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July 10th 2012
Published: September 1st 2012
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July 10

We're in The Congo! Well, Republic of Congo to be exact; not too far from the Gabon border that we crossed earlier today. Our free camp isn't too far off the road and several youngsters found us but either they kept their little secret to themselves or the adults weren't interested.

Driving along solid dirt roads again, the landscape was similar to yesterday. A small section of sealed road appeared in the border town where people frantically pointed to the building we'd driven past and listening to them, Suse turned the truck around and we found out it was immigration. Notes said it was 48km further down the track but here it was. Somehow we'd missed the tiny sign sitting under the window from the main road 100 metres away. Go figure.

Filing in, we sat in front of the official so he could compare our passports with our faces and after taking advantage of their clean, flushable toilet and basin with running water (!!!), we retraced our steps, turned right and hit the dirt road again en route to the border.

Three policemen in three different uniforms stopped us at one point and had us come into their office. It's hard enough to take anyone serious when they're wearing short tight shorts but when the person in question is male and wearing an army shirt with matching shorts, it's hard to keep a straight face. What made it even better was another policeman at another checkpoint asking Suse if we'd seen him! Anyway, the three were stamp happy and not being immigration meant they shouldn't be stamping passports, maybe just the passenger list we presented to them but they weren't having it. Insisting they choose where we get stamped, we had no choice but to let them get on with it, lest we stand and argue the point for several hours. Then we continued onto the next one where one man spoke excellent English. Suse told us later that as he flicked through passports, he commented on our ages. He was surprised to see Yoshi's age and said 'grandfather'. Suse agreed and he continued onto Toni's where he said 'ah, another grandfather!' which is where Suse said 'no, godfather', much to his puzzlement. Toby and Rhys were 'babies' and the rest of us 'middle babies'. A jolly man, he came up on the truck to check us out and give us our passports before sending us on our way.

With tall grass lining the dusty roads, we came to the boom gate blocking our entry to country number twelve. Most have been looking forward to Congo, thinking of it as 'real Africa', minus the creepy gorillas (á la Michael Crichton) and here we were! Officials made us pull our bags out and go through them while they searched for weapons but lost interest after four or five bags and we put them all away again.

Passing through several small villages along the way, all were filled with election propaganda including banners over the road, weighted down with rocks. Peals of laughter could be heard as we drove through a sign that was dangling over the road. People waved and smiled and wished us 'bonne voyage!' and we continued until we spied a small overgrown road off to the left. Suse jumped out, ran down to check it and with a few last bumps, we'd found our home for the night in a 'cosy' quarry of sorts. Tents were put up and a fire started and we sat around the 'bush tv' and waited for dinner in the cool evening air.
July 11

Continuing on our way, our first stop was a town not far from where we camped for immigration and customs. Upon entering the building and finding it empty, Suse found someone outside who made a call. Speaking in a local language, Suse could only pick out the word 'tourist'. Being motioned to wait, a man soon popped up in the window - naked and half asleep! After apologising, Suse was waved off and crossed the road to customs. Finding another empty building, she was asked to leave three passenger lists that would be handed over once the officials woke up!

The landscape changed little. Perhaps instead of the pale coloured dirt, it changed to red dirt. And soft rolling hills appeared in the distance. Rain hadn't visited this area in what seemed like months, judging from the amount of dust coating the leaves but was probably only weeks when I see how much dust our truck kicks up!
Election campaigning was in full swing today with people out everywhere. Usually in the morning you see women or children sweeping around this house, children bathing each other in a tub of water, women washing clothes, men heading of to work or lounging around in doorways. This morning the majority of children were left near the home and adults walked towards the village centre where they congregated in their usual mix of bright traditional cloth and Western clothing. Men with megaphones spoke to the crowds and as we drove past, turned on the attached siren and shouted greetings to us! Elections are a merry time as political parties had out free clothing and other propaganda so it's not usual to see entire villages wearing white t-shirts and matching caps with a political candidate plastered on the front. They even design dresses for women to wear!

Bumping along, it took approximately six hours to cover 90km with little more than a handful of small villages and a dozen or so cars to break the monotony. It meant that the police checkpoint was almost exciting - especially when he said that 30-odd kilometres down the road was a marché! Denise, Suse and I amused ourselves by singing as we crawled along the rutted road at 10km/hr, giggling at ourselves. We were easily amused but covering the 32km in three hours made for a painfully slow journey.
But, we arrived at Mila Mila where the road forks. We'd planned to take the right fork which is the logging road, made by the Malaysians, but the policeman spoke English and told us to go left, that the road was in better condition (both were loose, bumpy dirt roads). While this was going on, Rhys and I were standing in the solitary store wondering what we'd make for dinner. Spotting dusty spaghetti packets and Laughing Cow cheese, we quickly settled on pasta with a cheese sauce. There wasn't much else apart from bread - which came with free ants! - and we wandered out, met by Talbot who'd found cooked chicken for a late lunch. In the DvD store we found onions (as you do) and returned to the truck dusty but relieved to have found something for dinner.

Then began the usual task of finding somewhere to camp. We passed a football pitch but being in a village, we kept it as a 'just in case' and on we went. The grass is thick and high on the sides of the road and we silently willed something to appear over the next hill or around the next bend and eventually, like always, something did. A large quarry, again well hidden from the road, allowed us to set up the kitchen and build a fire and put up tents on a ledge looking down on the truck. Dinner was well received and we sat with our thoughts under a sky full of stars, including the Southern Cross. Gorgeous.
July 12

Yesterday marked the four month mark of the trip. In the next month we'll leave Republic of Congo and visit Angola (and Cabinda if possible), Democratic Republic of Congo, Namibia and South Africa, arriving in Cape Town for our week off on August 11. We're hoping to spend time exploring Angola, slightly smug with the knowledge that few get more than a transit visa and we have 30 days!
But, I'm ahead of myself. Back to the present. We're hoping to reach Point Noire later today and stock up on some supplies and spend a couple hours off the truck!
The morning fog is yet to lift from the distant hills and the cool air is refreshing on the skin. But the roads still rattle the bones and the dust trail left behind passing cars and trucks reaches eyes, noses and mouths making it difficult to look outside for long.
It took a while but we did hit smooth sealed roads on the approach to Dolisie. It was nice to be in a large town again and we pulled up alongside the building that housed an undercover market. Suse took off for the Angolan embassy and having spied an omelette man on the way in, I made a beeline for him, Talbot accompanying me on his way to the patisserie!
The omelette was amazing: two eggs with some onion and seasoning cooked through it and then put into a fresh roll, all for less than $USD2. I got one for Justice as requested and then went looking for football jerseys. Entering one shop, the man tried to tell me Chelsea and Liverpool were better than Congo but after giving him a quick rundown of our trip (this is all in French mind you so it was 'fifteen people, big truck, all Africa for ten months'!) he rang several other shops trying to find one for me. No luck and it saved me the legwork finding out for myself.
I went back to relieve the three on truck security and once others started wandering back, went into the market looking for onions and an avocado for my baguette. The large market had a lovely vibe to it and each stand had their prices advertised! A first! Oh the excitement to be able to walk up to a stall and not have to haggle! The women and children were friendly and welcoming, amazed to see me wandering through their market. Finding no avocados, I settled for onions and using olives I have stored under my seat, threw them in with it and borrowed some of Denise's HP sauce. Num, num, num.
Out of the city and back tracking to a large roundabout, we turned towards Point Noire and encountered beautiful scenery. Stuck behind three large logging trucks as they slowly climbed the road, we hung out the sides looking at the misty mountains and thick jungle. People wearing election t-shirts and caps had gathered in villages and turned to wave as we drove past.
Being an oil rich town, Point Noire catered to the wealthy foreigners and Africans who worked here and without sounding too shallow, we were to

It took a while to realise what was wrong with this photo!
see the huge supermarket, the Lebanese patisserie we'd been recommended and an internet cafe opposite as we drove along the main street and past the beautiful train station. Onto a road that ran parallel to the beach, Suse began looking for a yacht club that was no longer there. Always fun. She knew exactly where it should be but although people agreed it used to be there, no one could tell us where it had moved to! One taxi driver said he knew and drove us around the block and back to where we began and we didn't have much faith in the second volunteer. But he took us away from the beach and over the other side to the port so things were looking up. He showed us boats parked on trailers under cover and for a minute, we thought he'd got it right. Until the men in army uniforms approached us. We'd been taken to a small army base! Thankfully they let us camp as it was now late and we set up tents on an old concrete tennis court.
While cook group starting cooking, a few of us made a beeline for the short pier overlooking the port. Not the most scenic of views but definitely interesting with cargo ships coming in to be loaded and others waiting patiently out at sea for their turn. Coupled with fishermen in traditional boats pulling their nets in under the moonlight, it was a great way to while away a few hours after dinner as well.
July 13

Friday the thirteenth! While Suse went to the Angolan embassy most of us did some essential washing, lamenting at the amount of dirt coming off the clothes. We had to get creative with places to dry everything and after cleaning clothes, it was time to clean us. People waited for their turn in the one shower on offer and it felt amazing to actually be clean. I will never take a shower for granted again...
Hailing two taxis not far outside the gates, we head into town and stopped at the patisserie. We were all wide-eyed at the pastries, cakes and savouries but I think sugar-loving Talbot thought he'd died and gone to heaven! From there we walked towards the grand marché and finding it deserted, we had to cut through the empty stalls to get to the other side. A bulldozer was scooping up the huge amounts of rubbish and putting it on the back of a truck and the smell was unbearable. Trying to get around the bulldozer without getting run over meant I was retching before I could reach fresh air. Ugh.
The other side opened up into street stands and shop fronts and we found ourselves again looking for football jerseys. We found the bright yellow Gabon jersey in a store run by a Moroccan man from Casablanca and it took a lot of smiling and cajoling to bargain the price down even one dollar. No luck finding a Congolese one unfortunately but all the countries sell each others so fingers crossed in Angola!
Lunch was back at the patisserie before people drifted away. After internet and buying water for the next week, I took a taxi back and wandered onto the pier again, joined by others as they trickled back into camp. We all agreed that Point Noire had been great for a day or two but definitely not long term.
July 14

Having permission from the Angolan embassy to enter Cabinda (we had thirty day single entry visas and as DRC separates Cabinda and the rest of Angola, we had to make sure we wouldn't have any trouble), we drove towards the border, Suse having given us a heads up the night before that this crossing could take several hours.
And that it did. It took four hours for officials to stamp our paperwork so it was a relief when Toby spotted the Omelette Man coming up the road. We caught his attention and bolted off the truck, excited at the prospect of lunch. After pouncing on him, we were soon ourselves accosted by hawkers selling everything from CDs to weighing scales and hair clippers. A few purchases were made and then the only thing left to do was change money. The Angolan kwanza has no coins (yay!) and is made up of notes much longer in size than any we'd seen. A lot of us, myself included, have kept a crisp note and checking our latest stash, we pulled one out and put it safely away.
Then it was time to go! We were off to Angola!


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