful German couple. She is absolutely gorgeous and kept us company while camping at their place in Helmeringhausen. And, as you can see, she loved Paul!

And she loved our landy

And she loved our landy

After Rogier's accident, we helped pick up his belongings and the landy was a true African donkey for a couple of days, packed to the rafters.

After Rogier’s accident, we helped pick up his belongings and the landy was a true African donkey for a couple of days, packed to the rafters.

Kolmanskop, the famous ghost diamond town near Luderitz definitely lives up to its reputation.

Kolmanskop, the famous ghost diamond town near Luderitz definitely lives up to its reputation.

Kolmanskop

Kolmanskop

Kolmanskop

Kolmanskop

There's not too much to see at Diaz Point, but this humorous sign took our minds off the gale force winds (for a second).

There’s not too much to see at Diaz Point, but this humorous sign took our minds off the gale force winds (for a second).

The Fish River Canyon is the second largest in the world and is one of the most impressive natural features in all of Africa.

The Fish River Canyon is the second largest in the world and is one of the most impressive natural features in all of Africa.

Compared to the rest of our trip, Namibia was just so easy. We loved being tourists and meeting so many other travellers, although I'd be lying if I said we didn't miss being challenged.

Compared to the rest of our trip, Namibia was just so easy. We loved being tourists and meeting so many other travellers, although I’d be lying if I said we didn’t miss being challenged.

Admiring the full moon over Sossulvlei

Admiring the full moon over Sossulvlei

Photos from Angola

I am still trying to figure out how best to describe the natural beauty and diversity of Angola. So while I’m working on that, I’ll leave you with some photographic evidence…

Apart from the great tar roads, entering Angola was no different to any other African country… lots of bad driving

Apart from the great tar roads, entering Angola was no different to any other African country… lots of bad driving

The view of Luanda from the yacht club, a beautiful but expensive city!

The view of Luanda from the yacht club, a beautiful but expensive city!

Gotta love camping with fellow overlanders on a deserted beach

Gotta love camping with fellow overlanders on a deserted beach

Sun sun sun

Sun sun sun

Bullet holes in the top floor of this building act as a reminder of the war in Luanda

Bullet holes in the top floor of this building act as a reminder of the war in Luanda

Old tankers still lie throughout the country on the sides of the road

Old tankers still lie throughout the country on the sides of the road

The beautiful Calandula waterfalls, one of the largest in Africa

The beautiful Calandula waterfalls, one of the largest in Africa

Calandula waterfalls

Calandula waterfalls

Sitting on the edge

Sitting on the edge

After driving through a hectic thunderstorm, we were rewarded with a full rainbow

After driving through a hectic thunderstorm, we were rewarded with a full rainbow

Pedras Negras (Black Rocks) at Pungo Andongo - one of the best wild camp spots you'll find anywhere in the world

Pedras Negras (Black Rocks) at Pungo Andongo – one of the best wild camp spots you’ll find anywhere in the world

The landy crossing a bridge over the fastest flowing rapids we'd seen in a long time

The landy crossing a bridge over the fastest flowing rapids we’d seen in a long time

Spectacular scenery and great roads off the beaten track

Spectacular scenery and great roads off the beaten track

Yet another amazing wild camp spot overlooking Praia da Caotinha

Yet another amazing wild camp spot overlooking Praia da Caotinha

Nice to get in some off-roading in between all the tar roads

Nice to get in some off-roading in between all the tar roads

An old fishing town isn't complete without a few boat relics

An old fishing town isn’t complete without a few boat relics

We stumbled upon a great lunch spot by the beach, surrounded by these pink cliffs

We stumbled upon a great lunch spot by the beach, surrounded by these pink cliffs

We had the best security with these 6 'pups' to keep us company at Praia du Mariquita

We had the best security with these 6 ‘pups’ to keep us company at Praia du Mariquita

Secluded beach camp at Mariquita

Secluded beach camp at Mariquita

Yes, we might have been just as slow as some of the trucks, but we still made it up and down Leba Pass

Yes, we might have been just as slow as some of the trucks, but we still made it up and down Leba Pass

A tiny little doorslandtrekkers cemetery near Lubango

A tiny little Doorslandtrekkers cemetery near Lubango

Camping on the Cunene River - Angola on one side and the sand swept dunes of Namibia on the other

Camping on the Cunene River – Angola on one side and the sand swept dunes of Namibia on the other

Another view of the Namibian dunes

Another view of the Namibian dunes – the crisscrossed tracks were made by baboons making their way up and down to the river each day

Fun for the day, trying to get through the mud

Fun for the day, trying to build our way through the mud

We really were in the middle of nowhere. This was a 1958 Ford Escort left for dead in the Iona National Park

We really were in the middle of nowhere. This was a 1958 Ford Escort left for dead in the Iona National Park

3 days of offroading led to a few bumps and bruises… but nothing that couldn't be fixed with a pipe and some duct tape until we found a welder

3 days of serious offroading led to a few bumps and bruises… but nothing that couldn’t be fixed with a pipe and some duct tape until we found a welder

This is where we found Boris… stuck in a tree!

This is where we found Boris… stuck in a tree!

Who imagined the Congo would be so beautiful..?

Driving the entire length of the Congo was never part of our game plan; there were always a few thoughts in the back of my mind about safety, run-ins with crazy cops drunk off palm wine, or just the possibility of getting stuck in too much mud. The Congo was simply one of those countries, along with Mali and Nigeria, that we initially wanted to cross in as few days as possible. We couldn’t have been more wrong. Looking back now, the Congo was one of our most enjoyable countries. As with our experiences throughout the rest of West Africa, the people we met were so ridiculously friendly and helpful that it was hard to believe we were deep in the middle of Africa. But the most surprising thing for me was the beauty and diversity of the landscape. Changing from the dense, lush, green forest with trees as tall as skyscrapers towering over the roads near the Cameroon border, to gorgeous savannah-like plains and farmland as far as the eye could see, stretching for hundreds of kilometres en-route to Brazzaville. Seemingly perfect for game spotting, except for the fact that sadly these animals only tend to be spotted within the Nature Reserves nowadays.

It was an easy drive on a newly tarred road past Sembe towards the main turnoff for Brazzaville. We had a couple of run-ins with the local police, with one cop in particular trying his hardest to obtain a ridiculous amount of money from us so that he could buy his ‘sleeping’ friends some drinks. We were never going to pay him anything and waited it out for about half an hour, which he wasn’t too happy about, but in the end he let us continue. It was pretty clear that they don’t get many tourists passing through this area, and definitely not many overlanders. The good tar roads continued, with thanks to the hundreds of Chinese branded trucks and bulldozers. As we continued south, the small villages on either side of the road became slightly larger, many equipped with new street lights and water tanks (that were patriotically coloured in red, green and yellow) providing showers, toilets and washing areas for the locals. As we entered the small town of Makoua, we were on the keen lookout for a sign so that we could stop for an obligatory photo shot at the equator. After initially driving straight past it, we discovered a small turn off leading to a world globe, highlighting the country of the Congo, mounted above an old concrete roundabout. It didn’t exactly shout “you’re at the equator,” like the structure you find in Uganda, but it was a perfectly nice spot for us to stop and take a few pictures with the landys and reflect on just how far we’ve driven!

After finding some diesel for Rogier on the black market we stopped for some lunch, where we were fed so much chicken and rice that we could’ve lived off it for a few days! Given that campsites were seemingly non-existent, and the price of a hotel was a bit exuberant, we found a wild camp spot just off the main road, hidden between some long grass and surrounded by thousands of tiny bugs. Not perfect, but we weren’t being picky with the sun quickly setting. Having previously read some great reviews of the Lesio-Louna Gorilla Sanctuary, the next morning we decided to head that way to try and organise a visit. En-route we drove through Owando and Oyo, the latter of which was a beautifully planned small town with an almost European feel to it. The streets were clean and some of the buildings were spectacular, with a brand new airport, 5 star hotel and lots of new development providing a combination of older French colonial architecture with new, smaller modern buildings. It was actually a strange experience driving through such a wealthy town in the middle of the Congo. Apparently the President of the Republic of Congo, and his family, have houses in Oyo, which may account for a significant portion of the wealth. We then drove through a stunningly scenic mountain pass, providing some amazing views over the Reserve de Lefini. After catching a glimpse of a tiny sign for the Gorilla Sanctuary and verifying it with some locals, we turned off the main road for our first real off-roading experience in the Congo. About an hour later, we had made our way through an overgrown sandy track and some spectacularly hilly grasslands to find ourselves at a small office. After some initial struggling with our French and their English, we were told that there was only one gorilla living on the island (kept in isolation so that he is not unduly impacted by any contact with humans). This was a bit unfortunate for us, because it was actually a lot of money to just see one gorilla, however we hoped that this meant the gorilla rehabilitation programme was working well. So in the end, our visit to the reserve was quite unsuccessful, although the magnificent views we saw driving through the Lefini Reserve back to the main road were definitely worth the detour. By this time it was late afternoon, and after spending the last few nights wildcamping, we were all longing for a decent shower! We were still about 250kms from Brazzaville, but decided to push through. After having a great run leading up to Brazza, we got stuck in some horrendous traffic and road works just on the outskirts, eventually arriving at 8pm. But it was all worth it once we met Olivier, the lovely owner and ex-overlander, who welcomed us, pointed us to the showers and then to the amazing Vietnamese buffet. Spring rolls have never tasted so good!

Although we didn’t originally plan to visit Brazzaville, it turned out to be quite a nice city, very easy to walk around with some amazing patisseries, beautiful architecture and great (although very expensive) restaurants along the mighty Congo River. We were fortunate to meet three other overlanders working for DHL, travelling from South Africa to London and visiting almost every African country in the lead up to the Rugby World Cup in September. Their brand new sponsored Landrovers were in stark contrast to ours, fully kitted out with new equipment and top of the line accessories and we were feeling just a little bit jealous. However after hearing about how many car issues they’d already faced in Southern and Eastern Africa (particularly with electronics), and how few issues we’d had, we were feeling pretty chuffed with our old school landys. But it was great to finally meet some other overlanders who were travelling in the opposite direction, and we had a great night swapping stories and photos and giving each other tips for all the countries to come. Will be an amazing achievement when they finally cross over the English Channel and get to enjoy some rugby in the UK!

Mud, Rain and Visa Issues in Cameroon

One of the most noticeable changes from Nigeria to Cameroon was the state of the houses in Cameroon; many were large and brick rendered, well looked after and had nice front lawns and fences. They were the best looking houses we’d seen in a long time outside of a main city.

From Mamfe, we headed off the next morning down towards Limbe, an apparently beautiful beachside town, for some much needed R&R. The locals had warned us that the first section of the road to Kumba was pretty bad, so we were interested to see just how bad it was. After many locals telling us many different stories about many different roads in the past few months, we can’t really rely on what anybody tells us. But after the first 20kms, we realised that they were right, it was actually a terrible road – mostly compacted dirt, with sand and gravel in between all the hidden potholes. The only tradeoff was that it was beautifully scenic. Driving for 200kms on a winding dirt road that had been carved through the forest definitely wasn’t the end of the world. Thanks to all the overnight rain, the further we drove south, the dirt slowly turned into mud and we started slipping and sliding all over the place. No harm done though, we managed to avoid the trees and there were no other cars around to worry about. After a while we stopped the car for lunch and to try and fix a broken mudflap. The number of butterflies was absolutely astounding and we were so mesmerised by the hundreds of blue and purple wings flying around us that we failed to notice that we were also being attached by insects. It was hot, sticky, sweaty and we each had hundreds of tiny annoying flying things buzzing around our heads, necks and arms. After just a couple of minutes we couldn’t take it anymore and had to get back in the car and keep driving.

After finally hitting the tar road a few hours later we reached the coastal town of Limbe before sunset and settled ourselves at a nice beachfront area. Mile 6 beach is set to the west of Limbe and with only a few other visitors, we basically had the entire beach to ourselves. The sand was soft, fine and a dark chocolately colour, thanks to the volcanic residue from Mount Cameroon. Although we were surrounded by mountains, we unfortunately couldn’t actually spot Mount Cameroon from the beach due to the thick cloud cover that sat above us every day. The manager of the site, Bibela made us feel very welcomed, bringing us fresh avocados every day. He was a retired bank manager and worked at the beach to keep himself busy. We learnt all about his family and his life up in Bamenda and he invited us to visit his family there next time we come to Cameroon. He was very interested in our trip, although he couldn’t really understand our motivation and he thought we must have been on a government sponsored trip. It took us a few times to explain that we were just tourists travelling through Africa.

We experienced some very tropical weather in Limbe, introduced to the beginning of the rainy season with a few belting thunderstorms that rolled in across the ocean and over the mountains, seemingly meeting right over the top of our heads. The rain was refreshingly cool, and we got to make good use of our awning and homemade sides. Limbe also had some of the best fresh fruit and veg we’d come across in Africa; filling our tummies with delicious bananas, pineapples, mangoes, coconut and avocados.

We finally said goodbye to Limbe and headed inland past Doula en route to Yaounde. Although the roads were good, 350kms driving in single lane traffic took us a good 6 hours, thanks to the hoards of slow trucks and the winding roads. Encountering quite a few police checkpoints along the way definitely didn’t help. Although the police in Cameroon are all very friendly, they love to take their time, asking us questions and wanting to have a sneaky look in the back of the landy. It seems to be getting less and less official, and more out of curiosity. Just as we started the hilly ascent into Yaounde the heavens opened, depositing buckets and buckets of rain both on and inside the landy. We’ve officially entered the tropical African rainy season and will now be spending most of our time trying to plug the leaks in the roof, as opposed to blocking the holes in the floor from the desert sands. All the fun of owning a landy! The streets became awash with rivers of brown mud, making its way down the hills and into the drainage system, while the locals took cover until the storm passed through. Yaounde is a very green, hilly city, which seems to be relatively clean. Probably as a result of all the rain, the rubbish seems to be hidden in the makeshift drainage areas as opposed to multiplying on the streets. We made our way to the recommended Presbyterian Church compound, which sits at the top of a hill surrounded by water towers, with a beautiful outlook over north west Yaounde. After introducing ourselves to the owners, we discovered that there was no water or power, but they were more than happy to take our money for the campsite. Not that we’re really fussy these days, but that didn’t really sound like a great deal. Our experience so far in Africa with church campsites is that they seem to overcharge and not really offer a lot in return. Regardless, it was relatively quiet and close to the embassies, so we settled in and sampled some of the local brochettes for dinner (delicious meat skewers with fresh baguettes and spicy sauce).

Having just 3 more visas left to get for the trip, we psyched ourselves up, dressed in our best and cleanest (?!) clothes and headed off for a day of visa application fun. First was a stop at the local police station to get a certified copy of our passports. Legally in Cameroon, you must always carry ID and proof of entry into the country. Because our passports were going to be holed up at the embassies for a couple of weeks, we had to sit for an hour at the police station, fighting through crowds of people applying for visa extensions before we could get the stamps that we needed. Next up was a visit to the UK embassy. Originally we just wanted to thank them in person for their assistance with the Cameroon border crossing, but we actually now had a second reason, and another favour. After meeting up with Japanese backpacker Abi, the night before, we learnt that the Gabon Embassy in Yaounde was extremely difficult to deal with, and he hadn’t been able to even apply for a tourist visa. They had asked for a long list of paperwork, which included a letter from our Yaounde embassy confirming that we were tourists and good citizens. Given that there is no Australian Embassy in Cameroon, the UK Embassy was our only hope. Unfortunately, they have a policy of not issuing personal letters regardless of the reason. After spending the next 5 hours at the Gabon Embassy, we were also turned away with no visa application. Having all the requested paperwork except for this letter, we left feeling dejected, starving and pretty pissed off. However, back at the campsite as we were discussing our options of where to go next, we got an email from Jas & Bart. They had made it to Brazzaville through Cameroon and then the Congo with great things to say about the northern part of Congo. It was meant to be. Suck it Gabon, we’re heading straight to the Congo!

As the Congo visa took a few days, we decided to head down to Kribi for another beach break with Rogier, who had caught up to us. He had a bit of an eventful run in with the police along the way, unlucky to be stopped and fined for illegally overtaking a truck, even though we’d just done the same thing in front of him. Saved ourselves €40! After a few more police checks and then 100kms of beautiful tar road without the trucks, we reached the coastline of Kribi and pulled up at Tara Plage, camping in their beachfront area. For the next few days we enjoyed the beach, the daily storms, the local fish markets and the Lobe Waterfalls. Kribi is an idyllic beachside town that is very popular with wealthy Cameroonians and expats for weekend retreats.

After collecting our Congo and DRC visas, we left Yaounde and headed south east along the winding roads through Mbalmayo and Sangmelima. We ran into a few power hungry cops who were intent on (unsuccessfully) finding anything and everything wrong with our paperwork, before getting slightly lost and ending up driving through a very remote dirt track that took us through the most scenically beautiful forest. After finally catching up with Rogier, we pulled off the main road onto one of the major logging routes, finding a nice muddy wildcamp spot for the night. After a few overnight thunderstorms we awoke to more rain and even more mud. Wanting to get an early start we packed up in the rain, enjoyed all the mud and made our way back to the main road. Thinking that we were in for more of the same bad roads until the border, it was a great surprise when we hit a brand new tar road!! Thanks to a Japanese funded project (assumedly for the logging), we cruised along for the next 80kms. Driving through numerous small villages, there were so many friendly locals smiling, waving and welcoming us. This area is not really on a tourist trail so the look on some of the locals faces was pretty priceless. The border crossing on the Cameroon side was very remote with no signage and no help from the GPS, so we relied on help from the locals to get us there. After an easy half hour, we were stamped out of Cameroon and on our way along the muddiest road for 30kms. Assisted by the torrential rain, both cars managed to slip and slide all the way to the Congo border, narrowly managing to avoid the massive logging trucks careening towards us along the single lane road, and only taking out a few bushes along the way. Although they were very slow, the border officials on the Congo side were extremely friendly and we were soon camped out in a roadside quarry for the night. Surrounded by a banana plantation and dense forest, our only company was a local bushmeat hunter who stumbled across us just as the sun was setting, packed with his rifle on the way to find some dinner. Welcome to the Congo!

Notorious Nigeria

In our earliest border crossing ever, we entered into Nigeria at 5:30am, just as the first colours of the sunrise began to break through the foggy sky. Our plan was to cross as early as possible and drive all day, hoping to reach Calabar that night. Crossing at the main border, Seme, was a little bit of a risk as we knew that it was usually very busy and we didn’t really have a lot of time to waste. However, arriving there in the dark definitely worked in our favour. The landy wasn’t as easy to see, so nobody bothered searching her, plus most of the customs and immigration officers were still asleep! We were out of Benin and into Nigeria in about half an hour, and after dodging the first few sleepy ‘tax collectors’ along the first part of the road we were well on our way to Lagos. The road was good and the traffic was scarce right up until Lagos, where we hopped on the outer ring road and headed up towards Sagamu. After hearing so many horror stories about people spending hours stuck in Lagos traffic, we were very fortunate to pass through Lagos in about 40mins, including a breakfast and ATM stop… piece of cake! Our thinking was that everyone was either sleeping in or getting ready for church!

The one thing Nigeria is notorious for is a lot of police checks along the roads, usually within 100 metres of each other. We came across so many different types of police, immigration officers, traffic police, tax collectors, military… the list goes on and on. The first one would stop us and have a chat, ask us for a gift or some water or anything we were willing to hand out. Unlucky for them, we’ve become so accustomed to changing the subject, asking them for directions, or just plainly saying no, that nobody was lucky enough to benefit from us the whole way through Nigeria. Halfway between Ore and Benin City, we were pulled over by two police who flagged us down in their car. Knowing that we hadn’t done anything wrong, we were happily surprised when they just wanted to have a chat and a stickybeak in the car. Quite possibly two of the friendliest officers we’ve met so far. But then, after spending a good 10 minutes with them, explaining our trip and them wishing us well, we noticed two other officers running across 6 lanes of traffic to come over to us. They’d noticed us from the other side of the highway and obviously thought we were an easy target. At that stage, because we knew that we had a tight schedule and still a long way to drive to Calabar, it was annoying to have to spend another 15 minutes telling them that no, we hadn’t given their mates any money (which they couldn’t believe), and no, we didn’t want to give them any money either. All in all, the majority of the officials we came across in Nigeria were perfectly harmless and were just trying their luck. If we hadn’t been in such a hurry to drive across the country, we might have even enjoyed some longer conversations.

The tar roads were amazing all the way to Onitsha, and then also good onto Owerri, where we started to hit some traffic. The drivers on the other hand were not so good, particularly the trucks and the taxis! We were kept entertained by the slogans printed on the back of the taxis… “money can buy bed but not sleep” and “blessed are the patient,” while this taxi driver was on his horn trying to overtake us in a single lane construction zone. Brilliant!

Although it had been a long day so far, we were still keen to push onto Calabar so that we could apply for our Cameroon visas the next day. Our biggest mistake was taking the road from Aba to Calabar – the last 100kms of the whole day was the worst road of our whole journey so far! The sun was slowly setting and we were starting to run low on diesel. As we turned onto this stretch of road it seemed strange that there were no other cars around, considering we’d just been in some heavy traffic. Just lots and lots of motorbikes. A few kilometres down the road this all made sense, when the road suddenly turned to mud. There was no road left. Just pools of thick mud, and the only way was to drive through it. Slowly, as we edged our way through the first part, it became very clear that this ‘mud’ was actually raw sewage… the landy was literally covered in shit!! Nooooo! Luckily we didn’t get stuck and we’d had the sense to wind the windows up, or it could’ve turned into a very bad night. At least it acted as a good deterrent at the next police checkpoint. They didn’t keep us for very long considering the entire car stank. As it became darker and darker, our next challenge was finding some diesel to ensure we made it to Calabar. Driving through an oil rich country, we assumed that diesel would be pretty easy to find. Obviously it’s always readily available on the black market, but it was surprising how few petrol stations were actually open throughout the country. Fortunately, the last part of the road down to Calabar was downhill, so we were able to cruise to the nearest hotel without filling up, where we crashed out for the night. 16 hours of driving and it was definitely the most exhausting day so far.

The next day was pure admin. After having the worst taxi driver in Nigeria, we finally found the Cameroon Consulate and were able to get our visas issued within half an hour. The staff were so kind and welcoming, and we learnt a lot about the reasons for the border closures between Nigeria and Cameroon. Initially with the Ebola outbreak, Cameroon implemented strict border entry controls across all land, sea and air passengers. This was slightly relaxed when Nigeria became Ebola free, however the continual threat of Boko Haram has kept all land borders closed until further notice. They wished us good luck and told us to contact our embassies ahead of time to ensure that we would be allowed to cross.

The rest of the afternoon was then spent trying to get a sim card and internet so that we could get in touch with the UK and Australian Embassies. This was partly successful, with a contact in the UK Embassy in Yaoundé offering us some assistance, although she did tell us that it might take up to 6 days. We then waited for about 40 minutes at the petrol station to fill up with diesel. At about 48pence per litre, it was definitely worth the wait! I have to say that the Nigerians we met in Calabar were all extremely friendly and welcoming, and obviously not used to seeing many tourists. Walking through the streets and at the shops and petrol station most of them wanted to say hello, welcome us to Nigeria and were very inquisitive about the landy and what we were doing. The only ones who seemed hell bent on ripping us off were the taxi drivers – but that seems to be an Africa wide phenomenon, so nothing really new there.

The next morning we awoke to stormy weather and headed off for the border. The road from Calabar to Ikom was absolutely terrible. 250kms of potholed tar and dirt road that was slowly turning into muddy tracks as the rain continued to fall. Dodging the trucks, taxis and police checks proved to be even more frustrating in the rain. Arriving at Ikom around 1pm, we stocked up on some food for the next few days in case we were stuck at the border. We were more than willing to camp at the border in no mans land if that’s what it took until we could cross over into Cameroon. The fact that our Nigerian visa was expiring at the end of the day was always in the back of our minds and we knew that we would soon be running out of time. After topping up the sim card with a ridiculous amount of money so that we could keep in contact with the embassy, it was beyond frustrating to arrive at the border and have no phone reception. Being such a remote location, there was phone reception from the Cameroon phone providers, but not the Nigerians. Fantastic.

At all the road blocks leading up to the border the Nigerian police told us that the border was closed. They told us we probably wouldn’t be able to cross and one even gave us a heads up that there were a few other of our friends ‘ie white men’ sitting at the border who had been waiting to cross for 4 days. Yippee, we thought, we might have some company! When we pulled up to the border, it was beyond quiet and it wasn’t hard to find the other whities, who turned out to be missionaries. Their story was different to ours as they had permission to enter Cameroon but were waiting on their trucks and all the goods to be cleared. They had a pretty sweet setup about a kilometre away from the border and we had a bit of a chat before we tried to talk to the officials. It actually would’ve been nice to camp with them for a few days, but unfortunately we didn’t have the time.

So down to the border we went and spoke to the first police checkpoint. After a quick scan of our passports, we explained our situation to him and he was very sympathetic, not understanding how we could only have a 3 day visa to cross the whole of Nigeria. We then discovered that there was actually no ‘no mans land’ between the two countries, only a tiny one lane bridge that we would not be allowed onto unless we had permission to enter Cameroon. Bugger!! So then after a bit of a panic about what the hell we were going to do, we decided that we had to drive back towards Ikom to get some phone reception and try the embassies again.

Luckily this stretch of road between Ikom and the border at Ekok was beautifully tarred, so back we went past the three police checkpoints until we hit reception. I tried the Australian and Canadian embassies again with no response (it’s great when the phone numbers to your embassy decide not to connect when you really need them!) Paul then called the UK embassy again to let them know that 6 days wasn’t going to cut it and we really needed to cross today. After leaving a message we tried our last option, which was a contact at the Dutch embassy we had been given by fellow overlanders Jaz & Bart (http://bobotie.weebly.com). He was an insanely friendly and helpful man, who offered to try and get us across if everything else failed, even though neither of us are Dutch citizens! But first he advised us to walk across the border and talk to the Cameroon commissioner and plead our case. So, feeling slightly better about the situation, but still as stressed as we were before, we drove back to the border. After another chat with the Nigerian officials, they let us walk across the bridge and we casually entered Cameroon.

After being grilled by the first two officers about why we wanted to enter Cameroon, they relaxed and drove us up the hill to speak with the commissioner. After waiting a few minutes, we were invited into his office and started to explain our situation and plead our case. He was quite possibly the loveliest border official we have come across to date. After having a great chat about our lives and our trip, he seemed to relax and sympathise with us, explaining that he had to call his two big bosses and if they both agreed with him to allow us across the border then we would be able to enter Cameroon in a few hours. So we sat and waited for another hour, chatting and joking around with him, but still pretty stressed out. It seemed to help that relations between Cameroon and Nigeria were obviously quite sour, and have been for the past 10 months while the land borders have been closed. The Commissioner described the Cameroon-Nigerian relationship as brotherly love… They get along when things are good, but always seem to be fighting.

After conferring with the bosses, he told us that we would be allowed to cross the same day! Woohoo!! We might have to wait a few more hours, but that didn’t bother us at all… Anything was better than having to go back to the Nigerians with them knowing our visa was expiring that day. Sure enough, when we crossed back over the bridge, they were waiting for our outcome (and I think, secretly hoping that we had been rejected so they could exert some power over us). Luckily for us, we came back with smiles on our faces and then went through the exit procedures. The whole border crossing actually went very smoothly in the end, and the Nigerian police were very relaxed and started joking that we should stay for a while so they could help us celebrate the fact that we were allowed to enter Cameroon. Funny buggers, always trying for something.

So around 5pm we were finally stamped into Cameroon. Just as we had crossed the border, Paul had a call from our contact at the UK embassy, who wanted to see how we were and whether we had managed to cross successfully. Feeling grateful that they had actually (and finally) made an effort to help us, we thanked her and then made our way down the road towards Mamfe.

The 80kms stretch of road between the border and Mamfe has a reputation among overlanders as being the worst road in Africa, so we had prepared ourselves to drive as far as we could until it got dark, and then find a wild camp for the night. Low and behold, we turned the corner and hit a brand new tarred road!! It seems that the border being closed for almost a year had given the Cameroon government the perfect opportunity to upgrade this road. They are actually still working on it, but for the most part, the old windy, hilly, muddy, potholey road is gone and has now been replaced by a flat and relatively straight road directly to Mamfe.

Even after all our adventures of the day, Paul was annoyed that he didn’t get to experience one of the most notorious roads in Africa. The landy didn’t feel the same way though and she cruised along, delivering us to Mamfe just as the sun was setting. We pulled up at the Data Hotel and after having a quick chat with the owner, he let us camp next to the river in a beautifully quiet spot. We treated ourselves to a braai and a couple of drinks and fell asleep to the sounds of the river insects. What an amazing 3 days!

A flying visit through Togo and Benin

Unfortunately, and with thanks to the bureaucratic nightmare that was the Nigerian Embassy in Lome, we didn’t get to spend a lot of time exploring Togo and Benin. Crossing the border into Togo we were thrown back into French mode, managing to quite easily pick up our visas on entry and getting the car papers stamped. Border crossings no longer feel stressful, but are just simply a part of everyday Africa now. The main road from the border past Lome runs along the beautiful coastline, so we enjoyed the scenic drive en route to Chez Alice. After being told that it was a great overlanding spot on the beach, we were disappointed to see that it’s now moved onto the main road, with no real overland facilities. Nevertheless, we stayed a night and had a delicious schnitzel dinner, chatting to a couple of ex-overlanders who had some amazing African stories from a few decades ago. 

After deciding to try our luck at the Nigerian embassy, we were told to come back the next Monday for visa applications. Well, there were definitely worse places we could think of being stuck for a weekend, especially when we stumbled upon a nice beachfront campsite 10mins outside Lome. After settling in and cooling off with a swim, our attention was drawn to the rumbling sounds of a huge truck entering the campsite… It was the Germans, Marion & Michael, we’d briefly met in Mauritania and then again in Bamako! After not running into many other overlanders for ages, it was so nice to see them and be able to catch up on each other’s adventures. It was even better later that day, when our Austrian Unimog buddies, Franceska & Martin also turned up, followed by Rogier. For the next few days we swapped stories about corrupt police, border crossings, great roads, bad roads, the beautiful countries and places we’d each visited since Bamako, and tried to sort out some visas for the upcoming countries. Thinking back, it’s funny how when you meet other overlanders the conversation doesn’t focus so much on the tourist sights in each of the countries visited, but more about our experiences along the road. The stories that made us laugh the most always tended to be when something had gone wrong. Not so funny at the time, but seemingly hilarious a few weeks later with a bit of sympathy and understanding from the rest of us. Like Rogier telling us how many times he’s run out of diesel, or how much dust Paul and I have had to clean out of the landy time after time. 

Monday morning we were back at the Nigerian embassy. After a bit of confusion, paperwork and waiting around, we were finally able to make an application. Although, they weren’t really able to tell us whether it was for a tourist or transit visa, nor how long it would be granted for, if at all. Great! But nevertheless, we had an application in and figured that was further than we had gotten in Accra. Back at the campsite that night we had an amazing braai with a rack of lamb Paul cooked on the Bushpig. Paired with Rogier’s fresh coconut rice & tomato salsa, it was definitely in my top 3 favourite meals we’ve made on the trip so far. 

After another day of swimming, relaxing and planning our route ahead over the next few countries, we were back at the Nigerian embassy to collect our visas. From the moment I walked into the embassy I could tell the mood in the waiting area was terrible and had an immediate gut feeling we wouldn’t be getting what we asked for. Sure enough, the Ambassador had refused to issue our visas and was upset with us because we had asked for a tourist visa. Of course we weren’t allowed to speak with the Ambassador, even though we could see her sitting in the next room, so there was no way to explain our situation. I was then shown our original application forms where we had originally requested a 15 day visa, which was now changed to 3 days. 3 days to drive through Nigeria, apply for our Cameroon visa and exit the country (particularly when the border was closed on the other side)! It seemed ridiculous to us that they would even bother to issue a visa for such a short amount of time for someone who was driving through. We protested and argued for a good 20mins before realising that they really didn’t care, weren’t  going to help us, and just wanted to go home for the day. 

We were only given 2 options; either take the 3 day transit visa or leave with nothing and lose our application fees. So after waiting another half hour, they finally handed us our passports back, with a final word that ‘by the way, your visa starts tomorrow so you need to drive to the Nigerian border tonight.’ Wow, not really what we wanted to hear! At that stage we were so sick of these women, that trying to explain the fact there is another country between Togo and Nigeria that we had to cross first was pointless. They had obviously been given their orders from above and weren’t budging. 

So off we went with our 3 day visas and drove straight to the Togo-Benin border, luckily crossing just before sunset. After finding a great little campsite on the beach, we were well looked after by the local owner, Matius and tried to get our heads around our options while we feasted on a beautiful barracuda dinner. Luckily Benin and Togo are such narrow countries that driving from border to border can be done in a few hours. Having decided that we needed to speak with the Nigerian Embassy in Cotonou the next day, we had an early night. Matius was such a friendly, chilled out guy with a great campsite and it was a real bummer we couldn’t spend longer there. 

The next morning we left early,  navigating through the streets of Cotonou to the Nigerian Embassy down near the marina. Waiting around in the stinking hot sun outside the Embassy, it didn’t feel like it was going to be our day, but we were determined to speak with someone to firstly confirm what our transit visa meant exactly, and secondly to try our luck with getting a tourist visa or an extension. After an hour, we were shown into one of the visa offices and luckily were able to speak to a very reasonable lady. Unfortunately, although she couldn’t understand why we had only been given a 3 day visa, she also couldn’t help us. She wished us luck and told us to get to the border crossing very early in the morning to ensure we had a chance of crossing within 3 days. Yeah, thanks!

Feeling dejected, but determined that Nigeria would not get the better of us, we drove through the rest of Cotonou, picked up insurance for the car for Nigeria and drove toward the border. We stopped at a small hotel about 10kms from the border, treated ourselves to an aircon room and planned our strategy to make it through Nigeria in one piece. 

Nigeria, Cameroon & Congos Photos

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Our deliciously fresh seafood lunch at Kribi Fish MarketsIMG_4155

Where plastic bottles go to die (Yaounde, Cameroon)

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Driving through some fresh mud tracks en route to Limbe, Cameroon

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Our beachfront camp at Mile 6 Beach in Limbe. Mount Cameroon is lost in the clouds behind that peak.

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Volcanic sand walking along the beach in Limbe

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Relaxing with some beers in Kribi, swapping stories with Rogier about our Nigerian experiences.

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Trying our best not to slide around each corner – en route from Cameroon into Congo.

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Every town we passed in Congo had installed these patriotically coloured water tanks for the locals to use.

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Our first bush camp in Congo, nestled in a banana plantation off the side of the road.

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Crossing the equator in Congo!!!

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The beautiful scenery driving through the Congo

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Being the only 2 cars around for 2 days, of course we had to have a slight accident

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Some of the better roads we crossed in between the Congo and DRC. Taking the quieter border crossing turned out to be a great experience for us… not so great for the landys, but they managed to pull through!

Glorious Ghana

Entering Ghana and being able to speak English freely again was wonderful. We had a relatively straightforward border crossing and even made friends with the guy in the duty free shop, stocking up on a few beers and cold drinks for the road. A few kms down the road, we were pulled over at the first checkpoint. Still pretty cautious, not knowing how the Ghanian police would treat us, we were pleasantly surprised when the young cop just wanted to welcome us to Ghana and exchange phone numbers and email addresses so that we could be pen pals. Not a bad start to a new country at all! We drove until sunset and wild camped along the banks of the White Volta River, falling asleep under the starry sky. At 6am the next morning, just as we were both waking up, a mans voice came from below the tent shouting a ‘good morning’ to us. When we stuck our heads out to see who it was, a middle aged local man introduced himself as the owner of the land we were on and asked us what we were doing. Whoops! After explaining that we were tourists and were driving to South Africa, he welcomed us and joined us for breakfast. He was a lovely man and had some great stories about his life and family, struggles as a farmer and the politics and corruption in Ghana. 


We continued our drive south, heading towards Kumasi, however took a short detour at Kintampo to check out some waterfalls there. After speaking with some of the locals who said it was possible to swim underneath them, we were very keen to take a lunch break and cool off. After a short drive along a dirt road, we arrived and were met by the park guide and his orphaned baby monkey who he introduced to us as Blessing. Her mother had been killed in the park around the waterfalls so he had adopted her. It was pretty clear that she was very attached to him, clinging on around his neck when she saw us and ducking her head shyly behind his shoulder. We were given a short tour of the beautiful falls and also given the option to camp for the night. Amazing! With the exception of the distant thundering of the falls and a few locals walking to their villages, there was no one else around and we basically had the entire place to ourselves. Standing under the top falls and swimming in the pool at the bottom of the falls was absolute bliss, with the water being the perfect temperature to cool off in the sticky humidity. The only downside was being swamped by all the mozzies and other insects, but nothing a little bit of DEET couldn’t fix. 


After such a relaxing afternoon, the next day we drove to Kumasi. Driving through Ghana has been a complete contrast to Senegal, Mali and Burkina. A rapid change in landscape, from dry, dusty desert and grasses in the north, to lusciously green, dense banana and pineapple plantations the further south we drove. The obvious influence of the English is also apparent in the style of buildings, the roads and mostly through the sheer number of schools throughout Ghana. Kids dressed in school uniforms spilled into the streets, waving at us and shouting ‘Abruni’ (meaning someone from abroad). 


Reaching Kumasi, we accidentally drove directly through the central markets, which wasn’t hard to do seeing as it sprawls for kilometres throughout the city. Kumasi had some of the worst traffic we’d seen so far, and after an hour of pushing our way slowly through the markets, we finally reached the Presbyterian church at the top of the city, where they let us camp under the shade of one of their big trees. Also camped there were 2 Swiss guys who were overlanding through West Africa in a van they had kitted out and wanted to sell at the end of their trip. We all went out for a great local dinner and a few beers, swapping our stories and we were able to pick up some tips about places to visit along the coast and in Togo and Benin. 


Our next stop was Cape Three Points, where we were made to feel at home camping right on the beach. The Canadian owner of Escape 3 Points, Akwasi has created a true spot of paradise along the Ghanian coastline with an eco-friendly focus. Although it took an hour of off-roading just to get there, driving through local villages and rubber plantations, it was all worth it for a few days of beachside bliss. After all our weeks of driving through desert and dust, that first dip in the ocean was amazing and we both looked like idiots jumping around in the rain when a few thunderstorms rolled in. I guess we didn’t realise how much we’d missed the rain! 


Wanting to avoid the big cities as much as possible, it was inevitable that we had to refocus on getting more visas in Accra for the next few countries. So our next stop was Big Milly’s Backyard in Kokrobite, just a short drive from Accra. Driving the coast road along the way we were being overtaken left right and centre by everyone else who was obviously in more of a hurry (and in faster cars). So when we were pulled over by the cops for speeding we knew it was a bit of a rouse (and after hearing stories of what the local cops were like, we weren’t too surprised). They started off by throwing a radar gun in our face with our apparent speed, so we calmly argued with them the fact that it didn’t show our number plate, so how were they convinced it was us doing that speed. Then they tried to argue that we weren’t allowed to drive in Ghana with a right hand drive vehicle, which has been a common line used by the Ghanian police. We showed our carnet and explained that we were just passing through Ghana as part of our journey.  Then Paul managed to make the cop laugh and he ended up just wanting a chat we reckon. The funniest thing he said to us before he let us go was ‘well, you are a white man, and white men don’t lie. So everything is ok, you can go.’   The police in Ghana were overall very friendly towards us and we didn’t have any major issues apart from them wasting our time. However, since speaking with some locals and expats, we realised that because the government wants to encourage tourism, they don’t really hassle tourists on the roads. Even if there is a white man travelling in a taxi that gets pulled over; the taxi driver either has to get out of the car to pay his bribe, or he pays double the next time so that the tourists don’t see any money being exchanged. It doesn’t really seem fair considering that there are also valid tolls to pay every few hundred kms. 


After making it to Big Milly’s and meeting Big Milly herself (actually a tiny English woman who bought land 20 years ago and has now built up a nice beachfront holiday resort), we set up camp and enjoyed a few drinks and a great dinner at the restaurant. The next 10 days were then spent driving back and forth between the Nigerian, Benin and Angolan Embassies trying to get visas. Luckily we were successful with a 30 day Angolan tourist visa and a Benin visa. Paul was also thrilled that there was a shopping mall with a Shoprite, so we stocked up on food and drinks, treated ourselves to a movie and enjoyed some air conditioning. The landy got a bit of work done in Accra, with new front brake pads and some other essential maintenance. 


Wanting to explore a bit more of east Accra, we drove to an area just past  Labadi Beach, where there was a sign for a new resort under construction. Figuring we had nothing to lose, we decided to ask if we could camp on the beach. The local managers were more than welcoming, making sure we got a great spot that was far enough away from their music and construction noise, but close enough that their security could look after us. After explaining that they were hosting the West African volleyball tournament for the next few days, we were lucky enough to watch some great games from the comfort of our tent, while feasting on pineapples, coconuts, mangoes & bananas. Not bad at all!


Meeting up again with Rogier, we all decided to escape Accra for a few days while we waited for visas, and drove north, hoping to find somewhere to camp on the Volta. Finding a small isolated hotel that didn’t look like it had seen visitors for a while, they agreed to let us camp right along the river. It was a beautiful spot and very peaceful, so we relaxed for a few days and soaked up the sun. 


Driving east towards the Togo border, we wanted to make one more detour to a place I’d read about called Maranatha Beach Camp. Situated on a sandy peninsula on the coast right at the point where the Volta River meets the ocean, you can only reach the camp by boat or 4×4 along the sand. We arrived late in the afternoon and got a bit lost as the sun was setting faster than we could find the camp. But after a bit of help from the locals, navigating our way around the scattered palm trees and rising tide, we arrived in the dark. With the exception of a few tourists staying in the huts, we were able to camp a bit further down the beach and basically had the place to ourselves. It was so beautiful, being able to wake up and look out the front of the tent to see the river, and the back of the tent to see the ocean. The kids from the local school were very sweet and spent a bit of time hanging around with us. They were fascinated by the roof tent, helped us paint the flags on the car, and loved watching Paul make a fire for the braai. The older kids were curious, asking questions about where we come from and what we do, while the younger ones were happy to play in the sand and pose for photos. It was a great place to spend our last few nights in Ghana, but we knew that it was time to move on, back to the French speaking countries of Togo and Benin.