Monday, 20 February 2007
As we reach the last border post of Gabon in the afternoon, bored soldiers open the barriers for us.
After a short ride, the quite proper piste road turns into an unaffected jungle area. As I look on my GPS to find out if we are not on a wrong way, we suddenly see a barrier.
Above our heads the Congolese flag gets blown by the wind. For all my life I somehow connected the terms adventures and Africa with the Congo.
Now, as I stand here at the border myself Iím a little bit excited. Everything one ever hears about this country is rather bad than good. The civil war went on for a long time and there were and are numberless conflicts between the many different ethnic groups in the country.
The main road going from Point Noir to the countryís capital Brazzaville is partly destroyed and leads through rebel area.
But like so often in Africa, things are getting eaten less hot than they are cooked. The border official friendly asks us to come into his post and immediately starts to copy all the data from our passports.
Actually everything runs off very friendly and correctly if there wasnít the demand of 30,000 CFA and the menace not to stamp our passports in case we refuse to pay.
That takes me, the translator, quite some art of persuasion but after hard negotiations we finally agree on the deal that we donate some vitaminpills to the border post for reasons of international friendship and solidarity and he presents us with the entry stamp for reasons of hospitality in exchange.
Whereupon we enter the Republic of Congo. Flanked by friendly waving people and screaming children.
What comes now turns out to be everthing else than simple, at least whatsoever concerns the quality of the roads, or better the water ways.
Already on the first kilometers we pass innumerable water holes and the Landcruiser of Sarah and Steve gets stuck as they try to drive around a water ditch.
Nothing else to do for us than change the bikes for the shovel, unite our forces and dig out the car.
Due to the bad piste we spend the night in one of the next villages. Strictly according to African tradition we visit the Village Chief and ask for permit to pitch our tents. We may do so. Like always, very much to the joy of the inhabitants. It is nearly unbelievable how friendly the Congolese people are. In each village our passage is celebrated on the side of the road and at the same time our private life is fully respected. If one sees how many men in the villages came back crippled from the civil war and considers that some of the villages on our route were completely extinguished with all their inhabitants, this unbelievable friendliness is a doubly large gift.
Tuesday, 20 February 2007
During the night heavy rainfalls come down again. As we continue our trip in the morning, the pistes have changed into deep mud fields.
Someof the muddy potholes nearly swallow the entire front wheel and each trick at the gas is immediately answered with a violent drift of the rear. I must watch out that the tail of the heavily loaded BMW doesnít not constantly slide off while at the same time the load wants to drift away over the front wheel. Particularly if I try to maneuver around deepest waterholes and ditches.
The water gets poured out of the boots and stops are simply made in the middle of the road. Because of the high grass beside the road you often cannot leave the piste for hours and traveling can be very fatiguing at temperatures around 35 degrees.
All day long we fight our way through muddy grass land and water holes.
One of them turns out to be so deep that the water sloshes up to my chest as I drive through.† After approximately 150 km and totally exhausted we spend the night in a catholic mission. The Pater, a Polish brother, welcomes us very friendly and I simply pitch my tent in a classroom. Because of the heavy rainfalls, and the serpents. The black Mambas around here seek dry places in the rain time and might just slip into someones tent.
Wednesday, 21 February 07
After the heavy rainfalls of the night the way to the catholic mission transformed into a river. I must use all my driving skills to make it from the accommodation to the main road.
As expected the following 100kms turn into a hard fight against the elements. Everywhere, where the land is flat, the water gathers immediately.
The road leads through tropical grass land and finally passes by a scenic landscape of green hills.
Each view to the horizon lets you suspect the inconceivable size of the black continent.
After 4 hours of hard travel we reach the small town of Dolisie. Generally speaking, Dolisie represents the most important traffic junction in the entire Congo. Here the roads from the north meet the railway tracks, which lead from the coast to the capital city.
The main road, the route N1, which normally goes parallel to the railway got recently closed and is partly destroyed.
In this area, the pool region, war is still going on and the rebels try to prevent each form of goods and passenger traffic.
Therefore Dolisie is also a military base. A whole division of the Congolese army has to ensure that the railway line stays open to allow transport from the coast into the land.
For us this situation primarily means that we cannot travel to Brazaville overland and from there into the democratic republic Congo and then to Angola, but that we would have to take the train on this route option.
Likewise the way overland to Point Noir does not represent a real option. The piste is flooded.
So we drive to the train station.
The station more or less looks like a fortress and one must announce himself immediately to the on-duty commander. After examination of our papers we decribe our intentions to take the train to Brazaville.
There however is a problem. The train, that can carry vehicles is an armed military train. On this train we could load our vehicles but transportation of people except Congolese soldiers is forbidden.
Nobody of us would like to send his motorcycle or car unaccompanied through a Congolese theater of war. The situation is difficult.
Again I am the translator for the group and I suggest the possibility of a special permission.
I ask whether it would be possible to rent an own Wagon and simply attach it to the military train.
The station chief cannot give such a special permission and means we should simply ask his boss.
Whereupon we are asked to meet the Colonel. The Colonel is the responsible commander of the armed forces for the protection of the railway in the pool region.
He is not in his office in the afternoon, but after a short telephone call we get permission to personally visit him in his headquarters tomorrow.
We spend the night in a catholic mission again where they offer us immediately to wash our dirty things when they see us.
With the routine check of my machine it turns out that my transmission oil became milky yellow. When driving through all the mud holes water must have penetrated the system.
I immediately drive to the next gas station and fortunately get transmission oil with the right† specification. As I change it immediately I fortunately find the leaky spot. By the hard vibrations my shift lever loosened and you can still recognize traces of an oil leakage there. For transmission oil has hygroscopic characteristics it must have kind of sucked the water into the transmission box.
I hope the problem is solved now. In Angola I will still have to face some extreme pistes that might as well be under water.
Thursday, 22 February 2007
At 8 o'clock, accompanied by a Sergeant of the Congolese armed forces we head to the office of the Colonel.
Their headquarters are located in a big military complex. We pass the guards and march over the parading ground. The situation is somehow unreal. Two days ago I would not have imagined that I meet a Congolese Colonel today.
Through an atrium we finally step into the office of the commander. His boy, a shoepolisher sits on the floor under his table.
I immediately try to concentrate at the highest-ranking officer and shake the Colonelís hand.
Whereupon I am completely unexpectedly welcomed in perfect English.
The high officer tells us that he studied in the United States and that he is glad to officially welcome us in the Congo. Whereupon he excuses for the inconveniences in the region and discusses the situation with us.
The problem represents our wish to travel together with the vehicles.
The train, which can transport vehicles goes through a war zone at the moment and except the security guards and the engineers noboby is allowed to be on the train. The reason for this is that the train gets attacked frequently.
We thank the Colonel for his assistance and leave the barracks.
Having to face the new situation, we decide to take the road into the Angolan Exklave Cabinda.
That means, we will cross the border from the Congo to Angola tomorrow and then, dependently on the strength of the rainfalls we will decide about the route options further on.
On the one hand, there is the possibility to ship over Congo delta to the main land of Angola and on the other hand is it possible to travel overland on the piste on the river banks through the democratic Republic of Congo in order to cross into Angola.
If the rainfalls are to strong this route is not an option, then the river delta is flooded.
Friday, 23 February 2007
Today we are on the way to Cabinda. The piste to to the border is only 50 kilometers long and leads through a lowland between two mountains.
The soil is muddy to the majority and the water gathers itself in enormous lacquers.
These 50 kilometers nearly take us 3 hours.
In some water holes the Landcruiser dives in to the back window. For a motorcycle that would be the sure disaster. Laboriously I wade through the waterholes to find the best place for the passage.
One of the holes doesnít seem to have a shallow spot and because of the swamp and the high grass there is also no way around.
We do not have another option than driving through.
With sufficient speed I steer to the center of the rut. The machine dives in over the fork and the front wheel fortunately finds sufficient grip on the muddy underground. The water rinses over the seat and reaches up to my belly. I feel a strong twisting as I obviously traverse an underwater ridge, a short gas impact gets me off the hole.
I take a deep breath, but in the same moment it makes Plopp and the engine dies. Fortunately on dry ground.
The air box and the intake of my BMW lie relatively deep. So the engine might have sucked in water. I always imagined this situation with fear, now I am kneedeep into it and somehow I must find a way to get the water out again.
There is no other option for me than to strip the bike, remove the water from the aircleaner box and unscrew the spark plugs.
I put the bike in the 5. gear and spin the engine over the rear wheel. The water from the combustion chamber is pressed out by the movement of the pistons and the machine is fine again.
Friday, 23 February 07
Around noon we reach the border to the Angolan Exklave of Cabinda. The main road, that connects the Congo to Cabinda is a shrub path. Lonely and narrow it leads through the rain forest.
The noises of the jungle are sometimes so loud that they even over-sound the humming of the engine. The Cakophonie of millions of birds sounds from the trees and accompanies the† constant screaming of the apes.
Somewhere out in nowhere we spend the evening in a private hotel. Outside heavily armed men guard the doors and inside some Israelis and Brazilians celebrate their weekend off. They are active in the raw material export business.
One may not forget that the Exklave of Cabinda is one of the richest spots of resources on earth in relation to its size. Particularly in oil and diamonds.
This combination naturally does not promote the general security of the region. Here is the only place in Angola where there still is a war going on.