30/9/89

DAY THIRTY-NINE The morning was bright and clear but we headed away from Lisala full of apprehension about what the condition of the roads would be after the previous night’s storm.

Surprisingly , the rain hadn’t affected the roads too badly at all and we made good time. We drove solidly all day without a sign of a place to camp. We drove on in the gathering darkness and all around, the jungle was a solid green wall, dense and menacing, with a thin mist hanging amongst the trees.

Ahead of us, a sea of mud appeared in the bright pool of light thrown out by the headlights. Having no choice, we moved into it and had only gone about 40 yards when the rear wheels snaked sideways into a hole and we were bogged.

So began the longest, and probably the most enjoyable night of the trip so far. The girls went and found a dry place to sit (along with the 2 guys with the least moral fibre, Craig and Simon, who were “too sick” to help) and the men all began the long job of freeing the truck. For four hours we dug and sand-matted, then dug again, stopping only for a cup of tea and some baked beans that the girls cooked up. Despite the seriousness of the situation, we were all in high spirits as we lay in the mud under the truck or scraped out trenches for the sand-mats with our hands.

Finally, at about 12:30 AM, with a massive heave from all hands, the Silver Fox came free of the mud and roared up to the crest of the small rise where the ground was slightly firmer.

That, however, wasn’t the end of our troubles. The mud stretched ahead of us further than the reach of our headlights. Mike, Scotty, Paul and I took torches and waded into the wet and slippery muck to see how far it went, sloshing along ever-watchful for snakes that could be lying in the darkness. The mud stretched for another 200 metres then the road reverted to normal again. We decided that it wasn’t worth the risk of trying to get through that mess in the dark so we returned to the truck, drove it onto the sand-mats, then settled into our seats to get some rest.

29/9/89

DAY THIRTY-EIGHT At 7:00 we finally left the shit-hole that is Bomba. The cashier at the hotel in his haste to rip us off by over-charging managed to fuck up his calculations and under-charged us by 11,000Z instead!!

The day was pleasantly warm as we drove through the dense jungle, following the road as it led away from the great river. In the late afternoon the road led us back to the  banks of the Zaire again at the town of Lisala. Huge, black clouds were gathering overhead and bolts of lightning crackled down accompanied by claps of thunder.

We sheltered in a ramshackle bar for an hour while the rain crashed down then decided that further travel was out and we would look for a hotel. After driving around for 20 minutes we came to the “Hotel Cinquantenaire” which was surprisingly plush considering how squalid its surroundings were. We rented 3 rooms and slept 7 to a room.

28/9/89

DAY THIRTY-SEVEN Another stinking hot day. Craig has malaria and he joins Bronwyn on the list of casualties. Bronchiole spent last night in hospital on a quinine drip and was discharged this morning. Craig’s malaria has been stopped in its infancy so he only has to take tablets to combat it.

Make and Mend Day, Bomba, Zaire.

I busied myself after breakfast putting  a new handle on the kettle then we passed the rest of the day in the shade.

27/9/89

DAY THIRTY-SIX The heat was on our tent fly by 7:00 and it made it too hot to lie in so we got up and mucked around getting breakfast.

Linda and I walked up to the Bank du Zairoise and went through the rigmarole of changing money then alternated the rest of the day lying in the shade or drinking coke in the bar.

Ennui in a river town, Bomba, Zaire.
Ennui in a river town, Bomba, Zaire.

After a tea of dehydrated spaghetti bolognaise, Scotty and I went across the road and had a few beers in a local bar.

26/9/89

DAY THIRTY-FIVE At 4:00 AM it started to rain! We hastily shifted camp into a shelter where some of the others were and as soon as we had laid our stuff out it cleared and the rain stopped. Typical!

Scotty, Mike, George, Clinton and Lee had arrived during the night and Mike has got malaria.¹ Apparently he got lockjaw yesterday and Lee & Clinton who are both nurses were all set to give him a tracheotomy when it had relaxed again!!

We spent the day lazing around in the bar and there were some big rain-showers at times. Some of us took advantage of the gallons of water running off the roof to have a shower and wash our hair.

Rainwater showers, Bomba, Zaire.
Rainwater showers, Bomba, Zaire.

After lunch Linda, Snake and I went for a walk up to the river frontage to see if the bank was open but it wasn’t. A huge squall of rain sent us scurrying back to the hotel where we frittered away the rest of the afternoon in an off-hand way.

Congo River Rain.

¹Scotty and Mike, our drivers, had brought the truck down to Bomba by road. They had had a hellish journey on terrible roads. George, Clinton and Lee were hitch-hikers that they had picked up somewhere along the way.

25/9/89

DAY THIRTY-FOUR Dawn came on our third day on the river and found us well on our way downstream. Slowly, people began stirring and the women started the cooking fires to start the first meal of the day. Some natives came out from the shore in their dugouts with baskets of repulsive burnt and blackened fish.

Chris cooking rice over a charcoal brazier.

The weather promised to be hotter than ever and even at 7:30 it was starting to become unpleasantly warm.

The captain took pity on us again gave us five fish, some potatoes and onions which we cooked up and ate for breakfast along with some left-over rice and bully beef.

As the heat came on, we retreated under the tarpaulins until 12:00 when Bomba came in sight and we were at the end of our journey. The boat docked and we said goodbye to the captain, packed up our gear and disembarked.

Tourist Paraphernalia.

The sun was beating down on the try dusty streets of Bomba and we trudged up to the Dina Hotel where we found a luxuriously cold supply of beer and Coke. Unfortunately, there were no rooms and no running water so Peter, Chris and I spent a fruitless 2 ½ hours looking for something better in town but found only revolting dives.

We bought some bread for tea and negotiated with the barman to camp in the back yard for 4,000Z the lot of us.

Linda and I set up the mosquito net out in the open and Bron went to sleep under it as she is sick.

We found out the location of a well and Linda and I got a bucket-full of water and had a wash.

Bronwen, Linda and I all slept under the net with a million stars above us and the night air cool.

24/9/89

THIRTY-THREE Another resounding scraping and banging at 5:00 AM signaled our departure from the river-bank for our second day on the river.

I got up soon after first light and joined a group of natives on the bow watching the morning come to life on the river with the cool, fresh breeze blowing over us.

Linda and I had a wash with water lifted out of the river then we all breakfasted on a portion of rice mixed with Vegemite.

Captain Chimungu.

Around ten o’clock the boat pulled into a wharf at a village called Lotoku. Some of us walked up the hill to the local market which, despite the fact that it was Sunday, had quite a selection of fruit. We bought a bag of oranges for 850Z¹ and a bunch of bananas for 100Z. From the market we climbed further up the hill to a mission station where we found a bar selling cool beer and orange fizz.

It would have been nice to sit there in the cool shade of the bar all day but the boat was due to leave and in fact we met the captain half way down the hill on his way up to get us!

Once again we set sail on the great river and as the day wore on it got hotter and hotter and even though we were under our makeshift awnings, the heat was oppressive. But, as afternoon drew into evening, and the sun sank towards the jungle, a cool breeze came up and the heat went out of the sun.

On Deck, MB Lokole, Zaire River.
On Deck, MB Lokole, Zaire River.

We had a small meal of cucumber, bully beef, a boiled egg and some bread that the captain gave us. Later on, just after dark, we docked at a small village in a riverside clearing and the captain’s wife gave us a huge bowl of rice.

I caught an hour’s sleep guarding the gear while Linda, Bron and Chris played cards, then we followed a track up through the village to a small bar in someone’s backyard. We sat and drank cool Primus² and made conversation in French and broken English with some of the locals. They told us that Queen Elizabeth had visited the village in 1958 and that she owns palm oil plantations in the area.

Eventually, the supply of Primus ran out and we walked back to the boat.   

Snake, alias Dingwe.

¹The unit of currency in Zaire at that time was the Zaire. Introduced in 1967, the currency was used until 1997 when the currency was replaced by the Congolese Franc. The Zaire was a rubbish currency which inflation played havoc with. A Million Zaire note was in circulation when we were there!

²Primus beer is brewed in Zaire by the Bralima Brewery which is owned by Hineken. The brewery was set up in 1927 by the Belgains, who, let’s face it, know a bit about beer.