Formerly known as Zaire, we entered the Democratic Republic of Congo at the border town of Yema, and were immediately impressed with how “normal” DRC appeared. It certainly doesn’t look as if there is an ongoing civil war in the country. We only spent a few days in DRC, driving from Yema to Muanda to Boma and onward to Matadi, effectively only seeing a fraction of what the country has to offer. We found everyone to be friendly (although there were a few openly hostile individuals) and welcoming. Perhaps one day we’ll return to visit Kinshasa if things ever calm down and the country opens up to tourism. Until then, our short excursion into DRC will have to suffice.
7 Mar: It took no time to get stamped out of Angola, but entry into the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire) took about 3 hours at the entry town of Yema. The officials insisted on filling out the entry forms themselves, but they required us to provide our mother and father’s names, address, occupation, job address, emergency POC and contact phone number , etc. Needless to say, it was a lesson in patience as we each awaited our turn. The border touts were offering an exchange rate of 900 Francs to the US $ and 1200 Francs to the Euro. Despite the fact that we would only be in DRC for a few days, most folks on the truck changed a bit of money, anticipating a pit stop at a local bar. It was mid morning by the time we finally pulled out of Yema and drove towards the village of Muanda, arriving around 1 pm. It seemed that we were trying to find a suitable campsite, and to our surprise, we pulled into the Maison D’Accueil which was to be our home for the night. This pleasant religious establishment was such a nice refuge from the chaotic streets of busy Muanda, and Becky’s cook group immediately started setting up for lunch, breaking out cans of tuna fish, shredding cabbage and carrots for some coleslaw, and dishing up leftover spaghetti. After lunch, a group of party people decided to hit the local bar, while we decided our afternoon would be better spent doing a bit of laundry (the stuff we put on yesterday was already quite ripe), taking a shower, and working a bit on our computers. We managed to get a lot done, and were ready for dinner when it was finally served up at 8 pm. Nancy, Matt and Ruth made a tasty spam meal. Robby donned his camouflage holey shirt for the first time much to the group’s chagrin, as they couldn’t believe he would voluntarily wear such a hideous outfit. To take it one step further, he mimicked Hoff by pulling up his pants as high as they could go and wore black socks with flip-flops…all in all it was a very funny night with the boys pulling several antics before bedtime.
8 Mar: After sweating in our tent all night, we couldn’t wait to get up early for a chance to rinse off. Breakfast was at an ungodly 0600, the first of many during our upcoming stint of bushcamps. Since Robby was Sean’s breakfast bitch, he dutifully made him coffee, eggs and toast, in addition to getting out his stool and washing up his dishes…very funny especially considering the early morning hour! It was a rush to depart on time at 7 am but we succeeded, with a long drive day in store for us. Lunch consisted of pasta with corn, beans and beets (which Luke supplemented with canned chicken). Our destination this evening was the town of Matadi, and throughout our drive in the DRC, we noticed banners proclaiming today was “La Fette de La Femme”, Women’s Day. The streets were full of women and children wearing their best, looking absolutely stunning in their outfits. It was awesome driving through and seeing everyone dressed to the nines. As we approached the scenic city of Matadi, the view of it from across the fabled Congo River lived up to expectations…it was absolutely mesmerizing, but Nancy had made it a special point to impress upon us that photos of the river and bridge crossing it were an absolute no-go (Africa Trails had been fined $100 US last year and there was hint that penalties could include jail time). So it was a shame that we couldn’t take more photos of our momentous crossing over the Congo river, even more so since the bridge was filled with throngs of locals dressed in their very best for Women’s Day, and they were snapping away photos of us! Perhaps the sight of a bunch of tourists aboard a big yellow truck is not a common place sight, but we thought it a bit unfair that the police were disregarding the hundreds of photos taken of us whilst on the bridge, yet we weren’t allowed even a single shot of it…oh well! Our campsite was at Matadi’s Catholic Mission, which actually looked like an abandoned old building at first glance. Nancy did manage to find a carekeeper who told us to erect our tents in the grounds below the school, and pointed to where Chris should park the truck. Dinner was a soy mince chili served up with stodge, and boy was it killer. Everyone felt the repercussions of that meal the next day! Luckily for us, there was a power point that we could charge our gear in, so we took advantage of the last of the electricity we would see for the next few weeks by charging up. For some reason, the Catholic Mission carekeeper decided to lock up the one door that we had been instructed to use to enter the compound to use the facilities, so after frantically ringing the doorbell and pounding on the door, a grumpy man finally answered Becky’s call and directed her to a first floor squat toilet. It was all a bit bizarre as it wasn’t entirely clear which doors we could use to enter and exit the compound, probably compounded by the fact that none of us spoke French and the carekeeper could speak no English.
9 Mar: It was an early morning as an irate carekeeper jumped all over Lars (assuming that he was Chris) demanding that he move the truck immediately. It wasn’t even 6 am yet! Apparently our truck had blocked in a car and the carekeeper was mad, so not getting any satisfaction from Lars, he turned towards Nancy and started pounding on the cab’s door, waking her up and angrily demanding that the truck get moved right now! What a rude wakeup call. Chris was awoken by Nancy (shit rolls downhill apparently), and we tried to get a bit more shut eye before breakfast at 8 am (muesli and tea). The Catholic Mission complex became inundated with school kids, and we realized that its sleepy look from the night before was just an illusion. It transformed into a bustling, lively place where children were happily getting an education. Around our camping area, some older school girls (late teens) were performing some kind of punishment as they had to sweep and tidy the entire area. They flirted outrageously with all the boys (Luke, Sean, Robby and Dowelly), asking why no one had called them and making several rather cheeky comments. It was downright hilarious as the boys sheepishly tried to run through the gauntlet of aggressive girls who blocked the only staircase leading up to the truck (and salvation). Our main mission after breakfast was to find internet so we could confirm our Capetown apartment, but our group (Matt, Lars, Marie, Hoff, Ultra, Kendra, Katherine, Luke, Dowelly) was way too big for one Cyber cafe. After finding a decent money exchanger, we split into two groups and we made our way down towards the waterfront, eventually making our way to the colonial Metropol Hotel where there was a decent internet cafe located behind it (600 Francs for an hour). We logged on and checked some severely out of date messages and were able to finally confirm our Capetown lodging accommodations before heading back out in search of french bread, street meat and snack food. The french bread and snacks were easy to obtain but the street meat was more of a challenge since it was only 10:30 am and nothing was being grilled as of yet. We settled for an egg omelet sandwich (yum) and headed back to the campsite for a quick shower before our 1 pm departure. Luke and Dowelly scored some cheap (but boney) chicken street meat, which they shared with us for our tasty cheese, avocado and chicken sandwich, so all in all it was a productive morning. Our shower was wonderful and we were able to rinse off our sweaty clothes in a bucket. Poor Lucky was in line for the shower behind us, but a rather large African lady cut him in the queue, used up all the water, and took over 20 minutes to do so! He was left with a bucket shower and was in a rather foul mood after that unpleasant experience (but hey, at least he did score a DRC football jersey). Luke and Robby went on a quest to find more snacks and ended up with 100 Franc bags of “Nik Naks”, cheesy puffs that were well worth it. The school kids were going crazy at the sight of our cameras and happily posing away, but they got a bit too carried away with it as they posed up against the crumbling wall, which fell down in some areas so the school master got angry and scolded them for acting up. Chris “Mad Dawg” Tanner was chasing the kids away from the wall with a stick, but got rewarded for his efforts with a rock thrown to his head, so he immediately complained to the school headmistress, who was having a hell of a time controlling the kids. Our departure time quickly rolled around, and we left Matadi and drove towards the Angola border, with a brief stop to put up the beach as heavy rains pelted us enroute. The drive to the DRC – Angola border was straightforward, and the very helpful DRC officials at the Lufu-Songololo border post stayed late to stamp us out of the country. We gave them a lift back to their village and camped out by the border post, since the Angolan border wouldn’t be open until 8 am the next morning. A group went to the local bar to spend the last of their Francs and Luke, Bree and Kendra made us a pineapple meatball meal for dinner. It was drizzling so we went to bed shortly after dinner to escape the rain.
10 Mar: Happy Birthday Luke! We all had an early morning wake up call when a guy with a bullhorn came around at 4:30 am (he was the local pastor) telling everyone to wake up and go to church! It was surreal and super annoying. The weather was nice though, cool and drizzly so it was nice sleeping weather. We had breakfast and were glad that we had bought some extra loaves of bread in Matadi yesterday, served up with honey and peanut butter. By 7:45 am, we were ready to leave and shortly after 8 am, we crossed out of DRC, entered no man’s land and waited for the Angolan officials to be ready to receive us.