Brazzaville, 29 January 2008
After what feels like it has been the hardest section of the trip so far I've made it through Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and am into the Republic of Congo.
Although Luanda wasn't the easiest of places to like I had gotten used to hanging around the Club Nautico and frequenting the bar there along with the regulars. Leaving Luanda though and there was a further and grottier side to it as one passed through a shanty town of truly demoralising grimness. Getting out was almost as bad a getting in. Traffic was awful and even a bike couldn't squeeze through most of it.
The first 50 or so kms up the road were fine and then we reverted to the roads that had once been tarred and still are on my Michelin map. Clinging fairly close to the coast there wasn't much around in the way of inhabitation. I got off to have a rest and a munch on some dried fruit and within seconds I was being buzzed by tetsi flies (kind of like Horseflies for those at home unfamiliar..) and within a minute I was being positively swarmed. So that was why no-one else stops here or even lives here. I escaped with just the one bite on the finger.
Heading inland and the road actually got better. I stopped at the town of Tomboco and found the Catholic Mission there (they usually have a bed for passing travellers). It was positive luxury, Papa Paul and Marcelo were very welcoming, I got an en-suite room, fresh made pumpkin soup and sat and watched the Zambia - Cameroun game with the guys. Next morning was Sunday, their work day so no-one was around but a loaf of fresh bread, a plate of local jamon and a pot of fresh coffee awaited me. I stitched up the panniers which had split again whilst waiting for the lads to return from Mass. Though you can stay for free and there is no obligation it seems very wrong to expect to stay as a tourist for free and divert their resources away from their good work. Whatever your opinions on the Catholic church and the AIDS / contraception debate the bottom line is that they are often the onle people concerned with welfare and education work in really remote areas. So with a donation left I continued on my way.
Papa Paul had recommended a route North that crossed the less used Matadi border. I always ask for local knowledge and though given in good faith often find it to be none-too-acccurate. I should have been suspect when Marcelo claimed it was 80 kms to the border, Papa Paul 130 and then the signpost said 180. After about 25 kms down a narrow jungle path I encountered a spot where it had rained recently and things where starting to get nasty so rather than risk getting stuck alone I turned back.
Onwards to Mbanza Congo was 150kms of good road and then you turn off. Then I realised that maybe the advice of the lads at the mission might have been good. For if this road to Songololo in DRC was the better one then the other must have been truly shocking. At least there were plenty of other people around who were also stuck to lend a helping hand. Here the local bus service is in massive 6 wheel drive converted army lorries.
Though I was lucky and there hadn't been a heavy rain for a couple of days there were still massive puddles across the width of the road. Some you could go around but if you had to go through extreme care was to be taken. Some could literally swallow the bike. It was only 50kms or so and given the situation 3 hours wasn't a bad time to make it in.
I arrived at the border at dusk. I think I made the quickest crossing ever between Angola and DRC as Angola were playing Senegal in the cup and were unexpectedly ahead. I asked how far to Songololo and if the road was better. It's not far and the road is good was the answer. So armed with the power of local knowledge again I found myself riding in first gear in the dark for 25kms along a rough potholed and puddled road....
The chaps at the Songololo mission didn't provide quite the same quality of accommodation as at Tomboco but they were very hospitable and a bed is a bed. Onwards the next day and I aimed to ride straight through DRC and Kinshasa to catch the boat to Brazzaville on the other side of the Congo River.
Riding through DRC was a strange experience. Whenever I stopped to ask directions people were incredibly friendly and in towns I drew a huge crowd. In the countryside I almost got the impression that people didn't know how to receive me. I usually waved, some waved back, some looked confused and a small minority hostile. If I stopped in the countryside people on foot would stay their distance and wait till I had left before moving on. It seems that really most of their experience of white faces is from passing UN armoured cars with guns trained out of the windows..
The ride through Kinshasa was a relative breeze. After the communications problems in Angola it was good to be somewhere I could communicate with people again and ask directions, albeit in my shakey French. I reached the ferry crossing to Brazzaville and as expected was crowded out by hustlers, ripped off on the ferry price and had plenty of arguments. I was told that the last ferry had left which could have been true as I was led to believe that 3pm was the last one. So I had to pay more for the 'VIP' ferry and pay extra for my bike and then pay extra to dockworkers to manhandle it onto the boat....
Arriving in Brazzaville all was a lot calmer and passing customs was a breeze. I had a tip for somewhere to stay (the Hippo Campe) and asked a customs guy who got in a taxi and led me there. I landed on my feet as being the first motorcyclist they have had arrive at the Campe I've got a nice room for free which leaves me cash to scoff good food at their excellent Vietnamese restaurant. Thank you guys.
Finally a couple of apologies.... Sorry for the lower quality of pictures. Another camera has rattled itself out of focus. Looks like I am going to have to live with it rather than cough up for a new one only to have it bust as well. Also the entries are suddenly coming thick and fast which some may like, some may not. It's just that I wanted to try and do one for each country and as I am suddenly upping the pace so out pour the blogs.
Next one Gabon or maybe Cameroun!
Posted by Richard Miller at January 29, 2008 12:46 PM GMT