Thsela – Border Angola

(Last Updated On: February 23, 2020)

4th of February – 14th of February 2020:

We left the helpful police officers and started cycling on the paved road. Soon, we had to search the asphalt and partly, the road looked like a creek bed. Many women and kids approached us with food items or water on their heads and starred at us until we passed them.

Suddenly, Adrian’s derailleur made strange noises and movements. Shortly after, he could not pedal anymore and we took a look at the obviously broken part. We realized that the cassette did not move when pedaling and therefore any continuation was impossible. Luckily, the next village was not that far and Adrian could push his bicycle. We found a mechanic, but he could not really help us with his prehistoric tools. We removed the wheel and took off the disc break and the cassette. Unfortunately, we could not take off more parts, since we did not have an Allen 11. Soon, the sun set and we decided to ask the chief of the village if we could pitch our tent in his garden. This was as always no problem und there was even a security guard.

We asked several mechanics if they had an Allen 11, but they could not find one either. Locals recommended us to continue our hunt in the next city. Spontaneously, we asked two locals who were loading their car, where their destination was. Randomly, the two friendly men had the same destination and said that we could join them for a bit of gasoline money. We were glad, since like that we could travel with only four people in the car instead of ten.

After a three hour bumpy ride, we reached the city Boma. We were even driven directly to the port, where the bicycle shops were. Quickly, we realized that we had no chance to find anything useful and walked to the office of Philippe, a friend, whom we knew from a Chat for travelers.

There, they instantly offered us a room and helped us to make a plan for the next day. Unfortunately, there was a flooding during the night and in the middle of it was our laptop. The next morning the computer did not work anymore!

By our standards, we drove to the bus station early, to load the bicycle onto the roof of a car again and started the trip to the next city that was 120km away. After the door closed with lots of force, we continued our trip, still with four people on the backseat. A few kilometers later, we heard a familiar noise and the driver stopped. A mechanic, who sat in the trunk the whole time, replaced the tire in only a few minutes.

When we arrived in Matadi, all the vehicles were stuck due to the immense traffic and we had to walk to the meeting point, where a driver of Philippe picked us up and brought us to the house and we met Philippe’s wife Anne. From the beginning, the older French couple treated us like their sons and cooked for us like we were in a luxury restaurant. In addition, we had each our own room with air conditioning and a huge bed.

In the early morning, we went to a flour factory, where a friend of Philippe worked. Not even in this huge workshop using old with Swiss machines, we found an Allen 11.

The only option was to take an Allen 12 and reduce it to the right size. Now, we could finally open the free hub further, but realized immediately that we need another tool. A worker, who already worked part of his life in Switzerland, promised us to solve the problem and we left the wheel with him, since we wanted to deal with other things.

The computer scientist Paul, who worked for Philippe’s company, helped us to buy a second hand computer. A friend of him presented us several different computers and we decided us after a long inspection for a Lenovo. The seller surprisingly even wrote a receipt, so we could come back if we had any problems.

In the meantime, Albert repaired our free hub and proudly presented the cleaned and flawlessly working piece. He made a specific tool to reach the inner of the hub, cleaned everything, replaced the small pellets and greased the necessary sections. We were overjoyed and thanked him and his boss.

Early in the morning, Francis, a driver of Philippe’s work drove us to the bus station and made sure that we will find a transport back to the village. Five hours, sweaty and with pain in the legs and hips, we reached Lukula again. The journey was rather uncomfortable and we witnessed for the first time that four people sat in the front seats. Even the driver had to share his seat.

We packed our material and said goodbye to all the mechanics and the family of the chief. The mud fight continued and the bad road shook us thoroughly once again.

On the first paved road in this country after more than two weeks, we progressed more efficient again. We planned to cycle a bit further, but suddenly Adrian’s gear shifting cable broke and we had to search an overnight spot. Nearby, there was a friendly family living in a small house and accepted us as guests immediately. We were really happy that we could eat together with the whole family and answer many interesting questions of the poor villagers.

After a few souvenir photos with the lovely family and the scantier repair of the gear shifter, we left the tiny village in the direction of Matadi. The many hills challenged us and the countless shouts in the villages got on our nerves over time. At least they did not beg most of the time.

Shortly before the imposing bridge, we met a local cyclist who was on the way to Boma, 120km in the other direction. He said that is was not a problem for him to cycle in the dark. We only thought: “Better him than us” and climbed the last hill, before we crossed the only bridge in this region across the Congo River. The next bridge is approximately 2800km upriver. After another long and steep ascent, we reached the familiar home of Anne and Philippe. As already the days before, we were received warmly and spoiled culinary by Anne.

Since months we could not wash our clothes with a washing machine. In addition, we cleaned our tent, repaired the damaged parts and replaced the rubber band inside the tent poles. Our mattress, shoes, drinking bottles and panniers needed cleaning as well.

During the last few days, we tested the newly bought laptop and realized that it had several problems. Mostly, the battery was weak, the Bluetooth did not work and the operating system was only available in French. The seller of the laptop promised to search for a better battery. The other problems were not that bad and rather difficult to solve.

On the second day in the city, Paul, the computer specialist tried to reach the computer retailer, but without success. We had already the feeling that his motivation to help us was rather small, since the two were friends and he did not make any money from the deal.

Unfortunately, we could not repare the complex gear shifting on Adrian’s bicycle and searched for an alternative system in the streets. Quickly. We found an ideal gear shifter and installed it on the handlebar. Like that we could continue without problems, since the mechanism is simple and less vulnerable for defects.

The visit of the consulate, to get information for the Angola visa, turned out to be a good idea. Other travelers told us that it took them eight days to get the visa. Actually, we wanted to apply for the visa online, since the process was much faster and less complicated. Unfortunately, we could not choose the border we wanted to take and therefore had to find another solution. The friendly woman at the counter said despite all other information that we had to wait a maximum of three days. So, we organized all necessary color copies of our documents, filled out the forms with the help of the woman at the counter and paid each 101 US-Dollars to their bank account. To get Dollars was difficult, so we had to try at several ATM’s and finally only got money using our Visa card. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo is the Dollar as popular as the local currency and the demand above-average due to the high inflation. The bills in this country were clearly our favorites out of all 16 currencies on this trip up to this point. The traditional motifs convinced us from the first time we saw it.

Already during our first visit in Matadi, Adrian suffered from Malaria symptoms again and took the usual treatment. After the second arrival, the symptoms returned even stronger and he decided to try another kind of treatment. There is the possibility of doing a therapy using an infusion, which is supposed to be stronger. An unprofessional assistant doctor opened the vials with his teeth and did not dissolve the active agent completely in the saline solution, before he did the infusion.

Afterwards, Adrian wanted to pay the bill in the hospital, but this was more difficult as expected. The friendly, flirting nurses put drugs and services on the bill, which were not claimed. If it was on purpose or not is not for sure, but in general, everyone thinks we are rich just because of our skin color anyway.

Another visit at the consulate took more time as anticipated, but at least we got the positive information that we probably could get the visa the next day.

The computer retailer seemed to not show any interest to change our weak battery or the whole laptop. Therefore, we gave up and could at least get a 10 Dollar refund after an energetic and long argument. From the moment when the Congolese have their money in the pocket, they do not care about anything anymore. This statement was approved by several locals and this was our experience in other regions as well.

Well nourished, we left the luxury for another time and thanked the generous couple from France for their support for solving our problems. Despite clouds, the temperature increased to over 40 degrees before noon and we could hardly drink as much as water left our pores.

Since we stayed longer in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as expected, we had to cycle even more kilometer during the next weeks. The reason for that is the fixed visit of Adrian’s family in Namibia and therefore we should arrive there at the same time.

Across a hilly terrain, we passed many villages in which all inhabitants screamed something in our direction. Soon, we reached the turn to the border and we slowly cycled the rocky road and tried to find a way through the chaos in the border town. Thousands of people sold their products in small metal huts and lived in them at the same time. One could not see the ground, because it was covered with garbage and it was so loud that we did not feel comfortable at all. After the last mud bath we got the exit stamp and crossed the border river into Angola.

Therefore, we left a country which suffered more than 100 years of war, horror and dictatorship and is almost 60 times as large as Switzerland. The Democratic Republic of the Congo tempted us from the beginning and we were welcomed instantly. Against all fears of many of our friends and family, we always felt secure, since the western part of the country is safe since a couple of years. Most people we spoke to, never saw a white person up close and this made countless encounters special for both parties.

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