February 21 (Saturday) Land Mileage 3550
When we woke up, the birds were still in full song, with more joining in all the time. We finished breakfast to the 'Bird Chorus' and were back on the road at 07h30. Three quarters of an hour later, we were at the Frontier station between British Mandated territory and French Cameroons at the town of Gamboro.
A police permit was necessary to travel across French Cameroons between Gamboro and Kussere, which we had previously arranged. Out with the passports and permits yet again, as while we were here we had to go to the French customs as well. We managed to fill up with fuel, water and do a bit of shopping to replenish the food. Gamboro was where the ferry goes across the River Logone and this we managed to get on at 08h45 on our way to Fort Lamy. We were lucky enough to catch this straight away, the ferry being on our side of the river on arrival. Back on the road again as soon as we could make it and then on to the second Ferry over the River Chari at 10h30. We drove on through lots of thick bush country and very rough roads. The countryside changed very little, but nevertheless it was very interesting with many birds and large butterflies seen. How I regret not having tried to get a book with which we could have tried to identify some of the beautiful birds that we saw on this particular part of the journey.
At 15h30, another back spring broke; proof of what the roads were like. We managed to find a sort of clearing at the side of the road and David and Don got out to replace the spring. They were getting plenty of practice at this particular job! This stop in fact turned out to be a blessing in disguise; a bus pulled up while they were working on the spring and informed us that a bridge was down on our route and we would be unable to cross. This meant we would have to retrace our steps and take the road through Bongor. It was quite some way on to the bridge, so the bus had saved us a lot of wasted mileage.
While we were busy with the spring repair, one of the locals came over with some fresh cow's milk for us. We gave him some cigarettes and he went off obviously delighted, but then so were we with the milk. What a pleasure it was not to have powdered milk that night. By the time the spring had been changed and knowing that we had to retrace the route, we decided that we should make camp right where we were, so we could set off first thing again in the morning.
February 22 (Sunday) 1953 Land Mileage 3669
Up at 06h30, we had a quick breakfast and packed up camp, watched by a quite large crowd of the locals who suddenly appeared on the scene. They appeared to be a 'gang' of men who were going out hunting; they carried spears and all they wore was a thong, presumably of animal skin, around their waists, with a small piece of skin down the back, which we guessed was to sit on. We had not realised that this particular area was quite so primitive. One of them put his finger into the jam we had been eating and from the look on his face, we gathered that it was not approved of! Our 'farmer friend' of the night before, brought us some more milk and he went off with a few gifts that we gave him. On our way again, away from the broken bridge.
It was thirty six miles before we came to the cross roads that turned off to Bongor, this was on the Logone River further down from Fort Lamy. It could have been much more serious if we had not been told by the bus about the bridge being down the night before. We pulled into Bongor at about 09h15 so we had not really wasted that much time. We found a very immaculate Frenchman who took us in hand. We explained the situation to him, and asked him what he thought would now be the best route for us to take. He was very angry that the authorities in Fort Lamy had not informed us of the situation, they must have known which route we were most likely to take and the bridge had been down for a while. He took us to his house which was quite beautiful, situated on the edge of the River Logone. It was incredibly cool inside and he offered us long iced orange drinks. The Frenchman gave Don a brandy, but he admitted afterwards that he would have much preferred the iced orange. Don then said he was afraid that we did not have enough petrol to make up for the detour. He had not taken on a full load previously, as he was trying to keep the vehicle as light as possible to save the springs, but the extra seventy two miles would leave us short. Being Sunday, of course everything was closed. With the help of the Frenchman, Don managed to locate an Italian gentlman who who had some 40 gallon drums of fuel and he allowed us to buy enough to get us to the next 'town'. Bongor was the most primitive place that we had seen to date and it was the border of French Cameroon and French Equatorial Africa; luckily for us, the border post did not close down on Sundays.
Driving on, we saw many of the local residents, the men all dressed as we had seen them earlier, with "loincloths" being just a skin at the back. The women wore nothing, but they had large discs in both the top and bottom lip. We were told that the French had provided schools and hospitals in the effort to help them. They were quite lovely buildings, but the locals refused to go near either.
We had asked if it was safe to swim in the rivers and the answer had been yes. This was a huge benefit to us all as the evening 'bath' was now laid on in most places. We just had to pick the right camp spot. When we left Bongor we drove along the side of the Logone River. After a short distance, David, Diane and Don went for a swim while I kept watch over the Land Rover and all our belongings. It was parked on a steep incline and was almost out of sight of the river, too far to leave it in safety without one of us around. We then carried on along our new route which took us through Ham, a typical African village and then on to Lai. There was very wooded countryside around Lai, but there were also several cotton plantations that we presumed were being farmed by the French. We were still following the River Logone and at 14h30, we decided that perhaps we should stop and have a swim as it was so hot. It also meant that I could do some much needed washing of clothes at the same time. The water was wonderful and very refreshing. It was a very reluctant family who finally went back to the vehicle to continue on our way along dusty roads.
We travelled through some more cotton plantations and on going past the small village of Doba, we turned left leaving the river behind us. We passed several more villages before pulling up up for the night at a piece of ground that had been burnt out. We felt that this was a safe place to stop as there was quite thick bush everywhere else around us. On stopping, there was not a soul in sight, but within minutes we suddenly had many spectators! Where they had all appeared from I will never know. We were watched intently for the remainder of the evening as we cooked dinner and prepared for bed; it was a very strange feeling but we did not feel threatened in any way, it was purely curiosity.
February 23 1953 Land Mileage 3883
Up early to a crowd of 'spectators' and on the road by 06h50. We again passed through several villages and the road certainly had not improved. It was pretty thick forest, many birds and small insects, but not very much else to see until we reached the ferry over the Bahr Sara. Twenty three miles later we drove into Fort Archambault, a small village with a store and even a post office. We tried to find a garage where we hoped to repair the spring, but this was an impossible mission, so we just had to hope that the spare that was on the vehicle would hold out. We managed to replenish some of our food stores, picked up petrol and moved on again at 16h30.
On leaving Fort Archambault we saw large crowds of baboons crossing the road; this caused a certain amount of excitement with the four of us. There were some huge animals in the herd and I would certainly not have liked to have bumped into them on my own. Don drove on for another hundred miles before we managed to find anywhere suitable to pull off, simply because of the thick vegetation; by then it was almost 22h00. The road was very narrow and in very bad condition. This had been our longest day on the road and the first time that we had difficulty in finding anywhere to stop. Even then we were still parked very close to the road and not really in a proper clearing. While getting supper we were suddenly joined by a woman with a small baby and three men. It never ceased to amaze me how people seemed to find us within minutes of us stopping; we had not seen a human being for many miles except at two small villages that we had passed since leaving the Fort. When we went to bed we still had company, but we were all very tired after the very long day and hoped that they would just disappear back to their own homes.
February 24 (Tuesday) 1953 Land Mileage 4103
We got up early but our 'neighbours' were already sitting on one side waiting for us! The woman now had a 'wrap around' on, presumably in our honour so we thought. She seemed to be very friendly, although of course we could not understand her any more than she could us. We took a few photographs and by 06h45 we were on the road again. Once more the road was very bad, thick forest and the occasional small villages. We arrived at Fort Crampel at 09h30 which really only consisted of a rest house. We carried on straight through the Fort towards Dékoua and Fort Sibut; the latter also only consisted of a rest house and a small store and again we just kept on going until noon. We then came across a very quiet lonely spot, which was ideal to pull off the road, have a break and some lunch. There was thick jungle and forest all around, but this was a particularly pretty little clearing that looked like it had been made especially for us. We had not seen a living soul for miles other than near the villages, but the moment we had stopped, the locals seemed to appear as if dropped from the skies. We were starting to get used to having an audience every time we stopped to have a meal or go to bed. They were fascinated by the tins that we put down and they happily cleaned out the jam and the condensed milk. The usual photograph was taken and we were back on the road again.
We drove for only a short distance when we came across a lovely clear, bubbling brook. Temptation got the better of us and we all decided this was the ideal spot to do some washing and have a good clean up. It was too early to stay overnight, so once more we went back on the road. We covered quite a distance in thick forest until we crossed a bridge over the River Kouango, then a further two miles on we arrived at the village of Bambari at 16h45. This village was quite a lot larger than any we had seen for some time and consisted of a rest house, store and petrol station. We managed to get the broken leaf from the spring welded, which gave us a temporary spare once again, but by the time we had managed to do this job, the petrol station had already closed. We then discovered the worst; not only was the petrol station closed, but they also had no supplies and their tanks were dry! This left us in a bit of a mess and they apparently had no idea when the next petrol tanker was likely to arrive. Eventually we were taken to an American Missionary who thought that he might be able to help us out. Meanwhile we were invited into his home where we could have a good wash and we were asked to join him for supper. We all felt pretty scruffy, but no one seemed to notice except ourselves. We were given pancakes, ham and eggs which were quite delicious, followed by a cup of excellent coffee. While there, we saw our first scorpion; the missionary took it all quite calmly, but I have to admit we all got out of the way in a hurry as it scurried across the dining room floor. Meanwhile the fuel had been arranged and we had enough in our tanks to get us to the next fuel stop. We left at 21h00 and managed another hour on the road before finding a place where we could bed down for the night. We were all very tired, especially Diane and we settled down very quickly, only to find we had to do a quick change around in our sleeping habits; we could hear lions roaring not very far away! David moved into the Land Rover and Don moved to the outside, gun at the ready. The Missionary had warned us that it was lion country, but it was only when we heard them, that the fact actually sunk in. Thankfully, we had no need of the rifle and we were careful not to stray too far from the vehicle.
February 25 1953 (Wednesday) Land Mileage 4383
Started later than usual due to the fact that we had been late the night before and we were definitely more restless than in previous days. It was 07h00 before we got on the road, only to find after a short distance we needed to stop again as the petrol line was choked. Don removed it and put the air line on it to try and get it clear, but in the end he had to give it a really good clean out with the result we lost another hour before we were back on the road again. David meanwhile had found some bananas; they were very green and never did ripen, but it was exciting to think that we had found bananas, even if inedible!
We passed several of the locals who all appeared to be out hunting, carrying spears, bows and arrows. They seemed to be following a fire which we later found out that they had lit purposely. They followed along behind the fire and collected the dead animals caught up in its wake for food; this we understood included things like rats and snakes. I must say we found the whole idea pretty revolting, but presumably it was an easy way for them to get a meal.
At 11h30 we went through the village of Kembe and crossed the Kotto River; here we stopped to enjoy the view and take some photographs. There were some really stunning rapids where we stopped, quite lovely and sparkling in the bright sunshine as the water rushed over the rocks. After a brief break we were on the road once more. Passing through the village of Gambo we saw a Citroën with a Cape to London sticker on it. We discovered later that it was a man from Bulawayo, Rhodesia, who was in the process of breaking the record for this trip. He had no idea how lucky he was to pass us by where he did! Only a few minutes later we were crossing a wooden bridge over the M'Bari River, when one of the planks collapsed underneath us, leaving us tilted at a pretty precarious angle on the bridge. David, Diane and I scrambled out over the driver's seat to safety and fortunately the water level was very low, but very smelly and unpleasant. Dozens of locals suddenly appeared on the scene and said they would help to get us out for the equivalent of £2. We had very little choice but to go along with them and with much chanting, the four of us doing most of the work, we finally got on an even keel again but on the wrong side of the bridge. By this time more reinforcements had arrived and we seemed to be surrounded with people demanding more money. Don gave us a wink to get back in the vehicle and after parting with the promised £2, he started up and before they realised what we were about to do we had shot across the bridge missing the broken plank. David looked back and said they obviously thought it was a big joke as they were all laughing and waving to us.
At 14h30 it started to rain, not too heavily, but the first we had seen since leaving France and it was enough to make it unpleasant driving. We carried on for another one and a half hours when we arrived in Bangassou. This was the border from French Equatorial Africa into the Belgian Congo and we had to cross by ferry over the River M'Bomu. We also needed to fill up with fuel here which we discovered was very expensive and we did not have enough cash on us. We found another very helpful Frenchman, who helped us out of a difficult situation by cashing a traveller's cheque and he invited us to his house for a drink.
Having decided to stay the night we managed to arrange a room at the local rest house. They had stand up baths which we found quite unique, but loads of hot water, so we managed to have really enjoyable clean up. We then cooked our own supper and had the privilege of sitting at a table to eat it. David slept on the camp bed in the room, but Don, Diane and myself slept in the Land Rover. The room had no beds and as we only had the one camper, David was the only one who slept indoors.