Congo

Brazzaville - From rags to Richness

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We saw the skyline of Brazzaville, the stepsister of Kinshasa, from the ferry and felt very exited to start the next leg of our trip. If we thought the embarking of the ferry was chaotic, the disembarkation was nothing short of sheer hell. It was absolutely impossible to move and what made matters worse was that most of the ground section was loaded with at least 100 bicycle type carriages carrying hoards of disabled people suffering from polio on their way to the market in Brazzaville. It was close to impossible to get past them with their loads and the heat including the fact that they unfortunately had no control of their bladders made matters worse.

 Highly illegal pics taken on the Ferry!!!! Some of the madness

Again much shouting, swinging of arms and sign language took place simultaneously and before we knew, our passports were grabbed and the guy marched off with them !!! Needless to say, it was a bit unnerving as we had no idea where to go or what was happening (time to learn French I would say!!!) After the payment of many more dollars for what we do not know, we finally could leave the cesspool of urine, spit and foul smelling rubbish and make our way into Beautiful Brazzaville.

 Casino Supermarket ...Bliss!!

At this point it is important to note that the Congolese are the best dressers we have ever seen. The people dressed well in DRC, specially the ladies with their African dresses, but NOTHING can compete with the style of the Congolese. The men are mostly dressed in smart suits smelling fresh of aftershave and the ladies are so proud and stately in their outfits included headgear or beaded and complicated hairstyles. How they manage this in the heat and dust, I have no idea as we permanently felt like paupers in their presence! This is in stark contrast with all the rubbish and dirt noticeable everywhere.

 Smart Lady Shady Avenues

Despite a bad start, we both instantaneously fell in love with Brazzaville. It is a stunning city, peaceful with tree line avenues and cafes as well as the best supermarket we have seen since Windhoek! The next step was to find a place for the night and as the one place we wanted to stay was full, the other one we could find had ridiculous price tags and offered nothing to justify it, we decided to blow the budget, use our credit card and checked in to a “African standard 4 star hotel” The price tag was I think what you would pay in The Nellie for a night but the standard equal to an SA 2 star, but what the hell it was utter luxury……..

  1. A proper toilet with a seat and a flush that worked and did not reek of urine
  2. A hot shower (well tepid) the first since Namibia
  3. A proper bed with clean sheets and no sleeping on the floor
  4. Clean towels
  5. Great food

 Luxury!!! Sports cafe Brazza styleChurch

In hindsight it was the best decision we made even though I could not really enjoy it due to the migraine taking its toll, but I slept like a baby waking up the next morning totally refreshed.We were ready to face the next part of the journey, or so we thought. Maybe we should have taken more deep breaths before we left!!

Brazzaville to Ponte Noir (or NOT?)

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TWENTY or so pairs of eyes peered   constantly into the interior of the car, as we sat locked inside, desperately holding on to our sanity. The darkness was filled with the sounds of unintelligible lingo, made more   sinister by the fact that we could not always see who was talking, and to whom. Clouds of mosquitoes filled what parts of the air was not filled by the smoke of the Ninja’s fire.

 

Let’s start at the beginning shall we?

All clean and fresh, well fed and ready for the next leg of the journey, we left  Brazzaville just after noon, with some longwinded directions of how to get on to the correct road from the hotel manager, whom again assured us the road, but for “a few potholes’, was a good one.

We managed to maneuver   our way through the 1000s of green and white taxis, and around most of the potholes in the 20 km and one hour it took to clear Brazzaville. At times the Congo River was on our left as we drove, with some magnificent rapids    kept the sightseeing element alive. But we were more delighted to see a magnificent new tarred road stretching into the distance.

 

Stanruza responded well to the civilized roads, and we made good time for about 100km, when, just short of the village of  Kinkala, the road turned first to a dirt one, and then quickly petered out into a disturbingly muddy bushtrack.

At the next fork in the road (with not a signpost in sight, of course) we took the right fork, confident we were on the right track. Our confidence seemed to be rewarded when stretches of old tarred road appeared.  The only worry was that the Garmin was indicating we had left the “main” road.

 Some of the roadsWhere we got atuck

As we entered a small village, built around the remains of an old railway siding, we realized that talk of the rebel Ninjas in the area had not been in jest. Our car was surrounded by people, some carrying handguns, and some very obviously under the influence of mind-altering substances. We made a quick getaway down the nearest track, our mindsets suitably altered.

 

After 20 minutes or so, with the track deteriorating further, we realized that we must turn back, run the gauntlet of the Ninja village once more, and return to take the other fork in the track. We had heard of the Ninjas in the area, who were the remnants of a rebel force that had only given up fighting against the current government less than 2 years ago. They remained heavily armed, however, and the government largely left them to their own devices.

 Our "Lost " path, should have atayed here

Having retraced our steps, including  an unsuitably high speed transit through the Ninja village, we were once more heading west along a track that consisted of stretches of compacted mud, interspersed by  small bridge crossings of rivers that reduced the compact mud to a morass of churned up  mess. What made this even worse was that huge trucks had ploughed   a route through the mud, leaving  a high middle section  between the wheels. The trucks’ wheelbase was wider than a normal car, so we were forced to travel these sections with one wheel on the middle island, and the other following the truck’s tire tracks, which were often 50-70 cm below.

 the jungle that surrounded usStan is Stuck and........broken!!!

In the gathering dusk, and with no village in sight, we resigned ourselves to a bushcamp, but decided to press on as far as possible before the light failed. At about the time a bushcamp became inevitable, we approached another morass of a bridge crossing. Through a combination of tiredness, even worse mud than usual and gathering gloom, Stan ended up stuck fast on the middle island. A local, quickly follows by 2 others, appeared out of nowhere, and helped us begin   digging Stan out of the thick, gluey mud. The mud was full of matted vegetation and branches, placed there by previous victims,  which made the task even harder to dig Stan out. 

 Our fellow overnighters

Darkness descended like it only can in the tropics – one minute it is light, and the next, blackness closes in. Stan inched forward through the mud, but then, at the crucial minute when he threatened to pull free, the gearbox   gave a mighty crack, and Stan was left  gearless.

 

With the 3 local villagers still in attendance, we had no option but to settle in for the night. Two of the locals indicated they would stay with us for the night, whilst the 3rd left after we donated him a torch. Although we could not be sure of the locals’ intentions, they seemed quite friendly, and settled down on Stan’s bonnet   to see the night out.

 

The quietening night sounds were shattered as a huge truck pulled up behind us, and a mass of bodies surrounded our car. The locals filled them in with the chain of events, and the truck driver, with the help of Stan’s winch, ordered his men to dig/push Stan out of the hole, and onto the side of the track. After a few hours of mudcovered, backbreaking exertion, Stan stood on the side of the track, whilst the truck sped off.

 

Unbeknownst to us at the time, another truck full of Ninjas had pulled up behind us whilst being dug out, and as soon as the road was clear, promptly got stuck in the same hole Stan had just been dug out of. This ancient truck was packed with 20-30 people, and, it seemed, all their worldly possessions. We were soon accosted by the mob, and what followed was a standoff of bluff and double bluff, broken by “gifts” to them of food, drink and cigarettes. We retreated to the interior of the car, as the original 2 villagers took their places back on the bonnet and settled down for the night.

 Our "help" arranbed by the SA Embassy!!!

Faced with such inactivity, the Ninja group gradually curled up against the car, and slept , whilst  we miraculously found we had cell phone reception, and promptly  “phoned home”. Thanks to Rudolf, and others who sent us their protection, we managed to contact the SA Embassy in Brazzaville, who promised to send us help first thing in the morning. We also got hold of the Honorary British Consul, but the less said about them the better, they were worse than useless. Thanks also to Captain Mike, in Kinshasa, in charge of the SA Defense force contingent in DRC. Although powerless himself to assist, he also contact the Brazzaville Embassy, and constantly phoned us through the night   to see that we were okay. As  did Rudolf.

 

 Ruds, you are a star, our rock of sanity and normality in our time of need (WOW, did you ever think that we would need you so much, for these reasons!). Thank you for all you did, and for all you and Chrizel do to allow us to follow our dreams. .

 

We somehow made it through that night, and in the morning the Ninja truck finally dug itself out, and went off on its way. Another  car had also stayed with us through the night, (who was protecting whom?), but left in the morning.

 

Alone in the bush, it was strangely calming to sit and wait for   the promised help. But as time passed, and no help arrived, calls to the SA Embassy were met with platitudes and little else. We were told a truck was arriving any minute,  from  Mindouli, a town  30km beyond where we were stuck, which would tow us back to Brazzaville. The “any minute”   lasted until 12 noon, when our hopes leapt with the sound of a truck approaching. As it rounded the corner, however, our hopes were dashed, as it was the same ancient “Ninja” truck that had kept us company all night in the mud.  Our hopelessness took a turn for the worse, when the truck stopped, and told us it had been hired by the SA Embassy, at our cost, to tow us to a nearby village, so at least we could be safe!!

 

At that moment a fleet of 2 trucks and a 4x4 appeared, and a gentleman whom we later got to know as Ayman, intervened. The truck driver insisted on getting paid an exorbitant amount, and with his Ninja gang to back him up we had no choice but to pay, despite his services no longer being needed, as Ayman agreed to assist us in getting back to Brazzaville.

 

We were then towed back to Kinkala behind one of Ayman’s trucks, a journey that in any other circumstances would have been the scariest ride of our lives!

 Stan in his favourite position, it seemsCongo Stan

At Kinkala, a local Samaritan found us a place to freshen up and change clothes. Ayman’s mechanic then managed to find a few gears for STAN, and so we were able to limp back to Brazzaville under our own steam, following Ayman all the way.

 

Brazzaville the second time

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Ayman had arranged for us to stay at a local hotel owned by someone in his family (as he spoke no English, and us no French, communication was very difficult), at the time any place would seem like a palace, but at daylight we realized that it was one of Brazzaville’s notorious “Love Hotels” It seems that the well to do Congo gentlemen frequent these hotels during the day (Lunch here is from 12.30 to 3 ) to court the ladies that they are not married to!! Hence there is no breakfast and are no patrons in the evenings!! I realized this pretty soon as the gentleman I thought was just being nice to a tourist, turned out to have different intentions! Thank goodness for cellphones as I could contact Stew who rushed back by taxi to fetch me.

Tip no 100 if you plan to travel here …PLEASE make sure you speak French. Most of the negative things that happened to us here is due to our own stupidity and the fact that we cannot speak French. For example:

WE WANTED:

  1. To take Stan to an official garage and have him fixed properly once and for all
  2. Buy proper official Landrover parts for Stan
  3. To extend our visa for Congo (now expired) at the official Home affairs office in Brazzaville

WE GOT:

  1. Taken to another backyard mechanic and could not get the message through
  2. Had no choice but to spend thousands of Dollars to buy unofficial parts being sold as official parts at 2x the price.
  3. Been taken to a backyard office where the “official” took our passports and loads of money impressing upon me how bad I am for being here and not speaking French

Backyard workshop AGAIN! Our trip thus far

                                                                                                                                                                                         Our family in Brazzaville !!!!
 

So here we were……..minus $2500, with a car still broken after being fixed for 3 days, minus passports and nowhere to stay……BUT as always in Africa, there are angels around and this time in the guise of Olivier and Catherine of Hotel – Restaurant Hippocampe. We have had many angels along the way, but these people are truly sent from a special planet. They have been absolutely amazing, we were towed here by request as we saw the place on our previous visit and they were full. They were full again, but kindly offered for us to pitch camp in their parking lot and provided us with a free shower.They have taken us under their wing since and even gave us a room for free, helped us with EVERYTHING from getting parts for Stan, allowing us free access to the internet, making a room available for me to do healing etc etc. We will never have words to thank them, their kindness, support and nurturing truly saved our souls as well as our belief in Africa and its people. So to fellow travelers, even if you were not planning to go via Brazzaville, do yourself a favour and come here, stay at Hippocampe tel 0242 668 6068, across the road from Radio Congo and next to the local MTN office, truly an oasis worth every cent they charge.

Our Haven and the ANGEL family of Hippocampe, Olivier, Catherine and kids

We are still here as the parts are now being flown in from SA with the help of friendly MTN staff working here as well as the quick help of Susan at A&G, Ruds (again) and Mark who drove to fetch and deliver. Thanks so much guys.

Steve and Jen with a puppy they rescuedMark cleaning the pool at the US Embassy

Well, as it seems that Brazzaville became our unofficial home for the time being, we settled in here and made great friends with the guys from Around the world by car , 2 mad American guys, Steve and Mark as well as Jen who joined them in Libreville. They are traveling around the world ..by car and are on their way down south to SA. They have been in Congo for 7 WEEKS!!! Not by choice, but because they are trying desperately to get a visa for Angola to continue their trip…..and we thought we had it bad!! Well, as we were all a bit stressed out, they used their contacts at the US Embassy (Hopefully the SA Embassy will read this!!!!) and we went for a swim as well as a movie at their cultural centre,,,,,,,,Yeah for the US!!! In return, I gave massages and did some healing sessions to reduce the stress.

The "Healing " room Maybe cleaning Stan will change his health?Father and son SA Friends !!!

                                                                                                                                                                       Another attorney lost in Africa!!!

We are all hoping to get going by Friday, so send us good vibes and watch this space!It is Friday and we are still here! Maybe tomorrow ...that is life in Africa!

Hippocampe and the Good Samaritans

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You better believe it.........we are still here. We tried to stay calm, we tried to be holistic about the whole situation, we tried to stay posotive BUT.......it is hard and we are GATVOL. It seems Stan fell in love with either the Congo or alternatively his parking spot at the Hippocampe as he refuses to be fixed. The saga continues! As soon as the mechanic fixed the one problem with the part kindly brought form SA , another thing broke and so here we are. Bigger problem this time as we had to wait for 3 days for the machanic to find the part as he firmly believed that it is readily available in Brazza, needless to say IT WAS NOT!! And here is when the amazing wilingness to help stepped in.

Our American friends Steve, Mark and Jen promptly asked a contact of theirs in Kinshasa to help us, Bob , we have never met you, but thank you for trying for days to locate the part, then stepped in Lester and Flip both South Africans staying at the Hippocampe and working in Congo. They tried to pull out al the stops to try and hunt down the mysterious piece of whatever it is as well as contacting fellow South Africans. Thank you so much. They went even further and invited us to spend Lesters birthday on sunday with them. We went on a boat trip to Stanleys Pool, certainly the best way to spend a Sunday in Brazza. We went on an hour long boatride on a Mokorro with an enjin and got to know the mighty Congo even better. It ws a lovely , relaxing trip to an Island in the river. Once again an amazing tourist opportunity not utilised at all. We unfortunately had no idea what to expect but were pleasantly surprised when we realised that there were little huts where you can relax and even a restaurant!

Scenes from the Congo River

Brazza Skyline

Scenes from the Island

Stew with our "Skipper" For any future visitors, maybe if more people do this trip, they will finally realise that it might be a good idea to do something for tourism. Take the boat from the Restaurant at the "Yacht club"  called MAMA WATI (the river goddess) at a cost of 60 000 CFA the price is a bit steep, but you can fill it with at least 6 people and share the cost.The boat trip lasts about 1 Hour and you have a great view of daily life on the Congo river. From the busy harbour to slow village life.

Well at the Hippocampe the kindness of Olivier and Catherine continue and they took pity on another fellow South Africa, Chris who is traveling from Pretoria to Madrid on his BMW bike!! Great guy and so nice to chat to fellow travellers. Unfortunately it seems that all fellow travelers eventuallt leave Brazzaville but we stay behind. We were hoping to catch up with Chris, but at the rate we are traveling, he will be home and we will still be waiting!!!

Lester, Flip and Chris All SA kindhearted saints! We decided Olivier should wear a halo!

In the meantime we are still stuck here with permanent power failures, NO FUEL!!!!! believe it in an oil producing country so now not even the taxi's can drive so we sre truly STUCK! Well we are still full of admiration for the way the Hippocampe family manage to continue to smile, to be kind and to cook and serve the most amazing food whilst there is also a no gas available for cooking!!! Well done guys and THANK YOU for all the suppport here as well as from all our friends in SA and all over.

 

MESSAGE MESSAGE Ally and Rob, we lost your mail ad and cannot pick it up on the site..PLEASE mail to info@rootsinafrica.co.za as we would LOVE to talk to you

Brazzaville : The final Goodbye

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We have been absent for a while and believe us, not due to anything but panic stations! We have learnt a few lessons in the time we were here……Africa teaches you not to make plans, and if you do, make sure you have at least 4 more back-up plans and be prepared to deviate from those at least a dozen times. We also realized that we have changed from tourists to true travelers. A 3 days break for a traveler is heaven, 4 days are nice and 5 days break is pushing it….needless to say, 20 DAYS make you feel like a caged animal !! We know the wait sounds OK to most of you, but once you are addicted to the road, the different smells, the smiles, the constant moving, the friendly faces and the continuous changing vistas of Africa, staying put in one place, even a place as nice as Hippocampe, drives you to either drink, drugs or insanity (and we are sure you all agree we are not insane…….yet!!)

 We finally managed to get the much awaited part for Stan flown in courtesy of Glen Page but much to our disappointment, once the part was fitted, Stan still refused to work!! Words to describe the despair we felt do not exist and after a huge amount of tears (Annaliese) and a few loud screams (Stewart) we sat down to replan and reconsider. We eventually came up with plan B,C and D. Our last hope was that the “mechanic” who worked on it finally decided that it is possible that he put the one part in back to front!!! However it was tool late to check and alas, we had to spend another sleepless night.

  The "workshop"Flip trying hard to make a mechanic of Stew!!

Well, we live in Africa and we have to make do what we have. We had the mechanic and that was it, so it just had to work. Lone behold…….he DID fit the part back to front!! The moment that we realized the gears finally worked must have been one of the most joyous on the trip. The whole Hipocampe celebrated with us when Stan finally started. Not sure of they were glad to see us go or glad that Stan was fixed!!

 The Team Mr Mechanic centre front  The Congo air team, David, Glynis and                                                                                                                                         Glen     next to Stew .Check out Stews new girlfriend!!

Before we carry on, we have a million thank you’s to say. For those of you not in Brazzaville, we do apologise as it might bore you, but the following people changed our lives with their help and kindness:

  1. Olivier and Catherine of the Hippocampe: We do not have words to thank you for your limitless generosity and we can only hope that you will be blessed in a big way.
  2. Lester and Philip of Nokia/Siemens, you guys have been a mountain of support, assistance and good company. You managed to keep our spirits up in the worst moments and we will be eternally grateful for all you did.Lester thank you also for posting Tin Tin to Ruds, you are a star.
  3. Aneez of MTN , thank you so much for bringing such a heavy package all the way from JHb to Brazzaville, we do appreciate it very much.
  4. Mark thank you so much for driving all over Josie to fetch and deliver parts at the drop of a hat. As always you are a true friend and a huge support for us in difficult times.
  5. Andre and Herman, whom we have never met, thank you so much for going the extra mile and making sure all we needed arrived in Brazzaville in record time. You guys put DHL to shame.
  6. David and Glynis (our fellow Capetonians) we are so glad we met you and thank you so much for all the strings you pulled as well as your company when needed most. We do hope we will meet again soon and wish you well in wherever life leads you.
  7. Joyce, Jordan, Tony and Darell (The American crew!!!) thank you for taking us under your wings and making our time at Hippocampe such fun. We are SOOOOOOOOOOOO sorry we did not make Ram Dam to dance with you, but age and lack of sleep caught up with us, so please forgive us. We truly hope to meet you all again and Joyce, thank you for being a pillar of strength when I needed it most, the angels will always be with me, and I pray with you.
  8. All our friends and family all over your constant support and messages made the 20 days of waiting so much easier. To those of you that put up with my down moods, you are the greatest. Thank you very much.

 The American group               Local Soccer team, I think they enjoyed to bo                                                                                                                                                                                        photographed more than winning the cup!

 

Despite the best efforts of the American crew to keep us out till all hours, we managed to get to bed at about 12 and left Sunday morning at 6.30. Wow , what a feeling to be moving again….first time in a moving Stan in 16 days!!! We were both very apprehensive as there seem to a lot of weird noises, but we drove for 11 hours just to make sure we are out of tne Congo, almost our nemesis!

Stats and Helpful Info

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The following are some stats as well as some info that might be helpful to future travelers:

 

(Please note that the prices are relevant at the time that we traveled and should therefore be adjusted. The cost of the accommodation does not include some “freebies” like staying at friends or bushcamping, and the amount reflected is per couple per night)

 

Country :                  Congo (Due to hold ups and car problems these stats were difficult to calculate)

 

Dates:                        27th May till 15th June 2008

 

Exchange rate:       R1 = 50 CFA (Known as Cifas)

 

Number of Nights:19

 

Distance traveled:  712 kms

 

Average distance per day:39,6km

 

Cost of Diesel:        R8 per litre

 

Average fuel consumption:7,2 kms per litre

 

Diesel used:                        99 litres

 

Worst Road/s:         From Kinkala to Mindouli (No question the WORST yet ever!! DO NOT GO THERE)

 

Best Road/s:           Brazzaville to Oyo

 

Favourite new destination:Brazzaville

 

Average cost of accommodation: R545

 

Number of Bushcamps:   One

 

Cheapest Acommodation: Hotel Byblos (do not stay there though unless you want to be picked up!)

 

Most enjoyable:                  Hippocampe