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Congo & Congo – Heart of Darkness??

Left Franceville,Gabon,but not before a grumpy police woman stopped us at a checkpoint,asking questions, wanting all our details, and some,which held us up somewhat michael got fed up after requests for vests, red triangles etc and isisted she do the same to all cars passing so she let us go.

 We visited the supermarche before we left and had been quite horrified (and amused) to see a giant rat run from one stack of shelves to the next! fresh meat – he will be on the rack smoked before too long!!

 

yes Meely - Giant Pawpaw - yummy!!!


Stopped at the spectacular red canyon at Lekoni ,sadly huge black clouds were looming and it was quite hazy,so the photo’s don’t do it justice,but we had lunch anyway, admiring the view, just as we set off for the Congo border,the heavens opened and we crossed over in torrential rain.

Immediately onto the sandy tracks,we’d heard about and although quite deep in parts, we managed ok without getting stuck, we had lowered the tyre pressures,just to help things a little,but we did have a full 120 litre tank of water and fuel on board,so the old beast coped pretty well,all things considered.

The scenery here was not what we were expecting and a complete contrast from Gabon,just miles of savannah,nothing here except the occasional little village, consisting of small tin huts and genuinely friendly,smiley people ,with a few pigs and goats on their land. We had been expecting it to be more jungly.

We wild camped once more in beautiful,peaceful surroundings,but as always,just when you think you are miles from anywhere,somebody pops up out of nowhere although they don’t seem to mind too much and usually stop for a chat of sorts!(no cars along these tracks though, just the odd motorbike)

Our House its a very nice house in the country etc etc etc - sing along at the back

The radiator has sprung another leak next rows up above last repairs and we drove another 200 miles to Brazzaville,topping up the radiator every 30 miles or so (luckily we had the huge tank of spare water on board or else we’d have been in big trouble)

Breathed a sigh of relief when we reached Brazzaville,We have to tackle the Angolan visa problem and may have to DHL our passports back to the UK in the hopes they can issue a visa,either way ,having hoped we could get through the Congo’s pronto,it seems we might be here for some time…..watch this space. Currently camping in Hotel Hippocampe car park ! This is a hotel which is run by Olivier and his wife who once did a lot of travelling by bicycle and provides free camping showers etc as a result. A complete oasis in the Congo and extremely generous of them . Excellent Vietnamese/ asian food as well.

Have met some other overlanders here, Luke and Shell who are touring Africa as part of a belated honeymoon,also having visa problems, so we are not alone. As is the way with these things we had been stalking their website and vice versa and had exchanged e mails info en route so nice to meet in the flesh.

Overlanders about to leave for DRC - note forced grins!!!

Time has moved on now and we are still in Brazzaville,in the Angolan embassy trying desperately to get visa’s,the lady dealing with such matters has not arrived for work yet ,so we have been waiting for approx 2 hours (which is why I’m doing a bit of blogging and slowly going mad!)

We must continue to be very patient otherwise we wont get anywhere. It’s all very complicated as our Congo and DRC visas run out at the w/e,so these too will have to be extended and if this isn’t bad enough,we are also waiting for a new radiator for the Blue beast and may have to cross the mighty Congo by ferry to Kinshasa to get it fitted….oh joy,this crossing is notoriously bad ( Understatement) for aggravation,bribes and generally only sailing when the captain feels like it !! i.e you have paid him what he wants.

On a brighter note we had a delicious Indian meal the other night that would have put The Spice Bazaar to shame and watched England beat Ukraine 1-0 at the same time! They love football here and many of them support English teams,it all seemed rather surreal though, to be happening whilst in The Congo.

Having failed to get our Angolan visa’s in Brazzaville, we have continued on to Kinshasa in DRC crossing the mighty Congo by another ferry at Luozi about 150 k east of Kinshasa as the 3 of us have decided that’s the best route especially as the others have their Angolan visas ( via UK) and it places them within easy reach of Angolan border.

Found a nice hotel in middle of nowhere – nothing marked on T4A – excellent Franglais by Michael ( he says) resulted in camping for all 3 plus surprisingly the best loo’s so far in Africa the girls said. Strange place Africa.

The next day we travelled 88 miles in approx 8 hrs, 40 of which were in first hour so very slow. Road conditions very hard, huge gully’s, generally washed out and extremely lumpy, we used 1st&2nd low ratio gears for about half the distance, as there was 3 of us it was fun to compare notes seeing what car handled which obstacle the easiest and seeing wheels waving in the air etc. Trickier for us with radiator problem.

Not good!

 

Or any better

Also another traveller,(on a bike) we had met at Brazzaville, who had got fed up with trying to get visas for DRC and Angola had decided to try his luck and just go for it – we met him at Congo/DRC border being deported after a night in jail. Problem was that immigration officers were then concerned about some mass violation so we suffered lots of checks etc afterwards as a result.

Had one idiot who demanded$10 each for a copy of a form and our passports who was flummoxed when we all produced copies and offered to fill in the form again. His boss realised the scam had failed but he still kept trying for his money – idiot – we all walked out

Reached Luozi in the evening and camped at another catholic mission,in fact right next to a shed full of goats who coughed badly all night, then up at 6:00 am for the ferry.It only takes two vehicles at a time,but what seems like masses of foot passengers,having waited in line since 7:00 am we finally got on at around 11:00am

The next 50kms after the ferry were again unbearably slow ,especially as we had to keep topping up the radiator several times in first few miles as leaks had got worse. Michael decided it was time for drastic measures as we were miles from kinshasa ( 250k) and salvation, so he attacked the radiator with a pair of pliers crimping off poor sections and the result (as it transpired) was perfect not a drop leaked all the way to Kinshasa. The landrover gods were on our side!! The road was dreadful once again,we also had a university student sitting in the back seat on top of all our boxes,which added to the fun and games.

Bit hilly but not what we expected - rainforest is the next bit inland

It actually took us 3 days to get to Kinshasa which is only a mile across the Congo from where we started. Having parted with the others at the Luozi ferry we were on our own and found the appalling reputation of the DRC to be completely unwarranted, Police were friendly and waved us through most checks, there was one half hearted attempt to request a hi vis vest but that was it. Most other countries we have been through have been far more hassle.

Smiley happy people etc - keep singing at the back - amazing what people will do for a photo

 

 

We had one run in with a tourism official who after being stopped by immigration – again – tried to get Michael to pay a special tax to visit Kinshasa. He was told to bugger off and Michael said he was to call his Chef if he wanted but that he was leaving and that was the end of that. It seems to us the previous scams now don’t work as the use of mobiles means the previous isolation and the authority obtained by that has gone. Only the idiots now persist in trying.

Kinshasa also not like its painted in the lonely planet guide description which is totally unrealistic, not the worlds most attractive city but no worse than many African cities and arguably better than some. Expensive yes with everything imported and only a few hotels but plenty (well enough) restaurants including an Italian one called Limoncello which would not be out of place anywhere in Europe. Watched the England/ Italy game here, in the lions den so to speak with the inevitable disastrous result.

Sorted out DRC visa, tried again at Angolan Embassy for transit visa which they offer at all Embassy’s but again were told no!!. Angolan catch 22 – offer a visa (which they acknowledge is useless) in that you can not travel from Europe in the 60 days allowed, also an alternative transit visa which is not issued at all if requested?? So applications gone off by DHL back to London. Fingers crossed.

We’ve found the proper Landrover Garage here which has a good reputation and certainly seemed to know their stuff,which will give our resident bush mechanic (Michael) a well earned rest. Getting the head checked after last head gasket failure in case it has warped, new radiator, fitting proper bolts to calliper so that it stops dropping off and a few other bits of repair which are needed after 13000miles of very hard/ bad roads.

Something tells me we could be here a while so sitting back to wait!! Obviously not best position in what is arguably the least desirable city in Africa in least desirable country but we have no choice.

 

 

Gabon

Left Yaounde and headed for Gabon border,drove 200 miles on a good tarmac road, although at times it poured with rain, along the way many people were selling bushmeat on the roadside,mainly consisting of large rodents,and hornbills, lots of roadblocks too but nothing serious, when we finally crossed into Gabon almost immediately you felt as if you were in France. Neat little villages with trimmed verges for miles rather strangely and generally very well kept, all much like a theme park as at the verge edge the rainforest began. Its very odd given the untamed nature of the country as a whole it’s virtually all jungle and with a tiny population of just over a million. We even saw a guy up a ladder clipping back ferns of a roadside cutting which would make suburban gardens in UK look scruffy in comparison. Once more the people were friendly and smiled and waved, it was getting late and we were exhausted so we checked into a small hotel,as they didn’t seem to understand the concept of “camping” so we had to take a room,but as it turned out to be full of mosquito’s and had no running water,we would have been much better off in our tent.

Set off from Bitam early, driving nearly another 200 miles to Reserve de Lope- a national park.on the way we crossed the equator, it was a beautiful drive,much of it along the banks of the River Ogooue which is huge and very fast flowing.

Centre of the earth

River Ogooue - miles from coast - its huge!!

 

The drive to the park was mainly rainforest to start with and then you popped out into savannah – very odd and it is claimed unique, but very attractive with hills and forested valleys.corrugations a plenty,so shaken to pieces once more and then had a minor incident involving The Blue beast,a pick up laden with bananas a ditch and 2 drivers who both thought they were on the right side of the road , I’ll say no more!

Lope NP - savannah above rainforest - Odd indeed

We hadn’t gone much further when the brakes failed on the Blue beast,so we slowly,with handbrake acting as the brakes made it to a wild camping spot outside Lope national park. Bolts had come out of rear calliper -strangely extremely difficult to undo when you have to, this then swung round shearing brake pipe. Again found local mechanic who after much searching found 2 bolts and we managed to reform brake pipe. While this was going on Emma was watching an elephant in bush next door

Took a tour around the park – the savannah bit, saw forest buffalo, elephants and sitatunga (antelope). The tour finish at a high point where you looked over rainforest to the south which extends to Congo border to south and beyond –a huge area with no roads or people.

bit pointless - you can see them

Whilst in Gabon, we have spent a couple of nights camping at Catholic missions, one night in the grounds of a Health clinic,and wild camping on the beach.

Surprisingly quick and very smelly - rescued from road

 

Had a great time on the beach at Mayumba in the south of Gabon,although it wasn’t quite the palm fringed,whale spouting ,turtle spotting place we’d been led to believe and the waves were so large and of the“ I’m going to dump you” variety, that it wasn’t easy to have a relaxing swim,but we did have a big fire on the beach one night and Michael and Brett decided we should go exploring further along the coastline,which was going nicely until we nearly got stuck in very soft sandy tracks and had to turn back,it was also getting unbearably hot,so not the best idea really.

Landy OK here but the Toyota struggled a bit even with tyres right down decided to turn round

Continued our journey from Mayumba to Lebamba and finally arrived here in Franceville absolutely exhausted after a very long few days of dusty ,hilly and winding roads through jungle with no real means of communication(Emily-sat-nav has totally lost the plot) and not much in the way of washing facilities, although we have Michael’s makeshift shower arrangement we can’t afford to use too much water,plus all the insects like to feed on you at dusk,

Bit dusty for miles and miles

The result - and persil does not shift it!!

We kept seeing army ants in black lines crossing the track, Brett got out to photograph them – we stayed in the car, he had no shoes on and the scout ants to the side of main column immediately attacked – giving rise to a hopping, slapping retreat !

We spent one funny night in the tiny village of Mouela where the local people kindly let us spend the night on their land as it was getting dark and we were tired with driving through endless miles of rainforest on some fairly dodgy roads ,they seemed to find us most entertaining as we heated up our last tin of Heinz baked beans on the stove and set up the roof tent,in fact I think the entire village had surrounded us by nightfall,never had there been such excitement on a Sunday evening,especially when Michael produced a can of chilled beer for the Chief and a coke for his wife !! We left at dawn the next morning just as the crowds had started to appear for a second viewing !

Good road sign nothing much else including road in middle of Gabon forest

Had an encounter with an extremely stupid Inspector Clouseau policeman as we passed through one small town which involved him checking our papers – all OK then he proceeded to ask the most stupid questions for an hour!! –

Are you married? – Yes Emma is my wife. Is Emma married? – yes to me obviously. Etc etc

What is your name? – Rutter -what is your fathers name – Well Rutter as well surprise surprise

This is a big problem tres difficile etc – Michael – No its not actually we have been through loads of checks – response – Ohh!

Aha you say you are friends but one of you lives in SA the other in England – this is impossible!! Michael – no we met on the road in Gambia -response – Ohh!

 

Needless to say when we arrived at this reasonably smart hotel,caked in several days worth of filth,I’m sure reception wanted to shout they were full, however they kindly let us have a room with a shower which took 3 goes to get rid of the orange and I’m not proud of the state of their towels. They also have the pleasure of our best dirty clothes in their laundry and not of the kind they are used to I’m afraid ! (it cost’s a bomb to do laundry at hotels here, Michael is getting very cross with me and say’s I’m shirking my responsibilities……… I reply, I know !!)

Starting to feel quite human again having been treated to a lovely meal (Antelope for Michael and fish for me) last night by a nice man called Pascalle and an English couple who live and work in Gabon,this was followed by a good sleep in a proper bed…….soooo nice !!

Need to catch up today on emails,skyping girls and yes we might even attempt to get up some photo’s, we have literally hundreds,but uploading them takes forever and we shall be moving on in the morning,so all will depend on the connection and our I.T . skills !

Next stop will be Brazzaville,then tackling the Congo’s(sandy tracks I believe) we also have the joy of getting our Angolan visa’s,which they are not currently happy to issue, it’s a complete nightmare ,especially as we only want a transit for 5 days and not a tourist one, the plan is to arrive at the border and plead, some overlanders who are in Brazzaville right now have said the uk Angolan embassy okayed it when they sent their details home,but Brazzaville still wont budge,so we could be in for some fun once more. (will keep you posted) also will probably be out of range whilst dealing with the Congo’s for the next few days,but will contact family asap.

Near Congo border to South - this is what much of Gabon looks like - Jungle - loin cloths anyone?