Day 106 - Tuesday 05/02/08 - bushcamp south of Boundji to Brazzaville

crossing into the Congo dung beetle

Evil biting things attacked us before we could cover up last night and the itching is driving us nuts! We were in the process of making pancakes for breakfast (Shrove Tuesday) when our bushcamp was rumbled by a group of kids on their way to school who all gathered round as if a spaceship had just landed. Fortunately the school bell sounded and they had to rush off. We continued on the sandy track, winding its way through tiny villages and waving at all the people. We feel very welcome here as the adults break into big smiles as we drive past, while the kids literally jump up and down with excitement. It was quite disappointing to reach the main road (apparently the only one in the country, because the president's daughter lives up this way), but we filled up with diesel and turned south towards Brazzaville. It was a fairly dull drive, with an overcast sky and not very exciting scenery, but we only had one police check and they were very friendly and polite. Brazzaville is a fairly chilled out place, with very few private cars and a fleet of brand-new taxis, which is in stark contrast to most of Africa, where the cars are totally bashed up. We asked at the Hippocampe hotel if it would be possible to camp in their car park and they welcomed us to stay with a free beer. Some people have been overwhelmingly kind.

Day 107 - Wednesday 06/02/08 - Brazzaville to Catholic Mission at Kintanu (DR Congo)

market day a candid shot of the ferry to Kinshasa

Keen to make the ferry crossing to DR Congo as early as possible, we went straight to the port, but we were far too early and nothing was open yet. So we sat and gazed across the mighty Congo River towards Kinshasa on the other side. A friendly man offered to help us with the rather complicated formalities (see Notes & tips). Normally we firmly resist any sort of 'help', but we decided to go with the flow and save ourselves some stress. Actually we both thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience. When the ferry arrives people almost break the gates down as if they've just been released from prison, and the port turns into sheer chaos with people stumbling around everywhere. A large percentage of them are blind or in wheelchairs, as handicapped people get tax breaks on importing goods from DRC. Once everything had been unloaded we were finally allowed to board and the ferry left at 12pm. It took about an hour to get to the other side as the river flows pretty fast.

Arriving in Kinshasa was even more hectic. A policeman took our passports and carnets and disappeared off to get them stamped, and we were soon swamped by money changers and touts - even a man from the tourist board who proudly gave us a brochure of DRC's tourist highlights. We left the port and headed towards the edge of town, weaving our way through heavy traffic - mostly made up of UN vehicles, Hummers and brand new Oxfam Land Rovers (so that's where my money goes). The police are really friendly and we didn't get stopped once - they're obviously too busy keeping the peace to try and rip off tourists. The road to Matadi is in excellent condition (it's a peage) and once out of town we made our way to the mission in Kintanu. It's quite an impressive place, with a large cathedral (apparently the first church in Zaire). Sister Chantelle proudly showed us her house and vegetable garden, and picked us some lychees from her tree.

Democratic Republic of Congo

Day 108 - Thursday 07/02/08 - Kintanu to Matadi mission

Matadi cathedral curious kids

DRC is a really beautiful country - although admittedly we've only seen a tiny part of it. It's not how we imagined it at all, with lush, green rolling hills covered with palm trees. The people seem really chilled out and not at all bothered by our presence (I guess they're used to white people because of all the aid workers). There's very little traffic, the police are friendly and the climate is comfortable, with a pleasant breeze. It seems much more relaxed than other places, despite all the recent turmoil. We were just thinking that it would be nice to stay longer when we were reminded to be careful what you wish for. On arrival at the Angolan embassy in Matadi, we were all set to collect our transit visas when it transpired that the consul had been called away on 'urgent business' (curiously coinciding with the Angolan national holiday tomorrow) and wouldn't be back until Monday. Aaagh! Another four-day wait just to get our five-day visas! We are now thoroughly resigned to the fact that we have to get through Angola as quickly as possible and into the promised land - Namibia.

rolling hills apparently the only decent road in the country

Days 109-111 - Friday 08/02/08 to Sunday 11/02/08 - Matadi mission

Ho hum, nothing to do but rest, do some washing and catch up on some email. Still, could be a worse place to wait. The convent here is very pleasant and it's only US$5 (although this is the first time we've actually had to pay for accommodation since Yaounde). In the evenings the nuns practise their singing and it's almost like something out of the Sound of Music. Just hope the consul is back on Monday and that we can get this Angolan part of the journey out of the way.

Day 112 - Monday 12/02/08 - Matadi to beach camp south of N'Zeto

Matadi the mighty Congo

We were waiting outside the embassy when the consul finally arrived at a rather casual 9.30am. After a brief 'interview' including random questions such as 'what is your father's brother's name?' and 'how often do you pray?', we were told to come back at 12.30pm to collect our visas. We'd planned to leave the next morning, but our precious five-day visas had already started ticking so we dashed off to the border. Leaving DRC was painfully slow as the official wrote down all our details with the utmost precision... and then asked for his present. In contrast, Angolan formalities were over and done with in 10 minutes and we soon on our way from one war-torn country to another.

As so often happens when you cross a border, almost imperceptible changes remind you that you're in a new country: the mud houses have a slightly different design, the people wear slightly different clothes + everyone speaks Portuguese instead of French. It soon became clear that the five-day transit visa must be some kind of joke (or a creative revenue spinner - the penalty for overstaying is officially US$150 a day); the first 70 km, along a narrow stony track with huge rain gullies and washouts, took us five hours. Only 1920 km to go!

The road was graded from Tomboco, so to make up time we decided to break our own rules and push on into the night. The villages really come alive at dusk as the heat of the day is over and everyone has returned from the fields or wherever they've been. There's no electricity and the only light comes from the cooking fires, so eating is a really sociable occasion. It was a really clear night and we followed the southern cross to a beach camp we knew of near N'Zeto. Eventually arrived about 9pm, set up camp, ate noodles out the pan, then let the crashing waves lull us to sleep.

Diary Angola

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