Wednesday, 6 April 2016

DRC - Democratic Republic of the Congo

After finally crossing the border into the DRC, it was now almost dark. So we headed to the next village where they would be less familiar with us and hopefully beg less. 
It's safe to say the road was really bad and we got stuck where the water had created ridges in the road. It was dark and the car was at an angle in this ditch. Luckily a few guys came past on scooters and helped keep the car upright while Rob very skilfully eased his way on to flat ground. We needed to get to the next village quick!
We finally arrived and asked a man if we could camp there for the night. Luckily he said yes and directed us to a flat surface between their mud build houses. We parked up and were kindly brought over 4 chairs. We all sat down and were again surrounded by the village just staring at us. Such an awkward feeling! You know that feeling when you think; Why are you staring at me? Do I have something in my teeth? .... Just way worse!! 
Eventually, Cat and I started entertaining the kids to stop the staring. We were exhausted, but we had a few hours of this as the whole village watched in amazement, with zero sense of personal space. We kept thinking how this must be the most interesting thing that's happened in this village in years! We would be the talk of the town for quite some time! At about 9pm, we were more than shattered. So said goodnight to everyone. Started brushing our teeth with the village staring. We didn't even set up our tents, because we just knew it would cause more interest and every man and his dog would be up there to take a peek. Nope, we would sleep in our cars for the night.
It's safe to say it was a sleepless night as it was soooo hot and so uncomfortable. But at least we were safe and could be up and on the road first thing before getting held up by the village.

The alarm went off at 5:30 and we quickly got ready before the village started making an appearance. We had to make the long trek to Lwozi to get our cars stamped in. After travelling for only an hour, we stopped at a barrier in the road not realising what a nightmare it would mean. The villages came to see us and asked to walk with them to the chief. Again we were surrounded, with everyone just staring at us weird people. They slowly got closer and closer, I can only presume to have a better look at us. It's a good thing none of us are claustrophobic! He asked us to wait for someone to come from a nearby village. 
We presumed we were waiting for the police, but after 2hours of waiting, the man confirmed there is only one key to the barrier and he didn't have it. We waited and waited and waited and waited. We were getting fed up! No food! We hadn't had a shower in 2days! The village wouldn't leave us alone! and we needed to get to Lwozi on dodgy roads! We were stuck. No way out of this!

The cars have taken quite the beating on these roads! Robs door stopped opening, we have gained dirt in the break pads and knocks that happen every now and then. Charles' car has gained a broken body mount, his door also won't open, and acquired the same squeaks and knocks like our car. We were sat there playing squares on a piece of paper to fill up the time after spending the first two hours being stared at! After getting more and more and more frustrated, Rob and Charles decided to use this time to do some maintenance on the cars. Rob fixed his door and Charles took off his rattling bumper and strapped it to the roof. 

Eventually at about 1pm a man in uniform started making his way down the hill to the cars... Oh my gosh, have I never been so pleased to see a policeman!!!! And that is saying something!! But... He had the key!!!
He took our details drown, opened the barrier and we were told to wait at the village for a little longer. After telling us his motorbike ran out of petrol and that he needed to get fuel. We knew where this was going and we were not paying after waiting sooo long. Why would there not be a key at the barrier??? It was just silly!! We did give the man that used his sat phone to call the police officer 500CFA (some of our left over money) as a thank you for his credit. 

We were on the road again just after 2pm, thank goodness!!! After pushing on hard and even after dark, we eventually got to Lwozi at 7:30. We arrived at the Catholic Mission and they were happy for us to camp free of charge. Unfortunately there was no showers, and we were now on day 2 of not having a wash and sweating like crazy in this heat! It's safe to say we were smelling rather ripe and bit like the locals! So it was a welcomed flannel wash, starkers in the church grounds, behind the cars. 
In the morning, we gave them a little donation of our left over CFA's as we had no Congolese Francs to give. But they were happy with this!! 

At about 8am we arrived at the Customs office just up the road from the church to get our vehicles stamped in. Within minutes this was sorted and our next stop was the to get the ferry across the Congo river. We arrived at the 'port', if you can call it that and found out the first ferry was full, so we had to wait for the next one which would leave after 11am. Well it's safe to say we had to sit there and do more waiting. Something we are getting very skilled at here in the DRC! While we were sat there more and more people were getting interested in us and the contents of our vehicles. But it wasn't too bad after telling one person after another that we were not going to give them money, our shoes, our clothes, our food, etc!! It was to be a loosing battle for them. 
A fight between the locals broke out next to Charles' car, but soon died down after an older man stopped the younger trouble maker and telling him to go away from our cars. This was intense and crazy sat here watching the chaos. But eventually a man came to my window and said something about paying for the ferry. He was dresses in normal clothes and I immediately wanted to know who he was. He asked us to follow him to his office. So the three of us stayed by the cars and sent Rob to see if this was official. 
Rob returned saying it was all legitimate and cost $20 per vehicle (as we had no Congolese francs). Perfect and the boat would leave at about 11:30. 

We slowly crept onto the boat after watching everyone pile on. It was a small boat that carried our two cars and one truck with people squeezed in around us. It was beautiful crossing this large river and we were over in no time. 

After pushing a bit hard to get to the border town before sunset, we realised Charles and Cat were no longer in our view behind us. We stopped and waited a few minutes. They were still no where to be seen. So we turned around and eventually saw them pulled over working behind the car. The CB radios sometimes loose connection, and we obviously didn't get their message to say they were having car trouble. Their last remaining body mount had broken off. Charles and Cat both put wooden blocks between the body and the chassis to help support the weight for the rest of journey over piste roads. But eventually the most beautiful thing we had seen in days appeared before us..... A TAR ROAD!! We had been 4x4ing for so long that this sight was so heavenly, I can't put into words. We arrived and stopped to admire this amazing sight before venturing onto the beauty that was this tar road. Both Charles and Rob literally shouted while fist pumping the air with joy!! We needed this!!

We arrived into Songololo and found yet another Catholic Mission that would be happy to set us up for the night. Still no showers available, but we were happy to find somewhere to stop. Once again we were surrounded with kids within minutes of pulling in. They watched us with fascination as we set up our tents. We were tired, hungry, and totally not in the mood for kids. Charles and Rob retreated to the cars while Cat and myself did our best to entertain them.
There was ladies practicing their church songs on the other side of the courtyard. They were singing so beautifully, it was really peaceful when we had a minute away from the kids to listen. But they wouldn't give us long before asking for our attention again. The kids started dancing and doing flips and jumps to entertain us. They were really good actually and loved it when we praised them. 
But like all the others they got too familiar and started to beg for stuff. This is when we start to get really annoyed, and now it was going to be difficult to get rid of them. We wanted food so badly! But there was no chance we could cook while they all begged got food. We were skimping on food for ourselves, let alone giving it away to the 20 odd kids stood in front of us. 
Eventually the choir said their last prayers and ended their rehearsals. This was our time! We told everyone goodnight and goodbye and retreated inside our cars. Eventually the crowds disappeared and after about 20min, we peered outside and realised they'd all gone. So we quietly got our cookers out and made some spaghetti with tinned veg for dinner. 
After a quick wash behind the cars, it was off to bed and asleep within minutes.

We got up quickly the next morning after being woken up to be told the school was going to start here at the mission within the next 40min. Well it was a quick packup and we were out of there within 20minutes before the kids started turning up. 
We headed down the road towards the Luvo border. There was however a toll road before we got there which is normally not a problem. But we turned up, went to the office where we were sternly told it was $50 per car!? They were aggressive and already angry. This was extautionate and no way we were paying that, for the dirt track we were now on. We looked at the sat nav to see if there was another way. There was, but it meant going to Matadi where the cars would have to endure another 100km of bad piste (advised by fellow overlanders before us to avoid at all costs). This dirt track would eventually lead to tar on the Angolan side at this border. So we thought we would try fob the rest of our CFA's at these horrible men. They pretty much laughed in our face telling us this was foreign money; when we said so was dollars, they didn't seem too pleased! We went back to the cars to discuss what we were going to do. A truck pulled up behind us and Cat went to ask what he was paying, when he said $50, well we knew we were being screwed over. So we went back and said there was no way we would spend $100 for this toll road in our cars, which were not trucks! They said it was an international rate. But after bartering a bit, we said we would pay $50 for both cars, and no more!! Eventually they agreed and we were finally free to go!!
We drove to the border saying how we expected this road to be platinum and gold plated at $50! But no it was piste with dirt and rubbish everywhere. Definitely not the prettiest of places!!

We arrived at the border and got our passports and carnet's stamped out after much deliberation over our entry stamps. They had never seen these stamps before, let alone ever heard of the border name. That border would come back to haunt us!! But eventually after explaining our route and why we went that way, they finally stamped us out and we were free to go. There were men stood with wards of Kwanza's where you could exchange dollars on the black market rate. Something we wanted to do, but with loads of people around, not something we were willing to do then. 

We drove over the small bridge, and suddenly, to our surprise, French was no longer. It was Portugese and we were all at a loss now. The police looked at our passports and signed us in before directing us to the immigration and customs posts. This was going to prove harder than expected. The road was steaming with people and carts both stacked high with all kinds of merchandise to be imported into the DRC. Just driving through was a task on its own. A gruesome fight broke out in front of Charles and Cats car and we were stuck until it finished. Eventually, after getting people to move out the way, they could finally open the gates so we could enter. As we edged forward, people would bang on our cars as they all were standing far too close, not thinking to move out the way. But we got through and parked up before trying to figure out where the immigration office was. After worming our way through the crowds we found the building and luckily found a man who spoke a bit of English and led us inside where he took a photocopy of our passport and our visa and stamped our passports. He then directed us to the customs building. We found the office and tried to explain we had to get our carnet's stamped. Everyone just looked at us blankly. No one spoke English. Eventually a man came out of the office and pulled me into the main office where he got both the carnet's stamped after I showed him what to fill in and where to stamp. 
We drove the cars to the next gate where we would sit and wait in the queue to enter Angola. We sat there for ages until eventually they opened the gates and we were finally through!! 

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