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.
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.
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.
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.