Another lung bursting climb took me out of Bamenda, but at least it was on a tarred road. I’m done with dirt tracks for the moment; there will be plenty more where I’m headed in the next few months.

From above the town looked as attractive as it did from street level; a sprawling mass of single-storey tin roofs with no discernible landmark other than an ugly church on a hill. It is the landscape surrounding Bamenda that half-saves it, although at this time of year the visibility is impeded by an African fog, better known as the ‘harmattan’. I thought Cameroon was too far south from the Sahara to suffer from the dust-filled skies that cover much of west Africa during the dry season. Obviously not. Straight after the rainy season would be the best time to be travelling through Cameroon. I’m two months too late.

Back on my own I was no longer looking over my shoulder to see where or where not Hiromu was. We ‘should’ meet again in Yaounde, unless his ‘schedule’ dictates that he has to leave the capital before I catch him up. We have a similar route plan from Cameroon onwards, so it makes sense that we move together, particularly along some of the troubled roads that lye ahead. It’s unlikely I’m going to bump into another cyclist in this neck of the jungle.

It was Christmas eve and Cameroon was gearing up for Christmas. What does that mean? As far as I can tell a lot of preparation for one enormous drinking festival. Not that Cameroonians need any excuse to drink. Every other vehicle that seems to pass me by on the road is a truck filled with beer-crates.

A good place to be at Christmas? Well yes and no. Should a thirsty cyclist need liquid refreshment at the end of the day from a punishing climb no problem at all. Just don’t expect it cold. Cameroonians will drink warm beer for breakfast quite happily. The problem is that with the ‘season of goodwill’ everyone would very much like you, the ‘white man’, to stop cycling, come take a drink and buy a beer for everyone present. “How about a drink for my boys?”, “You have something for us in one of the bags?” and so on. Beer is not expensive, but in an African context neither is it cheap – about $1 a bottle. I can’t quite figure out how so many Cameroonians can afford to drink so much.

Almost every bar in every hamlet, village and town will have a boisterous drunkard determined to make you stop by frantically waving and yelling at you whilst clutching a bottle of warm beer in the other hand. And so you smile, wave, shout “next time” and keep pedalling until you find a discreet place that looks like you might drink a bottle of coke in peace or be able to ask the bar-man for a place to sleep for the night. This is how I spent the 24th, 25th and 26th of December. I felt like  a bit of a party-pooper, but it seemed to be the safest option. Quite a contrast from cycling through Morocco a year ago!

On Christmas day itself the roads were blissfully empty. Between bars children dressed in their best greeted me with a ‘Joyeux Noel’, for somewhat confusingly I was now in French-speaking Cameroon, only to be heading back to the English speaking part. Having attended a Church congregation with their parents in the morning, who would then proceed to get blindly drunk, they were now going to their own party. This seemed to consist of an empty room rigged-up with a bad-sounding stereo system. Close by a make-shift photo studio would have been erected. This would consist of a background of several glossy pictures, perhaps showing a luxury house, a white beach with palm trees or a famous footballer or music artist.

A worrying ‘clanging’ sound came from my bike on Christmas day as I descended a long steep hill from the town of Dschang. Had the frame suddenly cracked? No, my wheel rims were red hot from braking and a front spoke had broken. Not sure if this is the reason?

Replacing a broken spoke, assuming one has the spare spoke and spoke key, is not difficult. The skill is tightening it to the correct level to ensure the wheel remains well-aligned, or ‘true’ as cycling terminology would say. It is something I’m a complete amateur at, which may explain why I’ve now had 3 broken spokes from my front wheel, although if you ask me it looks pretty ‘true’.

Out of the mountains the temperature and humidity returned to what one would expect at this degree of latitude. Plantations of banana, pineapple, cocoa and sugar cane flanked the roadside, giving way to denser and larger vegetation behind. It was a taste of the jungle, which will be with me as I cross Central Africa.

Pineapple man

Somewhere within the muggy breathless sky lay Mt Cameroon. At 4095m in height this is by far the highest mountain in west Africa and should have dominated the skyline. Only by looking very hard could I trace its outline though, for it remained mostly invisible behind the clouds.

I was heading back to the coast and the Anglophone town of Limbe, which in former times was known as Victoria, named by its 19th Century founder after someone famous. If ever there was an over-used name for African places and landmarks Victoria would be it.

My host, who I’ve never met, but whose empty house I’m now staying in, recommended a detour here. In the yard are two large motorbikes, which he and a friend drove overland from the UK on. I think the plan had been to continue to South Africa, but they stopped short in Limbe, which doesn’t seem a bad place to put down for a while. I’d have liked to hear his story over a few beers. As New Year approaches I’m in bad need of a drinking partner who doesn’t assume the round is always on me.