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The Cameroon Diary Part 3

After a really demanding beginning of the race up in the Extreme North (see part 1 and 2 of Cameroon Diary), it felt nice to have more relaxed days.

 

 

 

 

We could enjoy more the race itself, the countryside and the local people. Don’t get confused, it was not the beginning of a holiday for us – Africa comes up with new surprises every minute. This is already my 10th visit to the country and I still get shocked and surprised on a daily basis. The day proceeding Bafousam stage started well. Good food including lots of fruit and vegetables helped us to recover a bit from the transport. But even good food and some time off cannot do miracles, so many people exhausted from the transport became ill. In our team it was not only me, but during the following days also Ivan, Lukáš and our manager Fred. I hesitated to take anibiotics at first, but I took them later in the evening, my sore throat was not getting any better and I couldn’t really imagine another day in a race in my current state of being. The next stage started in Bafousam. Until this year we used to relate bad quality roads all over the world to the “destroyed Bafousam roads”. We cannot use this expression any longer since all the roads in this industrial city have been renewed, roads are in a 100% condition these days. Noone dares to imitate Laco Longauer from our team who was here last year and was distributing medals to kids and even grown ups before the start of a stage. When the local people noticed him distributing the medals, Laco got surrounded by a bunch of people, all of them asking for one. He was lucky there was a police guy standing pretty close, who scattered the crowd. After this ‘incident’ you could see many people dressed in nice suits walking around with a medal from Laco around their neck.

Pace of the stage was set high, but no real temptations for a break-away until the turning point. On our way back its Pavol who tempts to get away. He doesn’t get rid of the peloton, but the peloton gets rid of me as I drop out along with some other cyclists and cross the finish line feeling really ill and with a 12 minutes loss to the winner. It’s Lukas’s day today, he’s been in a break away with only one French guy for the past kilometres of the stage and he sprints all alone for his victory. Very unlucky, he get outsprinted by the peloton which passes him less than 1km before the finish line.  We sincerely enjoy the time off after today’s stage, we go for a walk in the industrial city of Bafousam later in the day. People come here mostly to visit the huge market place with industrial products. It’s Sunday today, so the market place is rather quiet. In the peak time, it must look like a bee-house really. Despite the low number of customers today, the sellers try hard to sell whatevery they can. They try to persuade us of the efficiency of a mouse-trap (using a super strong glue) – as a proof they show us dead mice stick to the glue (see the picture within this report). There’s also all kinds of varieties of hardware shop goods, shoes and electrical appliances.

We go for our favorite local yoghurt milk in a small shop. The best prevention of a diarrhea you can get in countries like this – get yourself a local milk bacteria from a natural source. We combine it with beer and malta – this triple combination is maybe not that anti-diarrhea after all. We flirt a bit with the waitress in the pub and tell her in which hotel we’re staying. To our big surprise, she shows up around midnight, looking slightly drunk and obviously awaiting a wild night. We are all tired and some of us even asleep already. Ivan feels sorry for her so talks to her outside the hotel reception. Our French team manager Fred comes to help him out and eagerly takes full responsibility over the cute waitress. Ivan is free to go to sleep and we are happy Fred will improve the bilateral French-Cameroon relations.

Start of the next stage is situated in Bafang – there is a transport before the stage and then a 125km race to Mbanga. I liked the beginning of today’s stage – even though we climb slightly during almost the whole stage, Cameroon riders ride really nice tactically for their present general classification winner, Yves Ngock. With only couple kilometres to go, a Swiss rider Mercier breaks away and wins the stage. Everyone else comes in peloton.  

There’s one more transfer after the stage as we go to spend the night to a tourist town of Limbe at the sea shore. This town will also host the start of the following stage. Limbe is a town on the foot of a Mt.Cameroon volcano (local names are also Mt.Fako, Mongo or Ndemi), which is with its 4.040m the highest peak of the country. Superstitions of a local tribe (there’s some 230-280 tribes with their own language in Cameroon!) say that the volcano is home to Efasa Moto, a God of masculine element. According to legends, Efasa Moto will kill anywine coming to the mountain with bad intentions or anyone carrying an amulet called Zhuzhu. To praise Efasa Moto, albinos (people with malfunctioning skin pigmentat) were sacrificed here in the past.  Another legend says the sweetest sugar cane grows on the foot of the mountain – people coming with good intentions are free to taste is, but no one is allowed to take any part of it home from the mountain. Anyone who dares not to follows orders of Efasa Moto will be punished by death. Each year there is an up-hill run in Mt.Cameroon. Last year’s winner, a nigerian runner collapsed on his return home to Nigeria and died. Local people believe he had to carry a bad amulet along with him or he took some wrong medicine (doping) and thus got punished by Efasa Moto. The cheapest Doping control in the world. Last time the volcano erupted was back in 1999 with the lava running straight to the sea. Local people think and talk only positive of the mountain and they explain the eruption by their own story – a masculine Efasa Moto only tried to connect with his wife, the feminine sea element, that’s why the eruption led directly to the sea shore and did not hurt any people. This territory is very fertile due to its volcanic soil and people can live off well the agriculture. In the surrounding countryside, palm trees for a palm oil production are being planted.

Stage from Limba to Kumba is a true massacre. Peloton spreads out in the very beginning, in the first climb on the foot of Mr.Cameroon. Exhausted from the illness, I suffer in the last grupetto and in the end drop from his group as well. I try not to think of the following 100km in solitude. There’s a small local bus passing me, so I ask for water. I also try to hold on to the bus and reach the small group 100m in front of me, but all the women in the bus protest, say it’s not a fair play. They don’t care even of my comparison with Cavendish passing the mountainous stages with the help of everyone around just to stay in the last grupetto. But they do feel sorry for me being ill and when I tell them that people in my tribe will kill back home me if I don’t make it to the stage finish, that is a reasoning close to their way of thinking so they help me to overcome the first hard 50m. I sprint the remaining part just to get to the group. When the climb finishes, our group starts to cooperate in a really unexpected way. We all take turns in front and come with only a 19 minutes gap to the winner. Really nice job considering the difficult profile of the stage and only small group of people. I get to learn in the finish there was also another small group behind us, so I was really worried for nothing. In the meantime of my adventures, Ivan was fighting all the way in front for a stage victory, but crossed the finish line in 6th position in the end.

We go to visit downtown Kumba later in the day. We have two great stories to remember from today. Kumba is just like Bafousam an industrial town, only people speak English in this part of the country. Lots of small work-shops and repair shops everywhere around. People have somehow different look – they resemble more Nigerians. Shortly after we enter a pub and get a beer, a 145cm high guy comes in. He seems to have a mental defect of some type and he has a really high, childish voice. He turns on his portable radio, takes his shirt off and starts his acrobatic performance. He really seems to be made of rubber, making all different types of circus type performances, as if he had no joints limitations. He also knows different grimaces. We invite him for a beer when his show is over, plus give him some little extra money for the show and also for new batteries to his radio. He says he needs to make money this way – he has four wifes, he complains not to have very quiet life with all four of them around. This guy is 77 years old, hard to believe that even after seeing it written in his ID. Also his profession of actor-comedian is written in his ID card.

We see another interesting story on our way back to the hotel. A true attraction. 100% pure commercially running church, live. There’s only an altar and benches to sit at in the house as far as we can see through windows and wide open doors. A local clergyman doing his show behind the altar. He throws himself to the ground in the middle of the sentence and shouts he can feel the God’s presence and power running through him and so on. All the people watching him seem to be in a sort of trance. It must not be a local market-leader church as there’s not that many people around. A ‘head-hunter’ walks down the streat and tries to find new listeners. It all looks like a circus show to me. He tries to address us as well, but without any success. Churches like this are to be found all around Africa. They try to get as much money as possible out of the uneducated and many times illiterate people who believe to get an eternal redemption and life in paradise after they die. There’s no way they would attract a European person as the performance level is really low, reminds us of voodoo ritual. To watch an example of this type of performance, watch this video – I advise you to watch attentively from 2:16min. of the record. Programs like this one are broadcasted daily on TV and are very successful in getting money from the public via paid SMSs. They have good and very positive marketing, pretending they can even cure incurable illnesses.

Peloton stayed together in the following stage finishing in Douala. Only a small break away – with our Pavol being the leading force – was formed couple kilometres before the finish. They got cought up by peloton though, so the whole bunch of cyclists remaining in the race sprinted for a stage victory. Milan finished 3rd and got his first UCI points in this race.

There’s really not much to see in Douala. It’s a pure industrial city with the most important port in the eastern part of Gulf of Guinea. You can meet lots of white businessmen as well as many Africans of different nationalities who came to Douala in search of better life. Crime level is high and walking around the city after sunset is definitelly not recommended.


The following morning we get ready for the penultimate stage from Douala to Kribi. With its 165km it is the longest stage in this race. Real start is about 15km from the ceremony start in Douala city. We are looking forward to todays’ afternoon – the finish town of Kribi is a really nice small tourist town on the seashore. We get to spend here also our second rest day before taking part in the last stage Kribi-Yaounde. Todays’ stage brings no surprises, it’s all flat with uncomfortable sharp sun and very humid climate. In order not to get a sunstroke, we drink a lot and put Daylong 30 on, some of us even prefer to use Daylong 50 as the stage is long. We get cheered up a bit while passing a small town somewhere in the middle of the stage – literally thousands of supporters of the present yellow jersey Ngock, a Cameroonian, line up along the road and yell at all of us their words of encouragement. Two willagers even decide to take a motorbike and follow the head of the race along the road, waving and screaming at the peloton. As they follow the peloton and not necessarily the road ahead, they crach to a footstone and end up in the bushes and gravel next to the road. We underestimated the finish and let 2 riders, Zaugg and Anderreg, gain a small distance of few seconds – they keep their distance safe as they cross the finish line. Milan finishes 2nd in the bunch sprint, what brings him final 4th place in the stage. 

We are staying in the same hotel as previous years. Hotel Atlantique. We go directly into sea and enjoy the solitude of beach in the shade of almond trees. The sea here is by far the warmest one I ever experienced. It’s actually an ocean, the Atlantic ocean. High waves of warm water are the best way for a post-stage recovery. Jozef, who is no longer in race, decided to go for a training ride and rides the whole stage behind the caravane. To our big surprise, he arrives only after lunch, all covered with blood and with bruises pretty much all over his body. He tells he wanted to get a short lift from a mototaxi, so he got hold of the moto, but didn’t keep the balance right and ended up on the ground. He still had scabs and bruises from his first fall in the beginning of the race – now he re-opened all the almost-heeled scabs again. He fall on the very same spots as the previous time, must have experienced kind of a fall-revival I guess. The moto-taxi driver felt really sorry about the situation, so called his friend with a car and they gave Jozef a lift to the nearby Kribi. As he was sitting on the back of the truck, he realized his legs were resting on something soft. He looked closer and there’s a killed crocodile under the bench. However disgusting it seemed to him, he had no choice, than to leave his legs on the poor dead croc for the rest of the trip.

Rest day is not that relaxing for us as it may seem. Fred takes part in the Team managers’s cycling race. His goal is to defend last years’ victory. He wins again this year but organizers decide to add one more lap to the race so they have a different winning team this year. Next finish, the 2nd one of the day is according to their expectations, a French coach of the Cameroon National Team takes the victory – dissapointment for Fred, but big contentment within the local spectators. Juraj, Martin Siragi and Pavol long to see the Pygmy tribe. We’ve been to their sample village in the previous years, we know what to expect –or rather what not to expect, so we stay at the beach and just see them off as they start their jurney in piroga, a small boat carved of a tree. We await them in a pub close to nice small waterfalls, the Chutes. It was obvious from the very beginning they would return dissapointed – the village is a real open-air museum. Pygmy people go there to work, just like the Kenya people do it in their open-air museums in the tourist locations in Kenya. They make you a tour of their village consisting of small chalets made of leaves. There’s even a sign saying you are entering a cultural heritage and historical landmark area. Local people are all dressed in shorts and shirts imported from China, they use normal cookers and pots. Genuine Pygmy people are to be found these days only deep upstream into the jungle. It would take days to get into those remote areas on the Kongo border. No one knows how many people, various tribes and ethnic minorities live in the Cameroonian jungle. Not even the government or the Statistical office. It is very interesting that all these tribes have their own language, not at all similar to any other. People within Cameroon have one common language, French, which is compulsory when attending primary schools. Also “broken English” is widely spread – a very simple English that native English-speakers wouldn’t most likely consider even as English. In Cameroon, this uniting of a country on the basis of one common language works pretty well. Definitelly better than in the surrounding countries where civil commotions, uprisings and even wars are still under way.

Later in the day I learn Juraj and Martin gave my phone number to a local girl. They gave mine as I am the only French-speaking person on the team and they don’t want to get themselves in the same situation as in Bafousam. Of course they say nothing to me. I only find out as I see them giggle on the large amount of my missed calls. The girl calling is very impatient, she would like to have a white boyfriend or a husband at best and also to have a little fun with europeans and make some extra pocket money tonight. As I don’t understand a word of what she’s saying and she really is persistent in her calling, I have to switch my phone off for the whole day. 30+ unanswered calls are obviously not enough for her to understand this is not her winning number. Lukas is having serious stomach problems during the whole day – it’s pretty obvious he will fight for survival in the last stage. He also definitelly has no chance to defend his 3rd place in the Best Climber’s competition.

Last stage from Puma to Yaounde is a hard one, very hilly. Riders eager to show up or just those who have nothing to loose but want to prove themselves attack from the very beginning. One of the most restless riders in the peloton today is Pavol. He succeeds in breaking away and later is followed by two other riders, witch their gap increasing up to 5 minutes during the race. Ride in peloton is not that aggressive after their break-away, but chasing riders in front are well aware of the situation. They succeed at overtaking the unlucky trio only 500m before the finish line. The most powerful and luckiest rider today in the bunch sprint is Milan. He achieves his target from some years ago, winning a stage in african Champs Elysees. Out of Slovak cyclists, only Jozef Palcak was honoured to have succeeded in winning this esteemed stage. 

J

Race is over. All stress and responsibilities disappear after crossing the finish line in Yaounde. It's my fifth completed Tour de Cameroun, overall 10th stage race in Cameroon. I get the routine feelings – race is over and I'm in the country I like so much. I know Yaounde just as well as my hometown, but I get to see a new bar when Claryse takes us out later that night. Only me and Martin go, all others stayed in their beds. A night bar located in the middle of a very poor part of the city is a really nice one. One can get something to eat there plus I appreciate the average age of people in their mid 30ties or so. Mostly couples and groups of people come for a beer. Big podium with life musicians – black piano players, guitar players and singers take their turns. Exceptional live show, their qualities are on a really high level. Draught beer is a special bonus of this place, it's pretty hard to find a beer from a tap anywhere in Africa.

We spend our last day in the country doing some shopping and visiting our friend Daoude. We go to visit him in his house. He moved from the slums downtown to a better location, located on the hill overlooking city. The area is much nicer, calm, but the place he's staying is again only 3x2 metres big. He lives in such a small place along with his wife and little daughter Yasmine. We say hello to the little princess Yasmine, leave her the gifts we brought and some little money so Daoude can buy whatever his family needs most. We then head downtown to exchange the “prize money” we won in the race. A really nice thing about african races is that you get your prize money always at the end of the race. In Europe you don't get to see your money until 6-12 months after the race. We need to exchange quite lot of money. It's always a problem changing money in banks here and you get a bad exchange rate. So we head to an illegal small exchange office at a local market place which looks like a colosseum. We find out the exchange office, just like the majority of other shops are closed on Sunday. I have a visit card from previous time here, so I dial Mr.Ibe's number – he tells me to wait for him. Mr.Ibe is one of a kind – he runs an illegal exchange office in his small shop in the middle of a huge market place. A really classy one. We estimate the amount of cash stored in this small boutique to approximately 200tsd.EUR, in various currencies. He also has a fake bank notes detector machines and is ready to do a money exchange at any time of the day. He is well respected by the local people. Well, in Africa it's not a respect in the proper meaning of the word, people are just scared of him. We sit next to his boutique when some guy from a street approaches as and says with a noticable importance in his voice: “Mr.Ibe just arrived, he can see you now.” A huge limousine with blackened windows comes closer, front door scrolls down and I see the smiling face of Mr.Ibe. I enter his car, which is basically his office, all the necessary appliances are there. I change some 2.000 euros this time. No problem, I get my money, Mr.Ibe wishes us safe journey home and leaves. Everyone in the market place saw us, everyone knows we have lots of money with us, but we feel perfectly safe. No one wants to mess around with Mr.Ibe or his friends. Life is easy when you have people like Mr.Ibe as friends.

We spend our last African money at a cosy roundabout bar enjoying our beer and grilled fish. Delicious fresh fish with a spicy “sauce picante”. Pavol bargains 5 big grilled fish for about 6EUR. We drink our farewell drinks and review the past 2 weeks in our minds. We fly out tonight with a cameroon company Camair-Co. I have this secret wish there would be some technical problems with the plane and we would be 'forced' to stay an extra day in the country – the situation we experienced last year. I sincerely feel like being home in this country. Parents of Mireille Mokve, a girl who married our friend Dávid Žemba last year and moved to Slovakia, come to see us off at the airport and bring some presents for her daughter. Jozef is responsible to carry the gifts. We have no idea what's packed in the bag, but are soon to discover it as lady at the check-in says there's an excess weight of 5 kilos and insists on either leaving some luggage there or paying the overweight. I was curious myself what could be so heavy in that bag. We all burst into laugh as Jozef opens the bag and takes out bananas for cooking, local garlic and peanuts. Lady at the check-in appreciates Mireille tries to stick to cameroonian cooking traditions even in her new home country, but laughs really hard until we take the excess kilos out. She says she also has a sister ready to marry in case any of our friends would be interested. We leave her the bananas as well as some other food from the bags. We can hear her laughter even when already far from the check-in. We then start our return journey to Paris where we left our cars and will drive home for another 15 hours or so. Another visit to Cameroon is over. But I know it's not the last one, definitelly not for me, I truly regard this country as my second home.

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