DRC


26 February 2009 - Matadi - added by Roxy

Having arrived at the Cabinda border half expecting to be turned back, we were relieved, but not actually too surprised, to be let through with no fuss at all! We were furious with ourselves for not having tried sooner, and with the Angolan bureaucrats for repeatedly telling us it was not possible to drive through the country. Quite why they deemed this necessary escapes me, but I can tell you that they are the most petty and unfriendly we have encountered on the entire trip thus far... anyone attempting to deal with them be prepared for endless delays and frustrations! Ok, rant over! Leaving Cabinda (less than 24 hours later) though, was not quite as simple, because the annual carnival conincided with the day of our departure. Even though they were supposed to be at work, the customs officials had decided to go to carnival instead! We were told that we'd have to spend the night at the border, and when the customs guys rocked up the next morning, we could get Songololo stamped out and continue on our way! Trying to persuade the immigration police that we really had to get moving, and therefore could they not just stamp us out and give the carnet documentation to customs the next morning proved fruitless at first, but after incessant nagging they finally got irritated with us and just let us through!

Arriving at the DRC border post I was on cloud 9, thinking all our troubles were behind us. We approached the border police and showed them the transit visas we had been issued in Pointe Noire. Confusion reigned, more and more immigration police being called over to scrutanise the visas. After some time we were told these documents weren't valid for tourists, only Congolese people could use these documents to transit DRC. We were dumbstruck, and explained at length that we'd been to the DRC embassy in Pointe Noire, spoken to the Ambassador there, and he'd given us the documents (at an exhorbitant charge of course). The border guards responded by saying that there was no embassy for the DRC in Pointe Noire! We pulled out our guidebook and showed them the city map which clearly showed that there was indeed a DRC embassy, one which we had visited more than once! We were making no progress at all, and eventually Steve asked if they could issue us new transit visas there at the border, we'd be happy to pay... just let us keep moving! We were This was not possible, the only thing we could do was to return to Congo Brazzaville and get new visas. Steve pointed out this wasn't actually possible, since with only a single-entry visa for both Angola and Congo, we could re-enter neither country... we were essentially stuck in no-man's land!

After arguing for ages, Steve asked if it would be possible to transit the DRC without visas if we took an immigration official with us to Matadi, the closest large town (and in fact where we were hoping to exit the DRC and enter Angola), where they could issue us with a valid visa. Amazingly they agreed! The terms of the contract were that we would take a policeman with us, he would help us get through all the checkpoints, and arrange a visa for us at Matadi, which we could then use to exit the country! In return we would have to pay for all his hotels and food, and fly him back to his post at the border. We also had to give the head honcho some dosh, payment for his kindness to us we were told. Needs must hey? So it was that Sergio was appointed to accompany us. As we were about to finally leave the border, I was in the back of the truck and noticed a bunch of people standing outside the door, some with bags. My immediate thought was: "Not this time buddy, I learn from my mistakes!" (For those of you who have read the first Congo-Brazzaville update, you'll know exactly what I'm talking about!) So when I heard a knock on the door, I opened it only slightly and, as you can imagine, my fears were confirmed when some people tried to get into the truck! My response was swift, pushing them out and screaming in French, "This is our house, not a bloody taxi!", slamming the door in their faces and locking myself in! I knew my behaviour had been exceptionally rude, but part of me was happy that I had stood my ground. A few minutes later I heard another knock on the door... about to start ranting again, I heard Steve growling at me, telling me I had better let the customs officers into the truck to check it ASAP, or we would be in even more trouble! How was I to know they were the customs officers trying to get in? They had no badges or uniforms! Much to everyone's amusement I had to eat humble pie and let them in! Soon we were on the road though, Sergio and Steve up front, and me sulking in the back.

Our first stop was Sergio's village to pick up some clothes. Of course we had to do the obligatory tour of the place so that he could make sure everyone in the village had seen him travelling in a cool blue truck with two mondeles (white people), all the while smiling at everyone and waving like the Queen herself! Sergio's narcissism assauged, we set off at a whopping 10kms/h to Matadi. True to form the roads were hideous, and I spent the next few hours holding onto anything possible to prevent myself flying around the back of the truck! We stopped very briefly before nightfall because one of the containers of engine oil on the roof had broken, oil now dripping all down the sides of Songololo! When we jumped out of the truck to sort it out, Sergio happily told me that this was a region reknowned for banditry, but he had been trained in the military so we must not worry if anyone tried to shoot at us! I couldn't quite make out what he said immediately afterwards, but it was either "lie flat if we get shot at", or "I will kill anyone who shoots at us"! When we got back into the truck, Dido was belting out a song about how difficult heartbreak is... all I thought was "you think you've got problems woman, you should try driving through the DRC!"

We finally arrived after dark at the town we were to spend the night, totally exhausted. Sergio directed us to a hotel where he could stay. Tired, and happy to be off the road, we didn't question his choice. The total bill the next day for dinner and his room (we slept in the truck) cost US$142! Sergio spent more on his single room than we have on any hotel for ourselves during the entire trip! How naive we had been.

That aside, the next morning we left for Matadi in good spirits, happy to be on the move... well, more importantly, moving in the right direction! Finally we crossed the mighty Congo river, an incredible milestone for us, and arrived in Matadi.



We were immediately issued with 3 month visas for the DRC, which was great... but we were planning on leaving the DRC that afternoon! We then headed off in haste to the border in order to depart before it closed that afternoon. On arrival, as expected, we were told that we'd already used our 3 week Angolan tourist visas, because we'd spent a few hours transitting Cabinda! We would need to get new visas... the never-ending saga continues! Luckily the Angolan consulate in Matadi is a lot friendlier, and we had been told that they issue 5-day transit visas the same day.

When we arrived in Matadi we were immediately issued with 3 month visas for the DRC, which was great... but we were planning on leaving the DRC that afternoon! We then headed off in haste to the border in order to depart before it closed that afternoon. On arrival, as expected, we were told that we'd already used our 3 week Angolan tourist visas, because we'd spent a few hours transitting Cabinda! We would need to get new visas... the never-ending saga continues! Luckily the Angolan consulate in Matadi is a lot friendlier, and we had been told that they issue 5-day transit visas the same day.

Whilst we were deciding on what to do next, children at the border were throwing stones at us, stealing the flag stickers off the sides of the truck, and one was rapping in French and gyrating his hips in a vulgar way. I'd absolutely had enough! Naturally the Angolan consulate didn't issue our visas the same day, we were told to return at 10am the following morning and we could be on our way. We spent the night in a dodgy hotel with all the usual rubbish. To sum it up, we asked on arrival whether they had a restaurant for dinner, had secure parking, was breakfast included, etc. The answer to all those questions was affirmative, of course... it always is. We soon found out that the restaurant was only open in the morning, we had 2 guys telling us that they would look after our truck for a fee, and that each room was entitled to breakfast for one, we would have to pay for the other! The final insult was as we left the hotel in the morning... the manager, who had harrassed us the previous night because he wanted us to buy him beers, asked for some additional money from us because we were white! At some point I'm sure we're going to become immune to this, but unfortunately not yet!

We left the hotel with ample time to get to the consulate for 10am. Please don't be too surprised when I inform you that, of course, the visas weren't ready! Finally, after much harranguing, we had the visas in hand at 4pm, and leaving the Congo behind us, fled the DRC!



Comments:

1 .
yeah OK fine, but can you deal with BT Customer Service?
Seamus - 30 Apr 2009, 8:04
2 .
maybe you shouldn't so happely pay unnecessary fees and bribes..it makes it more difficult for the next traveller and establishes a norm..
riaan - 24 Jul 2009, 13:46
3 .
We made it our life's mission not to pay a single bribe, for that very reason. During the entire trip down the west coast we ended up having to pay only 2, which is very good going when all is considered!
Steve - 27 Jul 2009, 13:30
4 .
Love the stories so far guys - Lovely country Africa is - too bad its tarnished with bribery, corruption and crime!!! - as for the bribes - feed a wild monkey once, It'll be a problem animal always! - what a cheek!! expecting extra money because your 'e WHITE???? WTH??
Brad gaertz - 7 Oct 2009, 9:43
5 .
Not often you get to say "Is it because Im white?"
Rob - 22 Mar 2010, 9:25

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