Davide and Patrique were the two out of the three Congolese with whom we were traveling to Tshikapa. Those guys proved to be our saviors… We had never heard about the route to Lubumbashi which they indicated to us. The few foreigners who cross overland the Democratic Republic of the Congo pass through Mbuji-Mayi. Our friends told us to branch off south just before Kananga and pass through Luiza, Musumba, Sandoa, Kasaji and Kolwezi. This route is still rough but not as much as the one through Mbuji-Mayi. We were not sure if we should listen to the advice of our friends, since we didn’t know any traveler who had tried that route. We were 1,590 km (988 miles) away from Lubumbashi, so we had to be sure that the route we were going to take was accessible.
Just before reaching Kananga, we asked some local motorcyclists about the preferable route to Lubumbashi. They confirmed that it’s better to ride through Luiza. So, we avoided entering in Kananga, since most problems due to the cops happen in the cities. We took the route to the south.
Unfortunately, we often couldn’t find some space for wild-camping, since the region is either inhabited or it has lush vegetation. What we were doing was to choose a small village and ask for the chief’s permission to camp there. However, this means that more than 50 persons were gathering around us and they were not letting us alone until we were going to sleep. They were watching Christina cooking and they were asking her how she prepares the potatoes. The Congolese don’t use potatoes in their diet, so they are unfamiliar to them. When you cannot have a moment for your-self for days in a row, this situation gets really disturbing. One night, especially, we ate in our tent in order to make the crowd leave. However, some of them stuck their face on our tent and they were still trying to stare on us… At least, they were not messing with our stuff. At dawn, the crowd was coming again to wake us up and watch us packing our motorbikes.
South of Luiza we entered in Katanga Province. This country is so huge that the borders between the provinces resemble national borders. Happily, the cops on the route that we chose rarely meet white guys, so they are not too horrible. Sure, they ask for bribes but we could get away easily without taking our wallet out of our pocket.
A few kilometers before Musumba we had to load our motorbikes on a pirogue in order to cross Luluwa River. It was July and the more we were going to the south, the deeper we were getting in the winter of the southern hemisphere. We were traveling on altitude which reached 1,400 m (4,593 ft). Until noon it was cold enough to use the warm liner which is provided with our REV’IT! summer jackets. After so many months on hot climate, we really enjoyed the low temperature!
After Kasaji, while we were riding on a smooth dirt road, Christina called me through our Sena intercommunication system to tell me that the water tank fell from her bike! We were expecting this, since half of the brackets which hold the handmade aluminium water tank had been broken due to the prolonged and tough off-road riding. I turned around to reach Christina and I noticed that the water tank was in place. However, Christina told me that her motorcycle stopped while she was riding and she heard a sound of metal.
When I saw the rear wheel, I noticed the cause of the problem… The stainless-steel mesh which Christina was carrying in order to lock her luggage, fell and it was jammed between the brake disc and the brake pads, so the wheel was blocked. However, this was the least of the problems… I immediately noticed that her backpack was missing. The persistent vibrations that the dirt road was causing, made the backpack to slip under the straps which were keeping it in place. The same happened in Sahara but that time it was another stainless-steel mesh which was missing. The backpack had blocked the real wheel at that time, so she noticed that and she didn’t lose anything from the backpack.
Christina was insisting to keep her most valuable things in that backpack instead of keeping them next to her body or in another safer place. Usually she was keeping there even her motorbike’s documents! Happily, while riding in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, we had our documents in the inner pockets of our jackets, since we often had to show them at some of the plenty checkpoints which exist on the roads of this country.
We immediately started thinking what was lost: money, credit cards, documents, souvenirs… In the meanwhile, I went on my motorbike to check if I could find Christina’s backpack on the road but of course, nobody would leave alone a bag with so many valuables inside. When I returned to Christina, I saw her crying and at the same moment I realized what had happened… I was sure that Christina was not crying for the money or the credit cards that she had lost. She had just realized that she had lost her most precious thing: her diary!
This has never happened to me but I always know that my diary is the most precious thing that I carry while I travel. I could feel how painful this was for Christina. She was sobbing and saying that nothing is left out of this trip… That phrase was breaking my heart. I removed the rear wheel from her bike and I took away the stainless-steel mesh. We rode back 25 km (16 miles) looking for the backpack. Christina was crying for hours, since she knew that the possibility of finding her backpack was next to zero.
Being on a terrible mood, we proceeded to Kolwezi. Our arrival at this large city was meaning that we had almost achieved to complete our route through the D. R. Congo! We saw again that boring asphalt, which Christina wanted to kiss! That paved road would lead us to Lubumbashi, our final destination on this country.
We knew that there was a large Greek Orthodox mission in Kolwezi and it was the first Greek mission that we visited. We were welcomed by miss Theano, a very sweet, old lady who lives there the last 25 years. Archbishop Meletios arranged two rooms for us. Then he sat with us to have dinner while listening about our adventures. He also had many interesting stories from all these years that he lives in D. R. Congo.
The next morning, when we visited the church, it was surreal to listen to the chants that we knew but being chanted in Swahili by black priests! Some of them had visited various monasteries in Greece and they had learned some Greek. Of course, a few of them didn’t want to return to the turbulent D. R. Congo, so they disappeared somewhere in Greece…
In Lubumbashi there is a huge Greek Community, maybe the most well organized in Africa, with a story which goes back to 1886. Nikos Tsavalos, a motorcyclist who was born in Lubumbashi, was the only one who learnt about us through the internet and had invited us to his birthplace even before starting our trip. We kept in contact and he was always helping us on whatever we needed to cross this huge country.
When we arrived in Lubumbashi, we went straight to the beautiful place of the Greek community. The highlight of it is its luxurious restaurant, which has been turned to one of the most popular places in town. Congolese, Greeks and other expats come to enjoy the Greek cuisine. Next to the restaurant is the very well-equipped Greek school which serves about seventy students. There is also a nice playground, sport fields and some cosy houses which are given to the school’s teachers.
Since it was July and the teachers had their vacations in Greece, they gave us one of those empty houses. Stergios was living next door. He had arrived in the town one month ago with his inoperative Vespa carried on a truck. It was the second time we met Stergios in Africa. Of course, sleepless nights followed, talking about our adventures in Congo!
We were still trying to realize that we travelled from Kinshasa to Lubumbashi in just 13 days! This is a route which is considered almost impassable and we haven’t met anyone in this country who has tried it. Sure, it was important that we were using two of the most suitable motorcycles for this kind of use and they were properly equipped. However, of course, we faced some mechanical failures in that rough terrain but we were prepared for them and we could fix them. After all, nothing stopped us and we achieved to become one of those few foreigners who have explored one of the most unspoilt African countries. Finally, our trip in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was much more pleasant than expected…
Here you can watch the video about our adventure in D. R. Congo:
Soundtracks (music from D. R. Congo):
M’bilia Bel – Welcome M’bilia
Here you can watch a short video (in English!) about our trip in D. R. Congo, while we were testing a very useful product: the Sena Bluetooth Audio Pack, which enables us to add our conversations to our videos!