That morning, the oasis that Afi Mountain Drill Ranch provided was hard to leave. After a few days rest without the need to run errands and maintain the bikes, we were due to embark on the next leg. Peter, the founder of Afi Mountain and someone who has traversed the Cross River Region we were now in suggested we avoid the regular border at Ikom, and instead head north, crossing into Cameroon at Akwaya and making our way to Bamenda 80 kms away.
“It will be beautiful and you guys are up for it,” he had said. At the time we took his suggestion as a seal of approval, both that he felt we were “up for it”, and that he would share it with us. When we did reach Bamenda 3 days later, it felt like we had been thrown to the wolves.
Retracing our steps out of the mountains from the Drill Monkey Ranch, we were upbeat and enjoying the winding mountain roads and slower pace. Nigeria had been good to us and there was no sense that Cameroon would be any different. An old man in a grubby t-shirt who sat perched on a stool under a tree stamped us out of Nigeria without any fanfare and we on our way.
We stopped to take some photos only to be overtaken by a rush of young men on small motorcycles jeering us with a wild look in their eyes. We waved back ignorantly, convinced they were excited by our presence and wanting to ride with us.
Only once we reached the river did we realize the scam they had afoot. Out of principle, and in all honesty, out of stubbornness not to be taken advantage of, we had vowed not to pay bribes or ransoms. Yes it was true that many of the people perpetrating these scams were in need of money and had very little or that we wouldn't miss a few dollars here or there, but to pay seemed to only reward corruption.
And while Africa is rife with corruption and it was a language that we neither took for granted nor understood, we felt compelled to resist it as best we could, and to instead reward those that were generous or gracious in their hospitality. Invariably our best efforts to contribute something to our hosts was refused.
We were peoples guests and they expected nothing from us in return. It was their responsibility to accept guests.
As we approached the barricade by the river, our nerve and resolve was about to be tested. Two ring leaders stepped forward and hit our kill switches while they loudly demanded money.
They were the apparently some Youth League and we needed to pay a tax for road development. One of them picked up a rock and before choking it front of Richard's tire, waved it menacingly above his head. When a dozen strangers have you surrounded in the no-man's land between two African nations, shouting and jostling for their say, it would be an understatement to say it is intimidating.
Africa had slowly been preparing us though and we had learnt that we had to keep our cool. A small Chinese motorcycle piloted by a local bypassed the barricade to enter the river and crept across the flowing water without incident. We now had our line to follow.
We started the bikes and moved to follow suit but everytime we did, someone would clutch at our kill switches and kill the engine. If it was infuriating to us and everytime we made a short lunge forward, it riled them more.
Finally I was able to breakthrough and thankfully no-one followed me into the river, risking dropping the bike. I made it across and proceeded to get off and coax Richard over the Sena bluetooth to keep pushing. 10 minutes later he was into the water, his first river crossing, as the boys threw their hands in the air, vilifying him.
Richard kept moving, climbing the bank while I put my camera away. Starting my bike, I revved it up, spinning the rear wheel as a “F#$% you!” gesture only to get stuck in a muddy rut on the climb and drop the bike. No sooner had the bike hit the ground than half a dozen of the group piled into the river, rushing to catch me vulnerable. To their credit, they helped me lift my bike before returning to killing my engine everytime I started it.
Stuck on a muddy slope, axle deep in a rut, unable to keep my engine running, I wasn't going anywhere. After a few more minutes of this I was feed up and threw the bike down, stepped off and made large at the boys. They scattered in an instant, running back down the bank and across the river as their friends laughed.
In the end, they were acting tough but were fairly harmless. You couldn't blame them for trying, and while there was some gratification in not paying, my pride had been dented by misadventure trying to show off.