Sunday, March 10, 2013

To get to Congo (and beyond)

From my last posting in Gamba, I continued south into the 12th and final new country of my trip: The Republic of Congo. For those of you who may make a similar trip someday, here is a rough schedule of what to expect:

Day 1

The much lighter ride back to Tchibanga

06:00 - wake up, eat, say final goodbyes to A/C, internet; mexican food and host.
07:30 - ask around in town for a ride back to Tchibanga
08:30 - miraculously leave almost immediately on the back of a truck to Tchibanga. Feel grateful that there is little luggage in the back, so sitting is possible (see last post for alternative)
13:30 - arrive in Tchibanga, nurse blisters and bruises from the ride.
14:00 - visit first hotel, decide it's too expensive, ask directions to next
14:45 - arrive at second hotel soaked in sweat. Find out it's more expensive than the first.
15:30 - arrive at third (and cheapest) hotel, bucket bath and pass out in the shade until dusk.
18:00 - venture outdoors to the nearest bar, enjoy a beer while fendng off "friendly" scammers trying to get you to buy them one.
18:08 - power cut. Sip beer in complete darkness.
19:30 - get bored of darkness, go to hotel.
19:35 - realize hotel also has no power, thus the fan in the room does not work. lay down and begin soaking the sheets with sweat. Eventually pass out.


Day 2

 06:00 - wake up, wander to find breakfast.
 06:30 - discover everything is closed. Eat bread and wait for lunch. read. shower.
 11:00 - go to find bus to Ndéndé. Discover it doesn't exist.
11:30 - take taxi to edge of town. Find 30 people waiting to hitch rides to Ndéndé, get in line.
13:00 - negotiate a ride with a truck. Get excited about hitchhiking again
13:15 - find out truck charges the same as the taxi, get less excited about hitchhiking again.
13:45 - finally get in truck, discover it has air conditioning. Relax.
13:50 - air conditioning breaks. Sweat.
16:00 - arrive in Ndénde. Go to cheap hotel from before
16:15 - Cheap hotel is full. Get directed to other hotel
16:35 - other hotel is expensive. Get directed to Case de Passage
16:50 - Arrive at case, look for owner
17:00 - call number on the door, wake up owner. Dump luggage in room.
17:05 - run across the street to immigration to get exit stamp for tomorrow morning.
17:10 - chat with immigration officials, wait for them to ask for bribe.
17:30 - get released with exit stamp without paying bribe. Smile. Find food
18:30 - return to case. Get invited to a drink by case owner. Oblige.
20:00 - go to bar with case owner, meet up with immigration officials and other local travelers.
20:30 - try to learn to dance. Fail miserably. Succeed in becoming source of entertainment
21:15 - turn down offers of women. Accept offers of beer.
23:45 - collapse in bed. Sleep.

Night storms in Ndéndé

Day 3

05:30 - wake up, begin search for a vehicle to the border.
09:00 - still looking and waiting for a vehicle to the border.
10:15 - find a truck, agree to a price, point out that the truck currently has a flat tire.
11:15 - leave vulcanization shop after watching tire get fixed, prepare to leave.
11:45 - make last shopping and passenger stop in Ndéndé, prepare to leave again.
12:30 - actually leave
13:15 - stop at Gendarme checkpoint. Hand over passport. No problems
13:30 - stop at another Gendarme checkpoint. Hand over passport. Watch Gendarme flip through visas and pretend to be satisfied without having found the Gabon or Congo visas or the personal information page.
14:00 - stop at border control checkpoint. Hand over passport for stamp, get asked for $20 "departure tax". Assume it's a bribe, refuse to pay. Make a scene, realize locals are paying, too. Maybe it's not a bribe. Try to get receipt. Get 3 tickets instead. Hope that won't cause future problems
14:30 - leave border control checkpoint
14:35 - stop at police checkpoint. Hand over passport. No problems.

The border

14:45 - cross border.
14:46 - stop at Congo border checkpoint. Hand over passport. No problems.
14:50 - walk to Congo customs (the guy next door). Hand over passport. No problems. Cursory bag search. No problems.
15:00 - walk to Congo police checkpoint (across the street). Hand over passport. Comment on "BARACK OBAMA 2008" poster on the wall. No problems.
15:15 - walk to Congo immigration checkpoint (again across the street). Hand over passport. No problems. Get told there are no vehicles until tomorrow.
15:30 - meet Bruce, the Congolese traveler from the car. Book a room at the hotel to share
17:00 - realize there is no food in the border village, eat sardines with Congolese beer.
17:45 - swim in border river. Hope the parasite count is low.
19:00 - crawl into bed next to Bruce. Try to sleep.

Bruce and the local brews

Day 4

05:00 - wake up, ask about a truck, discover there is none.
05:15 - go back to sleep.
07:30 - wake up, go outside, realize there is no truck. Sit in a chair.
09:00 - Truck shows up, says it will leave soon. Prepare to leave.
09:30 - truck driver is sleeping. Eat manioc and sardines with gendarmes and Bruce.
11:00 - get bored with waiting. Take a nap
12:00 - get woken up, truck is leaving
12:30 - truck actually leaves. Prepare for 10-hr journey.

Inside the truck

13:30 - truck driver demands everyone gets out. Truck turns around to go back to the border.
13:35 - begin waiting at village bar with everyone else. Watch young men play cards while little kids stare

17:45 - truck comes back. Now it's filled with jugs of gasoline. Throw bag inside and climb on top. Settle in for long ride.
20:30 - truck stops for dinner. All restaurants are closed. Eat sardines and manioc on the sidewalk with Bruce and new guy.

21:30 - truck leaves again
22:00 - try to sleep on top of truck. Realize it's equivalent to trying to sleep on vibrating wooden pallets with an occasional buck. Sit up straight again and stare forward at the road.

Day 5

03:00 - start falling asleep on top of truck again. Fear falling off of truck. Crawl inside
03:30 - finally find a semi-comfortable spot on top of gasoline jugs between other bodies. Pass out.
06:00 - wake up in Dolisie at destination. Find out the jugs were leaking and butt is soaked in gasoline.
06:15 - go find breakfast and SIM card with Bruce.

Dolisie view

11:00 - find taxi to Pointe-Noire.
12:30 - taxi finally leaves Dolisie for Pointe-Noire. Realize the bumpy truck roof was more comfortable than being crammed into the front seat with wide-hipped African woman.
15:30 - Arrive in Pointe-Noire. Eat beans and chicken with Bruce.
16:00 - Accept Bruce's help to find a taxi to Couchsurfing host's neighborhood
16:45 - realize Bruce expects to be hosted , as well. Have awkward conversation in bad French.
17:00 - Meet CS host. Part ways with Bruce.
17:15 - Arrive in air-conditioned, western-style apartment. Shower. Discover bruises and blisters from truck. Tend to rash on gasoline-soaked butt. Wash clothes. Hope the next leg of travel will be easier.


It isn't.
First this gendarme told us we needed to stop for the night to avoid bandits on the road. Then he bought me a beer. Then I slept on the ground and woke up covered in dust with a torn shirt.

Then I was reminded of home (and this is not an unusual sight...)

Then we got a flat tire. Then the driver drove on it.

And kept driving on it for 10km more

it's hard to jack up a van without a tire, it's easy to get it off the jack!

Then they got the van stuck in a ditch

Then we had to start walking and hitching rides on trucks

Then we hitched a ride on a truck

This is what one looks like after two days on the road between Pointe Noire and Brazzaville.

Next time maybe I'll join these British tourists in their Africa overland battle truck.

1 comment:

  1. Great economy to this post, yet I felt the depth of your Congo experience. I wish continued interesting efficient travel as only Africa can provide. :)