The problem with the compressor was electrical. A cable inside the compressor worked itself loose. As expected it was that one cable that is almost impossible to reach. :twisted: Eventually we got it fixed, managed to inflate the tyres, put everything in the RTT again and we could continue.
3 hours wasted to cross an obstacle that isn't supposed to be an obstacle... :O Of all the problems we had in Congo, this was the most ridiculous one :roll:
We continued trough grassy fields.... which were on fire! 8O
At the beginning of the rainy season/ end of the harvest they burn their fields but they did have some issues with the firecontrol I must say. We were just hoping that we wouldn't drive straight into a fire. For the next hours we saw nothing at all really...
Also note the total lack of tyre tracks on these pistes. The only tracks that exist are bicycle tracks.
It took somewhat longer then expected, but we reached our goal of the day. The missions of Father Stoïn in Kimpanga. One of the Croatian fathers we met in Kamina.
His church was still smelling like new! The inside was still a work in progress.
Upon arrival in 'his' village all of the children ran to meet us. They sang and danced. What a welcome! Although I wished they wouldn't have danced on our wheelcarrier... :roll:
A big crowd followed us trough the village and onto the mission. Father Stoïn must have been a popular guy. We did our talks with the village people (happy people!) and were already getting scared that this would once again be one of those zero-privacy nights. Father Stoïn had given us a letter for Jean-Marie, the 'housekeeper' of the mission. It was a multi page letter, probably with all kinds of instructions. One of these instructions must have been that we were to be left alone. Jean Marie talked to the crowd and told them that we were very tired and needed rest. The crowd accepted that and went home.
We parked our car in the compound of the mission, with a beautiful view over the hilly landscape.
For the first time since we entered Congo we had a night for ourselves. We cooked up an improvised spagetti and opened up one of our 'emergency beers'. God, what a magnificently beautiful place this was. Complete with the sound of drums in the distance.
Today would be a bit of a step into the unknown. Until now we were still in the Katanga province, we had excellent contacst with the Franciscans that operate here, but they do not operate in the Kasai province. Also, the only person we had found that had travelled these road was an Israeli guy wo attempted to cross Congo a few years ago. He got arrested at the border between Katanga and Kasai because he did not have a permit and got deported. He had to fly out from Mbuji Mayi.
Today we too would cross the border into Kasai. We only had a vague contact in Mbuji-Mayi, but nothing in between here and Mbuji-Mayi, and nothing afterwards either as a matter of fact.
This made us a bit more nervous as usual I must say...
The deeper we got into Congo, the less traffic there was. It's been days since we saw another vehicle on the road. Roads were getting more and more overgrown.
We like to think that the scenery here was fantastic... but we can't tell as we did not see much today..
Progress was slow and we had to stop numerous times to inspect bridges.
You cannot tell from this picture, but the iron beam underneath the iron plate was broken in two. We had to drive next to the plate. On the far side this meant we only had half a tyre on the bridge.
We were a well oiled team by now. The procedure was always the same. We both got out to inspect the bridge and decide on a traject. Josephine would give directions and I drove over. It usually took no longer then 15 minutes. In most cases we did not bother taking pictures, a shame because there we some beauties of bridges there ;-)
All in all we were very happy with the bridges we encountered as most were made of steel. We still had some bad memories from the wooden bridges in the 'other' Congo (Congo-Brazzavile) when we crashed trough a bridge last year
There are many bridges here and the road barely exists. We start to get difficulties with the erosion. For kilometers on end we drive at angles of 25° to 30°. We have to take it very very slowly
At one of the "flaque d'eau" I think it is not necessary to walk it first. I drive in with a bit of speed and our right side sinks away deeply. Water came in via the right window and the left wheels were of the ground, spinning wildly and giving us a mud shower trough the left window. I have the good reflex to steer into the pit.. we barely manage to stay upright. The interior of our car, ourselves included, are covered in mud. Great!
It was getting late and we started making mistakes again... time to stop before it gets dark. We did not make it into Kasai province today after all...
We stopped in the first village. A car in the village.. with white people in it. Now that is an attraction ofcourse. And if they are covered in mud from head to toe it is even more interesting.
I do not have to explain we drew a bit of a crowd?
But people were actually quite nice. They offered us to use their shower (a tree with a mud wall before it and a bucket) and after an hour or so they actually left us alone.
Later that evening some kind of custom officer came to see us. He wanted to see our permits and whatnot. We kindly told him to bugger off and come back tomorrow. Surprisingly, it worked. Next day we were gone before he came back ;-)
As soon as it got dark we got into our tent and looked outside. We could see several fires in the village were people would gather around and sing and dance (mostly women). Small groups of men were having discussions. Peaceful village.
The border of the Katange province and Kasai is at the Lubilanji river. A big river with a big bridge. We dare not take pictures here as "border" zones are considered of military importance and it is an excellent reason to get arrested.
Surprisingly there is no checkpoint at the bridge... There is a hut, but it was not manned. Instead they seemed to have moved their checkpoint closer to their base a few kilometers down the road.
It is a torough check. Police, Army, Customs, .. They check it all. Insurance, permit, etc... We manage to bluff us trough the permit issue again. When they run out of excuses to fine us, they just give up and plainly ask us for money. "Just because". We refuse ofcourse. It takes over an hour, we get angry a few times, we flatter them a few times, ... The usual. In the end they are angry but let us go.
We were afraid of Kasai and their people. They have the reputation of being hot tempered people. But until now they seem to be much more relaxed then the people in Katanga.
It's a long driving day again and when we finally arrive in Mwene-ditu we are knackered. We try to find a mission to stay in. Mwene-ditu is large city, it has cars and is an important stop on the railroad. It also feels like a very dodgy place.
Some of the streets resamble an extreme 4x4 course. Extreme erosion mixed with open sewers.
We manage to find a catholic missions that wants to take us in. We can park in their compound, but the street in front of their gate is eroded away. There is 3 meter level ground in front the gate and then a 3 meter deep pit. It takes a 1000turn manouvre to get us in. The roads simply aren't made for cars here. (They used to..)
We have a few hours of daylight left and we get to check the car. The protective plate underneath the gearbox is badly dent and hanging half loose. A few extra dents and lots of scratches. Could be worse I guess. We also noted that we are starting to get low on fuel. With our 270liter onboard we hoped to do at least 1500km, that should have gotten us to Mbuji Mai were we were sure there was Diesel. It is only 120km to Mbuji Mayi from here, but with what we have it might be a close shave. Our consumption was in excess of 20l/100km.
We do not want to risk it, so we try to buy some diesel here. We saw there was a big depot at the railroad. We ask for advice with the local father. He warns us that if we were to go ourselves, the prices would be at least double because of our white skin. He offers to buy it for us. We are a bit hesitant but we give him 80$US. That should buy us 40 liters of diesel.
The father dissapears for a few hours (!) and returns with two 20 liter jerrycans. He wanted to immediately pour it in our tanks but I wanted to check the diesel first. The smell was funny... not very diesel like. It had a red/brown colour and lots of debri. This was not diesel. It might contain a bit of diesel, but it was mixed with something else.
This was a very difficult situation as we suspected the father to try to fool us into buying this stuff and making a buck. But at the same time he was our host. In the end we refused the "diesel" and he gave us back our money. But he did not return the jerrycans. A very strang situation.
We did not feel at ease. Maybe we are starting to get paranoid?
When we are leaving Mwene-Ditu the next morning we are stopped by a manifestation. It is a burial. A body is carried in the front of the large group of people. Behind it are weeping women and shouting men. Some of the youngsters are pumped up and when they spot us they draw their attention to us. We are not sure why they were angry at us, but we did not stay around to ask them.
We get stopped again at a police checkpoint. They ask us to pay the "Tax provincial". There is no such thing and we explain it them. They are the sleazy kind of police and our discussions are getting nowhere. They keep asking for money and make some discriminating comments towards us. After half an hour of this I lose it.
"J'EN AI MARRE" - "I'VE HAD ENOUGH"
I shout so loud that even Josephine looks scared at me. She would later tell me that my eyes had turned as red as my face and that I looked very, very dangerous. Complete and utter silence follows for a few minutes. After which one of the police officers asks me for money again. Luckily one of the other officers was more impresed by my shouting and had opened the gate. We blasted off.
I was really starting to get sick of getting extorted by every one we met.
I hadn't returned to normal before we were stopped again. This time it was a toll booth. The usual cadeaux/jus were asked to which I replied in a not so polite manner. The actual toll we had to pay. Foreigners had to pay 10 times the fee of the Congolese. I got out of the car and told them what I thought about corruption in Congo and why I thought nothing was working here. A 10 minute monologue. They were not impressed but I was happy I got it of my heart. We paid the stupid tax. It was an official thing and we got a receipt.
Between Mwene-Ditu and Mbuji-Mayi there is an asphalt road!
So, why is there an asphalt road in the middle of Congo? Not connected to the rest of the road system (due to lack of road system).
There reason is simple: Diamonds. This is the main diamond center of Congo. This has attracted many people of course, but the local people barely benefit of the natural wealth of the region. Officially it is the third largest city of Congo, after Kinshasa & Lubumbashi. Although by now it is probably the second largest city with over 2 million inhabitants. It also a politically important region. Most of the recent political problems start here. When Mbuji-Mayi "explodes" the rest of the country usually follows shortly after.
The diamong mining companies ofcourse need transport. Most is done via air, but the heavy supplies (fuel) are brought in by train. The nearest train station is in Mwene-Ditu. Hence the tar road between Mwene-Ditu and Mbuji-Mayi.
It makes a great place to walk on... few cars in the area, so there is little traffic.