Sunday, June 29, 2008


I know people thought we were crazy, but did you honestly believe that we would NOT go to somewhere like Zimbabwe, even though it is having so many problems these days? Dad already mentioned Victoria Falls, and that of course was the draw. We could've gone to see the falls from Zambia but it just wouldn't do for us, Zimbabwe has the best views. It also has the cheapest visas. Zambia is now charging Americans and Brits $135 and $140 respectively for single entry visas. Zimbabwe is much more reasonable at $30 (although it is $65 for Canadians, the highest of all nationalities again, so I switched passports haha), obtainable at the border. I was a little worried with all the political problems of late because they might've been tempted to just refuse us entry. They have been kicking out foreign journalists recently. In the end, the falls were beautiful and very impressive though there is so much spray coming off them right now (the water level is so high at present, maybe 70% or so) that you can't actually see the entire falls with a clear view. I liked it anyway. We stayed just 2 days, long enough to see the falls and then run away the way we'd come.
As for the political problems these days, well, I'm sure you've heard about it on the news. Mugabe, the president is no new face or name to the world. He's been in power since 1980 and intends to die with it too I guess. Most recently (the end of March) he lost the first round of elections but refused to release the vote count or recognize the results, forcing a second election just last week (a few days after we left). This is not the first time such a thing has happened, previous elections have been heavily criticized as being unfair. Since this past march there has been escalating violence and while we were there the opposition leader actually pulled out of the election to try to stop the violence.
Actually for us it was a bit strange because Victoria Falls (the town itself) is rather small and touristic (though largely without tourists these days) so doesn't openly have the problems that you hear about in the news. We felt quite safe but watching the news in the morning over breakfast we would hear how the country was falling apart with riots and violence in the larger cities. We would never've guessed actually. There were a number of other travellers and expats living in Vic Falls and through them I learned that the locals have actually been beaten and are forced to attend what amounts to propaganda meetings in the evenings. Where we were staying in the hostel, we wouldn't've known anything was going on although there are plenty of predictions that due to their heavy support of the opposition they will ultimately be shut down. Thus far being white owned has protected them and the black staff have been on the receiving end of the police harassment.
The more interesting problem and the most relevant to short-term tourists like ourselves is the economic crisis that accompanies all this political mess. The US and many western countries have long had sanctions on Zimbabwe in retaliation for these bad elections to punish Mugabe and he has dealt with it poorly (interestingly enough, I have also heard that it is actually long-term punishment for Zimbabwe's interference in the DRC, opposing the US-sponsored Rwandan and Ugandan armies in that conflict).
Zimbabwe is currently the world's inflation disaster case with inflation rates of over 1000% for the last couple of years. Do you have any idea what this does to a country? Oh man, talk about a mess. We had a little idea from talking to people that had been there previously and also having talked to people in Serbia about their disaster in the 90's. Right now the exchange rate on the street is 7000000000 Zim dollars to $1US. That's 7 billion to 1 (actually it's probably 10 now)! The money is worthless and everyone wants foreign currency. All those $1US notes that we've been carrying for ages (nobody anywhere else in Africa other than Liberia will take them) suddenly become very valuable. That is both a good thing and a bad from our perspective. They'll take other hard currencies but if you check them all, the $1US note is the smallest value note so everything costs a minimum of that amount. Not a good deal for a postcard. On the other hand, the touts (who may actually be some of the friendliest and nicest touts I've ever seen in a really touristic area. I was very surprised.) are so desperate for money that they will drop prices down quite a bit and you can get pretty good deals on souvenirs if you bargain as usual. The shops have very little in them and are often closed or running with no power. Fuel can only be bought on the black market (we didn't need any) and although camping is cheap, food is very expensive because they have a serious shortage. The touts wanted to "sell" their goods for old clothing and repeatedly asked me for old shirts, towels, socks and especially my sandals. My sandals are literally falling apart and they still would've taken them. I've seen a lot of poverty but I think that is a first.
We paid for everything in USD but couldn't resist the temptation to become billionaires so traded a little money for some of theirs. Their bills come with expiry dates about a year after issue and when questioned about this the people just said "don't worry about that, it'll be worthless well before that day comes". The largest bill is 50 billion and they use as little as 500 million still, though it is already effectively worthless too. A quick look around and we managed to find the full series of bills all the way down to a 1 Zimbabwean dollar note. It expired 2007!
Overall I'd have to say that once again I was pleasantly surprised to find people friendly and smiling against the odds in a country with so many problems. Of course we left before anything really bad could happen to us and didn't go further into the country, mostly because of fuel issues, and after seeing the falls simply backtracked to Botswana on the same road we came in. On the way out we were stopped at 2 police checks and had a brief reminder of our time coming through central Africa. The 2nd check was only 1km from the border and the guy tried to get us to pay up on a car safety violation that only applies to trucks (I think). As usual we got away in the end without too much hassle. The border was surprisingly easy both in and out. I haven't been able to catch the news for the last week other than I know that Mugabe has automatically won the election held a few days ago. Hopefully some day soon they'll pull themselves out of these hard times.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Victoria Falls

Hey there, African Greetings, Graduates' Congratulations and Happy Summer Solstice (or Winter...depending on the Hemisphere),

As many of you know, Victoria Falls is not on Vancouver Island near the capital of British Columbia. So where is it? And in which Southern African country? As with Niagara Falls, it's actually between two countries...Zimbabwe and Zambia on the raging Zambezi River. Like each member of our family, the renown African explorer/traveler David Livingston kept a journal. In an 1855 entry describing the falls he writes, "on sights as beautiful as this, ANGELS in their flight must have gazed." Although he named the falls after the Queen of England, they are also known locally as "The Smoke that Thunders!" It is said that 50km away the spray can be seen on a clear day...such was the case today when we visited one of the natural wonders of the world! It truly is Spectacular!!! If you have been to Niagara Falls on the USA/Canada border the following may help describe it. Victoria Falls is 1.7km wide (Niagara is 1km) and 108m high (Niagara is 58m) with an annual average flow of 1 million litres per SECOND, (March to May, at it's peak, the flow can be 9 times higher). Here in June, the flow is still extremely massive.

We're staying in the small tourist town of Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe where US $1.00 is worth about...yes, you are reading this correctly... 7 billion Zimbabwean dollars!!! (Due, of course, to the world news-breaking political chaos occurring here as I write). The currency is really eye-catching and even heart-stopping...all those 0's...the largest note, I've been told, is 50 billion ($50,000,000,000). That's worth about US $7.00 !!! Ever been a Billionaire?

This morning, while walking to the falls, we were first "inundated" by a pack of rowdy Baboons in the middle of town, some wanting anything we carried. Later, we descended a slippery stone staircase to view the west side of the falls from below, close to the crushing roar of the water and spray. We worked our way east along the edge of the Zimbabwe cliffs opposite the falls where it was frequently like walking through a very fine-spray rainfall on a clear, very sunny day that completely soaked us. I was hoping, when exiting the main gate, we wouldn't be charged extra for what seemed to me as if I'd received a rinse cycle on laundry day since we were so thoroughly drenched. Keeping the cameras dry and functioning was a challenge as we took so many photos of this amazing area. Down river, we crossed the bridge leading into Zambia from which one can find more postcard views of the falls. This bridge has a narrow two-lane road, a railroad track, and one of the highest (111m) Bungy Jump in the world. I'm told only the highest jump (in South Africa) will do so we passed on the jumping today.

Back in Windhoek, Namibia, three new members joined our group. They are Wes and Mo, long-time, close friends of Kees, from Holland and England respectively, and Mo's friend Emma, also from England. Wes is a scuba diving instructing computer whiz who's quick on the draw with his SRL digital Canon camera while Mo and Emma somehow can manage to laugh and enjoy life 24/7. Mo also dropped his former life, sold everything, and travels with an indefinite return date. Their addition to the group has brought lotsa laughs and they've done well putting up with us and it's a pleasure to get to know them and share these life-long memories together.

I'm also told that towards the end of July there's a great opportunity for an adventurer to join us...even for a short while. It may be exactly what you need!?! Perhaps we could share a relaxing, quiet time, sitting in a bamboo or banana grove together enjoying the deep blue sky peeking through lush green branches of mango trees and swaying fronds of coconut palms. Sometimes, there really is a wee bit of heaven on earth....

As usual we appreciate the blog readers and due to technology, some of you more regular followers are known. Consider joining us...the invitation is open.

The best to you and yours,


PS. Oh, Happy Belated you!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Caprivi Strip

I always thought I'd be leaving Namibia with memories very different from the ones I actually have. It's a country I'd always wanted to go to and considering it's low population density and great desert scenery are definitely my kind of thing. In the end, we didn't really see much at all and my overriding memory is of waiting for truck repairs..... We ended up staying in Windhoek a full 2 weeks and in that time there were at least 4 robberies (or attempts) at knife point within a couple minutes of our hostel that happened either to people staying there or to locals whose screaming actually woke us up in the night. Lovely place..... Actually, we could've gone crazy waiting around that long but it was nice to kick back and read again and the last week saw the beginning of the Euro Cup so Kerry and I got the football fever. Leaving Windhoek we lost Kerry finally too. We did keep Bre, though we promised her to meet up with Ben and the others at some point again. It IS possible...
With a full group of 9 crazy travellers in a single "repaired" truck, we took off northeast into the Caprivi strip region of Namibia. We are no longer in a rush so don't drive like maniacs and take a lot more stops now too. It's nice but I am still used to getting up and going in a hurry so the slow pace is a little frustrating at times. On the way up to the strip we stopped to see the world's largest meteorite. It's 3m by 1m but 80% iron so is shiny and somehow weighs over 50 tons.
I didn't really notice it before because when we first entered Namibia the whole thing seemed so developed and civilized, but the northern part of the country is fenced off from the lower part allowing the people in the north to live a more traditional way of life, while the lower can fence itself off for the ubiquitous cattle ranches and farms. When we crossed it and got back into the north it really did feel like going back to "real Africa" and once again there were mud huts, little villages and traditionally dressed and obviously poor people.
We took a few days getting through to the end of the strip, camping at lodges right on the banks of the Okavango and then Zambezi rivers. On the Okavango river near Popa falls we could hear and see hippos and lots of birds and even went for a quick boat ride to get up a little closer. The Caprivi strip is just a politically odd, narrow strip of land that sticks off the northeast side of Namibia, ruining its otherwise squarish shape. The narrowest part of the strip is actually a 190 km of protected game park but we only saw a few small deer :(.
We made it to 2km before the Botswanan border when we were stopped by a tour group truck stuck in the sand. We did our nice guy bit, tried to pull them out and after about 1 minute of that broke the bolts on the gearbox underneath the truck and couldn't go anywhere ourselves. Grrr... It seems the guys in Windhoek gave us the wrong kind of bolts so a few angry phone calls and 4 1/2hrs later we were backtracking to Katima Mulilo where we spent the next 2 days waiting for the truck to get fixed yet again :(
Finally got out of Namibia today. At the end of the Caprivi strip is the only 4 country corners point in the world, with Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana all coming together. We drove into and straight through Botswana (we had to transit a short stretch of Chobe National Park, with the densest population of elephants in the world) and saw a large group of elephants just outside of the town Kasane rather than in the park itself. We crossed Botswana as quickly as possible (we'll be back) and entered Zimbabwe as far as Victoria Falls town. We will see Vic Falls tomorrow and then probably head back to Botswana.
I'll have more on that later but gotta run now. Internet is still hard to come by or crazy expensive here.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Etosha and Windhoek

As I said before, entering Namibia was like returning to the first world again. It was a huge thing for us to finally see good tarmac, ATMs and credit cards accepted everywhere and supermarkets with food we recognize at a reasonable price. And English. We definitely like it when the population speaks English.
We were still a long way from anywhere and the trucks were still limping along so we stopped in the first real town, Ondangwa (Namibia has some of the wildest town names in the world I think). We made a point taking the day off and although we were all allowed to sleep in, we were still all pretty much awake and moving around by 6am. We spent the morning and early afternoon on vehicle repairs and cleaning the worst of the dust out of everything, though it quickly became obvious that that was going to be a multi-day job. Even the tins of food, buried in the most obscure places were completely covered in very fine dust. We spent that night just outside Etosha National Park and the following day decided to enter.
Etosha National Park is one of the major southern African parks for viewing wildlife and is becoming increasingly popular as it's fees are significantly lower than of parks in neighbouring countries. It is possible to see giraffes, zebras, oryx, wildebeests, elephants, rhinos, lions and other antelope species. Ben and Patrick (along with their groups) decided to spend two nights camping in the park while we spent only the day. The reason for this was that Kees' dog Bindhi is not allowed in the National Parks. Of course the signs say to leave pets at home but we can't do that. I know it is bad and we deserve some criticism for endangering wild populations with disease, but we didn't have a lot of choice. We kept her in the truck and transited through the park (the long way for maximum viewing) because it is actually a shortcut to Windhoek.
We were able to see lots of zebra, giraffes, and other ungulated quadrupeds but only one elephant, and no lions or rhinos. We really didn't have enough time for a proper look though we spent the whole day there (it is open from sunrise to sunset). It is nice to see wildlife again but based on my travels so far in Africa, the parks are more like huge zoos and the animals don't really live in the wild anymore. I hope that isn't true for the rest of the continent. We did see wild warthogs on the side of the road during our drive to Windhoek though.
Namibia is a desert country and has one of the world's lowest population densities. It is almost always sunny but right now the nights are cold since we are fully into their winter. The worst part of that is that the sun sets at about 5:30pm.
There are lots of ranches and farms so the land is mostly fenced off along the road and very open. It has been very pretty so far but we really haven't seen much.
Windhoek is a quiet and very organized city of only 250,000 or so. It has a German style to it since Namibia was originally a German colony until South Africa took over after WWI. Namibia didn't gain independence until 1989 and for some reason, despite Germany losing it so long ago, there are a lot of German families still here and quite a bit of the language.
There are lots of volunteers and travellers and because it is difficult to get around by public transport, everyone either joins a tour or rents a car to see the country. We are currently camping in a hostel in Windhoek and enjoying being able to chat with people again. It is strange to think that it is so developed here but at the same time we now have to worry about street crime and racism more because it is a touristic country and close to South Africa. We have heard a few stories but not had any trouble ourselves.
We rushed to Windhoek ahead of the others so we could get a jump on getting the truck fixed and because Kees has two friends that will join him from here. Bre had stayed with Ben in Etosha (they saw rhino and lions) and after two nights in Windhoek our group was officially disbanded and Ben and Patrick (along with Alex, James and Sarah) left for S. Africa. It was a teary farewell. Kerry is here getting his passport renewed and will then go his own way too. We will continue to travel with Kees (and his friends) as long as possible. On our last night together we went out to eat at Joe's Beer House, a place famous in Africa for us carnivorous types. We ate zebra, oryx, springbok, ostrich, kudu and crocodile and it was delicious. I was so stuffed I swear it took 2 days to digest.
The retarded news is that the truck is more mangled than we thought and although Kees found a good garage to get it fixed, we will be here for probably another week before it is finished. Kees' friend has just arrived from Holland so the new group is now complete but we have yet to decide what we will be doing in the immediate future. His friend only has 3 weeks here so we have to pack some stuff in for him somehow.

Monday, June 02, 2008

More photos

There are now more photos posted on the photoalbum. In addition to the new folders there are new pictures also for Nigeria, Cameroon and Gabon.
We are currently in Windhoek, Namibia trying to get organized for southern Africa and saying goodbye as the group will split up tomorrow with Ben, Alex, Patrick, Sarah and James leaving for S. Africa in their 2 vehicles.

The Angola Blitz

I wish I'd had more time in Angola. It is visually stunning and easily one of the most beautiful countries in Africa as most people who've been there will agree. But with a 5 day transit visa only, Angola becomes a driving blitz from hell. From north to south it is over 2000km of roads, most of which are in a total state of decay and full of potholes. We were worried about the truck actually making it since the cumulative effects of the journey have not favoured it thus far. There was also worry about huge fines on the other end if we overstayed our visa since we haven't heard of anyone actually making it across the country in only 5 days. Some have been busted but most haven’t and it’s also been generally accepted that extensions are impossible to get, so in the end we just decided to haul through as fast as we could. It was rough.
Angola has also had a decades long civil war that ended only a couple of years ago and since then the country has only seen a handful of tourists pass through. Banditry concerns have dropped dramatically but the risk of land mines has not, and the destroyed roads and non-existent tourist infrastructure also make it a challenge. Angola is the only country other than Afghanistan where we saw destroyed tanks left sitting in the fields. We also had to switch from French to Portuguese (which none of us speak).
The good news was that the people were friendly and we didn’t run into any major difficulties. Thanks to the Chinese (who are rebuilding all the roads, not only in Angola but all over central Africa) there were even stretches of good tarmac and we made it in the 5 days. It involved long days of driving and a lot of stress but to us it felt like we’d done the impossible and the sense of relief and accomplishment was huge when we finally got across the border. Now for a play by play......
We had an early start (6:30am) from Matadi and surprisingly had no trouble at all crossing the border into Angola. The moneychangers were the only ones in the world that I’ve seen that actually rounded up the change in your favour during exchanges and the Angolan border guards ended up changing our dollars at a very favourable rate too. DRC and Angola are still in dollar mode and want only US dollars for exchange. They don’t like Euros at all which was a problem for us as we were very low on dollars as a group by that point.
The first day saw us travelling past baobab trees and funky cactus trees with tall stems and what looks like a normal cactus sticking out on top like a palm tree. The villages were large with huge spaces between homes on either side of the road. It seemed like the people were afraid of vehicles because they really moved off the road when they saw us coming. The red earth and baobabs reminded me of parts of Mali. The road was horrible but we were determined to make good time so trashed the truck and ourselves on the bumpy dirt roads. We had to stop for police in M’banza Congo while waiting for Ben to catch up (he had a flat tire) and just by stopping in the town we attracted a huge set of onlookers which quickly surrounded us. They were all nice but very curious and we haven’t attracted that kind of attention in a long, long time. Later that evening just at sunset we were stopped by some more police in Nzeto that were completely and totally drunk. We tolerated them for a little bit not sure what to do but the locals just told us to run so we just drove off in mid-sentence and hoped they didn’t have any guns.... We bush camped that night on a secluded beach with the sound of big crashing waves and crabs with coke can sized bodies running underfoot.
The following day we had even worse roads but made it to Luanda, the capital. It is more American than European in style with skyscrapers and a huge port but also has a Portuguese fort overlooking the harbour. We camped in the parking lot of the yacht club and had a nice view of the city from across the harbour. Angola is a major oil exporting nation (diesel is less than $0.50/L) so has lots of money to invest in its rebuilding if it wants to. Angola is set to host the next Africa Cup in 2010 so there is tons of reconstruction being done on the outskirts of town and on roads all over the country. It was decided that we would have to try a little harder if we were going to make it in 5 days so the following morning we were up at 4am and on the road by 5am. Before that our schedule for weeks had been fairly consistent at a 6-7am departure and drive until just before sunset ~6pm and bed between 8 and 9pm. That day we managed 600km in only 13hrs when the sun finally set. Thanks to the Chinese we considered that to be an excellent day. Most of the road was good though there was a lot of construction and little dusty detours and we were absolutely covered in dust from the trucks ahead of us by the end. We'd climbed up onto the central plateau of Angola which is roughly 5000ft. We’d left the overcast coast and moved into open grasslands and a big, blue sky with small mountains around us that apparently characterizes much of southern Africa. It is a beautiful sight. We bush camped outside Huambo. Huambo is a major provincial capital but was completely destroyed in the civil war so there are lots of damaged buildings and destroyed tanks in the area. After freezing all night (we were nowhere near the high 30’s we were used to) we left again at 5am for another full day of driving.
The road was destroyed tarmac with huge potholes and extremely tedious and slow driving. We made 100km after 4 hours or so and realized we were going to have a problem. The road is so bad that all the cars have created new dirt roads alongside and only the cattle and goatherds use the real road anymore. After an agonizingly slow, painful and long day that saw us break a window and snap the big hook off the winch (yes, it was that rough) we bush camped again, well after dark, just outside Lubango.
The final day we managed to cover the last 400km in decent time on a mix of graded and corrugated gravel/dirt road after yet another early start. The landscape had flattened out on the plateau and become much drier to woodland savanna. We have definitely and sadly left the tropics. The most depressing part about the tropics and route really was the lack of wildlife. There were so many times we looked out the window and thought “where are the animals?”. Wars have destroyed them all through land mines, habitat destruction and hungry displaced people. Angola actually had birds but for the most part through central Africa we saw nothing but the bugs and an occasional animal held up for sale as bush meat alongside the road from Cameroon through Gabon, the Congos, and Angola. Actually make that all of Africa so far......
The border was somewhat chaotic on the Angolan side but again we had no problems. The Namibian side might as well be home. We are no longer in "Africa" and as soon as we crossed we figuratively popped the cork on the champagne to celebrate the end of an overland journey. From here on it is possible to continue without any driving challenges and stick to tarmac the whole way and every country is well touristed and set up for travellers. Of course we'll find ways to make it interesting.....


Congo had been nice, but our departure definitely showed just how big a mess the country really is. First we had to wait 5 days in Brazzaville for the vehicle ferry to cross the river to Kinshasa in the DRC. On the day of our departure we had to wait in the loading area for a while waiting for the boat and in that time we could see the worst official brutality we've ever seen in any country. There were tons of police in the port area, with many different types of uniforms (and power most likely), but what they all had in common was some sort of weapon (stick, whip, belt) and a sadistic desire to hit people with it. It was truly disgusting. They just stood along the unloading corridors or roaming the dirty street hitting people at random. We never could figure out why, other than for crowd control and for instilling fear in the population so people would keep moving quickly. They spared no one. Women holding children, young girls, the old, and even the blind, who are used as porters (which amounts to little more than just pack horses being led around by a minder) were beaten. We saw guys get singled out and have their shirts ripped off while being thrown against walls. We were lucky we were hiding in our vehicles, though it was hard for a few members of our group to just sit by and watch all this going on. Of course there is nothing we could do anyway. We did see one well-dressed local guy tell off one of the cops and the cop actually backed down after threatening, no doubt because the rule one the street out here is that the richest man wins and since the local was well dressed, he may be someone of influence and therefore untouchable. There were plenty of others to beat down anyway. In the end, after all the days of waiting and all the chaos at the port, the ferry left with only 3 trucks besides ours, well under half full. We were happy to leave Brazzaville, though I must admit that we were extremely lucky with the place we'd been staying. Olivier, the French manager of the hotel is the nicest guy ever and let us stay for 6 nights free, letting us camp in the rec room (so we played lots of pool), use the internet free and even gave mom a room and birthday cake for her birthday, A huge thanks to him.
The Democratic Republic of Congo is the scariest destination of the route after Nigeria and one none of us was looking forward to at all. We'd hoped to pass through as quickly as possible as there is very little you can do anyway without getting yourself into trouble. Kinshasa, the capital is directly opposite the river from Brazzaville and is one of the biggest and most dangerous cities in Africa. People are routinely refused entry even when in possession of a valid visa and it is still technically undergoing a civil war, though that is in the east of the country. The Congo river was not as wide as I was expecting and we were lucky enough to have a nice crew and guards on the ferry in that they let us take photos of the river and cities while sailing. The river is considered a strategic point and photos are not normally allowed. Indeed, any photos in the DRC can get you in big trouble. I have heard a few stories of people being arrested for taking photos in public, even when they had permission from the people they were photographing! Thus, every photo we have of the DRC was snuck from deep in the car or some other way to avoid any notice. Even then it was difficult and most didn't turn out very well. During the crossing I remember thinking that the Congos both had had civil wars recently and I was between them, but it would've been strange it they'd been at war with each other and just shelling each other's capital from across the river. Kinshasa had by far the bigger skyline and more visible signs of wealth from where I was standing.
Our goal had been to get through the border as fast as possible and get out of Kinshasa immediately and get somewhere safer to stay. It just never happens that way though, The DRC port was much more organized in that the people were all forced to funnel through caged off walkways down to the boats so we didn't see as many people milling about or getting beaten directly in the customs area. Kees decided to act as the official translator and spent about 4 hours with immigration getting our passports stamped. The rest of us were lucky we didn't have to deal with it as Kees' stories were not pleasant. Of course the officials stall and delay looking for any excuse to deny you or extract a "fine". In the end, Kerry had to pay one because he was trying to switch from a Hong Kong to a British passport (a dumb idea at this particular border post if you ask me) and they told him he was going to have to go back to Congo. Of course he can't go back so Kees just flat out asked if he could pay for a stamp to get in. The official, apparently acted shocked and said "such a thing is impossible because that would be illegal, however, if he would like to pay a fine, something can be done". These people never cease to amaze me..... While all that was going on Ben and Patrick had to deal with some health and safety guys that wanted to charge an outrageous amount to sanitize the cars. In the end they managed to talk that one down by saying they would do it themselves with their own cleaner. The officials speak French so obviously couldn't read Patrick's big fancy bottle of pink hand sanitizing wash, so it was approved and they sprayed a little on the tires and were done. What a joke. We heard that the couple that came the day after us (we keep running into them every few days at the bottlenecks in the route) just ran through without even bothering. After 5 hours on the DRC side and a couple hours (and a few days) getting through on the Congo side, we were finally released into the wild of Kinshasa just before sunset, forcing us to spend a night there. I'm not sure what I was expecting exactly but from the stories people tell each other, we were sort of expecting something akin to having to roll up the windows, lock the doors, and drive through the city as fast as possible while local mobs armed to the teeth jumped all over us; basically apocalypse incarnate. In Brazzaville we'd also met a Belgian couple that had driven though from Zambia (that is the ultimate hardcore trip ever and took them 2 months) and they said the DRC was the most corrupt and unfriendly country ever, so that didn't boost our confidence much either. While it wasn't quite the apocalypse, in a lot of ways it wasn't too far off. It is very dirty and partly destroyed (not the worst I've seen though) but there is a huge police and military presence and in the centre everything is surrounded by high walls and lots of barbed wire. Wire on top of the wall and often at the base as well. The people are surprisingly well dressed but you can tell that this is not a happy place. Overall there weren't as many people on the streets as we expected and they didn't take much notice of us either really.
We were lucky in having a policeman guide us to the fancy Grand Hotel as a place to stay. We couldn't've picked a worse night really because it was the first night of a big international conference so the place was full of security and the parking lot full of cars from the UN, WTO, and international leaders. You can imagine they weren't too impressed to see us bums roll in begging to sleep in the parking lot that night. In the end, because it was Kinshasa, Ben had to splurge on a room and the rest of us were allowed to set up camp in the far end of the far lot where security could watch over us. We left early the next morning for the 7 hour drive to Matadi. No problem there and surprisingly no police check posts, just lots of freight trucks on a narrow winding road (still no jungle, just hilly grassland) and a flat tire due to overheating. Matadi is now the only place on the south-bound route to get an Angolan visa but the officials at the consulate were the biggest power-tripping bastards of all time. I think they dragged their feet extra slow just for us because we had tried to get a full tourist visa through 2 other embassies which had contacted them. They weren't about to budge though and we only got a 5 day transit visa, just like everyone else, except we got it a little slower so had to wait around the entire day (8:30 to 5pm) and get yelled at at the end about how we were taking all of their time. Ah, the fun of African bureaucracy.
We had to spend 2 nights in Matadi. It wasn't too bad, a relatively friendly hilly city but really I can't say I was overly impressed with the DRC or it's people and can’t imagine going back any time soon. The villages we passed often seemed less than enthusiastic and happiness is in short supply generally. On our way out of the DRC Kees once again proved just how crazy he is. At the turn off for the dirt road to the border there was a boy selling a monkey in a cage, the only monkey we’ve seen in ages. To cut the story short, there was a point where I was standing outside on the road talking to Patrick when I see Kees come driving down the road holding the monkey cage out the window and half the village chasing after him. He didn’t bother to stop and pick me up so I could only hope the people weren’t out for blood with me standing out in the open. I guess the animal cruelty and Savannah’s encouragement got to Kees because he temporarily stole the monkey and made the guy chase him for a while to get it back but the locals were actually laughing pretty hard while running after him so it ended up ok.