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February 5, 2013 / samwilson60

The escape to Kumba

After some early-morning jerry-can genius that meant we could get into the boot again for the tea/coffee, we weighed up our options again and decided that walking into town to get the broken spring welded was the lesser of all the evils. Every good idea we had had a fatal flaw but we had to do something to get us mobile again and out of Tombel before anything else went wrong. We left the hotel feeling like public enemy number one but were met with nothing but smiles and greetings, reconfirming that the drama of the night before had been the handiwork of that one arsehole.

The weld was quick and cheap, and looked far stronger than we’d feared it might. After such an easy win, the walk back to the hotel was more upbeat (although we did give the taxi rank a wide berth). The hard work followed, primarily for Sam (although just witnessing it was traumatic enough). Getting the spring back together was sweaty and stressful, getting it back on the truck likewise: getting it compressed and functional was another matter entirely. It was heartbreakingly apparent that we’d overlooked the small matter of a trolley jack – clearly a vital part of the tool kit we don’t have. Despite all sorts of imaginative work with the airbag jack and the high-lift, there was no propping up the spring itself. As the situation turned from hugely stressful to downright dangerous, Sam quickly secured the truck and stepped away. And for the first time that day we were grateful for our band of onlookers – as always, they’d been admiring Sam’s handiwork uncomfortably close up and although this bunch did step back a metre or so when asked enough times, they still weren’t making the situation any easier. Until we told one of them we needed another jack. He stood straight up and, while not running off, disappeared down the street and returned really quite promptly with a second bottle jack. We were very grateful and willing to pay whatever it took by this point (as it happens it took very little).

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Thankfully, it all went very smoothly from there and the truck was back on all four wheels within an hour or so. Sam was seriously filthy by this point and understandably exhausted, but still adamant he’d rather head straight to Kumba than loiter in Tombel any longer. The piste was OK but not quite as flat and easy as described, and with us still unsure about the strength of the welded spring, it was slow progress. We really couldn’t face breaking anything before making it to our next destination, and we didn’t – massive win!

We toured every hotel, motel and inn we could find in Kumba but they all looked grim and we knew we could be here for some time. Eventually we lucked in with the last place we could face trying. It looked as dismal as the others from the outside but the manager (son of the owner) was enthusiastic enough to get us through the gates, where we spotted the garden out the back. We paid for a cheap room and put the tent up before even looking inside. There was no food available but we were near the high street, where we’d seen lots of appealing bar/restaurants, so after a couple of “We made it out of Tombel alive” beers, we set off to find a good feed.

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This ended up being more street food – as far as we can tell Cameroon doesn’t do restaurants, despite all the places advertising as such. No drama though, and possibly no wonder, because the street food is great. We found the first, and hopefully only, place capable of cooking crap plantain, but the pork was wicked, and the stuff on skewers even better.

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That night we slept like babies, unsurprisingly (we’d have slept through anything by this point), and we drove into town feeling briefly refreshed. The mission was to get online (can’t even remember why) and try to buy both a new spring and another jack. Before long Cat wasn’t well with the world – nothing specific but everything felt like more trouble than it was worth. We got directed to the scrap dealers, which was clearly the place to go for car parts, but inevitably everyone wanted in on the act. Someone bought out a 60 series spring, but complete (we only wanted the main spring), then a host of unsuitable alternatives. All the while Cat was trying to shoo off every other would-be helper who wanted to poke, prod or measure the truck. We agreed on a price for the main spring on the condition it measured up when removed from the rest of the second hand spring pack, an arrangement everyone seemed happy with, but then they started doing everything they could think of not to take the pack apart (it could be removed, and re-fitted if unsuitable, inside of 10 minutes). Sam was dragged off to Aladdin’s cave to look for other possibilities, banging his head on the low door frame as he went and finding nothing of any use inside. After five minutes’ fruitless digging he managed to explain that the first spring they’d brought out – the one we’d negotiated a price on already – was the only real contender, but by this point we’d had a skin full and told them we’d come back once we’d had some long-overdue breakfast.

Again, there were plenty of signs for snack-bars and restaurants around but none that were serving anything other than drinks. We wandered aimlessly, snacked on something, then found ourselves some workable internet, where we researched other options for replacing the spring. On our way back to the hotel, we brought a tonne of eggs and a few token tomatoes so that we could hide out in the garden for the evening, feasting on something halfway between an omelette and scrambled egg (yummy, by the way).

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