Into The DRC
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999 Days Around Africa: The Road Chose Me
Mercifully the heat and humidity drop overnight, and so I sleep soundly, happy to be less than ten yards from a Policeman. In the morning I share around sugary tea before bidding farewell and moving on. Immediately the road deteriorates, and is just just a muddy track through the jungle.
We continue to pass through tiny villages as we climb up and onto a mountain ridge. I watch my GPS carefully, eager for the ever-approaching dotted line. Of course, I am on no road. One climb is particularly steep, washed out clay. Low range first with both diff locks sees the Jeep have no problem, though I seriously doubt my chances if it had rained again overnight.
At the crest of the mountains I cross the dotted line, and descend into another tiny mud-hut village. I ask directions, and I think I understand the men want me to continue only a few hundred yards before taking the first right-hand turn. Immediately after that turn I am driving through grass taller than the Jeep, barely able to discern the way. I creep along, worried about hitting unseen holes or fallen logs.
Finally I burst out of the thick grass onto a more heavily-used track, and after negotiating a few mud pits and slick inclines, we find ourselves in a sizeable village. A barrier has been placed across the road, and I come to learn this is actually Immigration. Kids again swarm around to act as our welcoming committee, of course happy to pose for photos.
I am immediately struck by the village. The main “street” is extremely wide and airy, and all the buildings are well kept and appear clean. All the people are wearing very dirty clothes, something I have never seen in West Africa.
Most strikingly of all, there is absolutely no trash to be seen. No plastic in the trees, no coke bottles on the ground.
I can feel The DRC is something entirely different.
A few minutes later a man arrives carrying some papers, evidently the nominated Immigration representative. We talk next to the Jeep at a small table in the shade of a large tree. The friendly Immigration guy has me fill in a lengthy piece of paper with all my details – including my Mom and Dad’s names and dates of birth – before agreeing I can enter the DRC. He does not want to give me an entrance stamp, even though he has one sitting on the table. At this I drop my game of pretending not to speak much French, and basically beg him to give me a stamp. I tell him I am terrified of bribery further down the road, and so I simply must be legal in the country. It will take me many days to reach the next Immigration post, and I don’t want any trouble between here and there.
As I have come to expect in West Africa, all I must do now is wait.
Soon a couple of people in the crowd agree with me, and then actively begin convincing everyone else. Once a majority of onlookers agree, they all work on the Immigration man. Eventually, he has thirty people pleading with him to give me an entrance stamp, and so with little choice he does just that.
I have come to learn this is how to achieve my goals – not to convince the person I want something from, but to recruit those around who will do the job for me.
There is no Customs here, we will have to deal with the vehicle legalities much later – who knows how many days from now.
We ask repeatedly for directions, and everyone assures us we can keep driving straight. They say this will eventually deposit us at the main East/West road that parallels the Congo River. How far away that might be, nobody can agree. One many gives the very precise distance of 7.4km (4.6miles) making me wonder if he is right.
My GPS shows various tracks nearby, but nothing really going in the direction we want.
With only their advice to go on, we set off, hoping to eventually bump into something more like a road.