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Saturday, 5 November 2011

RoC, part 2

Day 2: a nice clear day in Brazzaville. Fortunately it did not rain all day.

There are a couple of other overlanders here at the moment: Joerg Mackes

He has been here of and on for a few months. He was riding his motor bike though Africa and unfortunately got water into the engine. Then follows a long saga of trying to get his bike out of RoC, paper work, flights etc.

Daniel Dungate from the UK has been here 3 weeks trying to get some brake parts for his Landcruiser. He does not speak highly of the local Toyota people. Also, it seems that at least until the elections are over in DRC, that the DRC is not issuing visas. So he cannot proceed south. He is looking to ship his vehicle from Pointe Noir to Namibia.

Daniel showed us around the city centre. It was great to be able to walk around the city with no hassle. We went to a café that had wifi, had brunch and did some emailing.

As others have said, there seems to be a different feel to Brazzaville. There does not seem to be the underlying sense of violence/aggression. There seems to be an efficient taxi system. ATMs on the street are also useful. We could even take some picturers.

We did a little shopping; supermarket and local market for vegetables. Then cooked some meat & cocous for Daniel and ourselves. Beer is served in 650 ml bottles. After 2 of these Ray had an early night.

A pleasant day in Brazzaville after Kinshasa. Though, listening to the others it does experiences are not as challenging as theirs.

Day 3: the sky’s opened up at dawn, so it was easier to lie in bed for a bit.
Then, up for the days chores, organising the next few weeks.

We went to a travel agent down town, who said we needed to go to a tour operator. The travel agent had one of his people walk us around to the tour operator. Unfortunately, they could not assist – not sure why. However, a young chap from their came with us to contact the agencies that run the parks. Ever so nice of everyone, very helpful

We went to WCS who run the Ndoki-Nouabale National Park in the north. I had tried to contact their USA & Brazzaville offices by email, but never received a reply. They advised to contact the WSC folks in the park. We emailed them later in the day.

We then went to the Gorilla project people (they run a program near the Lefini reserve). We prevaricated a bit, but Olivier here at Hippocamp says it is worthwhile, so we will probably do it.

Then onto the Department of Forestry to see if we could get a permit for the northern part of Lefini. The people in the office here gave us the contact of the local chap at Ngo and assured us he will be able to assist.

Then brunch and internet at café Mandarin (they do Lebanese food!). In the middle Ray purchased a SIM card for his phone (which does not seem to work!!!) as our South African cards do not seem to work here.

Back at Hippocamp, we met Christelle Lamprecht who with her husband runs the Odzala national park. Many thanks to Wilderness Safari who put us in touch with them. Christelle gave us a huge amount of information on the park, what to see, directions for travel etc.

So many people assisted us today. It is very comforting that so many people went out of their way to help us.

Day 4: for some reason the people next door to the hotel started to have a party ~ 03:00 last night, so that put a bit of a dint in the nights sleep. Worse are the number of bites from any manner, size or colour of biting thing. Ray is used to this, but still it is agony. For the 1st time in her life Avril has also gotten the itches. We need to somehow obtain lots more stingoes or such. In addition Ray has taken up wearing long pants – better the heat than the bites.

It was a public holiday here today for All Saints Day. We went to our favourite café (free internet!) for brunch.

A bit of planning for the next phases.

We went to the rapids on the Congo river and the Case de Gaulle. It was interesting to see the rapids on such a huge river, they are not that violent, but sufficiently large to prevent river traffic and so they impede commercial development. The Case de Gaulle is near where the house was built for de Gaulle when Brazzaville was Capital of the free French in WW 2. There are views along Brazzaville and across to Kinshasa.

Day 5: we spent a good part of the morning getting the SIM card for Ray’s phone activated. It costs a fortune to use the RSA pay as you go plan, so we will try and get a sim card for each country. It was supposed to be activated on Monday, but who knows. They say they need Ray’s passport; but you already have a copy;  give me your passport, and so it goes. We are not going to win this one, grab a taxi, back to the hotel and get the passport. Eventually the phone works!

In the meantime we brunch at Café Mandarin.

Then off to do a bit of shopping for the trip north and Ray searches for a new mud tread tyre to replace the one slashed in the accident. After a search of many premises, including Daniels dreaded Toyota garage, it seems there is one place, but we are not too sure. Lets see if it is there as promised in the morning (yes Ray did go back to check, but following the French tradition, businesses shut down over lunch for what is described as 1 hour, but in the case of the tyre shop was > 2 hours and we had some chores to do).

Ray checked the tyre pressures and other vehicle things then filled up the water tanks (via the triple filters). We started to run the generator to charge the accommodation battery, but Olivier kindly let us charge from the mains (i.e. his generator). Ray decides to run the engine for 30 min to chare the main battery, Avril locks the car and goes looking for remedies for our bites and scratches – so the engine battery gets a BIG charge).

Day 6: we set off early for the promised mud tread tyre. You will not be surprised to know that, actually they did not have one. But the delay in going to the tyre shop means we are firmly in the middle of peak hour as we try to exit Brazzaville. It takes 1.5 hours, but eventually we are on the open road. Whilst we are still in the Congo basin, the soil is very sandy and so the vegetation is more like savannah rather than rain forest.

The road is good with an occasional small pot hole, nothing like the huge pits of Angola. Avril driving.

After another ~ 90 minutes we turn off the main road onto a track that any self respecting Australian farmer would be embarrassed to have in his paddock.

We enter the reserve and lunch at the picturesque Lac Bleu (which we think means Blue Lake – but it is nothing like the one in Mount Gambier). The countryside opens out into a vista of very green rolling hills, with only trees in the valleys and grass covering the hills. Quite something.

We arrived at the Gorilla Rehabilitation project early in the afternoon. You park ~ 200 m from the camp and access the actual camp area via board walk and pontoon over a small stream. The camp is nice and clean with common cooking and ablution facilities – we are the only ones here.

We visited the baby gorillas, viewing then across a stream for 25 minutes. We gather they are all orphans. They play around, thump their chests etc. All very cute. Mind you at $ 45 each (just the viewing), it seems a bit steep.

We finally get to see a sititunga – albeit the tame one at the camp!

Ray has an afternoon nap – then the sky goes black and we wait for the big rain.
On reflection; the rehabilitation premises are very clean and well set out. However, for $ 100 per person, we think it was a bit too much
Spaghetti for dinner.
  ~ 140 Km S 030 16’ 11.2’’  E 0150 28’ 15.7’’

Day 7: it rained heavy for a lot of the night and we had the wipers on intermittent all day. Ray has a bit of vertigo, so Avril drives.

We make the main road after driving through a track covered with water.
We want to visit the Lefini reserve and the Bradt guide says in the village of Mbouambe-Lefini there are “numerous amenities” for us touristic types. So initially we head for the village. Yeah, amenities! None in this dorp.

So we head to the next big town, Ngo. By pure chance one of the forestry officers we met in Brazzaville is passing through and recognises us. Old friends now. Again, by chance the Chief Conservator of the reserve is also in town. He says he will be back at park HQ at 12:00. That suits us, so we head out to park HQ to wait. Then follows a bit of a farce, with the village folks and the forestry officer from Brazzaville (who just happens to drive by again) we work out that the Chief will really return at 17:00. We also look at the track into the reserve – it makes yesterdays track to the gorillas look like a motorway. Remembering our dislike for getting bogged, we say thanks, but no thanks and head off to Oyo.

The road is mainly fine but at times it does try and compete with Angola, some particularly badly pot holed sections. The rain is also a bit of a drag and in places there is water over it. Avril does a fine job negotiating the potholes, water, oncoming traffic and pedestrians on our side of the road.

The vegetation is again the stunning rich green, we notice the individual plants are about 300mm apart, but the vista is great. Where water can lie (eg in ravines, gully’s, valleys etc), the vegetation changes to rain forest or jungle.

Oyo is the Presidents home town and we pass the huge brand new airport on the way in. We go to the Belair Hotel. It is in the Bradt guide (mmmm) but unfortunately it is full. We pluck up the courage to ask, can we camp in the car park: “no problem”. Very nice people try to assist us as much as they can. Avril gets a lot of visitors to look at the “petit massion”.

Friday night, could be noisy!
362 Km S 010 09’ 46.2’’  E 0150 58’ 20.9’’

Day 8: Last night we dined with a group of Italians who are the helicopter pilots and mechanics for the president and the Minister of the interior. Very interesting to hear about their work, though they were professional and did not gossip. One of them has relations in Geelong, Mt Macedon & Keynton and had been to visit.

We woke to a very heavy fog, which is apparently usual for after a few days rain. After buying some fresh baguettes, we set off for Odzala National Park. The road was new tar for ~ 150 km and we managed to fill up with diesel just as we turned off the tar road.

We had been warned that the 1st 25 km was not too good but managed to get through that. Then there was new road and when that ended the old road was not too bad. We arrived at Etoumbi and a kind person took us down to the river to get the ferry. The ferry is powered by human muscle. It was interesting to see how they used pulleys and the river current to manipulate the ferry to the opposite bank. Leon had warned us that the 500 m after the ferry was bad mud, and so it turned out to be. But Avril did a great job, not only getting off the ferry buy also negotiating the mud without getting stuck. It was sunny today, so hopefully it will not be too bad getting out.

The drive through the rain forest was great. Loads of butterfly’s (not sure what the collective noun for a butterfly’s is?) of different colours. We now really understand what the term “impenetrable” means. Along the way we cross the equator.

The ferry operator told us another Australian had passed through that morning! Then just before Mbomo we see a couple of white faces: Nick Streeter & Ian Brown and a Unimog (apparently with a broken brake line). We stop and chat for a bit. They are staying where we are staying this evening. Maybe time for a quite ale.

We were going quite well and very proud of ourselves. Then: at the River that is the start of Mbomo village (our destination) and 200 m horrible stretch of mud, made worse by the trucks making the centre way impassable for low clearance vehicles like ours. Our 1st attempt ended in a bog. With the assistance of many locals (who all assisted willingly and without asking) we reversed out. Then we tried a different approach, running our tyres along the centre rise, but with the mud conditions it is impossible to control the tyres track and so we slipped again. We needed to reverse a bit to allow a truck to pass. Then the locals volunteer that one of their people is a great driver, so reluctantly we agree. Disaster he gets bogged and almost rolls the vehicle. A truck driver comes along and remonstrates with the group, he will tow us out. But 1st we must dig under the tyres to level the vehicle. This plan worked. We will try and get the truck driver to assist on the way back!

One of the helpers comes along to assist us in finding the park HQ – which even though this is a very small dorp is not that easy.

Much relieved we get to the park HQ. Set up camp, register, organise the next couple of days in the park and pay the fees.

329 Km N 000 26’ 11.7’’  E 0140 42’ 03.7’’

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