We left Congo with mixed feelings. Angry and sad we had been robbed of our phones and relaxed attitude but happy to be back on the road with Luxy, Kevin and Steph. We had also gotten the last visa we would need for a while, which really was a good thought as we were sick of dealing with grumpy embassy staff and the fat lady in the Angola embassy had used the last of what patience we had left.
Before we could drive into the DRC, we first had to travel through an exclave of Angola called Cabinda. It’s another little area that’s an island amongst other countries and a reminder that the borders around this part of the continent have been redrawn through war after war. A little heard of civil war is still going on in the DRC even now. We left Pointe Noire and drove the short distance to the border and the first of 4 border crossings to and from Angola. Not one of the crossings were a problem and although the process was slow, and at times painfully slow, we managed to pass through with our cars and cat safely.
We headed to the main city. It was a typical west African city and in a lot of ways it was not unlike tens of others we had been through with the exception that Cabinda had a selection of large, modern and well stocked supermarkets. Although we have been able to visit good supermarkets in most countries, seeing a brand name from a European chain is a very welcome sight and means we can restock on some things we often have trouble finding like crackers, sauce sachets, spreads and sometimes if we are really lucky, Crunchy Nut Cornflakes, like on this occasion, which for Christine was a real cause for celebration! We stayed that night in a catholic church around the back of the accommodation building in a yard attached to the church. We met up with a traveller from Spain who was solo on a bike he bought in Kenya going the opposite was to us. He said being on a local made bike helps as they mostly wave him through the checkpoints. I often wonder how he got on further north. The next day with my fuel gauge reading dangerously low but with none of the gas stations having diesel stocks, we headed to the border with DRC.
The crossing from Angola stage 2 was as before, simple and straightforward. Into the DRC and although straight forward, there appeared to now be 3 or as many as 5 people all trying to do each job and all over the top of each other. It was interesting and fun mainly because they were all very friendly and could speak quite good English. The part of DRC we had crossed into is a narrow strip between the exclave of Angola at the north coast, Congo inland also to the north and Angola at the south. It’s quite peaceful and hasn’t really seen any of the conflict that is going on the country. The fighting is right to the north east near the border with The Central African Republic and the folks in this little strip don’t bother themselves at all with what’s going on up there. No sooner had we settled into the wonderful scenery of amazingly tall grasses towering 5 or 6 feet over the top of the car on either side than we were halted by a road tax gate. They were asking for 25,000 f each as a foreign registered pickup type vehicle. NO. we knew a way around so we took a detour (of 1 hour) and popped out 200 meters down the road from the toll gate. Now it took a while but 25,000 f is around 25 kiwi dollars so we might have been ahead around 10 after the drive around. We didn’t have any way around the next tax gate. Kevin was pretty annoyed at paying anything and with good reason. They are basically just makeshift road boom gate put up by the local village mayor or police chief for collecting cash from mostly foreigners and truck and bus drivers. Are they legal? In this town they are that’s for sure and we can argue until we are blue in the face but we were going nowhere and time was pushing on. We eventually paid and headed to Matadi which is a border town as well as a picturesque hillside city on the Congo River. We drove into the dusk and popped over the last hillside and there it was, Matadi, all lit up. We stayed in a hotel that was high up on a hill overlooking the entire city and it was a really nice view that we all enjoyed at sometime during the stay. Luxy didn’t see the view but still loved it there as well and spent her stay pulling random gross things from under the bathtub through a tile sized hole, no doubt made to fix a leak long ago, and out to the mat beside the bed for us to inspect... The next morning we all got ready and headed to our 3rd Angola border crossing but not before our last and most exciting road tax gate.
In a short time we were through the city and nearing the border. It was near the top of a hill and just as the road started to head up we came to a barrier across the road. Another tax gate. We were expecting some but as we were so close to the border we thought that we had somehow missed it but to make sure they catch everyone heading this way, this gate was on the final approach to the border post. At this stage, we didn’t realise how close the border was. We pulled up side by side blocking two thirds of the road and waited in the cars for the tax man to approach us. We both showed our receipts from the last one that we had paid. They showed we were paid up until we left town. Kevin was doing most of the talking at this stage and Steph, Christine and me were still sitting in the cars, we had the engine running and the A/C on so things at this stage were comfortable. It was fun to watch Kevin chasing the growing number of officials around the booth and the road waving paper and his arms every chance he has. Things were getting heated and he marches back to us and says they are saying we were under-charged at the last gate! Because in DRC, our cars can be used as taxis and they can fit 10 or more people so we are to pay the rate for the small bus foreign registered. We must top up the payment by another 100,000 f each!! OK, he had my attention now. Previously, Christine and I had got out our chairs and I had started to make a coffee and had the stove all set up and lit. It was after all, our days entertainment and so far we had been enjoying the show. The guy with the gun was now wandering around and kept asking me to move the car. Move the car?? He probably wondered how I manage to put one foot in front of the other I was so dumb.. I couldn’t understand his simple request no matter how he put it and how long he tried. Then we had a break.. an official or VIP turned up and stopped right up behind Kevin’s car. He HAD to move and it had to be now… He got in and started the car the barrier was raised for the VIP but Kevin also drove forward, not back as they were expecting, and through the barrier. The guards were about to all rush forward but then he pulled over and stopped just beyond the barrier. Everyone relaxed, except Christine… She had had enough. She sternly marched up the barrier, swung the concrete counter weight down with such force it wedged into the road surface and started to yell at me to ‘get the fuck through!’ I had to throw the chairs in the back and manoeuvre the car through the barrier. Christine jumped in the car as I was still coming to a stop and still yelling said ‘DRIVE..NOW’ and we were off with Kevin and Steph behind. Christine was absolutely pumped with adrenalin and admitted after that it sure was scary but exciting. The fact that a woman did it sort of had them by surprise and they just all froze and looked as we headed off. Our expressions would have changed for sure when we realised that just 200 meters up the hill, we had to stop at another gate… this time we couldn’t just lift it and make a dash for it. This was the border! After a few minutes we were sure they weren’t coming up the hill looking for the so-called tax, we started to relax and laugh about what had just happened. Then started the almost 3 hour crossing and we entered Angola hungry and ready for more adventures.
We spent such a short time crossing DRC we didn't get many photos...
it's Our Epic Trip...
David & Christine are from New Zealand and are embarking on a trip around the world the slow way, on foot and by personal vehicle. This could get interesting!