Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did.
So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. --- Mark Twain

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Adventures in D.R.Congo, Part.2

The previous part ended with the situation that in the morning we were sent away from the gold mine parking place in a hurry. At night we were promised to spend the next day there and have a rest, as the same security team was said to be for 48 hours at work. We could even use the tap to rinse off some mud.

Before sleep we had a longer talk with the guards and in the end they figured that I could give them my patchy trousers, but the answer was a kind smile and words no-no-no. This thing is out of the question.
And in the morning at 6 o`clock there was knocking on the bus and we were said that the boss had arrived and does not want to see any strange car inside the yard.

We left towards Uganda, in the direction of the town Aru, because other roads were said to be not drivable. When you get within 10 kilometres two times stuck so properly that you need out-pulling then - there is no desire whatever to drive along for a couple of hundred kilometres along a road that resembles to a low , extremely poor river.

We drive on and in front there is again a kind of a barrier. Another road tax collection place wanted to get 50$, but in the long run we agreed to 8 $ and it was paid in Congo money. For some reason they didn`t want to accept it. Dollars were wished. As it turned out later - in this region it is Uganda`s money that is widely used , because most of the goods are from nearby Uganda. And cell phone network and internet are from Uganda. It reminded very much the period when the Finnish television, that reached Tallinn over the bay, was watched .

Prior the town of Aru another road to south towards Bunia was supposed to be, at least a yellow line on Michelin map showed this. Could not succeed driving very far, because the road – nice and decent in the beginning in succession turned more Congo – like and at last we were stuck in the mud again. And no wish to drive in the knee-deep water. But still, beside the road was so soft that one side of the car sank in.

The locals had a lot of fun again seeing white people stuck in the mud, more and more people gathered, and it was made very clear that now money should be paid. But this time we could get off quicker, because lifting the car with Hi-Lift jack ( by which it is possible to lift almost a meter high) , took less time this time. The locals` laugh turned quieter and quieter until they realized that we could get out ourselves. And we did got out and drove a bit on , and then still – some money was asked! Could not make out why, perhaps because it is their mud pool and and is in the in the land of their village.

And gradually the road turned more holey and watery and in a few kilometres the pools were already this kind that I decided to turn back.

Waiting ahead was about 200 km Congo roads of unknown condition. But the determining factor was that I had not seen any car on the road, only a few days old truck tracks from time to time. Had there been any kind of traffic the situation could have been different. I said that now we turn back, take some time off and figure out how to drive on.

Turning the car around in a drier place. Driving back , familiar road and familiar mud holes. But there were not many different opportunities to move on.

First - go through Uganda , like most of the traffic goes, but the big disadvantage of this was that a new Uganda visa should be bought and perhaps entering Congo would not turn out so simple. That is - managing to cross the border could mean payment again for all kind of permits.

Another option - to find a bigger this kind of a truck that enables the bus to drive on it and this would take us to Buria. It was said that a more decent asphalt road would begin there and take to Kisangani. The drawback is that at first a bigger car should be found, then the place to drive with the bus on the car and in conclusion for this kind of transport a proper heap of money would be asked.

In the next village we do noticed a bigger car, we made a stop to find out and discuss the terms of the transportation, but as the locals were too drunk, there was no sense to talk about i t. Vodka is on sale here in 100 grams plastic bags. And in addition we learned that downwards towards Bunia there is one more road , for some reason it is not mentioned in Michelin map. This was not a big consolation, even some bigger roads, mentioned in the map, are not drivable here, but still kind of a new information.

We even found the other road, drove a few hundred metres, the locals said that it really takes to Bunia and is o.k . but as it was 5 p.m. already and hardly an hour to darkness , so we left this journey for the next day and returned to the city of Aru, hoping to get a kind of overnight place. Perhaps even sleep at the police yard if we can`t find a better place. Anyway, we have to register again. And then we noticed a nun in the street and it reminded that Catholic missions offer places to stay overnight. After half an hour of asking and guidance the right place was found and the sleeping problems were solved for a long time.

And not just sleeping problems – since the next day the table was laid 3 times a day, and we ate together with local priests. In the morning a lighter breakfast , but for dinner and supper a decent multi – course hot meal was offered. Rice, beans, beef or chicken, and local fruits of course - mango and bananas.

And during those long dinner-table conversations we got a thorough review of the political and economic situation of DRC, and how circumstances are. For example - the sent aid to the church from Europe is waiting at the border, and about the election at the end of November.

A safe overnight place at the back yard of Aru Catholic Mission.

We analyzed the chances of our further journey. Ahead was waiting about a couple of hundred kilometres of road , and this road was described to us in different ways , a part of it is better and then another part of that road is worse , and you never know how much of the story is true.

Then - this kind of an opportunity was offered : two strong men from Aru will accompany us and they would help to push the car in worse spots when necessary. Only in these worse spots it would have been the same – either 2 men pushing or 12 men. When the car is stuck on the bottom, no use of two men. The price of this service would have been 2x 50 $ and also payment for the way back , which price nobody could say . It seems that everyone around here has got a strong desire to become rich quickly.

My question was that - if instead of two men we will have a decent escorts car that could pull us out of deep holes, how much could that be. Now in response the sum was quite fantastical. Escorting this way will cost 1000 USD$! And it was followed by a look of interest whether this sum is suitable. It made dumb and for a longer time. So that is teacher´s 3 years salary in two days. What we could reply was that no sense ta talk any more. This sum is so absurb , that the same way the sum could be 10 000 or 100 000 $ .

This is again an example that of no reality sense and anything could be asked from the white.
So the situation was still unclear. No desire to take a risk of covering about 200 km while the condition of the road is practically unknown and in case of being stuck on the road there would be no assistance without money from the locals. And as it had been raining heavily from the grey sky for two days already, it made the situation even worse, and it was not difficult at all to predict the influence of all this on local roads.

To use the time fruitfully, I repaired the equipment of the local missionary internet place. The device worked usually only for half an hour, then overheated and turned itself off, because the cooling fan didn`t begin to function.

But then quite an unexpected solution came to the situation – Joao was feeling worse and worse and he himself suspected malaria, as there were many characteristic symptoms similar to the disease. The first test in the local hospital was an instant test and it gave the negative result. The next day the result of the test was the same. The tests showed nothing but Joao was not feeling any better. We decided to drive back to Uganda, Kampala, because more decent medical aid is more accessible there. The other option would have been to wait more a couple of days , to see result of the local medicaments, but what then, if they are of no use? Then it is necessary to turn back to civilzation or Uganda anyway.
We put our things together and started to leave. Farewell with the Priests.

The Border. Immigration. As the travel authorization was valid for 90 days, our first question to the officers was that whether we were allowed to return to Congo on the basis of the same document without any extra payment. More officials came. Passports and travel authorizations were reviewed , and the result of a longer conversation in French was - that as there was only entry stamp in the passport and no visa , then to return to the country we had to buy a visa. And this Travel permit would be kept at the border station for that time. So in theory - there was a possibility. A long conversation in French followed and during this talk the number 188 and letters USD appeared on the paper on the table.

A brief summary of the conversation was - we didn`have a visa as such , and the Travel Permit does not substitute visa. In case we would wish to return to the country this way then we should buy a multiple visa there and they could sell it for 188 USD $ and so we could come back to Congo. We replied that this price was not accepted and we had not planned any payment and what kind of a guarantee we would have that at the next border station they say that only these documents , that are bought for American money at the spot are valid and all the other documents are not.
Again a longer talk between Joao and the officials – the issue of it - we will not return to Congo by this road, there is not decent road downwards, and as Joao should be taken to the hospital , it is not sure that we will return to Congo in the nearest future.
There was even a talk for a moment that in case we will not pay then we should go back to South Sudan and then whereever we wanted to go. As we were in a hurry to reach Kampala, to the hospital, we emphazised at least ten times or more that this going back does not fit to our plans.
Almost two hours of explaining, disputing and refusing of any kind of payment . In the end the original of the Travel Permit was taken away , we were given copies , which we had to present at a police station a couple of kilometres further and in the passport the entry stamp to Congo was crossed out. And we were then told that we could go on. The positive aspect of all this was that as our car was 50 metres away, nobody had an idea to make one more search of it.

Since life has taught that it is useful to make a copy or at least camera image of all kind of official documents as soon as possible, then this is what the 90-days Travel Authorization looks like.

We drove a few kilometres further until there on the road was the last Congo police-check.
They wished to look over our belongings , but we gave them the Travel Authorization and explained that everything has been searched through repeatedly. Next they asked to see the driving licence , but I pointed out the colour laminated copy of it .

I had glued it on the windscreen in Kenya already and explained that everything is very OK.
That was enough. Then directly 5 USD was asked, but they didn`t get it.

We drove on untill the next barrier, and somehow it didn`t want to open . Finding out the reason we were again being offered a next paper, the price was 7 USD. Somehow a very familiar form.

I showed that this kind of a document had already been completed while entering the country. 40 USD has also been paid for that and no more paying. The sum, of course, was not written anywhere. A bit more conversation about the expenses, connected to the opening of the barrier and soon Congo was left behind. Another no-man`s land was waiting ahead and behind it Uganda.

Border, men in Uganda uniform looked with interest at the muddy vehicle coming from Congo. Welcome to Uganda! Now there was 20 minutes of courteous service, during which the officer examined our passports, the overcrossed Congo stamp and was not especially surprised that we have come from Congo`side this way. Another visa sticker and stamp appeared in the passport and we could move on. As in this country there are ROADS.

Hippopotamus – could not get any closer, the ground was too soft and they are not very friendly animals either.

By the afternoon of the next day we were already in Kampala, the capital of Uganda. The roads in Uganda are decent, gas stations by the road, (could not see any in Congo ) and the traffic in Kampala was not so bad at all.

Joao made the malaria tests again, the result was negative again. After that, he went to Nairobi, and they find malaria on tests. He said, that the Congo treatment was good. He didnt went back to europe, he went to UAE, Nepal, Tibet, Oman, Turkey and in October, back home in Morocco.

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