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.
DAY FORTY The stillness of the forest was shattered at 5:30 AM by the roar of a chain-saw as Mike chopped up 5-foot lengths of wood to fill some of the worst holes. Scotty was going to try to drive along the very edge of the road rather than risk the watery mud at the centre. It wasn’t going to be easy though, and after an hour and a half, we had only gained 50 metres.
It was then that our luck changed. An official of some sort came along in a Land Rover and told us that a 12-ton, two-wheel-drive truck went through every day without trouble and if we went straight through the middle we would get through.
So in low, low range, Scotty put the Fox into the first 3-foot deep pool of mud and through she went, followed by the next pool and the next. We were out!!
Our spirits were even higher as we drove away from that quagmire and about an hour later we stopped beside a wide river for a wash and some breakfast.
A full day’s travelling took us to Gbadolite on the border, the town where president Mobutu comes from. In typical African form, the town has been lavished with money for big flash buildings, tar seal roads, streetlights and hotels. The whole effect is ludicrously funny as the smart buildings are empty, the flash service stations have no petrol and the roads before and after the tar sealed section are the roughest of any in Zaire!! The market only yielded bread and we camped the night in a quarry just out of town.
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.
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.