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.