|07-14-2011, 05:36 AM||#121|
Joined: Apr 2010
Wow, that was rough, but I've made it! I've arrived yesterday in Kinshasa, 12 days and 2394 km of battling. Actually I'm lying, I haven't quite made it: I've taken a lorry for 115 km. Nothing wrong with the bike, just an incompatibility between the road and the driver.. and slight loss of morale. But that was interesting in itself !
I will have a write up soon, now that I've settled down in Mission St-Anne with free WiFi available. In the mean time, here are some stats:
Total distance on bike, Lubumbashi - Kinshasa: 2274 km + 120km in a lorry. Of which there are:
- 848 km of tar
- 120 km of good gravel
- 834 km of bad gravel
- 61 km of good sand
- 531 km of bad sand
I had a half day of rest in a mission about half-way. And about 36h in the back of a lorry. The rest was riding, 6-8h every day.
143 liters of fuel, at 1.4$ - 2.7$ / l
beers: not so many, I don't like them warm..
Numerous crashes, couple of getting stuck in sand. No break-down but several oil pressure warning lighting up in the dashboard, not solved yet.
Only one night in a hotel, the rest was bush camping or sleeping in a village.
Dozens of police checks (I didn't stop at all of them), a few DGM (immigration) checks. Not problem at all, I've rarely been asked for a gift, and easily got away without giving anything.
Screw Angola and their obnoxious visa requirements, come to the Congo and do the "adv" in Advrider !
|07-14-2011, 05:40 AM||#122|
Joined: Oct 2007
Location: North of Jack Daniel's, South of Country Music
|07-14-2011, 11:29 AM||#123|
Joined: Apr 2010
And I've got videos too, but obviously they're not going online anytime soon.
|07-15-2011, 04:20 AM||#124|
Joined: Apr 2010
Now let's rewind 3 weeks ago. I was a bit anxious to see what the mayhem would be at the border. It turned out it wasn't so bad. Yes it was chaos, but it was pretty much straightforward, in about 1/2 h I was stamped in and ushered out in the country.
Of course you get a fixer, whether you want it or not. They just stick to you, no matter what you say. They're are slightly useful and a mild inconvenience at the same time. I give my passport to the immigration officials and they tell me I have to go to an office to show my yellow fever certificater. The nurse said it cost something, I replied I had nothing and she just gave me the paper with "gratis" written on it (means free).
Then the fixer tells me I have to go to another shack. I go there, and a guy (insisting on speaking English, which I wouldn't) writes me a paper for a guide from the office of tourism - or something. Mandatory, he says. Right. 50$ he says and he starts to write a receipt on his book, which shows previous receipts for 10$. Not smart. He hesitates and stops before writing the number as I tell him I have no money. Finally he hands me the paper without a receipt. Useless of course.
I come back to the immigration, and the lady asks me for 20$, then 5$. I smile and ignore her. At the same time she pulls out some bananas and starts to eat one. I ask her for one and she just gives it to me. That's the point, dudes, just be friendly, joke and smile and you'll find out they're actually not that bad. They just paid peanuts and need money to feed their kids.
The passport comes back with a stamp and no money exchanged. Next is the customs. The carnet is quickly and efficiently stamped, no problem there. An official wants to see inside the paniers. He doesn't actually care, he just gets a cursory look, I don't even have to open the bags. Ok for the customs, I move the bike a little and next is the traffic police. They ask again for something like an entry card, I reply I have none and they forget about it. Lots of questions about the bike of course, how many CCs, how many liters, wow 240 km/h, etc.. all rather easy-going except for the crowd of onlookers and the annoyance of the fixer. I will eventually give him the remains of my kwachas, something like 4$. He looks down upon it with contempt and refuses it, but when I move away his buddy grabs it - better than nothing he thinks and he's right.
Finally the last gate opens and I'm off on the road. I don't ask for insurance, I want to get away from the border before they ask me for something else. Which means that I need to be careful and hope not to be pulled over and give them an excuse for fining me.
The road is good tar, I cross the small border village without stopping and a few km down the road I reach a toll gate. There's enough space for a bike to get through so I don't stop. It think it's actually free for bikes, so I haven't even broken the rules. Whatever. The road ahead is good with little traffic. But what is the speed limit ? I cross a sign with a 40 km/h limit. The problem is, there is never any sign of an end of the limit, so it may apply to the whole road ahead (80 kms). As a matter of fact, the trucks seem to not go any faster, but it may be standard cruising speed for them. In case of doubt, I stick behind a minibus and follow the pace. He drives at 80 km/h so that's not too bad. As an added bonus, I'm hidden from the traffic cops until the last seconds, so they don't have time to throw themselves in front of me before I pass. Indeed, at some point they stop the minibus and I overtake before the realize it.
I reach Lubumbashi without a hiccup. As always when I enter a new country I stop to buy a new SIM card and change money. The guys speaks almost no French - Swahili is the local language - but prices are always in French. He screws me over the price of the SIM (1000 francs instead of 500 francs, so 1$ instead of .50$), which I don't care too much. I had an idea of the exchange rate, and 900 to the dollar seems OK; it turns out 920 is the best rate, but it's not too bad either. I change 100$ and get in return a huge pile of banknotes. The largest Congolese franc denomination is worth 0.45$ so it's not very practical. But the US dollar is a second unofficial currency, it's accepted everywhere at the rate of 900 so no need to carry a suitcase to go fill up your tank. You just need some francs for small expenses.
I call and quickly meet with Didier, my CouchSurfing host, who lives in the family's pharmacy and also does some small business in town. First thing first, I get into light trousers and we head to the lake for a couple beers. The Tembo is pretty strong, and at 60 cl a piece, followed by a 72 cl Skol, and having skipped lunch I'm a bit worse for wear. Nice !
I decide to stay for the celebrations of the independence, on 30 June. Every year it takes place in a different city and this year is Lubumbashi's turn. The city's main drag is taken over my thousands of soldiers with dirty weaponry who rehearse for the parade. I help Didier in his errands, and get a feeling of the city. It's not too bad, everything is a bit worn down and decrepit but quite easy-going. I get the "Mzungu" (white man) from time to time, especially in the local transportation - white men are supposed to have a chauffeur and not ride the minibuses. Also, thanks to the Belgian heritage, I find baguette and pain au chocolat!
There are several big old building of the colonial days, which must have looked quite nice 50 years ago, but are now badly worn down. The postoffice is an exception,it obviously got a recent fresh coat of paint, but the irony is that there isn't a postal service anymore, they're now selling cell phones there. One more proof of the decadence of the country, if needs be.
Meanwhile I give the bike a complete going over, I clean the air filter, tighten the pannier rack and change the tyres into the TKC 80s I've been hauling from Windhoek. The rear Heidenau K60 and from Michelin Sirac are still 50% good, but they're too heavy to carry on bad roads, so if anybody need road tyres in Lubumbashi give me a shout and they should still be at Didier's. Actually I'm too lazy so I have it done by the local guy. I watch carefully and he's actually doing a good job, not pinching the inner tube and not scraping the brake disc.
I also try to get some information on the road ahead. I don't get much back, hardly anybody takes the road any further than Kolwezi, half a day away on good road. Oh well, I'll have to improvise a bit with whatever the Michelin map or the Garmin basemap shows. Actually the "US basemap" that comes with Garmin's MapSource is not too far off and gives a general idea. Of course, only the "N1" is (barely) usable, all hundreds of other secondary roads are probably all jungle now. So maybe Lonely Planet's sketchy map is a better rendition of the actual roads of DRC.
Lastly, I stock up on some food. Rice, pasta, tomato sauce, instant noodles, canned sardines, stuff I can cook myself in case I bush camp or if I'm tired of the local food. I have biltong from Zambia as well. Ever tried bukari/foufou, the local staple food? it's pretty bland, doesn't taste anything. If I need stamina and high morale I need some food I can enjoy as well. But this also adds some significant weight, and I'm already overloaded for such a trip, so it's all a matter of compromise.
As far as fuel is concerned, I can load 34 liters with the extra Touratech tank. That gives me 700 km range on good roads, maybe 500 km on crappy ones and even less in sand. The road ahead is at least 2000 km to my reckoning, so I'll have to refuel at least 3 or 4 times. It'll turn out not to be a problem, petrol stations are few and far between, but fuel in plastic containers can be found very easily on the roadside.
Oh, one last thing: insurance. I sure don't want a loophole in the official paperworks. I only remember now that DRC and Zambia are part of Comesa, which issues a "Yellow Card" insurance that works over several countries. I had purchased one in Ethiopia, valid for 3 months for a few East Africa countries. At that time, I had specified only those countries which I would get to on my way to South Africa, as one has to pay extra for every other country. Now it's expired, and if I had remembered that when I had taken an insurance crossing into Zambia, I would have asked for a Yellow Card and included DRC as well. Too late now. I show up at Sonas in Lubumbashi, a major insurance company. They ask 50$ for a month of coverage.. no way!
I retrieve my expired Yellow Card and take a better look at it. What they do is that they cross out the countries you don't mention, but the "RDC / DRC" part is still visible, it might be legit if I totally black out the other countries I don't need. I also change the "5" of May into a "9" of September in the expiration date and I'm all set. It looks official enough, I don't think the cops have any idea on how it should look like. The point is, I don't need an insurance coverage, I just need a shiny paper to show when asked. If I have an accident, I don't think I can get any help from the insurance company, so I have no intention on giving them free cash. It'll turn out that I'll only have to show it once or twice, and they hardly looked at it.
I bid farewell to Jean-Didier and his wife and I'm off in the early morning, July 2nd. I count on 2 weeks to reach Kinshasa, 3 if I have serious trouble, which would leave me just a couple days to cross into Congo Brazzaville. Sounds like a plan.
|07-15-2011, 02:28 PM||#125|
Joined: Apr 2010
I put up a google map on the Lubumbashi - Kinshasa trip for reference. Here are a day-by-day report, with quick snapshots taken on the go; I haven't spent much time on photography during these days.
Day 1: 315 km
I head off early on good tarmac, and after 120 km in light traffic I reach Likasi. There's a petrol station so I fill up, at only 100 francs more than in Lubumbashi. The further I will get inside the country, the more expensive the fuel will get. I get lost a little in town, until I ask and is shown a small gravel road that leads to Kolwezi. It's actually pretty decent graded gravel, but covered with a layer of fech-fech. The going is easy, but when I catch up with a truck, I literally hit a wall of dust that makes the overtaking almost impossible. I have to wait until a stretch with solid gravel where the dust is lighter and I can safely pass the truck. A little further on is the first police check, protected by a barrier. I show all my papers, driver's license, "carte rose" (which happens to be a "carte grise" in France for the bike registration, and the insurance. They all check out, no money is asked and I'm through in no time. Further on I get caught by surprise at a rail-road crossing with rails sticking out a few inches and drop the bike. I will hit many more of those, often scraping the skid plate going over them, but without any damage.
68 km later on I find the turn-off to Bukama, confirmed by some locals. That's where the unknown starts. Later on I will learn that there are two possible roads, but this one works for me. It's actually pretty good for the first 10 km or until the first village, but then it quickly deteriorates as it obviously hasn't been maintained in years. The going by truck must be very rough, but on a bike there's almost always a way around the holes and ruts. I progress slowly but steadily.
I stop for lunch in a "restaurant". It's actually no more than a shack with the Mama cooking in a couple pots. On the menu there's "Bukari avec la poule", so cassava balls with chicken. The bukari (or foufou as it is called further north) is a cassava paste, which is mostly starch with very little taste. But that's the staple of all meals here. The chicken is quite tasty so I buy a few bits for my dinner.
By the end of the afternoon, in a pretty technical part that's very bumpy and that I negociate in 1st-2nd gear, I see the oil pressure warning lighting up on the dashboard. Right.. only a half day in the trip and my first problem. I've never had this issue yet, except sometimes during cold start-ups and only for a couple seconds after start-up. I immediately stop and check the oil level: it's fine, if a little high. I let it cool down a few minutes and start it up: no warning, so I leave. But a few minutes later it starts again.. It couldn't be a worst place to lose the oil pump - if that's the problem. I let it rest a while and advance a few kms until it start again. After a few stop and go like this, I decide to pull off the road and set up camp for the night, and think about my options. I cook some rice and go to bed pretty knackered. The night is quiet, no traffic at all except for a few bicycles.
Day 2: 160 km
I wake up at dawn feeling pretty cold: the temperature is only 4 degrees! I'm on top of a small mountain range, but from there I will get down in altitude and by the mid-afternoon I will hit 35 degrees.
I haven't found a miracle solution for my oil pressure problem and it shows again. It seems to be better when I can accelerate a bit and rev up the engine, but that's not always compatible with the piste. I still go on stopping from time to time, until it stops by itself. Hopefully it was just a sensor failure.. I'm not entirely confident about the rest of the trip, but it will not happen anymore. As I write this I still don't have an explanation for it.
The road is riddled with holes filled with logs and branches, put there to try to give traction to a truck stuck in the mud. I have a thought for the courageous crew who ply the road during the rainy season and risk spending days getting a truck out of a mudhole.
I reach Lubudi, that has probably been a very nice town, witness are the remains of the nice colonial buildings (and a petrol station stripped of everything except its sign).
The road goes down to a river, but the bridge has been washed away and is destroyed. The deviation leads to a makeshift bridge/ford made of logs, but the bank is too steep for the trucks and they have to unload before the crossing, using the locals to carry the crates to the other side. For me it's no big deal, I pass before they reach out to push me across.
Another lunch break of cassava and I reach Luena, that used to host quite a big mining facility but is now abandoned. Everything is broken beyond repair, the atmosphere is pretty gloomy. I enquire for the road to Bukama, which to is actually pretty nicely graded almost until Bukama.
I get straight into Bukama and get lost into the market and small alleys. Bukama is on the very end of the Congo river - technically, on a tributary. Many barges are docked next to the railway "facility" but there's obviously no activity in what should really be a major communication node of the country. Instead people hang out selling bananas and warm beers. I ask for fuel as I'm still not sure where will be the next petrol station. I get told a price of 2500 francs which seems exorbitant (1500 francs in Lubumbashi) and shop around. Eventually I manage only to haggle down the price to 2400 francs. In hindsight that's probably the correct price, given the hassle of bringing the fuel here by truck.
I use a coffee filter as I'm a bit worried about the cleanliness of the fuel. It does catch some dirt but it's not too bad. I will later give up on doing this.
People point to me the railroad bridge for crossing the river. Hmmm.. there's a footpath and the chinese 125cc bikes get there but I explain them that my bike need a proper bridge. Eventually they explain that the road forked out a few km before to reach the road bridge up the river. So I'm back up the road, waving hi to the cops who checked me on the way down.
In the next village I stop and ask for water, as I want to be able to bush camp and cook whenever I want. One guy who speaks decent French greets me and proudly announces that the village has been "sanitized" and has clean drinking water. He sends a kid to show me the way. As it turns out, it's 50 excited kids who join the Mzungu (white man in Swahili).
I have some more time to advance but then the road becomes sandy and much more difficult. It's late, I'm tired and I start to look for a suitable spot to overnight. Stopping in the village is an option, but the problem is that I wouldn't get much rest as I become the focus of attention of half the village. Instead I spot an isolated hut not far from the road that seems empty. I wait a bit until some kids come back from the fields with baskets of cassava, and ask them who is the owner. It's their father, but he's not here and not coming back. Ok, can I stay then ? sure, the kid doesn't care, he wants to know if I have something for him. I feel I owe them something for using the hut, but would prefer to give it to his father. I end up giving him 1000 francs, and we're both happy. I'm afraid he will bring lots of onlookers from the nearby village, but nobody shows up and I spend an excellent night. I'm also quite relieved that the bike is running very well now.
DRC is probably the only place where one can sleep right next to a major intercity highway and not hear a single vehicle in the whole night!
|07-18-2011, 03:12 AM||#126|
Joined: Oct 2007
Location: North of Jack Daniel's, South of Country Music
still loving this thread... amazing.... despite all my family being from south africa, and still living there knowing all the great places..... I decided Road Of Bones and mongolia was a good idea.... cheers and have fun!
P.S. - have a windhoek beer for me!
|07-18-2011, 08:07 AM||#127|
Vagabond, yes I try!
Joined: Apr 2005
Location: South Africa
Geeeez Laurant you really are doing it the hardway. I can just image how nice it must be to setup camp every night, mismissing it. Fucking great
|07-18-2011, 08:19 AM||#128|
Joined: Sep 2009
Location: South Africa
Hey im busy reading a book about a man riding around africa on his bicyle. Was thinking about your trip and if you had the same experiences. Any ways, just checking to see where you at. chow!
|07-19-2011, 02:13 AM||#129|
Joined: Apr 2010
DRC Xing, part 2
Day 3, 199 km
The road hasn't improved magically during the night, but I kind of enjoy it, challenging as it is.
At least it's never boring.
The road is used almost exclusively by bicycles, which is good as they don't lit the dust.
Unlike the cattle that's been lead to the fields int he early morning.
then it's up a ridge on very much abandoned road. It's very technical, and again the skid plate is put to good use.
Somewhat later, in my incredulous eyes, I cross a grader improving the road to Kamina. They've started a long time ago, and by the time they join up with the Kolwezi - Lubumbashi road it will be another 20 years at this pace. But it helps me get to Kamina in no time.
Kamina at some point was probably an important and nice-looking city. Now it's totally run down and barely functional. There are patches of tar in town, and funny enough some sedan cars: they probably have been brought here when the roads were still passable, nowadays they're stuck on a few kilometers of okay roads and cut off from the outside world.
I stop at the Hotel de la Gare for lunch; the hotel is still running, but I'm not sure I would like to stay there. On the other hand the meal I get is quite decent, they have electricity, and electricity = cold beer!
Some guys show up and ask them for petrol: they go out and come back with three 5-liters canisters at 2500 a liter; ouch! The problem with the oil pressure was still in my mind, I decide to stop at what looks like a garage to clean the air filter, that couldn't hurt. I also buy an annals for dinner and head off.
The facility is managed by a pastor, with whom I have some smalltalk about politics and how "the European will decide who will become president at next elections (?)". He's desperate about the state of the country, as are most people. He laughs at the pathetic efforts to improve the roads, and like man old men he actually regrets the time when the Belgians were making people work hard with the help of the "chicote" (the whip).
I buy a pineapple and some bananas, pass a police checkpoint where they forget to ask for my papers, and head off on a very bad road that wouldn't be out of place as the backdrop of a WWII movie.
There are no potholes anymore, they're now more like craters that could easily swallow a whole truck when they're filled with water and mud.
Fortunately there'salways a way around for 2-wheelers, no way the bicycles are going down and up again of all these holes.
Often I can still see the remains of the digging and the consolidating of the muddy road that used to be during the rainy season.
From the distance I spot from time to time a nice new GSM antenna. Inside the enclosure is always a small hut for the guard: it is supposed to watch after the generator, and probably deter those who would like to steal the diesel supply. Around it the locals are opening small shops selling recharge cards, and sometime a generator to recharge the phone batteries. Cell phone is the only thing that actually works in DRC (with breweries).
I stop for the night next to the road hidden by the trees. Some trucks pass by without seeing me, but in the middle of the night I'm woken up by a big noise: the railroad is just begins the bushes, I hadn't spotted it last night and lucky as I am the weekly train passes here tonight. Except for this, it's a very quiet night.
Day 4, 200 km
I leave early and have sand for breakfast. Quite filling I have to say.
In the morning I get moving on the same bad roads with occasionally the odd sandy part.
I pass a couple trucks that are stopped on the side of the road doing some mechanic. I don't stop as they start to yell at me a bit aggressively. Who knows, they may have been stuck here for days and running out of food and cash ?
The road is mostly used by bicycles. These are not your run-of-the-mill bicycle to get to the next village. They're used to haul goods on long distances. And we're talking 150 to 170 kg here. With that much weight, they don't sit on it very much: most of the time they're pushing it. They usually go in convoys of 5-12 bikes, most of the time with only 1 "biker/pusher", sometime with 2 "pushers".
I stop where they're having a break and ask about their trek: they're now 10 days on the road, and have another 5 days to go to Mbuji-Mayi their destination. They have 170kg of dried fish they intent to sell and make a small profit. They will come back empty in only 5-6 days.. amazing!
My next break is in a small town next to the railroad. I spot the train station, a small tin shack and go talk to the head of the station. It's only 11am but the guy's breath stinks alcohol. He tells me the next train to stop here will depart Lubumbashi in 3 days. How long to come here, I ask ? Normally 3 days, usually 4. Sometimes more, depending on the break-downs.. the guy is not going to work overtime.
They show me the way to Mwene Ditu, a narrow path that's totally unsuitable to trucks. So it's probably a bicycle shortcut, which is usually better because it is passable with heavy loaded 2-wheelers and not destroyed by trucks.
I will often follow the lead of the bicycles to find the better roads in the coming days. You really can't get lost: everybody's going to the next big city.
The last 20km are much better, but the sun is setting and I need a place to stay. The place is much more crowded and there's no way to bush camp quietly. I will have to stop for the night is a village, I pick a small one as I would then get a bit less attention. They point me to the next town where I could get some accommodation, and I have a hard time explaining them that I'd rather pitch my tent in their village than go to a hotel. I spot an empty building, except for some broken benches, and think I could crash in there. After enquiry it turns out to be the local church, so I prefer to stay outside, with the pigs and the chicken.
|07-19-2011, 03:02 AM||#130|
Joined: Apr 2010
DRC Xing, part 3
Day 5, 255 km
I start in the morning with the cyclists going to the market, some of them have packed live pigs on the back. Better not to fall off if they want to keep the meat fresh!
I stop in Mwene Ditu in a smart-looking wooden building for an early lunch / late breakfast and - you guessed it - a cold Skol. I takes a lot of time for them to cook something, enough for the DGM across the street to spot me. I tell the officer I'm eating, and promise to pay them a visit afterwards. He leaves me alone but waits outside next to my bike.
I have lost enough time in the restaurant, and think of giving them a miss, but after all they're only doing their job, and the guy wasn't hassling me, so I play nice and follow his lead to the office of the DGM. Fortunately, everything goes quickly and in no time I'm back no the road, without having even talked about a gift.
Surprisingly, the road to Mbuji Mayi is (pretty) good tar. It seems they have improved it to giver Mbuji Mayi, the largest city in the area, an easy access to the railroad. To enter the city one has to cross a bridge, a perfect place for a checkpoint. I'm stopped and have to give my particulars to the police and the DGM. While I'm waiting I see a cop beating the shit out of a guy with a whip. Nobody is surprised, it seems to be natural. In the city I buy 22l of fuel and immediately leave without giving time to the DGM to catch me. At the exit of the city, though, I'm stopped by a gate (again). The traffic police takes my particulars, and while I'm waiting I observe a few bikes coming through the gate and handing out 500 francs to get through. I think: hey, now I know the right price, they won't fool me. But after I get my documents back, the guy just opens the gate and I'm out without even being asked to pay. Sometimes their logic is just bizarre.
From then on, I hit some serious deep sand. Sometimes there's a narrow band that's hard packed which I can share with the bicycles.
At places years of erosion have dug an impressive trench that will be quite hard to fix when they get to surface the road.
After 62km of battling I'm spent, and need to rest.
My first try is next to a noisy cassava and corn mill. No way.
In the next village I spot a nice large and flat area, somewhat away from the rest of the village, with some grass. Perfect for camping. I enquire to a kid if I can stay here. He makes me wait for the head of school to come back, as it happens to be the school ground.
When he arrives, he allows me to pitch here. The kids are in holiday until mid-September, so the school is deserted. It's actually made of 6 simple building with a few benches in some of them. The director explains me that there are 642 children split into 6 different classes.. that's a lot of children for each teacher, no wonder they hardly speak French - although all classes are taught in French. There are also a dozen or so coffee plants around the yard, not nearly enough to make much money but I guess it's a start. The problem is that the prohibitive cost of transportation eats up almost all the profit they can make from selling the coffee beans.
It's not long before a crowd gathers to watch the White Man. As always, at start they remain somewhat away from my camp, but slowly the bolder ones move closer, and in 10 minutes, the crowd is now 2 meters away from me. And they're not just watching, they're commenting, joking, just chatting. That's what they would do anyway, but because of the attraction they all moved there, so instead of resting I'm feeling like sitting in the hall of a train station. I can camp for free, but often I would be happy to pay cash for some quietness. No so here, I have to take my mug and walk away in the bush to be able to rest. Fortunately, after some time the school director come back and send everybody home. I'm able to cook some rice in a almost privacy, admiring the lush and green landscape unfolding under the reddish sky.
Day 6, 29 km
Feeling rested, I leave and immediately fight hard to keep the rubber side down in the deep sand. Fortunately, after 2 or 3 hours I pass a catholic mission that has some rooms. It has been built in a very nice spot next to Mukamba Lake, a bit off the main road. I pick up a kid who leads me to the curious sight: an island of organization and efficiency in an ocean of dysfunctional and abandoned infrastructure.
I choose a cheap 15$/night room with bucket shower, and I'm offered an expensive but very welcome breakfast: coffee, tea, bread, jam, chocolate spread, etc… totally out of context, but very refreshing. After this late breakkie, I dip in the lake to wash off the dirt on me, then order a cold beer and peanuts for lunch. Not too shabby..
An afternoon of rest in the trip won't hurt anybody and I thoroughly enjoy walking around the lake and watch the local lay their nets, while the girl washes the dirt off (what remains of) my clothes.
Day 7, 161 km
I know that I'm just half-way through, but I'm well rested to tackle the rest of the deep sand to Kananga. Père Yves tells me it's about 3 1/2h by jeep, but for me it takes almost twice as long.
I crash a few times, the last time pretty stupidly going backward trying to negotiate a different route in a very steep stretch of badly worn-out tar.
The bike falls hard into a rut and bends the gear lever. That's when I realize that the sand has clogged the lock of my panniers and I can't get my toolbox out to fix the lever. Ouch. I should have thought of this before and close the lock with duct tape. I can still put it in 1st, though, so I limp to the next village, where i find a shovel with which I can unbend it enough to allow me to up-shift.
Kananga is very near, and the road is (used to be) tarred.
I stop next to a tyre-fixing business, because they have a compressor. With their help, and some oil, I'm able to free the lock and get my tools out, take the gear lever out and straighten it properly.
All of this in the middle of 50 very curious people. On of them has a camera (you know, without LCD screen, you have to slot in a fillm cartridge.. remember ?), so they all start to pose next to my bike.
All of this quickly makes its way to the DGM of course, but again the procedure goes quickly and painlessly. I fuel up with 14l and I'm back on the road.
The road has been recently graded, and though it's still soft sand there are little ruts so I can pick up speed and in 3rd gear at 60 km/h I make good, if stressful progress. When you're up to speed, the going is much easier, but you still have to work hard and there's no slowing down, it's "stand up, look up, open up" as the going say.
Unfortunately, the grading becomes less and less obvious and after 67 km, I'm back to zigzagging around the deep ruts and the speed is down to nothing.
At dusk I'm pretty wasted and can't handle the noise and stress of a night in a village, but the forrest is pretty thick and it's not easy to get out of the road. Eventually I find a short side track used during the road construction, wait until there's nobody in sight and go hide the bike in there: nice try but pathetic failure: only 5 minutes and people already show up. Some walk through the forrest to have a better look at me from behind the trees. I decide to ignore them and start to cook, it's still much less intrusive than when I'm inside the village. Some guys come to be and tell me out of staying in the forrest: wild animals, yeah right. It' s been a long time that the Congo jungle had been totally cleared of anything that might resemble bush meat, so it's totally deserted and safe. I don't even pitch my tent, I roll up in my sleeping bag and into my tarp and fall asleep, ignoring the call to "Missie".
Day 8: 146km
I wake up with the sleeping bag wet with the massive morning dew. I know I have another 200 km or so to Tshikapa, probably all in deep sand. I really struggle but keep advancing, the humidity helping by somewhat sticking the sand together.
I think of the bicycle pushers who have a still much harder time than me. Some have even removed the saddle, as there is no hope of pedalling in this mess.
I have made about 140km by the earl afternoon, when I'm feeling a bit tired and the going get harder. That's where the morale takes a hit.
I drop the bike a couple times, the last time under the eyes of some guy. The problem with riding alone is that it's pretty hard for me to pick up the bike alone when it's fully loaded. Fortunately the roads are almost always busy, and I generally get help from passers by. I would often reward the help I get with some change, even when they're not asking for it. It seems fair to me.
Not with this guy. I ask him for help, but he answers by asking for money first. This pisses me off badly, no way I'm making a deal with him. . I convince him to come and help me first, which he eventually does. Indeed he's helping so hard that he pushes the bike over and I can't catch it before it topples on the other side. I yell to him to stop and that frightens him so much he runs away, afraid that I would hold him responsible for this, I guess! Great, I'm back to square one.
Now some other guys have shown up on the road and look at me. I call them and they reply again by asking for money. This is getting on my nerves, so I throw away the baggages and pick it up myself. Problem is, it is now headed perpendicular to the road, deep inside a rut. I can't go forward and backward. I keep yelling at the locals who are sitting on their hand while I'm sweating profusely trying to move the bike around inch by inch. At the end they get also angry at me for yelling at them, so they come and help me out just so that I would get the hell out of there. So eventually I made them do what I wanted in the first place, but only after some shows of bad temper. I calm down, compose myself and give them some money, after all they're in need of it and maybe they'll learn that it doesn't pay to ask for money up front (maybe not). The cheer up and we part in better terms.
But by now I've lost almost all confidence I had left, and the one thing you need in sand is confidence. I've also lost some energy in the process. Shortly thereafter, I crash at speed in front of another guy. This one is much more friendly and he comes right away to help me. Now I've had enough. On top of everything I notice that one of the fork seal has failed and oil is leaking on the front caliper. The morale has taken a beating and I feel really weak.
I see a truck passing by, the road is very good for them, they chug along quite happily. That could alway be a fall-back solution if I can't progress on my own.
I ask the guy if there's a village nearby and he shows me the way to it. I arrive to a small compound of three huts that belong to him. I'm seriously thinking of spending the night here, but first I get out of my damp riding suit and cook some pasta. The guy is very interested, of course I share some of my pasta and sardines with him, which he seems to appreciate. He speaks a little French and tells me his daughter would like a can of sardines. How can I refuse ? she's very happy, I don't think they see much canned food around there. I brew some tea and share it with them, which they appreciate as well. I throw away the spent tea bagging the sand, but I will find it later hanging off the front door of the hut: what's expendable to me is precious to them.
By that time I see no reason to get back on the road. I ask the permission to sleep there and Patrice (the head of the house) immediately accepts. Another guy shows up who speaks very good French, Augustin. We chat a little and I rest, watching the women prepare the food: pondu (mashed cassava leaves) and palm nuts while the men do nothing. All this in a very quiet and relaxed atmosphere.
By the end of the afternoon, I ask Augustin to show me around the village. That seemed like a good idea, but it turned out pretty bad: I quickly become surrounded by a lot of people who all required personal attention. First off was a stop at the local firewater dealer. They don't have beer here, too expensive, they distillate a mais/cassava mix that tastes pretty bad. I try not to get involved in a drinking party because those affairs often end up pretty bad, so I pretend I don't drink but pay a round anyway.
Later I'm met with great enthusiasm by a guy speaking in English with an accent that reminds me of Borat:
"Who is he ?" goes the first one
me: "uh ?"
"Who is he ?" he asks again
me: "pardon me ?"
Augustin (in French): "he wants to know your name" … it turns out he's the school's English teacher, and I can hardly understand him. He speaks much better French but he prefers English and keeps talking to me like Borat. He's very excited and very annoying. He wants to come to have dinner with me, then to go to the market tomorrow with me, etc.. I can't shrug it off, when we're met by the village chief. He greets me in a friendly manner, but wants me to visit his house and have dinner with him. By that time there's a crowd gathering around me and several people talky o me at the same time.
I hang to Augustin like a lifeline and asks him to get back to the house. Not without stopping at his father's house. The old man looks like he's 70, but he's' only 50 something. He offers me bananas, which a mark of respect. He asks me what I'm eating, that they can cook some rice for me if I want. I answer that I'd be okay with foufou, which they find pretty funny: they were sure that the White man's diet couldn't accommodate their poor cassava paste. Eventually we make it back to the house int he dark, and I can lay my mattress on the floor of one of the huts, sharing the room with Augustin and two of the boys.
Day 9: 60 km
The next morning I head off without visiting the market, I can't handle the crowd at that point, and I'm eager to make some progress towards Tshikapa, in the deep sand that I know lay ahead. I give Patrice a few thousand francs which he gladly accepts, but at no point has he asked or suggested I would owe him something. Totally different attitude from the dudes of yesterday.
The progress is very slow and I stop very often, chatting with the show owners and the bicycle pushers. I try to follow their small tracks to avoid the huge ruts of the road. I end up getting lost in the suburbs of Tshikapa, without a clue how to get to the center and what I would hope might be a hard-packed road. Actually, the whole town is deep in sand, there's nowhere I can move without a huge effort from me and the bike revving up in 1st gear. I even get stuck twice, needing help from the locals to push me out. Some biker on a 125cc shows me an alternative road through small lanes with a bit better sand, but still very painful. The bike is just too heavy, period.
I finally reach a big church, by which time I very desperate and in dire need of rest and food. The food I get from the pastor of the church. He leaves the service (it's Sunday) to get me to a small house where a woman serves us foufou and a can of what smells like dog food. It's good to sit down and eat something, but my morale hits a new low.
The second big drawback in riding solo, is that when the going gets tough, one can count only from his own will to keep going. Now I can't gather the mental energy to keep fighting the road. If course I would like to do the whole trip on my own without any help, but frankly I couldn't care less about bragging rights, I only ride here because it's fun and when it's no fun anymore I have no problem to find an alternative.
I ask the pastor where I can find a truck to load the bike. He tries to persuade me that I can keep going easily, but I know he doesn't know what he's talking about. Finally, he asks a boy to show me the way to the "parking", where the trucks load up before leaving. I can't take him on the bike as it will just sink it down faster, so he runs in front of me for 10 minutes or so.
There are a few trucks waiting to take the road to Kikwit, from which the road is tarred all the way to Kinshasa. That could be the light at then end of the tunnel. Or will it be ?
|07-19-2011, 06:23 AM||#131|
In Western NC
Joined: Apr 2006
Location: Western NC
Sounds tough...keep writin'.
My TAT trip will hopefully bring more attention to the need for more Cancer Research! Please go to http://www.gofundme.com/bxkt74 and check it out! No money goes to me or family, all to cancer research! Please donate at the location!!! Thanks!
|07-19-2011, 04:31 PM||#133|
Joined: Mar 2009
Location: St Louis MO
Having spent several years living and riding in West African you are bring back memories. As they say in Liberia
"The struggle continues !"
|07-20-2011, 10:57 PM||#134|
Joined: Jun 2005
Location: Eastern Cape, South Africa
Most excellent L. I am enjoying this, it looks like damn hard work.
If it makes you happy, how can it be that bad?
Transkei dual sport trip**Am I the Camel Man?**Goat meat, good friends & riverbeds**Mozmalzambots, a Southern African loop**Angola, it's not like they said**Niassa, Chucky Norris and John The Baptist**Namaqualand and three girls (by Michnus)**The Wife, the Ex and the Kid**Zambian Joyride
|07-21-2011, 09:29 AM||#135|
Joined: Apr 2010
DRC Xing part 3: The Machine
So there's this truck "parked" there, that is, just stopped in the middle of the sand. It looks decent enough: a Mercedes 2628 6x6, an African workhorse. It's currently empty, so it shouldn't be a problem to load the bike. It's going to Kikwit to load 25'000 liters of diesel to bring back here, and for the onward leg it will take only passengers. The owner is very keen on making a few extra bucks so we start to talk. He's not a big haggler, so after some early ridiculous price we quickly settle on what I think is a fair price for 250 km or so (the distance I estimate to the start of the tar).
The bike is quickly loaded with the help of half a dozen helpers and fastened to the side walls with ropes soaked in diesel. I make sure it is secure, I know the ride will be very bumpy - to say the least. The guy tries to sell me a seat in the cab, but I refuse, I prefer to keep a look on my stuff, and also get a first-hand experience of how most people here travel. Of course, a few times later on I will tend to regret this decision..
It's not entirely clear when it will leave, (tonight), or when it will arrive (tomorrow late at night). This being Africa it could be anytime, but I don't really care: there's a terrace across the street with cold - if a bit expensive - Primus. At last I can relax.
Around 4 PM they start to load people. A guy with a piece of paper has written down 10 names, but there are already at least 50 people inside. Wahatever. I join them a bit later and sit on my bike as the floor is already taken by what I estimate are 50 women and children, plus many babies clinging to their arms. It seems to be the rule that the women and kids sit in the cargo bay, whereas the men ride on the roof steel bars. Altogether, that's probably 80-90 people that will make the journey.
I befriend a wealthy man at the terrace, a diamond dealer with has married 4 wives and had 13 kids. He bought a seat in the cab, but he will be sorry disappointed when he will have to share the cab with 5 other people (plus the driver). Not exactly business class.
It's not like they load passengers when they're ready to leave. We're waiting there patiently until 11 PM when the engine starts. We make a first stage of 52 meters (by my GPS) until we stop and the mechanic goes in the engine. An hour later we start again, only to get stuck in deep sand 300m later. Finally, after many stops and difficult restarts we stop at 1:30 AM in the middle of the bush to overnight. I get my sleeping back out and crash on the sand like all other guys. We've made a grand 8 km so far, 9 1/2 hours after we've boarded. This could be a long trip..
At 7:30 AM we leave again, only to stop 1 km later in a small village to do some mechanic. The truck is stopped dead in the middle of the deep ruts, so when another overloaded truck comes in the opposite direction, it can only wait until we clear the road. It happens to be a problem with the leaf suspension. How the driver missed it before leaving Tshikapa escapes me.
They strap a big piece of wood between the frame and the suspension, therefore pretty much blocking it. 2h later we finally leave but the Mercedes V8 has trouble starting up. We drive some 12 km until 1 PM when we stop and let the engine cool down. The mechanics also build a new fuel line and fiddle some more on the engine.
Meanwhile somebody has found a plastic bag with dirty rags in the cargo bay. They bring it out and start to go over each item. There are also some photos. People think it's the stuff of some dead person who bring bad luck to the truck. They bring everybody out and around the pile of garbage and asks who it belongs to. Nobody answers, so they douse it with diesel and burn it. Supposedly everything will go smoother afterwards.
I start to get some food from the nearby village, mainly some bananas. I also eat some peanuts and biltong I had brought over from Zambia. I share some peanuts with my neighbors but most don't eat anything. I had brought 3 liters of drinking water so I should be OK.
My fellow travelers are pretty friendly and mostly leave me alone. There are almost no begging, they probably realize that if I'm not riding in the cab, much less flying, then I'm one of them and don't have much money to share. The mood changes from joyful signing to pretty nasty bouts of fighting. Guys, don't mess with African women they can kick your ass pretty bad.
At 4 PM with finally leave, make 36 km until 9 PM, then another break of 2h, another 13 km, another break of 2h, etc.. Sometimes we stop because we're stuck in sand, sometimes the engine wouldn't start and the cab is lifted forward for the mechanics to get their hands dirty. What did I say about the Mercedes being so reliable ? well, it depends on the maintenance I guess.
We drive the whole night until shortly before dawn when we stop at Luengo, before the "pont du cinquentenaire". For some reason we have to stop. A few black SUVs are stopped here, waiting for the President to arrive and to drive back to Kinshasa. With my friend the diamond dealer we go have some breakfast, which means I get spotted by the DGM.
I follow them and some brain-dead guys starts to painstakingly write down on a blank pice of papers my personals: name occupation, dates of passport and visa, etc.. it takes the best part of 1/2 hour to write down this, letter by letter, and going several times over all the pages of my passport. This, I guess, is when many people lose patience and start to be aggressive, and that's what may cause some difficulties with the officials. I merely wait, until a higher official comes and gets angry at the guy for his incompetence. He finishes the job in no time and I'm back at the truck.
Meanwhile I think about my options, and how bad the trip with the truck so far has been. Of course it has saved me about 120km or so of bad sand, but I'm fed up with it. Not only is the ride extremely uncomfortable, but there is no certainty on how long it will still last. One has to keep in mind that this is actually the only means of transportation for most people. And we're in 21st century, in a country that's extremely rich in resources. That's quite shocking.
The road after the bridge is supposed to be better, so I decide to get the bike out and leave my fellow passengers in their misery. I'm stopped again twice right after I leave, and immediately hit some pretty bad sand. There are 31 km to Kilembe which I do in 2 1/2 hours, and stop while to have lunch (yeah, foufou, what else ?). I thought the road would improve from there, but it doesn't. I do another 50 km or so until a village where I ask for directions. I don't see any bicycles anymore, which means I've probably missed a shortcut.
But I do see the remains of a truck that was apparently wrecked beyond repair. The guys have dug under the front to remove the engine and the front axle, leaving the rest as is.
There are also several abandoned grading machines.
I guess they didn't maintain them, ran out of spare parts, took some to save others and eventually all of them were out of duty and the maintenance on the road stopped.
A nice guy shows up and writes down for me the names of the villages I have to cross until the famous "Km 622", which marks the start of the tar. He shows me to a wide, sandy but nicely graded road which allows me to pick up speed. The road is not recent but still in excellent shape du to the fact that the trucks can't use it: there are some narrow bridges that only bikes can take.
It's a much better road than the rutted mess that the trucks use, and although it's a longer detour I make good progress and the morale is high. I don't make it to the tar though, the sun is low and I'm exhausted: I've ridden the whole day after having slept only 1h the night before. I stop in an abandoned building, cook some pasta and crash in my sleeping bag without even bothering to pitch my tent. Fortunately, there are no mosquitoes and I have a good 12 hours night of sleep.
The next morning I'm fully rested and very keen on getting it over with. From my reckoning there should be 22km left until "Km 622". In fact it will be the double.
First it's riding on the narrow side of the road where the sand is harder.
The tricky part is going down on soft sand and back again on the other side of the road where the track continues.
Some have a much harder time than me: when the cylinder head is out in the sand, you know it' s going to be a long time before you can start again - if ever.
Then I find very acceptable bicycle tracks where the going is much easier.
At some points if becomes even enjoyable. Life's good.
Finally I hit a road construction where graders are busy upgrading the road.
Actually, it's not the main highway that they're continuing in direction to Tshikapa, it's a side road that leads to the prime minister's home village..! Useless for the country fo course, but for me that spells the end of my adventure.
I stop a bit to enjoy the moment, and help a kid fixing a puncture on his bike.
He doesn't have any patches, so he's cutting up pieces from the sole of his flip-flops to glue on the inner tube. I help him out with a patch from my kit, and leave him another 3 for the next time - which I'm sure will be soon given the sorry state of the inner tube and the tyre. Solidarity of the 2-wheelers in Congo at play.
The new gravel leads me to the tar, and as I reach the police check point, I hear a cop greeting me with "Bonjour Mr. Laurent" !!? what the hell ? in fact, the guy was a passenger of the same truck. I expected the truck to have already passed here yesterday, but he tells me that they ran out of fuel not far from here, and they've sent a guy to fetch diesel in the next town. Meanwhile, the women have run out of food and the kids are hungry so they're pooling their remaining money to try and buy some food for the kids at least. Boy, I'm glad I got out of this truck from hell!
Unfortunately they don't have beer, so it will have to wait until Kikwit, about 100 km away. The road is almost deserted, except for a couple trucks and a few cars overloaded with tons of crap. I open up and reach 80, 100.. 5th gear, wow! Wait, there's a 6th, yeah that's right: 140 ! yeah baby, life is good, but I have to calm down a bit, that's typically when you relax that shit happens.
The stop in Kikwit allows to fuel up (from plastic containers, the only fuel station serves only diesel) and cool down with a Primus. I leave shortly after noon intending to ride the 500 km to Kinshasa before night. The roads are very good and with little traffic so I reach the outskirts of Kin before sunset.
After 12 days in the middle of nowhere I have a shock as I get stuck in the humongous traffic jams of this mega-city. It takes me a good hour to ply the last 2-3 km to get inside the city. I'm all sweaty and filthy and I'm picturing the hour-long shower that I'm going to have when I reach the Mission St-Anne. I usually wouldn't take a 40$/night hotel room but now I feel I deserve it.
It was written that I would have to rough it a little more: Père Théo greets me very kindly but he tells me they have started to refurbish half the building, and there are no free rooms. But I can pitch my tent on the lawn, and have a bucket of water to wash. Good enough for me, especially since, although this is a catholic mission, they have a bar with ice-cold beers. And free WiFi !
(Sorry no pics for the rest, I deleted them accidentally.. ).
The next couple days I spend recovering from the crossing and relaxing a bit. Kin is a big and dirty and messy city that's not very interesting. The next day I pack my stuff and leave early for the ferry
crossing. The car ferry isn't running due to the low water level of the Congo, but this one is use mostly for goods and passengers. I arrive at the "Beach" at 9AM in a very busy area. Lots of people waiting, big piles of bags and crates waiting to be loaded, lots of police/customs/immigration officials
walking around. I have to reluctantly leave the bike alone behind the gates while I get over the paperwork. I give my passport to a DGM guy, my carnet to a customs guy and ask another to get me the price for the ticket. And I wait, wondering if I will ever get back my passport and my carnet.. After 1h I get the carnet stamped out, then 1h later a quote for the bike transfer scribbled on a pice of paper. It's way too much, but the guy is not interested in discussing. I have to let the ferry leave and wait more, until the shipping guy comes back, this time he's willing to discuss. He can see that I'm in no rush and will not accept anything. We go to his office and start the haggling. Finally we agree on 40$, which seems acceptable, if probably much more than what the locals are paying.
I find the guy who took my passport and tells him I have the ticket: he hand me out my passport, stamped out all right, and with a big smile. It's not more difficult than this.. I had pictured something really bad from the reports of other overlanders but it's actually quite all right. I'm not in Congo yet, though, as 2 other boats leave before mine arrives. There is some kind of organization in place, the cops keep the dockers at bay with insults and liberal use of the "chicote". I'm put in the front row, and when the boat is half-emptied an official shows me the way down the pier to where I can park the bike, I can ride the bike all the way to it's dead easy. Then they open the gate to the dockers and they proceed to surround by bike and all the floor space with tons of bags of all kind, rushing like mad in a totally chaotic way. The shipping seems to be manages by a buck of cripples who shout order to the load-bearers and crawling around the boat by pulling themselves with their hands.
It's takes a bit more than 1/2 h to cross the river and dock on the Brazzaville side. It's getting dark now, and it looks as if the day is far from over, as this side of the river is very different: the bank is very steep and there is only a very narrow stair to stops a meter or so above the boat. The madness resumes as everybody tries to get the goods out as quickly as possible: lots of shouting, tossing bags around, scrambling on the slippery bank, all under the eyes of a couple cops who are trying to keep things more or less under control. What took 1/2h to load looks like it will take 2-3 hours to unload and I'm worried about not making it before the immigration office closes down.
I'm eve more worried on how to get a 250kg bike out on the steep stairs in the middle of this mad house, and without breaking or losing anything. I had discussed the need for help with some of the guys, and 5 or 6 of them proceed to lift the bike out of the boat and get it up the bank centimeter by centimeter. To make this possible I had to unload the baggages off the bike, so now I have to follow the progress of the bike loading while at the same time haul the baggage around and deal with some bad-tempered immigration official who snatches my passport.
After 20 hectic minutes I find myself next to my bike and all my baggers, except for my missing gloves, which isn't too bad given the mess it was. I have a last argument with the helpers who imagined I would give them 200 euros for this. I give them my remaining Congo francs, 12$ or so in total, all the while complaining that this is nothing. I ignore them and leave my money behind before things get too angry. The passport had made his way somehow to the immigration secretariat 300m away. Amazingly I find it exactly where I was told it would be. I fill out the form and get stamped in in no time at all. I even get my pen back, sorry guys, I have a rule of not handing out gifts to border officials.
Entering Brazzavile is like another world from Kin. It's much smaller, but also a lot less messy and busy, it looks almost orderly after the DRC. I have no trouble finding the Hippocampe hotel, whose owner, Olivier, kindly allows overlanders to stay for free. I get to lay my mattress and mosquito net in an unused room. Shortly after I've arrived, I have the surprise to see Margus and Karina show up: they've been given a lot of trouble at the DRC border from Angola, and had to take a boat to avoid the country and get to Congo.
At the end of the day, I'm very happy that I didn't go to Angola, the crossing of DRC was an unforgettable adventure. Beforehand I was a bit worried that it would be too difficult for me, especially alone and overloaded. Indeed it was the most difficult 12 days I've had so far. It's probably one of the toughest road you can ride, together with the road of bones. There are many other roads that are more challenging than this, but they are usually shorter. What makes this stand apart is that it's 2000 km of almost continuous challenge. Also what make this special, is that unlike Siberia of Mongolia it's crowded: seeing these million of people being literally cut off from the outside world and left to their misery without any sign of things improving is heart-breaking. Something is really wrong in this country.
No, I didn't make it all the way on my own as I have taken this truck but I don't regret it one minute, it was truly a unique experience. If you're on 2-wheels, during the dry season, have plenty of time in front of you and don't mind having it tough, by all means get into DRC: you'll have the adventure of a lifetime. If they allow you in, that is, as recently some borders have implemented a policy of rejecting people who didn't get a visa in their own country.
If it's rainy it would a totally different story, and as it rains 9 to 10 months in the year, the window is pretty narrow.
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