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Ladies on the Loose! For the first time ever, a motorcycle travel DVD made for women, by women! These intrepid women share their tips to help you plan your own motorcycle adventure. They also answer the women-only questions, and entertain you with amazing tales from the road! Presented by Lois Pryce, veteran solo traveller through South America and Africa and author of 'Lois on the Loose', and 'Red Tape and White Knuckles.'
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Ride TalesAn easy way to post your ride reports, whether it's a weekend ride or around the world.
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I've moved a couple of posts from here to the HU Bar. Please continue your "Off Topic" and "Inappropriate for this thread" discussions there or offline.
This is a ride (or drive...) report sub-forum where people take a lot of time and effort to tell their tales, without being interrupted by off topic chatter. If you like Fred's report, say so (we all like praise; in this case it's highly justified). If you have any other views please voice them elsewhere.
We felt at ease here in Kikwit. We could feel the stress of the state of roads making place for the stress on how to get our car back in a proper condition again. Energetic Frère Jean-Marie came to us with a suggestion to use his mechanics. He had two guys who did all the maintenance stuff on the mission's vehicles. Fair enough. They made an inventory of all the required parts and set off to see if they were available and how much they would cost.
This left us waiting at the mission's guesthouse. They had simple rooms for 15$US a night but without mosquito nets. So we camped in the yard and used the rooms to have a toilet and a shower (what a luxury!).
Every morning we were in Kikwit we would get a visit from the same souvenir seller. It's the first time we met somebody who sells souvenirs in Congo. Not surprisingly as there aren't many people to sell souvenirs to. It was an older guy and he had this determination that souvenir sellers have. We are always very hesitant of showing interest as that means they will not stop trying until you buy something. But we gave in in the end as he had some cool looking stuff and he actually entertained us quite well. We showed interest in a chess game but could not agree on a price.
Later that day the mechanics came back with a list of parts. Most of the parts were not available in Kikwit and would have to be ordered in Kinshasa. And the others were just plain expensive. 200$ for a chinese-made battery, this reeked. We honestly asked Frère Jean Marie about this and he seemed to be a bit embarrased about the topic. He did not deny the prices were inflated but he shrugged at it and said we could afford it anyway. That was a bit dissapointing because we couldn't.
Then came a phone call. It was Paolo, an Italian working for CTB. We had received his contacts earlier and sent him a text message that we were in Kikwit. Paolo, being Italian, has this Italian way of talking and handling things. Flamboyant is the right word I think. He was the right man in the right place for sure!
Paolo is one of these guys that breath Africa. He had lived and worked for many years in Africa, seemingly only in the most horrific troubled areas. He lived in Kikwit now. He would help us to try to get a second opinion on the parts and at the same time invited us to stay at his place.
That night Paolo took us to a restaurant. The only 'restaurant' in Kikwit that served something else then fufu. The only restaurant per se. People here do not have a habit of eating out. The restaurant was a bit hidden away in a flooded backyard and consisted of little more then a few plastic chairs and tables and a makeshift braai. It was owned and run by an older Lebanese guy. He had this horrible cough and looked terrible as if he could drop dead any minute. A younger Lebanese was there too, he had recently arrived 'for business'. I did not ask about his business. I probably did not want to know. But he was a nice guy and even brought a Sheesha. These three were the only 'white people' in Kikwit. They would come together almost every night for a greasy meatskewer with french fries. It's the only thing there was. I loved it.
Why is that they only really hanged out with the three of them in a city of many hundred thousands? Paolo was married to a Congolese (she lived in Kinshasa) so he even spoke the language. The real reason is that once you befriend Congolese one gets caught up in the 'favour' mentality. You cannot deny a favour to a friend. Paolo, as the responsible for CTB had a 'business' to run. He would have hundreds of friends instantly and very soon the first 'favours' would be asked. Jobs, material, money. It would make it impossible for him to work here. He was friendly to his staff and treated them with respect. But he did not befriend them, because it would make his life impossible.
The souvenir seller came back and we barthered and joked for another hour but we did not agree on a price.
Together with Paolo we went to the Technical School of Kikwit (not sure of the name, not the one of the Jesuïtes). This is where youngsters get their education as mechanics. The teachers had tons of experience and should know Landcruisers in-and-out. After some negotiation and thanks to Paolo we finally agreed on a price. It was less then half of what we were orignally asked for by the other mechanics. And they would start the work that same afternoon in the yard of CTB.
First job was to dismantle both the front and rear axles. The front to see what was broken. And the rear to fix the leaking seals and see if we could find some planetary gears that were in better condition then the ones we bought in Dibaya-Lubwe.
Front diff had the same problem as the rear one. Only here both the sun and the planetary gears would have to be replaced.
These would need to be ordered from Kinshasa and flown in. That's not easy task to get organized.
We had contacted the homefront with the question if they could find a way of getting money to us. Western Union and the likes would only do transactions to Kinshasa, but not to Kikwit. The fees Western Union charges are also pretty ridiculous. In the end we managed to get in contact with a Belgian lady in Kinshasa who owns a big company there. Our familiy would transfer the money to her Belgian account. As soon as she had received the money she would hand the money in US$ over to a contact we had in Kinshasa. That contact would then buy the parts we need, box it and put it on an airplane to Kikwit. Easy! :roll:
That night we were introduced to Timothé, Paolo's cuisinier. Timothé had this angry way of talking and looking, but friendly at the same time. He had special skills. Paolo (and his predecessor in Kikwit) had learned him the art of Italian cooking. He could cook up a pasta - from local ingredients - that an Italian would not critisize... and that is a feature! He was probably the best Italian chef in DRC!
The souvenir seller was back that morning, he was in a bit of a hurry because a UN convoy would come for a day visit today. A quick round of haggling but we did not agree on a price.
We made use of the privacy Paolo's house provided to finally relax a bit. It's been a hectic month for us! Josephine decided that now was a good time to get rid of my beard and the carpet on my head. After 40 days of neglect, I couldn't agree more
While we waited for the money transfer and the parts to arrive we explored a bit of Kikwit (without a camera, we were suspicious enough already). In the city center 'on the hill' is an area that must have once been a very posh area. I could see the plush gardens and big villa's in my imagination, it was now transformed into rundown buildings. Green walls and makeshift corrugated roofs.
There was a recent asphalt road connecting the RN1 to the airport and across the only bridge over the Kwilu river. Most of the other roads had varying kinds of decaying asphalt or just dirt. On the asphalt road in town there were 'road works'. A big pile of sand was blocking the road with just a narrow path to get a car trough. They had made a toll booth ofcourse. Paolo told us the pile of sand was there now for over 4 years. They would constantly dig away and move the pile back and forth. There were no works, the road underneath the sand was perfectly fine.
Next to the river were a few 'bars'. A few plastic chairs and a cooler with hot drinks (no electricity-no money for ice). The owner of the bar was really glad to see us. He was complaining about business, the prices of basic goods had gone up recently and even less people now had a budget to go for a drink.
The price of eggs had gone up too. Josephine went to buy eggs at the small mission of the sisters. They too were complaining as they actually had too many eggs. They did not dare to reduce the price as that would make the other 'eggsalesman' angry. But it was clear that people could no longer afford eggs now. The sisters kept a monkey as a pet. It was a vicious monkey. Strange pet!
The mechanics fixed what they could without the missing parts (the gears, one hub for the rear axle + all the bolt required for the hub). We got hold of two new batteries. Indian made this time. 100$ a pop. They were junk but it worked for now.
Day 35 - 36 - 37
The souvenir guy came every day, a bit of haggling, a bit of talking. But we could not agree on a price.
We waited and generaly had an enjoyable stay in Kikwit... Paolo is one the most interesting persons we ever met. You should hear his stories!
I would never consider going to a country like the Congo, especially after reading your fantastic story. I'm a biker and those tracks/roads look fantastic for my trailee, but I'd like my limbs left on my body and would point blank refuse to pay anyone, therefore would never survive.
You pair are very brave people and i hope it all works out well for you., brilliant read!
Guess who was there that morning? Yep! We talked about that nifty looking handmade chessgame, but we couldn't agree on a price...
The whole money transfer thing went pretty smoothly. It is quite amazing really. We just rang up a lady in Kinshasa we have never met and asked her if she could give us a 1000$US please. She obviously waited until the money was on her Belgian account but she then gave the money to some other guy in Kinshasa. Another person we had never met who was now walking around with 1000$US of our money in Kinshasa. Shopping around for spare parts based on a list with spare part numbers. (we had. the Toyota EPC on our laptop). He used our money to pay for the parts, pay for the airfreight into Kikwit and holds on to the rest of the money until we come and pick it up later. An amazing amount of trust was involved in these transactions! And all of that thanks to the contacts we created in Lubumbashi. Amazing! Great thanks to Paolo, Erwin, Thièrry & Valerie!
It was now just a matter to get all the parts mounted. As usual, that did not really go as planned. We had ordered a new hub and new bolts to keep the sideshaft in place. But they shipped us the bolts (and the important conic washers) for the Landcruiser 79. Which are different in size from the 75. I was not going to drill my brand new hub to make them fit so we had set out again to find some second-hand bolts. We eventually found a few that fit, it would be good to get us to Kinshasa, but they would have to replaced again in Kinshasa. What a great prospect: even more time to be spent in a greasy workshop!
We still hadn't found decent quality oil. I had really tried my best to find diff oil where it was not explicitly stated "Not for use in cars". The local mechanic said they never change the diff or gearbox oil on new cars. The oil that's put in from the fabric is superior with the oil they can replace it with. They just top up, but never change. When a diff has to be openen, they recycle the original oil.
That brought us on the topic of cars the NGO's and the missions here use. The cars that are deployed in the jungle have a lifespan of no more then 15 to 20.000km. After that they are completely shot. Bodywork, drivetrain, everything. Not surprising really considering the state of the loads and the payloads. Paolo was quite fanatical in his choice for those vehicles: Landcruiser 7x only! The Landcruiser 10* are often used as well, but they don't last on the rough tracks (too much bodywork). He once worked on a project were they had sponsored Mitsubishi's. They were written off after just 2000km.
Tomorrow would be the big day. Kikwit to Kinshasa can be done in a day, a 6 to 8 hour drive, depending on the weather (and consequently the state of the road). We'd start early as the closer you get to Kinshasa, the dodgier it gets. Not that it's really dangerous, just the usual problem areas that accompany large cities. We just hoped that all the repairs would hold up.
We had already said our goodbyes to everybody we met in Kikwit.
Our favourite souvenir seller was there again. By now we actually got quite fond of his chessgame. I cannot remember his asking price but after all these days of haggling he was still at the same price! He hadn't dropped his price with a single franc! We could talk to him for hours. Providing arguments to drop his price, but at the end of the conversation he would just keep repeating the original price with a smug smile on his face. An amazing guy this was. He knew we were leaving that day so we made him a final offer. Way more then what it was worth and what we were actually prepared to spend on something we really didn't need. He accepted, and while he counted his money he moppered about how he couldn't feed his wives and children. He gave us fat wink at the end. We got tricked into buying something we didn't want for a price we did not want. But he did it so good we didn't even feel bad about it. ;-)
It was time to go. The final stretch to Kinshasa. We had to get organized again in Kinshasa. Fix up our car a bit better. Organize a few visa's. Organize the bac (ferry) across the Congo river to Brazzavile and generally prepare for our final trek north, back to Belgium. 15.000km north, all the way trough Africa. We knew that road north, we had already taken it earlier in this trip in the other direction. This would be our third North-South crossing of the African continent in the same trip... a sad one as it would also mean our 'big trip' would be almost over.
The asphalt road leading out of Kikwit was pretty darn good. And pretty darn straight too.
But only a very small part of the road is tarred. Most of it sandy, but it is maintained (by the UN mostly). Some stretches are fast, some are rutted and the known bogholes usually have good detours. Despite this being one of the best roads we had travelled over since entering the Congo, we were still a bit nervous. For the first time since long we had set a goal for the day - Kinshasa - and we would be dissapointed if we did not make it today.
39 days after we rolled out of Lubumbashi, we limped into Kinshasa. People who have driven around Kinshasa will surely recognize the tension that is always present in the city, to us it felt like coming home. This "Kinshasa tension" is so much tamer the "interior-of-Congo tension". Strange how perceptions change during a trip. The previous time we were in Kinshasa we were pretty impressed with this 'tension' and did not feel at ease at all. Granted, it might have had something to do with the elections that were going on at that time.
The other reason it felt like coming home was because of the great reception we had from Erwin & Diana. We had met Erwin in Lubumbashi (he was visiting there) and they lived here. Not only were they genuinely nice people. They also knew how to cook a genuine Belgian meal. Never before have I enjoyed "hesperollekes met kaassaus" before!
Note the Skol without the diamond on the label.
The nervousness and anxiousness I discussed all the way in the beginning of the trip finally dissapeared. That nervous feeling when crossing a border of a country had up to now always dissapeared within minutes after meeting the first people. In Congo it had taken 44 days.
We had a lot of things to do in Kinshasa. We did not have a visa yet to get out of the country (Congo-Brazzaville). And to avoid having to drive all the way to Franceville in Gabon we already applied for our Cameroon visa too. Gabon did not want to give us a visa for reasons not really clear to us. We would have to apply for that visa in Brazza. This whole process takes a few days.
Then there was the car. On the road from kikwit to Kinshasa we had noticed our rear differential was leaking again. Problem is the seal and the liquid sealant they use here. Normally there is a rubber gasket, but nobody stocks this gasket in the entire DRC. A lot of differentials here are leaking, that's for sure. We had to buy a sheet of plasticky gasket material and cut one out ourselves. A lengthy task. At the same time we had to get our lights fixed, most of them were smashed up by now. And then there were the brakes that still had to replaced (although I got quite good at driving without brakes now. It's an art in itself!) and it was about time to change all the filters too.
Somehow we managed to engange the most horrible mechanic we have ever met. We actually went to some sort of 'upmarket' workshop as we wanted to get things fixed properly this time. The manager was a nice guy, unfortunatly his chief-mechanic, a Lebanese youngster, was nothing more then a *****. He treated his mechanics as slaves and was uncapable of doing anything useful himself. He 'fixed up' our electrics. He could not find the reason why the fuse of the brake light kept jumping. His solution was to bypass the fuse. He declared it fixed and ofcourse did not tell us he had bypassed that fuse. We almost lost our car to the flames a few days later when a fire started behind the dashboard when the stoplight wiring shorted out again.
It was pretty cool to find some western goods again. We could not really afford much of it, as prices here are prohibitively expensive. Kinshasa ranks high up the list of most expensive cities in the world (right next to Luanda). This is because the country is so unstable that all businesses are high-risk business. Building a house to rent it out? You'd better make sure you get your investment back within a few years time, before the next ransacking starts, or before some official claims your house. Running a business?? Better account for all the theft, the bribes, etc and include it in your margin.
When all was done (well.. more or less done) we were ready to hit the road. This little ride in the Congo was quite something, but it was time to explore other regions now.
We drove to 'le beach' the ferryport in Kinshasa. Only to notice that is was remarkebly quiet here. Not the usual bustle that is going on here.
The bac (ferry) was not running. "Problème administratif". We couldn't find out the exact reason, but we were not leaving Kinshasa today!
"Peut-être demain" - "Maybe tomorrow"
The bac to Brazzavile is the only way to get out of Kinshasa and into Congo-Brazzaville.
We tried again to take the ferry. It was still not running. Some paperwork was not in order to release the ferry and apparantly the official who had to sign the document could not be located. Both ferries were stuck on the other side. Maybe that afternoon.
We came back that afternoon: Nope.
Great news: all the paperwork was done. But today was an official holiday in Congo. Nobody worked that day... so no ferry
We were finally able to board the ferry. We had previously used the other ferry which are three boats attached to eachother (in a rather dodgy way). This time we took the bigger ferry. Bigger did not mean we had more space. As the ferry hadn't run for a few days there was a lot of stuff that needed to get across.
The ferry's diesel engine made a slow rythmic noise and struggled to push the heavy ferry upstream over the Congo river. The skyline of Kinshasa became smaller with every beat.
We had spent 53 days in Congo, and had gotten out just in time. Our visa was expiring in 2 days time.
And thus ends our leisurely stroll trough the Congo..
(Keep reading, wrap-up and more background information still to come)
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