Congo & DRC – diary 2010-03-28 to 2010-04-01

2010-03-29 to 2010-04-01

We managed to cross through the Congo in no time at all which is a shame really as it is such a beautiful country and carries a vast amount of natural scenery to see. We however needed to make tracks as we were falling behind schedule and we needed to get to Namibia as soon as possible.

We had a good nights rest at the school and were up early enough to avoid the masses of the village folk that were eager to see the tourists. We registered with the Gendarmerie who had kindly allowed us to camp in the school grounds and were once again sent on our way. The scenery was beautiful. Congo is a vast land filled with undulating hills and forests that line the horizon. It was completely different to my expectations and was yet again stunning. We had experienced some problems with our brake pads in Gabon and they needed some repairing. The spring clip had come loose and we ad lost the anti squeak plate but the braes were still in working order albeit rather loud and squeaky. We were told that we would need to register with the police and immigration at every town from here on until xxxxxxxxxxxx and were dreading these constant stops as they were time consuming and really quite pointless. We managed to skip past the last stop as 2 big logging trucks had parked in front of the immigration office and we managed to drive by undetected. We were now on the open road…a road resembling much the same as the one in Cameroon. It wound its way through the forests and the Chinese were here in force and were ‘building’ a new road. My emotions are pretty mixed when it comes to the presence of the Chinese in Central Africa and I am not sure if I should kiss them or curse them. They are doing good in that they are improving the infrastructure of these once war torn countries but they seem to be exploiting Africa in many ways and deforestation seems to be one that gets my back up. Cameroon, Gabon, Congo and DRC are some of the only natural rain forests left in Africa and the Chinese developers seem to have no foresight in sustainability and conservation of these endangered forests. The number of logging trucks that we passed was staggering and once more we passed many more that were returning to collect another load of these precious trees. It really did enrage me and took a huge thunderstorm and torrential rain to cool me down.

The dirt roads turned to rivers and we had great fun driving through deep puddles and slipping and sliding across the road. The fun ceased as we neared Pointe Noire. The road became tarred and the traffic became congested as it does with any other city. We navigated our way to the Pointe Noire Yacht club where overlanders have, in the past, been able to camp for free. We were all game for this ‘free camping’ and were directed to the ‘camping’ area by one of the yacht club employees. The yacht club was not open on Mondays which meant that the showers were unavailable but at least there was a toilet that we could use. We hosed off the cars and went in search of some food. Just around the corner was a pub selling reasonably affordable food that was tasty and filled the gap. We made our way back to the yacht club, hosed ourselves off and climbed into bed. We planed to stay in Pointe Noire for one more day so that we could do some laundry and prepare ourselves for the forthcoming days of driving.

The following morning as we were about to sit down to a cup of coffee the manager of the Yach Club came to see us and explain that the Yacht Club no longer offers free camping to tourists and that we would have to pay CFA 3000 (€5) per person per night. These costs were of course not what we had planned and we were disappointed to find that the rules had changed. At further investigation we also found that our 20L water container and Christine’s laundry and bucket had mysteriously vanished during the course of the night. We were certainly not going to pay for camping when a simple thing like security of our goods could not be guaranteed. This was the first bad thing that had happened to us during the course of our travels and we were annoyed with ourselves for being complacent about leaving things out of the car. We promptly packed up and headed for the Congo – Cabinda border 20kg’s lighter and Christine a few clothing garments less.

The border crossing was complete mayhem. A truck had become stuck in the middle of the road and was not budging. Its driver was really not too bothered about the fact that he was causing the most horrific traffic jam and once more we had a great distance to travel and his unperturbed approach to the problem caused Kirk to take the reigns and attempt to get the path cleared. Kirk managed to round up a few bystanders and ordered them to push. The pushing was not even budging the truck as the driver, who was controlling the brake and clutch, was not doing a very good job and appeared to be holding the brake when everyone was trying to push. Kirk told him to get out and he took over the controlling position and with a lot of heaving and thrusting the truck was out of the road and cars were free to move. With Kirk’s blood pressure now reaching explosion point we took a minute to compose ourselves before presenting ourselves to the Immigration, Police and Customs officials to officially leave Congo. This all seemed to go smoothly and about 20 minutes later we drove to the Cabinda border post.

Cabinda is an Angolan enclave between the Congo and DRC which requires one to use their Angolan visa to pass through. We had only managed to obtain a 5 day transit visa for Angola in Abuja and we were very concerned that our entrance into Cabinda would mean that we would only have 4 days to cross 1800km of the Angolan mainland. We decided that once we were through the immigration process we would make our way to the Immigration office in Cabinda and see if there was any way to extend our visa. The procedure at the border was painfully slow even though they had proper scanning machines and computers which should speed up the process. We had to fill in a series of form and eventually, after and hour and a half, we were able to proceed. The road was superb and beautifully tarred. We stopped at the first fuel station we found and filled our tank with the ridiculously cheap diesel. It cost less that $0.30 per litre so Kirk filled his auxiliary  tank up too We were carrying and extra 170kgs of weight and Mvubu was feeling sluggish under the strain.

The stop off at the immigration office did not prove to be as successful as we would have liked. The very helpful second in charge informed us that there was no way he could issue us with tourist visas but he assured us that the 2 entry 5 day transit visa meant that we had 2 entries of 5 days each. This confirmed that we had in fact 5 days to traverse Angola mainland and not 4 as we had originally thought. One extra day meant that we could relax a teeny bit but it still meant that we would not be able to explore Angola and its beautiful beaches.

We legged it for the border. Cabinda did not have much for us to see apart from the very well maintained Portuguese buildings and beautiful tar roads. The Portuguese language had confused us all and we were trying our hardest to string together sentences that would make sense except that French kept slipping out. We were quite fearful by the inability to communicate in this very foreign tongue and were struggling to pronounce the phrases from the Portuguese phrase book. With 3 hours of sunlight left we arrived at the DRC border post and were surrounded by ‘officials’ of all kinds. The mood seemed somewhat tense and there seemed to be an awful amount of shouting and directing. We were all on edge by the sudden change from composed Cabinda to this chaotic border where people were tugging at our sleeves to follow them or give them our passports. Kirk was in charge of Passports and Yellow Fever Vaccinations whilst I was sent along with Christine to the Customs office with the Carnet. We walked into the office and felt unnerved by the presence of so many men and not one single female. When the big chief of customs arrived we were shown into his office and the calmness seemed to return. He filled out the carnets in no time at all and we went in search of Kirk, Joe and the passports. The DRC border post was in the midst of a facelift and they too had fancy new computers and passport scanners. This did not however speed up the process as they were still a little uncertain about the efficiency of the computes and still preferred to copy our details down in triplicate into various different ledgers. As we got into our vehicles and made our way to the boom that separated us from the border officials and the DRC we were stopped one last time, showed them our passports and off we went. Borders always seem so chaotic and there are many people loitering around on either side of the barriers trying to sell something or offer their services as a guide etc.  We had a snake in a packet thrust into our faces; I cringed whilst Kirk drove on and navigated his way around a detour as a huge puddle had flooded the main path. We really felt as though we had been submerged into the real Africa. The tarred roads of Cabinda had disappeared the minute we left the Angolan enclave and the road became a sandy track between elaborate plains of green grasslands. There was not a settlement in sight and the excitement grew deep within our souls. We were in the DRC our 15th African country.

The open savannah that stretched right from the coastal plains had a special air about them and the existence of oil in these regions was as clear as day. In and amongst these grassy plains stood intermittent oil pumps, which slowly pumped oil from the land. These did not seem to be owned by big private oil companies as there was no signage depicting who the owner of these fields were. At one stage we bore witness to a huge flame of burning raw oil. It was quite an impressive sight and a surreal experience. We made our way to a Catholic Mission in Muanda where we were charged $20 per couple to camp. We were shattered after successfully exiting and entering 3 African countries. Sleep came easily that night only to be awoken by the sound of rain pitter pattering on the top of our tent.

We were up early and managed to pack up without getting soaked by the drizzle that started again shortly after we had awoken. We made for the road south where we passed through numerous villages where people in high spirits smiled and waved at us as we drove by. It never ceases to amaze me how the local people who have been subjected to war and hardship all their lives still manage to smile and be cheerful about life. They are super friendly and contradict every report on the savagery of these people.

The Congo River was the top priority on our sightseeing agenda today and as we continued along the road to the south we were teased by glimpses of the delta and waterways. The Congo is truly monstrous. We made our way up a small hill where we were afforded the most exquisite views of the mighty river. Its depth was evident by the number of cargo ships that were effortlessly navigating their way p and down the channels. It was a sight to behold and an image that will last in my memory for many years to come. We continued our journey to Matadi where we would spend the night and head for the border the following morning. We wanted to get a full day of driving in the following day as it would be day 1 of our Angola visas.

The sisters at the Catholic Mission were very welcoming and after some negotiating about price we settled on $20 per couple again. I managed to do some laundry in the afternoon and we waited in anticipation for the spectacular show that the ever building thunderstorm would provide us with later on that night.

We departed from the Mission at 6:45am and arrived at the border by 7am. We were in for a long wait. We were told that the big Chief would only be arriving at 9am and he was the only person with the authority to stamp our passports. All we could do was wait. At 9:30am he eventually graced us with his presence and we were finally allowed to leave the DRC and re-enter Angola.

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