I re-trace my steps North out of Brazzaville, aiming for the new highway that connects the capital to Pointe-Noire on the coast. The new road has only been open for five months, which is extremely good luck for me. It’s a two-lane highway where I can easily sit on 60 miles an hour. The road winds up and over many green rolling hills, and even a few I would call genuine mountains. The tool booths are all built, though happily they are not yet in operation, so I just drive around them like all the other traffic.
I can tell I have entered the region of danger when both the frequency of military road blocks and the firepower the men are carrying take a big step up up. Most of the stops start out somewhat professional, though they quickly degrade into the men demanding I give them money or at least food. I am quick to demand something in return, and in their confusion I am always able to quickly get in the Jeep and drive away. I decide I am not stopping if the men do not clearly have weapons. At one stop a friendly enough man has a wire across the road, and says I must pay a USD $20 community tax. As soon as I ask for a receipt he lowers the wire and waves me through, grinning from ear to ear.
Soon all the new bridges have a military presence, with men actually camping out 24-7 on them to deter anti-government protestors from bombing them. The one that sustained damage is down to one lane, and I make a point to keep moving. Soon afterwards I pass a few burned-out vehicles that have been pushed off the road, I can only imagine they are casualties.
At one major road block a very senior man takes a very long time writing down all of my details onto a piece of paper – name, age, place of birth, etc. etc. After almost thirty minutes of this he finally hands back all my documents and wishes me a safe journey. Genuinely curious, I ask what he will do with all this information he has just collected about me.
He assures me he will pass it onto his boss.
Not quite understanding what I am getting at, I ask what his boss will do with it.
At this the man is genuinely shocked I would ask such a question. I honestly think it had ever occurred to him to wonder about the “whys” of his job.
I am happy to arrive at a very clean and new gas station, and even happier when the attendant says they have plenty of gas. I fill the Jeep and my auxiliary tank to the brim, which is a huge relief. While doing so I get to chatting with the attendant, who assures me I am now past the danger zone and I should not be worried anymore. He points in the direction I am going and says “in that direction you could camp on the side of the road and nobody would bother you”.
This information adds to my now excellent mood.
After a huge and stressful day I drive into the city of Dolice. At first it seems small and not much more than tin shacks on dirt roads, though as I make my way to the center I realize it is a sizeable city. Less than a mile from my destination I am pulled over my a traffic cop who clearly thinks he can get some money out of me. He repeatedly tries all the old tricks (fire extinguisher, wipers, washer fluid, etc.) and I repeatedly shut him down. I am polite, but very firm. I can see his is very disappointed in my stubbornness. Eventually, he has no choice other than to let me go.
From the minute I pull into “Mess Gaps” I know I am on a winner. This is a restaurant run by a unique Frenchman who has been living in the Congo for forty years! Now well into his eighties, Gaps has lived an incredibly interesting life, and has actually written a book about his decades of Congo adventures. Gaps has an incredible collection of Masks, dolls and other artifacts, and explains that among locals the belief of voodoo and witchcraft is still very strong.
Gaps is more than happy to have me to camp in his compound, and I even take a swim in his pool before a delicious meal AND a beer on tap!
Now that is a luxury I have not seen for a very, very long time!