The Gabon visas finally came through late afternoon, and we left immediately. Getting out of Yaoundé was a little difficult, but the correct way was found eventually! We continued on to a bush camp just outside Malmayo. The next day we entered the town of Ebolawa, no signs of the deadly virus, thankfully!After a stock up of food and fuel we carried on to the Gabon border and crossed over. The scenery changed yet again to thick rainforest, with relatively good tarmac, and good progress was made, even with the constant police stops that bordered on harassment. A great bush camp was found down a disused logging road, where the night time insect noise was deafening.
Into Libreville, for another attempt at Angola Visas. We ended up camping on the beach as the possible places to camp in hotel grounds were far too expensive. Driving up the beach road was quite fun, as it was Sunday, and all the expats were there with their 4wd’s, which they were terrified of getting dirty. We did splash a few to their obvious disgust and our delight!The Angola visa came to nothing – we didn’t even get through the gate! So back on the road again empty handed.
Having to do the road from Libreville to Bifoun twice in two days was heartbreaking. Massive potholes, broken tarmac and very slow going. Consequently we were worn out by late afternoon and that night’s bush camp, just after Paris-Bifoun, was a very welcome sight.
Lambarene is famous for the Albert Schweitzer hospital, so whilst I topped up fuel and others went shopping for the next few days, Denise paid it a visit.The road conditions worsened from here, back to dirt and slow progress.Next day the road was damp and slippery, so even slower progress! As we hadn’t had a decent wash for a while we stopped at a river for a “bath”. After an hour or so we reluctantly continued towards the Congo border.
The formalities were dealt with fairly quickly, and they didn’t seem to mind (or notice) that we were entering a day earlier than our visas stated. The road conditions continued to deteriorate, and basically turned into a track with very high grass either side. The landscape resembled “telly tubby land” with grassy hills abound. We camped at a school next to a police post as it didn’t look like there would be much else on offer. Turned out to be a great evening. The locals challenged us to a game of football, which we lost 6-2, even with Chris’s best efforts, and scoring celebrations, which had them all in stitches! Then the rain came, and boy did it come. What was a dry patch of land became almost a river! Luckily the tarps had gone up in time so we and it seems the whole village, found refuge. For the first time the inside of the truck became our dining room!
After the rain (practically all night) the ground was quite soft and we made a bit of a mess of the school grounds on departure! Sorry! The road was now very slippery as the top cm or so was sludge and filled the tyre treads, making steering and traction a very difficult thing. Slowly slowly is the only way to go. The terrain was fairly flat so no worry about going off a cliff or anything. Did manage to drive sideways for a short bit, which had a few in the back a little worried! The road dried off after a few hours and it became much easier. Into Nyanga and customs. Yes, 35kms into Congo before the truck could be stamped in! All formalities finished, we crossed a bridge and promptly got stuck in a ditch! No bother, a bit of digging and a well placed sand mat, and we were out first go. Fairly bad road all day but no more boggings, and we camped on the bank of the Niari River, after crossing the “Pont du Niari”, where we had another “bath”.
We had word that Point Noire was also out for Angola visas, so the plan now was to go to Brazzaville and cross into DRC and get the visas in Matadi. So first port of call was Dolisie. We arrived just before lunch and stayed at a small hotel. Proper showers beckoned, if you call a trickle, no hot water and having to squat under a tap a proper shower!
The road from Dolisie was good but bumpy, and good progress was made. Up until the town of Bouansa that is. At a checkpoint after the town (which is a few kms off the main road) there was an extremely over officious policeman, who was adamant that we should have checked in with the police station in town, and have paperwork clearing our passage! An escort took us to the station, and that is where the comedy capers began.
The chief wanted to fine everyone 9000CFA for not checking in, wanted to see all passports, truck documents, yellow fever certs, basically trying to find something he could charge us with. The “sit it out and wait” tactics eventually worked and he gave up. As it was late by this stage we camped across the road in a vacant gravel area. Later that evening one lad started to nail white sheets onto what we thought were goal posts. Then the whole town turned up and a bloke with a laptop and a projector played awful French films! We had camped in the towns drive in theatre!
We had been told to leave early, so were ready to go at 6. Onto the road out….to discover the Sunday market being set up! No way through. Several attempts at a detour came to nothing, one took us 7km away to a mission in the hills, very bemused people there, we were sure some of them had never seen white people before. Back to town where we finally got someone to show us the way out. Two boggings later and we finally made it to the main road.
Three more boggings that day, the last was a particularly bad one. One fuel tank ruptured on a hidden stone and a bit of diesel was lost. It started to get dark and all were worn out so we prepared to spend the night. Half an hour later a large truck full of locals appeared. More than a little bemused and concerned by our intention to stay, they towed us out and helped pack everything up. Apparently the area is well known for bandits known as “ninja’s”. So with their insistence to do so, we followed them 30kms in the dark to Kinkala. There we camped in front of a bar, where we had a well deserved rest.
From Kinkala the road improved dramatically and became new tarmac, until the outskirts of Brazzaville! Back to pothole hell! We eventually found Brazzaville beach, which is the port area to cross to Kinshasa, where it was hectic. People everywhere and utter madness. The police, customs, basically anyone in a uniform, were rampant thieves. As the ferry was being unloaded they would just rip stuff off the porters heads, and then fight them off with truncheons or whips. Quite sickening to watch actually. Finally was allowed to drive onto ferry at 1530, and then waited until 1610 before it started to move. The crossing took about 40 minutes, and then we had to wait ages for it to be unloaded before we could drive off. Very difficult task, as I had to reverse off and the bridge was narrow and at an odd angle!
Passports and Carnet was sorted rather quickly, but the “computers were down” so the process could not be finalised until the morning. Luckily there were toilets and a bar, so we ended up camping in the port area.
The morning was completely unexpected. It was as if everyone had got out of bed on the wrong side! Firstly they just yelled at us to go back to Brazzaville, saying our paperwork was not in order. Explanations that we had no Angola visa, but would get them in Matadi came to nought. The head guy wouldn’t help at all, and we just thought it was stalling for money tactics, but there was never any mention of money. Finally we were told we could go, thinking into DRC, but our entry stamps had been annulled. An attempt to have new ones resulted in our visas being annulled, and being forcibly put on the truck and made to drive onto the ferry. The police had the look of wild dogs, batons, belts, knuckle dusters came out and I was frog marched to the drivers seat. Our tables etc. were thrown into the truck. Only then were our passports returned.
The return to Brazzaville was made with a flurry of phone calls. But the embassies proved to be of no use whatsoever. Luckily Congo allowed us back in with a minimum of fuss. We found a place to park up in a catholic school and dug in, this could take a while. The DRC embassy was visited the next day and they played the Angola visa line also. A few days later we received a fax from Angola’s Matadi embassy, stating that they would issue visas there. They said we should apply for new visas, but then changed their minds again! Obviously something is afoot!
The following Monday we again attempted the embassy, only to be told to come back Thursday! Then we found some news on an obscure section of the BBC website, relating to our situation. Police and security forces had attacked the headquarters of a separatist movement in Matadi, and the date corresponded with the ferry crossing. The embassy admitted that there was a “problem” so new plans had to be made. If we had been a day or two earlier into DRC, we may have been caught up in it.
We couldn’t go back north as the rains had arrived, the route to Pointe Noire and a possible ship was do-able, but had to be attempted very soon, and obviously the route south was closed.
The decision was made to fly out. So a secure place was found to store the truck, and we all flew out to Johannesburg. Two nights there, then a bus ride to Cape Town, where we are regrouping and preparing a replacement truck.
No one was ready for such a change so quickly. The route through Angola and Namibia would have eased us back into “civilisation”, but this way we are all a little dis-orientated with the modern world.
The plan now, is to head north and travel Namibia in reverse and enter Botswana, then continue as normal. Consequently we are having the week off the trip here. Table Mountain, Robben Island, Cape Point, Cage diving with great white’s etc. There is plenty here to keep one occupied, even if we are early.
This is the nature of African travel, it can be unpredictable. But we wouldn’t want it any other way.
Patience, tact and abundance of time are necessary, and the would be traveller lacking in any of these essentials should seek lands where less primitive methods obtain.
Ernest Henry Wilson (1876-1930)