Sunday, June 19, 2011

Vous voyez comment nous souffrons? Final

Day 13: Mbuji-Mayi – 20 kms before Kaniama (227km)

If one reads a travel story of DRC, quite often the people of Mbuji-Mayi are mentioned for their loud and annoying behavior, in particular towards foreigners. After the endless solicitations for money on the road near Tshikapa, we had expected the worst. To our surprise, our experience was completely different. Starting with the DGM and police, the people showing directions to the catholic mission and the cathedral, the party rushing by at a short fuel stop in the city center or the officials at the toll bridge, nobody lives up to their bad reputation and we find ourselves joking and chatting until we leave town. The city doesn’t have much reason to cheer, though, since its once thriving diamond industry has taken a serious beating in recent years due to price drops on the world market and stricter regulations. Despite the horrible working circumstances, its giant open-pit mine still attracts a lot of “creuseurs”, hoping to make a small fortune with the precious stones. 


Diamonds are also the reason why Mbuji-Mayi is called the most expensive city of DRC – at least for accommodation, easily exceeding 100 dollars for a simple room – and why a very decent, if little used, tarred road goes more than a 100kms to the south, to connect the city with the railway coming from Lubumbashi in the small town of Mwene Ditu. It’s a pleasure to progress this easily and we easily grant a pardon to the occasional pothole, livestock or pedestrians crossing our path. The zone of friendliness seems to extend itself to Mwene Ditu and beyond. It is quite refreshing to be greeted without being demanded a gift and to be able to have a lunch stop without a few dozens of prying eyes in front of you. 

In the far East of Kasaï Oriental, particularly around Luputa, the presence of formerly Belgian activity becomes much more apparent than in Bandundu or Kasaï Occidental. Although the large farms of the colonial era have seemingly disappeared, nearly every tiny village hosts at least a few beautiful but rundown villas and there are many stations along the still more or less functional railway. 

In Tshilombe, formerly known as Thielen-Saint-Jacques, the church of the well-equipped catholic mission has partially been renovated. Presumably not by the “Fonds voor Inlands Welzijn” (Fund for Indigenous Well-being), that donated a water tower in days long gone by...

The road is acceptable, some parts could even be called a good gravel piste, and maintenance is visible on both the road and bridges on the way. It doesn’t take long though. After Luputa, the RN1 turns again into a battered, dusty highway to hell. 


There are less and less pedestrians and cyclists on the road, until we are completely on our own to face the puddles of mud that take over the road after the crossing of the Lubilanji River, which forms the natural border with Katanga province. Trying to ride around the puddles, checking out the depth if necessary and making a picture of the eventual crossing takes a lot of time and we give up hope of reaching Kaniama. We have no reasons to complain though: it’s been ages since the last time we did 227km in one day…


















Day 14: 20 kms before Kaniama – Muleba (157km)

Our bush camp turns out to be noisy because of the nearby palm trees, brushing their leaves against each other. In the morning, we are chased by the sound of a bush fire coming a little too close. The road ahead is muddy and allegedly seldom used. The railway, although in disrepair and not operating regularly, seems to be a much better alternative. It takes us until noon to reach Kaniama via narrow bicycle paths, over ramshackle bridges, through village centers in order to avoid the deepest ruts and along majestic tree-lined drives that once bordered plantations. 



Kaniama has a rather pleasant feel with its wide green lanes, not-so-decrepit villas and hilly surroundings. Just as anywhere else though, drinking water comes from a surface well since there are no water pumps… 

After Kaniama, the road is as desolate and bad. Small convoys of cyclists are practically our sole companions, except for two new 4WD’s that pass by as fish out of water. We have noticed that our bikes’ idling speed has gone down, suggesting that the air filter is clogged. Isabel complains that her bike’s engine has even shut off while riding. 

In the small village of Muleba, we attract the attention of at least a hundred children when we buy nuts, fruits and a few bars of chikwange (cassava paste in banana leaves, almost the Twix among African staple food). We leave the crooked black dried fish for what it is, but don’t forget to take a few deliciously hot red peppers, that lately have been spicing up any dish that would otherwise be much less attractive.  

A few kilometers further, we find a nice camping spot. I have just enough time to clean the air filters before the sun sets in the most spectacular way.








Day 15: Muleba – Kabondo-Dianda (210km)

Early in the morning, a train passes by and proves that the railway is indeed functioning. We pack our stuff and ride off. Strangely, the idling speed is not restored after cleaning the air filters. I wonder whether it might be due to bad fuel. Maybe a spark plug problem? Anyhow, we are not going to waste time on this now, it’ll have to wait until tonight. 

A lot of people have told us that roads in Katanga Province are better than in Kasaï. I must admit that they were nowhere as horrible as before Tshikapa, but it would still be an overstatement to call them actual “roads”. Most of them haven’t been redone in decades and it is merely due to the slightly drier climate that improvised bypass tracks have a longer lifetime. 

Naively, I had thought that the large military airbase in Kamina would have given the town a push towards proper development, but there is no sign of it at all, unless you count the ubiquitous “Top up your credit here” signposts… If only there would be mobile phone reception out of town. When we leave town (via a police check post with a little more hungry officers than usual), we are surprised to see that the road is good. Nearly as good as asphalt, albeit dustier. Only 18kms later it is bad again. 
 
We wonder who is responsible for these seemingly random road repair projects. Is it NGO’s, the World Bank, EU or simply a local politician who does more than filling his pockets? Anyhow, through-traffic is not helped a lot by such patches of better road. And as if we have to be punished for enjoying the speed, the road becomes gradually worse than ever. 

There are more rocks now and very bad erosion gullies. Some drunken lads warn us not to try the shortcut to Luena, since it is worse than the road we are taking to Kabondo-Dianda. We wonder whether that is possible. Just when we have decided to look out for a camping spot, one village follows another and the road turns into a complete nightmare. 

In the dark, we climb several slopes, seeded with large rocks that seem designed for the ultimate skid plate test. Exhausted and frustrated, we stop the bikes next to the road as soon as there are no passers-by anymore. A side track tapering into a footpath provides us with a nice camping spot amidst the elephant grass. We set up the tent, go to sleep and then… a flashlight accompanies the footsteps of a farmer and his wife, coming back from voters’ registration in Kabondo-Dianda and on the way to their compound that is only a 100m further down the footpath. He tells us that his compound seems blessed, since it is the third time that he gets foreign visitors here… are there really that many of us travelers? 



Day 16: Kabondo-Dianda – Lubudi (149km)

First thing to do in the morning is changing the spark plugs. It seems to help increasing the idling speed. Second thing is to pump up a flat rear tire. For some or other reason that’s enough and it doesn’t deflate again. Then we visit our hosts in their well-organized farm. Their eight kids are all at school or university. The farm, which comprises 180 hectares of land, produces enough to support their school fees and our host has even been able to get a loan for a tractor. Nevertheless, he complains that the roads are so bad that fuel prices, hiring of a vehicle and various “taxes” and bribes nearly exceed the benefit to be made at the market when selling their crops. It discourages people to set up a business and leaves them with monotonous, unbalanced diets. But in the next elections, he is going to vote for Joseph Kabila, since he’s one of theirs, and up to now he has only had one presidential term, so what could he have achieved yet… 











The landscape gets more and more hilly now, until we are climbing a genuine pass not far from Bukama, where cyclists gather to rest after the strenuous job of pushing their heavily loaded bikes up the boulders. Recently, trees next to the road have been cut and it seems as if preparations are held for badly needed road repair works. 

We leave Bukama and its scenic lake on the left hand’s side before crossing the Lualaba, which is the main contributory, if not the first part of the Congo River. We’re entering the copperbelt now. 

In Luena, we find the first miserable remains of an abandoned copper mine and the neighboring “cité”. The giant underground engines are laying abound next to the road, rusty and overgrown in a post-apocalyptic way. Is this what’s left of Congo’s formerly rich copper mining industry? A part of the installations seems manned. We can only guess in what circumstances these people are continuing the exploitation…

And again the road turns to worse. I am amazed to see the maneuvers that trucks do to pass through. One of the trucks left Lubumbashi three days ago. It is not more than 400 kms from here and the last 100kms is tarred… Let’s hope we can do it a little faster.





In the next village, a bridge has collapsed last year and villagers have constructed a new bridge on their own. They charge a fee for commercial trucks, but after some discussion with a few drunken guys, they let us through for free. We pay them a good tip though for helping to cross the pretty uneven heap of tree trunks. Riding through the river would not have been an option in this hilly landscape.  Again a mountain pass needs to be overcome. The scenery is breathtaking, but sunset is near and we would like to reach Lubudi, where we hope to find fuel and maybe even decent accommodation. So we speed up. 

Suddenly Isabel sees a baby goat hesitate: cross the trail or not… and at the very last moment it does. To her dismay, Isabel rides over the poor little thing with the front wheel before she stands still. The goat is moaning while the villagers are flocking together around us and laughing at the shocked look on Isabel’s face. They put the animal back on its feet and that’s it. I convince Isabel that the cute little thing is going to be oh so fine and that there is no reason to linger around. 

Shortly after dark we arrive in Lubudi. There is no accommodation in town, but Cimenkat, the formerly CBR-owned cement factory, has a guest house. A moped rider is happy to show us the way. Both the main building with its bar and swimming pool as well as the houses for staff and guests point at a glorious past, but nowadays Cimenkat is shut down – leaving the whole of DRC without any cement production at all – and awaits investments by its new owner Heidelberg, while former employees are doing their best to prevent looting and theft. They are unable to stop termites and cracks in the walls though… We spend the night in a once fashionable apartment, where one remaining bulb and one socket do the trick. The man who brings us buckets of water to shower proposes to cook dinner. We are delighted, until we understand that we have to give him the ingredients. Alas, we did not bring a chicken with us...


Day 17: Lubudi – Lubumbashi (351km)
 
Lubudi must have flourished in the Cimenkat era, as evidenced by the concrete main road, the stylish villas, post office and fuel station. However, nowadays fuel has to be bought by the jerry can from the local doctor. Bad luck: it’s finished. No panic, we can still find it in about 40 kms. 


 
The road is – again – so bad 

It was worse than it looks!

that we decide to try our luck and take a 40km long private road over a cattle farm – part of the George Forrest Emporium – that cuts off quite some distance. It is strictly forbidden for unauthorized vehicles, but the guard at the gate assures us that motorcycles have always plied the path without a fuss. We should only watch out for nails, buried at some particular marked points, to discourage trespassers… We set off, quite wary about the nails. At first, we progress steadily over a good but overgrown road, 


but then the soil becomes more and more sandy and we are forced to use bicycle tracks again. 


We soon regret our choice, but probably the continuation of the RN1 is at least as bad, so we go on. Luckily, we are rewarded with beautiful landscapes: grassland, moors, forest and the occasional herd of cows… hard to imagine that this is private property. 


The first village after the farm has a railway station and stocks of fuel, sodas, cookies and potato chips. 


After indulging in these luxuries, we hit the road again. That is to say, we hit the narrow trail clinging to the railway, since the main road is – again indeed – horrible. 


The alternative doesn’t prove very safe though. I almost end up in the ditch at a culvert, and Isabel drops her bike at an unexpected gap in the road. We have no choice but let it down into the ditch, 1.5m below the rails, and find a place where I can ride it back up. 


We need the help of a friendly cyclist to overcome the all too steep slope. Not so long thereafter, we arrive in Tenke, where an Asian group is currently exploiting a copper mine. Decent gravel roads go in all directions and it is hard to pick the right one going the last kilometers to our Holy Grail: the main Kolwezi - Likasi road. 


Oh my. Instead of a smoothly surfaced thoroughfare, we find a large but extremely corrugated plain of red powder-like dust. Monstrous trucks carrying copper, acids, people or whatever else are speeding down the slopes, throwing up impenetrable clouds of dust. No wonder why spectacular accidents are rife. 


Only about 25 kms further, the road improves a little. The combination of heavy traffic and dust remains a pain and it's a real nightmare to overtake the trucks, as there is a certain point just before passing it, when you litteraly don't see anything. One can just pray there's no upcoming traffic without headlights...  But we manage to reach Likasi alive and just before dark. 

From there the road is tarred and we are keen on arriving in Lubumbashi, so we carry on. By now, the cold is creeping into our bones. We’ve gone quite far south, and winter is approaching here. It’s not far now. With a sigh of relief, we ride through the surprisingly attractive boulevards of DRC’s second largest city. Our Japanese friends, who flew in with their bikes from Kinshasa a few days before, welcome us with a cold beer, a hot meal and kind admiration: "You, hero!". We did it! or Yatai!

Oh dear... It's going to take some time to get cleaned up!
For some more pics see album "Vous voyez comment nous souffrons? Final"


Vous voyez comment nous souffrons? Part 3

Day 8: Tshikapa – 5 kms after a midway police check point (108km)
In the morning we enjoy a few precious private moments, before we expose ourselves again to the hordes of people demanding our attention, time, energy, money or photograph… We want to get away as soon as possible, without being impolite. Although we’re less and less worried about the latter, as people don’t specifically seem to mind being rude to us.

Our host family that appeared plain hospitable at first, later asks for 20$ to prepare a meal (an excessive amount if you consider you can have dinner in a restaurant in Kinshasa for that price), then asks for money to fill up the generator with fuel. I kindly explain to them that if they wanted compensation for expenses they should have said so when I asked about the price to spend the night. We had agreed on 10$ for meals and 10$ for the accommodation, being a mattress on the floor in the living room, shower in a shack on the compound and use of a public toilet a bit further down the road. When I pay them they want more and try to pull off some kind of emotional blackmail on me. An acquaintance of the family disturbs us during breakfast, announcing himself as the real ‘chef de quartier’ (remember we had two similar claims before). He insists that we have to visit his compound as well; if he would have known of our arrival yesterday he would have made us stay there. Now he is just going to take all our personal information and inscribe this into his book (address, telephone number “Tout, tout, tout,…”) so that we can help him with business connections. That we aren’t into trading and don’t want to share any kind of information with him doesn’t seem to matter. He’s quite obnoxious and hard to get rid of. And then there is the endless stream of people who want their picture taken with us. Most of them we have never seen before. We endure for a while, but then make it clear that we have our own agenda and need to leave if we are to get anywhere. But not until after our youngest hostess pulls me aside and asks if I can’t buy her a plane ticket so she could come and visit us…

We ride off feeling very frustrated about all these unrealistic expectations people seem to be having, about all the accusations we endured the night before on how Belgians were the fault of everything that went wrong in the Congo and about the fact that nobody seems to be really interested in us or in exchanging ideas once it becomes clear that we aren’t there to help everybody out.

After leaving our hosts, the next challenge is to actually leave town. Each time we pause, to buy water or bread, we attract a huge crowd of people and a number of vague authority figures, all making various demands. We manage to avoid going to their offices for registration by explaining that someone of the intelligence services already took care of that last night. We make sure to ignore any official and unofficial looking individuals in fluorescent jackets as long as they aren’t throwing themselves in front of our wheels. But some are cunning enough to put up a barrier, which means another hold up of at least half an hour explaining the guys from the “sécurité routière” that there’s no such thing as a “contrôle technique” and “expertise” for foreign motorcycles. 

After getting stuck a couple of times – again – and being asked for money – again – we finally exit this hell hole after noon. But there’s no sight of the good road that was promised to us. So we try our luck with the bicycle detours only to find that we don’t gain time on the very sandy tracks swarming with pedestrians. Must be market day or something. Back on the main road conditions get a bit better, but not as to justify the line “Vous allez très, très bien rouler!!” we heard from so many people.  There’s mud and sand and ruts enough to call this a bad road by the standards of any other African country.


We pass some small patches of forest, but practically no villages. Still every time we stop, there seems to appear somebody out of nowhere. You won’t go without leaving me something, will you? Grrr… This is slowly getting on our nerves! At first we still bothered to ask why they think we should. The answers varied from because I ask over for the glory of God, because you have money or because you’re white to just bland staring, obviously confused why we would even question their demand. Now we usually stick to the tactic of ignoring or just a polite but firm No!. 


We come across another police and road security check point. The registration process takes as much time as I need to buy supplies for tonight’s dinner at a nearby food stall. Now all we need to do is talk ourselves out of paying a bribe. In the end this always proves easier than a lot of people would like to let you believe. Sure corruption is a problem in the Congo, but it’s not so much just the government apparatus that’s diseased or even worst affected, it’s more a state of mind of a whole population. Contemplating all this, we choose a quiet spot a few kilometers down the road to put up our bush camp.

 

Day 9: 5 kms after a midway police check point – Kananga (180km) 

Surely today we will reach Kananga? We’re hopeful, because according to the Michelin road map it’s only 150kms more. But then only a few kilometers later, in dense and humid rain forest-like vegetation, we meet a road-wide puddle of mud. 
The worst part was a bit further than this...
One of the trucks we met earlier is stuck there and it’s not looking good for them. We take in the scene and advance very carefully, but then Nicolaas gets stuck. A couple of the men accompanying the truck come to our aid. We are reluctant to accept at first, but they assure us they only want to help out a fellow traveler.  It is soon obvious that we will need them anyway to balance on the slippery and bumpy slopes and ridges on the side of the road, the only place where it’s possible to pass without getting trapped in the mud.

When the job’s finally done, we’re sweating like pigs and feeling like we could eat a horse. We sit and share some bananas and peanuts with our rescue team. They expect to be stuck here for a couple of days, so we give them what little food provisions we have before we go on. Again they assure us that this was the worst bit, we’ll make it to Kananga in no time. Hmmm… We’ll see.


The whole road has been redone actually, not so long ago. But since they didn’t bother to surface it, it degrades as soon as the bulldozers are done leveling. We suspect they must have started in Tshikapa, because as we approach Kananga slowly, the road does improve. 
We gain speed and when we find a graveled road after the bridge, suddenly Kananga is within reach again. Although Michelin lied to us, underestimating the distance with at least 25kms, we come to Kananga at last. 

 Arriving in Kananga is certainly a different experience from entering Tshikapa. The first thing we see is an abandoned hydro station, built recently with foreign aid but already dysfunctional. We follow the broad graveled lane going to the town centre. A lot of people are on the road; not only pedestrians, but mopeds, and some cars too, giving the whole a real suburban vibe. But when we actually get to the centre, we’re really disappointed. 

Once upon a time Kananga must have been a very nice and organized city, with many beautiful buildings and pleasant broad tree lined lanes. It was an important administrative centre, being located more or less in the geographic middle of the country. But since the Belgians left, officials haven’t been paid in a long time, depriving Kananga from its reason of existence. And since, traditionally, people weren’t used to execute any other profession, Kananga’s been slowly sliding downhill. Now everything is in decay. Buildings have probable never been renovated or even maintained and the city has cluttered up with loads of small shacks. The giant bill board promoting Kabila’s “Cinq Chantiers” is a mockery of the situation. 







We find the gloomiest hotel we’ve ever seen, but we’re too tired and fed up to look any further. 


We unload the bikes in the court’yard’ while the hotel attendant sweeps away the old condoms and dirt from the floor in a room that could have illustrated a concentration camp picture. No electricity, no running water, no restaurants anywhere near. We have bread, with corned beef, mayonnaise and ridiculously expensive onions – imported from Zambia for crying out loud – for dinner in the next door bar, which is obviously a pick-up place for hookers. To imagine we had hoped to find internet! We shower from the bucket, trying not to touch anything in the bathroom. At night rats are scrambling around with a plastic bag we left on the floor.

 

Day 10: Kananga – Lac Mukamba (97km)

We try to leave early but are sabotaged again. While buying water and filling up the tanks (€ 1.8/L), we attract a lot of attention. And when we’re finally surrounded by what might have been half the population of Kananga, it’s even harder to go by unnoticed. It’s only a matter of time before we get intercepted by the DGM. We have to come by their office for yet another tedious registration progress, which is in our own interest – according to these officials. So it’s only fair that we should pay for their transportation expenses. 6000 Congolese francs (€ 5) will cover it. Yeah right! We decline repeatedly and leave town with a huge delay. 

The road is tarred at first, but then it becomes interspersed with patches where the tar is completely destroyed. There’s a nice selection of mud, rocky slopes and sand to be had. On one of the mud stretches Nicolaas gets stuck and I have to get myself dirty again by pushing while he accelerates to free the bike. But the Yam takes off with such a leap that one way or another the registration plate hits the ground and brakes off. Great! We pick up the bike and while Nicolaas tries to reattach the scrap of metal (better not give the police anything to legitimately bitch about), I look for an escape route out of this muddy mess. A few kilometers further down the road, we pass by the branch-off to Kisangani. Nicolaas can’t help saying: what if we take… but we don’t have enough time left for another 1200 kms of mud to Kisangani, so we go straight. After a while the tar patches become far and wide in between, and in the end disappear altogether, leaving a narrow sandy track.

The problem with this is that normally one needs to accelerate as much as possible to keep the bike stable in the deep sand. But this is actually supposed to be a road, so it is being used by trucks, pedestrians, mopeds, goats, chickens, dogs, etc. In order not to run over anything and not to be ran over, you need to moderate your speed, which means it’s just very hard work and a mix of riding, paddling, getting stuck, losing balance and tipping over once and a while.


Sadly we’ve entered a region where it’s custom to stand and stare at a fallen white motorcyclist. When the staring exceeds fifteen minutes of time, people suggestively ask if there’s anything they can help you with. That more or less translates into: “Are you willing to pay me to help picking up your bike?”. We plough on ever so slowly, making sure we need as little of these services as possible and taking frequent banana and biscuit breaks. Whenever possible, we bypass the road by taking little side tracks through the villages. 


But this makes us lose time as often as we gain some. Sometimes the villagers don’t like the through traffic and have put up a barrier or dug a pit right across the path, which forces us to track back or take an inconvenient road crossing. We soon give up hope to reach Mbuji-Mayi today. Luckily the man we bought bananas from told us we could find decent accommodation at Lake Mukamba, not even halfway the total distance. Surely we can make it there?

Even the lake seems further than promised. Twice in the late afternoon we hope to see it from the top of a hill. But each time there’s a long sandy descent and no lake at the bottom of it. At a checkpoint further down the road we finally get the relieving news that we can find accommodation at the catholic mission by turning off the main road towards the lake. But we have to wait for the better part of an hour first, in the dying light, for them to finish all necessary formalities and the raising of the flag ceremony. 

But it is all worth it. Just before dark we come to the mission through a broad palm-lined drive. “Bienvenue chez nous” it reads at the side of the building. A friendly lady welcomes us and offers a cold beer while we wait for her to get the room keys. Everything is so clean and nicely furnished and the lakeview garden is a gem. 


Normally we should have ordered for dinner but coincidently they have something that’s ready. Immediately after we’ve unloaded the bikes, we can sit down for dinner. We indulge in what’s really more a buffet than a meal, feeling blessed to have found this little piece of lost paradise. Needless to say we have a very sound sleep…

 

Day 11: Lac Mukamba

Breakfast’s even better than dinner: there are omelets, porridge, pancakes, toasted bread, any kind of spread and any kind of hot drink imaginable, juice and fruits. How do they even get their supplies? At the office we see that it’s even possible to have internet access through the 3G network. Wow… After we meet father Yves, the Haitian priest who is running the place, we decide to stay the day. We need to rest and regain strength, the bikes need some servicing, our clothes need washing and we need to try and prepare things for the upcoming visit of Nicolaas’ parents in Kenya. What better place to do it? 

But first Father Yves shows us around the parish. There’s a school, a hospital, a project to modernize agricultural methods to increase production, organized road maintenance, solar panels for renewable energy and several home stays for paying guests to have revenue apart from donations from the Scheut congregation. He built and renovated most of the infrastructure himself. It’s quite spectacular what this man has managed to accomplish in just three years! And there are more projects down the lane: a waterpump, irrigational system, etc…

The challenges he has to face aren’t hard to imagine. People aren’t educated and stick very rigidly to their traditions. It’s hard for them to do anything, that hasn’t been done already since decades by their ancestors. Not to mention the problem of getting supplies such as building materials. A bag of imported cement costs him up to 60$!! We’re back in time for lunch (duck with lots of ‘accompagnements’) and manage to get everything done in the afternoon, which is a miracle in itself. Except maybe the relaxing part…



Day 12: Lac Mukamba – Mbuji-Mayi (220km) 

We decide to follow the advice of father Yves, to go around the lake instead of following the main ‘highway’. Supposedly this smaller road is in much better condition. Although a detour, it should save us a lot of time.





In the end this proved quite disastrous. Sure enough, the road until the first village, Dimbelenge, was quite good (apparently maintained by the Belgian Technical Cooperation), but after that we encounter just more and more sand. 


On top of it all, we have to ride about a hundred kilometers before we even get back on the main road, while we bypassed only about 40. Luckily instead of sand there are now more rutted tracks, with humps and bumps and a lot of erosion damage, which must be very difficult indeed for a car or a truck, but quite doable on a bike - apart from a few tricky ascends.


To cut the story a bit short: the road was simply bad till about 40kms before Mbuji-Mayi, where they started working on it. No real gravel, but at least solid and level ground. We begin to see more and more traffic: at last Mbuji-Mayi announces itself. 


The DGM which aren’t a pain in the ass for a change direct us to the catholic mission that father Yves recommended. Not that we’re so religious, but most of the time they do tend to offer the best price/quality ratio. We get a warm welcome, a good room, food and internet access at a rock bottom all inclusive price. 

For more pics, see album "Vous voyez comment nous souffrons? Part 3"

But most importantly: good company and interesting discussions. Father Polycarpe tells us about rising criticism against the current government and his expectations for the upcoming elections. Kabila’s Cinq Chantiers are a joke according to him. Electricity power lines from Kinshasa’s Inga dam are running all across the country to deliver electricity to Zambia, but don’t supply any town on the way! The roads could have been tarred thrice over during one presidential term, making the life of a lot of people a lot more comfortable. Farmers would actually be able to sell their produce at some profit, fuel wouldn’t be so ridiculously expensive and maybe there would be less people in need of pushing heavily laden bicycles for hundreds of kilometers – sometimes even coming from Zambia! – to transport goods. Especially when you consider one small truck can transport the charge of thirty bicycles. The list simply doesn’t end. People have been patient for a long time, but not anymore. Not if it were up to Father Polycarpe! In DRC religion and politics still go hand in hand – present Cardinal Monsengwo, archbishop of Kinshasa, criticized Kabila in his inaugural mass – and priests play an important role in the sensibilisation of the people…