Border Republic of Congo – Brazzaville

4th of January – 13th of January 2020:

Between the border and us were only 300 meters and soon we already had our exit stamps in our passports. The two officials obviously thought about making it difficult for us, but then let it be.

The continuing tarred road led us through a hilly savanna landscape with seemingly endless meadows. After around one hour, we reached the immigration office. First, they had to organize the responsible person by motorbike and when he finally arrived, he did not even have a pen. Afterwards, he thumbed an exit instead of an entry stamp in our passports and corrected his mistake with the pen he borrowed from us.

The people in the villages waved at us energetically in contrary to Gabon and the kids almost lost their mind as soon as they spotted us. These reactions were heartwarming and we had the feeling to be back in Africa.

Due to Fabians malaria symptoms, we asked at a customs post, if it was possible to pitch our tent. Adrian felt sick as well and therefore we did not want to cycle the remaining 20 kilometers until the first hospital.

Since there was only electricity in the evening, no possibilities to eat and we had to sleep directly next to a bar with music as loud as 100 speakers, we decided to cycle to the next city. Since the border, we hardly saw any vehicles on the road and on the day before it took 50 kilometers until the first car passed us. When we arrived in the town, Adrian’s malaria test showed an infection as well and we stayed at the police station.

To our surprise, there was only electricity thanks to generators and solar panels in this small town and there was only one restaurant. In this restaurant, one could eat either meat or fish with manioc the regional favorite.

On the tiny, but lively market, we could buy the necessities. In addition, a small bakery sold delicious bread. A woman we met at the market cooked two tasty dishes for us and did not even want money for it. We even saw a woman who sold some insects on the market. She offered us to taste a crawler and we could not resist the temptation. The black, around 4 cm large animal tasted not too bad and the woman was happy about that.

A few kids visited us a couple of times and brought fruits for us. An older boy from this group asked us, if we had some movies starring the football stars Messi or Christiano Ronaldo. Unfortunately, we had no such movies and copied some European music and French movies on their many flash drives. Our collection of movies and music got around and more and more kids and adults wanted something from us.

The police officers were obviously worried about us and asked always where the other person was, even when Fabian for example was only on the toilet. One morning, we slept until 9.30 and they came to us and asked if we have already left. A bit strange to us, since they still had our passports in the office.

More or less healthy again, we left the police station and continued our way to Brazzaville, the capital of the country. We passed many small villages, in which all the inhabitants greeted us and shouted something in our direction. The kids even ran next to us until they were tired.

Due to the present, short dry season, the farmers burn the grass everywhere, so they can later use the land agriculturally. In general, the sky was rather smoky and this resulted from the dominating Harmattan. The Harmattan is a wind coming from the Sahara desert, which transports lots of sand and dust.

One night, we heard a thunderstorm approaching us and the deafening thunder and the cracking lightings came closer and closer. We were wondering already why there was no wind present, when suddenly a massive gust broke the tent pole and we had to hold the tent upwards. The wind got even stronger during the next half an hour and we endured until the wind stopped a bit. From outside we saw that broken tent pole pierced itself into the outer layer of the tent and we had to replace the pole immediately. Therefore, we removed the pole and replaced the broken piece. While we worked in the dark, the rain started to pick up and in a few minutes, we were soaked. After around 20 minutes, we fixed everything and climbed back into the lightly flooded tent. A camping experience of the unpleasant category!

Unfortunately, we had to pack our tent pretty wet and our clothes did not dry at all since the nocturnal reparation operation.

Suddenly, the appearance of the villages changed completely. Instead of tin shacks, there were modern houses with electricity. Additionally, each village had several solar-powered pump-wells with connected water tanks. In Oyo, everything got extremer and we saw dozens of pretentious administration buildings, stadiums, banks and assurances. In addition, the president owns in the region of his hometown one beef farm after another. Since Europe, we did not see such modern ranches. To our luck, we found a meal without manioc in Oyo and this change was very welcome. It seems that people in this country eat manioc 2-3 times a day. In central Africa, manioc definitely replaced rice as a staple.

After leaving the largest city in a while, the vegetation changed and we cycled in forests again. The climate switched accordingly and the air was more humid than the last few days.

The terrain got hillier and we found ourselves gradually in a savanna landscape again. From time to time, it rained, but luckily, we never got completely wet. Many families in the countryside live from agriculture and own a simple hut made of dirt and wood.

For breakfast, we ate bread with a homemade peanut spread and pineapple. Lately, we enjoyed the luxury of cheap fruits more often, since there were not many options. In addition, we know the choice of cheap, local fruits will definitely decrease in the next weeks, since we will be more south.

To our surprise, there was only little traffic on the only road connecting the countries northern part with the capital in the south. Approximately every ten minutes a motorbike, a truck or a fully loaded bus approached or overtook us with horrendous speed. The small population density in the north and not even five million inhabitants on an area as large as Germany, mainly explain the minimal traffic. In addition, most families are farmers and could never afford a vehicle.

In the last days, hundreds of butterflies visited us in the mornings. They preferably sat on our luggage and the saddles. Even on the road, the fearless animals sunbathed and flew away, shortly before they would end up in our spokes.

After we cycled into a valley with a river and then up onto the plateau, we continued on the dead straight and flat road southwards.

Even though there is surprisingly a tarred road in the direction of Brazzaville from the border, we met many spots that were extremely difficult to pass. Muddy passages with huge, deep potholes. We are sure that in the rainy season those parts are almost impossible to conquer.

At an early morning one of us went outside to pee and saw the rising, glowing sun at the horizon. Later when we put away our tent, two kids arrived first and then many others who visited us and observed what we were doing. The children were on the way to their family’s field to work.

Soon after, we cycled down from the plateau and saw the gigantic river and the capital. After this long downhill, we cycled across the viaduct into the city center. At the work place of Stefanie, we could pick up the key and went already to her home. There, we could take a warm shower for the first time in a month, even though a cold shower would have been enough after such a hot day.

Central Gabon – Border Republic of the Congo

24th of December 2019 – 4th of January 2020:

For the first time in a week, we had reception and could tell our families that we are still alive. Directly next to the city hall, the major allowed us to pitch our tent under the roof of stands. They even gave us an extension cable with a socket on it, which reached to our tent.

Thanks to the Christmas trees made of plastic and the red caps, even in Gabon some Christmas spirit was around. Especially the loud church singing reminded us that there are currently holidays.

By coincidence, we met the truck crew once more. They successfully delivered their products, but could not drive back to the capital, since the whole town was out of diesel.

A long ascent let us sweat like crazy and we both wished that we did not eat so much for breakfast. Maybe two baguette per person would have been enough!

Surprisingly, people in richer countries beg more than in poorer countries and are in general less hospital. In all of Africa so far, people were sure that our government sponsors our trip or that we would be rich after this journey.

The tarred road let us cover many kilometers, despite the hilly terrain. In the evening, a huge storm surprised us and we could sleep spontaneously in the living room of the female village head.

Instead of cycling directly to Franceville, we made a detour to a dam. Apparently, there is a waterfall and a vine bridge after the dam wall. The road led us across a few hills and we had a beautiful view onto the savanna landscape.

Since we reached Gabon, small insects called “fourous” bother us. Those animals leave behind red circles of around 1 centimeter in diameter on the skin. At least they are not itchy for too long and the traces are gone in around one day.

For the first time, we saw huge ant roads, which are interesting to observe. Even the butterflies in central Africa are many times larger than all butterflies we have seen so far on this trip. The largest had a wingspan of around 15 cm.

One morning, a bee attack made packing our tent together very troublesome and especially the sweaty clothes attracted the animals. We could only put on our clothes properly after a few kilometers, since we did not know if there were still animals hidden.

From above, the reservoir looked like there was not much water left. However, after we saw the river after the dam, we changed our impression. We approached a brown, torrential river. Where we expected a bridge across the river, we saw only a vine bridge. To our astonishment, there was no other bridge to the village on the other side and the people told us either we pay the price for the passage or we had to cycle 30 km back. Therefore, we discussed with Teddy, who was responsible for the bridge. Finally, he allowed us to pass the imposing bridge, made only out of vines. He only said that the bridge was not in the best condition and if something breaks, we would have to pay for the reparations.

A bit anxious after this warning, we carried our bicycles over the wobbly nature bridge and tried not to look down into the white foaming water. After approximately half an hour, we had carried everything on the other side and we realized immediately that the alleged village contained only three houses. Teddy has a restaurant with his wife and we hoped to find our deserved breakfast. After a short discussion, Teddy generously invited us and we ate together while the young father told us his life story.

After we visited the impressive waterfall, we pushed our bicycles up a hill, sweated a lot and hoped to meet a proper road soon. Unfortunately, we had to fight ourselves through a few kilometers on a overgrown trail and pushed on several occasions. Before we reached the broad, red-orange gravel road, we met the third highest mayor. He said it would not be a problem to pitch our tent on the terrain of the town hall.

When we arrived in Franceville, the security of the town hall said that we had to get the permission of the mayor first to spend the night on this terrain. At the end, the responsible person of the terrain arrived and shortly after the mayor. All of this on a Saturday! After we explained all people present our story, the mayor gave the subordinate money and said we should sleep in a beautiful hotel on his cost. Therefore, one man led us to a hotel and we arranged it in a way that we could rest for two days there.

We enjoyed the room with air conditioning, running water, electricity and our own bed. This was the first time since Senegal that we stayed in an official hotel, equipped with nice rooms. Our accommodation was directly next to an immense river, in which we could cool down.

While eating dinner, we met a Senegalese woman, which prepared a breakfast from her home country just for us.

After saying goodbye to all the new friends we made, we continued and it did not take long until we had to cycle many hills.

Bongoville is the hometown of the president’s family and this was obvious even when just driving through. Beautiful, modern houses and there were even tarred side roads. The former president Omar Bongo was the head of state in Africa who was in power the longest, before he died in 2009. This record of 41 years says a lot about the politics of this resource-rich state. At least he declared 10% of the country as a national park and therefore promoted tourism and the protection of biodiversity.

After Bongoville, the landscape changed rapidly and we found ourselves in a savanna environment. Just in small villages or next to rivers, there were trees and the vegetation was suddenly dry and sparse. Suddenly, around a dozen road cyclists passed us, who probably trained one of the seven stages of the cycling competition “La Tropicale Amissa Bongo”. Shortly before the last bigger town in Gabon, the police officers wanted money for their routine control. We got angry and unfriendly immediately. After some unnecessary questions, the tipsy officers gave up.

We asked a woman, who was already a bit drunk, where we could find something to eat. After a short conversation, she said that we should follow her and she will prepare something for us. She told us that she lived in France for the last 30 years. More than two hours, she prepared a dish for us and not even a thunderstorm could decrease the energy of the lively woman. Since the early morning, the villagers were drinking lots of beer. The volume of the music increased and the people celebrated until the morning.

Apparently, villagers in this region celebrate the New Year all of January. On January 2, there was no sign that people would take a break from all that beer and palm wine.

From the main road, a sandy trail led to a red canyon, which we wanted to visit. We left the bicycles and walked the five kilometers to the impressive rock formations. We had a nice view across the natural phenomenon that was formed during a yearlong process. After we walked the long way back, we cycled the remaining distance to the border town. Unfortunately, there were only two families left and those people said there was nothing to eat. After we asked another woman, we saw many foodstuff behind the house and suddenly it was possible to eat something. For us it was extremely annoying this way and we did not know why people lied sometimes in our faces like that.

Between the border and us were only 300 meters and soon we already had our exit stamps in our passports. The two officials obviously thought about making it difficult for us, but then let it be.

Unfortunately, we had troubles with the mentality of the people in Gabon and realized that our mentality was not that far off back home. Sometimes, we did not feel welcome and people only looked out for themselves and did not really care about our wellbeing and us as guests. Of course, we had nice encounters and the endless rain forest and the savanna landscape was stunning.