Sunday, 27 March 2016

Congo Brazzaville

We arrived at the Cameroon border and were pleased to see it was laid out in order with signs to direct you where to go. This was incredible, most borders are a guessing game with most lacking in organisation and order. But this was a real treat. We walked in, got our passports stamped, then carnet stamped and car checked and we were free to leave. So easy! We drove up to the barrier to leave Cameroon, but the police officer was too lazy to walk over and open the barrier, so Cat and I opened it and closed it after the boys drove through. Only in Africa do they let you control your own exit route! Lol.

We drove the 30km to the next barrier on decent dirt tracks, where a young child of about 12 years old came over and asked for our passports. No we were not going to just hand them over to a child. We would leave our vehicles at the barrier and walk to the immigration buildings with our passports safely in our possession. We arrived at the immigration building and the man flagged the boy to just open the barrier. Perfect! No need to give any body fixer money! We were told there would be a wait to get our passports stamped in, so the boys went off to get the carnet's sorted. After trying to explained they didn't need a passavant and a carnet would do the trick. They had to show him how to fill it in after getting it wrong the first time. But at least it was stamped and no need to pay for a passavant. 
The immigration officer called Cat and I into the office to get our passports stamped. He asked for a letter of invitation. We explained we were just tourists, had visas, and therefore did not need an invitation. He then told us we needed to pay him to stamp our passports. We flat out said NO! We played dumb and pretended like we couldn't understand him from then on. Eventually, after realising he would have no luck with us, he started stamping our passports slowly while asking us for juice, water, anything. We still refused! While we were sat there playing dumb, the boys were outside being instructed to unpack the cars in the beating hot sun with the 12 year old boy. Rob and Charles weren't impressed, especially with the boy being instructed to go through our things. He rummaged through with little respect as he took things out of their place and chucked them to the side. Robs worst nightmare of course, as everything has their place and needs to be neat and tidy. 
We were then instructed to get a note taken of our yellow fever certificates. We sat with a lady who was dressed in her woman's day attire with an amazing updo in her hair. Today was woman's day and she certainly did look the part. A man walked in speaking to her in a demanding tone waving money at her, but she stayed cool, didn't accept it and sent him on his way. After he walked out she pulled her middle finger to him and said 'fuck you!'. This woman was clearly a strong lady, not taking shit from anyone. We laughed with her and we left wishing each other well. 
So it's safe to say, not the most amazing border experience, but we got out without paying any bribes! We're getting good at this game...

We drove for only a few kilometres before getting stopped by police officers. They looked at all our paperwork and wrote our information into their books. They seemed quite stern but were soon loosening up. They asked to see everything in our vehicles... again!!! It was absolutely roasting and we needed to get to the town Ouesso before sunset. They were certainly not helping our cause. 
They started with our car first as we took one thing out after another. They joked how we absolutely had EVERYTHING in our cars. They were clearly getting tired as well. But we joked and laughed with them as they noticed we did not have our Congo flag stickers on our cars yet. So they insisted we put them on there and then. Well this then led to a photo shoot as they demanded to have pictures with us and the flag; they proudly stood next to us all puffed up and guns on show. It was hilarious! 
They made sure we were happy and understood why they had to see everything; they explained they were only looking because it was the elections and the president would be travelling around the country, so they needed to make sure we weren't carrying anything dangerous. Who could complain when these guys were just doing their jobs, and with a smile as well! 

We were soon on our way on a good dirt track, but we did have to endure the occasional corrigation which rattled both the car and us like crazy! We arrived into a small town and stopped to grab some bread and laughing cow cheese (something we've grown to love during our time in Africa)!!! As we stopped a man from the immigration department across the road summoned the guys to go to his office with the vehicle documents. After a little while they both stomped across the road from his office back to the cars where they said he was demanding 5000CFA per car because he stamped our carnet's. No way were we paying him for a second stamp. We told him we didn't need his stamp in the first place, got in the cars and swiftly drove off with him standing on the side walk scratching his head in bewilderment! Little did he know that we had played this game many a time and we were not about to be his loser! 
So we stopped a little way down the road to enjoy our lunch in peace! With a beautiful, colourful backdrop with red dirt roads, deep green forest and blue skies with puffy white clouds that would never get boring!

We soon arrived into Ouesso and found it difficult to find available accommodation. We had somehow managed to arrive on the same day they were starting the campaign celebrations for the upcoming presidential elections. Everywhere was full and the ones that were available where extortionate in price for what you got. We drove around for ages with no luck trying one hotel after the other, eventually coming to one on the outskirts of town that offered a very cosy room with air conditioning and running water for 20000CFA (£24) a night. Still expensive for our normal budget, but under the circumstances, a welcome treat where we could chill out with a cold beverage and make some spam filled rolls for dinner. 
On a dietary note, I have started putting on all the weight I initially lost during the beginning of our travels as our diet now consists of bread, bread, and more bread!!! Bread for breakfast, bread for lunch and guess what.... Bread for dinner!! Of course, to my frustration, Rob remains the same size and never puts on an ounce of fat, but eats what he likes! Lucky bugger!!

The good thing about staying in a hotel is we get to fill up our water tanks, charge all devices up, and get some clothes washing done and drape them over all the furniture with the fan and aircon on full blast. Of course our hotel room starts to look like a Chinese laundrette, but at least it gets done. 

We head off in search of diesel in the morning. Our tanks are low and every petrol station we turned up to the day before was empty! We were told there should be tankers arriving in town that morning, so when we pulled up and saw a queue of people filling up their jerry cans and cars we knew we were in luck! Thank goodness, otherwise we would be sitting ducks that day! So we filled up our tanks and a Jerry can each, just in case, and headed on our way south. 

We reached the town of Makoua, a town famous for being smack bam on the equator. We drove around after following the campaign south. There was people everywhere protesting and promoting the leader they wanted, all wearing green, yellow and white clothing with the candidates faces plastered all over. Again finding somewhere to stay would prove difficult as we tried one place after the other. As we drove around we tried to find the sign that said EQUATOR so we could take a once in a lifetime selfie. It was possibly that the roads were too crowded, or we were looking too hard for accommodation or plainly that the sign just didn't exist; but sadly, we couldn't find a sign. 

We drove out of town and tried a hotel on the outskirts. Yes! they had room and after bartering the price down from 20000CFA a night to 15000CFA a night as the air conditioning wasn't working, we were in business! So we parked our cars, grabbed a drink and the boys spent the afternoon doing maintenance on the cars. Our car had started leaking oil, so Rob tried to fix it and Charles also had a small leak he would look at too. After our long and hard driving days, it's taken its toll on the cars and they needed some TLC.
After the boys were done, it was only fair we treat them to a beer down at the local street stall. So we wondered down the street towards town and saw a large truck filled with beers next to a little shack on the side of the street. Yes, this would serve us nicely! We sat and enjoyed one after the other while watching the locals around us stare at us and greet us shyly. There was a lady cooking some chicken on the side of the road so we ordered 4pieces to tie us over. Braai'ed chicken was just what the doctor ordered, and it was devine, perfectly cooked!! Even Rob enjoyed it and he hates eating anything on the bone or with his hands. Possibly the beers had loosened him up. Lol!
That evening we opened a tin of tuna and made some more bread sammies. The tuna smelt a bit funky to me, but Rob ensured me it would be fine. I opted out of it but Rob enjoyed it before we hit the sack.

The next few days Rob had gained a rather nasty tummy bug. It had to be from that dodgy tuna, but he was definitely not well. When you have to pull over at the side of a busy road to poo in the bush while cars and scooters drive past slowly to get a good look at this crazy white man leaking from his bum, you know there is something not right.... Obviously not a fun experience for Rob, but the three of us couldn't help ourselves and sneakily laughed behind the cars at his poor expense. Most certainly a vision that's scarred me for life.

We needed to head towards Brazzaville and get there before Friday to get to the Angolan embassy in hope they would issue us a visa. Poor Rob was still not feeling his best, but he was able to continue in his sorry state. 
Everywhere we have been we have marvelled at the beautiful scenery. Congo has totally shocked me, there seems to be more money here than the countries we have since passed. Incredibly expensive cars drive up and down the roads, the Chinese are everywhere improving the infrastructure, and mud huts are better built and brick houses becoming more prominent. I expected quite the opposite. 

We arrived into Brazzaville (Congo's capital) and went straight to the Angolan embassy to try our luck. Nope they would not issue tourist visas to non-residents, but they said with a little luck Dolisie (a town west of Brazzaville) might issue us one. At least we knew and could now rest at Hippocampe so Rob could recover properly. 
We were pleased to arrive at Hotel Hippocampe which has welcomed overlanders for ages to camp and use the shower ablutions for FREE!!!! (Rob of course was pleased!!!) We were even more delighted to be given the warmest welcome by Kars, Simone, Cris and Patrick, the two couples who shipped their cars around Nigeria and who we had met in Togo. What an incredibly small world as we all shouted and squealed with excitement! This was amazing, they were here as well!! We would enjoy the buffet Asian meal at the restaurant at the hotel that evening and learn about their shipping experience and that of Gabon, a country we did not visit. Even Rob managed a small bite to eat before retiring to bed.

Rob was starting to feel more and more like himself and was able to look at the car again. The oil leak had gotten worse!! We had filled up with diesel earlier that day and the car immediately started shooting out thick, stinky, white smoke out of the exhaust. This was not good and Rob was starting to really worry about the car!! Not sure whether the white smoke was dodgy diesel or engine problems.
(It's funny how Rob and Daisy seem to work in unison, getting very ill at the same time, squirting out all the wrong things!?)
So Rob had a good look, but couldn't find anything obvious. 

That evening we all went out for dinner and enjoyed hamburgers and pizzas. Even Rob managed to eat all it, with his appetite back in full swing. Such a relief!! We enjoyed another great evening chatting about borders, visas, travelling and of course the cars. 
In the morning we all came together to wish each other safe travels.

We headed off towards Dolisie, but Rob was getting intensely worried about the car. Oil was leaking quicker than we could put it in and the white, smelly smoke wasn't going away! Rob explained it could mean two things to me. Either it was the end of the journey for the Land Rover as the oil leak was down to too much pressure in the engine causing the oil to leak and the thick smoke out of the exhaust; or it was simply an oil leak (which hopefully he could find) and dodgy diesel. We started chatting about our options with little enthusiasm. We had set out to do this trip and it would be a huge failure if we couldn't finish because of engine problems.
But we talked about other options like sending the car home on a boat and us buying a motorbike or another kind of vehicle to continue our travels. 
My mom and her husband, Roger are joining us, in April, in Zambia with a rented kitted out vehicle so they could experience a taster of our life and adventures on the road. I was going to make sure we were there either which way, come hell or high water, we would make a plan!! So we both agreed we would be there if not with Daisy, definitely another kind of motor. But would do everything we could to fix the car.

We were upset and sad and taking it out on each other. It was hard to look at the positives, when ultimately, it was all pointing to Daisies doom! But we decided, we wouldn't make any drastic decisions until Rob could take the engine apart in a better location. 

We arrived into Dolisie and arrived at a place called Sala Ngolo (meaning to make an effort) - a college set up for school dropouts teaching mechanics, hospitality, agriculture, basic computer skills, etc. When we arrived it was raining cats and dogs, so when we asked if they wouldn't mind that we camped, the receptionist said she had to wait for the owner who would only come after the rain. So we zipped across the compound to the bar where we enjoyed a few drinks while watching rivers being formed all around us. The rain was intense, with big droplets falling to the ground.
Eventually it passed and we were told we could camp and to give a small donation of our choice after we left. Great news!

In the morning we headed straight for the Angolan Consulate in hope we would be successful. We were given our visitors badges and we wondered in with our hopes held high. They could only speak French, so Cat would have to do all the shmoozing.... Later we all learnt Cat was actually interrogated profusely in a tiny room while we were made to sit outside. She came out... eventually... and said we had to wait for the consular, but to return at 12. They had taken Cats contact number and would call her if the consular would arrive sooner. We decided we would head into town for some breakfast and would try find parts for our broken car before heading back.
We ended up enjoying a chicken roll with chips before heading off to find silicone, jubilee clips, a card board box and mountains of oil!!! 
As we arrived back at the Consulate, Cat received a phone call to say we needed to print off our invitation letter we had from a very awesome guy in Angola who has helped us out with documentation we would need. The only problem was this letter was addressed to the Embassy in Abuja, Nigeria and says we want a double entry (where we originally were going to apply, but got turned down). Cat would have to try talk her way around this as we are obviously in a different town and country and only want a single entry as the double entry would be double the price!!!!!! No way!!!!!
We shot back into town to find a working Internet cafe; a much harder task than it sounds!! But we eventually got our documents printed and headed back.

The consular was still not in the office, but Cat did her best to chat her way through and convince them to use this invitation letter that wasn't addressed to them and held the wrong info. Eventually they told us thy needed to wait for the consular to arrive to make the final decision. They would call us when he was there. So we left all our documents with them and headed back to camp.

The next couple of days Rob drained all the fuel and took apart the engine to check all the seals, amoung popping out to get a very delicious breakfast with a cake to top it off and wondering back and forth into town. 
Everyday we would pop back to the consulate to check if the consular had arrived, but he never had. When it got to Thursday, we were starting to stress!! But they told us hopefully on Friday. 

After Rob put the car back together, the boys went off to make it run out of fuel. This will then determine if Rob found the oil leak and ensure that it was just the fuel and not the engine making all that smoke. I was sat back at the camp holding thumbs that it would all be ok. Eventually the boys returned, after telling us they almost got shot because they ran out of fuel in front of an airport. The army thought they wouldn't move the car because they were going to set off a bomb, not because they had merely run out of fuel. But they returned with good news!!! WE GET TO CONTINUE WITH DAISY..... YAY! 
Rob was suddenly my hero, making our trip continue!!! What a huge relief!!!

We decided we would make the best of our time here while waiting for the consular and go to the Grande Marche to buy some fabric and get one of the local taylors to make us a dress. We bought 5metres of fabric for 7000CFA (£8) and took to the taylor who would charge 5000CFA (£6) to make a dress. So cheap and would be ready to collect two days later. We were so excited!

We turned up on Friday at the embassy and were turned away at about 10am and then again at about 11am, so we agreed we would try again at 1:30pm before they closed at 2pm. We arrived and saw loads of cars in the parking lot... We may be in luck!!!!
We sheepishly walked in again with hopeful smiles on our faces. The receptionist instructed us to sit down. This was already a good sign. We sat there for about 20minutes when eventually we saw a lady stroll past with a beautiful pink floaty dress and 4 passports in a folder. Oh my gosh, we were in luck!! They called us in and charged us 93000CFA (£110) per visa. (Normally they want dollars but luckily accepted the local currency!!).. And we were out of there, feeling totally ecstatic! We got the notorious Angolan visa that everyone told us we wouldn't get!! Well this only meant one thing... We needed celebratory drinks!!!! 

While sat enjoying our drinks at a town pub, marches and parades were happening around us with one of the candidates for the elections in town to promote his party. It was incredible to watch, with the town all cheering and running behind him, singing and waving branches.
We learned that the whole country would come to a halt on Sunday as this was voting day. No vehicles would be allowed on the streets, all access to mobile data would be disconnected and all borders would be closed.
This meant we had to stay the weekend and leave on Monday, to head for the DRC.

The day of the voting was a bizarre day. The place was absolutely silent! A strange phenomena that we have yet to experience here in Africa. There was no blasting African music which they play from 7:30 in the morning till the wee hours of the night. There was no cars, taxis or scooters zooming up the streets hooting their horns for the sake of it. No people shouting at each other from across the road. And our campsite/hotel was desolate, with no one wondering up and down, not even fetching water.
But we sat in camp and could finally hear the chirping of the birds, the thunder happening in the distance, the wind rustling the trees. It was actually rather peaceful in a eerie sort of way.

On the Monday morning we were up bright and early to head to the border. We were told by the locals and the Angolan embassy that we did not need to back track towards Brazzaville to get to the Lwozi border, as there was a border just south of Dolisie that would go around Cabinda (the little Angola). They assured us it would be much quicker and they confirmed there would be a customs post for the cars. We had no note of this border on our maps, but as they were all sure, why the hell not! So we drove and drove on incredibly dodgy roads. This was a 4x4 route at its best. Clearly the locals only attempt  these roads on a motorbike, as evidence of a vehicle going through these roads was nonexistent!! It was however magnificent to watch our beautiful surroundings as the countryside was spectacular! Beautiful tall green grass covered the landscape! 

We arrived at the border to get our passports stamped out of Congo. This was going to be interesting. The police took our passports and said they could get our passports stamped out. We asked about a customs officer and they ensured us there would be one down the road. After getting our passports stamped we drove about 400metres down the road where we were then stopped by the army. They told us there stamp was better, so they stamped our passports again??? Two exit stamps for one entry, who would have thought. We continued down the road, but no customs!! 

Eventually, we arrived to the border just before 3pm. We would be sat there for the next 3 hours while this man tried to figure out what he needs to do. While sat there we were surrounded by the village, all watching us with amazement. Looking at our clothes, hair, skin, and laughing when we spoke English to each other. I guess we now know what if feels like to be an animal in a zoo! 
After he went off on his scooter to collect forms, he would then try to charge us $10 per form, that 4pieces of paper. Well this was most certainly not going to happen!! We sat there and point blank refused. He started filling in the forms anyway and we watched him take about 40min to fill in one form!!! It was like watching water evaporating in a very, very cold climate!!! Utterly painful. It got to about 6 and he then said to us, thanks, but you need to go to Lwozi to get the passports stamped in. WHAT??? We had just watched him slowly fill in our details to tell us he couldn't stamp our passports? Well, it's safe to say we were fuming!! We were in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of DRC with the whole village begging for money, flip flops, food, water, and with no stamp!
Luckily another man walked over and explained how a border works and that he needs to stamp our passports into the country if he was to let us continue our journey. He eventually stamped our passports, but still stuck to his guns when saying he couldn't stamp our carnet or issue a passavant as there was no customs here, and had to go to Lwozi anyways. 
Later we learned we are the first tourists to ever take this border. That's why everyone was fumbling around!! Listening to the locals failed this time! But we still got through without paying a cent!

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