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Thread: Democratic Republic of Congo: Lubumbashi to Kinshasa

  1. #11
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    Aug 2009
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    After leaving Lubumbashi one quickly arrives at yet another toll booth. 50$US again (!) for a short piece of horribly potholed tarmac. This time I stop the car a long end before the booth and walk to get my ticket. There is a big "queue" (read: a pile of people). I just stuck my arm trough the window without letting them see myself and give the equivalent amount for locals (1$US). They give me back a receipt and presto. Another 49$ saved!

    The road starts out good



    But the asphalt soon stops and makes way for a graded dirt road. It is in pretty good condition.



    We make good progress until we hit the end of a traffic jam. A seemingly endless series of big lorries stand still on the entire width of the road. We stop and are greeted with demands for "cadeaux", "un jus", etc... Mind you, these are not officials, they are just the truckdrivers.

    Josephine stays in the car while I walk to the front of the queue (a kilomter or so). In the valley there is a huge mud pit that just about swallowed an articulated lorry. This obviously happened quite some time ago. Next to it is another lorry stuck, leaning dangerously. Next to that one is yet another stuck lorry. And another, ... There are 5 lorries next to eachother. All stuck. This is now blocking the entire road. 20 man are digging away but when they see me they instantly stop and start shouting at me

    "Hé le Blanc!"
    "Mundele!' = mzungu
    "Le Blanc, Il va payer!" = The white guy, he is going to pay (if I want to pass)
    "Donner moi de l'argent" = Give me money

    There were about a 100 people on the side of road watching the spectacle and they started laughing at me and shouting all sorts of nasty things.

    This entire situation felt very treatening and I just wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible. While walking back to Josephine some more friendly people talked to me. Apparantly they had been there for 4 days now without any movement. But they said small 4x4's could get past.

    Not without hesitation we started negotiating our way trough the parked trucks and around the mudpit. You could see that the crowd was just waiting for us to get stuck.

    Fortunately we got trough.

    Sorry, no pictures of this mess. The enviroment was just to hostile to start flashing expensive cameras.

  2. #12
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    When we continued on the same road we would pass other smaller mudpits. These bogholes always had a "crew". When a truck arrived, they would throw in rocks so the truck could pass... for a fee ofcourse. After the truck passed they removed the rocks again. A lucrative occupation!

    In our books this is just plain wrong and we refuse to support such behaviour. So we always charged trough in 4x4, hoping we would not get ourself stuck.

    We neared the first town: Likasi. At the town border we got stopped by an agressive bunch of policeman - 12 of them to be exactly. They quickly made it clear that we did not have the necessary permit and therefore we were under arrest!

    Oops! 8O

    Come to think of it. It is rather disturbing that I can say that I know what to do in such a situation. First thing to do is to remain calm and - politely - deny that you are under arrest. This may sound strange, but it is a simple test and always worked for me. If they are serious they will just take you to a police station. If they start discussing you know you'll be allright and they are trying to discriminate you but the goal is just to get a bribe.

    They started discussing. This was good. It was a heated discussion though and they clearly were not amused. It took us the best part of an hour to make them believe that our "official letter from the embassy" was a valid permit. They probably never saw a "tourist" permit before (does it even exist?) and we could tell they were not sure about their case. The official stamps did the trick.

    They turned their attention to the Landcruiser, checked al the lights, windscreen wipers, fire extinguisher (Yes, we had 2 8-) ), emergency triangle (Yes, we had 2 8-) ) and finally found a culprit: we only had 1 reversing light! I explained that in Belgium only 1 reversing light is obligatory (its true) and still refused to pay anything. Then things turned a bit ugly. Without a doubt they just wanted to make a quick buck from us and they were getting impatient. We heard somebody kicking the car, they started shouting and made it very clear that we are in Congo and that they were the boss here and we should listen and pay. They tried opening both doors at the same time (locked) and started shouting we were arrested and we had to go to the "police station". NOW!

    This was bad. No more room for negotiations. At all costs did we want to prevent ending up in a police station as that would mean bad news! As a final resort I called our embassy and they talked to the police officers. Their names and ranks were asked - which they refused to give. At the same time Josephine kicked into action. The people here that know Josephine can surely attest that although she is tough as nails, she is truly an incredible sweet girl. She got very angry at the police officers and got very cross. This made an impression. They kept us there for another half hour but lost interest eventually.

    Before we were let go one office said "Ce n'est pas la Belgique ici, tu es en Congo!" - "This is not Belgium, you are in Congo". He hissed and gave us a terrifying look

    With our adrenaline levels at maximum we continued into Likasi.

    We did not even drive for a full kilometer or we were stopped again by the police..

  3. #13
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    This time it was a jolly fat guy. He laughed when he stopped us, gave us a friendly hello and without skipping a beat continued that we had to pay a fine. "Malchargé" (badly loaded) he claimed. At the same time a truck passed with a dozen people hanging of the back.

    That was the funniest thing we heard all day and we burst out laughing. He too joined in the laughing. Anyhow, back to reality so we just said goodbye and started to drive of. He jumped onto the driving boards and asked for "un jus" in a final attempt before letting go.

    The good gravel road continued for a short while after Likasi but continues to a mining town. That is ofcourse the reason that this road exists, the mine. The Route National 1 (RN1) - the highway to Kinshasa - forks of at a small village called Tenke. The track immediately changed in a sandy jungle track.



    We passed a few small villages. No more trace of Police on this smaller road. What a relief! There was also barely any traffic. We helped a small truck that somehow managed to get stuck next to the road.



    The road forked again a short while later at Tshilongo. The main track continued to other villages. The road we took was the RN1. It followed the railway and saw barely any traffic. Sandy and bumpy.



    Our goal for our first day was the Catholic mission of Kansenia. About 250 km from Lubumbashi were we left at 7 in the morning. We were 20km away from Kansenia when the sun set at around 6. But we decided to push on.



    It had rained a lot lately, but in the sand this caused no real problems. Until we hid some sort of a marsh. We passed many traces of other vehicles who got stuck here. The soil was very sticky pitch black cotton mud. We were tired and it was dark. We got stuck :roll:





    3 hours of digging. Sandpates, hi-lift, the whole lot. Sweating like a pig. We could barely hear eachother with all the insect buzzing around our ears. But we managed to get out.

    In the dark we were greeted by the priests in the mission. Before we could even say something they said "Il faut rien dire, on comprend!" - "No need to talk, we understand". They were friendly and gave us a bucket of water to wash in. We could park the car in their garden. We closed our tent at midnight. The adrenaline was still rushing trough our veins.

  4. #14
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    Progress after 1 day of driving. This was supossed to be the easiest part of the entire trip. It would be the last day we would be able to cover that much distance on a single day.


  5. #15
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    Day 2

    It's 6 in the morning when we hear a noise underneath our rooftop tent. It sounds like little kids giggling. It are little kids giggling!

    15 of them are waiting under our tent. This is a spectacle they cannot miss. They try to be quiet but fail. We manage to stay in bed until 8 but sleeping is out of the question with all the noise.

    Prudence, Séraphin, Olette, Ami, Dombolo, Aimé, Yvette, Europa, Calence, …





    The mission is at the same time a (boarding) school. During our little muddy ordeal of the day before a bolt broke off from our wheelcarrier. We did not have a spare bolt of that size, but the mission had a lathe so they could make one for us. This had to wait until noon because then the generator would be running for an hour. We decided to have a rest day. That gave us plenty of time to reflect on the previous day.

    We like kids, but we were silently hoping they would have to go to class today so we could have some rest. Alas, it was a holiday so we were bombarded to babysitter for the day :roll: :wink:



    The kids were just like kids everywhere, but somehow the begging had crept in already. They frequently asked for "cadeaux" and all sorts of other things.
    As is usual in many countries, the young girls have to take care of their littile sister from a very young age.


  6. #16
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    The priests (Brothers actually) are nice guys. There are 4 of them, young and smart. All of them have studied in Lubumbashi or Kinshasa. After they finished the seminary they were sent to a mission. They cannot choose which one. We could hear the sadness in their voices when they told their stories.

    They sampled the "world" when studying, they have a degree (one of them had a masters in engineering) and then they are sent to a mission. They know they will probably never have the chance again to live in a city. At the mission they take care of the kids, teach, etc.. A noble and rewarding job. But they carry all this knowledge that they cannot put in practice here. They have no computers, no tools, no electricity, no budget, ...

    Their living quarters were very comfy and clean for Congolese standards. They had a radio and a TV set. Because of their proximity to Lubumbashi they had a regular supply of newspapers.

    The priest-engineer was setting up a project to generate clean energy from a river. He had a recycling project. A radio project. An irrigation project, ... He had to run all these projects without any funds, without material. So many ideas, so little chances.

    They remained positive but you could see it in their eyes that they were sad. Without a doubt they would take the first opportunity to get out of there. It would be a great loss for the mission and the village but I couldn't blame them. In the way our talks went we thought we could hear them crying for help. To take them to Europe, to give them funds, to supply them with material. They did not speak these words, but to us it was clear that they really longed for those things. We were not able to provide this. It made us sad and we felt guilty.

    We thought about our experiences of the previous day. As mentioned before we always had this nervousness/anxiousness when going to a new country. Usually it dissapeared within minutes when we were welcomed by friendly people in a friendly country. We had been in Congo for a week now. Of which we only spent 1 day on the road. But the nervousness was still there.

    It seemed like so many Congolese tried their best to make us feel unwelcome. And the few friendly people we met made us feel totally out of place with their tragic stories. So many people expected that we would be able to help them. Could we stand it to keep dissapointing those people? We are just tourists passing trough.. it feels wrong.

    Was it wrong to come to Congo? Would it be like this for the rest of our trip? We are already exhausted after a single day on the road. The corruption, the roads... where we taking too many risks now?

    Never before on our travels did we have so many doubts about what we were doing. My motto always is "Better to be sorry about what you did, then to be sorry about you did not do". I am fortunate to have found a partner who thinks exactly the same. We made a deal: as soon as somebody 'had enough' we would turn around - no questions asked.

    We decided to push on, after all we have gotten this far already!

  7. #17
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    Day 3

    Our second driving day starts off great!

    In this area large areas are given in lease to cow farms. They are profitable organisations (mostly owned by foreigners) and maintain their own roads on their property. They can be used by the general public, although sometimes a fee is asked. As the main road is usually pretty horrible, we prefer the private roads. We make good progress on these beautiful sandy tracks.



    We also pass a ruin of what once must have been a grand building. The walls are marked with logos from a Belgian University. This must have once been some scientific study centre of sorts.


  8. #18
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    Even though the road was good, it was still requierd to pay attention. Too slow and no 4x4 and..





    Stupid stupid stupid... but hey, it kept us busy for an hour! :roll:



    At the end of the private road is a roadblock. No officials, but just some guy claiming we have to pay a toll fee. At that moment we did not know that this is generally accepted when you make use of the private roads. We were still a bit jumpy from our previous experiences with the police so we might have been a bit rude to the guy We got trough without paying He probably though we were completely nuts :wink:

  9. #19
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    The difference between the private road and the RN1 was immediately clear. 2 kilometers further we got ourselves into this situation.







    Bugger! Time to get the shovel out again...

  10. #20
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    Dec 2008
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    Medford, Oregon
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    Loving it! Great writing, can't wait for more.
    "Adventure is a word that get's over used, to me real adventure doesn't start until it all goes wrong"- Yvon Chouinard

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