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The Cameroon Diary part 2

This is the second part of the Diary from Cameroon 2012.




The first stage of Tour de Cameroon leading from Figuil to Garua took place day after the Marua prologue. We packed our luggage and left hotel Protocole in the morning as we headed for breakfast to a local restaurant. Ivan amused everyone around by falling of his bike as a bag of clothes got into his front wheel. As we were riding slow, at about 20km/h, he performed a beautiful slow-motion flip so we could notice his smooth and graceful movements. This way, even before the race itself started, he already managed to get some bruises over his waist and hurt his wrist. He even succeeded at entertaining mototaxi-drivers passing by. Breakfast in Marua is every day the same. Fried donuts and an omelette baguette. Besides coffee, a traditional drink called bouye is served. It’s made of baobab woodskin boiled with sugar – it reminds me of a semolina pudding. It’s always served hot, despite the 50°C hot climate. The cook always welcomes me back, she remembers me well as I always drink bui. She explains me the process of preparation each year. I buy the raw bui powder each year. And each time I forget it. The preparation varies in every region, somewhere they add different ingrediencies. If you are interested in the recipe, here you can find the most common one.

We take small buses to transport to the start of the first stage which is some 100km south, in the town called Figuila. Start line is in front of a local cement mill, which also offers the only shade in  temperatures reaching 40°C already in the morning. The air is dry and full of cement, gets in everybody’s eyes and lungs. Asphalt roads are great, brand new, so we ride fast from the very start as we ride with the wind. Peloton is nervous, new break-aways are created all the time. Halfway into the stage, a group of 7 escapes at last - 5 Cameroon guys, French Graczyk and Milan Barényi. Victory is disputed in sprint. Milan gets cramps and looses 14 seconds to the winner, comes in 7th position. This break-away decided of the whole tour and of the overall winner as we later find out. Peloton comes with a 5min. loss. Three Slovaks manage to finish in top 20 – Fraňo 13th, Bátora 14th, Polievka 15th. Also Ivan comes in with peloton. Jozef Zima drops out of the group and looses 23 minutes to the leaders. Hard to tell if the Commissaire will let him  start the following day, time gap seems to be too big. Luckily the Commissaire prolongues the time limit because of Congo guys who arrived right before the start and had no time to relax after the journey and Jozef is saved for today.

It’s hot like in hell in Garua. Sand everywhere around, even on the road. Garua is not that nice as Marua, it´s less traditional and also little less desert-like, there are some bushes from time to time. Temperatures are alike. We sleep in these nice cosy cottages in the middle of a garden. There’s airco in every room. The best accommodation we could possibly imagine.

Dinner is fine, provided by the “catering” group from Marua. That means silimar meals to the previous days. Donuts, omelette baguette, coffee and bouye for breakfast, rice with boiled animal bones, beef, small pieces of chicken legs and spaghetti at lunch and dinner time. Some people complain, but I don’t mind eating the same staff each day. One should pay attention to his/her intake of liquids. After having drinking water and coke all day long in the stage, it’s time for African Castel beer now. Interesting thing about beer in Africa is, that you can find it only in 6,5 decilitre bottles. Everyone drinks it – women, men, children. There is no point in selling the beer in small bottles when everyone is so thirsty due to the hot climate. Beer also serves as a good nutrition drink with it’s rich source of B-complex and other minerals which are many times absent in the local food. Similar drink in terms of nutrition is a Malta drink. It´s a non-alcoholic malt drink with huge amount of energy – there’s even higher amount of calories than there is in Coke. It tastes really sweet and is rich in B-complex, beer yeast and malt. When served cold it can even be considered as a good quality food – thanks to it’s rich nutrition content and high amount of calories, the only common attribute with drinks is it’s liquid form. It’s really strange Malta is a very popular drink in basically all countries outside of Europe. In Slovakia I found it in only one chain store so far. Honestly, there’s no better source of quick energy needed after a physical performance than Malta.

I sleep in as I forgot to set the alarm on the previous night. I jump out of my bad and run out of the cottage to see what’s going on outside. There is a big discussion at the hotel reception – organizer didn’t pay for our accomodation, so the hotel owner refuses to let us go, he locked up the gate. I just smile and go to pack myself in no rush – seeing the problem outside, I know I have lot’s of time. Hotel manager agrees to a compromise after a half an hour of discussion – we leave our baggage in the hotel and go for breakfast. We’ll be able to get our luggage when the bill is settled. Everything gets solved out in the end of course, but we loose a lot of time. There is a 200km transfer to the start of the stage awaiting us and a difficult 90km hilly stage with a 15km long climb. Not much fun at the finish either – we have to pack all the bikes and all our luggage immediatelly after arrival as a transfer back to Yaounde is planned later in the day. This is always the most critical day of the whole tour. We like to joke, that we go to relax and recover to the race itself, with all the travelling and packing before and after the stages being the tough and demanding part.

These are merely but plans – and plans change every minute in Africa. The latest information we have is that the bomber broken so it seems we will have to take train instead of a plane. Our manager Fred goes nut, he’s done the train transfer before. It takes 16 hours to cross all the jungle connecting north and south of the country. He tries to manage a civil flight for us. Organizers think they have enough time to make the decision – they leave the final say to the finish line. And so we set off for the 3 hour long transport before the start. We try to spot hippos as we are passing a nearby river, but we don’t have as much luck as we did last year. There’s a group of amateur actors entertaining us at the start line, their faces painted in color. Our mechanic guy, Juro, marvels at local women cooking local beer from the early morning – they obviously have more than 2 per mille of alcohol in their blood.

Temperature is still very hot even despite the vegetation – there are more trees and bushes around, climate is not so arid, but temperatures still rise above 40°C. Stage is short, but uphill since the very start. We reach the highest point at kilometre 89 with the altitude of 1.100m. Peloton is toren in the long climb. Milan looses in the Mountain Prime sprint and so would not be dressed in the Best Climbers Jersey the following day. Peloton partially regroups in the following descent. Cisse from Ivory Coast along with a Cameroonian Ngock break-away and despite the efforts of the chasing group, they maintain the 2 minute lead. Ivan finishes in 4th place, Milan 6th and Lukas in 11th position. I loose 12 minutes and finish in 39th position. I am not a natural born climber, so a loss of 12 minutes is all right for my standards. But it’s definitelly Jozef who is having hard day today. He arrives over the time limit and changing it is completelly out of question today. Jozef is out of the race along with other 8 riders. He’s not happy about it as he knows the tour is over for him. Now we are off for even more difficult part of the day – decision making about how to tranport us to the 1.000km far away Yaounde.

Since the bomber is out of order, there are two options of transfer for us. We either take the night train or a civil plane from Garua. After some time organizers decide we drive back the 300km!! to Garua and take the night plane at 9.30. Our support teams are told to take the night train, they are also to carry all our luggage and bikes. So the caravane splits in two parts. At that time we had no clue that taking the train would have been a much more comfortable option. We are supposed to have a day of the following day but I don’t think you’d find even one person who would call it that way.

We take our time on our way back to Garua, and as we walk around during a short stop, someone asks: “Does anybody know when the plane leaves?“ The answer is – in one and a half hour. We are still 150km far from Garua. The bus driver and all its passengers quieten. Driver speeds up to over 100km/h, I doubt these buses are in condition to ride at that speed, especially at night. Suddely we have to stop by a small village – flat tyre. Driver takes out a spare tyre only to find out it’s a flat one as well. We are lucky to get a spare wheel from one of the other buses. We change the flat tyre just as fast as in Formula 1 and are ready to continue in our crazy suicidal ride. As we approach Garue, we can see we missed the plane. Airport guide only confirms our assumption. Guys from the organizing commitee don’t know what to do so they call their boss – he’s out of signal as he’s on the train through uninhabited central part of the country. He decides the situation himself – he tells us to find a place to sleep on the airport ground and he would tell us what will happen next the following day when he reaches his boss by phone. We all had a very tiring day – a 200km transport to the start, 90km hilly stage and then another 300km long tranport back, all of it in a 40-50°C heat. Everyone’s exhausted and nervous. Gabun guys seem to be perfectly all right with the proposed solution – they  lay down on the parking ground. French guys order their driver to drive them to a hotel and dissapear into the night. Now it’s Fred’s turn to take care of us – he tells the driver to take us back to the hotel we stayed in the previous night. We invade the reception, unannounced and force the receptionist to give us room keys. There’s plenty of us, he resigns and we get into bed at 11PM at last, completely exhausted. No one knows what would happen the following morning and how we would get to the south of the country. But noone really cares, we all fall asleep.

In the meantime, the other part of our expedition is having their dinner in a 300km distant Ngaundere  when they suddenly realize everybody else is gone. Our mechanic Juro, masseur Martin and unlucky Jozef take moto-cabs and rush to the train station full of chaos. Everyone is doing their best to get into the train. Train is not big enough, there is not much space and everyone knows there is even less sleeping places. Only every fourth person would get bed. Martin, Jozef and Juraj are fast and manage to take three sleeping places and refuse to give them up even when the organizers tell them to do so. Whenever there is a problem, they simply pretend not to understand. They´re lucky, they get to sleep during all of the 16 hours long train trip and they reach Yaounde at 8AM. They unload all luggage, get into our team car and continue their transport to a 300km distant Bafousam. When they get to Bafousam at noon, they enjoy their beer in a local pub. You now have the image of a day off for our support team and Jozef who is no longer in the race. The story of a rest-day for our racers still trapped in Garua was all but similar.

Somebody from the organization shows up the following morning to tell us we would leave for the airport right after the breakfast at 9AM. Good news, we didn’t expect to get any breakfast at all. It takes three hours to get our plane tickets. Lady at check in needs our passports, but since mine stayed in my luggage, my cycling licence will have to do it. We take off at 1PM at last. Once on the plane I learn we have a stop in Douala before landing in Yaounde at 4PM. We are supposed to have our rest day, instead we get into buse and head for a 300km long tranport to Bafousam. We take a giant bus reming me of a huge bulldozer, designed for some 100 people. Our driver drives like a fool, he never slows down to less than 100km/h even when riding through small villages. There’s no way he could stop the bus in case of emergency. If anythink breaks down, I doubt any one of us would survive. Ideas such as this one don’t bother anyone in Africa – they have a big population, few more or few less people on Earth, why should they care.

Climate in this part of Cameroon is completely different to the arid North. We are surrounded by rain forest, humidity reaches almost 100%. Temperatures are lower, 30-35 degrees C, but the humidity makes it less comfortable – majority of people prefer dry heat, but not me. There are advantages in more humidit climate. One sweats all the time with so high humidity, but your nose mucous membranes remain well rehydrated all the time – just by inhaling the humid air. It’s a nice change for the body, especially for my eyes and breathing to get some humidity compared to the extremly dry weather un in the north. One needs to be careful with the direct sun though. Constant sweating acts as a magnifying glass on your skin and so you get tanned much more quickly than in dry 50°C time. We don´t have any base tan from Slovakia, as it´s only February, so we have to use sunscreen. I put on a 50 SPF every day, especially on my ears, neck and nose. Underestimating the importance of sun protection just for one day would result in total sunburn and an increased body temperature as a reaction of the body. I´ve seen guys who didn’t put any sunscreen in a stage and had to ride in their arm and leg warmers the following day so as to protect themselves. We know these conditions very well by now, so never forget to bring our Daylong sunscreens. It’s very easily spread and stays on even when you sweat while sporting – not every sunscreen is so daylong, hence that’s where the name comes from. We always carry a Daylong with us to destinations such as this one – it’s impossible to get a sunscreen or a repellent spray in a local store, so we always make sure to bring them with us. They also produce an excellent recovery cream after sunbathing

We arrive to Bafousam by 9PM. I am happy I can take a shower and get some cleaned clothes from my luggage since I didn’t have access to it from the previous early morning. There is a slight plaster for the torture we had to undergo – a delicious dinner and a 2-hour delay of the start of the following stage. I’m completely exhausted from the travelling of the past few days – I begin to feel ill, I have a sore throat, so I take my antibiotics medicine and go to get some sleep as there’s a difficult 4th stage of us the following day awaiting us.

Part 3

Thoroughtful analysis of optimal position on the bike provided by BG FIT technology, by BIKEPRO BANKÁ BYSTRICA.

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