Guess who was there that morning? Yep! We talked about that nifty looking handmade chessgame, but we couldn't agree on a price...
The whole money transfer thing went pretty smoothly. It is quite amazing really. We just rang up a lady in Kinshasa we have never met and asked her if she could give us a 1000$US please. She obviously waited until the money was on her Belgian account but she then gave the money to some other guy in Kinshasa. Another person we had never met who was now walking around with 1000$US of our money in Kinshasa. Shopping around for spare parts based on a list with spare part numbers. (we had. the Toyota EPC on our laptop). He used our money to pay for the parts, pay for the airfreight into Kikwit and holds on to the rest of the money until we come and pick it up later. An amazing amount of trust was involved in these transactions! And all of that thanks to the contacts we created in Lubumbashi. Amazing! Great thanks to Paolo, Erwin, Thièrry & Valerie!
It was now just a matter to get all the parts mounted. As usual, that did not really go as planned. We had ordered a new hub and new bolts to keep the sideshaft in place. But they shipped us the bolts (and the important conic washers) for the Landcruiser 79. Which are different in size from the 75. I was not going to drill my brand new hub to make them fit so we had set out again to find some second-hand bolts. We eventually found a few that fit, it would be good to get us to Kinshasa, but they would have to replaced again in Kinshasa. What a great prospect: even more time to be spent in a greasy workshop!
We still hadn't found decent quality oil. I had really tried my best to find diff oil where it was not explicitly stated "Not for use in cars". The local mechanic said they never change the diff or gearbox oil on new cars. The oil that's put in from the fabric is superior with the oil they can replace it with. They just top up, but never change. When a diff has to be openen, they recycle the original oil.
That brought us on the topic of cars the NGO's and the missions here use. The cars that are deployed in the jungle have a lifespan of no more then 15 to 20.000km. After that they are completely shot. Bodywork, drivetrain, everything. Not surprising really considering the state of the loads and the payloads. Paolo was quite fanatical in his choice for those vehicles: Landcruiser 7x only! The Landcruiser 10* are often used as well, but they don't last on the rough tracks (too much bodywork). He once worked on a project were they had sponsored Mitsubishi's. They were written off after just 2000km.
Tomorrow would be the big day. Kikwit to Kinshasa can be done in a day, a 6 to 8 hour drive, depending on the weather (and consequently the state of the road). We'd start early as the closer you get to Kinshasa, the dodgier it gets. Not that it's really dangerous, just the usual problem areas that accompany large cities. We just hoped that all the repairs would hold up.
We had already said our goodbyes to everybody we met in Kikwit.
Our favourite souvenir seller was there again. By now we actually got quite fond of his chessgame. I cannot remember his asking price but after all these days of haggling he was still at the same price! He hadn't dropped his price with a single franc! We could talk to him for hours. Providing arguments to drop his price, but at the end of the conversation he would just keep repeating the original price with a smug smile on his face. An amazing guy this was. He knew we were leaving that day so we made him a final offer. Way more then what it was worth and what we were actually prepared to spend on something we really didn't need. He accepted, and while he counted his money he moppered about how he couldn't feed his wives and children. He gave us fat wink at the end. We got tricked into buying something we didn't want for a price we did not want. But he did it so good we didn't even feel bad about it. ;-)
It was time to go. The final stretch to Kinshasa. We had to get organized again in Kinshasa. Fix up our car a bit better. Organize a few visa's. Organize the bac (ferry) across the Congo river to Brazzavile and generally prepare for our final trek north, back to Belgium. 15.000km north, all the way trough Africa. We knew that road north, we had already taken it earlier in this trip in the other direction. This would be our third North-South crossing of the African continent in the same trip... a sad one as it would also mean our 'big trip' would be almost over.
The asphalt road leading out of Kikwit was pretty darn good. And pretty darn straight too.
But only a very small part of the road is tarred. Most of it sandy, but it is maintained (by the UN mostly). Some stretches are fast, some are rutted and the known bogholes usually have good detours. Despite this being one of the best roads we had travelled over since entering the Congo, we were still a bit nervous. For the first time since long we had set a goal for the day - Kinshasa - and we would be dissapointed if we did not make it today.
39 days after we rolled out of Lubumbashi, we limped into Kinshasa. People who have driven around Kinshasa will surely recognize the tension that is always present in the city, to us it felt like coming home. This "Kinshasa tension" is so much tamer the "interior-of-Congo tension". Strange how perceptions change during a trip. The previous time we were in Kinshasa we were pretty impressed with this 'tension' and did not feel at ease at all. Granted, it might have had something to do with the elections that were going on at that time.
The other reason it felt like coming home was because of the great reception we had from Erwin & Diana. We had met Erwin in Lubumbashi (he was visiting there) and they lived here. Not only were they genuinely nice people. They also knew how to cook a genuine Belgian meal. Never before have I enjoyed "hesperollekes met kaassaus" before!
Note the Skol without the diamond on the label.
The nervousness and anxiousness I discussed all the way in the beginning of the trip finally dissapeared. That nervous feeling when crossing a border of a country had up to now always dissapeared within minutes after meeting the first people. In Congo it had taken 44 days.
We had a lot of things to do in Kinshasa. We did not have a visa yet to get out of the country (Congo-Brazzaville). And to avoid having to drive all the way to Franceville in Gabon we already applied for our Cameroon visa too. Gabon did not want to give us a visa for reasons not really clear to us. We would have to apply for that visa in Brazza. This whole process takes a few days.
Then there was the car. On the road from kikwit to Kinshasa we had noticed our rear differential was leaking again. Problem is the seal and the liquid sealant they use here. Normally there is a rubber gasket, but nobody stocks this gasket in the entire DRC. A lot of differentials here are leaking, that's for sure. We had to buy a sheet of plasticky gasket material and cut one out ourselves. A lengthy task. At the same time we had to get our lights fixed, most of them were smashed up by now. And then there were the brakes that still had to replaced (although I got quite good at driving without brakes now. It's an art in itself!) and it was about time to change all the filters too.
Somehow we managed to engange the most horrible mechanic we have ever met. We actually went to some sort of 'upmarket' workshop as we wanted to get things fixed properly this time. The manager was a nice guy, unfortunatly his chief-mechanic, a Lebanese youngster, was nothing more then a prick. He treated his mechanics as slaves and was uncapable of doing anything useful himself. He 'fixed up' our electrics. He could not find the reason why the fuse of the brake light kept jumping. His solution was to bypass the fuse. He declared it fixed and ofcourse did not tell us he had bypassed that fuse. We almost lost our car to the flames a few days later when a fire started behind the dashboard when the stoplight wiring shorted out again.
It was pretty cool to find some western goods again. We could not really afford much of it, as prices here are prohibitively expensive. Kinshasa ranks high up the list of most expensive cities in the world (right next to Luanda). This is because the country is so unstable that all businesses are high-risk business. Building a house to rent it out? You'd better make sure you get your investment back within a few years time, before the next ransacking starts, or before some official claims your house. Running a business? Better account for all the theft, the bribes, etc and include it in your margin.
When all was done (well.. more or less done) we were ready to hit the road. This little ride in the Congo was quite something, but it was time to explore other regions now.
We drove to 'le beach' the ferryport in Kinshasa. Only to notice that is was remarkebly quiet here. Not the usual bustle that is going on here.
The bac (ferry) was not running. "Problème administratif". We couldn't find out the exact reason, but we were not leaving Kinshasa today!
"Peut-être demain" - "Maybe tomorrow"
The bac to Brazzavile is the only way to get out of Kinshasa and into Congo-Brazzaville.