DAY FORTY-SEVEN Today was the day of the long-awaited Kumuka Olympics. The games started at 3 p.m. with a boat race followed by egg throwing, then dry oats eating, gumboot throwing, volleyball, a 4-legged race and finally a condom throwing contest in the gathering dark. Our team of Snake, Bron, Linda and me came last reflecting how seriously we took the games. Some of the others got a bit too serious but that was to be expected as they are wankers anyway!¹
After an… unusual tea of lentils (man) and rice, all the guys walked up the road to a picture theatre where we caught the enthralling piece of cinematography Break It 2: Electric Boogaloo. What a load of crap it was: French-speaking, Puerto Rican break dancers starring in a cliche ridden movie along the lines of Fame. A good laugh though and there can’t be a hell of a lot of people who can say that they have been to the movies in Bangui.
After the film we had a drink in a dingy bar then caught taxis back to the camp.
¹ As is often the case with group travel, a number of the participants had become dissatisfied with the way the trip was being run. Stay tuned to read about how this divisiveness plays out.
DAY FORTY-SIX With not much to do we just sat around all day. I wrote quite a few letters sitting in the bar drinking pamplemousse (grapefruit) fizz and spent an hour or so photographing a praying mantis.
Late in the evening, a few of us hit the gin, which effectively buggered us for the rest of the night!
DAY FORTY-FIVE We had a reasonably early breakfast then went into town and spent a couple of hours looking around in the rain. Linda and I negotiated with a street vendor and bought a framed set of 9 butterflies and 12 notelets and envelopes for 4,000CFA.¹ Not a bad deal considering he wanted 7500CFA at the opening of bidding.
We spent the afternoon keeping cool.
¹ The unit of currency in the Central African Republic was, and still is, the CFA (informally called the “See-fa”) a currency used by eight independent West African States. CFA is an acronym for Communauté Financairé d’Afrique. The currency was introduced in 1945 by the French, who had colonised many of the West African states.
DAY FORTY-FOUR Showers!! Cold and smelly but nevertheless wonderful. After breakfast we went into town and filled in the papers for our Nigerian visas. Then, we picked up our mail from the Post Office and changed money. Linda and I got letters from Helen and Brian, Barry and Ginny, and two letters and a tape from Joe. We had a chocolate croissant and a cake at a patisserie then went back to camp. I sat in a comfy chair in the shade listening to Joe’s tape on Russ’ walkman. On it was some excerpts from the Moron Men on ZM FM¹, Monty Python, Radio Caroline (!)² and Joe talking about various things. It made me feel quite homesick. There was also a selection of news clippings and cartoons including the write-up on the sale of Meikleburn³.
The afternoon was very hot and most of us just sat around in the bar.
¹ A popular local New Zealand radio station ² A really crappy local radio station ³ A farm next door to Dry Creek, the station where Linda grew up and where I had worked as a shepherd.
DAY FORTY-THREE The rain pelted down during the night but had cleared by dawn and we were packed up and away by 6:30.
We got to the first rain barrier at 8 and after a heated debate between Scotty and the insolent bastard controlling it, we managed to bullshit our way through by saying we had a person on board very ill (tres malade) with malaria. A couple of prescriptions backed up our argument and on we drove.
The next rain barrier wasn’t so gullible and the bastards kept us from 10:30 until 4 p.m. We utilised the time cooking up pikelets for lunch and then preparing the stew for tea. Finally, they let us go and we hurled abuse at the officious little motherfuker who had kept us there.
Two hours drive took us to the town of Silbert and the beginning of the tar seal road that leads to Bangui. We had expected a police check on the outskirts of Silbut but there wasn’t one there so we stopped on the side of the road to cook the stew then carried on into the night.
We got to the infamous K-12 Police Checkpoint¹ at about 12 a.m. and spent an hour there while our passports were confiscated. Then we drove into town to the campsite.
¹ The K-12 Police Checkpoint was well-known as a point where travellers were harassed by dangerous and officious police personnel. Today, the area is known as PK-12 and is a place where French troops guard an enclave of Muslim refugees who have been harassed by Christian militias.
DAY FORTY-TWO The monkeys at the rain barrier had told us we wouldn’t be allowed through until 12 p.m. so we were in no hurry to be away from the quarry. True to their word the arseholes at the barrier kept us there until 11 then let us through.
We drove all day on reasonable roads, through the rolling plains, passing several more rain barriers but none of them were manned and we had no hold ups.
At about 2:30 however, another barrier loomed up and this one was manned by 3 armed soldiers(“armed” referring to the two dirty and ill-kept old World War 1 mausers they had lying on the ground beside them!) They laboriously checked our passports then insisted on a thorough search of the truck. They opened up for the lockers and rummaged through our packs. Our mood was getting pretty ugly but eventually they satisfied the tiny semi evolved brains that we weren’t a bunch of arms smugglers and let us go. We drove for another hour or so then camped in yet another quarry.
DAY FORTY-ONE We arrived at the border on the Zaire bank of the Ubangui River at 7:30 and as was to be expected the border officials hadn’t turned up yet. Paul, Russ and I went for a walk out the end of the dam which is been built across half the width of the width of the river to harness the hydro electric potential. The river is too big to dam fully and the water flows around the end of the dam and over a 5 m waterfall with awesome force.
The border guards finally turned up and the formalities took a further hour before we were allowed to board the ferry which would take us and the truck across the river. A customs official charged us 640 francs, about 64 pounds, for the trip!! which only took about 10 minutes and we were in the Central African Republic.
Customs didn’t take long and we drove up the hill but we only got about 5 miles before we struck the first roadblock, manned by an officious twit in an army uniform. He kept us there for 2 hours while he quibbled over minor passport details, demanded a bribe which Scotty refused to pay and told us we couldn’t travel further due to rain damage to the road. All bulshit of course so we just sat around until it became obvious to him that we weren’t going to pay him anything and he let us go.
We traveled on through the country which had changed from jungle to wide open rolling grassland as soon as we crossed the river. In the late afternoon we were stopped by another group of gits at a barrier and were told we couldn’t go any further until the road dried out. So we camped in a nearby quarry.