Monday, 28 March 2016

DRC

Well the start of DRC left us feeling rather frustrated and fed up! Unlike the rest of the travellers who have known to cross the DRC (now about 3), they have all taken a route between Brazzaville and Dolise. Having spoken to locals in the week we spent at Dolise they all told us there was a crossing near to there so we would not have to double back on ourselves. Having already lost time due to the elections we decided to take this route. If in the next few paragraphs It feels like I am having a rant, I am sorry, I am.

We left Dolise at 7am picked up fuel and food and set out on our way. The road was piste so not great but it was fine as we plodded along to the border. We got there and the first lot of police took our details and told us we couldn't cross here because the river was too high - at this point we should have turned around however time restrictions playing on our minds we decided to carry on..! At the second crossing point we had our details taken by another set of police to be told again this crossing had been affected by water. Right.. So it was now 30km to the border. Having gone down this road for about 6 hours we had started in Congo, swerved into Cabinda, come back to Congo, into the DRC and back into Congo. Great start.. We arrived at a town about 15km from the 'border' to be told this was where we needed to get our passports stamped out, so we sat there for a while waiting for the customs man to be dragged out of the pub, he stamped our passports but could not do our carnet. 'La bas' he said which I now know to be African/French for somewhere but I am not too sure.. On we went.. At the other end of the village we were flagged down again, our names written (wrongly) into their book, another stamp in the passport (apparently they have to as well), and no carnet stamp. Down a horribly pot holed road carried on which had only seen motorbikes for about 30 years (well done again tracks for Africa who said it was a 4x4 road). The road was amazing however, real 'explorer' stuff. The sea of grass around us came higher than the car and as we were driving we were dodging trees.

No customs emerged but what looked like the DRC border post did.

Arriving there we were met by a man who was dressed in a NYPD police shirt (10/10 for effort), who told us he was in charge... He looked at our passports and then went off on his bike for 30 mins to return with some forms. He asked us for $10 for each form which I point blank refused. He started writing out the forms anyway and it was like watching paint dry... During this point the boys had tried to get the carnet stamped (if it is not stamped out of a country - Congo - the stamp in of the next country can be used as proof of exit), however the self procalimed Douanes officer told us he couldn't do it as he had no stamp and we would have to go to Louzi. We tried to explain our car would be illegal but he seemed to think it would be OK, along with the fact there was no where to buy insurance so on two counts our car would be illegal. 3 hours later he had finished the forms... Half way through he realised he had only picked up 2 forms (despite knowing there was 4 of us), and started writing by hand the questions and then the answers. I am a patient person but my temper was tried a few times.. At the end of the process he gave us our passports back.. No stamp. At this point tempers had frayed and we all started talking.. English and French! Luckily there was another man with more than two brain cells to explained to the man in charge that because we had been stamped out of the Congo we needed to be stamped into somewhere.. He relented and after being shown how to put ink on the stamp and having had a few practise goes we were stamped in. Still no carnet, by this point it was 6pm and we were even asking about a lesse passe. Which as you can guess they did not have.

We were let through the the make shift barrier and off we went. Light was fading and after Rob got stuck we decided to head to the next village and ask to stay. Arriving there at dusk we were allowed to stay however we became the village entertainment - I now know how animals feel at the zoo. All we wanted to do as go to bed. Mandy did well, she played some games with the children, they showed us some dancing and looked at the cars. Due to there being so many people around us we couldn't get the tent out so opted for staying in the car for the night. It wasn't until we made the point of saying good night that people left us alone. A long day.. 

An early start and having had not much sleep we were positive we would get to Lousi by lunch, thinking the day couldn't be worse than the previous one.. The road was bad but it said only 26km of piste on the ever so reliable satnav. This was wishful thinking. We arrived at Sambokunda to find a padlocked barrier in the way of the road. When I say barrier it was two metal poles with one sitting procariously on top, not falling down due to the 3 padlocks. Walking up to the chief policeman (who we found out later he knew we were coming last night.. Why he hadn't made sure there was a key there beats me) we showed our passports.. All fine.. Visas.. All fine.. However there was one slight technicality... There was no key. The key was with the delegation officer in the next town up. At 7.30am he was called.. Not long they told us. And they kept telling us.. 9am came.. 10am came.. 12pm came.. Soon they kept saying. Again we are all fairly good at waiting but this was taking the biscuit. We played the squares game, we played name games, we played Mandy's cross word puzzle book.. And still no delegation. Fed up did not sum up how we felt... With it all getting a bit two much and the tears about to emerge Charles suggested lunch. Back to the car we went and ate avocados! Small things always work to lift the spirits (shame we had no actual spirits). Our body mount (car stuff) had twisted meaning the back door was now lower than the bumper and it was unable to be opened.. So Charles spent some time in the roasting sun taking of the bumper completely and tying it to the roof.. This was done with an audience of the local children (about 20 of them) who really seem to have nothing else to do - actually this is a lie they spent most of the 4 hours we spent watching them playing marbles and slapping each other with dusty flip flops. Bumper done and finally at 1.30pm the delegation party of 1 man arrived.

He was a police officer from somewhere, by this point I didn't care where I just wanted him to open the barrier. He took our passport details and voila the barrier was open. He gave us some story about his motorbike not working and him having to find a lift.. Rubbish I would say! Barrier open and we were still not allowed to leave. We sat down again and he went on about petrol for the bike.. After a while of staring at him the chief police of the village basically said did we have anything to donate. I replied we have just crossed the border into a country with a different currency to the last, is there a bank? He laughed and said CFAs would do.. In my head, and I think everyone else's, I was thinking no you idiot, we have waited 6 hours for this muppet to turn up and he has the audacity to want money, for doing his job badly. He finally left and we were free to leave. Before we left the chief of police asked again for money, mainly for the  phone calls he had to make.. We gave him 500CFA and I said I would find a bank in Louzi. 

Despite the problems on the first few days the driving did reward us with amazing scenery and smiling faces. And to finish my rant on a positive note it didn't rain .. Doing the roads was bad enough dry let alone with rivers running down them! Fingers crossed for the rest of the DRC!

(At about 6.30am day two! The sun was rising and the clouds over the mountains were spectacular)

The light was fading fast at about 6.30pm but we pushed on to cover the last 20km which took another hour. It reminded us of crossing the border into Mali when 60km of piste took us 9 hours and we arrived at the campsite just as it was getting dark. There was lots of night jars flying around, almost took a couple out! We arrived at a Catholic Mission in Louozi at about 7.30pm. Luckily it was fine to camp, there were toilets but no showers which we sorely needed after two days of no showers! We managed to get some water into a bucket and have a wash.. Narrowly missing being seen by the locals wondering about..! We were all shattered and sleep came fast, I think I tried to read but it was not hapleneing, asleep by 8.30!

Next morning and it was the search for the Douanes to get our Carnet stamped. Luckily having looked of the iOverlander app we found out it was literally 500m down the road and as we pulled up they opened up for us. The officer there knew exactly what he was doing and we were in and out in 10 minutes.. Finally someone who is competent at his job!! Finding the ferry as another easy process, we arrived to find no real organisation but a guy in a lorry who told us he thought it would be coming at 9.30 (wishful thinking again). We waited until 9.30 and move further down the jetty so our place in the line would be secure. As we were sat their waiting the local taxi drivers were obviously rather interested in us. They can't speak French particularly well but we have come to understand one word 'Mdella' which is the same as tout-bap. It kept being said and more and more crowded around the cars. It is a little daunting having a group of men around the car, generally asking for money or food. They moved around the back of the car and the lorry driver came and told them to leave.. A scrap ensued resulting in a young lad being pushed about a bit. A little scary but it cleared them off for half an hour or so! Finally at 11.15 we were loaded on alongside all kinds of goods and lots of people.. There were bags of rice, chickens in hand bags, men taking photos and printing them off there and then. Just another intersting experience.. Not like a P&O ferry crossing.


The road to Luvo, the border town, was another nightmare of a road. The 78km took us 4 hours with frequent stops. With only about 20km to go all of our body mounts had broken meaning myself and Charles had to salvage the wood and attempt to jack up the car and hammer into place. It was a tense ride to the tarmacked road but we managed with only one disappearing! The road really took it out of our car, bumper broken, body mount sunk and a possible wheel bearing on its way out a well! Landrovers... ! We needed to find a decent welder and fast.. Easier said than done! 

Arriving in Luvo we stopped off at another Catholic Mission. The teachers there knew some English and everyone was again very friendly, and interested in us. It wasn't long before the local children were gathered around the car, showing off and trying to out impress each other! It is not that we don't like chatting to locals but after a day of driving and having only eaten 5 laughing cows, we were tired and hungry. Due to it being Holy Week there were lots of practising and things going on in the Church. We heard a group practising sheet music for Sunday, and also a group of women who were singing more traditional music, again in preparation for Sunday's service. The girls were practising the movements to the music. It was a nice evening but we were glad when it was all over and they had left! Food and bed! 


We thought the border would be easy however after driving 8km up a road we reached a toll road. We got out thinking we could probably pay some dollars and be through but they told us $50 per car! I thought I had my numbers incorrect (something I do a lot). We said we weren't paying and waited in the car for a bit going back with CFA, which granted is not the currency here. They told us no. The only other option was to drive to Matadi but then do 70km of off-road the other side, something our car would not be able to do in its state. After I asked a lorry driver how much he had to pay ($50) we went back again saying we aren't paying that if the lorry pays the same. They explained to us it was an international rate we had to pay, I asked why and he told me it was the same everywhere, I replied it didn't happen in England or France. He got a bit irate then, so did I. One of the other men then negotiated we could do pay one get one free. After all the commotion we were allowed through onto this road... $50 for this road..

(This was the better part, we ended up going through a stinking litter infested town as well..)

With our guard up we got to the border, getting stamped out was a nightmare chief immigration officer did not recognise the in stamp from the tiny border we came in through. He also didn't understand why we had bought our visa from Benin and not from home. After lots of map looking and explaining we were allowed through.. Carnet was easy! Luckily! 

Driving into Angloa was mental, people everywhere.. As we tried to get through a gate (one side being broken) a fight broke out in front of us and a guy got stabbed. Getting to the gate, it was also a scrum, people coming in from everywhere with boxes but not being allowed in, it was a little like an international rugby match. The customs in Angola was easy, photocopies of passports and a stamp later and through. The carnet again easy.. Then we got to another gate.. Again we had to wait. Due to lorries blocking the entrance we were just stuck there.. Finally after 30mins of being harassed for water or dollars we were let through and into Angola we went!


#africa #overlanding #travelling #thisisafrica #DRC #democraticrepublicofcongo