Sunday, May 15, 2011

Vous voyez comment nous souffrons? Part 1

As I am typing, Nicolaas is finishing the last preparations. We have washed all the sweat out of our clothes, all the dirt off our luggage and taken care of the bikes,… We are ready for a fresh start. Tomorrow we’ll leave DRC. Sadly it’s a moment we’ve been longing for since quite some time.

Nicolaas made it very clear from the beginning: he didn’t like the fact that we were forced to cross DRC by road and he really didn’t feel like going to Lubumbashi. So we toyed with the idea of riding to Kisangani instead. By the time we would reach Kananga, where the Route Nationale 7 towards Kisangani branches off from the RN1 to Lubumbashi, we would have a better idea in exactly how terrible a shape Congo’s road network really is. There we would determine the course for our ascent up to Europe… 

So this is the story of our crossing of DRC. It is a long story, but it has been a long and tedious trip and easily the most difficult and tiresome part of our entire journey up to now, so we want to tell it in full.

Day 1: Kinshasa – Kikwit (525km)

This stretch of the notorious RN1 is pretty decent: more than 500 kilometers of smooth tarred road. We hardly see any vehicles though and when we do they are rarely functional. At a speed of 100kms/h the pleasant hilly landscapes soar by and the wind effectively saves us from the midday heat. When we arrive in Kikwit in the pouring rain we are hardly surprised to find a town in decay. 

Our hotel must have been very posh indeed in the colonial era, the only restaurant in the centre of town charges ridiculous prices for chicken and fries and the equally expensive fuel is distributed in jerry cans by street vendors.

Day 2: Kikwit – km 629 (104km)

A small crowd gathers when we are stopped by the police right outside the hotel. A thorough check only reveals an impeccable arsenal of documents: driver’s license, carte rose and insurance. They wave us through, somewhat disappointed, but still friendly. Two more checkpoints and an artisanal unofficial looking toll barrier and some hours later, we’re able to leave town with our money still in our pockets. The quality of asphalt degrades only marginally until it just stops very abruptly at km 622. 

And that’s where the fun starts: a field of deeply rutted truck tracks cutting through the dough-like moist black earth. 

Nicolaas tries to ride the sandy surface in between; I try my luck more than half a meter deeper in one of the wheel trails. 

The digital speed indicator is not accurate enough to detect any progress and shows 0km/h on the display. I creep forward looking like a tormented two legged spider with my feet raised to the height of the fuel reservoir because there’s no room for them on the pegs screeching by the earth walls. 

From time to time the tracks intersect and we try to choose a shallow one that seems to leave the worst battle ground. But no matter how we choose we always end up in other drenches. 

Nicolaas hasn’t regained his former fitness yet after being ill and is completely beaten. Moreover we’re almost out of water. Following the bicycle tracks to the nearby village doesn’t get us further than 7kms past the end of the tarred road. 
We put up our tent on the RN1, eat canned sausages for dinner and drink the sausage fluid to keep hydrated.

Day 3: km 629 – Kilembe (95km)

After two hours of ploughing through tracks, offroading through bumpy wet grass fields, getting stuck four times and falling just as often (many thanks to the friendly passersby who helped us!), we arrive in Mansa Mango at last. We buy boiled water with a smokey taste and finally find a good bicycle shortcut. 

Our hopes rise withour increasing speed. And although we do have to cross a very impracticable bridge, we’re out of serious shit for a while. At a police check in a village in the middle of nowhere they tell us to follow the newly maintained piste. A graveled piece of at least 5 kilometers, and then it’s back to zigzagging from side to side on the main (sorry excuse for a) road. We follow the lead of a small taxi-moto (one of those lightweight 125cc things where the passenger gets off when the going gets rough) but it’s hard to keep up. By the time we reach Kilembe, Nicolaas is again near to exhaustion. 

We register with the police and while Nicolaas restores his blood sugar levels with a large amount of bananas under the watchful eye of at least a hundred people, we decide to spend the night here. 

There is a “maison de passage” at our disposal, but the endless streak of officials that needs a visit keeps us from our necessary rest. At an evening meeting with the village notables we are again informed about the many difficulties the Congolese people face (transport, communication, health care, etc…) and are asked how exactly we plan to help. It seems common understanding that being a tourist means being responsible for the progress and development of the places you visit. Since it is clearly impossible for us to build a mobile phone reception antenna on the spot, we get by with making a small donation. When we enquire on what exactly the money will be spend, we get a vague explanation, something about “where the need is highest”. We cannot help but wonder whose pockets they mean.

To be continued…


  1. amaai amaai, wat een avontuur! :-)

  2. Wilfried en Rita17 May, 2011 21:28

    Oef! Back on the road ... we maakten ons al zorgen! En wat die "will of God" betreft, we hebben wel enkele (betere!) suggesties :)
    Het gaat jullie goed! Groetjes!

  3. Wat een avontuur en... wat een tegenslag! Verbaasd te lezen dat jullie nog maar net de RDC uit zijn! We volgen jullie verhaal!