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Published: August 10th 2014
Any country with "Democratic" in its name is bound to be dodgy as hell. As I crossed the Luapula River towards the DRC border post, I was expecting to be well and truly worked over by the border officials for as much money as possible.
The chief of the post ended up being a relatively friendly guy, but wouldn't budge from his demand of $50 for the transit stamp. Paul who had suggested that I take this road had also been stung for this amount, so after a while I relented and paid up. But he was then insistent on a "souvenir" from me, so I offered him a photo from the portable printer. This worked well because I got a photo in his awesome cave of an office, and he was placated.
A dollar to his sidekick got me the paperwork stamped and signatures organised, and back I wandered to my bike. But no. The big guard that was prowling the front of the border building stopped me, and sent me down to another set of offices. God knows what the two guys in these offices were signing off, but the Zambians crossing the border were also getting
approval, so in I traipsed. These guys each asked for about five or six dollars, which I refused to pay as politely as I could. By waiting them out I ended up paying about $2 to each, and got and gave my souvenir photos. I quite like the shot above, with four of us in their dilapidated office, with an old map of the Congo and a portrait of Joseph Kabila hanging behind us. Pity about my foolish grin in contrast with their staunch expressions.
OK, sorted, back to the bike. But no. Security Boy pulls me up again and sends me to what ended up being customs. The customs officer was grumpy and arrogant, and tried to hit me up for $25. So I was more motivated than the other guys to wait it out until he accepted very little. The Zambians were paying about 50c, so I vowed to wait until the $1 mark. This took about 30 minutes of me just sitting there repeating that his colleagues had relieved me of all my money and a dollar was the best I could do. Eventually he relented while ranting about what a favour he was doing me,
and what a "bad man" I was.
So it was a slightly sour end to what had otherwise been a relatively good-natured process. At least now I could get riding. But no. The medical officer was next. This guy was old, dishevelled, and drunk, and had an assistant who was young, dishevelled, and drunk. He asked for my yellow fever certificate, which I handed over. Slightly deflated he then asked for my cholera vaccination, which I showed him. He then tried to suggest that because my cholera vaccination was not on my yellow fever certificate, I needed to pay $30. Yeah right. But he had my yellow fever card tucked under some paperwork on his side of his desk so we were at an impasse. After a couple of minutes of me asking then telling him to give my yellow fever card back, I eventually reached over and whisked the card from where it was hiding and walked out. No one stopped me getting on my bike, and I finally was able to ride into the Congo.
Man it felt good blasting along by myself through the jungle-clad road. Until you get to near the western side, there
are no villages, no real side roads, just red dirt and jungle. I was in the Congo, and happy as a pig in mud.
After a bit, I was a pig in mud, as I reached a very wet section. No big deal, as it didn't last for long. But kind of funny because it was around this time that I came across a road crew that was in the process of building a proper road next to the old one. Elevated, graded, and wide, it taunted me as I slid about in the muck.
A few villages appeared, and before I knew it I had reached the small border town of Mokambo. To celebrate my crossing of the Congo (ha ha) I sat down at a restaurant for a snack of biscuits and a large bottle of beautifully cold Tembo beer.
Compared to the carry on at the first border, the exit formalities were surprisingly quick. The relative efficiency and professionalism of the Zambian border officials was an even greater contrast, and I was back in Zambia. After an hour's ride on a nastily pot-holed road, I got to Ndola, and found myself in a shopping
complex eating pizza. Weird, a couple of hours before I was by myself in what felt like the middle of nowhere, and now I was chatting with a South African guy and his wife who had shouted me a choc-covered ice-cream. My red-mud-splattered bike stood in stark contrast to the clean cars in the parking lot in front of us. What a brilliant day.
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