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Travel Diary - 2003
5 January | Senegal
22 January |Gambia
18 January |Guinea
9 February | Mali
22 February | Burkina Faso
3 March | Ghana
19 March | Togo
20 March | Benin
25 March | Niger
12 April | Chad
15 April | Cameroon
16 April | Nigeria
30 April | Congo
24 May | RDC
31 May | Angola
5 June | Namibia
27 June | South Africa
30 August | Lesotho
10 September | Swaziland
9 October | Botswana
17 October | Namibia
19 October |
Zambia
29 October | Malawi
4 November |Mozambique
16 November | Tanzania
12 December | Rwanda
16 December | RDC
18 December | Uganda
24 December | Kenya

Travel Diary - 2004
9 January | Ethiopia
6 February | Sudan
21 February | Saudi Arabia
23 February | Jordan
3 March | Syria
5 March | Turkey
12 March | Greece
21 March | ...And Home

 

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17 months, 43 countries, and 2 vehicles

Congo

Brazzaville- 22/05/03

Finally I'm resting in the comfort of the Catholic Mission; I've got a woman doing my laundry (clean sheets tonight) and people are scouring the streets for a new rear spring for the Camel, and I've had a real shower with clean water.

If we can cross the river we hope to cross to Kinshasa at the weekend, with Ed, Meindert and Karl, who we first met in Morocco, all on bikes. looks like  we've got us a convoy....

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The Boat - 10/05/03

Richard and Roxana have taken a pirogue to Moussaka, and I'm following in the Kikoli, a barge that's heading to Brazzaville. As long as my battery lasts I'll use my PDA to keep a diary...

10/05/03
The 1st night. Noisy, crowded. Slow

11/05/03
The 2nd night.  highlight of the day was a big butterfly gliding past. Enjoyed a bucket shower that probably left me dirtier than I started.

12/05/03
The 3rd night of the trip, ~20' (or 40km) above the equator. The day started with a loud radio at 3:30am. Arrived in the small village of Pikounda, where I had to cope with torrential rain, bribery, as well as crocodiles, smoking fish, canoes, pygmies, wet bedding, and a puppy that's the only live animal on board that won't get smoked. music. At least it's cool.

13/05/03
4th night - bed mostly dry again, maize hooch & lime that tastes vaguely like margueritas, day consisted of taking on board many crocs - whole stern end is now a charnel house, car rests on croc farm. Lost shampoo down shower hole. Still 6' above equator, went to 'church'

14/05/03
Reading Heart of Darkness for the second time - edition with notes is great - no mention of Arab slave trade it notes, which was often a justification for colonial expansion. How ironic that colonisation is really just a form of slavery at a national level.

Enough philosophy. Elephant came aboard today - in a flour sack - I protested that it was too small a sack, but with a straight face they explained that it was in morceax.

Later saw half a monkey - surprisingly there were comments about Ebola (which rages to the west)

Rain in the morning & night but tent stayed dry - and a full stomach thanks to my cook Lilly.

15/05/03
Arrive in Moussaka one of three trading town established in the 1900s by the Greek merchant Georgiou Stephanopoulis. The other two, Dolmades and Doner Kebab, have been reclaimed by the jungle, but Moussaka thrives despite no Greek restaurant, though lots of fish.

A message from God (& Bartholomew). God is the skipper of the pirogue. They tell me that Richard and Roxana have left ahead of me. Beer & dancing, & a return to a boat that's beginning to stink of fish. The toilet is now a nightmare - it's next to a smoker so a visit consists of a strange mixture of smoke & ammonia in your nose.

16/05/03
Told that we arrive Monday, not Saturday as expected - down spirited for a while then resolve to make the most of the trip - it has after all been an amazing experience. Boat gets more crowded by the day - by fish not people - I just want a bit of space to myself as I is not an African. DVD night tonight as I've cut a deal with the freezer man. End of Days with Arnie, they lap it up as I retreat to the bows for a bit of piece and quiet.

17/05/03
The catfish have officially taken over the boat - in shallow basins stacked all over the passageways they leave us only the narrow ledge outside the railings for movement. Every day the traders lift the bamboo lids and palm fronds used to cover and shade the basins to pick out the dead catfish (they lose their silky black lustre and turn a deathly grey). The fallen are added to the mounting piles on the oil drums used for smoking - the survivors thrash in indignation at the disturbance, sending rancid water sheeting across everything.

To understand a boat of this sort you have to think more in terms of floating communities rather than means of transport. I use the plural because each is isolated in discrete sections or levels tucked in amongst the cargo. Many People here live on the boat full time, buying produce, mostly alive, as they travel towards Brazzaville, from dugout canoes that come alongside as we pass each isolated village along the way. They accumulate vast quantities of whatever they think will turn a profit, and the boat is piled high and wide with their purchases.

It is a sociable society of course - those mere travellers aboard are soon made welcome by the regulars, and as one of the few whites ever to have been aboard, I am something of a novelty. More interesting by far are my mysterious collection of possessions - the Africans are fascinated by technology - the PDA is to them a must-have - the camera a source of embarrassed giggling as they see themselves after each shot. But beyond that there is a urge to grasp the consumer culture with both hands. These are not reactions of surprise at the technology but enquiries about where they can buy one. My insect repellent is a source of wonder - whoever starts selling it in Congo will find a ready market.

As I write my companions watch a DVD, apocalypse now, on my laptop. The connection to hod is lost on them; none have ever heard of Conrad. Although the soundtrack is in French it is drowned by the generator, and without it the film is simply disjointed violence. In the end they grow bored of yet more American destruction and drift away to sleep

18/05/03
It's my birthday. Woke to find everything covered in a fine layer of ash. Even my tent has been powdered in a dusting of smoked animal. reveille here is before 5am and usually takes the form of loud shouting - this is not rudeness at work - there seems to be different idea of considerate behaviour - as if it is only I who minds being torn from my sleep so abruptly, and so early. I lie perched above the fray in my roof tent for a while, trying to doze through a political argument, conducted entirely in shouts, that is taking place a metre from my head. After an hour or more the sun rises above the light river mist, lacing our rippling wake with gold. I know that soon my tent will become an oven and I will have to leave the closest thing to solitude and join the crush below.

It's a day of crushing boredom - too warm to sit on the car roof, and it's a relief when the evening arrives and I can slip into the campement where we have stocked for a beer or two.

19/05/03
As we approach Brazzaville we are mobbed by a swarm of large pirogues full of screaming women. It looks threatening, but they are here to lay claim on the voluminous merchandise that has now completely taken over the boat. From my vantage point on the roof I watch the amazing scene of chaos that amounts to business here.

Later we pull in to the port, where I am to spend two more nights waiting for the extortion brigade to lose interest me, and eventually to get a crane to lift out my car with only three or four dents, at an outrageous price. The officials here are doing nothing to encourage tourism...

 

Pokola - 02/05/03

Pokola is actually a large town in Congolese terms. It lies at 0124' North, 1619' East, which means that is it just North of the equator; on the map it simply does not exist - Ouesso is some 40km to the North, but Pokola has grown out of the jungle to become a centre for the logging industry, and we are staying here for a while.

What makes Pokola so attractive? Well, I could talk about the market where pygmies wander around in loin cloths with their teeth filed to points. Or I could mention that there are about 30 expat workers here with a luxurious compound complete with tennis courts and a pool, which we are sometimes invited to. But the real reasons goes back to our chance meeting in Douala with the Frenchman who worked for Cameroon Veneer (or at least claimed to...).

Following his dubious advice we expected to be able to drive to Brazzaville - but the road has been impassable for some time despite what the maps say. Bizarrely, there is no way to drive from North to South in Congo until the road has been repaired and the ferry once again works - the only lifeline is the river.

When we were waiting to cross the river into Congo our companion was a truck driver called Joseph who was taking his rig across to load up with timber. Joseph helped us out with advice on the route to Ouesso, as well as on getting across for free, and when he heard about our problem he suggested that we head for Pokola, 60km away, where a bunch of white people might be able to help us out. I still owe that man a cold beer.

So now we wait here in a surprisingly comfortable auberge on the banks of the River Sangha, a tributary of the Congo, waiting for rain. Until it rains the logging barges cannot leave for Brazzaville, and as it is upon these barges that we depend upon for our (and the Camel's) transport to Brazaville, until the river rises we remain here.

When we were driving along the variable pistes there were thousands of amazingly colourful butterflies, but the town, at least by night, is dominated by a brilliant display of fireflies that cluster in mini-constellations along the sides of the pathways.

This town is a little island perched amid a great expanse of forest - and a five minute walk along the track by our auberge will take me into a different world of fragrant growth and high canopy, with occasional glimpses of the river Sangha which will, eventually, be our exit route.

Food is a little boring - you can eat bush meat if you have a stomach for game meat (by which I mean putrefying), but for the most part I stick to smoked fish with manioc, or haricots with bread, and an occasional omelette. The market is full of exotic fish and animals, mostly protected, and pygmies with teeth filed to points wander through the thoroughfares looking with a sense of awe at the trappings of what they thing is civilisation.

Occasionally they bring game with them to sell, or the occasional fetish which they trade for food of supplies. I have picked up a lovely spirit guardian shaped like a skeleton, with a real monkey skull topping the death's head. He rest on the little table in my room here, keeping the mossies at bay.