Keep your eyes wide, the chance won't come again
07.06.2009 - 07.10.2009 25 °C
Leaving Gabon for the Congo border post the tar seal road abruptly changed to deep sand outside of town and the drive to Congo immigration involved hours of sand matting. The first bout was uphill for over an hour until locals informed us we were on the wrong road… The actual road wasn’t much better and our arms had a few more workouts through the day. We made it through one police check but got bogged close to nightfall and so we camped in no-mans land for the night before reaching customs. The border officials were very curious to have our truck roll through in the morning and insisted we all come in for interviews (to check out all the girls according to Chris). We found the locals to be cheerful, and after getting through customs we found ourselves bogged once again. We reached tarmac, found a river to wash up in - only to nullify our cleanliness 20 minutes later when the road turned to sand once again. Getting stuck isn’t always all bad, however, and we managed to meet some affable Congolese and play with the curious smiling kids. We made it to Okoyo for lunch where we found warm coca cola and a few bread rolls. Filling up the jerry cans we found ourselves stuck one last time before getting out of town and on the road. Along the way to Boundji we made witness to the extensive road construction currently being done by the Chinese (in exchange for mining rights of some kind). The diversion roads alone were better than most tracks we’ve come across, and the road being built is of very high standards (as opposed to most tarred roads broken up on the shoulders and ridden with pot holes). Along the vast stretch through the country the Chinese engineers are hard at work surveying, preparing, and laying down the road and I’m sure the length of the country will be sealed in less than a years time. Stopped for a cold beer in Boundji; had the first Primus of the trip (best beer in Africa according to our crew - good beer, but has made my guts feel more crooked than any tap or well water I’ve encountered yet). The next day we drove through Oyo, lunched in Gamboma, and hit asphalt so we could thankfully stow the sand mats away rather than have them rattling on the floor of the truck.
We searched for Lefini reserve, which turned out to be a small, vague, gorilla sanctuary that did not have trucks available to bring us up the 4x4 only road to the reserve (or enclosure… no ones French was good enough to decipher exactly what the reserve entailed). We gave up on the escapade and drove onwards to Brazzaville, the countries capital (while en route to Brazzaville we happened to overtake a man on a bicycle selling ice cream from paint pails… very random). The city is quite modern and masks recent turmoil well. The Congo river can be seen whilst driving through town, across which lies Kinshasa, capital of Democratic Republic of Congo, and is the shortest distance between any two capital cities, the two of which have had no shortage of fighting.
We set up camp at the Catholic mission run by sister Esmeralda whom received all the food stocks off the truck last year when the truck was refused entry into the DRC. We weren’t able to stay as long as we would have liked due to the presidential election in two days time. A countries capital is never a stable place to be during an election, particularly in central Africa. In years past missiles were fired overhead while overlanders were forced to take refuge at the UK embassy until the situation was alleviated. We decided not to take the risk and leave Friday before the Sunday election after hearing rumours of authorities closing down the frontier. Most of us girls decided to have a night of fun on our last night in town, and Brazzaville soon became home of the infamous girls night out. Kira had earlier met the Lebanese restaurant owner’s sons, who organized bottle service and champagne at three of the local posh clubs in town. I was later approached by the current (and remaining) president Denis Sassou-Ngesso’s son who was quite taken by me. Had fun with Denis Jr. but no confessional was needed at the mission the next day. Reluctantly, we left for the ferry/border crossing to Kinshasa, and after hours of waiting to load we finally boarded. The ferry between the two capitals is known to be sketchy in terms of fighting and police brutality; it is not uncommon for unruly passengers to be violently beat with batons, chains and such by tough security guards on board. Luckily our trip wasn’t overly eventful and most passengers I encountered were nice enough.
The scenery in Congo surprised me. At first the landscape gradually changed from stark desert to rolling hills and savannah, a vast contrast to the Gabon rain forest. Upon reaching Brazzaville I encountered pine trees for the first time in Africa, all in all a very unexpected topography. Overall, this area of the continent is facing enormous changes. In just the last year so much road construction and infrastructure has been completed that the trans is vastly different and less challenging than in the past. If you want to see the 'real' west Africa I'd suggest doing it soon as I believe the adventure aspect will be lost in a few short years. It is also worth noting that while in Congo we couldn’t go anywhere without election talk and paraphernalia. There were 12 candidates in the running however we only ever took notice of two or three contenders. Denis seemed favored to win, and not surprisingly we learned days later that he indeed won by a landslide… although with only 15% voter turnout, much of which is argued to have been bought.