Across The DRC Day 3 – Luozi Ferry across the Congo River
Finally ready for what many assume is the biggest challenges on the entire West Coast, we drive a short distance on some extremely nasty and washed-out dirt roads until the mighty Congo River comes into view. I see the ferry chugging away just as I drive down the hill, so there is plenty of time to wait.
Digging around the abandoned buildings I find the official price board, and my Jeep counts as “Vehicle Leger” at 16,500 Congo Frans. That’s about $14USD for the Jeep and I to cross the river. Later, when the ferry man sells me a ticket he writes out an official receipt, and has no problem giving change. He is happy to accept either USD or Congo Frans, as is everyone in the DRC.
From a distance the river looks extremely beautiful and clean, almost like a lake. Up close it is actually flowing quite fast and smells like a sewer. I watch fishermen time and again pull up nothing but plastic in their nets. I can’t help but roll the Jeep down until the tires touch the water for photos. I feel like this river is a huge milestone on the journey, and signals the change I know is about to come. The sun is scorching hot and I soon retreat to the shade of the trees, where all the locals on foot are sensibly waiting.
The ferry apparently waits until it is full on the other side, so we doze in the shade for almost two hours before we see it crossing back. I am happy to see it has a large truck on board, making me feel a little more confident about it holding our combined weight.
From the second the truck drives off there is a mad scramble, with my friends driving on first and then me behind. We have just enough length, and I am relieved we both were able to get on the same ferry. The instant our two vehicles are on board the ferry begins to move, with foot passengers and motorbikes scrambling every which way to get on. The ferry is really just two pontoons that have been stuck together with some scrap steel, and a big diesel engine slapped aboard. While it all seems flimsy and ad-hoc, I realize these guys do this every single day of their lives, and everything will probably be fine.
The big diesel engine screams loudly, and I soon find myself chatting to the foot passengers, ferry crew, and even the captain who is more than happy for me to climb up into the bridge. As we make the twenty minute crossing huge storm clouds develop on the horizon, and I even see the occasional bolt of lightning touch down. The wind hitting us alternates from stinking hot to extremely cool, the signal of the approaching storm.
Rolling off the ferry is painless, and we soon find ourselves in a severely dilapidated shanty-town on the Southern side of The Congo River. Hoards of children run to the road and enthusiastically hold out their hands, screaming at the top of their lungs “GIVE ME MONEY!”. (in English)
All are clearly furious when we do not.
After a few hundred yards the town ends and we find ourselves once again plodding on a severely pot-holed and muddy track – the only track leading out of this town.
After many more hours we thankfully find a tiny spur off the side, and find the perfect high ground to make camp and watch the thunder and lightning roll by to the East of us. Soon after setting up a very withered old man comes by to shake our hands, and is delighted to explain the women with him are his wife and daughters. All are carrying huge loads of firewood and green leaves, and all are smiling from ear to ear, though the women seem hesitant to actually approach us.
The DRC is intense!