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  #91  
Old 28 Oct 2010
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We came across a small motorcycle. You'd see them from time to time, it is the most luxurious transportation people have here. They are litte chinese 50cc (or 125cc) bikes. We stopped to let him pass and he stopped to greet and ask us if we had some oil for his engine.

All over the world there is an unwritten rule that in remote or difficult to travel areas people help eachother. That is why in the sahara everybody says hi to eachother. That is why in the Mongolian steppe people drive for kilometers just to check up on you. People help when needed as they know they will be helped when they are in need. We very much honour this unwritten rule and will always assist when we can.

So when this guy asks for oil, I do not hesitate and take out a my spare can of oil. I warn him that this is oil for diesel engines, but that does not matter to him. It is probably the best oil he would ever find to put in his little bike. As I am pouring oil from my can in his can the passenger of the bike starts begging with Josephine. I am not impressed when Josephine tells me. And when the bike owner too start to ask for money, it really pisses me off. We are helping this guy and still he begs for more? So I pour the oil out of his can back into mine and tell them to sod off. In our car and off we go.

For almost a month now we were in a serious fight with Congo. We were fighting against corruption. We were fighting against the roads. A constant battle. Congo was giving us a serious beating, but we stood strong and did not give in. Slowly but steadily we were winning this battle against the Congo.
But while we were so busy battling the roads and the corruption, Congo sneaked in from behind. It had transformed us into loud and angry people. With no remorse, no compassion, and a total lack of rules.

What happened to the unwritte rule of the road less travelled? The rule we nohour so much? All out of the door..

Congo had beaten us a long time ago already. Just like it had beaten most of its own citizens.. And we didn't have a clue
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  #92  
Old 29 Oct 2010
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The road from Kananga to Ilebo goes mostly trough forest, but Pembeyange is situated on top of a hill in a beautiful plain. Really pictoresque.


Upon our arrival in the (small) village everybody went completely nuts. Children cheered and ran after us, we had our usual crowd again. As they guided us trough the village towards the mission it showed that people here do not have notions about cars. They led us between huts, trough gardens, ... This was the way they always took to walk to the mission, but they failed to see that this was impossible with a car. As we did not want drive over peoples houses we backtracked and had to find ourselves another route to the mission. In the meantime the children had great fun climbing on our wheelcarriers. The wheelcarriers are not made for this kind of weight and one of them broke off... great! This was so much fun that the now targetted the other wheelcarrier. Josephine had to walk behind the car to keep the kids off.

Unfortunately the father of this mission was not there, but his apprentice was. A very young guy, fresh out of school. He was not happy to be here, that much was clear. He did nothing else but complain and he would whine on endlessly. He was not a bad guy, but was wan't very good company either.. oh well.

The mission had a small toilet hut. A hole in the ground affair with a roof on top, the roof was very low, which made it difficult to 'do your thing'. When Josephine made use of the facilities she could hear something rustling in the roof. When she look up she was face-to-face with a thin green/brown snake. I had never seen Josephine run so fast! From her description it could have been a green mamba? When told to the 'maman' who took care of the mission she too was scared and with great care she chased the snake a way. "Très dangereux" apparantely.



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  #93  
Old 29 Oct 2010
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Progress after day 16. Pembeyangu

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  #94  
Old 29 Oct 2010
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Day 17

It is only 50 kilometers to Ilebo from here.









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  #95  
Old 29 Oct 2010
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We came across a truck that was parked in the middle of the track. Luckily the surrounding area was pretty open, so we could pass it.

Us: "Bonjour, ca va?" - "Hi, how are you?"
- Them: "Ca va un peu bien " - "I am doing a little bit ok" -> typical Congelese answer this!

Us: "Votre vehicle est en panne?" - "Did you truck broke down?"
- Them: "Oui, mais ils vient avec des nouveaux pièces" - "Yes, but they are coming with spare parts"

So we chat a bit and we ask what their problem exactly was. They left Ilebo for Kananga with a load of building materials for a rich guy in Kananga. Their engine had completely seized. Their cargo was transferred onto another truck and they had taken the engine out and transported the engine to Kinshasa to get it rebuild. In the meantime the truck 'crew' stayed onsite to safeguard the truck. But they were very happy as they just received news that the necessary parts for the engine were now ordered in Germany, so the parts would come arrive in Kinshasa in a few weeks time!

A fascinating story, and they told it as if the was the most normal thing in the world. Fair enough. We said our goodbyes and asked them one more final question. How long had they been here?

"Un peu plus qu'un an maintenant" - "Just over a year"
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  #96  
Old 29 Oct 2010
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The following pictures were from within the car when we just tipped over. As it happened again we were just sitting still for a minute before getting into action again. The kids would curiously came and see why this car was on its side, and why the passengers wouldn't come out.





And then they would ask for money.
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  #97  
Old 29 Oct 2010
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The rest of the day we spent mostly underground... and quite a lot of time was spent on our sides. Got stuck a few times and our spade saw some hours of work today.











We were too exhausted to be happy that we could finally see Ilebo in the distance. We knew nothing about the city. We would have to arrange a ferry here to get across the Kasai river. Or worst case, arrange a barge to Kinshasa.
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  #98  
Old 30 Oct 2010
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Our exhaust broke of just at the exhaust manifold. Probably due to to all the flexing on these roads. All hopes of arriving somewhere without getting noticed were out of the door with that.

Quite to our surprise there was no checkpoint at the entrance of Ilebo. But actually that is not too strange, as nobody ever takes that road. Ilebo has a bustling harbour city feel about it. Lots of activity on the streets. We got a lot of stares, but people seemed friendly.

We headed straight for the catholic mission and were greeted by Abbé Omer. The mission was the former headquarters of Belgian sisters (Josephites?). They had fled a the country a few times, and after the last war they did not return. The building was given to the Catholic mission. It looked like a nice building, but the decay had started.



We discussed our plans with Abbé Omer in the garden of the mission (it must have been a wonderfull garden back in the days.. now it looked a bit rundown). The good news was that there was good ferry here that could take us across the mighty Kasai river. The bad news was that nobody every uses that ferry and it does not see any regular action.

Omer knew the guy who was responsible for the Ferry, a chap called Barthélémy. He even has his phone number, but he does not have credit on his phone. No problem, he can use ours. A conversation in Lingala starts, it takes about ten minutes until we run out of credit on our phone. I actually think they talked 1 minute about the ferry and the other 9 minutes about other things, but anyway. Here was the deal:

- Price for a two-way trip is 50$US
But,
- we have to supply our own diesel the engine of the boat. 150 liters is required (!). that's about 200$US (Diesel here is cheaper because they have a regular supply via boats from Kinshasa).
- we have to supply two batteries to start the engines of the boat
- the ferry is on the other side of the river and they would only be able to get it across somewhere next week

That's just great!

We immediatelly uttered to Omer that that was a ridiculously high price, one we would never pay. And that we wanted to cross as soon as possible. preferably tomorrow.

What followed was a very difficult negotiation. Abbé Omer insisted that he acted as an intermediate person. According to him to protect us from getting ripped off (because we were white). I was actually convinced that he was playing a game with his mate Barthélémy to make some money out of us. It took us many hours on the phone to finally convince this Barthélémy to come to see us to discuss the price. He would come at 8 the next morning.

Later that evening Omer suggested that we he would have to inform the police of our presence (c'est normal!), it took us a lot of persuading for him not to 'give us in'.

So there we were, staying in a courtyard of the mission.. with a gate that was so badly bend that it would no longer close. Hosted by an Abbé whom I did not trust (Josephine had a better feeling about him... she is usually right about those things). Waiting for a guy who wanted 250$US to ferry us across a river.

Did you know that, by law, all state operated ferries in the Congo are free? Yeah right
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  #99  
Old 30 Oct 2010
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Progress after day 17. Ilebo

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  #100  
Old 30 Oct 2010
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Day 18

We got up at 7 - sleeping late! - so we would be ready to meet Barthélémy at 8. We felt so stupid, we should have known better. How lang had we been travelling trough Africa now?

He showed up at 11:30.

He had a bunch of official documents with him. Documents that actually looked legit. It described the running costs of the ferry (dated recently 2004 I think). And indeed, 75liters was stated as the amount of fuel required for a one-way trip. They would have to charge us a two-way trip as the boat was currently on the other side of the river, and they had to get it across first. Ofcourse there are no other passengers. There was not a lot of room for discussion there. The 50$US fee on the other hand was not legitimate at all, he knew it, we knew it. But as these guys rarely get paid by the goverment it is generally accepted that they ask for a fee. We got it down to a reasonable 25$US(still too much). This would pay for the entire boat crew and they would 'rent' 2 batteries for us.
We would buy a barrel of diesel (cheaper then per liter) and have it delivered to the port directly.

We had a very long discussion about the payment, he wanted everything in advance as he had to pay for the diesel. We did not want to give a total stranger in Congo 225$US, without a contract (not that it would be worth anything), without having seen the boat, ... . He eventually agreed with a 100$US downpayment. We hoped we could trust this guy!

He would cross the Kasai river tomorrow in a dug-out canoe with the boat crew to go and get the ferry. 'Somewhere in the afternoon' we would then be able to cross.

I did not trust Abbé Omer. I did not trust this Barthélémy. I did not trust our deal. But we did not have a choice..
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  #101  
Old 30 Oct 2010
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The mission had very nice rooms on the top floor. Every room used to belong to a sister. With a living area, a seperate bedroom and a private bathroom. With bathtub and everything. The bathtub looked a bit green and the toilet no longer had a seat (who is this guy who keeps stealing all the toilet seats in Africa?). We could use one of the rooms to wash ourselves, but we would camp in our tent.

For a minute we thought they had running water, but they hadn't. There is a running water system in Ilebo, but there are no meters. Instead, people are charged depending on how large their building is. The usual corruption is probably included too. The mission had a staff of 3 but lived in a huge house, so apparantely their water bill was huge. They had thus cancelled the service. According to Omer almost nobody makes use of the water network any longer.

Instead people operate 'commercial' taps on the street. You can go there with a jerry can, they fill it up and you pay per liter. In a way it is rewarding as you first have to work a sweat before one can take a shower.

There was another guest in the mission. A father who was asked/sponsered by the UN to travel around and educate people about corruption and long-term planning. He held a talk in the small chapel in the mission, we sat just outside the chapel so we could overhear everything he said. It was very interesting. He talked about corruption, and how it would make it impossible for a society to have progress. He also covered the subject of the roads, he would encourage people to keep the roads in a good state in their villages instead of intentionally creating bogholes. He explained that in the short term they would loose 'income', but it would benefit them in the longer term if traffic increased (more and thus cheaper supplies, an actual functional economy).

It was very refreshing to hear this and we really hoped his talk would make an impression. When his talk was finished we saw the people leaving the mission. 4 man had attended.

That evening Omer had invited us to join them for dinner. We reluctantly accepted. Eating with 'the locals' is always in interesting experience, but very often it is just very bad food. As to not offend people and also as a precaution for us not to get sick, we tried to avoid these offerings in Congo as much a possible. We could see most people were happy when we declined as they have so little food already.

We were pleasantly surprised, maniok leaves, something that resembled a stew and fufu (= pap for the South Africans, but made out of maniok).

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  #102  
Old 30 Oct 2010
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This is Josephine's diary. It is not overly detailed but is great to recollect some 'lost' memories. It is the base of this trip report.



She made this illustration from the road to Ilebo

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  #103  
Old 30 Oct 2010
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Day 19

Our car was packed and ready to go... we were waiting for a phone call from Barthélémy. When it finally arrived around noon, Abbé Omer told us he had notified the police that we would be leaving from the port today. We have no idea why he did that, as he knew how much trouble we've had with the police thus far.

Anyway, on his little motorbike he guided us towards the port. Not surprisingly we were stopped by the police who were waiting for us. As our boat was waiting for us, we were not in the mood for a lengthy negotiation. So as soon as they had checked all our papers (our self issued 'permit' was still doing wonders) we played bluff and immediately asked for their names and ranks and claimed we knew their superior officer. This was a risky move and probably a stupid risk to take at the time, but it worked. Somehow we sensed by now how confident the police was and we could play the game along quite well.

We couldn't believe our eyes when we finally saw the ferry.



It looked brand new!
It wasn't..

A German (?) NGO had funded the restoration of the ferry recently. It had received a nice fresh coat of paint, but the money to rebuild the engines had gone missing.

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  #104  
Old 30 Oct 2010
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The departure in the port of Ilebo was hectic (dodgy place!) so we could not really say goodbye to Abbé Omer. He waved us goodbye from the shore. I did not get along well with Omer. I cannot explain why. But in retrospect he did help us and my lack of trust in him was probably a mistake. Shame..


Abbé Omer on the right.

The trip across would take an hour as it was upstream. We felt very much at ease during that hour. We were disconnected from the shore, on a safe distance from everybody that wanted money from us, we did not have to drive. We just had to sit back and enjoy the ride. It was also one of the rare occasions were we got out of the dense forest and could have a look around.





The port of Ilebo





A floating fishing village on the shores of the Kasai:

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The boat crew:

Barthélémy



The captain



Once out of the port these two guys would use long sticks to feel how the deep the river was.



The mechanics



This dugout canoe hitched a ride with us. For a moment I thought of charging them a fee... according to local Congolese tradition. I didn't ;-)







The beautiful, mighty, muddy Kasai river




-





In Ilebo we had asked for the road conditions on the other side of the river. Nobody knew. People here travel by boat, not by road. We were silently hoping that the roads would be perfect on the other side. We couldn't have been more wrong...

Barthélémy gave us a letter for his friend, the captain of the next ferry. It was written in Lingala, but we could make out a few words. The letter was about us but we did not know what it said. Would it be some good words for us? Or would it be some tips on how to extort the maximum amount of money out of us? We did not ask about the condition of the next ferry... It was probably better that we didn't know at the time..
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