Exploring Cameroon’s fantastic Ring Road (March 2014)


Crossing into Cameroon was not the quickest of processes but eventually we were allowed to cross the bridge and head off on to the infamous piste from Ekok to Mamfe. Once the nightmare or highlight of many an overland trip to South Africa we found ourselves on a perfectly kept piste without any of the expected deep mud. With a mix of disappointment and relief we set up camp in the bush and were welcomed by a heavy thunderstorm which provided an absolute lighting spectacle. In the 9 months on the road prior to reaching Cameroon we only had three days of proper rain though from this day on it accompanied us all the way to Angola.

After maybe 30km of piste we already hit the beautiful new tarmac road leading through lush forest towards the mountain town of Bamenda. We hit the lively market full of fresh produce and friendly vendors to stock up for the Ring Road. This circular route leads through Cameroon’s western highlands with ever-changing scenery and the country’s second highest mountain. First stop en route was to be Bafut where one of the fons (traditional king) of the area governs from a large palace. The fons traditionally have many wives and even more children and even now still a lot of influence. The Bafut people were once at war with the German colonialists who eventually razed the original palace. Only the Athum built of bamboo with many wood carvings is still standing and the rest of the palace has been rebuild out of red bricks. We were especially impressed by the well stocked museum giving you an insight into traditional life of the Bafut and presenting many elaborate wooden sculptures and other artefacts.

Over some rough tracks with beautiful panoramic views over the grasslands we made it to Lake Nyos and set up camp. The area around the lake has once been populated but now only a military post and some researchers remain. Lake Nyos is known as the most deadly lake in the world due to a large cloud of CO2 erupting from it in 1986 which suffocated about 1700 people and a lot of livestock. Now the lake is closely monitored and pressure released from it through several fountains.

The following day we went deeper into the hills and met a variety of very different locals with the muslim Fulani herders being the most friendly and welcoming. At a stop in a small town we experienced how the streets were deserted all of a sudden and people hid at the side of the road. Shortly after we saw the reason. The secret society of the fondom was parading through the streets and masked men with long sticks chased everybody who got too close to senior members dancing in feathered costumes. These secret societies together with the local fon are still holding most of the power and are feared and respected. A bit down the road we then came across a column of about 50 cars racing down the piste with hazard lights on and more masked dancers. Apparently the governor of the region was in town for a visit.

As we were climbing higher and higher the population density increased dramatically and all the land was in agricultural use with men, women and children working together on the fields. Permanent rain accompanied us and the temperatures dropped so much that we were putting on any piece of warm clothing we could find. Without a bush camp when the sun went down we tried to find refuge in Oku at the foot of Cameroon’s second highest mountain at about 3000m and ended up camping in front of the local hospital. As usual in Africa when you ask somebody if you are allowed to stay for a night on their premises you are told that it would be no problem at all and you are highly welcome. Well after talking to the administrative hospital manager of the region and the head doctor we got to know that the next morning we had to go and see the local fon as well as the district officer of the Oku subdivision. We could have just driven off but felt obliged to respect local customs and went off to find the DO before breakfast which turned out not to be too easy. Having located his office we were waiting in his weirdly decorated conference room until he showed up and explained his concerns about our safety in the region. First we thought he would be another bureaucrat trying to feel important but instead he turned out to be a very nice guy who just wanted to chat with us. We killed a bottle of red wine together which felt a bit odd at 10am on an empty stomach and shared a bag of boiled eggs as we wanted to repay his hospitality. When being offered an egg the DO was obviously struggling as he wanted to keep up professional appearances but deep inside was really craving a freshly boiled egg. All in all it was a really awkward morning and feeling a bit squiffy we skipped on the visit to the fon as well as climbing Mount Oku due to the constant rain. On some of the roughest pistes of the Ring Road we then crawled up and down steep hills, were rewarded by beautiful views over the surroundings and had a bucket shower at about 2600m before arriving back in Bamenda.

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