26th of January – 3rd of Feburary 2020:
Unfortunately, the condition of the narrower road changed and we only moved forward in walking speed. Most of the ascents were so steep that we had to push our bicycles upwards while sweating a lot.
In the first village of the DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo), we got our arrival stamp from the overchallenged officer. He was so unprofessional that he did not even recognize the visa for his own country.
We chose a smaller land border on purpose, since the chances of a rigid control of our documents was smaller. Therefore, we could enter with our semi-correct visa made in Togo and were looking forward for upcoming adventure.
The gravel road partly got worse and shook us thoroughly. The ground changed all the time, but a hard, eroded part always stayed. The ground showed deep channels and this made continuing for us extremely difficult. When a thunderstorm approached us, we asked in a village if we could rest a bit. The rum drinking men offered us directly a place to stay for the night. The kids were extremely shy and it took them a while until they approached us. We asked if the villagers had something to eat for us and after we answered all the questions in the style of: “Do you eat this?” With “YES”, they brought us different locals food items. During our whole stay, 22 children and a few adults continuously observed or starred at us.
The black clouds rolled by and we wanted to continue a bit. In the next village, we thought we should easily reach the next settlement. Unfortunately, an extremely muddy and steep section destroyed our wishful thinking. The sticky mud blocked our wheels and we had to remove the dirt between our tires and the mudguards. We continued like that for a while until we decided to pitch the tent on the side of the road and to continue the next day. Since the insufficient map did not show us the location of the next village.
The search for drinking water in the nearby river was without success and we had to manage with the little snacks and remaining water. When it was already dark, a motorcyclist told us that the next village was only 2km away. At least it was not far until we would find some breakfast; we thought and hit the sack.
After we dismantle our front mudguards, we reached the village mentioned by the motorcyclists directly after a hill. The villagers were rather surprised about our visit and were happy. Apparently, we were the first tourists arriving in their village by bicycle and via bush telegraph our arrival spread around. All curiosity-seekers were directly informed after their arrival at the large assemblage of people what the “Mindele” (Whites) do here.
They offered us a chair immediately and we asked if we could have some water and something to eat. After one of the friendly men asked us what we eat, different women served us peanuts, Safou (a local fruit) and cooked manioc.
Refueled with enough energy, we said goodbye to all the kids and farmers, who left at the same time for their fields, equipped with guns and machetes.
During our continuation across the rifty, rocky ground, we met a young local who returned in his home country after eleven years in Germany. Speaking in German, we exchanged shortly, before he had to run after the fully loaded truck.
After a steep and rocky descent, we finally reached the first town. In the lively city, we asked at the catholic mission if we could pitch our tent in the yard. Many travelers before us stayed there and therefore we knew of this place. Completely exhausted and almost shaken out of our mind, we strengthen ourselves, talked with the open and friendly locals on the dusty and holey roads.
We needed ten hours sleep, to regain enough energy for the next day. Still with a headache, we discovered the market and controlled the prices of some reference articles, to get a feeling of the new country.
Despite the extremely hot temperatures, the high humidity and the numerous mosquitoes, we could relax a bit and discuss the route for the following days. We asked truck drivers, businessmen and other locals what they thought of our planned route. As always, they said that the route would not be a problem with a bicycle, since it was possible with the motorbike as well. Apparently was the condition similar like on the road we came from, just much hillier. The other alternative was the crossing of the Congo River and then the distance to the Angolan border was not far anymore. Since we had enough time, we wanted to risk the detour and could turn back in the worst case.
The hunt for internet or the purchase of mobile data turned out to be a mammoth project and we could not figure it out during the rest day. Instead, we tried all possible dishes of the restaurants and changed money into the local currency.
Despite the warnings from different people, we continued our journey on the «Route Nationale 12». The name of the road promises a lot, but after two days directly after entering DRC, we set our expectations to the minimum.
For the first 15km, we made good progress and it seemed that they even fixed the gravel road recently. However, a bit further, we saw two trucks that were stuck in the mud and we knew that the adventure had started. One truck, fully loaded with manioc, tried to pull the other one out of the mud while a few men tried to free the wheels using a pick and their hands. We are always surprised how cheerful and unconcerned those men are, despite already being on the road for four days.
The next few kilometers, we mostly had to push our bicycles and we already thought about turning back. The road conditions changed all the time and therefore we did not lose hope. Suddenly, a Landcruiser approached us and an Italian said that we were brave, since the route was worse ahead of us. As a motivation, he gave us some cookies. The Venetian works for an agricultural project in the area.
Indeed, the mud pools got deeper and soon a river blocked the road. The water reached up to our tights and we had to walk several times to transport everything to the other side.
Finally, we reached a village with a huge church. The locals send us to the catholic mission, where we pitched our tent and a woman cooked a delicious dinner after a complicated negotiation. The cook was happy that we ate huge portions of her food and this without using any cutlery.
In the night, there was a thunderstorm present and it rained until the morning. We already assumed a rude awakening on the following road and therefore not very motivated to get up. Minimum a hundred kids watched us pack our tent. The teachers had no yet arrived in the school, due to the rain and therefore we were the best attraction.
We did not come far, until we were stuck in the mud for the first time and we had to remove the mud dozens of times from our bicycles. The sand and the soaked soil formed a sticky mass, which stayed everywhere. At least the strong sun helped the gravel road to dry off.
An English teacher in a village helped us to search something to eat. Unfortunately, he spoke only a few words of English and confirmed once more the inferior education of the pupils in rural areas.
Afterwards, we had to climb a mountain using a small trail. Sometimes, we asked us, if it even was possible to drive this route with a truck or a 4×4 vehicle. When we arrived on the top, the chief of the village welcomed us and we talked with the villagers for a while. The strong wind let us search for our sweaters for the first time in a while. When we finished dinner with the chief’s family, which was similar to what we ate for lunch, we let the village in peace.
The terrain did not really get better, but we still progressed faster than the day before. With an average of 10km/h, we pedaled through the hilly region. Like the last few days, we had to push through some sections, since we had to manage for example a creek bed, a mini-canyon or a pond.
Most of the time, we cycled in a forest and heard many interesting noises from the thicket. From time to time, we reached small villages where we greeted the surprised people in a friendly way. Each time we stopped to either refill our water bottles or ask for the next village, it did not take more than two minutes until 20-50 children surrounded us. None of the kids had ever seen a white person before and this explained their natural curiosity.
In a rather large village, we even found a restaurant and tried to order, despite the deafening music. Strengthened, we wanted to continue a bit, but it started raining and this made this plan impossible, since the road was too slippery ad we had to stop for the day.
Luckily, it did not rain the whole night and in the morning the road was sticky instead of slippery. Passing several hills, we made good progress and came closer to our intermediate destination. On the way, we stopped several times in small villages to eat some bananas or to fill our water bottles.
Everywhere, people waved at us in a good mood and shouted something in our direction. It was impossible to talk to all the people, which was a pity, since we literally felt the curiosity.
After a rocky, long downhill, we finally reached the first city after 200km with only small villages. There was even electricity and we could sleep in a police station. After a swim in the rather brown, ripping stream, the immigration officer controlled our passports. He had problems reading anything, since he did not find his glasses and this prolonged the verification unnecessary.
Our legs were really heavy and definitely tired from the last days. Many shops and restaurants were closed in the small town since it was Sunday and we only found an open kitchen with difficulties. On the market, many women greeted us with “bonjour Papa” and we greeted back with a big smile “bonjour Mama”.
Next to the police station, the teachers received their monthly salary and waited in the sun for hours in a queue. Each month the underpaid teaching staff has to get their money here.
A computer specialist from Kinshasa helped us with the purchase of data, so we can use the internet on our phones. Afterwards, he invited us generously for dinner at his place and told us of his unbelievable stories from his time in the military during the war. His atelier was typically African and we could not refrain from laughing.
Since we entered the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the local language changed once more and sounds similar to Portuguese. The locals even confirmed that they understand a bit of Portuguese and the influence from Angola was one of the reasons for it.
Repeatedly, we tried to shake hands with the scared children to interact with them. Mostly, one child dared to approach us and then the others overcame their fear as well. From time to time, the smallest kids looked at their hand afterwards to see if we stained. Those moments were delightful and all locals and us fell about laughing.
Everywhere in this region the villagers walk extremely far every day. Mostly they walk to their fields or back to their village, get water or sell random products in the nearby villages. We met people who walk 20-40 kilometers every day and this with worn out flip-flops.