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Sunday, December 1, 2019

FASTTRACKING THE CONGOS


Our first Congo is the Republic of Congo. We cross the bridge and they lift the barrier. And so, the process begins. All our details are taken by numerous people in different offices, one stamps in our carnet and the last stamps our passports. We are in and now have 280km of dirt track to traverse. We met a truck a few kms back and the friendly driver assured us that we could get through. But the first humongous puddle we come to we find a stranded deeply stuck in the mud truck. We have no choice but to plough right through the sticky deep middle. Fortunately, it is the worst. There are of course sections of mud, potholes, narrow bridges…we just keep moving. Numerous little villages with hundreds of kids running after us with their hands out. Then bigger towns as we get to cross large rivers. Finally, roadworks – they are simply dumping truckloads of dirt on the track to fill the huge wet patches. No rollers – the end result is not really much help. Then there are logging trucks turning onto our road – end result potholes & chewed up track. We won’t make it in one day so we pull off the side of the road. No traffic except logging trucks and some other overlanders who stop to chat for a while, the first ones we have seen for ages.

We head off bright and early to finish this track. There are more roadworks so one day this will be a good road. To our surprise they have already installed fancy toll booths- surely, we won’t have to pay. Fortunately, not! Then we turn to head to Pointe Noire on a fabulous new road and sadly this does have toll booth for real. The first one charges us truck rates (I really try but can’t talk him any less -over $36), but the second I get away with bus rates $5. But it is a magical drive through lush mountains. The only other traffic is trucks – perhaps half of them broken down. Finally, down the mountains and in to the city of Pointe Noir. We take the “scenic/longer route” past the markets & port before heading to our camp spot at La Brassiere del Mar right on the beach. The friendly owner lets overlanders camp in his carpark provided they eat in his restaurant. The beach is great (we go swimming) the deck chairs excellent, the sunset OK & pizza awesome. There is a night guard on duty, the night club down the road doesn’t stop us sleeping, but it does pour with rain in the night. Glad we have finished those bad tracks!

Monday morning sees us heading to the border bright and early – it is closed over the weekend. We have to navigate the busy streets, but fortunately the traffic is mostly going in to the city. The have countless minibus’ and taxis here. All the taxis are gorgeously painted blue & white with lots of swirls. Most of them stay sort of on their side of the road, but it is not unknown to meet some on the wrong side. Near the end of town, we find the intersection a Frenchman warned us about.  One big huge roundabout that looks like a lake. Water is being pumped out but more is rushing in. The unseen holes in the depths are massive. Just as well we have a high clearance.

Our excitement for the day over, we reach the border. This would have to be one of the nicest borders – so friendly & helpful and no one hassling us! Bonus. An hour and a half and we are in the Cabinda side of Angola. Crazily enough this is a section of Angola surrounded by the 2 Congo’s. We think maybe Angola hung on to it because of all the oil wells offshore & gas onshore. We plan to stay in Cabinda for the night rather than tackle another border today. The roads are great and Cabinda is a lovely town. We find a Sim and head out to the Catholic Mission where we can camp under a mango tree. We can relax, listen to choir practise and watch the sunset over the ocean.

Well time for our second Congo – this time the Democratic Republic of Congo or DRC. They have a reputation for refusing visas not issued in your home country – so fingers crossed. It takes nearly an hour to get out of Angola and then another 5 hours to get in to DRC. They make us sit and wait as our request to enter goes up the chain. We are interviewed and our whole route planned. Eventually we are stamped in. YAY!! But it will now be too late to get to Matadi as planned, and we discover it will take a lot longer when we see the track/road. It is all sand – in places very soft. Sometimes it is hard to find the correct track. Believe it or not there is even a toll! So instead of Matadi we head to another Catholic Mission at the beach at Moanda.  Once in town we have to wind through sandy tracks to find the Mission. In the end a local hops in to guide us there. Today we drove a mere 54km.

In the morning we head to the main road and find tarseal for the first 500m, then churned up sand tracks. Miles of sand, red dirt, mud & potholes. It is very slow going. As we continue, we reach patches of roadworks. The guys are racking dry cement on the road & a machine is following with the tar. Not sure how long that will last. Finally, there is more seal than potholes and we can increase our speed, but we won’t reach the border today. At Boma there is a lovely brand-new road through town. We stop at a small wrecking yard in town for a no plate. After finding John the most beat up one, they can, they want 1000. (Peanuts). But when John hands them a 1000 note (Congolese franc) they say “No no, $1000 dollars!” Sorry buddy – no way. Keep it! A gun going off back up the street has everyone racing up the road to see the action. We high tail it out of there.

On through some truly lovely mountain scenery before dropping down to the massive Congo River. We can see the huge city of Matadi up ahead. Glad we are not staying there – traffic is appalling. All the trucks from Kinshasa (the capital) have to crawl through the city to the port on the river. Markets overflow, cars are parked and so in sections there is only one lane open! Absolutely crazy. Finally, through the city we head towards our border at Luvo. There is another Mission at Songololo where can stay – it is perfect. We will be ready for the border in the morning.

It pours in the night. We don’t think anything of it until we head to Luvo. Yet another soggy narrow track. Well at least the border will be quiet right! Coming out of the track we see a road (they tell us it is not open – but I beg to differ – how the heck did a massive town grow here with the only access that tiny track!). Well we are here now and engulfed in humanity! People everywhere. Carnet stamped we hunt for Immigration. Finally stamped out, but next is the bridge. It is only one way and trucks are pouring over. People, tuk-tuks, trolleys are shoving on our side to cross. Total African CHAOS!!! Finally, over to slightly more organised Angola (who speak Portuguese just to add to our challenges).  Paperwork done we are let through the gates.

Hello again Angola.


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