Returning to Gabon on my 5th attempt!
Sometimes it's not what you know - it's who you know
Did anyone have a chance to read the last blog? My apologies if you did. I suppose it may have left some people with a bad taste in their mouth. After all I was safe and had a place to sleep. I had money, friends and food. And sometimes all you need is to pick yourself up and view things under a different light. That is however so much easier said than done! I wonder if "the new perspective" thing is even up to the individual who needs it? It might be attributed to a certain set of events and conditions? I don't know...
While still being hosted by Emmanuel and his wonderful family I set out to visit the immigration office in Douala, Cameroun. It looked like a busy bus station piled up with paperwork. And it took me two motorcycle taxis and a regular taxi to get there. But that stuff is so ordinary by now that I mostly forget to mention it.
At immigration I started delivering my extraordinary story about my 3 failed attempts at the Gabonese border and the adventurous dash to the Congolese border... And that's as far as I got before the immigration woman at the counter sympathized with me and began on my paperwork. Immigration in Douala was a much easier process than immigration in Yaoundé. In Yaoundé I visited 9 offices...in Douala I only visited 3. One of those offices would probably have been unnecessary if it wasn't because I already had 1x5 day transit visa, 1x7 day exit visa and 5 cancelled attempts of leaving Cameroun stamped into my passport?!? You would think that they would deport me simply on those grounds? Some western countries surely would.
So in that extra office I met with the woman in charge of immigration. She weighed and measured me with her eyes and seemed fairly annoyed. But then granted me another 7 day exit visa. However clearly stating: "This is your last chance! You will receive no more. You only have these 7 days to leave Cameroun!!"
With no time to waste I paid and thanked everyone. I then made my way back to Emmanuel's house and packed up. Said farewell to Emmanuel and his wife, who by the way quickly ran inside to put on something nice for the farewell photo. Women! ;)
My immediate plan with the time I was allotted, was to reach Limbé. Limbé is a smallish fishermen's village on the English speaking side of Cameroun. And from Limbé you can actually see the city lights from Malabo in Equatorial Guinea across the ocean. If I could find a boat to Equatorial Guinea then it would be from there. At least that is what people said. But could I? Would I?
For those of you who remember my friend Christoph (German man in São Tomé) then I can inform that even at a distance he tried to help. Christoph supplied me with names and numbers for ship agents in both Douala and in Tiko. Tiko is rather close to Limbé and Limbé is only 2 hours away from Douala ;) Joseph, the agent in Douala, told me to go to Limbé. Charles, the agent in Tiko, said that he would see what he could do and furthermore told me that his house is in Limbé! I already had some history with Charles since he was the agent who received us in Tiko, when we arrived on the Amfitriti from São Tomé & Príncipe. He was also the man who promised me a 30 day visa and took payment for it, then had someone else hand me my passport the next day with a 5 day transit visa and no balance for the price difference. However Christoph made sure to get that balance before he left on the Amfitriti again (by then I was far gone). And I believe that the balance (CFA 40,000) went for beer to the crew as per my wish.
It was great to be in Limbé! Everyone spoke English!! Which was actually strange to begin with because I had all my key phrases hammered into my head in French: How much, good morning, how are you etc... I have really been living in French speaking countries for a long time now!
Limbé felt sort of Caribbean. It's by the sea, they speak English and a dialect called Peagean which largely resembles the melodic sound of some Caribbean dialects. And life in Limbé is pretty slow too! If you remember Celestin, my friend who works for Maersk in Douala, then he was a great help as well! Celestin did some research and provided me with the name and number of a contact in Limbé: Mr Etah. So far it was still Friday and I went straight to mr. Etah as I arrived in Limbé. Mr. Etah was sitting on a chair under a tree. He greeted me and told me: "No problem! We will find a way". Then we waited for mr. Pami Jean who is the manager of a cargo boat, which runs to and from Limbé and Malibo. Mr Pami Jean told me: "No problem! We will find a way". Then he added that I should come back Sunday around the same time and together we would go to the captain to see if we could find a way.
The amount of new people I had met within the last few days?!?
And just like that I was released. It was Friday afternoon and I wouldn't get any further until Sunday afternoon. Mr. Pami Jean recommended a place where I could get a room and I left to go and find it. When I arrived at the Metropolitan hotel, Indiana Jones and the last crusade had just started on the bar/lounge/restaurant television set in the corner of the room - IN ENGLISH!! Oh how life had turned to the better!! :)
Within a single day I had received a 7 day legal permission to travel in Cameroun, hope that I would find a boat to Equatorial Guinea, 2 days rest in pleasant surroundings and a good old classic to take my mind off of things. Good stuff.
Limbé is a wonderful place. It has great scenery, good beaches, nice people, historical sights, a botanical garden, a small but nice zoo, several markets and a friendly atmosphere. But there is no Italian restaurant in case you suddenly have a mad craving for spaghetti with salmon.
I spent my "days off" investigating the port and which boats it might have. I also met with Charles who treated me dinner at a very nice place by the sea. He was recovering from malaria, but seemed excited about helping me once he learned more about the Saga. I also had a chance to be guided through the botanical garden by Adolf Akuando. The garden opened in 1892 and is home to a tree which is the last of its sort. It originated in Brazil and has a particular way of reproducing it self. It may be by some specific animal eating and digesting the seeds but nobody knows exactly how although much has been tried...so that tree may very be the very last of its kind.
One evening after leaving the port I took a motorcycle to the zoo. It had closed, but they let me in anyway. How wonderful it is to sit in quiet surroundings and look at apes and monkeys. There was also a snake...but mostly apes and monkeys. Honestly a really nice setting and it looked like the animals were well treated too.
Sunday came and I couldn't get in touch with mr. Pami Jean. But I reached him the following day where we met at an outdoor restaurant near the port. Unfortunately he informed that the captain had told him that there was no way!! 2 different ships, both with passengers, sank within a short timespan and Equatorial Guinea had responded by denying all passengers entry by boat. I sat around for a while and ended up buying beer and soft drinks to everyone at the table.
I had to come to Africa to learn that I am white? I always thought that I was human? But the outer appearance means a great deal to many people in this part of the world. A man approached me with some race related comment and I responded very seriously: "Hey, I was actually born black!! But the country I come from is so cold that I turned white and now it won't go away!" There was silence for a while...then everyone started laughing. And after that I was alright among them...
Someone told me that there were actually currently two boats in the port. The "Luz Divina" is Guinean and strictly for cargo, but the "Monica Express" is Cameroonian and has a passenger license! The Monica Express is operated by Joe and someone at the table was ready to introduce me. To make a long story short the Monica Express had recently received its passenger license and they had no experience with taking passengers to Equatorial Guinea. Furthermore there was a "small" engine problem which they needed to fix first. After my meeting with Joe I spoke with mr. Pami Jean again to see what he thought about it? I trust mr. Pami Jean who seems to be trustable and in control.
Mr. Pami Jean said: "That is the million dollar question!" But after talking more with him it was clear that with all his experience he found that it would be a great risk for me. Not a risk that he would recommend. Besides...when would it even be operational?
I wanted to speak to Charles about all of this, but Charles was really difficult to reach. When I finally reached him I learned that his daughter had fallen severely ill with malaria! She was being transferred from the hospital in Limbé to the hospital in Douala! Via SMS I received email addresses from both mr. Pami Jean and Charles so that I could stay up to date with them from abroad. And then I made the decision to try my fifth attempt at the border to Gabon. At least in Gabon's capital Libreville I would have time and opportunity to make a new plan. And from Gabon I could make contact by email and stay updated on the situation in Limbé. In case the Monica Express got fixed and successfully carried passengers to Malabo then I could apply for a new Cameroonian visa and start making the 3 day road trip with public transportation back to Limbé. Hard work...but doable.
So I packed my bags again and began the 14 hour road trip from Limbé to Douala, from Douala to Yaoundé and from Yaoundé through Ebolowa to the Gabonese border. Oh how I know that route well by now!
And what do you know? At the border town of Kye-Ossi my friend Abdul Karimou was waiting for me. I had called him in advance and he brought me to my usual hostel at the border. The next morning he picked me up and we had breakfast next to the Cameroun immigration office. Inside the office I shook hands with inspector Johnson who now stamped me out of Cameroun for his 5th time, a weak smile and a halfhearted: "good luck" followed.
It was like a very important exam. Or maybe even as the long walk to the executioner. My body was tense. I struggled eating my breakfast that morning. My head was full. What would happen? Would they let me into Gabon? And what next if not?
Then just before I left the immigration office a French man walked into the building. He looked fit. He was tall, muscular, had a shaved head and wore glasses. He looked like the type of businessman who knows what he is doing. I approached this man and reached out to shake his hand. He shook mine and told me that his name was Sébastien. And what followed is something so improbable, so incredible, so absolutely unlikely that I still find it hard to believe!!
And that is a GREAT story for the next blog ;)
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - living a life of improbability ;)
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga