Getting my phone back in the "worst" part of the world
Please do kick me while I'm lying down, thank you!
Ah, I didn't want to start off negative. But looking back at this entire week or even just the data I have accumulated today is quite depressive. Where am I? I am in Central Africa. Central Africa is without competition the worlds hardest place to travel across borders without flying. With 99 countries behind me I sort of know from personal experience. But don't take my word for it. Do however take my word for it when I tell you, that anyone I have met or spoken to in this region, who could be considered an expert on the subject, says that it doesn't get any worse than this. And that would cheer me up if it wasn't because I'm still here and I'm pretty stuck.
Throughout all of my moaning which I don't expect you to be able to relate to, please do keep in mind that it is the travel form which makes this a nightmare. Not the countries as such. You should be so lucky to find yourself in any of these countries in Central Africa. You would have an amazing time. Then afterwards you would head to the airport and fly out like the champ you are. It's not easy to visit every country in the world when you fly. It's still a remarkable feat though. But completing a challenge like this WITHOUT flying and then topping it up with a 24 hour minimum per country makes it darn near impossible. But there are things in life we do, not because they are easy - we do them because they are hard.
The Danish Red Cross is doing great work in Denmark and in many countries around the world. But they are utterly hopeless to motivate when it comes to this project. I do get some support but not where it counts. And the real support comes from only a few individuals.
My girlfriend and I went through some turbulence a few weeks ago, but came out alright on the other side. And that's a win for me. Because I don't mind telling you all how wonderful that woman is. And apparently quite tolerant too ;) But imagine me having to go through what I'm going through with such heavy thoughts on my mind? Not a lot of fun...
Anyway, I finally left Yaoundé (the capital of Cameroun) behind and headed towards the border with Gabon for the 4th time. The last few days in Yaoundé I had spent in Pap's guesthouse. Pap is a friend I met the first time I arrived to Cameroun back in August 2015. He was in Senegal with his wife Joyce and their two daughters. But I got to stay in the guesthouse anyway. Pap and his family came back home the night before the morning I left. So we just got to see each other.
So let's think about something positive:
As you may remember on December 30th I had been denied crossing the border into Gabon for the second time in 2 days and headed back to the regional capital of Ebolowa in the south of Cameroun (that wasn't the positive story I was talking about). I found a cybercafé in Ebolowa and made friends with the owner: Ondo Mbita Bienvenue. Ondo also helped me find a good cheap guesthouse for the night. The next morning I left early towards the border of Gabon to try to cross again. At the border I noticed that I had lost my phone. But where?
I got help from Abdul Karimou, who is a friend and moto-taxi driver at the border. We called the phone until it was shut off! Lost forever?!?
The same day I was denied crossing into Gabon for the 3rd time and travelled 700 km to the Congo border instead (at great cost)...where I was also (quite dramatically) denied crossing. On January 3rd I had found my way (all the way) back up to Yaoundé which (as you remember) is Cameroon's capital.
In Yaounde I got online and found an email from Ondo in Ebolowa. Apparently the driver, who took me to the border, found the phone and called Ondo from it?!? But Ondo thought this was a hoax because he thought I was in Gabon. So Ondo didn't do anything other than email me...
I asked Ondo to get a hold of my phone? But over the coming days, now several days later, Ondo was unable to call my phone which appeared to be off. Lost again?!?
On January 9th 2016 I had received new visas for Gabon and Congo and I was yet again on my way to the border with Gabon, traveling through Ebolowa on my way. I got out of the bus in Ebolowa and went to see Ondo. Together Ondo and I go to the market where I first met the driver who brought me to the border before New Year. The market had turned into a busy place with many people! We spoke to a few drivers there, but I did not remember the make or the color of the car. I didn't know the drivers name and I couldn't really remember what he looked like. But I did remember that he told me that he was a policeman?
After speaking to several drivers Ondo and I met George who is also a driver. Every conversation so far had been in French or in local languages so I had no chance on my own. But George happened to know my driver who is known as Mr Mvam or "Le Flick".
Good news! So we began asking around for his telephone number among the drivers so we could call him. But instead we ended up getting directions to "Le Flicks" home. George joined us on our quest.
Unfortunately "Le Flick" wasn't home. But his neighbor was, and he gave us "Le Flicks" number. Ondo called "Le Flick" and 30 minutes later we meet for beer.
And "Le Flick" gave me my phone back.
Think about how much could have gone wrong but didn't?!? And on top of that the phone was never given away or sold throughout all of this. Absolutely IMPLAUSIBLE!! What were the odds, at any point, that a European man who hardly speaks French, gets his phone back in a Central African country, after it has been lost for several days on an unknown location? I REALLY wouldn't put my money on that bet!!
So that kind of gives you hope...
Reaching the border...again
I said farewell to George, "Le Flick" and Ondo and continued towards the border. 6 hours later the bus arrived to the border town of Kye-Ossi. I met with my moto-taxi friend Abdul Karimou and I checked out of Cameroun...again. I met with the Gabonese immigration...again, and presented my shinny new visa. I also presented my shinny new invitation letter. Sergeant Joel called his superior on the phone and returns to me asking for a Mission Order (which is completely unnecessary)? I hand him the Letter of Intent which is signed by the Danish Secretary General; Anders Ladekarl. It states my relation to the Red Cross as volunteer and Goodwill Ambassador and furthermore describes that I'm visiting every country with a Red Cross or Red Crescent in it (190 countries today). Not enough for sergeant Joel! I then hand him a printout from an article in the Gabon Review which in detail describes the project and praises Gabon for being a wonderful country (which it is).
I felt that sergeant Joel was on my side, but that he couldn't do much with his superior 30km away demanding a mission order (presidential elections are coming up in Gabon). So I ask if he would let me into the country if I could produce a copy of a mission order? He agreed to that. So I raced outside and called the International Federation of the Red Cross which has its regional office in Yaoundé!! Minutes later I was on another phone call with the regional office manager who told me that he couldn't give me the letter because I'm not really Red Cross? I do not have a contract and I do not receive a salary, he said? This is were I would like to remind the lot of you that 1 of the 7 fundamental principles is about being VOLUNTARY!!
So I didn't cross the border that day and had to head the 8 hours back up to Yaoundé again. Some people just don't get it!! In fact this is a man directly working against me!! But you'll be happy to know that he only has a few weeks left in the Red Cross before he leaves for good. And at this point I should remind you that the Red Cross Red Crescent has around 20,000,000 volunteers who together reach more than 150,000,000 people every day of the year. And I've met a lot of good people within the Red Cross so it does even everything out, although I would have killed someone that day if I was given the chance.
Getting into Equatorial Guinea?
Equatorial Guinea: Possibly country number 100 and the next country within this project. A project which aims to promote the most positive from every country in the world. A project which looks at culture, history, people, food, nature, music and much more. Very much unlike most modern media houses today who it seems to me aim at scaring people where fear is not needed?
Well, Equatorial Guinea (EG) is a very small and very secluded country. At this point it doesn't matter if I have a visa or not: The country has closed all its land borders! You can still fly in to the capital Malabo which is on an island! But you cannot cross any of the land borders from either Cameroun or Gabon. Can you feel the irony!!!
Well, an idea which came up, when I arrived to Cameroun from São Tomé & Príncipe onboard the Amfitriti, was that perhaps I could go without a visa? Perhaps I could arrive on a boat which was continuing to another country? And perhaps I could get a shore leave for a few days? Not likely! But why not have a go at it?
So I went back to immigration in Yaoundé to prolong my 7 day exit visa. And after 2 hours of waiting in line they said: "When are you leaving?" I replied that I would probably leave in 5-6 days in a boat from Douala (staying optimistic). They replied that I should go to Douala and when I knew when the boat would leave then I should go to immigration in Douala (which is a port city). I found a couch surfing host and headed to Douala which was a 5 hour bus ride from Yaoundé. And my host Emmanuel, and his wife Emmanuelle, was there to greet me with their 4 children plus Emmanuel's mother and father who also live there. Good stuff! Home cooked meals and lots of love.
Emmanuel (host) and family.
On my first day I contacted Tom (among many others) who works for Maersk in Gabon where I met him last year. He arranged for me to meet with Celestin (great guy) who works for Maersk in Cameroun. Celestin informed that Maersk doesn't have any boats for that route but arranged for me to meet with Emmanuel (popular name?) who is an agent. I then went to meet with Agent Emmanuel (great guy) at his office. Agent Emmanuel explained that cargo ships would only take me if I had a special permission from the EG Consulate.
The next day I headed for the EG consulate where the security guard wouldn't let me speak with anyone. He just told me that I didn't need a permit. Apparently the security guard knows much more than the captains who frequent EG immigration? But there was nothing I could do...the security guard was done with me and I wasn't getting past him. Back at Agent Emmanuel's office I explained the situation. There I also met Yves who told me I could rent a yacht for around CFA 1.5 million/day ($2,484.00). He was dead serious! That's a thing here. It doesn't matter how big the holes are in my shoes, how tired I look or how worn my shirt is...people in all of the African countries I have visited all think I am a millionaire. I'm on a $20/day budget and have no other income as long as this project still runs!!! Oh well...
I explained to Yves that it wasn't realistic. And it took a lot of explaining before it sunk in!! Then I asked if there was a marina somewhere for sailboats and private yachts? He told me there was a place called Marina Plaisance. So I headed out there. At Marina Plaisance it was immediately clear that I wouldn't find a usable boat. But I got to speak to Bertrand (great guy) who is the fleet and safety manager. He told me to try Marina 2000 which turned out not to be a Marina but a restaurant. However there was a Marina nearby. At that Marina I got to speak to some of the staff who told me to go to Port Gabon where I could find a passenger/cargo ship which runs weekly. Easy! No problem!!
At Port Gabon I was pretty much laughed at. There are no longer any boats that take passengers to EG from Port Gabon. That was looooong ago. Hopeless?!? But I got a few more stories...like the story of the captain who brought a passenger anyway. The captain received a fine of CFA 5,000,000 ($8,282.00) and his passport was stamped "persona non grata" so he couldn't return. The passenger and the person who had invited the passenger also received a CFA 5,000,000 fine!! It sends a pretty clear message: Don't bring passengers on cargo boats!!!
Emmanuel (coach surfing host) is a pretty stand up guy. He helps me a bit, takes care of me and took me out drinking last Wednesday. He wanted to show me the Douala night life. And I couldn't tell if it was Wednesday or a crazy Friday night out! The club was packed, everyone was dressed up, the bass was booming and the liquor was served! Let me remind you: It was Wednesday.
Now what's my next step? I can't go to the Gabon border (12 hours away) because that would be my 5th attempt. I cannot take a boat to EG. The Congo border is pretty far from here (2 days) and my last experience there was less than desirable. Technically I don't even have a visa to be in Cameroun and I have nothing to tell immigration here in Douala.
That will teach you not to try to copy this project - hey? That's what you get for promoting the world in a positive light? That's what you get for telling people that a stranger is a friend you've never met before? That's what you get for proving to people that the world in reality is a much better place than they perceive it to be? Just let me dig a deep hole I can crawl into. And some people still believe I'm doing this for me?
For Heavens sake!! We can't finish the blog like that? So, how are you doing? Did you see the latest James Bond? What is going on in your life? Oh yeah...I had some great fish the other day. Douala is Cameron's "fish capital". Good stuff. And I did get my phone back...remember? And with all the riding around on the back of motorcycles lately - I haven't crashed once! And this part of the world is still a wonderful place in spite of its administrative and bureaucratic madness. Come and see for yourself - I promise you will love it here as long as you have a ticket back out.
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - still not ready to quit!
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga