Monday, 2 June 2008

20th May 08

Date: 20th May 08

Location: Brazzaville, Congo

Weather: humid and cloudy, light rain overnight 34°c

Status: On high alert waiting for the call……

So we now have the contact number for the chief of the port, Albert Kankounde and on his word, whatever that means, he will call us once the boat has finished being painted, serviced or the river has been dredged whatever the excuse is! Think we’ll probably have to pay a backhander here just to get on the boat as it hasn’t run for a week and there’s a backlog of people waiting. So back to the hotel and sit….

Olivier phoned the ferry at 11am and was told there’d be no ferry today, so just as we were unpacking for the day I was surprised to get a phone call from Jose, the ferry chief, asking us to be at the port ASAP. Within 20 mins we were queued up on the dockside with all documents completed and passports restamped. We moved the vehicles down into the holding area and it was like a scene from hell. Hundreds of locals all desperate to get onto the boat and stampeding the arrival area so there was little choice for the army and military but to fight back and that’s when they got here whips out… didn’t matter if you were one of the infirm, elderly or disabled or even 7yrs old if you were in the way you got hit, and it looked like it really hurt judging by the reactions of the recipients.

We sat in the safety of the vehicles watching it all go on and even contemplated getting out of the cars to take the evil man on…best left to others me thinks! They let us onto the boat around 12am along with only two other trucks leaving the ferry half full, with only a handful of passengers, the rest seemed to be crammed onto two other vessels which looked ready-to-sink and were vastly overfilled.

The trip across the Congo was superb, a huge African-brown waterway with very little traffic between the countries and only a few palm lined islands in the middle. The result of the past few days rain upstream has meant that sections of the bank upstream have broken away and now act as obstacles for the big ferry, intermittently slowing the sound of the engines as the props cut through the reeds until they powered free.

Our arrival in the DRC was greeted by a number of different officials, immigration, customs and this time the department of health, in a country which suffers from Ebolo you can understand their caution. The Dept. of Health official told us that our vehicles needed to be sprayed with disinfectant, as they did with the foot & mouth outbreak in the UK, we would need to pay $60 per vehicle for this service!! So I asked them how much it would be if we supplied our own product (we had some Dettox in the box and the label was in English which would have confused them totally!) and the price came down to $25 which would have given us our certificate we needed to drive out of the port.

Being a vet Patrick had a spray in the back of his car and I then proceeded to to very professionally spray the underside of the trucks…looking like I knew what I was doing the entire time! It took nearly 5hrs to get through the different document checking processes and by the time we were ready to leave it was nearly dark so I recruited the services of a local policeman who directed us to the Grand Intercontinental Hotel for the night, the only safe place to stay in the city for newbies like us.

This was another epic battle with officialdom, the problem arose from the fact the the World Bank was having an important meeting with reps from the UN, governments and NGO with loads of dignitaries attending, security everywhere…..and we were trying to camp in their car park!!

In the end they’d only allow us to stay there if we were to buy a room for the night, so I had to stump up the money for one being the leader of the group and with absolutely no where else safe to spend the night. This was even the recommendation of the British Embassy who I phoned for advice that night! Ok it cost a stupid amount of money and it would have been good if the others had offered to split at least some of the cost with me, but it was a stunning room overlooking the city with all of the trimmings.

Watched BBC World and went to bed after a good dinner.

End of day location: Kinshasa, DRC

Distance covered: 24kms

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