Blog 74 by Tan: Adventures With Opera Jack – Part 3 After spending the day in the village, we decided to go ahead and stay another night...
Blog 74 by Tan: Adventures With Opera Jack – Part 2 The next morning we rode the short distance to the BaAka settlement and met Jenga, the...
Blog 74 by Tan: Adventures With Opera Jack – Part 1 So there we were in Ouesso in the far northwest of Republic of Congo. We had...
Blog 73 by Tan: Seeing the Wood For the Trees The Brazzaville side of the river was a breeze in comparison to the Kinshasa side. There were...
Blog 72 by Tan: Kin la Belle And just like that, we were in Kinshasa. With so much of our efforts and attentions dedicated to getting our...
Blog 71 by Mick: Day 8 on the Dirt – The Last of the N1… Day 8, and final day, of off-road riding 115km off-road and 102km...
Blog 70 by Tan: Day 7 (pm) on the Dirt – The Great Road of China Following on from the last post: But first a bit on...
Blog 69 by Tan: Day 7 (am) on the Dirt – DRC, Where a Half Day is a Full Blog Day 7 of off road riding 178km...
Blog 68 by Mick: Day 6 on the Dirt – I Love the Smell of Burnt Clutch in the Morning Day 6 of off road riding 53km...
Blog 67 by Tan: Day 5 on the dirt – Reflecting on the Butcher Day 5 of off road riding 131km from Kananga to an unknown tiny...
We are a geologist and mining engineer by profession but world travelling, adventure seeking nomads by nature. After years spent happily ensconced in the bosom of the Australian mining industry we have decided it was time to live the dream and travel a large portion of the globe on the back or our trusty Suzuki DR650s….
And just like that, we were in Kinshasa. With so much of our efforts and attentions dedicated to getting our bikes and selves to Kinshasa, we realised we hadn’t put all that much thought into what we would actually do there. We knew we needed to sort out a visa for Republic of Congo but beyond that there was little on our agenda.
After our eventful slog across country the most immediate requirement was a long sleep-in in air-conditioned comfort. The next day we woke up just in time to hit the breakfast buffet and soon enough we were once again in the company of some members of what has to be the most enthusiastic and welcoming motorbike club getting around.
Christine and Patrick picked us up and took us to the office of yet another bike club member who works in logistics for an airline and freight company. Boris was going to help us organise getting our bikes across the river to Brazzaville.
We had made the decision to take a pass on riding the off-road route that goes from Kinshasa to Luouzi. This route is a common one for Overlanders as it avoids the excessive cost and inconvenience of transporting the bikes by boat across the Congo River. Now anyone that has been paying even a little attention to this ride report would have noticed it is not like us to avoid a bit of off-road. In fact we are much more likely to travel hundreds of kilometers to some far flung corner in order to do a trail with a lofty reputation. So why not do this route, you ask?
Mick looking super cool while out on a mission in town with Farid.
For some unknown and completely nonsensical reason I had a really bad feeling about doing that section. I just couldn’t fight this feeling that one of us was going to have an injury on it, like suffer a broken leg. The route is pretty rough by all accounts but honestly not on the scale of what we had already done in Congo. Even so, I simply couldn’t shake the foreboding for this inconsequential section of track so pressured Michael to take the boat to Brazzaville instead. Maybe my subconscious had determined we had pushed our luck far enough and it was time for us to move on.
I knew by taking the boat we would end up spending a lot of money and be trading the easy and hassle-free land crossing between the two Congos for the difficult and hassle-rich river crossing. Mick, I have to give credit to, was somewhat receptive/resigned to my request. However, the river crossing deal was positively sealed when we learned the extent of Mick’s bike woes and even furthermore when the Bikers Kinshasa said they could help us organise and execute the crossing.
Boris used his network of contacts to get the cheapest possible rate to cross from Kinshasa to Brazzaville. Getting people and goods around Congo was his bread and butter and he knew his stuff. It was great to have him organising all this as he knew people on both sides in customs and immigration.
“The Beach” as the Kinshasa side of the river is known has has a formidable reputation. It is here that the fiercest attempts at extorting foreigners has been known to go down. It is not uncommon to hear of Overland bikers spending the good part of the day, significant reserves of patience, and $400 and up for the 1.8km, 15 minute boat crossing. Others have paid less, others had paid more, and others still have been sent packing (at their own expense) back across the river for failing to meet some real or manufactured immigration requirement and subsequent bribe demand.
Patrick giving us a welcome speech on behalf of the club.
Boris was informed that the best way customs would permit us to cross with the motorbikes was to charter a boat to ourselves. Customs would not allow/make trouble for us if we put the bikes on a boat for ferrying people, and it would be problematic to get on a boat for goods and freight. So it was best to hire a boat specifically for us. Boris did however go to bat for us and negotiated that customs would allow us to take 4 ticket paying passengers on the boat which would slightly offset the cost of our boat charter. Even at the time we were thinking, “that certainly sounds nice, but what’s a bet it doesn’t go down like that at the docks!” Sure enough it didn’t but it was a valiant attempt on Boris’ part regardless.
We had expected the cost of the crossing to be huge, but in the end it was far more reasonable a deal than we would have been able to secure ourselves. Everything included, we paid USD335 for both of us and both bikes. That is pretty dear for a river crossing, but that is as cheap and trouble free as it gets. I felt financially guilty for not wanting to go the cheap route of taking the Luozi road. But Mick said given his current bike issues it was a smarter move to take the river.
He passed on the message that the club president regretted he was out of the country and could not meet us.
Boozing it up at our hotel.
A club member with a rad beard whose name I don’t recall and the lovely Christine, a Belgian who has lived in DRC since she was a child.
What a treat for us to have a group of mates again.
With that we were committed to crossing the river and Boris did us another solid by getting his staff to do all the running around for our Republic of Congo visas. We just filled out the forms and handed over our cash and passports and let someone else do the dirty work. Now this was a style of Overlanding I could get used to.
The club had even gone to the trouble of preparing a welcome slide show for us with all the previous days photos of our ride into town. These guys are legends.
With the wheels in motion for getting over to Brazzavile we were free to get to know Kinshasa a little better. First up we were off to lunch with more of the Bikers Kinshasa crowd and once more they refused to let us pay our way. After socialising the afternoon away it was time to return to the hotel to get ready for more socialising with the bike club there. That night we ate, drank, talked and did a slideshow of our travels thus far in Africa.
With company like this to enjoy it is no wonder we decided to stay on in Kinshasa longer than the couple of days we had initially planned. We mentally expunged from consciousness the $US75 a night we were paying for our hotel and resolved to enjoy our time with the bike club in Kinshasa to the full. Budget be damned! We must explain here, 75 bucks is bloody expensive for us but Kinshasa is one of the most expensive cities in the world for expats, generally coming in second after Luanda, Angola. The cheapest decent hotels going are around USD50 but it was the advice of the Bikers Kinshasa that we wouldn’t be safe in a neighbourhood where those types of hotels are. So they vetted our hotel for us and negotiated a good rate as well (normal price was about 110), and we took their advice onboard and ignored the cost.
How to describe Kinshasa? A random Lonely planet writer actually captured the essence of Kinshasa quite well I think with the following statement:
“Shot through with chaos, music and a lust for life that is as infectious as it is overwhelming, Kinshasa is a city you experience rather than visit.”
We don’t make a habit of taking photos in big cities so here is a pic off the net of a typical Kinshasa scene.
Kinshasa, or just ‘Kin’ as it is locally known, had all of the hallmarks of any of the African capitals we had visited; erratic driving, street hawkers working every traffic light and thoroughfare, prodigious potholes, lack of infrastructure, abundance of rubbish, saddening levels of poverty, and flashes of utterly gratuitous wealth. But there was something else that made Kin stand out from the crowd. I just couldn’t pinpoint exactly what that was. It may have been the frenetic energy of the daily hustle of making life in this tough city; it could have been the world famous music and the vivid colour on display; it could have been our enthusiastic company among the bikers; it could have been the fact we were on a high from our big ride… but whatever it was it was it drew us to the place. Still now I get a buzz from the memory of our time there and wish so much we had stayed longer… or in the very least that we will find our way back there again.
And another loaner from the net.
So much colour. A photo of one of Kin’s markets by Pascal Maitre for Nat Geo.
Kinshasa heaves under the weight of one of the world’s fastest-growing urban populations. The last census conducted in Kinshasa was back in 1984, so no one really knows precisely how many people call it home. Most estimates are between 10 and 11 million. And they say half a million join the throng every year. It is not surprising therefore that Kinshasa is on its way to being the largest French-speaking city in the world, with Paris just a few years from being relegated to second place. Though Lingala is the common tongue in these parts, I’m ashamed to say we didn’t learn a single word of it.
Kinshasa..expanding by the minute.
Kinshasa spreads itself from the banks of the Congo River to its ever-expanding shanty towns on the city’s periphery. The city centre or centre ville as it is called there, displays the greatest concentrations of the city’s wealth and it is where the elites and expats reside, congregate, move and shake. In these parts you’ll find nice cafes, restaurants and Shoprite supermarkets filled with processed food from South Africa and Europe. Outside the city center, you’ll find no such prosperity, and the bulk of Kin residents are left to make do any way they can.
The slick part of town. Internet pic.
Most of those writing and reading this blog would luckily lack any concept of the extent to which the local population is completely left to its own devices. The government fails to provide even the most rudimentary level of services and the people have in turn long abandoned any expectation for government support. Schooling is supposed to be compulsory but its cost remains out of reach for many. Running water, electricity and sanitation are at best unreliable but more generally non-existent. But despite this it would be unfair to characterise the city merely by what it lacks. What struck me and what strikes many who visit is that it is a marvel that the city manages to function as well as it does. And it really is the local populace that deserves the credit for this.
The Boulevard 30 June in Downtown Kin. This 8km stretch of road was refurbished by Chinese companies for a cost of $US43.4 million. This project was just a small part of a $US3 billion infrastructure for minerals deal between China and DRC. The construction of the road from Lubumbashi to Kinshasa we came across is also part of the deal along with a heck of a lot more infrastructure DRC desperately needs.
The DRC has long teetered on the edge of full and official state failure. The ever-resourceful Kinois therefore have had no recourse but to create their own opportunities, which they do through frenzied entrepreneurship and the reliance on community networks and relationships with friends and family. What the state denies the informal system does its best to provide.
On that note, this seems a good time to mention that Kinshasa has its own nuclear reactor. Yes, this sprawling metropolis of indeterminable millions, lacking reliable running water, sewerage and electricity, shockingly has a nuclear reactor. Two actually. Back in the 1950’s a Belgian priest was running the University of Kinshasa and thought it would be great if he had a reactor on hand to indulge his amateur interest in nuclear research. He lobbied the Belgians to lobby the Americans to give them a their own nuclear facility to commemorate DR Congo’s part in the birth of the nuclear age. The US obliged.
The reactor building in question.
In 1958 Congo’s first nuclear reactor was constructed at the University of Kinshasa with the second coming in 1972; ample time to rethink the wisdom of the decision one would think. But it wasn’t until the 1990s that the US seemed to acknowledge the non-ideal nature of having a couple of nuclear reactors in a state of decline in the perennially unstable Congo. The US cut off access to spare parts hoping that would convince them to shut up shop. They did not, and instead were just pushed to improvise their own ingenious solutions – DIY nuclear reactor maintenance, if you will. One reactor has been out of action since 1970, while the second stopped functioning in 1992 after electrical problems rendered the reactor impossible to control. At last count the reactors held 138 nuclear fuel rods. The result being huge risk for zero gain, beyond being able to puff our your chest at having your own nuclear reactors.
Naturally the International Atomic Energy Agency sees the existence of the reactors as a disaster waiting to happen. One such disaster would be having radiation contaminate the water supply of the 11 million people living on the reactors’ doorstep. The fact that the reactors are built in an area known for subsidence means it is a real possibility. The reactors however aren’t just at risk from below, in 2000 one of the reactor walls was struck by a piece of metal that either came from a missile or metal that fell from a plane flying overhead.
And if the accidental release of nuclear material isn’t concerning enough, consider the intentional stealing of it. Security at the facility is lax to say the least. There is no video surveillance and the fences around the facilities have holes and large gaps that many university students use as a shortcut across campus. Farmers grow vegetables in the reactor facility next to the nuclear waste storage building.
In the late 1970s a previous director of the facility lent someone his keys, apparently not realising the master key to the reactor was on it. The key disappeared along with two rods of enriched uranium. Back in 1998 Italian authorities found one of the rods in Rome. The rod was seized from the Sicilian Mafia who were looking to sell it to buyers in the Middle East for almost $20 million apparently. The other fuel rod is still unaccounted for. True story.
The same building but with the old paint job. Fort Knox it ain’t.
According to the most recent reports on Kinshasa nuclear reactors I could find, at the moment one could access these fuel rods with just three snips of a bolt cutter. Or by paying off a guard or technical who receive on average a months salary of $100. It is no surprise then that the US government has been trying to persuade Congo to handover much of their enriched uranium. I don’t know how they have gone with that.
The following day we were helped once more by the bikers to line up our Cameroon visas. For travelling up the West Coast we have heard (and later found it to be the case) that it is generally easier to secure a visa for a country from at least one country away. Strangely it can often be a hassle trying to get a visa for a country from its neighbouring country. The capital cities of Democratic Republic of Congo (Kinshasa) and Republic of Congo (Brazzaville) are separated by the Congo River and no more than 1.8 km. These world’s closest capital cities were our last options for getting our Cameroon visas. On one side of the river we had friends to hang out with. On the other side we didn’t. It was a no brainer to get the visa in Kin.
Word was put out amongst the bikers looking for anyone who had any good contacts with the Cameroon embassy that could facilitate us getting our visas with minimal hassle. Sure enough someone in the group knew a woman who works for an African wildlife fund who regularly deals with the Cameroon embassy when securing the visas for researchers that go to Cameroonian side of the Congo jungle to study bonobos and low-land gorillas.
Getting an awesome feed with Farid and Joseph at one of Kin’s most popular Lebanese restaurants.
This place was pumping….and surprisingly cheap for these parts.
The lady came with us to the embassy and through her we got an audience with the advisor to the consul and he basically said ‘no worries’ we could get the visa despite not having an air ticket, address or invitation letter as if officially required. All we then had to do was pay the small fortune for the visas (US$150 each plus a little USD10 “payment” to the front desk administrator to not decelerate the process) and pick them up the next day.
We went to celebrate our visa win with yet more pizza. Once we hit the first bit of tar after our Congo crossing Mick and I had started discussing in detail all the food we were going to eat when we got to Kinshasa. We had lofty food goals. We agreed we would eat one entire pizza after the next before hitting some French patisseries hard. It therefore came as a surprise when it came to it we could only get 2/3 of the way through one thin crust pizza, working together. Our stomachs had shrunk that much on the trip. That night we caught a look at ourselves and noted how much weight we’d lost in the last 10 days. We’d guess we had both lost more than 5kg.
Patrick and Alberto
When the group found out we were engaged they fashion some rings out of tin foil and insisted on a very public faux marriage in the restaurant.
Farid sporting a South Sydney Rabbitohs cap
With most of the logistics sorted Mick then set about getting the bikes in order while I got a blog uploaded while the wifi was good. We were quite impressed with ourselves managing to get two blogs written and uploaded while in DRC. Oh how our discipline has waned since.
The bike work required was more extensive than we had expected. The off-road crossing did an absolute number on the bikes. Mick changed the old chains and sprockets over as they were completely trashed. Mick was gob-smacked at the condition of the chains in particular. Mick ordered new chains and sprockets while we were in Ethiopia to pick up in Zambia (the challenges of overlanding logistics in Africa), the intention being to pick up the chains and sprockets in Lusaka and put them on before crossing into DRC.
Mick getting my bike in order. Swapping chains and sprockets.
At the time of arranging for our mate to bring a bunch of new consumables to Lusaka from South Africa, our current chains had 22,000km on them. By the time we got to Zambia they’d have about 30,000km and Mick figured they would be ready for a change. Yet when we arrived in Zambia the chains were in extremely good nick. They looked like they could easily go another 4,5 maybe even 7000km, no worries.
So we were faced with two unattractive options; carry about 9kg worth of new chains and sprockets across DRC, or save weight and ditch expensive consumables earlier than necessary, and then rapidly wear brand new chains and sprockets through 1500kms of sand and mud. In the end Mick opted to take the weight hit and squeeze all the life from our current chains and sprockets while preserving our new gear for the other-side of the Congo. However, just 2500km later in Kinshasa, they were completely and utterly knackered. It appears 2500kms of DR Congo does 3 times damage of regular riding.
Mick also changed both our front and rear brakes. Once again they were in great condition when we started the crossing. Now they were totally shot. My rear brakes were utterly gone, the mud not only took the pads but took the rear caliper rubber slide pin bushes as well, damaging the caliper and the slide pins in the process. Mick replaced these bushes, plus both bikes rear brake pads and my front pads all from spares he’d been carrying.
After getting my bike in a respectable state, Mick took his bike apart to inspect the damage wrought on the trail. His bike had been getting hotter than normal while riding into town, which pointed to trouble. Cleaning the mud out of he oil cooler helped, but didn’t resolve the problem. On top of that, his new clutch was slipping.
Not the first or last time we would sully a nice hotel car park by turning it into a workshop.
First up he took out the clutch and cleaned up all the grooves in the clutch fingers with sandpaper, and also filed off the sharp edges of the clutch basket’s broken finger. We also roughed up the clutch plates with sandpaper. Next up Mick pulled out the oil filter and immediately realised something he had failed to consider while undertaking his roadside clutch repair days back. The heat, crowds and exhaustion led to a lapse in judgment that went on to dog Mick’s bike for months and months.
Stuffed oil filter full of bits of clutch. It is pulled apart a bit here as Mick wanted to see if anything got past the screen.
The filter was completely destroyed, having become so full of debris from the damaged clutch that it blocked the filter to the point the pressure collapsed it. It certainly explained why the bike was getting uncharacteristically hot. Mick kicked himself for not doing a proper oil change and removing the metal filled oil while we had the chance in Kikwit. Instead we somehow forgot about it and rode the 525km to Kin. Mick couldn’t believe his oversight, I could – we were just so physically and mentally exhausted and not thinking properly. First things first then; we needed a new oil filter.
Mick seriously thinking this shirt is still has good life in it.
I went off with Patrick and Christine to try and source a new filter. We hit a few of the Kinshasa’s bike shops with no success – Africa, in general, simply does not provide service to bikes bigger than about 150cc. The oil filter search granted the opportunity to see that less polished parts of Kinshasa than what we were exposed to in the glossy centre ville. We drove past markets and down streets full of secondhand clothing stalls. The individual stores were immaculately organised and all specialised in a different type of clothing. Stores were perhaps 2.5m wide with their wares displayed prominently on propped up sections of canvas that extended high above, creating 12ft walls of clothing. I saw stall after stall of high-visibility work uniforms, domestic staff uniforms, school uniforms then walls of countless, pristine white martial arts uniforms; tae kwon do uniforms from a club in Miami, a Karate uniform from another club from Germany.
Absolutely everywhere you go in Kinshasa you see members of the ‘marche ambulant’ – the walking market place. This would have to be the most common form of employment in the city. It’s a tough existence that has people spending all day walking the city with a collection of goods and the hope of running into a person looking to purchase that precise item. You see this kind of thing all over Africa, but like with everything, the Kinshasa version is more extreme.
You’d see people selling sunglasses, a pair of dress pants, some straw baskets, phone chargers, belts, steering wheel covers, bottles of water, packets of tissues… anything you could imagine really.
We saw one man selling a huge oil painting of a river scene. His instincts for a sale were so strongly developed he seemed to sense the moment I looked at him from the second floor of an open-air restaurant on the other side of the street. He looked up at me and raised the painting in view of a sale. I couldn’t help but wonder what his chances were of coming across someone in town who happened to be in the market for a 4-foot oil painting. Would be trying to sell this thing for weeks? Months? Or would fate smile kindly and line him up with someone who just so happened to be in the market for a huge ass painting of the Congo River?
A downtown road side toy shop.
One of the best books on the DRC is David Van Reybrouck’s, Congo: The Epic History of a People. In it he shares a story of the daily life of a mobile phone credit seller that is so illustrative of the hard work and difficult existence of a member of Kinshasa’s walking market place.
The story centers around a guy named Beko, in his early twenties. He is one of Kin’s many mobile phone credit sellers. He works from 6am to 8pm, 6 days a week. On Sunday he attends church so only works from 11am to 8pm. On a good day he might sell $100 worth of credit of which $8 would go to him. But he has to pay off police up to 4 times a day to turn a blind eye to his selling in the street, which is not officially permitted. He either pays the bribes that can total up to $1.50 a day or he has his phone credit confiscated.
His bus trips to and from the city costs hours of his time and about $1.50. A simple meal for lunch might also cost him about a dollar or dollar fifty. He pays his aunt $1 a day in rent… leaving him with what now… around 3 to 4 bucks depending on bribes.. which he uses to support his brothers and sisters of whom he is the sole breadwinner. And remember – this is all on a good day. He has a university degree in education. Stories like this conflict with our general reality of effort yielding reward. That’s just not how things go here in DRC. Fate (and connections) seems to play a greater part in determining what opportunities someone has.
Farid taking my tired old bike for a spin. And another club member dropping in for a visit and to offer any mechanical help. This guy is DRC’s top BMW mechanic and takes care of the government’s fleet of bikes.
Anyway back to the oil filter search. It didn’t take long before we discovered a member of the bike group who was prepared to give us of his own oil filters from his Suzuki XF650 Freewind, which uses the same filter. He and his bike are based in Kisangani, far in the interior of DRC, but he was going to use his ample influence to get the oil filter on the morning plane to Kinshasa for us. There is nothing like the solidarity among bikers. We were touched. But we told him to hold on to his filter for a day or so while we continue to scout the second-hand bike markets. We didn’t want him left without spares of his own.
Our not like new second hand replacement. Beggars can’t be choosers.
As luck would have it another member of the bike club, Farid, spent the next morning successfully chasing a secondhand oil filter. It was over-used and utterly filthy and set us back an outrageous $US30, beaten done from a truly criminal $40. But this is Kinshasa and that’s what you pay. The stench of our desperation wouldn’t have helped.
That afternoon Farid delivered our passports complete with our new Cameroon visas. I cannot stress to you what an extreme achievement it is getting two Central/West African visas sorted in 2 days. Nothing in this part of the world is ever that easy! We shouldn’t have been all that surprised as there were indicators here and there that our new biker mates had some impressive connections in this town. One such friend of the club is none other that President Joseph Kabila himself. Kabila is a motorbike enthusiast but hitting the streets on Kinshasa on one of his fleet of bikes has long been off the cards for him. However he still appreciates bikes and it is for this reason the club has been known to pull up out front of Kabila’s residence before a group ride and rev their engines for him and get the big fella’s wave before setting off. He obviously likes this gesture, because if he didn’t…
Bike club members Alberto and Farid took us out to one of Kin’s best restaurants. We were embarrassed by our overly casual attire but excited for Italian food.
With so much in order it was time to celebrate. That night we were picked up by some bikers and taken to a niteclub of Farid’s friend. We stayed at the club until a little after 2am, which was a pretty epic achievement for us as we are total non-party types.
While at the club we met an English husband and wife that are getting involved in gold mining over here. We were both impressed and befuddled that they would jump into such a specialised industry in a complicated country with no previous experience in DRC or even Africa, no established network of contacts and no background whatsoever in gold or mining to speak of. Despite appearing to have no idea what they were doing, Mick seemed to think their actual business model was sound… so good luck to them we thought. We had a feeling they’d need it, we never asked if they liked rollercoasters, but we hope they do because with no technical knowledge they were going to get taken for a serious ride. Without good sampling data and a strong background in geo-statistics, production reconciliations would be impossible and their business partners would be free to take as big a part of the pie as they dared. Blind Freddie could see DRC is the kind of place that chews up and spits out the uninitiated, naïve or even the experienced expert. I’d imaging the chances were much higher for losing your shirt (if not more) than making your fortune here.
A bunch of the club members came out to see us off.
Still we couldn’t deny being utterly drawn to the place; the opportunity, the risk, the knowledge that this place might be too tough for us. We will never be the types to chase fortune, but chasing an adventure or a challenge is a different matter altogether. We started to daydream of what we might be able to do as experienced mining people here. We couldn’t help but be excited by one of the biker’s upcoming gold dredging project and enjoyed giving advice on what he should be doing with it. He offered us jobs, but we were still enjoying being unemployed… and we weren’t silly enough to think working in DRC would be easy.
While our paperwork was getting processed we just chatted….
..and posed with nicer bikes than our own.
Another member of the bike club entertained us with stories of the artisanal mining exploits (in this case, panning and dredging for alluvial gold) of friends of his in the DR Congo. He spoke about how he knew or knew-of people that had made a lot of money and others that had lost a lot of money… that is really how gold fossicking tends to go when people literally just run on luck. And with that another day in Kinshasa passed.
After more time and toil the bikes were in ok condition once more. And with Kinshasa burning a hole in our pocket it seemed the time to move on to Republic of Congo, our 15th African country.
More waiting at the port.
Continuing their campaign of incredible hospitality, a bunch of the bike club members met us at ‘the beach’ to see us off. Boris had arranged for a contact to help us on each side of the crossing and I am embarrassed to say we didn’t even lift a finger to get our paperwork settled. So with no effort on our side we were soon on the boat with the bikes and making our way to Republic of Congo.
Now the interesting part of getting the bike on to the boat.
Not easy work in this heat.
Our private charter boat.
It was a little emotional (for me at least) to be leaving such warm company and the country that had provided us with some of the most rewarding and vivid moments of the trip, if not our lives. Melancholy descended on the boat ride, though Mick might never admit to such a thing.
That Congo River has some current to it.
Yet more man-handling.
Our gloomy mood was not just a matter of struggling to say goodbye but also struggling to imagine a better outcome for this place that captured our imagination so completely. As ever the political climate in DRC at that time was not inspiring confidence and hinted at yet more turmoil and bloodshed in the near future. When we were there, rumours abounded that President Kabila’s was going to alter the constitution to allow him to serve more terms at the helm of government. Early protests to the move were met with fierce retaliation by the military with reports of up to almost 50 killed (but rumours of hundreds killed) along Kinshasa’s pristine new Chinese built boulevard we had so admired 10 months later. The fact that as I write a year and a half later the election has still not been held has confirmed the truth of Kabila’s intent to stay in power. Little good, therefore, can be expected to come from this situation. The most likely of outcomes are too sad to ponder really.
Look how hard that bloke is working. I think the guys were paid $5 each to get the bikes on and off.
Getting the bikes as secure as possible with one old rope.
Ready to roll….or should I say cruise?
As I think about the crossing now I can’t help but recall the tale of the Crocodile and the Scorpion that we have come across a number of times in our DRC background research. The tale is a popular parable for DRC problems but has been used to illustrate similar and varying problems elsewhere in the world. The original author is said to be Roald Dahl who wrote it to describe the situation in the Middle East.
Congo River scenes.
Last pics with members of our favourite motorbike club.
And just like that….we were gone.
It goes like this:
One day a scorpion on Kin side of the Congo River desired nothing more than to travel to the Brazza side of the river. He flagged down a passing crocodile and requested a lift to the other side. The crocodile was having none of it and told the scorpion he wouldn’t dream of taking him on his back across the river. “I know all about you scorpions, I’m not going to take you on my back only for you to sting me and drown me along the way.” The Scorpion responds that he would never think of doing such a thing, “why, if I stung you then not only would you drown but so would I. I would never do that.” Convinced by the Scorpion’s logic he relented and agreed to take him to the other bank.
The crossing was passing merrily as they approached the other bank when suddenly the crocodile felt a sharp sting in his neck. The crocodile yelled at the scorpion, demanding to know why he had done this. “Now we will both surely drown,” cried the crocodile. As the venom overwhelmed the crocodile and he started to sink beneath the river, the scorpion whispered into his ear, “this is Congo, don’t try to understand.”