Shadow enters the Southern Hemisphere

Shadow enters the Southern Hemisphere

April 13, 2017


Narrated Audio Blog

Told in the collective first person, jointly from Stu and Janell Clarke's perspective.

We passed through Cameroon rather quickly. The wet season was imminent (April through June is the heavy rain) and we needed to get at least to southern Angola soon to avoid the heavy rains. We crossed into Cameroon at Ekok and spent one night at the Azi Motel on route to the capital Yaounde where we needed to purchase our visa for Gabon.

The Azi Motel (4.629379,9.441828) was a great find. We paid 11,000cfa for an airconditioned room, no negotiation required the staff simply stated the price and were fine with the dogs in the room with us. The quality of air conditioning can seriously range from excellent to terrible, with terrible being hardly any cooling effects, loud noises and intermittent power issues. The a/c here was weak to start with but only due to the power supply, once businesses closed at around 9pm there was more power available and the a/c worked well. The staff explained to us that the internet was down in the region due to political problems.

Next day we rode through the coastal city of Douala just to see it then carried on to Yaounde which took us by surprise. It was a very pretty city with green mountains and sits at around 700m above sea level so the temperature is comfortable. The next five nights we stayed at Hotel Laginaque (3.893639,11.512054). It was a nice hotel, 15,000 cfa per night without air conditioning and we were very comfortable sleeping at night. The Mosquito net over the bed was great, we didn't get bothered by any bugs and didn't get too hot hiding under it with the girls. The best feature of the hotel was its proximity to shops, restaurants and embassies and fast internet when the power was on.

A short walk up our street was a restaurant and nightclub called Black and White Sensation. It had a great menu and atmosphere. We went for dinner a few nights and enjoyed being 'normal' although not really dressed for the place with our limited wardrobe. Also nearby was a Total Station with a Bonjour. Janell got friendly with the lady who worked there, Christina, who wanted to hear about our travels and where we were from. So they chatted over coffee and croissants most mornings.

With the more comfortable temperature and staying in what seemed to us to be a safe city, Janell motivated herself to go for a run but early in the morning at 6am. She was shocked to find hundreds of locals out running as well of all ages. There was a big and well vegetated hill not far from our hotel she chose to run up along with all the locals. At periodic stages along the road up the hill there were cleared areas to the side of the road where people were joining in with free Zumba-style classes. This turned out to be a sore point for Janell because everyone yelled out and laughed at the only white girl on her own. It's something you get used to travelling overland in Africa but can still be upsetting because you don't think of yourself as different so it's embarrassing when large groups of people target you. She persevered each day, focusing on the motivation from being surrounded by other runners and hiding under her hat passing the Zumba classes.

Applying for a visa at the Gabon Embassy (3.894460,11.519440) was straightforward. It cost 70,000 cfa for the express visa (collect same day) or 50,000 cfa. The staff were pleasant but insisted on applicants wearing long pants and a shirt with sleeves. We needed:

  • 1 passport photo,
  • Copies of a hotel booking in Gabon,
  • Passport,
  • Cameroon visa,
  • Travel insurance,
  • Vehicle documents, and
  • Yellow fever vaccination.

We dropped off our passports on a Friday and collected them on Monday. That night we celebrated with a bottle of wine (why not, any excuse) and left Yaounde the next day to ride to Gabon.

Roadside photo
Roadside photo

Stu's overheating lamp illuminated on the ride out of Yaounde. We identified the cooling fan as the cause. We don't mess around with this warning, the bike is stopped and switched off immediately to cool. We were in a busy market place and the traffic was heavy and likely to continue for some time. We decided to continue the journey but managed the problem by keeping Stu at speed forcing air through the radiator and switching off the bike in stationary traffic. It was stressful to say the least. We decided we could manage this until we reached Libreville in Gabon and sort it out there.

We're in Gabon! Beautiful country, welcoming people, with great roads. Shortly after the border crossing Shadow achieved a significant milestone. We adopted Shadow in Colombia just before we left South America, headed for North America and Europe, all of which are in the Northern Hemisphere. So far she had never crossed the Equator but today was the day in Gabon. There was a sign marking the Equator so we stopped and took a video of the big moment. Unfortunately it was on a bend in the road and not really a safe place to stop so it was quick but marked.

Shadow at the Equator
Shadow at the Equator
The Pack at the Equator
The Pack at the Equator

We spent our first night camping in a small village in the mountains. It wasn't the plan, we were trying to get to a town after the border crossing but the sun was setting and we were still a long way from somewhere that would be big enough to have accommodation for travellers with dogs. The landscape was very much a mountain jungle and we weren't sure when we'd find a clearing on the side of the road to set up our tent. Luckily a village appeared so we pulled in and sought permission from the Chief to set up our tent. The villagers couldn't have been more hospitable. They cleared out an annex of a building for us to set up our tent inside, they even carried over a mattress for us. We very politely declined the mattress because we had our own and it was going to prove quite challenging to get their mattress in our tent. Setting up didn't take long, especially with an audience, and then we were shown to the village showers and toilets to freshen up. It had been a big day so after we got something to eat we crashed.

Our tent inside a village house
Our tent inside a village house

Next day we were up and out early, starving from a lack of food the day before. Now we made it to the big town and found a roadside joint selling greasy egg rolls to devour. They tasted so good. For some reason we hadn't bothered to take our riding jackets off but Janell removed hers just before mounting the motorbike to leave and discovered red spots all over her arm. She freaked out, it looked pretty scary. It couldn't have been the greasy rolls because we'd just eaten them. But we hadn't really eaten anything since breakfast the day before except for some oranges the villages gave us. Being very dramatic, Stu took off his jacket thinking it might take some time to sort this issue out and discovered he also had red spots all over his arms. Well that calmed the entire situation down completely. Janell wasn't alone with spotty arms so the situation wasn't so dire and we were both laughing at Janell's rapid change in response. Oh well, may as well keep going and get to a medical centre in Libreville while we could still ride, should the spots eventually result in worse symptoms than simply spots.

We arrived in Libreville with no accommodation booked but early enough that it wouldn't be a problem. We identified a few options on the iOverlander app including the catholic mission which had rooms for rent and space for camping but needed to be approved by the priest. Unfortunately he was not present and allowing the dogs would be a risk that no one else was willing to accept. We started looking for a cafe with WiFi so we could investigate further options as well as looking for a mechanic to get the cooling fan for Stu's bike sorted which had stopped working in Cameroon. Sacramento Patisserie was a very comfortable, modern and well situated cafe where we could also have a nice lunch.

We found a KTM dealer only a short distance from the cafe so while Stu continued to research accommodation, Janell walked to the dealer to see if they could help with Stu's cooling fan. The shop was owned by Amar, a Lebonese man. Amar's main business interest was a luxury resort on an island just offshore. As part of this resort he maintained a large fleet of jet skis and needed reliable facilities to conduct repairs and services and so he opened a powersports shop. Deleur, a young South African man, managed the workshop and dealership and was very helpful. He didn't have a genuine part for Stu's bike but made do with a quad bike fan of similar size and fitted it free of charge. Amar asked us where we were staying and after learning that we had not arranged anything so far, offered his room at the shop as he wouldn't be there that night.

The next day we booked an AirBnB to stay a week. It was a one bedroom house with a full kitchen not far from Sacramento Patisserie. It had private parking so the motorbikes were secure and we could enjoy walking around the city with the girls. Roadside food was certainly tasty and cheap but not very nutritious and so we looked forward to being able to prepare our own meals.

We didn't have too many chores in Libreville outside of getting our visa for the Republic of the Congo and a bit of maintenance on the motorbikes. The visa application required:

  • 2 passport photos,
  • Original and 1 photocopy of the passport,
  • Evidence of the Cameroon visa and Cameroon entry stamp,
  • Original and 1 photocopy of Yellow Fever vaccination,
  • Hardcopy evidence of a Hotel reservation in the Republic of the Congo, and
  • Cost: 30,000 CFA for a 15 day visa or 50,000 CFA 30 days.

The officials then tell you to allow 7 working days to process the visa or you can pay double the cost of the visa for an express which will take 4 working days.

While we were waiting for the visa we explored the city around us. Libreville is a modern and pretty city right on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. We didn't go swimming but Janell did get out running along the streets adjacent to the coast. On her second run she was toward her turn around point to return, the path was bordered by unkempt bushland and she heard crying in the bushes. Janell headed in quickly after realising the crying was likely coming from a dog. It didn't take long to find a little lady, stuck because her bag legs weren't working. Fortunately she was a small dog around 8kg. With no way of knowing where the little dog came from or how it ended up here the only option was for Janell to carry her home and then come up with a plan. 4km carrying 8kg was rather tiring but the little dog was quite calm in her arms.

Weeti and Shadow were very curious about the visitor but we kept them separate, not knowing the dogs state of health and decided to get her to a vet quickly to get her checked and to see if she was microchipped. We found a German vet nearby who spoke some English, Dr Delestre, and explained the situation to him. He agreed to take a look at the dog and discovered she had a French microchip. This gave us hope that somebody was looking for her and missing her and this was an awful accident as opposed to a cruel attempt to abuse and dump a dog. Dr Delestre said he would try to identify the owners by contacting France's Identification of Domestic Animals . He made no promises and indicated that if nothing came of the investigation we would have to decide what to do with the dog to which we promptly responded that we would keep her. Meanwhile, he suggested seeing if any of the other vets in Libreville knew the dog. We noted her microchip number, took a photo of her and spent the entire day visiting every vet we could find in Libreville. Nobody knew or recognised her and nobody had reported a missing dog.

Weeti & Shadow with Fidgie
Weeti & Shadow with Fidgie
One big happy family
One big happy family

The next day we received an email from Dr Delestre who had indeed discovered the owners of the dog and the dogs the name, Fidjie. Upon receiving the owners details Dr Delestre proceeded to contact the owners to inform them of the circumstances. To our great relief the owners were very distressed, especially their son, to hear the dog was missing. They had left it in the care of the watchmen while they were in France for a couple of weeks. The watchman had reported the dog missing to them but clearly did nothing to find it. Their instructions were to arrange for the watchman to collect Fidjie and take care of the dog until their return. In Janell's opinion this watchman was clearly not responsible enough to care for this dog so Janell wrote a very stern email to the vet and owners refusing to return such a sweet and vulnerable dog to someone who had clearly neglected it. Janell had her suspicions that the watchman had dumped the dog because there really was no way it could have got from their home across a very busy main road and into the bushes where Janell found it without the use of its back legs which was a pre-existing condition the owners were aware of. Janell instead arranged for Dr Delestre to kennel the dog and treat it until the owners returned. Everyone agreed this was the best solution so we dropped Fidgie with Dr Delestre. It was a happy ending of sorts. We wanted the dog returned to its owners and hoped this would never again happen to this sweet little dog.

We left Libreville and headed directly to the Ndende border customs and immigration (-2.400843,11.356571) to enter the Republic of the Congo. 

Road to the Congo
Road to the Congo
Discussing routes with Tom & Caroline
Discussing routes with Tom & Caroline


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