Into Brazzaville and crossing the Congo river into Kinshasa

Brazzaville Travel Blog

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Something making huge the dust cloud

There were another good couple of hours riding until we would be on a tarred road again the next morning.  This last section kept us on our toes right to the end with deep sandy ruts, deep muddy ruts and a downed bridge with a river crossing for good measure thrown in.  Matt’s bike had an increasing oil leak, worrying.  We pushed on and once back on the main road we stopped for ice cold Fanta and let the bike cool before checking Matt’s and inflating the tyres on both bikes for the smooth tarred road into Brazzaville.  School was out so we had a mass of kids around us, I mean a mass inquisitive of kids.  As Matt took a short video I got the kids wound up into a frenzy, shouting “Bonjour!” and getting a “Bonjour!!” shouted back in return and then I started shouting “Sava!!” (are you ok?) to which they all shout in unison “wee!!!” (yes!) jumping and waving to the camera, very funny.

  When we sat back down the owner start to spray the kids with water to get them to move on.  I thought it would be a good idea to make a dash at them like the owner was doing to scare them and talked Matt into it, we both leaped from our seats to our feet running at them and the kids scattered in all directions to our shock as some ran into the road, not the best idea I had in hindsight and the owner shouted at them again.  One sheepish looking young boy timidly returned to pick up his younger brothers sandal that fell off in there mad dash away, he looked nervous but returned my smile and was happy.

Brazzaville was a nice place with just over a million people, very small for African standards.

Hmmmm, where to go.... glad it is dry'ish...
  At our overlanders hotel, Hippocampe, it was Vietnamese run and Vietnamese food, excellent!!  We where covered in mud and very dirty from the route across and we met another Dutch biker (also called Matt) who rode the inland Franceville route towards the nicely tarred road that leads the Congo president’s farm up north (when you’re president of the Congo you can do anything!), he feared the route we had just done and didn’t want to risk it.  It was a busy time washing the bikes and all our clothing yet again, nice to have hot water on tap for this!  We serviced our bikes, changing the oil and filters getting a far quantity of oil over my bike, hmmmm getting distracted by others is never good half way through a job.  Matt’s oil had water in it and he used my old oil filters because his had collapsed from the thick watery oil (a couple of weeks later he would email me to say his head gasket was blown but should get repaired ok, DHL saves the day).
Rule number one, let someone else cross first and watch how deep it gets!!
  Clive and Tanya arrived in there Landrover to our surprise as we sat in the restaurant which meant I would be staying a little longer, they had travelled faster than we though and also came the Franceville route making up time.  It was good to see them and catch up, they said the Oasis overland truck with Grant and Andy were also taking the Franceville route because the insurance company would not cover them to drive down to Dolisie and east to the coast through Pointe-Noire.

After a couple of days the three bikes and the Landrover went in convoy across the Congo river border into the DRC and Kinshasa.  The usual messing around with immigration, police and customs, customs giving Matt and myself a stamped piece of paper for our bikes because I didn’t get my Carnet stamped coming in because Matt had no Carnet (Carnet is like a import document for the bike, the RAC in the UK issue these and holds a large bond, money, for the bike to stop you importing it and selling it).

Kids enjoying the criac with a couple of white ejjits inflating there tyres for the tarred road ahead.
  The port was chaos.  Goods got transported across by disabled people on three wheeled bikes, carts made to carry loads with bags stuff anywhere they could with able bodied friends pushing them and the officials would hassle them at random leaving the port up the road trying to take stuff for themselves.  We were told to key a good eye on our things, especially with these disabled people getting light fingered. 

Our small roll-on roll-off ferry had arrived and got the go ahead to enter the loading ramp area which had many people and goods still trying to get off plus people and goods trying to get on, pushing carts or more often carrying large loads on there heads.  Official guys with sticks and pipes beat people who seemed to be trying to get on without paying (((I use the term officials during my blog but you never know who they are and they don’t always wear uniforms, during the trip south it was always a bit of a guessing game knowing if you were talking to an official [police/customs/immigration/security…] or a random person, a fixer who would demand cash for help, being careful before handing over passport or other documents))).

Congo river at night
  We were stopped at the top of the ramp and then other officials started shouting asking for something, I had all the mornings various bits of paper in clear view inside the clear plastic map reading pouch, lots of them which mean something to somebody.  I pointed to them but the guy was not impressed then he caught sight of my yellow Carnet tucked under the map and demanded to see it, oh bollocks!!   I refused to get it out then all hell broke loose shouting (I don’t speak French but I understood what was happening).  They started to manhandle my bag to get into it and refused again getting a bit aggressive in return shouting and getting out the stamped piece of paper to show them that took place of the Carnet.  One guy went to walk off with it until started shouting at him, I needed to keep that wee crappy bit of paper in my hands if I’m to get out of here.
Crazy ferry crossing from Congo to Kinshasa into the DRC
  The Dutch biker Matt on his BMW was also shouting at them beside me but once he figured out they wanted to see his Carnet they left him.  It was a standoff, just before the steep descent down onto the boat, what if I just fired up the bike and push my way onto the boat would they dare beat me with the sticks??  Probably by the looks of them.  The shouting continued as we sat on our bikes blocking part of the ramp way and the shouting continued with them saying this was a piece of paper from the police, not from them the customs!!  Or who ever they where.  Different officials came over shouting explaining but I didn’t move repeating myself over and over again waving my piece of paper.  Then all of a sudden the angry officials started shouting for us to board the boat and I didn’t have to be told twice! (they were probably after a dash, money).  The descent down the stony ramp full of people running all directions was a little tricky and slippery but once a guy waving his stick walked past the way parted and I was aboard.

The boat was packed but we all made it onboard and kept a good eye on each other stuff, I tried to hide Matt’s backpack for the craic but he caught me (hehehee).  People where even in wooden canoes climbing aboard the front of the boat with people hiding them from view but a guard came down and put a stop to it.  Lots of shouting, cold bottles of Coke and Fanta for sale and disabled carts pushed on all around us, other cargo stacked with people sat on it.  With everyone onboard the pack ferry we crossed the Congo at an angle facing upstream rather that straight across to combat the current of this mighty brown river.  Once the ramp was lowered on the Kinshasa DRC side there was a push of people trying to get off but this side was a little more organised.  Tanya took the lead from an official grabbing all our passports and headed ashore with the official while we waited, after a while we got the go ahead to disembark.

Tanya had taken our passports to immigration where one guy was sleeping, opening and closing an eye when the passports were dropped on his desk.  After a while he woke, sleepily inspected the passports declaring they where all genuine handing to another guy.  We went a couple at a time to complete the immigration/customs process, they asked loads of personal/family questions as routine it seemed.  This time I handed over my Carnet to get stamped into the Democratic Republic of Congo.  There was a lot of waiting around, some hours and used the time to change my used CFA into US dollars.  I asked in the Western Union if I could use there small airconed office to make the black market deal with the money changer as I had quite a bit, over 600USD to change.  They were very helpful and even let me use the ultraviolet light to check for forgeries, it was all good and also the 100dollar bill I received at the port in Brazzaville from a money changer that morning, I had my doubts about him so didn’t change more with him.

Apparently from the information given to us from other overlanders they would disinfect our bikes but we don’t have to pay the white suited guy with big red gloves and a paper face mask.  Hmmm, you can guess what happened next.  People with white coats with some sort of markings on them started to demand money and we all refused.  After some time and more arguments on a very hot and sweaty day, Tanya, Matt and myself were escorted to there grubby office, it had a desk a few posters and boxes on the floor with paper stacked in them.  They were speaking mostly in French and all I could do was speak in English (Tanya and Matt knew French) so once in there office I grabbed a plastic chair next to the wall of the small office with everyone crammed in.  The one saving grace to this was they had a small fan pushing the air around, ahhhhh bliss.  As soon as I sat down I positioned the chair to rest my head on the wall and proceeded to fall asleep, not to be intimidated by them.  Tanya eventually paid to have the Landrover disinfected leaving Matt and me.  Every so often I would wake up and ask why are we still here throwing something in the mix, asked to see official documentation for the charges, it never came…  They saw I was getting to comfortable and they where getting more angry so we got evicted from the office, outside Dutch Matt also paid up.  We had planned to stay only a few kms away that nigh so speaking with Matt we decided to wait it out to see what happens for the craic after this long.  They got more angry with us and the police didn’t seem interested when they came over as we said we wanted our bikes disinfected but they wouldn’t.  It was getting close to 5pm and the last boat was disembarking, we jumped on our bikes and rode to the exit to the shouts of the white coats and the big chief of police came out to see what the commotion was.  It was all explained to him and he said just pay them.  The white coats were very pissed by this stage wanting to go home and instead of paying the 20USD each we paid only 10USD each and left.    

Back at the overpriced Protestant mission we meet the rest of the peeps.  Clive and myself went down to the main road and had a beer.  So this was Kinshasa, where Muhammad Ali had the rumble in the jungle fight.  As we sat watching the new large 4x4’s driven by rich locals, expats and the UN a motorcade with police bikes and cars with blacked out windows, military and meat wagon (ambulance) went hammering past to the shrikes and cheers from the locals around us, it was there president, Joseph Kabila became Congo's president when his father Laurent was assassinated in 2001.  Kinshasa is known ask a dangerous city but we got a nice feeling from the locals around in the wooden huts selling drinks, food, tyre repairs, hair dresser...  the others arrived and we went to a restaurant up the road for food and more beers, it was a good nigh after the long day of 7km travelled.

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Something making huge the dust clo…
Something making huge the dust cl…
Hmmmm, where to go.... glad it is …
Hmmmm, where to go.... glad it is…
Rule number one, let someone else …
Rule number one, let someone else…
Kids enjoying the criac with a cou…
Kids enjoying the criac with a co…
Congo river at night
Congo river at night
Crazy ferry crossing from Congo to…
Crazy ferry crossing from Congo t…
photo by: Bluenose