Horizons Unlimited - The HUBB

Horizons Unlimited - The HUBB (http://www.horizonsunlimited.com/hubb/)
-   sub-Saharan Africa (http://www.horizonsunlimited.com/hubb/sub-saharan-africa/)
-   -   DRC Crossing - Lubombashi to Kinshasa (http://www.horizonsunlimited.com/hubb/sub-saharan-africa/drc-crossing-lubombashi-to-kinshasa-50132)

Dean74 7 May 2010 12:45

DRC Crossing - Lubombashi to Kinshasa

Thought I’d drop you all a line to describe our experiences crossing the DRC from Lubombashi to Kinshasa. From what I have gathered not many people have been stupid enough to try this recently so some info might be helpful to other considering the same trip. By the way my brother and I are riding a pair of KTM 950SE’s, and it’s just the two of us, no support. We read HU often so it’s nice to send something back.

Having crossed quite a few borders in Africa already (and many others since) we thought we were well enough prepared for another one, but approaching the DRC border at Kasumbalesa it became apparent that this one was to be a little more eventful. Trucks line both sides of the road for about 2 km on way to the gate, and we were greeted at the gate by a mob of screaming helpers all vying for our business, wanting to be our fixer. People shouting at us from all directions, telling us where to park, who to talk to etc.

Carlos, the guy we had been recommended to use by a friend in Zambia came pushing through, only to be punched square in the face by a Zambian police man, called a criminal and told to get out of there. Wow. The Zambians were very happy to help us, and ironically recommended their own fixer suggesting that there would be almost no chance we would be out of there that day if we tried to get processed ourselves. Ironically the guy they suggested was Carlos’ right hand man.

We were a little skeptical as all the other borders to that point (and every one since) had been pretty straightforward, but on the advice of the Zambians we chose to use Carlos’ friend. This turned out to be a good idea, as nothing was signposted, everyone was corrupt, no one spoke english and nothing was straightforward. We ended up having to pay a few bribes to expedite the process, and looking back I think I’d probably do the same again. All that said, if your paperwork is in order, and you’re fluent in French you will probably get through… eventually, I think it took us over 3 hours just on the DRC side.

We rode the hour or so to Lubombashi in the dark, something we have been unsuccessfully trying to avoid since arriving in Africa a couple of months ago, and found a pretty bad hotel with some local help, more or less standard African fare, no water (except the stream running past the foot of one bed) or power, US$10/night.

Next day we rode on to Fungorume (all dirt road, but very wide and flat) and stayed there the night. The first thing to mention about the DRC is the corruption, it’s mostly harmless but really annoying. We were stopped a few times on the first day, asked for passports and insurance, told that all our papers were in order but that we had to pay some money to the official. First time we coughed up $20, second time we argued it down to $10, and the third time we just waved at them and didn’t stop. We were warned about the traffic police in yellow shirts, but the immigration officials ended up being the biggest pain in the ass. With the traffic guys, you could get a little pissed off, tell them you had no money (“I have a friend in the next town who is helping me”), and they usually let you go. While the immigration guys would invent forms that we didn’t have, and them claim an irregularity and hence need payment.

From Fungorume we had planned to head north onto the ‘main’ road to kikwit, but our first attempt to reach said road ended at a goat track that hit a river a few metres deep. We had discussed plans to float the bikes across in these situations, but on day one we had hoped for something a little easier. So we back tracked to Fungorume, but managed to get 2 punctures on the way and destroy a rear tube. We had a spare tube, but without another spare were not keen to keep pushing further from civilization.

The locals told us we might get a spare in Kolwezi, and while this was a little out of the way we decided to head there anyway. Sure enough we found a tube there, albeit not quite the right size, and thin as paper (so we bought 3 just in case). At the hotel in Kikwit we got to chatting to some guys about the route north and one of them suggested the alternate route which would take us west to Kasaji then north to Kikwit, telling us this road was frequented by local motorbike riders, and that north of Kasaji the road was used by trucks delivering fuel up the western side of the drc so it must be fine… hmmm

Armed with some local knowledge, and not keen to backtrack to Fungorume again we set off west. The road to Kolwezi was still pretty good, wide and flat albeit incredibly dusty, but after Kolwezi it deteriorated a little. However it was good enough to travel about 160ish km each day, starting at 7am and riding until around 4. Some sections were very sandy, others badly washed out, but trucks still used this road so it wasn’t too crazy. Our saving grace was that almost all local trade is carried by bicycle, so wherever the road got really bad, or the water really deep, there was a bike track off to the side, often out into the jungle and back that was just wide enough for the bikes to pass through.

A few stretches were really difficult, and there were some sections that had us doubting we’d be able to pass at all, but slowly slowly we got through. If anyone tries this route there is a railway line (abandoned) that follows this part of the road, which was a good alternative to some really deep rutted sand (ask the bicycle riders where it is). We camped in villages sometimes, quite an experience in itself, with the entire village circling our tents (10 deep, 30cm away from us), watching our every move until long after we went to sleep, and still there in the morning!

From Kasaji we were expecting a better road (for the fuel trucks, remember…) but this turned out to be completely wrong, as all other traffic ended there except for bicycles. The road north from Kasaji was really hard going - non existent for much of the way, so we were riding on bicycle track from there to Chikapa (maybe 700km). Riding around 9 hours a day to travel about 170km, but this dropped as low as 40 or 50km on a couple of really bad days.

Anyone considering this route thru the drc in a car or truck – forget it. The road is washed out in too many places, often as deep as 2 metres, with a tiny little ledge 20cm wide to ride the bike along, but with panniers hitting tree roots and rocks continuously. Some of the route was only 1m wide through the jungle or reed fields, with 0 visibility either side, just riding with the compass and stopping to ask bicycle riders whenever in doubt.

Fuel was never a problem as most towns had stocks for sale in the now familiar 5lt containers, or sometimes 20lt containers. It was always fun seeing the surprised looks on people’s faces when we told them we’d need 60lt of fuel… 60?? Yes 60. 6… 0… ? yes. We have 30lt safari tanks, and were geared up for another 10lt each and a shared 8lt reserve, but we never needed anything more than the tanks could hold. Fuel was typically between 1800 and 2500 francs, although we paid US$5/lt at one mission with the Nuns insisting that was the going rate, only to see it at half the price 1km down the road!

Corrupt officials became our bane by the end of the trip, with continual stops and being hauled off to immigration offices, asked for money and invariably paying a small bribe just to get the hell out of there 3 hours later. At every large town, if you linger for more than 10mins the immigration guy will want to register you, invent a form you don’t have and ask you for money. For this reason we tried not to stay too long, just enough time to refuel, buy some food and get going again. We did have one real scare about 100km from Luiza that’s documented on the web site (link above). This scared the shit out of us, and changed the complexion of the trip from there on, which was a pity.

Arriving in Chikape we were badly exhausted, still a little spooked and the bikes needed some maintenance (forks completely out of oil, front sprockets dangerously close to finished) and the road which up to then had been a rideable goat track, turned into an unrideable trucking road. Tracks so deep that the panniers were continually hitting the sides, and even the pegs of the ridiculously high superenduro were not high enough to clear the ridges. We could actually just step off the bikes and lean them into the truck tracks and they stayed upright they were in so deep. That night we camped and the heavens opened, it rained harder than I thought possible all night and in the morning the road was awful.

The locals who will always tell you the road is fine, actually shook their heads and suggested that it would be impossible to continue. With only 3 days left on our visas, and aforementioned bike problems we were miraculously offered a free (nothing in the DRC is free) ride in a truck the last 180km of that trucking road to kikwit, and decided to take the ride. The last 530km to Kinshasa after that was all good bitumen, with less road blocks and corruption so we managed it in a day,

It was a shame not to ride the whole way through, but looking back I think we made the right choice, as it was we were a day late leaving Kinshasa, which turned into more drama on the wharf. We crossed the DRC from Kasumbalesa to Kinshasa in the 15 days our transit visa allowed, but were delayed a day in Kinshasa due to a storm so overstayed the visa by a day anyway. Somehow we got an honest immigration officer who let us off without a fine or bribe (unheard of in the drc), but this was not before a lot of shouting, other requests for bribes, hours waiting in hot immigration offices, and a standoff on the wharf… all good fun!

A few other comments – 95% of the people we met in the drc asked us for money, cigarettes, our clothes, boots, sunglasses or pretty much anything else they fancied. People who didn’t speak any English at all could still say “mister give me money”, and this got pretty annoying by the end of the travel there. Anyone who offers to help you with anything at all will ask you for money. Our drc motto became “No Money, No Help”. We have been to RSA, Botswana, Namibia, Zim, Zam, Congo Brazza, Gabon, Cameroon, Nigeria etc, and nothing even came close to the incessant begging in the DRC. You have been warned. (In a village we camped in the Chief asked for US$200 the next morning for letting us pitch our tents. We talked him down to $20 but he was pretty hostile by the time we left).

The riding was pretty difficult much of the time, It would be a lot easier on a lighter bike (we figure ours probably weigh about 275kg fully fuelled and loaded up, they’re 185 dry), but very hard on something heavier, impossible 2 up unless someone wanted to walk (or push) some of the time. I guess that’s a relative statement, so just to qualify, we have both been riding since we were 5, and competed in motorcycle racing at a national level through our 20s, we’re not expert off road riders by any stretch but do have lots of experience on 2 wheels. Some of what we found the hardest was the really deep soft sand, badly gouged by truck tracks, that was exhausting. In other places it was more like trials riding, all 1st gear just balancing the bike between deep washouts, or following a bicycle track through the jungle all day. One thing I did wish for was a smaller front sprocket, as even first gear was too fast some of the time.

Like much of Africa, the DRC is isolated, so if something goes wrong, or you hurt yourself, you are on your own. This is a real worry as the riding was hard enough to see us fall regularly, mostly low speed offs, but when you fall ten times in one morning and there are no medical facilities or transport for 1000km in any direction it’s concerning. Not so bad near Lubombashi or Kikwit as there’s some traffic, but in remote areas around or between Luiza or Kasaji you’d be stuck for weeks if something went badly wrong. The bikes were flawless the whole way through, and apart from some maintenance issues (fork seals, sprockets, pads) didn’t miss a beat. One afternoon just after having been chased out of town by yet another bunch of screaming children I had a silly fall and my bike started running on one, and then stopped. The fuel pump wasn’t making any noise and I thought it had taken a nock and given up. This was a pretty dark moment as it really hit home how far away from anything we were, but fortunately it was just a blocked filter and we were off again in 5 mins.

There was always food and fuel the whole way through, although sandy shima has become my least favourite food, and I won’t eat another avocado this year.

There are some amazing things to see on the way through. Like much of Africa, the DRC was abandoned by the settlers about 50 years ago, and has been in continual decline since, except that the decline in the DRC seems to be 10x worse than the rest. We saw towns with old tree lined main streets, big houses, street lighting, even a tram system and bitumen roads, but all abandoned like a scene from a post apocalyptic film, with people living in basic towns nearby. We dubbed it the land of continual thunder as every day we were there, you could hear a storm brewing somewhere nearby on the horizon, but we were lucky not to get much rain, only one night really where it rained non stop from 4pm until the next day at lunch time.

Accomodation wise, we have tents and are well setup to camp, although it’s probably not necessary if you’re willing to sleep in a hut as the villagers will always put you up for a fee (make sure to agree in advance), all the bigger towns have ‘hotels’, and there are some missions along the way who are happy to put you up for the night for around US$10-20. Outside Lubombashi and Kinshasa there were no atm’s, so we took in a big stash of USD, and changed it as we went, although almost everyone took US, for bribes it was preferred.

It would take forever to describe the trip in full, but 2200km across the DRC in 15 days was an amazing adventure. I’m glad we did it because everything else in Africa has seemed a little pedestrian since, but would I try it again? Maybe J

On the other ‘main road’ across the country I cant comment at all. I have heard stories of someone taking 2 months to cross it in a 4wd, which doesn’t surprise me. Maybe taking the road less travelled worked in our favour in that way, because while it was a shit fight, most of the time it was doable. If anyone is considering trying the same and wants more specific info, please feel free to contact me, my details are on the website linked above. We made a great contact in Zambia and in the DRC near Kikwit, great guys who would help anyone passing through.

Currently in northern Nigeria, sitting in the Niger consulate in Kano waiting for a visa, contemplating crossing the Sahara. Wish us luck!

markharf 7 May 2010 13:53

Very cool post, and an even better blog. Hats off!

I toured (no bike, just backpack) very briefly in one corner of Zaire before the Mobutu succession wars, just after the Rwanda genocide. All was just beginning to fall apart back then, and all the portents were ominous. I cannot imagine going back there now, voluntarily, without a paycheck attached....but I'm glad you did and glad you chose to write about it.

Have fun in West Africa!


Dave The Hat 7 May 2010 17:53

:thumbup1: BRILLIANT BRILLIANT BRILLIANT! Thanks for sharing your journey, what a great read. Tough journey but ultimately very rewarding. Very envious!

Gummikuh 8 May 2010 11:13

Hi guys!

Thanks for the report! We would like to go that way on our way home ... in 3 yeras time :D.
Maybe it will be a bit better by then :scooter:


landy les 8 May 2010 16:13

Please click one of the Quick Reply icons in the posts above to activate Quick Reply.

landy les 8 May 2010 16:20

brilliant report we are doing the same trip in aug this year but opposite way round starting the 16th aug from tunis crossing Algeria,niger,northern nigeria cameroon congo and doing the same route across the drc to Zambia,so lots of hard to get info on this part of the trip but we will be 4 landies whether that is an advantage or dis we'll see.I'll e-mail you for a few queries LES

Cactus Central 8 May 2010 18:59

Great information for all of us planning similar.... thanks!

antony_nz 9 May 2010 08:18

truly adventours, Thanks for the post

Ride Far 3 Jun 2010 22:36

Freaking awesome! :thumbup1:

Dean74 7 Jun 2010 14:10


Originally Posted by landy les (Post 288170)
brilliant report we are doing the same trip in aug this year but opposite way round starting the 16th aug from tunis crossing Algeria,niger,northern nigeria cameroon congo and doing the same route across the drc to Zambia,so lots of hard to get info on this part of the trip but we will be 4 landies whether that is an advantage or dis we'll see.I'll e-mail you for a few queries LES

Les, you're going to find it really hard going if you take the same road we did, that is through Kasaji. I dont know whether the other road is much better, but I cant image getting a car through the way we went, firstly because the road is non existent for much of the way (we rode the bicycle tracks), secondly, some of the bridges were falling apart, or only constructed for motorbikes, and lastly, in some of the more established roads the only traffic is 6wd trucks, and even they scrape their diffs because the ruts are so deep and they get stuck regularly.

am happy to help with any info i can, also have a good contact in the DRC who would help you out if you get stuck or in some trouble.

takeonafrica 7 Jun 2010 17:09

Dean74 - I just send you a private message - A contact in the DRC would be great as I am hoping to cross the country later in the year. Helen

Dean74 8 Jun 2010 16:12

helen, i didnt get the pm, not sure why... maybe try emailing me instead, my email is on our website, cheers, Dean.

m37charlie 9 Jun 2010 01:41

Don't get me wrong - I greatly admire those who do things like this and the crossing from Niger to Algeria (in the Sahara section).
But these adventures in the face of terrain adversity; and much worse and more important, man-made obstacles do seem more like adventurous masochistic exercises than a "vacation".
Wandering around Australia or Outer Mongolia seems like more my "cup of tea"; the human obstacles in travelling in parts of Africa just seem tremendous these days.


Jef Imans 15 Jun 2010 13:06

Looking for a Lubumbashi contact?
Hi all on this thread,

just to let you know that if you're looking for some contacts or a nice play to stay in Lubumbashi, feel free to contact me - I live now since about 15 months here, and being an ex-overlander myself, I know how it can feel to get a nice hot shower and a cool bed to sleep in - not to speak about getting useful tips...

Am quite often traveling in the country for work, so not always around here - but never a problem to provide that bed and shower for when you pass by...

Just might make me a bit jealous again if I see you on your bikes here ;)


Scholle 17 Jun 2010 17:28

permits neccessary?
we are thinking of taking the same route in the other direction.

Does the police and DMG still ask for ordre de mission or other permits to travel to that area?

It's usually easier if you are heading for the capital because you can always argue that the capital is the only place to apply for a permit. Not sure waht it's like when you leave Kinshasa...

Any ideas?

Thanks Scholle

All times are GMT +1. The time now is 18:56.