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The Times, They Are A-Changing

Keep your eyes wide, the chance won't come again

semi-overcast 25 °C
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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.

Posted by binderblog 01:42 Archived in Republic of Congo Tagged luxury_travel Comments (0)

Don't call me white

Could it be semantics generating the mess we're in?

sunny 34 °C
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The country of Nigeria can be summed up in one word as welcoming. As we entered the Chikanda border post, our journey into the second English speaking country of the trip became immediately memorable. This particular route was noticeably unused and home to the friendliest border crossing guard anyone had met. “Welcome to Nigeria” has been the catchphrase throughout the country and uttered at least fifty times in our first twenty minutes through the gate. The next greetings were screams of “whhhittttteeeeeeee” as I walked into the village centre along with observations that I walk like a soldier… As it turns out we were the first whities through in twenty years, according to a village elder. This wasn’t hard to believe when Lene, Martin, and I ventured into the market to grab lunch and walked straight into a sea of the most stunned faces I‘ve ever seen. We turned around from a market stall and were instantly swarmed by at least sixty people just staring in awe. It was if some of the children had seen a ghost, and since I’m the whitest person most of the people on the tour have seen I can’t blame them. The people were friendly but too shy to speak to us and when we left our entourage of twenty kids followed us back. The remainder of the day was a typical drive day but agreed as one of the best days experienced by everyone aboard. The people of Nigeria are some of the most excited people I’ve ever come across and everyone waved feverishly as we drove through. Women carrying 20L pails atop their heads and a baby on their backs ran alongside the truck grinning ear to ear and doing the two-handed wave. This was all without the usual screams for “cadeau”, “money”, or “gift”. Children screamed with glee and danced along to my ipod mix; luckily some passengers were able to capture the sights and sounds on video. We were equally full of glee reminiscing over the days events when we set up camp early due to a loose hub seal. It was such a sincere experience overall and never to be forgotten.
As we made our way south the next big stop was Abuja, the political capital of Nigeria and the first modern city visited in some time. We ended up staying for nine days while securing visas for Angola and Cameroon. The contrast to most other campsites was vast considering we holed up at the Sheraton hotel (parking lot that is…). We were very fortunate to have been able to stay (for free) and have use of the facilities while sorting out pertinent, and hard to get, visas. Everyone made the most of their time showering, lounging by the pool, doing laundry, visiting the bakery, and making use of happy hour. A few of us made friends with the expat casino managers and were treated to a South African braai and air-conditioned alternative to our tents! There are certainly some interesting patrons frequenting the Sheraton and the amusement was never-ending. If someone thinks your clothes are too dingy for the hotel ambiance they will tell you and then buy you new ones (as Rob found out). It was at times easy to forget we were in one of the poorest countries in the world and though it was nice to have some luxury I would definitely like to revisit Nigeria again someday to experience it further. Nonetheless, our time in Abuja was thoroughly enjoyed: visas were obtained, new friends were made, and forgotten western amenities were relished.
Poolside at the Sheraton

Poolside at the Sheraton

Somewhat reluctantly, we left the comforts of “Ajuba” and made headway to Jos, a city where recent fighting between Muslim and Christian groups had only ceased months before our arrival. I heard harrowing stories from expats who had ventured unto the chaos, but luckily our visit was uneventful. Continuing on we stopped at Wiki Warm Springs where our leisurely wallow in the springs was contrasted with a pesky baboon trying to steal food scraps. The rest of the days were spent in transit and bush camping, nothing too exciting save for a few trivia nights. The last bush camp turned somber when Fatima Couscous, one of two pet tortoises acquired in Marrakesh, went missing amongst the mango trees. Hours of search brought little hope so we carried on and wished her well. The following day we made it to the Cameroon border post after meeting up with Gary who had stayed behind in Abuja to pick up the last of our visas.
Overall, Nigeria has become one of my favourite African countries. While in Ghana locals told me how awful the people of Nigeria allegedly are but I found it to have a much more sincere feel even if locals don’t go as out of their way to greet you as was the case in Ghana. Nigeria was also our last chance to converse freely in English for sometime. From Cameroon to DRC it is back to French, and Angola is predominately Portuguese…. Namibia will be a welcomed change but too far off to look forward to yet!

Posted by binderblog 05:14 Archived in Nigeria Tagged luxury_travel Comments (0)

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