the Ring Road diary

Over the holidays, our friends Mirjam and Hanno and Greg and I headed out on a road trip through the Northwest region in their 1980s 4×4 Landcruiser.  The famed (at least according to the guide book) Ring Road was mostly dirt, incredibly dusty and rut-filled and at times nearly impassable.  Villagers were friendly, the vistas magnificent, and other visitors non-existent.

Here is a diary-style account of our adventures…

Road Warriors (including Greg behind the camera)


Sunday – December 26 – Bamenda to Bafut

Great first day on the road.  Reached the Savanna Botanical Gardens only 30 minutes or so outside of Bamenda. Slightly intrigued with their garden displays about the inequalities between developed and developing countries. Had nothing to do with flowers or fauna.  Mind you, not sure if the gardener has been around much in past few years.

Arrived in Bafut at midday.  Located one of the Sultan’s queens who provided a tour of the palace and museum.  She said the Bafut peoples defeated the Germans in the Third World War.  We all must have misheard.  Learned about the ceremonial aspects of the Fon’s reign since 1966.  Quite happy with the fact they have done away with human sacrifices and capital punishment for fornication and adultery (no word on the punishment for murder and such – interesting).

Fon's Palace in Bafut

Had to find a place to sleep for the night.  Contrary to what the Bradt guidebook says (one of many mistakes), there is no guesthouse at the palace.  Chose not to stay at the one guesthouse in town as it was above a nightclub.  Hotel on the outskirts was nicer and the negotiated price was fair.  After dinner, we walked through the reception area where women sat in a row on the couch with men sitting opposite. Greg said he was now convinced it was a brothel.  (Post Trip Addendum: a colleague at work – who is from Bafut – confirmed Greg’s six-sense for brothel status!)


Monday – December 27 – Bafut to Wum

Felt sick in the morning with massive sore throat.  Stopped at Presbyterian Hospital on the way.  Loved how Greg could get medicine for me, with a prescription no less, without me ever having left the car!  But very glad all the same.  Can’t be sick on this trip!

Arrived in Befang and asked for directions to Menchum Falls because the guide book was wrong (again).  One guy told us we had to ask the chief’s permission first, but the chief wasn’t in town, so we could pay him to take us instead.  Yeah right!  Backtracked on the road a ways and asked again.  Better directions this time.  The kid even ran after the car to make sure we got there.

She received candy for her efforts.

Menchum Falls

Still felt sick. Slept and drooled in the car for a good part of the day.

Continued onto Wum.  Found Lake Wum where kids were fishing.  Hanno got a few casts in too.  Found refuge at the Catholic Mission for the night even though they don’t officially operate a guesthouse.  Best hot shower in ages!  Lovely caretakers.


Tuesday – December 28 – Wum to Nkambe

Back on the road.  End of the pavement.  Amazing scenery.  Dust and smoke obscured long views, but still so grand!

Views near the village of Weh

Found turnoff to Lake Nyos by following the roadwork.  Interesting how the 5km road to the lake is paved when hardly anyone goes there, but the Ring Road that connects the region’s communities is nearly impassable.  Get up to the lake.  Must be fully registered and IDs checked before seeing anything.  Can’t believe such a peaceful, placid lake could have belched carbon dioxide that killed 1700 people and 3500 livestock in the vicinity just 24 years ago.

Lake Nyos

Smoky views in Lake Nyos area

Headed out of the village of Bum into Kimbi River Game Reserve.  No animals in sight.  Nearly no humans either.  Road atrocious.  Passed a handful of motorcycles but no cars for 7 hours.  The massive ruts and boulders proved no challenge for Hanno’s superior off-road driving skills. Can’t do this part without a good 4×4.

through the grasslands

Kimbi Reserve Guesthouse only occupied by children.  Found another guesthouse in So-bum (or should it be Sore Bum?).  Straw mattresses, sheets not likely washed in the last decade, and no water.  Plus 30 or so curious and intrigued locals surrounded the vehicle.  Decided against staying.  Tried to buy bottled water in the village, but were told they had never seen any.


Still felt sick. Slept and drooled in the car for a good part of the day.

on the worse part of the road

Drove to N’Kambe.  Found must-have-once-been-nice hotel.  Had cabbage and plantain at a local bar.  Longest day on the road!  Electricity failed.  No water either.


Wednesday – December 29 – Nkambe to Kumbo

Not a bad night after all.  Head out of town early.  Passed through gorgeous tea plantations at Nkum.

Most amazing green color contrasted to the red dust of the road.

Greg stood outside the car trying to get a picture when a grumpy tea leaf picker started yelling at him: “I will kill you if you take a snapshot”.  He swore there’s a law with the local council to ban the taking of pictures of tea leaves for security reasons.  Interesting.

Tea plantation in Nkum

Arrived in Ndu for lunch.  Stopped at a chop house for corn choff and rice.  Price per plate 150 FCFA.  Cheapest meal ever!  And quite good too.

Still felt sick. Slept and drooled in the car for a good part of the day.

Arrived in Kumbo and followed a hired moto-taxi to lead us to the Himalaya Institute. They welcomed us warmly – filthy as we were with road dust.  Loved the comfort of the futon mattresses laid out on the floor in the rooms.  So cosy.  Vegetarian dinner was outstanding after road trip 3 days of road-trip food.


Thursday – December 30 – Kumbo

Rule of the day: relax!

Perused the Kumbo Public Library at the Institute.  Haven’t seen stacks of books in ages! Perused the wearable art shop.  Bought a few. Perused the alternative health shop.  Got more medicine for bad throat.  Perused the vegetable and herb garden.  Watched the baby goats.  Didn’t want to leave.

Went for a quick visit to a local carver.  Then off to visit Francis, a VSO volunteer who gave us a tour of the hospital where he works.  Remarkable place.

Back to the Himalayan Institute.  Watched a movie, ate more yummy vegetarian food.  Starting to feel homey.


Friday December 31 – Kumbo to Ndop

Headed out on road to Oku.  Beautiful scenery.  Interesting villages on the way.  Stop at a museum and wood carving shop.  Bought some of the famous Oku honey.  Guide tells us to be careful of high fees for visiting the Fon’s palace.  Still too sick to climb Mount Oku either.

On the road to Oku

Three-way fork in the road.  Asked an old man if middle fork lead to Belo.  Yes he said.  Wrong he was!

More amazing scenery, but road was leading to Ndop instead.  Thank goodness for GPS.  No matter.

Took side trip around Babungo and the Ndawarra tea plantation.  Wonder why little boys threw mud at us as we drove by!

Another tea plantation near Ndawarra

Got to Catholic Mission in time for lovely dinner.  It feels like coming home – we’d been here on another trip.  Too tired from long day on the dirt roads.  In bed hours before the ball was supposed to drop.  So much for ringing the New Year in style!

Saturday – January 1 – Ndop to Bamenda

Had great chat with Sister Fay.  Lovely lady.  So many great plans for the mission.  Hope she gets funding for the solar power.

Found the Prespot workshop and showroom.  Nice tour and pottery demonstration.  Didn’t know about the process of preparing the clay from when it is shoveled out of the ground to when it can be molded into a teapot.  Could spend ages here and buy so many beautiful things.  Darn 1-suitcase limit!!!

Silvano - the Prespot potter in action

Last stretch of road is paved.  Much easier drive.  Scenery just as beautiful.

Love road trips.  Too bad they have to end.


~ by Caroline Spira on January 7, 2011.

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