I assume for majority when someone say Congo it fast translated to huge land mass of equatorial forest, with the deadliest conflict since World War II, leaving 5.7million people dead (most of death are not related with fighting). Well, there is Republic of the Congo also known as Congo Brazzaville the different is size and progress.
I cross into Congo cycling from southern east of Cameroon.This small country, the former Marxist country doesn’t make lot of headline though it also had it share of political crises. The attempt of transition from communist single part to mult parties democracy lead to civil war which lasted for about 4 years. Just like it big brother Republic of the Congo is wealthy; oil and many untapped minerals.
I started what was supposed to be ‘pygmies trail’ from the Cameroon president town of Sangmelima (I now fancy with African presidents home towns or villages because they always has good infrastructure good for few days cycling, the down side people and especial authorities tend to be too superior). The trail, I think is half ‘Cocoa trail’ for about 250-300km are small scale Cocoa fields mixed in the tropical forest. I think the project which bare so many sign boards of UNDP, Japan and Cameroon government consider environment protection as there are minimum clearance of forest for plantations. From Sangmelima the villages and small towns seem to be well off, often mud house and occasion cement bricks are roofed with corrugated iron. There are water pumps and schools in most of villages. I think part of this progress brought by profitable cacao farming which based in the house hold and the ‘blessing of civilization’ which demonstrated by good numbers of the churches dating 1900’s.
At Djoum the under construction tarmac road come to un end as well as the progress and ‘civilization’. A long day of rain and sticking red mud which clog in the wheels brought me to what will be last big town in the Cameroon jungle, Mintom. This seem to be the recent frontier of pygmies who are fleeing from modernity. The town is most habited with northern who are here for economic activities such as; logging, constructions, mining, etc. I made a friendship with forest inspector here try to get information about logging, apparently he couldn’t tell me the name of the hard woods although he is trained officers. But he told me that most of the woods here are coming from Republic of the Congo and CAR. We discus broadly about the logging with its ecological distraction, economic profits, etc. I told him that part of my endeavour is to sensitize about this issue, he said that is impossible task. Well I couldn’t disagree with him due to his experience. At last he promise to play his roll and save the rain forest, we agreed that we should straggle more to find more the technologies and modal of development which will protect this environment.
Cycling in this forest is quite pleasant and rewarding especial when it is dry and before it become 31 Celsius . The road is rolling across small creeks and the only narrow path of red earth meander into vast jungle. The forest is always calm just dominated with sweet chanting of birds, backing monkeys, this rhythm is occasional interrupted with logging tracks and chain saws. Pedaling into this forest bring perpetual emotion of good feelings and strength. The vast lush green forest with it streams unlike immense deserts I cycle through bring sense of hope and it pleasant to observe. Because of tall trees I couldn’t see the sun set but just watching the clouds changing colors, I just imagine how beautiful it would be. The nights were absolute dark when the full bright moon covered with heavy clouds. Insects, frogs, bats, etc of all strange callings dominate the nights.
I was luck to camp with pygmies in their encampment which are still in the dense part of conserved forest, Ngoyo-Mintom. This encampments are no much different from those one of San people in the Kalahari and Savanna of Tanzania. They are simple shelter made of sticks and palm or banana leaves. There always just few which are shared with the whole community for sleeping, pre-proses their huntings and gathered food. There were little timid expression in first encounter but disappeared after a while. In my encounter of those who still live in the isolated areas, there were few who understand some words of French but not real for conversation. I find out just like my experience with ‘Bush Mens’ there is great sense of simplicity among pygmies, they will wonder a bit about my bike, tent and cocking gears and that it. There were no compilation when I ask to camp contrary to other places where they will ask first to see immigration offices, police station, and gendarme. The pygmies I stayed with some are working in small fields owned by some folks who lived in the urban. There is good number of pygmies who enter marry with bantu groups such as Fung, go to school and full embrace the modernity while other still move and wonder into the forest live on and as the Mother Nature decide.
In the small town I see what is the crisis of pygmies which is the same for groups of people of such sort; Sans, aboriginals, etc. Pygmies fail victims of alcohol, seem like they become quick edited. I see them drinking those small plastic liquor of 45% alcohol, woman fell victims of prostitution as well.
The share of ordinary person challenges into the forest….
Due to it remoteness there is huge poverty in this forest, I think it could be ease to have quality life if they can add knowledge to improve their living conditions rather than live it up to nature. It is like poor haven’t got enough as war, terror, disease, oppression, etc still follow them. The sad part of the big challenge is to see that some of those who sent here to assist this people often exploit them and abuse them.
The day before Djoun in the middle of forest I was stopped with military man on motor bike carrying three people seem to be his family. He approach me with such aggression, backing and shouting like a charged buffaloes. He wanted my ID, I show him my passport without reading anything on it he put it in the pocket together with my map, claiming that I’m suspect. He should have been drunk because he never let me finish sentence, well he has strong smell of some liquor. While I was just making mental calculations he was explaining the my suspect to his family who seem to be equal horrified with his action towards me. He wanted me to pay to get back my belongs, well that is ‘jungle justice!’ I remember my contacts in Yaounde, thanks that there was cell phone connection. I phone my friend Mathieu ask if he could get talk with the military man or sort the help from the minister. Mathieu talk with military who at the end give my passport and map and take off with no more words.
Next day to Mintom another military man was too drunk to listen, he kicked may cooking port to the rains because I resist to show my passport. It was rain heavy, he was wet and too drunk to trust him with my passport. Thanks to the villages who helped me to gather my belongs and spot him from biting me or probably shoot as he was asking the villagers where was his gun.
These challenges of harassment and humiliation continue and worsen in the Congo till I start approaching the capital, Brazzaville. Immigration officers wanted 10,000 ($20)CFA for entree stamp, the same amount for police and then gendarme for what they call formalities which means writing my particulars in their books. All road block has it invention, the one which I find to be to ridiculous, well all are. They refused my yellow fever vaccination card asking for medical card which they explain that I need to be vaccinated for all disease include Ebola!
In my cycling reflecting these situations I remember those words of Julius Nyerere; Equality, Self-Determination and Respect to Human Values. For what I have experience here and other place of same sort, It make me wonder of how one can take for granted the freedom and comfort while the new of suffering like this will be like thunder flush.
After the border crossing shit show, I spend the night at Souanke village. I only slept a quoter of night as I suffer with fleas beatings. I blame the Congolese man who run small hotel try to get back some money what sound like a joke for him. That have been indirect price of cheep accommodation ($10-20) or food of less than $2). It is better to cycle in the work rain than cold rain but when rain everyday and strong it stop to be fun. Two days of rain and mud on the road brought me to Ouesso.
Ouesso is the town in the corn of border between Republic of Congo, Cameroon and Central Africa Republic while DRC is across the delta. The town is in the banks of Songha river which joined the might Congo river down the stream. I find the growing town economy to be run with foreigner immigrants, Cameroons, Senegalese, Mauritanians, etc run most of business while constructions and other high skills work are Chinese, Brazilians, Malaysians, etc. Already Republic of Congo start to get too much of the immigrant, in Brazzaville they are repatriating thousands of people from DRC which include many more from West Africa who leave here illegally.
From Ouesso to Makoua, 215km it only about 200km of forest which remain up paved. Sparsely populated in the north RD is like happen place now, there is construction of roads, buildings, water facilities, air ports, etc. Although it seem like it small populations still haven’t wake up to this dusk or the Marxist era, as I often seen in the bars or village square enjoying their primus beer, palm wine or liquor shots and dancing their most beloved lingala roumba or soukous musics while foreigners make most of the opportunity available.
I crossed the equator at Makoua without notice although the map is in front of me whole day. After train on the bumping and mud roads I made most of the brand new flat tarmac road which permit up to 170km per day. The forest give way to what looks like savannah grassland,though I liked the forest it was good to cycle in the clear blue sky once again. At some point the landscape become like that one of Rift Valley.
Planing next leg of Congo…
I exploring the options to get to the east of the continent, early I was convinced that I could attempt to cycle roads but this ambition was reduced with the rain season and Tanzania embassy officials who say security is not guaranteed. Well, that might be their reasons among many other not to cycle in Congo. My plan route of Kinshasa-Kananga-Lake Tanganyika. Since this is the hardest country to cycle through in Africa the current rain season will double the challenge. The other challenge which now I think I don’t have much energy to deal with is officials treatment and jungle bureaucracy, I’m sad to find out in this part of the Africa possibly ignorance still consume the very self. I spent 5hrs upon arrive at Kinshasa immigration, with good amount of harassment I had to negotiate the bribe which start from $100 to get entry stamp.
There were two last options, to take the cargo ship up river to Kisangani. So far waiting time is unknown for the cargo barge of what is said to be like moving village of about 300 people with no facilities. Duration of the trip is also not known but estimated to be more than a month. I just wonder if this not supposed to be separate adventure, of some prep and well served energy. I took on the last option to fly to Kisanga.But upon arrive in Kisanga, curious UN-Peacekeeping solders who has their base at the airport learn about my plan to cycle to Uganda. They told me few days ago their troops were attacked in that road. They said that for small rebels in the forest I will be good human power. Thanks to their help I was able to fly to Goma.
I got back in the saddle at Goma cross to Gisenyi, Rwanda and pedal the Congo Nile trail before joined the tarmac road to Kigali. And now in Kigali I will cycle to Rusumo border to Tanzania and aim to finish line at Arusha, Clock tower (the place where I kicked off 2009). Looking forward to arrive there on June 7.