#24 – Congo’s rough roads
I used to be afraid of thunder, and I thought that I grew over it, but last night that young boy inside me awakened again. The thunder here seems so much more intense, especially when you’re camping outside and the deed is happening within about 200 m.
The rain that came along with the thunder worsened the gravel track. I had to cross many puddles of which I didn’t know how deep they were, or if they contained irregular tracks. It was quite a challenge, but I made it to the border with Congo Brazaville.
At the border I met Carlos, a motorcyclist from Portugal who is one a similar quest as me. He fell three times at today’s track only, proving that for him it is even harder. We seperated our ways after the border and I found a place to sleep at the chief’s house, what a welcoming first day in Congo Brazaville. The country is also known as the Repiblic of Congo and shouldn’t be confused with its Southern brother Congo Kinshasa, know as the Democratic Republic of Congo.
My first impression of Congo is unfortunately not very good. Houses, villages and the roads all seem to be run down quite a lot. And much more than in other African countries I see people smoking and drinking. And that while they only have around $1 per day to spend.
But on the road I came in touch with a woman of about 70 years. I needed water, and without a doubt she went to get it from her roofless house. It was a heartbreaking moment. Her husband died a while ago. But the life spirit she still seemed to have was a wonderful thing to see. I left her two breads and some money, knowing that it’s not much but at least something.
Running out of food myself, I was kind of desperate to stay at locals and hope for the best. I ended up at a chief’s house, and they showed me a small shop where I bought food. They saw me fail cooking spaghetti and took over the job, resulting in a joyful and delicious meal. My second impression of Congo leaves the first one unnoticed, the people are lovely.
Congo hosts half the world’s Western Lowland Gorillas, one of four gorilla species. While I cycled through the remote grassy landscape, I saw grey, gorilla-sized objects. But they appeared to be nothing more than heavy boulders.
The surface of the road was very unpleasant today. With a constant pattern of many small hills every few centimetres, it made me think of a stroboscope effect. I’ve seen more roads like these in Africa, and each time I’m wondering what the cause can be.
Each village I pass, both kids and adults gather quickly to the edge of the road to see me. They often say ‘tourist’ or ‘bonjour’. They are really curious about me and if I stop, they run towards me to check what I’m going to do.
The washboard road continued and let some bolts and screws on my bike dance till they fell off. Lately many things start to break or malfunction, and my realistic fear is that it’s only getting worse.
After four days on the bumpy gravel road, I entered the freshly paved Chinese road and I was happy about it. Even though a gravel track represents so much more adventure, my body slowly started to hurt from the endless vibrations that my bike passed onto me.
I arrived in a big city again, and tried to persuade hotels with drone footage. A little too optimistic, I got disappointed several times and cycled myself out of the city. Instead of enjoying a secretly expected air conditioned room, I pitched up my tent in an abandoned police building full with bird poop.
Finding food has become more difficult lately. Normally I could skip a few shops or restaurants, knowing that there will be others soon. But this law doesn’t apply here anymore, and I had to take every opportunity I got to find what I needed. And one of those places sold fresh finger licking pineapple, jummy!
The small hills of the last few days now evolved into small and steep mountains. When ascending, I mostly walked since it feels like a less exhausting method than cycling. The area was beautiful, with steamy jungles and small wildlife.
Just before sunset, I found a place to camp with a local family. They gave me a bucket of cold water to clean myself with, and even some delicious food called foula. From the outside it looks like a potatoe, but behind the purple skin awaits a layer of green paste. The not edible big pit occupies most of the space, however.
African daytime means active time. As soon as the night fades away, people start to blend themselves into their daily jobs. This counts especially in places where there is no electricity. The locals must regard me as a lazy tourist, since I always wake up much later then them.
I hit the road once again, now on my way to Pointe-Noire, the second biggest city in Congo. Portuguese traders saw black massif rocks on this side of the land and that’s how this place got its name. It became an important navigation point for sailors.
For me it mostly meant enjoying a little luxury. I visited 6 hotels to sell my services as a drone photographer, and eventually got one, allowing myself a small bite of the rich life. Again with so much contrast, but with so much appreciation.
I zigzaged myself out of the busy Pointe-Noire, after having enjoyed 2 resting days in which I got my Angolan visa. I cycled to the closeby border of Angola and hoped they would let me in.
And luckily they did. It was kind of tricky tough, as I had to upload a return flight ticket during the application of the e-visa, while I’m passing the full length of the country without flying back. As soon as the e-visa is granted, the customs at the border don’t mind those details. That was the thing I was hoping for, and it worked out.
The passed 3 months I’ve visited 7 countries. It meant a lot of changes in small amounts of time. But in Angola I hope to stick to more or less the same local habits for a longer period, since it takes a lot of time and energy to learn them.