Republic of the Congo

4th of January 2020 – 25 th of January 2020:

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

The continuing on the 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 again. 

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. 

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 well pumps 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 one beef farm after another in the region of his hometown. 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 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 otherwise. In addition, we know the choice of cheap, local fruits will 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 the dead straight and flat road southwards. 

Surprisingly, even though there is 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 joined 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 workplace 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. We contacted Stefanie using the platform Warmshowers. She invited us to stay at her place for a few days and relax. 

The neighborhood and its people we met during our stay were authentic. Everyone was extremely friendly and we felt like being home. After a few days, we knew where to buy the most important food items and easily managed to get around. 

On the weekend, we joined a pool party thanks to friends of Stefanie. For an agreeable entry fee, we could eat and drink as much as we wanted. Therefore, we enjoyed the diverse buffet with snacks and alcoholic drinks. Many guests were Congolese and the other part was either French or Belgian. Most of the people we met, were excited about our trip and we had great conversations. We enjoyed the chance to talk with like-minded people. 

Erwan, a Frenchman whom we met at the party, invited us to his home and we could use his internet connection. The previous days, we searched everywhere for a decent cyber cafe, but nowhere they would allow us to use our own computer due to security issues. 

The temperature was close to 40 degrees and we sweated all day long. Even in the night, it did not cool down a lot and for the first time in a while, we wished for air conditioning. 

A few times, we cycled into the center of the city and were surprised how harmless the traffic was in this city with more than a million inhabitants. In comparison to other capitals, Brazzaville seemed like a village. The city lays directly on the shore of the Congo River, which separates the two capitals Brazzaville and Kinshasa. Therefore, those are the two capitals with the smallest distance to each other worldwide. The huge river radiates calmness, since there were no boats, anglers or swimming children close to the city. The river Congo is the second longest river in Africa and most water-rich in Africa. 

Several times, we heard of projects that stopped due to the economic crisis, which started because the oil price decreased. For example, we saw hundreds of modern solar powered wells with additional water tanks in various villages. Unfortunately, many villagers told us that those installations only worked for a couple of months. Nobody in these villages has either the money or the knowledge to fix the facilities. In addition, the project has no money left, to send mechanics to the villages to maintain the wells. Another example how an NGO wasted immense sums of development money in Africa. 

After a pleasant stay in Brazzaville with many nice acquaintances, we left the large city along the river. Soon, the terrain challenged us and we had to climb many consecutive hills. 

In the region Pool, we saw in several villages whole families living in refugee tents of the United Nations. The people explained us that the military due to an order of the president attacked the villages with helicopters two years ago and many villagers died. The reason for that civil war was the assumption of the government that the local population hid rebels in that region.  

In a larger village, we found two Papayas and the present immigration officers made our life complicated at the same time. The extremely authoritarian boss did not let us speak and accused us to question his professionalism. We just wanted to ask if it really was necessary to give us two exit stamps, since it would be the first time on our journey. Finally, everything calmed down and we did not receive a stamp after all.  

In the last town before the border, we finally found something to eat after asking for a while. Afterwards, we left the comfortable paved road. Across hill and dale, the partly sandy gravel road led us over numerous hills. Two ascents were so steep, so we had to push our bicycles.  

The landscape presented itself surprisingly dry and only nearby of a river or stream, we saw trees more often. In the last village before the border, we stayed with the village chief and already went to the immigration officers to handle the formalities. 

The woman of the chief prepared rice pudding for breakfast, after we asked her to do so. For the delicious dinner and breakfast, the diligent woman did not even accept any money. At the border, we only waved to the border officials, since we already finished all formalities the day before. At the geographical border, a few kilometers further, we found an old welcome sign from the Belgium colonial times. 

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