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Ω2

D. R. Congo: The hardest part…

   Brazzaville and Kinshasa are the two capitals being closest to each other in the world! They are just 1.6 km (1 mile) far from each other, separated only by the Congo River. However, crossing borders using the barge that connects the two capitals is one of the most difficult endeavours worldwide, especially for white people traveling on their own wheels. So we decided to make a detour of 580 kilometers (360 miles), most of them ridden on dirt roads, in order to enter the notorious Democratic Republic of the Congo through a small and remote border post.

   Even at that small border post though, the officers did not like the fact that we have had our visas issued in Benin instead of Greece. We explained to them that it was literally impossible for us to take the visas in our own country of residence, since we had left eleven months ago and any visa would have expired by now. They called the head of the office in order to take some guidelines but in the meanwhile it got dark, so we found ourselves pitching our tent just outside the police department! Christina made a yummy potato salad and, after having had dinner, we entered inside our tent.

Just another flat tyre...

Just another flat tyre…

   Next morning, after having been given the green light by the head officer, we had our passports stamped and we officially entered the Democratic Republic of the Congo. At Luozi, the first town we encountered, we had to declare ourselves again to the immigration service (DGM). Same story again… At first they were asking us for 40 USD in order to give us back our passports, then the price dropped at half and, since we insisted that we did not have any money, finally after two hours they let us go. So, that was the country we had read so much about… During us crossing the country we were stopped in 20 checkpoints in total and almost everyone demanded some bribing.

   That was when Christina was taking care of the situation… Christina was working as a civil engineer in Greece, meaning that almost everyday she would pay a visit to some urban planning office. After having had such a long experience dealing with corrupted and slimy public officers, you can imagine how great she was when handling with the African public officers… Finally we managed to cross the entire country without having to participate in this dirty game of bribing.

The capital's luxurious downtown

The capital’s luxurious downtown

   In the end, it took us three days to travel the distance between the two closest capitals on the planet! When we arrived in Kinshasa, we tried to contact Christophe and Cynthia, the two Belgians that would host us there. However, we found out that we had a wrong telephone number. We pulled over in order to think over our alternatives and it was then when a series of unbelievable coincidences began… A French motorcyclist spotted us, who had participated in the Paris – Dakar Rally during his youth. When we told him that we intended to reach overland Lubumbashi, in the south of the country, he took us for mad and immediately called a friend of his, who was a motorcyclist too. He handed us over the phone and we found ourselves talking in Greek with George, who happened to be the owner of the house Christophe and Cynthia were staying at!

It was in Kinshasa where we received the Sena Bluetooth Audio Pack, which allows us to record in our videos all of our conversations through the intercommunication system!

It was in Kinshasa where we received the Sena Bluetooth Audio Pack, which allows us to record in our videos all of our conversations through the intercommunication system!

   George arrived on his Honda CRF 450 in no time while we were still trying to understand what was happening! For the next few days we were part of a wonderful company, filled with Christophe and Cynthia’s laughter. We needed some time in order to organize ourselves the best we could, as the part of our trip which was expected to be the most difficult was ahead of us…

The shiny smiles of Christophe and Cynthia were making our days in the gloomy capital brighter.

The shiny smiles of Christophe and Cynthia were making our days in the gloomy capital brighter.

   Kinshasa, the capital, is about 2,500 kilometres (1,553 miles) far from Lubumbashi, the country’s second largest city. Most people consider that the linking of these cities by land is non-existent so they move from one to another only by air. There is a network of rough dirt roads crossing through the jungle linking the two cities but very few foreign travellers have attempted to travel on them. They are even fewer those who have reached their destination with their vehicle still functioning…

   Akis Temperidis and Vula Netu had loaded their Land Rover on an airplane in order to transport it from the one mega city to the other. That was the right choice, actually, since the route is almost impassable for a four-wheeler. As proof stands the story of a Land Cruiser, which was wrecked after 39 days on this route… It takes around three months for some Congolese truck drivers to drive from one city to another, if everything goes smooth with no serious breakdowns on their vehicle.

In some parts the scenery was breathtaking...

In some parts the scenery was breathtaking…

   Luckily, this route is not so rough for a motorcycle. A few motorcyclists that have tried it, completed it in just a couple of weeks. Nevertheless, the route showed its teeth to Stergios and his two fellow travelers. From the first days the French guy on his BMW F800 GS gave up because of a worn out clutch. Next day, it was the turn of Stergios to give up with his Vespa for the same reason. Finally, it was only Steven who rode to his destination on his Yamaha XT 125, as this was obviously the lighter and most proper motorbike for this kind of route, without escaping a breakdown though.

   After having done some maintenance on both our Honda XR 250s, checking all the screws for possibly loose ones because of the long off-road riding, we left behind us the capital and its crazy traffic jams. The first 622 kilometres (386 miles) were on tarred roads. From there, the hardest part of our trip was on…

We covered our air filters with body stockings, in order for them to keep most of the dirt, making it easier for us to clean it in the middle of the jungle! A brilliant idea of our mechanic, Dimitris Katigiannis from NRG.

We covered our air filters with body stockings, in order for them to keep most of the dirt, making it easier for us to clean it in the middle of the jungle! A brilliant idea of our mechanic, Dimitris Katigiannis from NRG.

   Christina had to face once more the terrain that she despises the most: sand! In the Sahara she had done some extended training of hundreds of kilometres. However, riding was not so tough there because there were hardly any ruts, so we could just accelerate and keep moving quite smoothly. The road to Tshikapa, on the other hand, was full of ruts made by the trucks. They were so deep that even my panniers were crashing on the sides. During those days we would drop our motorbikes around five times each. As expected, Christina was having a hard time and in order to cross some parts, I had to take both our motorcycles. After all that was the deal we had made: I would deal with the dirt roads and Christina would deal with the cops 😉

The terrain Christina hates the most: sand, with deep ruts on top of it...

The terrain Christina hates the most: sand, with deep ruts on top of it…

   Things were not much easier for me either, as I carry most of our luggage on my motorbike. It is not easy for anyone to balance 220 kg (485 pounds) on such a rough terrain… During those days we would not cover more than 70 kilometres (43 miles) before dusk. It was crucial for us to look for the trails that the locals use to move their overloaded bicycles. These bicycles are so heavily loaded that nobody rides them. Usually they are just being pushed by two or three individuals. That is how most of the goods are being transported to the villages and cities that are located in the jungle, and that’s why their cost is unbelievably high. You can find gas everywhere in jerry cans, sold from 1.7 to 3 euros per litre!

From the first day I noticed something unbelievable on my motorcycle: the front axle's bracket was cracked! I had no choice but to place it on Christina's motorbike, as she carries much less weight, praying for it to last...

From the first day I noticed something unbelievable on my motorcycle: the front axle’s bracket was cracked! I had no choice but to place it on Christina’s motorbike, as she carries much less weight, praying for it to last…

   On the third day on this route, while we were struggling in this hell, we met three local motorcyclists, who suggested us to travel altogether to Tshikapa. During the first five minutes Christina threw herself inside a deep rut and it crossed my mind that the others would be fed up with waiting us and would continue without us. Strangely enough though, after having pulled the motorcycle out of the ditch, Christina was leading the whole team, riding like a true enduro rider! I had never seen her riding like this on the trails and I could not believe my own eyes! We even rode in fourth gear, cornering our XRs on narrow trails. This was one of the parts of this route that I enjoyed riding very much…

The most beautiful place where we wild-camped on this route... We spent almost one hour inside the cool water of this river!

The most beautiful place where we wild-camped on this route… We spent almost one hour inside the cool water of this river!

   We had become a great team, co-operating immaculately. One of the locals was leading us, as he knew the right trails, Christina was following, so that she could get some help every time she dropped her motorbike, while I was riding at the end of the queue helping the locals whenever they would get stuck with their Chinese motorbikes. We were on a pretty good pace and we managed to cover 110 kilometers (68 miles) that day, arriving in Tshikapa, which was the first town we encountered.

Many parts of this route are almost impassable for a four-wheeler.

Many parts of this route are almost impassable for a four-wheeler.

   On some police roadblock, Christina played her magic tricks once more and we left without having to open our wallet. For our friends, however, it was not that easy… One of the cops untied the luggage from the back of one of the motorbikes and helped himself to a jacket he found, while the owner was looking at the scene helpless without being able to react and I was trying hard to take in what was going on… The Congolese have to deal with such brutal violence coming from the authorities of this country that unfortunately, they live in terror, without anybody reacting in anything. They all know that the police and military officers are authorized, armed mere criminals.

At the house of the cousin of one of the three local motorcyclists with whom we traveled together for a day!

At the house of the cousin of one of the three local motorcyclists with whom we traveled together for a day!

   When we arrived in Tshikapa, our friends led us straight to the house of their cousin, in order to spend the night there altogether. Their family was really glad to see them after such a long trip and the women immediately lit up the coals and started cooking. In these countries almost everyday the food staple is a dough-like ball, usually made from cassava or corn flour. They accompany this with relishes made from green leaves, and maybe some fish or meat, if they can afford such a treat. They brought us a bucket of water to take a shower and refresh ourselves after so much sweat and dust stuck on our bodies all those days. Then they laid a piece of foam mattress on the floor for us to sleep…

 

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