We arrived in DR Congo today, but not without our fair share of adventure! We arrived at Loumo early in the morning to discover from 'blue shirt's wife that he had already left with someone else to go to Goudienza (to see if we had gone through and collect any dues, no doubt). We did wonder whether he was going to other border posts to foil our plans, but decided that was rather paranoid of us. Very very annoyingly I lost my gold locket with the picture of Karen in it. I was in the middle of putting it on when we arrived at Loumo and it must have dropped off my lap when I got out the car to speak to Pat. By the time I realised it wasn't round my neck we had gone too far to turn back, despite having to stop to fix (yet another) puncture on Nyathi! We found the track which was on the GPS and it looked as if it headed to Ntombo Manianga. It was the route Michael and I pondered about yesterday and that Simon had thought was the right one, but when we found Loumo, we had decided not to go back.
Midway down the road we came across a fork in the road and there was a very beautiful old church there.
We spoke to the minister and his family there who told us the road we were on was unpassable and there was a deviation further back, over the bridge with palm tress and up a hill and then we needed to turn to the right. I asked him to write down all the village names along the way, as we've found that to be a very useful aide so far. We ended up having to go back to the beginning where we turned right this morning. A visiting doctor who was administering vaccinations to the local children confirmed the minister's advice, so off we went. We found all the right villages, so were feeling confident and the road was challenging, but very scenic.
En route Michael and I stopped to fill up 4 x 20l jerry cans down at a fast0flowing river (great work for the muscles carrying them full up the river bank). Further on, we found a big bridge with a river where we had a paddle and Togo swam (properly) for the first time! A local guy, Phillippe met Pat on the bridge and they got talking and he ended up hitching a lift with them and giving us very valuable directions.
We had a last check point before we departed Congo Brazza and shortly after that we said goodbye to Phillippe. The road was really a track, but sure enough, before too long we came across the sign welcoming us to Congo Belge (DR Congo).
After that, the road became very very overgrown (virgin jungle stuff) and everyone was a bit hesitant, but Phillippe's directions to the first DR Congo town, Ndandanga, were very clear and as he had directed us correctly so far, I thought we should trust him and when Michael got up on Nyathi's roof he could see the road in the distance. So off we went bundu-bashing which was all very exciting.
Then we met another local guy en-route to Ndandanga so Pat offered him a lift. When we arrived in Ndandanga we should have just driven straight on, but the others needed diesel, we hesitated and stared talking to the locals and ended up there for a couple of hours while all sorts of debates went on with a military guy and Jean-Pierre from immigration. They insisted on accompanying us to Luozi the next town along where our passports would be stamped, because the border at Ndandanga was closed. We countered that we would go there in the morning anyway and we knew that was where the formalities happened, but they were very insistent in fact almost stroppy and said it would only take an hour (African time of course) to get there.
So, off we set with a military guy, Florrie-Bert (?) and Jean-Pierre in Simon's car. We were really keen to bushcamp so we invented some fuel cut-out problems with Nyathi's engine, but to cut a long story short, we decided it was not worth it, plus there were protestations from our two companions about not having sleeping facilities and that they were not tourists etc. (whose problem is that I found myself asking?). Then an argument ensued about who held onto the passports as Jean-Pierre still had them in his hot little hands. Eventually I persuaded him that it was easiest for everyone if he gave them back and he conceded, but only if I kept them all (a little face-saving there for him). The road was not great and we drove well into the dark, eventually arriving at Luozi at about 20h00.
Then we had to wait to see his boss, who wanted our passports of course and then it ended up with the a rude person claiming to be the chief of police arriving, demanding our passports (saying the photocopies would not do, which what I'd agreed with Chief of Immigration - Felix). So after a whole lot of faffing about we headed off to the local mission to camp and get some sleep. Of course Florrie-Bert and Jean-Pierre were protesting they had no food, but got no sympathy from us at that late hour! Felix arranged for two of his people to meet us at 07h30 when we could sort out the problem in the morning.
We were all ready at 07h30 and decided we had better make an effort to be on time - why did we bother? By the time we walked over there (Michael, Pat and I) no-one was about and then when someone important arrived they said we had to bring all the vehicles around. We explained they were being repaired, but they said if we possibly could, it would be good, so we obliged. We walked back and Glen and Simon were both working on their vehicles so we had to wait for them to pack up first. Then we met Zola who was and English teacher at the local school who had come along to practice his English. We asked him if he would like to do some translating for us, as he said there was no school and he wanted to chat with us. So we went around to the administrative building and parked all three vehicles up. I sat on the grass next to Togo reading my book from Tania and everyone else waited on the bench outside the Territory Chief Administrator's office. There were loads of people wandering about in different uniforms and of course a crowd of onlookers soon gathered, but luckily they maintained a fair distance.
At almost 09h00 all the guys got up and went into the office. Then Michael came and called me and said they wanted me there too. When I walked in the office I couldn't believe my eyes. There was a bench to one side of the office where all the guys were sitting, the Territory Chief Administrator was sitting behind his big desk and then in front of him in a rough semi-circle were 10! other people. Some faces we knew, others we didn't but there were police, military (army), immigration, district administration people, all sorts! And so the inquest began...
We decided the best strategy was to use Zola as our interpreter and for me to limit my understanding/responding in French. They asked if we had any kind of recording device and I said no. It was all quite amicable, but of course the fact that the border was closed was raised a number of times and they asked us the same questions in lots of different ways. We explained we had not intended to do anything wrong and just wanted to do the right thing and have our passports stamped. The questioning and discussion took about an hour and then they said that we must go through the immigration formalities with Chef Felix and that our vehicles would be subject to a search.
Pat had an initial chat with Chef Felix and then Michael went in and spent absolutely ages answering all sorts of inane questions including what level of university he had achieved, his parent's details etc. etc. and they wrote all of it down! While this was going on they stared searching the vehicles...
Simon's first. The searcher (who was a little creep from immigration) was not very careful with what he pulled out and how he did things and Simon was getting quite mad! I had to tell him to slow down and take more care with things and fortunately another guy called Joassin came along to help, along with a military guy and they shared our sentiments of being a bit more respectful with other people's property. they all got very dusty emptying Jenny, which gave us all a quiet smile. They never quite got around to searching Simon's safe,nor his medical kit so he dodged that quite well.
Then it was Nyathi's turn. Michael was still in with Chef Felix, so I did the honours. I started with the spares and water compartment first. I told the guy I couldn't lift heavy things so I made him work a bit! I think he got pretty tired of seeing trunk after trunk of spares, engine oil, our big tent, buckets, jerry cans etc. The only slightly interesting box was that with all the other country maps, the spares computer bits and spare toiletry stuff. He didn't get the least bit embarrassed when I showed him all my spare ladies toiletries, in fact he was a bit too familiar for my liking. Then we moved onto the back compartment - tools, jack, safety triangles, generator, spare differential all that exciting stuff, so he was not that excited by it all. Then we moved around to the kitchen side of things and by then he was getting a bit bored (my tactics were working), except for the fact that he saw we had some alcohol miniatures which he rather fancied (fortunately I had managed to avoid discovery of the big bucket of beers and gin and tonics on the other side, by pulling out loads and loads of things one after the other and covering them with my overalls). By the time we got to the cabin bits (which of course was the bit I was worried about in case they saw the entrance to the tent compartment), he left Joassin to do the checking, who was a lot more mild-mannered. I got very enthusiastic about showing him my French course notes and explained how I did my conjugation tables...
He gave our big medical aid kit a cursory glance, especially as I told him it was sterile and that he couldn't touch anything. He didn't even notice the fridge and all the time I stood in the cabin area with my back arched upwards obscuring the tent entrance and opening boxes for him to have a look at. He didn't even bother to look in the cab and all its little cupboards where we have our cameras, binoculars, the on-board computer etc. Still, at the end of it all I was sweating like a pig under the heat of the sun and then Michael came back and we started repacking. Simon was keeping a watchful eye over all of our stuff which was now lying out about the vehicle, for all to see.
Glen and Pat got off fairly lightly too and the item that aroused most interest in their vehicle was a dictaphone - which Pat ended up giving to Commandant John, who turned out to be quite a nice guy in the end. They did make Glen open his tent and they had a good ferret about in there!
Michael explained that Chief Felix wanted $70 to stamp each of our passports as we had incurred a 'penalty' by coming through a closed border. Michael made it clear there was no way we were paying the money, as we had not intentionally done anything wrong. Then of course a little later Chef Felix changed his tune and said that we would have to go to Mbanza Ngungu to have them stamped, because he didn't want to risk making a mistake and it needed to be elevated - however, it was worth it for $70 dollars each earlier! As Michael said, either he has the authority to stamp them or not and money is not going to change hands.
The 'authorities' insisted that we would have to take a military and an immigration guy with us to Mbanza Ngungu (for our own protection and it is a service they want to provide). We had to give in, but made it clear that we did not want it and did not think it was necessary. We also decided as a group that it was better to leave first thing in the morning, than end up driving at night again. We got our passports back from Felix and they asked us to complete these long forms with all our details and sign them. they said we could take them and do them at the mission and that someone would come and collect them later. We also got told that there would be a transcript of Michael's questioning and he would have to sign that too.
We retreated to the mission, at last, way past lunchtime and relaxed for a bit. Marie-Helene sorted out some bread for me and we had delicious bread, bully beef and bean sandwiches, along with Zola. Then we completed all the forms we needed to (including some for the mission to show we had stayed there - despite the fact they hadn't asked us for any money and had been very hospitable).
A guy came round later with seven copies of the transcript which I read through with a fine tooth comb and Zola did likewise. I clarified the meaning of a couple of things and then Michael signed them all and marked 'copy' on the relevant ones. They definitely have bureaucracy developed to a fine art here! I asked if we would get a copy of the transcript, to which of course the answer was 'no'.
Commandant John came round later too and told us that we needed to be ready to leave for the ferry at 07h25. He was going to escort us to the ferry and had arranged everything so all we had to do was turn up. He even organised a price which was the same as the locals paid! Chef Felix, Jena-Pierre and 'searcher' also pooped by and I gave Chef Felix some powdered milk for his children I had promised earlier. Of course we had other visitors in search of souvenirs, but managed to resist requests.
Michael took Togo for a swim down in the Congo River, which she thoroughly enjoyed!
We invited Zola to join us for dinner and we gave him a number of English books and magazines between us.
'Searcher' invited himself back later, despite already receiving his 'little miniature', and Michael explained that we didn't have dinner for him and politely asked him to leave. Zola started asking for things to start an English club at the school and we explained we didn't have anything with us, but could perhaps send some tapes when we got back home. Then he asked if we could help him get to England. Patrick innocently offered his home to stay, but of course what he really wanted was a paid-for flight. It is so hard for people to understand that we cannot extend that kind of 'help' to people.
We said our goodnights and went off to bed, exhausted, but glad to be going in the morning.
We were all up early getting ready for our departure, which was slowed somewhat by all our 'visitors'. I gave the mission some money for allowing us to use their facilities and they were very pleased. Zola made the mistake of asking Pat for money and he gave him a flea in his ear, explaining that if he helped someone he wouldn't expect payment. It left a bit of a sour taste in the mouth, which was a real pity. When we got down to the ferry Commandant John was already there. He was so helpful and didn't ask for a thing (I double-checked the ferry price with one of the locals and they told me about $20, which is what we paid). He told me to pay the ferry captain and that I must get a receipt. I gave him a few rolls of sweets for his children.
They kept all the locals waiting while we boarded the ferry and they loaded one other car on after Nyathi, which had the Territory Chief Administrator with them. Then all the foot-passengers piled on with their wares from fufu and bananas to chickens and goats. I saw any amazing act of kindness by a little boy with his chickens, he was actually stroking them to sleep - which is not something you see often in Africa. I told him it was good to be kind and he just smiled at me. I did some first aid while I was on the boat too, as there was this little boy with a seeping tropical ulcer. I got one of the other adults to clean it with an alcohol swab and put some stuff on it and covered it with a plaster in an attempt to keep all the flies off of it. Then I said he could sit on the bumper of the car when we off loaded so he didn't get his leg wet.
When we got to the other side, it was a sight to see. All the foot-passengers got off first. The water they had to wade though was about 1 metre deep! The children were helped across by adults and some people helped others with their wares. We took a giant bag of fufu in the vehicle for a little girl and boy. It was so heavy I battled just lift it into the cab! It also smelt a bit and attracted a few flies, but at least we felt like we were doing something to help. I have to say they probably wished we hadn't, because it took an absolute age to get the vehicles off the ferry. They had a very complicated system of some ramps that connected underneath, but first they had to move these boulders off the riverbed before it could all be put into position. They were having to put their faces into the water to get down and pick them up. They worked incredibly hard for their $20 per vehicle ferry fare! It was a very long and involved process with loads of manoeuvring, pulling and tugging and we still created a fairly big bow wave when we drove off.
We gave a lift to some guys who had a puncture about 10km up the road, which saved him having to cart the repaired tyre with him. Simon had Jean-Pierre and Michael (military) in his car and off we went... When we got to the end of the road where we expected to find Mbanza Ngungu, it turned out we were on a different road at it was still 60-odd kms up the road (in the wrong direction). We voiced our discontent as usual, but in the end we decided it was better to go there and just get everything sorted, especially as the Territory Chief Administrator from Luozi arrived while we were stopped there and said the same thing.
At Kimpese we had to off load some military people that Pat and Glen had been pressured into giving a lift earlier. Then we got asked by one of Jean-Pierre's colleagues to come and register at the immigration office. I said I wasn't interested in speaking to anyone except at Mbanza Ngungu and I was just following orders! It turns out the Territory Chief Administrator's superior who was based in Mbanza Ngungu was in Kimpese for some town festivities and eventually he came over and we chatted to him and he said we should go to Mbanza Ngungu and speak to his 2IC who would get it all sorted.
The road was being worked on (and boy does it need it), as a result there are loads of dusty patches (about half of it) which is why the vegetation at the side of the road has changed colour from green to mucky brown.
We got into Mbanza Ngungu at about 16h00. Of course, being a Saturday there was no-one around, but eventually the 2IC was rustled-up. He was expecting us and he sent off for the radio-operator to bring a transcript of the communication to him. He was very pleasant and helpful, but to cut a long story short he wasn't the person who could stamp the passports. So JP was sent off to look for the passport-stamper and he brought along a guy called Dido, who it turns out is the secretary of the the passport-stamper (who is currently out in his home village). To help the process swiften up a little they suggest we pay for a phone call to phone the passport-stamper. That was a palaver in itself and we ended up having to buy a charge card for Dido's phone after we got cut-off at the phone booth.
Dido suggested we went and spoke to the mission about staying there and then we'd walk back to the offices and decide what to do. I spoke to Father Goutier at the mission who was very helpful and said we could camp in the grounds and we agreed to pay for one room so we could use the shower facilities. When we walked back over to the vehicles and the offices, the others had found an English Missionary lady named Margot, who worked with her husband Augustin at the college. They very kindly offered for us to stay at their place, except they have three guard dogs, so we decided as I'd already made other arrangements at the mission it was best to stick to them.
The officials all knew we wanted to leave at 06h00 in the morning, so Dido promised he would get hold of his boss and come and collect the passports for stamping either from us at the mission, or at 'Le Gout' a little place we'd found to have dinner. I invited Father Goutier to join us for dinner, which I kind of regretted, as we all could have done with just vegging-out for the night and not have to worry about keeping up conversations. Neverhteless, we had a lovely dinner and it was very pleasant having a chat to Father Goutier and Michael got to practice his best French!
Father Goutier said he would take us across to Dido as he hadn't yet appeared and while we were en-route, Dido came in the opposite direction. He had arranged for the Immigration Chief to be there at 06h30 and promised all would be sorted pronto. We were tempted to say let's do it later, but we decided to just get it over and done with so Pat and I said we'd be there at 06h30.
Pat and I were at the offices 06h30 sharp and so were Michel, JP and the Immigration Chief, who was exceptionally pleasant. We explained everything to him (again) and when he started writing down all the details I told him we'd already done it all in Luozi and had they not sent it to him to save him the trouble? Then he told JP to go and find Dido! When the two of them came back he gave Dido a mouthful for not being there at 06h30 and promptly told him to write down all our details and do the paperwork. He said stamping our passports was no problem at all and that all our documentation was in order.
Then he asked if we had a 'Laissez-Passer'. I told him we didn't need one as we had a carnet de passage, which I would go and fetch for him. So off Pat and I went, but unfortunately, after much investigation and fine-tooth-comb reading, they saw that DRC was not part of the convention and that we had to pay for the Laissez-Passer' which was $50 a vehicle! We said we would have to speak to the others and he did offer to phone the Matadi office in the morning when we told him that Simon's friends had used the carnet and didn't take any other insurance. We also told him that we may decide to only leave tomorrow as the day was dragging on, way beyond our intended 06h00 departure and what were they going to do about our two 'companions'? He said not to worry and they would sort out transport for them.
We went and spoke to the others and agreed that despite our best efforts, we had no option but to pay. We also agreed that we should stay another night, relax for the afternoon and leave early in the morning. So Pat and I went back to the offices. I filled out all the relevant forms and paid the $150. I also told the Chief about the request for a $70 penalty fee and told him I thought he ought to know about what happens within his region and left it at that. I also told him that JP and Michel claimed they had eaten nothing and he said not to worry they would be sorted out. So we said our thanks and left, much to the chagrin of JP and Michel who felt we were deserters. I felt sorry for them, so when I got back to the mission I made them up each a jam baguette and put two beers in for their journey and raced back down to give them to them. Unfortunately they had already gone down to the station, so I left them with Dido and the Chief who said they would try and catch up with them and that was that!
Then we all went for omelettes at 'Le Gout', but we could easily have eaten two each, as they weren't very large. We ordered some dinner for the night too and then we went back to the mission. Everyone beavered away with washing, journal writing, cleaning - all sorts. Later in the afternoon Simon, Glen and I went up to the market to buy some supplies and I got some fresh meat and bones for Togo.
Pat went and visited Margot and Augustin for a bit too. We wished we'd had a bit more time to spend with them, but to be honest, we all just wanted to get to Angola. We had a super dinner again at 'Le Gout' and we all felt really pleased that tomorrow we could head for Angola...