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Tuesday, 25 October 2011

DRC, part 2

Day 7: sounds a bit boring, but another slow day in Kinshasa. Ray went down to the port this morning to arrange matters for tomorrow, only to be told that due to a squabble between DRC & RoC, the vehicle ferry was not running. Sounds like DRC has lots of squabbles – remember Dundo in Angola.

However, we got comfort that the ferry was a real option and we have a good person to facilitate. We also got confirmation from the Angolan embassy in RSA that a visa is not needed to transit Cabinda (now confirmed by 3 independent sources, but that may mean nothing at the border).

We then decided to take a break and get some internet therapy. So, we went to the local version of an international 5 star hotel and spend time (at huge cost) on a reasonable internet connection, had drinks and lunch in air conditioning etc.

Then we went to the hairdressers so Ray could get a hair cut and to a supermarket to get some (limited) fruit supplies.

In among all of this are the negotiations about whether a ferry will go tomorrow, costs, who will assist etc.

We are very lucky to have met an internationally savvy local Congolese at the mission, Mary. She has been a great help, went to the port with Ray, assists in the negotiations with the local facilitators etc.

The weather is quite hot. There has been no rain for a few days and in this case the sun beats down with a vengeance. Our location in the mission means we have no shade, but Avril has positioned us so the vehicle protects us from the afternoon sun.

We are both fit and well. Probably we have lost some weight! We are finding that a small breakfast and one meal a day is sufficient in the heat. We really cannot be bothered with a large evening meal.

One thing we have noticed is the very large number of conferences going on in Kinshasa, religious (quite a number of these),various UN, police, international NGO’s trying to arrange peace, violence against women, etc. No shortage of people talking here. Also, no shortage of western government & NGO staff with their impressive new Toyotas (white, with a sticker to proclaim who actually paid for the vehicle). When you look at the lack of security, undercurrent of violence/aggression, police corruption (at any set of lights the police will just demand “give me money”) etc; we are not sure that the talk feasts are having much impact. Seems like lots of people have deep pockets and KPI’s do not relate to actual positive outcomes and improvement on the ground. Still, we are not diplomats and may be just naive.

Day 8: for the first time this entry is being written the next day. Day 8 was not good.

We went to the docks, bright eyed and ready for Brazzaville at 07:30. All was ready to go. Then the head of the dock had a huge arrogance attack. No, we could not go until tomorrow. But, there were cars coming over from Brazza, so there must be space. Well, if there are cars coming over, we can go. But wait, no you cannot go. This went on for hours. Does he want a bribe?? Actually, no. This was just a way to get some kicks, show authority and generally be an arsehole today. Finally, the answer was no.

Sick of sitting in a compound all day, we decided to do a day trip to Zonga falls, ~ 120 km out of town. We set off directly from the dock, got a good run out of town, found the dirt road turn off to the falls easily. Things were looking good. The dirt track deteriorated to a little mud and a single set of tyre tracks.

Then, our worst nightmare, on a blind turn an oncoming vehicle hits our passenger side door, the panel behind it, knocks the big Dekker box and deforms the front tool box, which puts a large cut in the tyre. Remember the passenger side is where the driver should be here. The other vehicle (Toyota hilux extra cab) is a total mess. The engine under the front, all twisted and broken.

4 blokes get out of the vehicle, Avril thinks oh shit. Ray checks things out. Fortunately the vehicle belongs to a sizable company and the chaps are all right.

They take some pictures and report to head office by phone. They want the police involved. Avril phones Bruno who advises to try and make a deal, keep the police out. Ray also knows from previous travel that getting authorities involved could lead to lots of hassles, vehicle potentially impounded, court cases etc. Again fortunately the lead guy from the ute, Alain, speaks some English and one of the top people, Albert, at their head office speaks perfect English (turns out he went through schooling in Washington DC and holds US citizenship). Albert says we can sort it out, accidents happen every day, stay cool everything will be alright.  

Ray spent the next 2 hours extracting the tool box off the mountings and the tyre. Some folks passing by on a motor bike stop to assist. Alain and the crew from the other vehicle also help.

All the time Avril is keeping an eye on our stuff. With lots of observers, this is high time for theft. The guys from the hilux eventually tell the people to go away, and they do!

The police then show up. Here we are at a disadvantage as we cannot speak any French. Fortunately, they also turn out to be nice blokes. No aggression at all. They want us to tow the hilux back to Sona Bata. After some effort getting the hilux into a towable state, we do tow them using the winch extension strap as a tow rope.

We pick up the police commander on the way, a gentle sort of chap and go to their office (which is a dilapidated hut with a home made desk). The police commander takes our statements. This is a formal process with a series of questions to identify you, parents, address etc. One of the question was translated badly as “you have been arrested”, the actual question was, have you ever been arrested. I think you can all identify the colour of Rays underpants at the 1st statement. The actual accident part of the statement is quite small. Ray is careful not to lay blame, but to state it was the road condition and blind turn – no need for enemies here. The police commander is very professional, we sign the statements. All this takes > 2 hours. Then the police commander asks for $ 200!!! We give $ 20, so as we can get back to Kinshasa.

The drive back goes OK, until we decide to take the T4A route rather than the Garmap route as the garmap route goes through a local market and this part can take 2 hours. Of course, there are road works and huge traffic jams. After driving around in circles, we go back and drive through the market arriving back at the mission at 20:30, absolutely shattered and exhausted.

Ray calls Albert to let him know we have not done a runner, and will contact him tomorrow. Avril had called her mate Mary at the accommodation, so we had our usual spot reserved and a key to ablutions.

On reflection we were very lucky to strike such a nice and professional bunch of chaps. Generally our impression here is that there is an underlying atmosphere of aggression almost violence. Not just the security stuff, but people yelling at you, lots of anger at traffic crossings, shouting, gestations etc.

Alain and the police were very courteous, polite and after we had spoken to Albert very helpful. Thanks to all of them

Day 9: Today we needed to sort out all the actions resulting from the crash. We do not have insurance as it is not possible to get it for Africa.

1st we go to see M. Michel, but he is not in. They can do the repair; 3 – 5 days. Good, but bugger about the time. We contact Albert to make a time to discuss matters. It turns out his office is beside the Chantilly (ice cream shop). He is a great bloke. He is concerned for us and making sure we are OK. This is their 3rd accident this month, so he knows the drill. He comments their drives are not that good. He proposes that we wait until the insurance has looked at the vehicle and then go from there. This sounds great and again very professional. He insists a couple of times that this should not impact our holiday (though we suspect he thinks we are a bit crazy).

Then we lunch at Chantilly, Mary, Farouk and the team there are concerned for us and very helpful. Then back to see M. Michel. He says no worries, start Monday 3 – 4 days. This is getting longer! But, what can we do.

We then check out some hotels to stay in whilst the vehicle is in the repair shop. All the reasonably priced ones are fully booked (who would have thought!). We check out the Memling, but do not like the location. So make a booking at the Grand – huge cost.

On the way back to the mission, we are given the shake down by a couple of police. Their eyes light up when they see us (We think one of them was a bloke Ray gave the slip to a couple of days earlier and suppose our vehicle is pretty obvious). They demand $ 250. Why, traffic violation – yeah!! Ray says he has no money but needs to go to the bank, they get a bit angrier (charades?). Ray has $ 15 in his pocket, so hands that over – bit silly, should only keep $ 5 in the pocket. Still, averaged out on the day, given the number of times we have failed to stop or drive through, the average is probably OK. You could argue the toss, but that may mean a trip to the station, lots of time and hassle etc etc. This is just easier. 

Day 10: last night we went a few doors up the road at the invitation of a local chap who has built a night club (very up market). It is yet to open, but the d├ęcor, fittings and setting is great. We had a drink and chatted for a bit. The owner is running in the upcoming elections for one of the near by seats. He seems to be honest, so hopefully he can win and make a difference

Today, we slept late, then lazed. Cleaned a bit, Avril did some washing, Ray made lunch (spaghetti) which we shared with some friends here, listened to some music, read about RoC and Gabon (we are preoccupied with road conditions and border crossings).

Fortunately it was a cool day and in the late afternoon our friends took us for a walk to the Congo River – we could see Brazzaville across Stanley Pools. This week hopefully.

Rereading some of the blogs from past travellers, our predicament is not unusual. Folks seem to get stranded in either Kinshasa or Brazzaville for a time; ferry or visa issues being the main reasons.

The term mission station is probably a bit of a romantic term for our surroundings. The compound is secure, which is the main thing. There is a central administration and meeting area (& former restaurant, which is no longer in use) and a number of accommodation blocks. The accommodation blocks have family, double and single rooms (but no cooking facilities). We park on the road and camp. We get a key to one of the rooms to use the shower and absolutions. The rooms are very spartan and in common with the rest of Africa, the concept of maintenance was forgotten many decades ago.

The people here tend to be short stays, but are very friendly, which make the stay more bearable.

Day 11: last night Bruno dropped around. It was comforting to hear that after the crash he had been to the Canadian embassy etc here to get everything in order should we need it. The Canadian embassy shuts down at 13:00 on Friday. The emergency number is in Ottawa – and just rings. No more comforting, the emergency number in Australia goes to a voice mail system. Very helpful if you are in an emergency situation.

We droped off the vehicle at the garage. Avril went to Chantilly to consume more ice cream and read the last 2 months of the International Tribune. Ray waited around the garage.

Finally the repairs were underway, so off we went to the hotel. In Kinshasa this is luxury (at an international + price) for us it is ~ 3 star. But it has internet & a pool.

We sat around the pool all afternoon and then did some internet searches and emails

Day 12: We spent a very lazy day in the hotel. Looking at options for future routes, skype to family, time at the pool, reading etc. It was good to spend time in air conditioning. One of the negatives of camping in a very humid environment is that there is a little moisture on clothes and sheets most of the time. So, 100% dry sheets were nice.

1 comment:

  1. Hello Ray and Avril

    Why DRC? Is it simply a transit point or did you got here to see stuff?

    The only way you get a police escort at home is to do something really bad or become out head of state.

    Things are OK here with Dad improving to the point where he can get himself about. The trick will be to keeping his exercise up. It was a little sad to leave him in the hostel as he looked very confused.

    The women here are all fine with both the girls about to finish university.

    We are getting some preliminary drawings and costings done on the options for the house. We need at a minimum to do the kitchen, bathroom and the roof and would really like to add a back porch. Trying to decide whether or not to extend it out the back. This is essentially an investment decision as we will probably sell in 7 years or so... What will deliver the best return??

    We would like to meet in Morocco and wonder on timing so we can get a little organised. Gabrielle said something about trekking which I am up for but i think Olga will probably hang back and keep Avril company. Let me know what you think?

    Not much else to report. Bombers did no trading and real cricket has not yet started. Beat RSA in the one dayers.

    Talk soon.