The Congos (DRC and Republic of Congo)Written by admin on February 3rd, 2010
Sunday 3rd January
Now in daylight we could see the spectacular scenery of the Congo River. This border crossing broke the record as our longest yet, taking 4 ½ hours. The first immigration guy spent 1 ½ hours picking up our passports, flicking through them, putting them down, staring at them, picking them up, flicking, putting them down and staring at them until finally, with the assistance of a second colleague, he put a stamp in, still looking a little anxious that he had put it in the right place! Then the customs man was out.
On the DRC side immigration was relatively quick and after sitting in a dark room with the Chief who examined every fine detail of our passports with a UV scanner we were told to go to customs before we could get them back. The customs man was at church, so we sat and sat and sat until he finally returned just after lunch! A brief check of our car and requests for presents and we were on our way to Matadi. This was a considerably larger and more bustling town than Noqui on the Angolan side. After a brief search we found the catholic mission where 2 very friendly staff let us camp and looked after us very well.
Monday 4th January
Our aim today was to get through the DRC to Congo to stay in Brazzaville where we planned to apply for our Gabon visas. DRC is very pretty, but massive and there are several national parks that would be great to visit, but unfortunately to get to these by road is almost impossible and in some areas a little dangerous.
The road to Kinshasa is tarred the whole way, which was a real contrast to Angola and we made good time, but as it was a holiday today the ferry to Brazzaville was not working. We found one mission, which wasn’t used to receiving campers, but they suggested staying across the road. However,it wasn’t a very nice spot and we didn’t feel very safe there, so we went in search of another option. We found another church and the lovely Father Theo, who was very accommodating and let us camp at St. Annes residence next to the cathedral for free. It was a great place, we had use of a room for showers, the kitchen and free Wi-fi, the saff were lovely and we felt very safe.
Thursday 7th January
Our one night at Father Theo’s turned into 4 nights, as we decided to get our Gabon visas (which were completed the same day without an invitation letter) and found a Land Rover garage where we could get a few bits done on Bob. We tried leaving Kinshasa several times, but each time there was a problem with the ferry, so we made the most of the free accommodation and the shop that sold ice-creams nearby.
Friday 8th January
We had been told the ferry would be fixed today, so we headed off in the hope of crossing to Brazzaville. However, when we got to the port and met our very helpful immigration services contact, Bebe, she eventually confirmed it just wasn’t going to happen, as there was a serious problem and it still wouldn’t be ready until Monday or Tuesday. We went back to St. Annes and comtemplated what to do, as despite it being a peaceful place to be delayed we were eager to get going again. We then got a phone call from Bebe, saying come quick, as the ferry with the serious problem would now leave at 10.00. We weren’t long at the port before it became clear that this was all a little hopeful, sorry but it wouldn’t be fixed until Monday.
Off we went again, dubious as to whether the ferry would be ready for Monday. We gave a couple of other routes into Congo some thought and decided another option through Cabinda (a small Angolan territory) may be feasible with our existing Angola visas. Despite having to backtrack to Matadi it would probably be quicker than waiting until Monday. As we walked out the door to set off we bumped into Bebe and her colleague who had walked there to tell us that the ferry was again going today, but we need to rush. 3rd time lucky we did make it on to the ferry and it did make it across the river!
When we arrived in Congo, we got through customs and immigration very quickly, despite a very forceful and annoying guy who insisted he worked everywhere, but was just after money from us. Loving the nuns now, we headed to the mission in town and camped there for the night.
Saturday 9th January
We left early today on the road from Brazzaville to Dolisie, which we had not been looking forward to, having read a couple of other blogs. The road passes through a region where a notorious rebel group called the Ninjas operate and some people had taken days to complete. This road is clearly very dependent on the rains and we had got a bit lucky and caught a dry spell, managing to make it along the muddy trachks after a long day’s drive. We fortunately did not meet with the Ninjas and the only bribes/fees we had to pay were to people working on the road who had blocked the way. Each toll started high, but after some negotiation was reasonable and we were happy to pay a little for them making the route passable. Half expecting to get robbed we managed to complete the journey down only CFA2000 (about $5), a few cigarettes and a packet of crisps!
Sunday 10th January
We left the mission in Dolisie early again, keen to have plenty of time to make it across the border into Gabon today. The drive was more scenic and relaxed than the previous day, passing through some unusual dome shape hills and across a few rivers and the dirt road was in reasonable condition.
The most time consuming part of the journey was the number of staggered customs, immigration and police checkpoints along the way that you had to stop at to register all your details and get stamped out of the Congo a couple of times between Nyanga and Ndende. There were the usual requests for ‘cadeaux’, which we responded blankly to and at Nyanga the Chief insisted we pay for a form that we did not need.
The police station in Ndende where we had to get officially stamped into Gabon was closed, as it was Sunday, so actually already in Gabon we headed for our intended bush campsite about 20km north of the town by an old quarry with a good view over the forest and a large rocky outcrop.