Republic of the Congo

We found Congo to be the most visually stunning country that we have traveled through in Africa thus far. Our route took us from the border crossing town of Doussala to Nyanga and on a logging truck road that proved to be muddy, treacherous, bumpy and amazing. Everyone pitched in to fill in the roads with rocks when they became impassable and we ended up befriending some fellow truckers (Indonesian log truck drivers) whilst we worked together to get the logging trucks unstuck. What an adventure to reach the beach town of Pointe Noir, where we stayed at the friendly “Le Club Nautique” at Circle Naval and erected our tents on the beach. Everyone imbibed on the legendary Primus beer, voted Ngok Beer to be better and got drunk off King Turbo beer. Overall, Congo made a great impression with the little of it that we were able to explore.

28 Feb: This time, we were finally granted permission to pass, and we entered the town of Doussala where a large group of children excitedly started performing a gyrating dance for us in greeting. What a hoot! They had us laughing furiously and we couldn’t believe how cheeky many of the kids were. Once they spotted Dowelly’s soccer ball, we kept hearing requests (in French) for a ball. Obviously tourists must have given the children of Doussala gifts of soccer balls in the past, as they were absolutely relentless in their persistent requests for “cadeu”. Eventually, Chris was able to clear customs in Congo, and than we were in…Welcome to the Congo! It had been a long, tiring day and Chris had driven over some tough terrain when he finally started searching for a suitable campsite. Our choices were few and far between. At one point, he contemplated a cellular tower site, but since it was only 4 pm, the decision to press on must have been made since we drove onward. By 6 pm, we were wondering if it had been a mistake to discount the first suitable campsite that we had come across when lo and behold, the most perfect little clearing appeared (near the town of Nyanga) and Chris pulled on it for the night. There was just enough room for the truck and all our tents but not much more. Amazingly, as soon as we pulled in and set up our tents, curious kids from the closest village must have heard we were in town, as we were suddenly surrounded by curious shy kids. While Becky’s cook group was busy preparing pumpkin risotto for dinner, Robby was busy teaching the kids how to do armpit farts! They laughed hysterically when Robby would let one rip, and as Chris thoughtfully reflected, “who says farts aren’t internationally funny?” Dinner was a hit (served with faux Parmesan cheese) and everyone was in bed by 9 pm.

1 Mar: Lucky’s early morning shit was interrupted by an inquisitive local who was eager to practice his English on the first person he saw that morning. It was 6 am when a booming “GOOD MORNING, WHERE ARE YOU GOING?” greeting reverberated around the campsite. Poor Lucky was mid-poo when this happened and he was having a difficult time concentrating on his efforts! Breakfast was uneventful and we were on the road by 8 am, stopping in the town of Nyanga for bread, and a subsequent police check point. Chris had to submit all of our passports to the Department of Surveillance du Territoire, and eventually we were granted permission to continue. We drove and were making decent time until we all heard a loud crack and realized that the front spring had broken. Thankfully, we were near a village and not in the middle of a desolate bush, as Chris told everyone to grab what they needed for the next few hours as we wouldn’t be able to come back on the truck. The friendly family who had come to the roadside to wave hello invited us to sit under the shade of their tree, and it was a funny sight when a dozen or so tourists spread out grass mats and got comfortable in the family’s front yard. The neighbors got a huge kick out of all of us relaxing in the yard as if this was our second home, and we were all amazed at how well behaved the young children were. A new born baby was being watched by her older sister, and when she peed, her older sister just held her up above the ground, letting the urine drip dry and a clean set of underwear appeared followed by a nonchalant changing of the nappies. Children sure do earn their keep in Africa, and the baby’s older sister didn’t seem fazed by her chores one little bit. One of the more boisterous young girls was obviously coveting the spotlight, and she kept us entertained with her antics. Nancy passed around chocolate chip cookies and we offered some to the family who gave each kid a cookie which they solemnly bit into…we couldn’t tell if they liked it or not but the cookies didn’t last long. We were given permission to take photos of the children, and they seemed to really enjoy posing for us, laughing and smiling as they soaked up all the attention. The two hours we spent with the family were quite special, and it appeared that everyone thoroughly enjoyed their time there. Since this was the third broken spring on the truck, Sean and Chris had become pros at fixing it, and we were amazed that in no time at all, the repairs were complete and we were back on the road. After thanking our hosts for their hospitality (Bree gave the mom some balloons and small balls to distribute to the kids), we bid them farewell and were on the road again, stopping the first chance we could for an overdue lunch break. Lunch was actually quite tasty, as we served up guacamole, pumpkin risotto leftovers, and tuna fish sandwiches. We crossed a large river (Pont du Niari) and were amazed at how many of the massive logging trucks were overtaking us. The trucks were absolutely massive, and the log trees they were lugging were incredibly large hulks of wood. It was mind boggling just how many of the trees of the Congo had been chopped down and were on their way for export into China. We were saddened, mesmerized and downright awed at the spectacle before us, and wondered just how much of the Congo has been deforested. The road became crowded with pedestrians and one cheeky teenage boy decided that he would run after the truck and haul himself up by the stairs for a free ride. Little did he know but he almost killed himself as the rubber band on the stairs barely supported his weight and would have crushed his skull had it snapped. Sara screamed at him in horror and eventually he let go. The scene from the back of the truck was something out of the horror movie “28 Days” where a bunch of zombies were chasing the truck. It was a surreal sight of dozens of dust covered villagers chasing after our truck while trying to hitch a ride. By 5:30 pm, Chris was looking for a suitable campsite and he finally found a picture perfect spot in the midst of a series of rolling green hills. All of us were spellbound by its beauty and many a camera was pulled out to soak in the memories. The weather was perfect (even a bit chilly) and Nancy, Matt and Ruth made a zesty stodge with soy mince chili for dinner, which was a big hit.

2 Mar: Breakfast was at 7 am and somehow, our campsite attracted a local man who showed up and stared at us all morning long. How he got wind that we were here is beyond us, but he waited patiently for us to eat, pack up and get ready to leave before asking if he could have a ride. It was heartbreaking to deny him a ride but we aren’t able to pick up hitchhikers so we had to say no to his request. We drove down a somewhat rough dirt road through a mountain/hill area, saw log trucks backed up so we stopped for lunch. Met the Indonesian truck driver and took a photo with him on his mobile phone. After lunch, walked ahead to see what was blocking traffic. Took photos of an overturned truck as we were headed down, and saw that there was a bog area where log trucks were getting stuck and had to be pulled out by two other trucks. It looked dangerous as the cables appeared ready to snap at any given point. There was a line of about 15 trucks waiting to go, and the drivers drove at full speed trying to clear the bog while we cheered and snapped photos. Some of the truck passengers took photos with us (esp one with a Congo shirt on), some of us took a quick bath in the stream while waiting for the trucks to pass. Threw big rocks in the hole to help build up the road and allow us to continue, after we got through we started searching for a bush camp, landscape all day long was beautiful. Found a small place to camp next to the road adjacent to a small village, and surprisingly the locals didn’t hassle us at all. Tim’s cook group made curry pumpkin pasta stew which was tasty. We drove about 100 KM today.

3 Mar: We had breakfast at 7 am and were on the road an hour later. The funniest thing happened this morning when we pulled over for our first pee stop of the day. Nancy led the girls up a slight hilly incline to pee while the boys went on the other side of the road. Apparently, there were two boys who were at the top of the hill and they kept trying to sneak a peak. Finally, Norma walked right up to them and told them that she was going to pee, which they thought was hilarious. They kept watching and popping their heads around the corner sneaking a peak and finally trailed us to our awaiting truck. One of the more cheeky boys tried to climb the stairs to the truck and Sara used her umbrella to knock him off. Then, the two boys pulled down their trousers and squatted in the middle of the road, mimicking the girls peeing much to the delight of everyone on the truck…very funny but cheeky boys! The roads were quite muddy and we came across another big bog. Luckily, we drove around the queue of log trucks so we were only a couple of trucks back. The big bog had two trucks stuck in it in opposite directions. One truck was pulled out and the next truck immediately got stuck, so no one was going anywhere anytime in a hurry. We ended up throwing a bunch of rocks into the muddy ruts as we were waiting for one truck that was stuck with heavy machinery to be pulled out. It took us about 1 hour of tough physical labor under very muddy conditions, but thankfully, after the other truck was eventually pulled out, Nala flew through the bog hole with no problem thanks to Chris’ mad driving skills. After a couple of trucks went through riding on our hard work and a bit of luck, a heavy dump truck got stuck again, effectively blocking the road once again. But at least we were through, and now on our way towards Pointe-Noire! We still had some pretty dismal logging roads to get through, and saw a pretty bad accident where a red logging truck had flipped over down a hill. However, the driver, who was still at the scene of the accident, was relunctant for us to take photos. Chris found a nice lunch spot where we had a quick swim and bath in a river near Louvoulou. After lunch the road was messy until we caught a paved road and celebrated prematurely, because the well paved road lasted about a minute before turning rough again. The pattern of good road/bad road continued for a bit until we drove closer to Pointe Noir, and than it was smooth sailing and a well paved highway leading to the port city. Everyone’s excitement grew as we piled up on the beach to watch as the city’s attractions caught our attention. The legendary Primus beer signs were everywhere, and street meat caught our eye. Chris and Nancy were navigating with no map, so at one point we pulled right into the middle of the central market before realizing that we had to detour around the very busy area. The reaction of us was mostly positive, with the locals cheering and greeting us, but there were several individuals close to the main market that picked up rocks and pretended to throw them at us. After getting the grand tour of Pointe Noir, we pulled into “Le Club Nautique” at Cercle Naval where we would be spending the next few nights camping on their beach. After erecting our tents on the sand by the club’s boats, everyone sprayed with DEET as there were plenty of biting insects around. Dinner consisted of Luke, Kendra and Bree making spaghetti meatballs out of the can along with onions and was ok for truck food. The Naval club offered beer at their bar, but it was prohibitively expensive (2000 CFA for a Primus) so we drank from our own stash. Becky went out with Nancy, Chris, Kendra, Lucky, and Bree to Vegas Pub where beers were 1500 CFA. Robby stayed and talked to an expat Portuguese guy who had lived in Africa for 9 years, 6 months in the Congo, getting the scoop first hand about life in this part of the world. We both crashed late and slept well, with the sound of waves crashing just a few feet from our tent and knowing that we had a bit of a lie in since breakfast was not till 8:30 am.

4 Mar: Robby was unable to sleep in, so he got up and did a bit of laundry before breakfast. Today was a free day in Pointe-Noir, but Robby did have to go cook group shopping. However, Hoff was in no condition to hit the market as he was still drunk from his big night out last night (along with Lars, Luke and Matt) so we decided to give him the morning to recuperate and shop after lunch. Breakfast consisted of oatmeal and peaches, and we decided to get rid of our excess CFA by selling it to Nancy ($80 worth). There were plenty of power outlets by the Naval Club’s bar and the friendly staff told us to make ourselves comfortable at their tables and chairs. While we were busy charging our gear and working on the website, a drunk Hoff frolicked in the sea with Lars, Marie, and Luke. The naval club staff allowed them to use a sea kayak and wind surf board for free, much to the amusement of the local Congolese children who ended up joining them for a quick ride. When lunch came around, there was a group of 9 of us so we split into 2 taxis (1000 CFA each) and went to King’s Bar, which was a ritzy joint. We ordered two of the cheapest items on the menu, and then had to wait for over an hour for our food. Everyone was ravenous, and we complained of being famished by the time the meals finally arrived. However, they were absolutely delicious, with Becky chowing down on a shawarma and Robby getting a Philadelphia sandwich…yum and worth the 3500 CFA price tag. No one felt satiated after the meal however, and Marie, Lars and a few others disputed the bill after they were charged more for the drinks than they had anticipated (apparently the menu was wrong, according to the staff). After they settled the dispute, we took off in search of some cheap street meat and found chicken skewers for 100 CFA each. It was OK but bonier than expected and the group decreed that it was the worst street meat they had in Africa thus far. Our group ended up splitting into two groups as one headed back to do a bit of internet and we went to the main market which was surprisingly dead (we attributed it to being Friday). Luckily, the cook group was able to buy some chicken (6 KG) for 6000 CFA and bread for 2000 CFA. We also were able to get some snacks at the neighborhood supermarkets and Robby bought some beer with our excess CFA. The boys wanted to buy pineapple but it cost way too much (2500 CFA) so they decided to buy honey (for sweet n sour chicken) at a supermarket instead. We made the call to buy some extra bread for ourselves for lunch tomorrow, and it started raining while we were heading back to find some honey. The boys hit a supermarket while Ruth and Becky watched the groceries while seeking refuge from the rain beneath a storefront. It seemed to take the boys forever to buy a single jar of honey, and when they emerged from their shopping experience, it was to tell us that they had befriended the Yemeni owners who gifted them with 5 packs of soup mix. And no honey was available but they substituted it for some asparagus sauce instead. We caught a taxi back for 1000 CFA, and since we were already sweating when we got back, decided on a swim in the ocean. Hoff gave us a paddle boat ride out to a ship wreck…it was cool but Luke wanted to crawl around on it which looked very dangerous considering all the rusted steel. Hoff’s angels made chicken asparagus with mushroom soup for dinner and it was nice, earning them compliments from the group. After dinner, we worked on our computers for a bit, and managed to finish the Nigeria section of the website. We called it a night around 10 pm.

5 Mar: Breakfast consisted of toast with peanut butter, and it was followed by a truck cleaning session. Becky had pots and pans while Robby had to work on the head rests, beach cushion covers, trashcans, tupperware and kitchen baskets. It took about 90 minutes and there were these annoying biting sea insects in the sand that attacked Robby and Ruth by attempting to burrow into their skin. By 10 am we were done and Becky’s group had to go cook group shopping so off they went. It took a while even though it was just a vegetarian meal as prices had to be compared at the fruit and vegetable market, followed by a walk down to the corner intersection to get some bread for breakfast and lunch, followed by a return trip to actually pick up the desired vegetables. We ended up getting the majority of our vegetables from a local lady and had to accept the high prices here in the Congo. We paid 2000 CFA/KG of carrots, 1500 per KG for pineapple, 3000 CFA/KG for tomatoes. Thankfully, the bulk of what we needed was already on the truck (our meal was a soy mince spaghetti bolognese) bulked out with cabbage, eggplant and canned tomatoes. After cook group duty was done, we ate lunch on the truck (yummy bread with tuna fish and cheese) and went with a group in search of Havianas (Brazilian flip-flops) that supposedly were priced well at the City Sport store in Pointe-Noire. However, it was closed until 3 pm, so we split off from the group and went to an internet cafe that Tim had recommended to us (at the base of the radio tower opposite from the stadium and arts/crafts stalls). We found the cafe but it was busy, so we ended up having to wait almost an hour for a computer to be freed up. However, it was reliable and we were able to check our messages and sent 2 out for Cape Town apartments. At 3 pm, we went back to City Sport, but unfortunately they didn’t accept credit cards and we were out of CFA so we didn’t end up buying anything. Since Luke apparently had excess CFA on him, we tried finding him but had no luck, so we headed back to camp and went swimming after eating a snickers to kill the hunger pangs. Our swim was followed by a quick shower and we decided it would be best to do one final load of laundry before our 14 days of bush camping extravaganza commenced. Becky joined Bree looking for souvenirs at the arts/crafts section of Cercle Naval. There was a beautiful market painting but it was overpriced at 80,000 CFA. Everything seemed priced quite high (hippos at 30000 CFA, giraffes at 50000 CFA), so we were both put off and didn’t buy anything. Since we had a bit of time to kill, we headed over to the power point of the Naval Club and worked on the website for a bit. Sean, Katherine, Norma and Marie made sweet and sour chicken and prawn crackers for dinner and it was yum. Since today was our last night in Pointe Noir, we stayed up late getting caught up on our diary and website.

6 Mar: Our 8:30 am departure from Point-Noir was uneventful, and it didn’t take long to drive to the Congo-Angola border. After getting stamped out on the Congo side of Nzassi, we had to fill out forms before getting stamped into the Angola border town of Massabi.

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