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Thursday, 20 October 2011

DRC, part 1

The road into DRC was as bad as the exit from Angola. But we had high hopes as the Reise Know How map (German mapping company) showed a major tarred road to the border. We should have realised after Angola that the maps are really very little use.

We were signed into the DRC and with a guide (as the route to the actual post was very hard to identify) we went to the actual entry post. Given the reputation of DRC officers, we approached this with some trepidation. However, we had a very smooth entry (apart from having to wait for the immigration man who had the stamp to come back from break, and also to correct the under officer immigration – who entered the ROC details instead of the DRC). Interestingly they also stamped our Inoculation books. No issues with the carnet here!!

So, with hearts set high, off we set to find the tar road. Fortunately our guide from the entry station came along as we went along basically footpaths. Then, that sinking feeling – there was no made road. There was not even a major or formed road. We were back to the worst of the Angola roads.

However, we were remained positive as at least we were on our way, and whilst the going was slow we were moving. Quite bizarrely we had to make way from 2 oncoming, heavily overladen vehicles. We took that as a positive, as the trucks were getting through. Agh, but then we started to reach mud bogs created by the vehicles. We had 4 major mud bogs. We collected another helper, who rode out rigger on the running board holding the roof rack. We supplied lunch and drinks for the team and set off again. Then as things got worse we gathered a further helper. At one point the team seemed to be having issues, so Ray got out to assist with digging, management activities and ensuring Avril now driving only got one set of instructions. We got to use all the recovery kit; sand mats, inflatable sand mats, bull bag and the Maj Shanks supplied sand bags. No trees to winch on (1 to Peter M).

Just as we thought things could not get worse, a massive thunder storm broke. Now our workers and Ray were wet, cold and very very dirty. On and on we struggled. Spirits were dropping. Avril realising the way to a mans heart is through his stomach broke out further food. We also gave the workers some dry clothes.

Finally we got to the promised land of a decent road, and well rewarded, our loyal and energetic helpers departed. You know the story by now, the good road lasted ~ 5 km, then deteriorated. We found ourselves driving in the dark on a very bad road, something we said we would never do. T4A does not cover DRC, so we are reliant on the Garmap map set (of which we have two). Garmap does not provide accurate routes and at one stage one GPS said go left and the other go right!! We went straight ahead. We drove on in the dark until we actually reached the N1 tar road. We managed to find a relatively decent hotel in Inkisi.

It is quite different driving thorough the villages here. Very few folks return our waves (unlike Angola where almost everyone returns a wave and the big ivory’s flash). The feeling is more intimidating, children seem to gather and frantically chant things, at one bog site a woman came along and demanded in an aggressive voice “give me money”. Not very helpful.

This was a particularly tough day. Well done to all.
118 km. S 050 08’ 02.1’’  E 0150 03’ 40.0’’

Day 2: unfortunately, we are now in the habit of waking early, so could not enjoy the sleep in we had been looking forward to! We bought some bananas and bread at the local market and set off on the tar road for Kinshasa. Unfortunately, it seems that we have knocked a weight off one of the tyres and there is a bad wobble at ~ 60km/hr. But that was fine, we travelled slowly to town.

T4A and Garmap disagreed on the route, so we too the garmap this time. This took us through a large number of local markets and because the volume of people and because the mini bus taxi’s stop in the middle of the road to drop off and pick up passengers, we took a long time to get to our destination. But, that was OK, it was an interesting sight. A bit dirtier than the Vic market, but about the same sort of thing.

At one point we were diverted off the main road, this is really where the GPS (and Ray would like to add for the sceptics, having multiple units!!) comes into its own.

We had the GPS points for a Catholic mission and a Protestant mission. We tried to find the Catholic, but to no avail. Then we tried the protestant, a policeman directed us to a mission station – not the one we has a waypoint for, but satisfactory anyway.
We have set up the vehicle and have the key to private absolutions. Not too bad.
Ray drove: 118 km. S 040 18’ 13.1’’  E 0150 17’ 57.4’’

Day 3: last night Ray went out for a few cold ones with Bruno Baert (Christo Potgieter had given the contact), a local born Belgian. It was very interesting to hear what times were like in the 1950s & 1960s. Turns out the border crossing we took was well used in those days. You could drive it in a VW and take 2 days to get to Luanda. It was good to hear from folks who know the route local conditions etc rather than rely on maps. Bruno has also recommended a garage to have the vehicle looked at..

We have also found an ice cream shop, and got chatting to the people there. They have recommended a hair dresser, so we have contacts for a couple of the most important jobs.

Today we spent most of the day cleaning and packing. Not all that interesting, but necessary. We also went to an expatriate type supermarket to stock up on necessities &/or luxuries.

We have been warned by everyone not to wander around the city, most particularly after dark. So, we are pretty much “stuck” at the protestant mission station. Which is not all that bad. There does not seem to be all that much to see in Kinshasa anyway.


Day 4: last night we dined on French delicacies; pate, jambon, camembert & (for Ray) Rouge Vin. We were forced to get up late this morning as the rain pelted down. A good lesson for us, no matter what the night looks like, pack everything away!

We went to the garage recommended by Bruno, but unfortunately they were full, and directed us to Mr Zaphiropoulos Michel at Garage de la Gombe (garagedelagombe@hotmail.fr). That turned out to be very fortunate. M. Michael took a very personal interest in ensuring the vehicle left his shop in as good a condition as possible, full service (grease, oil change, filters, battery etc) & a lot of work on the alignment and wheel balancing (he is a specialist in this) & replaced the rear brakes etc etc. Ray stayed at the workshop most of the day & M. Michael asked him up to his home for lunch. At the end of the day he refused to charge a traveller for the local labour. What an absolute delight. One of those things when you are travelling that really gives you a lift. A great big thanks to the team at the garage who were all perfectionists.

Meanwhile, M. Michael had his driver take Avril to Patisserie Le Chantilly where the owners arranged for their driver to take her for a “hair do”.  The chauffer driven back to the Patisserie, she had lunch and relaxed. A big thanks to them as well for all their concern & effort.

The vehicle took most of the day, so we arrived back at the accommodation just before dark.
Having both been fed well during the day, we had a light evening meal.

Day 5: A slow day. We went to the Angolan embassy 1st thing to look at a visa to pass through Cabinda. The response was they do not issue vehicle visas there. We do not know if that means that they will not issue a visa in Kinshasa but will in Matadi, or if they have stopped issuing visas at all for Cabinda. It was compete chaos at the embassy, so we might go back tomorrow and see if we can get further info.

We then went to a very, very, very slow internet place down town. It took 2 hours to post the Angola blog. It is stressful whenever you stop and/or get out of your vehicle. You are immediately surrounded by many people, all wanting something and not asking nicely at all!! Given Kinshasa’s reputation for theft etc, we do not like to be isolated and surrounded like that. So, we tend to stick to the expatriate/embassy area in our accommodation. We have been warned not to go and look at the river as the police there will try and arrest you to extract money on the pretext that you are a spy.

Then a pizza lunch. Interestingly, our appetite’s seem to have abated, so we could only eat 50% of a small pizza – hopefully that will show on the waist line!
We then did a bit of shopping and bought some presents for the folks who have been so nice to us.

Finally we cooked a birthday dinner for one of the ladies here & her daughter.
Hopefully, we are finally becoming “aimless”

Day 6: yet another slow day in Kinshasa. We had a sleep in and then began investigating in earnest the possibilities of getting to the Republic of Congo. From previous research we knew there were two:

·         ferry directly to Brazzaville. A friend of a friend came around this morning, collected copies of documents and went down to the docks to investigate. Along the way we heard that the ferry had broken down (but who knows!)

·         to the beach and transit Cabinda to Pointe Noir. We went again to the Angolan embassy, but could not even get in the door this time. A friend phoned a friend in the PMs office, who said that a visa is not needed to transit and Peter (son) did some research and at least one blog agrees with this. If we do elect to take this route, we will double check with the Angolan consulate in Matadi – do not want to be stuck in no mans land.

We went and tried the internet again – very frustrating. Went to the entrance of the docks, so we are familiar with the route and then had ice cream & drinks and just lazed.

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