Democratic Republic of Congo: Lubumbashi to Kinshasa


The priests (Brothers actually) are nice guys. There are 4 of them, young and smart. All of them have studied in Lubumbashi or Kinshasa. After they finished the seminary they were sent to a mission. They cannot choose which one. We could hear the sadness in their voices when they told their stories.

They sampled the "world" when studying, they have a degree (one of them had a masters in engineering) and then they are sent to a mission. They know they will probably never have the chance again to live in a city. At the mission they take care of the kids, teach, etc.. A noble and rewarding job. But they carry all this knowledge that they cannot put in practice here. They have no computers, no tools, no electricity, no budget, ...

Their living quarters were very comfy and clean for Congolese standards. They had a radio and a TV set. Because of their proximity to Lubumbashi they had a regular supply of newspapers.

The priest-engineer was setting up a project to generate clean energy from a river. He had a recycling project. A radio project. An irrigation project, ... He had to run all these projects without any funds, without material. So many ideas, so little chances.

They remained positive but you could see it in their eyes that they were sad. Without a doubt they would take the first opportunity to get out of there. It would be a great loss for the mission and the village but I couldn't blame them. In the way our talks went we thought we could hear them crying for help. To take them to Europe, to give them funds, to supply them with material. They did not speak these words, but to us it was clear that they really longed for those things. We were not able to provide this. It made us sad and we felt guilty.

We thought about our experiences of the previous day. As mentioned before we always had this nervousness/anxiousness when going to a new country. Usually it dissapeared within minutes when we were welcomed by friendly people in a friendly country. We had been in Congo for a week now. Of which we only spent 1 day on the road. But the nervousness was still there.

It seemed like so many Congolese tried their best to make us feel unwelcome. And the few friendly people we met made us feel totally out of place with their tragic stories. So many people expected that we would be able to help them. Could we stand it to keep dissapointing those people? We are just tourists passing trough.. it feels wrong.

Was it wrong to come to Congo? Would it be like this for the rest of our trip? We are already exhausted after a single day on the road. The corruption, the roads... where we taking too many risks now?

Never before on our travels did we have so many doubts about what we were doing. My motto always is "Better to be sorry about what you did, then to be sorry about you did not do". I am fortunate to have found a partner who thinks exactly the same. We made a deal: as soon as somebody 'had enough' we would turn around - no questions asked.

We decided to push on, after all we have gotten this far already!


Day 3

Our second driving day starts off great!

In this area large areas are given in lease to cow farms. They are profitable organisations (mostly owned by foreigners) and maintain their own roads on their property. They can be used by the general public, although sometimes a fee is asked. As the main road is usually pretty horrible, we prefer the private roads. We make good progress on these beautiful sandy tracks.


We also pass a ruin of what once must have been a grand building. The walls are marked with logos from a Belgian University. This must have once been some scientific study centre of sorts.

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Even though the road was good, it was still requierd to pay attention. Too slow and no 4x4 and..



Stupid stupid stupid... but hey, it kept us busy for an hour! :roll:


At the end of the private road is a roadblock. No officials, but just some guy claiming we have to pay a toll fee. At that moment we did not know that this is generally accepted when you make use of the private roads. We were still a bit jumpy from our previous experiences with the police so we might have been a bit rude to the guy :oops: We got trough without paying :oops: He probably though we were completely nuts 😉
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The difference between the private road and the RN1 was immediately clear. 2 kilometers further we got ourselves into this situation.




Bugger! Time to get the shovel out again...
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We were on a plain on top of a hill. It looked as if a B52 dropped a series of bombs. Huge craters everywhere. We could see another car in the distance.. we hadn't seen a car yet today. A lot of activity around the car, but no movement. Probably stuck as well.

We got out relatively fast only to get ourselves stuck in the next pit. The track between the craters was just to small and we slid into it.


We finally made it to the other car. It was a Landcruiser (ofcourse ;-) ) from an aid organisation. We did not talk much, we exchanged some road information and we let them use us as an anchor to winch them out.


They declared us crazy that we were planning to drive to Kin... nobody does that. But apparantely after the crater field the roads improves a bit, but it remains "très dur" - "Very hard".
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We passed a few interesting settlements. One village in particular struck me as extremely fascinating. It had a big boulevard with grand buildings on both sides. Everything was in a horrible state, but it must have been a prestigous place before. The same village had a big roundabout with remains of fountain. There was a walled compound (with little wall remaining ) with a church and something that must have been a monastery.

So many interesting things. I would have loved to walk around here, explore, try to find out what it all was. But we couldn't. Stopping would mean that an instant crowd would form and it would be a question of minutes before all the town's officials would be there. Asking for permits and generally demanding money.

We didn't even take pictures whilst driving trough. I could kick myself for it now!

Not only is this country rich in raw materials, it also rich in history, nature, etc... it has all the reasons why tourist would pay prime tourist $dollars$. But that will not happen anytime soon for sure.. :cry:

Not all is bad though. Occasionally (and I must admit, it was a rare event) we meet nice people. Like this guy on his bike.


He stopped to say hello. He was a well educated person who previsouly worked as an accountant for a big company. The company is no longer there so now he survives like everybody else by trading a few things.


He was a good example of the older generation. They grew up in a prosperous (relative) Congo and have seen it go downhill. They still have the pride every person should have. The younger generation grew up in disastrously f*cked up country and lack the pride. Why should they, they know they do not get any chances?
It is that old generation that longs back to the colonial time. They acknowledge there were a lot of problems in that period and that they were discriminated by the white colonisator. But at least they had a functional country. They had roads and schools. They had jobs and could buy supplies. And above all, there was stability. Now there is nothing but uncertainty.. waiting for the next war to start.
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The next 20 or so kilometer the road was better.


There is virtually no 4 wheeled traffic here, so no tracks exists. It is just a cleared out area in the bush. Usually with some eroded ruts to make it interesting.


We were pushing it a bit. We had been fighting with the road all day long without any real pauses. It was getting late and we were hoping to reach Luena today, where we know a Belgian brother was living in a catholic mission.

We were pushing it a bit too hard I guess and made a mistake. We normally always walk difficult bit before driving it. This time I thought it would be ok. The ground looked unstable but I was sure I could make it trough by taking enough speed. I did not know, however, that a huge rock was blocking the track just behind a curve. I had to stop and we instantly sunk in.

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We were tired by now, it was getting late again. I was angry with myself because I made this stupid mistake. And I fell sorry for Josephine as she offered - as usual - to check the road out before driving trough. This could have been prevented.

We got the shovel out and starting working. 5 minutes. That is how long it took before the first people arrived. It quickly grew to a crowd of about 10 people.

I was digging to get the sandplate underneath one of the wheels. To reach the right spot I had to lay flat down underneath the car in the mud. I was eating mud everytime I dug. Josephine at the same time was dugging underneath another wheel.

"Donnez moi de l'argent" - "Give me money" someone asked

1st time, a second time. The third time he asked I was getting annoyed - understatement of the year ;-). I dropped my shovel and tried to get up. In doing so I bumped my head hard on the front axle (I was under the car in the mud, remember).


I bit my thong and kept on digging.

"Donnez moi de l'argent"

Josephine asked the mob why they were asking us money

"Vous êtes blanc" - "You are white"

This conversation wouldn't lead anywhere useful... :roll: She told them that we had our own problems, that there would be no way that we would give them any money, and that it would be appreciated to just leave us alone as they were not really helping by talking to us while we were digging. They heard the magic word "help". help is usually associated with reward. So they offered to help us... but only if they would be paid for it.

Now, we have our pride and can be very stubborn. When I take risks I know things can go wrong, and if necessary I will fix it on my own. So I told them they were free to help us, but only if they wanted to really help us. I made it very clear that I was not letting me blackmail into this.

We returned to digging and they stood there and looked.

We did several attempt of trying to drive out, without much succes. More digging was required. Finally somebody took the intiative and offered to help out. I told him I was not going to pay and he agreed. It took another hour to liberate ourselves.

I offered the people that voluntarily helped some money to show my gratitude. That is just the right thing to do. They accepted but wanted more.

We drove off...


We lost a lot of time and we only had 20 minutes of daylight left. Our goal for that day - The mission in Luena - was another 50kilometers away. We would not make it. We would have to stay in a village

Note: Why not a bushcamp? The road rarely allowed for it. A lot of the time one is driving either trough dense jungle or troughe steppes with very tall grass and bushes. No room to get off the road. And then there is the security aspect, for the first time on our travels we did not feal at ease with the local people. Our usual plan was to ask at mission posts, churches, ..
We stopped in the next village. The crowd that gathered grew huge very quickly. There must have been about 200 man around us. We asked if there was a church here, and if we could see the priest. The priest was summoned and we asked him if we could camp in the grounds of the church. His French was not very good. As a matter of fact, very few people spoke French. But he ageed and showed us a place.

We parked the car and got out. They offered us two chairs and asked us to sit. So we did. It was completely dark by now but almost full moon so we could see eachother well.

And there we were: sitting on a chair with 400 eyes looking at us. Nobody talked to us, they just looked. You could hear people talking to eachother and pointing at us... usually followed by some giggling. These people obviously had no idea what was happening to them. Neither did we 8O

The town's officials arrived and wanted to see our papers and we had to "register". They were friendly but very confused about what to do. We asked if we could have some water to wash ourselves which they immediately fetched... it was even warm! And we even got a bar of soap! But there was sill 200 man staring at us... . We hid behind the car and tried to wash us as good as possible.

It started raining.

A father approached us with a kid. The kid instantly started crying when he saw us. The father told us the kid had never seen a white person before. A few more kids were brought in to have them see the great mystery of white skin.

Although we were hungry, this did not seem the best place to get our cooking gear out, so we smugled a packet of biltong and some biscuits up in the tent and went to sleep. The crowd stayed for a long time after we dissapeared in our tent.

That night it rained hard. Our tent had developped some leaks. Every few minutes we could feel drops splashing on our body..


Day 4

Small eyes... dirty t-shirt.

We got up with the first light at 5. We have a custom that we pay the equivalent of the price of a campsite if we can stay with somebody, so we paid our dues to the priest and we were off. The entire village waved us out and the kids tried to keep up with us for as long as they could.

Staying in villages is great for security. People are friendly. But boy-oh-boy forgot about privacy!

I slept ok, no surprise as I was exhausted. Josephine did not sleep very well. The adrenaline. The leaking tent didn't help either. We stopped a few kilometers down the road to make some breakfast.

I wasn't hungry. The adrenaline. For a moment Josephine thought about stopping and returning to Lubum. The last few days were really hard and we were still a veeeery long way from Kinshasa. As agreed before we would not try to convince each other to push on. She contemplated the situation for half an hour with a warm tea. She is no quiter, she wanted to continue! She is my Josephine! :cool: :cheers:

We were sucked into Congo. Deeper and deeper.
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