Archive for the ‘Congo’ Category

Written by Darren 8th March 2011, photo’s by Darren (except the one on the bridge).
How many times can you drop your loaded motorbike in sloppy mud, soaking wet, hungry, dehydrated and suffering heat exhaustion and pick it up again?

Russ loving the water features en route

The Jungle route, yep, was really tough on us and our bikes but …wow, it was an amazing journey and one that I could beat out our alu’ panniers 50 times for. Actually, it probably wasn’t far off 50 times.
It hadn’t rained on us over night, camping in our hammocks in the Gabonese Jungle. Happy with being relatively dry we packed up our kit, jumped on the bikes and on towards immigration in Mikambe, maybe 40 miles from the border before the Congo. Just as we had set off the heavens opened and the mud road, which at this point in our journey was compact and thus like ice, soon claimed the first stunt of the day. We had to move as quickly as each road allowed, with our Angolan visa about to expire in just a couple of weeks. And with no idea of the back water route ahead, we had no idea how long the jungle would keep us within its sprawl. So somewhere after just a couple of miles of leaving camp and riding around 30 to 40mph, which was too fast for the slick mud road, I started to feel the back wheel twitching about behind me and the front sliding from side to side on occasion. This should have been the warning to slow and just as I was thinking, ‘maybe I should moderate the speed ‘ the back wheel decided it wanted to pass the front and both wheels together slid sideways, which I managed to correct after a few metres and thought to myself, ‘Wow , that was cool, but I really do need to slow down regardless of our time limit’. It was only a few seconds after that, still at the same speed, I did exactly the same thing. Well almost. This time the sideways slide started to bring the bike to the floor, but with a little throttle and the help from the pannier bouncing from the ground, I managed to bring the bike back up whilst continuing to complete the 180 spin. That, I was impressed with, and with a little pat on my own back, I was still sat up right on the bike. 10 minutes later I had the same problem, even though we had slowed down a tad. This time though, I didn’t keep the bike up and I made my helmet work for its price tag.

Its important to check your water feature first

And so it continued, even at a much more sensible speed. The road continued to become more slick and either Russ or I would visit the deck and then have the job of beating out our panniers for them to fit back on the bike. Russell, especially, had a hard time keeping the bike on 2 wheels and as we progressed we were to discover things will only get harder. Immigration took hours, in the tiny town of Makambe. This was due to the fact that they `just didn’t have a clue what to do. Obviously, there weren’t too many people passing through this way. And that.. we now know why. The track continued to narrow and become more broken. Top speed on a good section was just over 10mph and down to 0 when the bike lay on the floor. We did manage to get 20km from the border though before we found a spot to put up the tent on the side of the track. Actually I found the spot and stopped, waiting for Russ who would usually be a few metres behind and when he wasn’t… well you know why. So I walked back for him and just around the corner his bike laid in a deep puddle. Fortunately, he used the kill switch before his bike fell to the water so when we opened it up we found water in the air box and not the cylinder. A quick fix and the then visitors. A guy from the village 5k onwards offered us a place to stay. Already set up for the night, we declined but offered him to stay for coffee. He promptly left and returned with 2 others all carrying fire wood which they macheted into manageable pieces and prepared a fire. They didn’t stay for coffee but the first guy did come with his wife in the morning for one as invited. 20km or so to the border the next day took us 4 hours as the road persisted in becoming more broken and so narrow that the bush kept slapping us in the face.‘Ok I think we are in Congo’. We entered a small village and found a stick and mud hut with leaves for a roof to be the police station. It was only distinguishable from the other buildings because of the flag pole outside it, though no flag flew upon it. ‘Excellent. We have immigration.’ But alas, no, we registered but no stamp in our passport. And so that went on …We never did find immigration and as we are technically illegal in Congo we are expecting some problems when we try to leave. Before we entered that village and the Congo, we expressed to each other our concerns, that should the road become any worse, then we though we wouldn’t manage.

This is getting silly

It was still another couple of hundred miles in the bush to go and indeed as soon as we left the village the road did become worse. In fact, you could hardly call it a track. Maybe once it had been but the jungle had reclaimed it and now it was only a small trail where the local villagers walked. A broken trail that the torrential rains would wash away leaving hidden gullies and holes. The route was also, in part, mountainous where the trail would become even more broken and the flats were like swamps. We managed another few miles in the remaining 4 hours of daylight.

So tired. So hot. We hadn’t found water for a few hours and we had become dehydrated. Stopping to pick up Russ’ bike we found we were both experiencing dizziness to the degree of almost passing out and we were starting to experience confusion and found it difficult to find our breaths. I commented that we were suffering heat exhaustion and that we must press on to find water quickly and rest before heat stroke would claim one of us. Then with it all seemingly to be against us, we somehow , slowly continued and we didn’t die in the bush for the ants to eat but a stream crossing our route was our life. Black and dirty we filtered it and drank with glee. After resting a while we pressed on and found a tiny village.

The Chief's place

The village chiefs could normally speak French but we couldn’t. Still we would make some effort to chat even though the day had used almost all of our energy. In this village it was no different. We were hungry too and as we were offered to eat, we eagerly said thank you. Some monkey was prepared before us. They chopped into pieces its leg, wrapped it into leaves and placed the bundle in the fire. Ok.. well if that’s what’s on the menu! It took a while to cook and though we had a bit of food with us we could cook, we didn’t as we didn’t have enough to share nor did we want to be rude. So we waited.

A welcome break from the track

Then it was ready along with some manioc (staple) and then all the people around us ate! What happened? It seemed that the chief had asked if we had already eaten and it was that which we had agreed with. So hungry, we took ourselves off to the tent to sleep away our hunger pains.

Every day after then it rained, torrentially, which obviously made the route more and more difficult. But the route, despite the conditions actually did start, in places to become easier. The muddy puddles were becoming more like ponds and were becoming ever more frequent but sections would allow upto 20mph.. Just had to be careful not to slip off the middle of the track into the gullies along the side. One afternoon as the sun was going down we eventually found ourselves on one of these better sections. It was just in time too for the down pour had come and minutes later, before us the road had become the channel for a ‘river’ that was fast approaching us. Near a foot deep and with no way of seeing the track beneath it, the only option was to ride up it. I must of held my breath and managed a hundred metres before I got stuck. Russ got stuck just behind and we were unable to help each other.

Stuck in the mud, again...

The most amazing thing was we had arrived to the edge of a village and one person was out. He collected up some others and together we got me up and into the village. We then went back for Russ. But as the torrents raced beneath him, so also was his bike sinking. As we dug around the wheels the holes would quickly fill. Eventually, with some determination and time we succeeded and went to greet the chief in about the same state as most evenings.

Loving the challenge!

And so this went on for about 5 days and despite the difficulty it was a great challenge and one we were actually enjoying most of the time. Hard work during the day and normally Gazelle and manioc with some chief in the evening. But Im not going to continue to explain the road conditions but rather I’m going to tell you why I hate Russell.

One afternoon as we were coming into Mbomo, Russ found he had lost one of his panniers. The route had been relatively good to us for a while but now we had to turn back to find it. 14km we went until eventually giving up. Russ was falling off his bike every two minutes and it was getting late so we turned back for Mbomo and stayed there. It was a blow to have lost the water filter and Russ had lost his Hammock, camping mat, and part of his tent. This isn’t why I hate him though.. not at all. It was the next day when a villager came and told him it was in a village 18km back. That was great news so, with Russ unloaded he went back to get it whilst I cleaned and dried our kit. He returned with his pannier which was fantastic. But then he told me … Along the way he thought there was some people along the track but as he got closer he realised, actually they were Gorillas. Grrrr!!!!!!!! Actually I’m really happy for him but that has been my dream since such a long time. If only we had more time then we would have gone back ….but the race to Angola continues.

We are now in Brazzaville. Its seems quite tricky to cross the Congo river to Kinshasa but now we have just a few days to do it and cross part of the DRC before our Angola visa runs out on the 12th. We will then have just 5 days to cross its 2000km length with roads ranging from good and new to ‘impassable’. We obviously have no choice but to pass the impassable but looking at the map, we still don’t know which will be good and which will be bad. So now we are using what time we have to prep the bikes, rivet our panniers and clean our super muddy kit. Well here goes… Kinshasa, Africas hell hole, through DRC asap and our 400km/day race through Angola… No breakdowns and no accidents allowed.