In and Out of Africa

Don't pay the Ferryman...

The road to Gbadolite was excellent tar seal. This was not at all what we had expected from Zaire, the home of the mudhole. Gbadolite was a small town about as near to the middle of nowhere as you can get. The streets were wide and lined with palms. It was like a 1970's architects playground with mirror glass palaces lining the roads. At the end of the main street we pull into the modern looking filling station. Fuel was apparently very hard to get in Zaire and we should fill up where ever possible. This station had electric pumps and displayed fuel and price in numbers. A far cry from the hand operated pumps in C.A.R. with hands on a dial to indicate quantity. The glass on the front was cracked and there was no one in sight. This was not so unusual, we expected someone to appear soon. After a few minutes a local was walking past. "Is there any fuel" I asked innocently. Rather than reply he merely laughed. He walked off laughing. We had made a big joke, we just didn't fully understand yet. After a few more minutes we decided no one was going to sell us any fuel so we drove off. The excellent tar seal continued for about 20 Km and then abruptly stopped. The road ahead was as bad as the shortcut in Nigeria and showed no signs of improving.

There was no real reason for a town of these proportions here. In fact Gbadolite had originally been president Mobutu's mother's village, and a small one at that. The whole new town was a symbol of Mobutu's self importance. If we had explored further we would have found the gold statue of the Black Madonna and Child. The Madonna was obviously intended to be Mobutu's mother and the child, one assumes, is...

Angela and Terry
Angela and Terry on 'public transport'
During the 140 Km to Businga the road grew steadily worse. We stopped in a small village to sample some excellent local fruits (not mangoes). A truck drove past, it was crammed full of people in the back. There were two white people on the back waving at us. This was 'public transport' Zaire style and Angela and Terry were on board. We caught up with them at the campsite in Businga along with another English guy called Chris who was bicycling across Africa. He had sensibly put his bike on the back of a truck to cross the Sahara. Unlike the Japanese cyclist in Tamanghasset he didn't consider this cheating. Apart from that he had ridden all the way. The people who ran the campsite also provided meals so we 'dined out' on antelope and rice. Or at least that's what they said it was. This cost $1.25 US each and was rather good, although the rice was somewhat gritty.

All around us there were fireflies making their stroboscopic way across the sky. They synchronised their flashes in groups, like an aerial Christmas tree. There were three or four different groups of flies, each flashing at a slightly different frequency and a thousand little points of light would flash on and off followed a fraction of a second later by a different set of a thousand lights.

Zaire river pirogue trip
Zaire river pirogue trip
The campsite was next to a river in another of those locations real estate agents dream of. We needed another day of relaxation and, even at the risk of meeting Ajah again, decided to stay. Fiona went for a boat ride in a leaky pirogue (dugout canoe). The river looked inviting and risking all manner of tropical nastiness we decided to swim in the cool river waters. We hadn't been swimming since before we left New Zealand six months before.

Another Landrover arrived, this time going North, driven by a couple from Namibia. They had left shorty before independence in 1989 and had been on the road for well over a year already. They had spent 4 1/2 months in Kenya alone and had many interesting stories to tell as well as information about the road ahead. Meeting other travellers coming the other way is the best way of preparing yourself. They will know what the conditions are now not over a year ago, which is about the best a book can ever hope to achieve. Things can change so rapidly in Africa that current information is essential.

The red clay mud of equatorial Africa was by now ingrained into our clothes, our tent and our hair. My hair was a matted uncomfortable mess full of a mixture of red clay and oil from underneath Ajah's truck. No amount of washing seemed to make it feel any more comfortable. There was only one solution left. I shaved my head. My scalp felt strange. Cleaner, cooler and ready for deeper and thicker mud.

Typical Zaire bridge
Typical Zaire bridge
On this stretch from Businga to Lisala we came across our first Zaire road hazards, there were some muddy holes a couple of feet deep and ten or twenty metres long. I tentatively drove into the first hole and found that once I was in the thick of it and sliding around wildly, barely in control, it was good fun. For some reason the others wouldn't let me turn round and try again. Another common hazard were some things vaguely reminiscent of bridges. These were essentially logs dropped across the river and pointing in the direction of the road. It is important to make sure the wheels didn't drop into the gaps between the logs. There had been nothing like this in the Landrover driving course. I tried to drive straight across and dropped a wheel noisily into a gap almost straight away. I managed to back out and stop. I wasn't sure what to do next and sat thinking for a few moments.

"I know what we must do", said Jurgen, "I have seen this on the Camels commercials at the movies". Fiona and I looked puzzled. Cigarette adverts aren't shown at the movies or on television in either England or New Zealand. I knew of the Camel trophy, where Camel Cigarettes sponsor teams from several countries to drive Landrovers through impossible terrain. This is an attempt to associate a dreadful habit with a sense of adventure. Smoke these cigarettes and you will be able to get across impassable bridges and through 6 metre snow drifts.

Typical Zaire road
The main road
"On the movies they do this". Jurgen said and started pointing his thumbs to the left then to the right moving his arms to the left and right at the same time.
"The driver watches and steers". Jurgen was really excited at the prospect of acting out an adventure from a movie advert. I was a little less excited as I was doing the driving. However it sounded like a good idea and we all know adverts never lie. Jurgen carefully crossed the bridge, almost slipping into the river and stood on the opposite bank with arms raised. I suspended disbelief for a moment and placed my faith in Jurgen and Camel. I drove slowly forward watching his arms. I looked down at down at the bridge and felt the wheels slipping. After that I blindly followed Jurgens directions and got across easily and without mishap. All credit due to the Camel cigarette adverts. Go out and pollute your lungs with some right now.

Breakfast at Businga
Jurgen, Cyn, Derek and Fiona
Remarkably late in the day we passed Chris the cyclist. He was settling down for the night in a road stone 'scrape' only 18 km from our destination of Lingala. In these conditions a bicycle was almost as fast as a Landrover. He could also stop almost anywhere he pleased and by now was completely immune to being stared at.

Lingala is a small port on the Zaire river (previously the Congo) and was our first opportunity to put the truck on a Zaire river boat. Almost everyone had one special thing they really wanted to do in Africa. For me it was a visit to Olduvai Gorge, a site of human habitation for millennia and where remains of some of our earliest ancestors have been found. For Jurgen it was to go on the Onatra river boat. The boat ride is said to be a continual party with music, singing and dancing all day and all night. You float along partying or relaxing quietly on the barge roof, while the pirogues come out from the river banks to sell you food and produce. It is like a floating village with all the extras. You could even load your vehicle onto the deck and save a few hundred kilometres of driving. Everyone told us the roads were so bad that you really had to take the river boat. There were originally four of these floating extravaganzas, each one consisting of up to six barges lashed together pulled by one old and overtaxed power unit. Time and lack of maintenance had taken their toll and there was now only one and no one could tell us when the next one would arrive. There were other smaller barges travelling along the river and one of these would have been nearly as good. The pirogues still come out etc. and the partying sounded just a bit too exciting for me anyway. However there was a general fuel shortage at the moment. It took more fuel to go upstream and so very few boats were going back that way. Kisangani - our destination - was, of course, upstream. Even if a boat had been available Lingala was a very small port and we were a little suspicious of the vehicle boarding arrangements, which involved some small wooden planks of dubious strength. The idea of our Landrover at the bottom of the Zaire river held no appeal so we decided to head on to the larger port at Bumba.

On the way out of town we came across a piece of new tar sealed road. This was the road to Mobutu's summer palace which was on a hill overlooking a wide bend in the river. The palace was nearly complete and had a curving window facing the view. I can think of nowhere more relaxing after a few months of gruelling dictatorship than here. A photograph of this opulent palace, the stunning view and a few of the rude local huts next to the entrance would have made a striking testimonial to the inequities of this part of Africa. Photography of official buildings is discouraged and there were semi-fortified guard posts to remind you of this. These were the only fully complete parts of the palace and were already manned.

When we arrived at Bumba there were already several people here waiting for a boat. The road ahead to Kisangani was supposed to be the worst in Zaire and we would 'have to' use the river boat as we 'just couldn't' drive. There were already several vehicles waiting so we may have to wait a while. One small convoy consisted of some Germans in an overloaded Landrover and couple in a Citroen 2CV panel van! They had been through many adventures and the 2CV Chassis had already broken twice and been welded. They definitely needed to reduce the distance travelled on the Zaire roads and were desperate for a river boat. They had already been waiting nearly two weeks.

The campsite in the courtyard of an old Hotel was thriving. Angela and Terry eventually arrived, having caught a boat from Lingala. They were staying in what was loosely described as a room. It was in appalling condition but, as they pointed out, it's costing less than a British pound a night so they can't really complain. There were real ceramic toilets as well. Unfortunately they had turned a rather dark shade of brown after decades without soap or disinfectant. To expect a flush at the pull of a lever was to enter the realms of fantasy. Flushing was achieved by use of a bucket filled from a small tap outside, which only ran for part of the day and even then poorly. Like many of the once opulent colonial style buildings in Zaire the Hotel was decaying back into the equatorial mud. No attempt was being made to halt its demise, almost as though the locals will be happier when the last traces of possibly the most repressive colonial regime in Africa were washed away.

We stayed here for a few days waiting for a boat. There were several other travellers here and we had a chance to swap books and stories. Many travellers carry books and will gladly swap them. There are probably some books which just move around in one country from traveller to traveller until they wear out. We swapped a Desmond Bagley adventure set in South America for 'A Bend in the River' which was a scathing insight into Zaire in the years after independence. The role of corruption and selfish greed in the country's downward spiral to its present state was particularly well described. It helped us understand why Zaire is how it is.

A man came into the campsite "Do you want to change money, buy diesel?". We hadn't seen anything which even remotely resembled a filling station since the closed and broken one in Gbadolite. It was still another 800 km to Kisangani and, if the roads were as bad as everyone said, our fuel comsumtion would be high. It sounded like a reasonable price, only slightly more expensive than diesel in Europe, so we decided to buy some. He took one of our Jerry cans away and brought them back full. I opened the lid. It looked a bit like diesel, smelled a bit like diesel but there was a scummy mess floating on the top. I glanced up and the truck seemed to be wearing a "Don't you dare put that in my tank" expression behind the bullbars. I decided to only use it as a last resort.

One evening, just before dusk, Fiona had been going over the route ahead with one of the other travellers. She put the map down on the front of the truck and was standing next to it talking as the sun went down. She was still there a few minutes later when I asked her where the map was. She looked around and it had gone. Without the map continuing or even turning back would have been a dangerous and foolhardy prospect and, ironically, it was impossible to get a map of Africa in Africa. We searched for the map to no avail. With a map we felt some control over Africa and our destiny. Without it we were at Africa's mercy. No one had seen it since before dark. There was no wind so it couldn't have blown away. "I saw a man talking with the English traveller", Jurgen said. "I think he's still with him there". The Englishman was indeed talking to an African. "Have you got our map", I asked desperately. He didn't answer. Instead he got up and walked away. I didn't know whether to stop him and search him or let him go. As he walked away he took something out of his pocket as if to see what he had got. "That's it, that's our map". He turned around and I took it from him. "You stole our map!", I said. "No, I did not steal it", He replied, "I thought you didn't want it". From his point of view once something was out of your sight you no longer wanted it. Therefore as soon as it was too dark for us to see the map he could take it.

We were beginning to lose interest with this town. The decaying buildings and the barren shelves in the once thriving shops were depressing. There were no boats moving on the river and there was no reason to believe this situation would change.

A tour truck had passed through a few days before. The Zaire river trip is a 'must do' for many African travellers and the people on the truck were very dissapointed at the thought of missing out on the boat trip. After all what would they tell their friends when they got home! Rather than miss out completely most of the passengers decided to travel to Kisangani by pirogue. Someone arranged for four pirogues to be lashed together, an outboard motor fitted and four 200 Litre drums of fuel. There was also a rumour that a couple of guys on motorbikes had gone with them. Eric and Brian perhaps? Who else would take a motorbike on a pirogue. The truck itself had pressed on overland with a lightened load and perhaps a better chance of success.

It looked less and less likely that any boats would arrive or that they would have enough space for a Landrover when they did. The guys in the Landrover and 2CV discovered that it was possible, for an exorbitant fee, to load the vehicles on to a flat bed railway carriage. This would take them as far as Iziro, a little off the route to Kisangani but they would end up with a shorter distance to travel. The railway was an unbelievably narrow gauge, narrower than the wheels of the 2CV even and the vehicles were a tight fit on the load bed. They had the vehicles at either end of the bed with deck chairs in the middle. The train was suppose to have left in the afternoon, it was now late evening and they were still there. We decided to wait another couple of days before trying to drive to Kisangani.

The next morning Fiona woke first and peered out of the tent. "That's odd", she said, "Cyn and Jurgen left some things outside last night". She knelt down to investigate and her hand went through a neat slice in the side of their tent. Cyn was startled. "Is everything OK", Fiona asked. "Yes, fine", Cyn said. Then, a little later, she said. "No, my pack has gone".

Someone had quietly sliced the tent open with a razor blade and removed the pack, which she was using as a pillow, without waking either of them up. The campsite guards had been right next to the opening and hadn't noticed anything. This was too much for us. We felt for Cyn and Jurgen but had to move on. It could be weeks before the next boat, weeks surrounded by visions of thieves in the dark. We offered to take them to Kisangani but Jurgen was still determined to catch a river boat. Cyn now had nothing to carry her remaining possessions in. Not that she had much left. I had a small day pack in the truck. I had bought this pack over a decade ago and was very attached to it. However the middle of Africa isn't the place for sentimentality and so I lent it to her. The four of us went into the market one last time and Cyn found another shirt to put in the pack. Someone, maybe from her home town, had donated an old cast off shirt to a needy charity to help clothe the poor of Africa. It eventually found its way, along with other bundles of clothes, Czechoslovackian bicycle parts and tins of food labelled 'aid only - not for resale', to a market in Zaire. Here it was sold to a needy American whose own clothes had been stolen by a 'starving' African. We got back to the campsite and it was time to say farewell to some more new friends, although we fully expected to see them again in Kisangani. I didn't expect to see my pack again, the ravages of Africa and subsequent international postage being what they are. It was with surprise and delight nearly a year later when I open a package to find my pack, worn and faded with much evidence of repair but home once more.

The road was very poor and muddy with deep ruts. At one point Fiona was using the Jurgen method of direction and standing in the shallow mud making sure I didn't slip into the ruts. I hesitated for a fraction of a second, worried that she wouldn't get out of the way in time and slipped into the mud. In these conditions there is no forgiveness of a moments indecision and this usually leads to a period of intense digging. This was our first taste of digging in the thick red Zaire mud. After about ten minutes of digging we were back on the road again and managed to travel 200 km before stopping for the night.

At one place there was a truck stuck solidly in the road. It had got stuck several days before when the mud was fresh and damp. Now it was up to its axles in solid clay. The truck wasn't going anywhere anyway as its oil filter had fallen off a few kilometres before. The drivers companions had gone to get another oil filter and some precious oil leaving him to look after the truck. He had been waiting on his own for 4 days already. Fortunately his cargo was bananas, so he wouldn't starve.

That night we stayed outside a hotel in Aketi. We had some beers and chatted happily with the locals. They were listening to some Zaire dance music on the radio in the dimly lit bar. Just before 21:00 hrs they asked if we had a torch. This seemed strange as they had electric light here. At 21:00 exactly the lights went off. The power only ran from 6 till 9 in the morning and 6 till 9 in the evening. Our neon light on the outside of the truck now became a very popular attraction among the locals as well as the inevitable large insects.

A scary bridge
Road and Rail both use this 'bridge'
Even though the roads were bad and needed a lot of low gear work they were nothing like the impenetrable quagmires I had expected. Our main worry seemed to be the frighteningly high fuel consumption. There were a few interesting hazards though. We came to a combined railway/road bridge. This was worth photographing as the railway track looked so narrow. After we took the photos we drove up to the bridge and realised that there were several planks missing. In fact the only way to get across was to take the planks from behind and put them in front of the truck. The planks were very heavy and this was hard work. Most of the planks on the middle of the bridge were still there (which is why it had looked OK from a distance) but all the ones from the other side were missing. The previous vehicle had been coming towards us and they brought them all over to our side. We now had to take them back over again. Fortunately a couple of locals gave us a hand. We gave them some European cigarettes we had bought on the cross-channel ferry. These were filter tips and mild and probably less harmful than the ones they usually smoked so we didn't feel to bad. They seemed to be pleased with them though. It wasn't often European cigarettes got this far into Africa.

We neared our stop for the night at a town called Buta. Shoestring said 'Stay at the Protestant mission about four km out of town. It's run by friendly Norwegians'. After several wrong turnings, due partly to not knowing which direction out of town meant and partly to the road no longer following the old direction, we found the Mission. There were many empty buildings and the Mission had obviously been much larger in the past. It wasn't clear which part of the mission was now in use and we drove around until we noticed an old white lady peering out nervously from a window. This was not looking hopeful. Then we met a young Norwegian woman and showed her the section in 'Shoestring'. "They must mean us but we're not usually here now". She and her husband had recently returned to Norway leaving two old Norwegian ladies and the locals to run the mission. By pure chance she had returned to try and adopt a local child who had been originally brought up at the mission.

Later, when we had just finished eating, a 73 year old Norwegian lady came over to talk to us.
"Are you going to Kisangani", She asked.
"Yes", we replied.
"Can you take some baggage", She asked.
"What sort of baggage?", I said, worried as ever about overloading.
"Me", She replied cheerfully.

She convinced us that we could be in Kisangani in a day if we started at 05:30. I was sceptical but it was too much of a challenge to resist and the next morning saw us on the road half an hour before dawn. The driving was hard because of the time pressure but the road was in slightly better condition than the last two days. I had now abandoned the 'correct' procedure when approaching a muddy hazard of stopping and carefully inspecting the route before driving through. This took too much time, they were all so similar and anyway the locals laughed at us when we did so. The terrible Zaire 'mud holes' were proving to be great fun. I love the slippy feeling of driving through mud. I was humming the Dannekers song and there was a wicked gleam in my eyes as we entered each muddy spot (Mud, Mud, I love mud, I'm absolutely positively wild about mud...). There were more difficult road surfaces, sometimes it looked as though a river had chosen the road as an alternative course and the road bed was now made up of tiny rivulets. Each of these would randomly form and then peter out. With the normal parallel ruts formed by vehicles it was possible to drive carefully with one set of wheels on the crest in the centre. With these this was impossible and your wheels would eventually drop into one of the ruts with a loud crash. By now the truck was making ominous arthritic clicking and creaking sounds. I can't really blame it, I would be too if I was a truck on these roads.

We were making good time and looked set to arrive at Kisangani around nightfall. There had been a slight delay while we drove slowly through some road works. Yes, despite all the evidence to the contrary some road maintenance does go on in Zaire. Well, at least until the grader breaks down and is left to rot in front of some village anyway. Leiv, the missionary, told us there had been two big mud holes more than 5 metres deep here. I was beginning to be sceptical about these monster holes and if I hadn't been told about them by missionary ladies I would have dismissed them as mere travellers tales by now.

Then we reached the ferry in Banalia. According to the sign the ferry runs on the hour every hour and is free. It was however on the other side of the river and there was much confusion about what needed to be done. Some locals told us they needed 10 litres of diesel and our battery for the ferry. I disconnected the battery and handed them the Jerry can of diesel from Bumba. As they disappeared across the river in a pirogue with a can of diesel and a truck battery I began to have a bad feeling about this. They reached the other side and time passed. I could see the ferry through the binoculars. Nothing appeared to be alive on it. To make matters worse my battery and diesel were nowhere to be seen. More time passed. Our missionary friend had met someone who claimed to be the 'Chef de la ferry' and some money changed hands. Still nothing happened. "What is the problem", I asked the Chef.
"They need battery", he said.
"They already have a battery", I replied, getting hot and frustrated in the midday sun.
"They need two battery, two battery", he said.
"Why didn't you say so". I replied

I once more delved under the seat and removed our second battery. This was loaded onto another pirogue and this time the 'Chef' was going across with it. At last, some action. In a fit of paranoia about the other battery and the diesel and in vain hope that I could speed things up a little and because I hadn't been in a pirogue yet, I went across too. The pirogue was leaky and seemed very unstable to me. I have a great distrust of anything which doesn't have an engine, especially if it is very narrow and unstable. Every wave seemed like it was going to tip us in the river. I knew I could swim, it was a safe to assume the battery couldn't. Halfway across I realised I had left my hat on the other side. A completely shaved head and the early afternoon sun don't make a very good combination. I hoped it wouldn't be long before the ferry was ready. With relief and surprise I spotted the other battery and the diesel sitting on the jetty, unattended and still there. In the end the average Zairois is honest and free of guile. The few thieves and other shady characters we came across unfairly coloured our view of the people. The Zairois were not to be hurried however. Someone was sent to get the Captain, who would actually drives the boat, as opposed to the 'Chef' who was in charge. There was also the man who used the dipstick to check the level of diesel, another man who connected the batteries, started the big diesels and blew the whistle to call the Captain (and everyone else within hearing distance) to the ferry and the two other people to operate the cables for the ramp and the steering. There was also another man with an official looking hat whose only role seemed to be to ask us for cigarettes, which he didn't get. When the captain finally arrived (nearly an hour later) he appeared to be either incredibly hung over or extremely drunk. Either way he was holding his head delicately and shading his eyes from the sun.

It was obviously a major event when the ferry actually crossed the river as people from kilometres around appeared for the free crossing (it really was free for ordinary passengers). There were just as many people waiting on the other side to come back. I suspect some people went across and came straight back just for the ride, a bit like the people on the cross channel ferry from Spain.

The diesel engines on the ferry only needed the batteries to start them. So once we reached the other side I could to put the batteries back into the truck and drive tentatively over the two rotten looking ramps which made up the entry ramp onto the ferry. As the ferry crept back across the river I was praying that the scummy black market diesel from Bumba in the ferry's tanks wouldn't give out half way. It was nearly 16:00 by the time we reached the other side, we had been here for three hours. There was no possibility of reaching Kisangani that night and we ended up staying the night at a Kibangist mission. The Kibangists are a Zairois Christian sect and the mission was run by locals. All missions have a guest house, for visiting missionaries and this one was no exception. The guest 'hut' which Leiv the Norwegian stayed in even had an inside toilet, which was a hole in the ground in the same building as the guest rooms. Some of the villagers offered us about ten small uncut diamonds for $20 US. Looking through my hand lens in the light of our neon torch they looked like quite convincing diamonds. Three of them appeared to be free of inclusions and would probably be worth something. However I had never seen a real uncut diamond before and it was dark and as diamond trading is seriously illegal I declined their offer.

All too soon we were in Kisangani. Using the trusty 'Shoestring' map we found the Olympic Hotel remarkably easily. This was probably the only campsite in Kisangani and once again it was the courtyard of a once salubrious hotel. Almost before we drove in we were descended on by hawkers "You want change money, buy diesel, I give you good price". This was Arlit once again. After the relative solitude of the jungle this was once again an unwelcome intrusion. They wouldn't go away until we had changed some money (I think we got a good price). Some of the hawkers had cards with clothing designs on them. They would tailor make a garment for you out of old flour sacks. Even the flies were less persistent than the hawkers. All we wanted to do was relax and talk to the other tourists yet we were constantly fending off local traders. They wouldn't let up about the diesel though. 'Buy diesel, I give you good price, best price". I knew we needed diesel and they knew that we needed diesel, everyone who got this far did. I just didn't want to buy it now, we'd be here a few days anyway. They kept on and on.

"Buy diesel, I give you very best price, 3500 Zaires" (About 0.45 GBP a litre).
"Later, I will buy tomorrow, leave me alone".

"I give you best price..."

All of the hawkers here had little testimonials written on letterhead paper of the various overland tour truck drivers. They all said something like "You can trust ________ to give you the best deal" or "_________ gave me a good deal last year". One of the papers was on Guerba letterhead. It was signed by the man who had given us some advice in England. He hadn't been in Kisangani for over 8 years and hadn't worked for the Guerba for even longer. I can easily imagine the tour truck drivers striking a deal in return for a worthless piece of paper. In 'Shoestring' it says that you can trust 'Eugene' who works for the Belgian. One of the testimonials said "You cannot trust Eugene any more, being in Shoestring went to his head, and he does not get good deals anymore. Trust _________ instead". I decided not to trust any of them on the basis of these papers, which was probably a good idea. After all why should I base my trust on a piece of paper given in return for a deal ten years before.

I could understand the desperation of the hawkers in Kisangani. They were hidden victims of the Gulf conflict, as were other tourist economies around the world. At the peak of the season they would usually expect a tour truck a day to come through here. This was the peak of the season and they were getting less than one a week. This didn't make me feel any better about being constantly followed by cries of "Change money, buy diesel, give you best price".

Eric and Brian were here. They were indeed the motorcyclists on the pirogue trip. Eric had put a fully functioning bike on the Pirogue in Lingala and when he took it off five days later there was a strange grinding sound where the gearbox should have been. They now had the bike in pieces, an empty gearbox sump and no oil suitable for putting in a modern Japanese motorbike. They had made friends with a couple of English girls on the tour truck and persuaded them to carry a drum of fuel for them as the bikes couldn't carry enough fuel to reach the next place with petrol. The tour truck had left the day before so they had to fix the bikes and catch up with the tour truck before they ran out of fuel. The tires they had found in Yaounde had only lasted them a couple of hundred kilometres before they put the original tyres back on. They had tried cutting tread off one set of tyres and using it to replace gaping holes in their current tyres. Their inner tubes were more patch than tube. They had tried scooter tubes, which had exploded, and other things to replace their worn tubes. It was amazing that they had got this far and they still had a long way to go. They didn't seem worried though and that evening they were busily engaged in intimate conversation with another couple of girls at the hotel bar.

There were some other people at this site who had been on the fateful pirogue trip. It sounded like a minor disaster. They travelled for five days and four nights, there was no shelter and it rained every night. They didn't have enough food and were constantly plagued by mosquitos. No one had come rowing out from the villages to sell them food and goods as they were not big enough to be noticed and just about everyone on the trip had caught some disease or other. Manuel (who was very English despite his name) was feeling quite ill and went to the doctor. He told us the results with relish. "I have malaria, amoebic dysentery, giardia and ...", he paused for effect, "... a tapeworm!". He was glad to know something was wrong and that it could be cured and that it would make a good story. I can imagine him telling his grandchildren. "...and ... a tapeworm". "Eeew yuck grandad, tell me more about the crocodiles...".

Strangely it hadn't been his idea to come to Africa. A friend of his inherited some money, rushed out and bought a Landrover, macho winch and all the equipment. He persuaded Manuel and some other friends to travel with him. In the end with the Gulf conflict and other things he found some excuses not to go. Manuel, on the other hand, decided he may as well go anyway. His friend will probably spend the rest of his life hiding his disappointment by saying "and Manuel got a tapeworm, a tapeworm! How horrid. I'm glad I didn't go there now".

Fiona was also by this time quite ill. She had been suffering stomach problems since the ferry from France. She had almost recovered in Cameroun and been OK through C.A.R. Now she was so ill that she could no longer deny it. I was feeling OK but the last few days of driving had really exhausted me. We spent one day hardly moving from the truck. I couldn't even summon up the energy to do the standard checks on the truck.

The next day we had recovered enough to explore parts of Kisangani and bought more meals than we cooked while we were there. In the area around the Hotel there were several eating establishments of varying quality. The menu varied greatly from day to day. One day we had 'Steak' and spaghetti as there were no potatoes to make chips. Even the most expensive cost incredibly little money when converted into familiar currency. Some of the streets were tar sealed and the street lighting didn't go of at 20:00 hrs. Unless the power failed completely that is. There were car showrooms with signs advertising Mercedes and Peugot. The signs were old and there had been no cars behind the broken glass for nearly 20 years. There were also fuel stations with names like 'Esso and Shell' on tall signs. Most of them had not sold fuel for many years. Although there were a couple where you could buy petrol. diesel could only be obtained officially (at 2850 Zaires) from one place in Kisangani and it wasn't a fuel filling station. There was a waiting list and you could only buy it in full 200 litre drums. If we had been completely empty we could carry 185 litres, as it was we only needed about 100 litres. We could either wait to see if another diesel tourist arrived or buy some black market diesel.

Just around the corner from the campsite there was a warehouse selling diesel to the local trucks. The price was cheaper than the hawkers at the hotel and it was much less likely to be doctored with water or kerosene as local truck drivers could come back to complain. This explained why the hawkers were so desperate to get us to buy diesel straight away. As soon as we had walked around the corner we would know the market rate. When we got back to the hotel they dropped their price "and we bring it for you". They'd had their chance and been too greedy. "Maybe tomorrow", I would reply, in the hope that they would go away.

I hoped in vain. I pushed my head through the fly screen to take in the new day, eyes still blurry. There, sitting on a chair beneath the ladder, was a man patiently waiting for the first signs of movement. "Change money, buy diesel". This was the last straw and we decided to leave. Manuel was catching a plane to Goma, to see the mountain Gorillas, so we offered him a lift to the Airport. Angela and Terry arrived just as we were about to leave. They looked exhausted after five days on the open deck of a boat. If they hadn't managed to put their tent up on deck they would have had no shelter at all. Booking passage on the boat was a long drawn out process requiring amounts of money to be handed to an unending list of officials. Cyn and Jurgen had not made it. They were both feeling ill and the effort of booking passage was too great so they decided to wait for another boat.

We told Angela and Terry the best restaurants and the current exchange rate, much to the chagrin of the hawkers. "You cannot tell the tourists these things, you ruin our business", they said. "These are my friends I will tell them what I bloody well like. I'm not going to let you rip them off if I can help it". With that we left the Olympic Hotel, pausing to buy diesel from round the corner. They used old lever operated pumps with a tube leading to a 200 litre unlabelled barrel. A few weeks after our return to 'civilisation' we went to a museum where they had exactly the same type of pump as an exhibit of how hard life used to be. The road from Kisangani to the airport had some vestigial tar and was not to bad. We did well over 200 km that day and found a beautiful secluded campsite in a road side scrape surrounded by lush jungle. I was beginning to wonder what all the fuss was about. We were nearly out of Zaire, the roads were fine and we'd only got stuck once.