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Old 07-21-2011, 09:29 AM   #136
Asianrider OP
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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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Old 07-21-2011, 10:24 AM   #137
michnus
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farking hell what an adventure, keep it coming

did you had difficulty getting petrol?

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Old 07-23-2011, 12:58 AM   #138
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Thumb Tour d'Afrique

Hi Laurent,

I'm thrilled by following your report and the magnificent pics of your travel. I've lived there some years ago and I must say that after all the "revolutions" and civil wars nothing changed in this country. On the contrary: it's even more difficult than before. In the annexe I have you a pic of Kinshasa "la belle" from the years 1990.
I wish you a perfect continuation of your adventure trip.
Good ride, Nelliedriver.

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Old 07-25-2011, 06:18 PM   #139
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Fantastic Laurent! Congrats on making the Lubumbashi run, and in just 12 days.
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Old 07-25-2011, 10:46 PM   #140
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great pics and report!
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Old 07-29-2011, 03:36 AM   #141
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Must i remind you that we are all checking in hourly on your thread? :)
Keep riding!
All the best,
Mihai
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Old 07-29-2011, 11:57 AM   #142
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Interesting report!
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Old 07-29-2011, 07:36 PM   #143
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seem a good trip, when get to Eastern Cape, South Africa, come to Policlinic pharmacy and ask were I am ,Might be around and come and stay over, may ride with you to Cape town, Good Luck, be carefull in Mozambique, Kobus
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Old 07-29-2011, 07:38 PM   #144
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Laurent, Eastern Cape town Jeffreys Bay
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Old 08-01-2011, 09:57 AM   #145
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Quote:
Originally Posted by michnus View Post
farking hell what an adventure, keep it coming

did you had difficulty getting petrol?

Actually, petrol isn't an issue: they're selling it in 5l- or 1l-plastic cannister in most cities. Actual capacity of said cannister and quality of fuel may vary.. but the Rotax engine didn't mind.
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Old 08-02-2011, 10:23 AM   #146
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Originally Posted by metaljockey View Post
Most excellent L. I am enjoying this, it looks like damn hard work.
MJ,
yup, it was a lot of sweating.. but writing this in a cyber cafe / hole-in-a-wall on a 60 Mhz Pentium with 128 MB of RAM, a 1200-baud "high speed" connection, configured for the funky French keyboard layout, but with an English keyboard, now this is hard!

As somebody said is another well-known RR: DRC, it's not like they said
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Old 08-02-2011, 01:27 PM   #147
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You going to post or just sit and drink more beer ?

waiting for more
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Old 08-11-2011, 03:10 AM   #148
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Originally Posted by michnus View Post
You going to post or just sit and drink more beer ?

waiting for more
Actually, I've stored the bike in Douala until the end of the wet season and I've just flown back to France for a couple months of R&R . Of all things, I've chosen Royal Air Marco, and they don't serve beer! ouch, that was a long flight.

As a side note, Cameroon is one of the first (non-muslim) country I've crossed that doesn't have their own brand of beer. Castel, Mützig, 33 Export, etc.. boring!
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Old 08-13-2011, 07:13 PM   #149
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Nice

Asianrider,
I just read your entire RR and I must say it's quite good. I really love the pics and you have a great attitude traveling thru Africa as it can be a real test of ones patience. Look foward to your next leg.
Take care
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Old 09-29-2011, 12:24 PM   #150
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Any news Laurent, hope everything is ok
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