In a trend that will no doubt continue for the rest of the month, I got up at 5am only to find that there was no transport to the Congo border until much later. At about 7am, I hopped into a shared taxi, which was apparently heading to the frontier, but spent an hour driving errands around town and then kicked me out – he wasn’t going to the border after all.
I waited by the side of the road for an age before a bush taxi finally turned up. Squished in (as always), it would be 10am before we actually headed towards Congo, only 50km away. Three separate border stamps to get out in three separate offices. A combination of bureaucracy and a bad (well, non-existent) road conspired for it to take HOURS to get to the border.
At the final checkpoint before I escaped Gabon, and after I got the fright of my LIFE as the BIGGEST SPIDER I have ever seen scurried inches from my hand, I got chatting to a Spanish guy who was crossing the other way. Javier worked for Medicins Sans Frontiers and at the end of his latest stint, he had decided to ride his motorbike all the way from South Africa to Spain.
The Gabonese customs guy was giving him a hard time, saying that the border was closed because of last week’s election. Javier was quite used to this transparent horseplay and, like me, had no intention of giving these damn chancers a rotten penny.
It was great meeting Javier at the border. It felt like I had met a kindred spirit – someone else who had been through the emotional gambit that is overland travel in Africa and somebody who still had a long way to go. We were meeting half-way, one going up and the other coming down.
We swapped good road/bad road and visa obtaining advice – worryingly, Javier had originally wanted to travel up through Angola, but just couldn’t get a visa. Apparently, they’re as rare as chicken teeth and unfortunately for me, my Angolan visa expired the previous month. Then, after the border guards had checked through my bags and discovered that they stood no chance of obtaining a bribe, we said our farewells and headed out in our respective directions.
Once I had finally cleared the border shenanigans on the Congo side, I hopped a motorbike to the first town over the border, arriving at about 3pm, and hopeful of getting some kind of bush taxi down to Dolisie that day.
Ha! No chance. There would be transport tomorrow morning at dawn. It had taken me an entire day to go 50km.
You know I said yesterday that I was in a one-horse town? I’m sorry. THIS was a one-horse town. With nowhere to buy hot food, I had to make do with a fly-covered stick of bread and a five-year old tin of sardines. I managed to find a room for the night around the back of the general store; it was pretty basic but the gas lamp (the electricity supply got cut off at night) gave it a little bit of old world charm. Plus the smell reminded me of happy days caravaning, scouting and playing MacGuyver in the field over the road with our Alex. Powerful thing, smell.
I settled down in the only bar within which, I was the only customer and I wrote and drank and drank and wrote.
Whilst I beavered away, the helpful owner of the bar set up his home-made speaker system and put his favourite African-warbling-and-Casio-keyboard CD on MAXIMUM DANGER OVERLOAD setting. The result of which – like ALL amplified music in Africa – was that it was distorted to hell, which to a music affectionado like me, is the equivalent of fingernails down a chalkboard. Or water torture. I stuffed my one working iPod headphone in my lughole and turned it up as loud as Steve Job’s lawyers will allow.