Congo-Brazzaville - the arrival

Tuesday, February 10, 2009 - Dolisie - added by Steve

In true African style, upon arrival at the Congolese border post we had to first find the border guards before being able to ask them to process us! After a painless immigration further progress was unfortunately halted as they told us 4 large trucks were stuck in a mud hole up the road and we'd be unable to pass. We have a healthy dose of unease when it comes to spending any extended amount of time in border areas, but didn't really have much choice, so sat down at the local shop and ordered some beers. Naively I asked if they had cold beers... of course not! The border guards asked us to buy some beers for them too, and not wanting to upset them in this notoriously dangerous of settings, we complied. Before we knew it we were having a great time, laughing away the evening with them. Then, noticing how hot and sweaty I was, one offered to take us to the river where they wash! Suddenly we found ourselves in the river, soaping up and washing away the dusty road with a bunch of border guards! What a surreal introduction to the Congo!

The following morning we were told the trucks had escaped the mud and we were free to continue. The road would give the Mamfe road in Cameroon a run for its money - it was terrible, with frequent mud holes blocking the path. After just 1km we encountered a huge mud hole with what looked like a decent track skirting the outside. Deciding the track must be there for a reason we drove around the hole and immediately got bogged down. After just 5 minutes on the road, we were stuck for 3 hours! I felt really stupid, because I have been warned not to drive around mud holes, just drive straight through. If you try go around you will only end up stuck! Finally we managed to get out and continue on our way, wizened up on how to get through the mud holes we were encountering. The deepest hole we went through was over 1.5 metres deep, and hid a huge rock that we hit on our extreme left. We had to keep up our speed so as not to get bogged down, and so scraped our way along the side of the rock as we emerged on the other side. In so doing, we bent the bumper and the stairs to get into the cab so far back the stairs were now scraping against the tyre! We spent about half an hour unbolting the stairs so we could continue. Eventually back on the road we came upon another checkpoint. It was here we discovered that not only had we destroyed the bumper and stairs, but had also bent the living-cell's door frame back. We had to force the door open to gain access to the rear, but now couldn't close it! With great dismay I had to go at the frame with a sledgehammer! The door now sort of closes, but has a huge gap through which dust and water have easy access! At length we were back on the road, only to come upon the trucks which turned out hadn't escaped at all, they weren't going anywhere! We pulled out the hi-lift jack and sand ladders to see if we could help, but they were of little use. The first truck had been there for 4 days and was carrying a cargo of ground manioc, now starting to ferment... disgusting! Eventually, as night fell, they somehow managed to get out, and roared off into the dark, leaving us on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. We try to never drive after dark, so thus it was our second night was spent on the side of the road, a mere 15kms down the road from where our first was!

The next morning, just as we were about to head off, we noticed what looked like an entire village coming down the road towards us. It emerged a young girl had fallen gravely ill, getting progressively worse over the last 7 days. She was now delirious, falling in and out of conciousness and looking in a seriously bad way. We were shocked it had taken them a full week and until she was on the verge of death to try get her treated, but I guess that's our Western mentality for you. We quickly tested her for malaria, which thankfully came out negative. From what we could garner with our limited French we think she may have had meningitis, but were unsure. The obvious thing was that she needed to get to hospital as fast as possible. The villagers asked us to help, and naturally we did. So we laid her on our bed and made for the nearest town, Nyanga, with an entourage of 6 people looking after her in the back. Arriving at the hospital we were told they didn't have any medicine, could we help? We have some broad-spectrum anti-biotics with us for emergencies which we handed over. While trying to get her checked into hospital we had a disgruntled immigration officer arrive, we had driven straight past his checkpoint! We explained the situation and said we'd come to him after we'd offloaded the girl.

Unfortunately word obviously got around that we had brought half a village to Nyanga, and while dealing with the obligatory immigration checkpoint we were asked if we would take the Chief of Police and his family with us to Dolisie, some 200kms down the road. With the state of the roads that would mean we were looking at about 5 or 6 hours with their company. We were naturally quite reticent, but were worried what would happen if we refused the police chief... police in many African countries can be notoriously difficult and cause untold number of problems for us. Eventually, thinking I could weasel my way out of having them come with us, I said they could come, but only for 2000CFA each, for "taxi service"! The natural result of this was we suddenly had 15 locals climbing into the back of Songololo, making themselves at home! We were distraught, but didn't want to find out what would happen if we kicked them out. Just then the sick girl and her entourage arrived back from the hospital... they too needed to go to Dolisie, to find a better equipped hospital. That was how we found ourselves driving down terrible roads in the middle of Congo-Brazzaville with 20 locals in the back of Songololo! The Chief of Police wanted to sit upfront with me, but I said Rox was sitting up front with me. He warned that she should be in the back to make sure there was no petty theft. I gave this job to him, not wanting to sentence Rox to 6 hours of bouncing around in the back with a village-load of locals!

Now resigned to our fate, we had been deliberating whether or not to charge everyone the stated 2000CFA. In the end we decided not to, our ruse hadn't worked but that didn't mean we had to charge people who had so little compared with us. Half way to Dolisie the police chief tried to collect 2000CFA from each person on our behalf, but we said don't worry, much to the relief of everyone crammed inside. By early evening we eventually made it to Dolisie, and had to stop at the immigration checkpoint before we could continue to the hospital. The immigration officer was outraged when he saw a seemingly never-ending stream of people climbing out the back of the truck. He was especially angry with the Chief of Police, berating him for using his power to force us to give him a lift. When the police chief answered that everyone was paying for the "Songololo Taxi Service", he in turn got very angry with us! I couldn't believe the audacity of the police chief, as he knew very well that we had said no-one should pay! We managed to extricate ourselves from the situation, explaining to the immigration officer that we really hadn't wanted anyone in the back and certainly wouldn't be cajoled into doing it in the future. As we left, not a single person thanked us for the lift!

Miffed and exhausted we made our way to our hotel of choice. Parked up, Rox went into the back to find something and came out nearly in tears. Songololo is most certainly not designed to carry 20 people in the back over incredibly rough terrain, and had taken a monumental beating! Assessing the damage, we found the following: One of the dining table legs was broken, and the table was unable to stand up any more. One of the dining area seats had collapsed under the weight of so many people and the incessant bouncing. The sick girl's entourage `had attempted to feed her dark brown cough syrup and dropped the bottle all over the bed, resulting in dark stains all over the linen and mattress. One suitcase was obviously broken in several places, and had gouged large scratches into the wall. Someone had sat on the sink, which has a glass cover, and broken the grommets which hold the glass in place. Finally, everyone had tramped in thick brown mud, and somehow this mud had gotten itself smeared over everything; the roof, the walls, the floor... you name it, it was covered in mud!

While sitting under the trees outside the hotel, having a drink and trying to calm the seething within, we started chatting with some locals beside us. At great length we described our encounter with the locals and the destruction of Songololo. They were outraged that tourists had been treated like this. It emerged one of them was the Secretary General of Dolisie, aka Chief, and he was adamant, we would be his guests of honour, he would take us to dinner, visit the town, show us the sights and introduce us to his friends and colleagues! Thus it was we toured Dolisie at great length. It quickly became evident the things they were proud of and wanted to show off were where the town had developed infrastructure, not things the average tourist would seek out. We were shown the airport, train station, bus station and football stadium! For a town with a population of 75 000, (minute by Western standards, but this is the 3rd largest city in Congo-Brazzaville!) you can imagine the infrastructure was quite modest, but Chief was incredibly proud and we were touched by that. The one thing we did see which stood out as an attraction for us was a large tree a short distance out of town where Pierre de Brazza had carved his name, circa 1880. Pierre de Brazza was the explorer who travelled inland from Libreville, seeking treaties ceding territories to France, and who was responsible for obtaining the territory which would eventually form the French Congo colony in 1884. It has become a bit of a legend with Congolese, and hundreds of people have carved their names alongside his. We are apparently one of the few tourists who have added our names to the tree, so if anyone comes this way keep a look out for "Steve + Roxy" about half way up the trunk!

Just before we were due to leave Dolisie for Brazzaville Chief received reports that 4 trucks had been hijacked at gunpoint in the Poole region, an area under the control of anti-government rebels, the Ninjas. This put us in a tight situation, as the route east to Brazzaville was unsafe, and the route west would take us to Pointe Noire. The only route to the DRC from Pointe Noire is through Cabinda, and Angolan territory. Our Angolan visa, notoriously difficult to get hold of, only allows a single entry, which we would have to use to get into Cabinda thus leaving us without a visa for Angola mainland. Chief arranged a meeting with the Angolan Consul-General in Dolisie and we explained our problem. He said he would certainly have issued us with a new multi-entry visa, but unfortunately his visa section was only becoming active in 1 month's time. He then said he would send a message to his counterpart in Pointe Noire, all we would have to do was get to the Angolan Consulate there and they would help us out.

So now we tackle the awful but beautiful road from Dolisie to Pointe Noire where we will meet with the Angolans and arrange to get through Cabinda.


1 .
Well, this is Joburg calling on Friday 20th - Digs on the line having spoken to Steve yesterday by not very clear cell phone (+24 277 377 91. Theya re still having hassles getting to Angola & planning to go via Brazzaville. Keep it up, guys, remember this is Africa and she's crazy!! Love Dad
Digby - 20 Feb 2009, 13:47
2 .
Hi guys! keep posting, it's a really nice blog. I'm just planning my 2010-11 trip, pretty much the same route as yours. do you plan, that after your trip you post all the misc. informations like diesel prices, visa infos, general costs etc. thanks! Feri from Hungary
markoferko - 22 Feb 2009, 14:01
3 .
test - 23 Feb 2009, 2:38
4 .
Hi Steve and Roxs What an amazing adventure! Lots of love and up the bureaucracy! Lotsa love The McPs
Lucy McPherson - 25 Feb 2009, 7:42
5 .
Hey you two crazy kids, OMG sounds like you are really having quite an adventure! No doubt you'd rather have 20 locals in the back of your lovely Songololo than be sitting here in Mud Island in the freezing cold behind a computer screen! We all miss you so much hope you have managed to sort out your visa issues! Look forward to the next update! Cheers, Toni
Toni - 25 Feb 2009, 12:09
6 .
Steve - My Dad used to say, re carving names on trees or buildings, which he abhored! "The name of fools are found everywhere"! Hope you have managed to get the pesky Angolan visa by now. Have tried two nights to get you, but obviously no cell connection.
Mum - 27 Feb 2009, 9:27
7 .
Enjoying this blog1 I did this section in a truck a year ago...we DID get to Brazzaville without being attacked by the 'Ninjas'. We crossed to Kinshasa, only to be turned back as there had been 'civil unrest' in Matadi, wherewe were going to get our Angolan visas. We had tried every country possible to get these, but the repeated message was...only in DRC!!!!God knows how the African Cup of Nations will function if nobody is allowed in to Angola!!! we left the truck in Brazza and flew to Jo'Berg and picked up another truck...I was with Africantrails on their truck.It will be interesting to follow their blog to see how they are treated in their attempts to get through. Goood luck for rest of trip. Paul
pkerr - 8 Mar 2009, 7:54
8 .
yo yo mo fos, long time no speak. Seems like your journey continues to be a serious adventure. Thanks for the text to Bobs recently, it would be great to chat so when you get hold of a new sim please text and we'll ring you back. Ciao ciao, Rich
Rich Rose - 10 Mar 2009, 6:23
9 .
Hi Guys - sheesh I cant believe it, you must have been gutted that Shongololo was so trashed, all character building stuff am sure! Keep writing xx Bobs
Robyn babb - 11 Mar 2009, 5:38
10 .
Hello there - we hear that you have made it to Namibia - comparative civilisation, I would think!! So looking forward to next month when we believe that we'll see you in Joeys. Lots of love AA and AU! xx
wens - 13 Mar 2009, 13:06
11 .
Hello there - we hear that you have made it to Namibia - comparative civilisation, I would think!! So looking forward to next month when we believe that we'll see you in Joeys. Lots of love AA and AU! xx
wens - 13 Mar 2009, 13:07
12 .
what a tale!!! had me gripped ;-)
Paula - 15 Mar 2009, 14:51

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