'The ordeal' happened....then a new country, and new culture!

"Into Africa" More than a Motorcycle Adventure
Howard Fairbank
Tue 4 Mar 2014 12:53

04:48.12S 11:50.22E




3 March, 2014 


In yesterday’s blog, I finished off with the comment: “I wonder what tomorrow’s ordeal will be?” I guess some may see that as a pessimistic view of life…! I call it pessimistic realism, and over the many years of solo adventuring, I have learnt that adventure (vs holiday!) will generally involve having to deal with ‘an ordeal’ each day. It’s simply related to the unknown nature of the journey, and the fact that a challenge is involved… Challenge, being defined by risk in pursuit of a goal. Risk defined as the probability of an unfavourable event!


The fascinating thing about real challenging adventures, often at the end of the day, when reflecting on having ‘conquered’ the day’s inevitable ordeal, one feels real satisfaction, but often when thinking of the question: If, on setting out for the day, I’d known that I’d have to deal with that ordeal, would I have volunteered for the experience? Most of the time, the answer would be, “No”! So why do I do this then, seems like a very logical question?


The answer is in the answer to this question: Am I happy that I have conquered the ordeal? The answer is always a unquestionable, “Yes”, and this is because through the experience always comes personal learning and growth, and this is the source of increasing ‘Personal height’…. That purpose defining mission for me!


Well, that’s the philosophical moment of the month, and now how it applies to the day, today:


Well, I set off thinking it would be an easy day, only some 140 kilometres to Pointe Noir in The Republic of Congo. The challenges would be the constant threat of heavy rain, but I was OK with that, and the border crossing process. Regarding the latter, I assumed leaving Angola was not an issue, as I need nothing other than a stamp in my passport, and my internet research had said I could obtain a Congo visa ‘on arrival’.  The rest was all about the anticipation and excitement of entering a new country, and the change from Portuguese to French.



After a great breakfast at a central hotel, I left Cabinda, in light drizzle, and dressed in waterproof pants, but no top… I felt confident that I’d beat the odds the dark sky seemed to be giving me…!  I found the road out of the city, with no problem, and soon I was on a good rural road, that passed through relatively sophisticated villages, often having old colonial churches, and central monuments as the sample pictures below, show. It was a very interesting and scenic ride, and I wonderful coast views, as the road followed the coast up to the Congo, and occasionally ‘touching’ the coast, most notable at the broken down village of Caconga. The weather did hold off, and soon I was in thick equatorial rain forest, with ocean and river swamp lagoon. I marvelled at how this ocean side landscape and vegetation had changed so dramatically from the arid desert of some 6 or 7 degrees of latitude further south. The trees ferns, and palms here, were huge, and the tall bamboo that I’d seen in Uganda and Rwanda were back…. Our world is truly, diversely amazing, and how these very well defined and so different areas are neighbours is very special to spend some time thinking about…. The people I met on the side of the road were different: I met a guy with a huge, dead, cane rat he was trying to sell, Complete with vintage shotgun slung over his shoulder and serious panga knife in one hand, this guy was a subsistence hunter. Many of the locals walking along the side of the road had these knives, and then I came across quite a few camouflaged clothing dressed military people, most times, just two, fully rifle armed, and seemingly patrolling the wilderness area adjacent to the road. The bird life was really great, probably the most special was huge flocks of pelicans spirally high up in the sky and then occasionally come down to join the hundreds bobbing up and down on the lagoon waters. This was a great ride, and I though a very fitting way to be leaving Angola, and country that had really delivered a challenging and rich adventure and traditional, exotic, travel experience.



All felt good as the bike thumped it’s song, I thought how well I had managed the Angolan currency, as I had just enough to fill up on the Angolan side with $0.60 gasoline, and then I had my US dollars ready for the inevitable visa fee, and to buy enough local currency to get a different, French, lunch once in the Congo.


         The Border Post from the Angolan side

The border came up a bit earlier than I thought, and so went back  a few kilometres to the ‘last’ Angolan fuel stop. From there I was let through the Angolan control gate, by a real friendly old man who seemed like he wanted me to get through with minimum hassle. Customs were no problem, and then at the passport control point the official, paged backwards and forwards through my passport, and then aggressively said, “Nao possible, Nao Congo visa”. I tried to explain that I had read I’d get a visa at the Congo border post, but he would have none of that saying I need to go back to Cabinda for a visa. Gee, this was a blow, Angola giving me it’s last bureaucratic blow to my head, I thought maybe my Australian passport would avoid the need for a visa: ‘Nope, this just confused the official more, and his aggro level just increased, and him repeating “Cabinda”! I’m not sure whether it was my disappointment, or really was the situation, but he did seem to be quite glad he had caught me out and was sending me back!!


Oh well, it was going to well, and I have to just accept going all the way back to Cabinda…. It could have been back to Luanda, that would have been a disaster! As I returned to the gate where my, ‘old man’, friend genuinely felt empathy for me, he stopped me to help with the address of where I had to go in Cabinda, but other than “Rua Policia”, I didn’t know enough about Cabinda for his generous info to be helpful. I’d have to find it myself…another challenge, awaited.


Well the normal beating myself about why I hadn’t checked came up, then saying that doesn’t matter now, it was just about getting back to Cabinda before lunch time siesta meant I may have to stay another whole day and night there….


I’d soon covered the distance, this time with only a destination goal, the fuel consumption reflecting my 120-140 km/h ‘race’!


I straight away connected with the first government official I could find, who initially saw me as a good find for his Angolan bureaucratic interrogation, but a vehemently refused his demands for all my papers, saying all I wanted was his help in telling me where I could get a Congo visa. I actually had to turn my back on him as he requested the documents, and only as he saw me getting back on my bike did his demeanour change and he come towards me in a new conciliatory, and assisting mode. He knew where the embassy was, recruited a young guy on his motorcycle and instructed him to lead me to the consulate office. I thanked him and connected to my guide. He lost his way, and another guy saw the gap, and connected with him, so now  had two guides. Anyway we finally got to the consulate office, they both followed me in, clearly wanting to deliver me a full, maximum price service….!! The

Consulate’s office was dark and dingy, a woman was reasonably friendly, but the man with the power was the typical ‘power aware’ immigration official. They confirmed they could do the visa for me, and I asked for a minute to ‘say goodbye’ to my guides. I had this real dilemma within: They had helped me, but not as much as they thought, and now do I pay them or not? They clearly expected it, the second guy, who was 40-ish and looked well employed with a radio hanging off his belt, and briefcase.  I decided they ‘needed’ pay and as I searched through my wallet, last kwandas left, the elder guy saw me touch a $10 equivalent note and said yes, that’s good. Hmmm, I didn’t have much else, so reluctantly gave it to ‘them’. The older guy was ecstatic, I know I over paid, so pulled them together and said: Thank you for helping me, but I want you to know that in my country, if I helped you like you helped me, I would not accept payment. This was in my best Portuguese, and they seemed shocked, so I repeated it slowly… I know they got the message, I could see the shame in the elder guys eyes, the motive had been money from a white, rich tourist from moment one. The younger guy was merely a willing accomplice in ‘the crime’…


Back in the dingy consulate office, I was presented with a visa application form, only in French. I could have eventually filled it in, but asked the woman for assistance. She very kindly took it from me, and filled it all out with just a few questions, and then me to sign at the bottom. Hmmm, this was going all too easy, and what’s the trick? The ‘power man’, then answered that question:  “$150 is the price” he said in his poor English. I knew that I was being raped but what could I do…. I protested, just for my dignity, he just continued to look down. I then protested in thoughtful silence, and this was good, as I sensed both knew this was the capitulation point, and they had to deal with their corrupt act. In my final act of capitulation, I said to him that I need a receipt, but I knew a guy in this business has no problem delivering that proof, I hadn’t even challenged him. It was painful delivering him the dollars, I hate being raped! He took them, then wrote on a piece of scrap paper: “14h00” and said, “Come back and you get the visa”. Well that was a quick service, but also probably a quick $50 for him!


I then had an hour on my own, walking the central area, dealing with what had happened, but also touring! I thought, actually how lucky I was, I’d got there before siesta time, the guy was going to deliver very quickly, and I’d be in the Congo tonight, still as planned. Things could have been a lot worse, and I must learn the lesson for next time…. Gabon: I have written there in my notes: “No visa required”, I had better check this properly again! This was good reflection time, the payback time from the ordeal experience…!


Walking around I passed the Justice Courts building, a very nice old colonial building, so whipped out my camera and too two pictures. Well, a guy at the building suddenly ran across to me, and protested that I am not allowed to take photos, and this was a serious offence. I tried to apologise and showed him that I’d delete the photos. He watched me delete them, then marched me off to a more senior person. Hmm, what crap is this, another ordeal in the making…? Well in a moment of humane hope, this senior guy, asked me why I am here in Angola, and I said I’m a tourist, and found the building beautiful. He just laughed and told the junior guy to back off and leave me alone as I was harmless..!!


Anyway, at 14h05 I got my visa, the ‘power man’ wasn’t present, probably enjoying the afternoon off after a productive morning: I saw a pile of some 10 other passports with visas to be collected! Yes, there was a receipt, but it could have been anything, and time spent on that would be totally wasted emotional effort, time to head for the Congo!


It was really great doing the return trip the second time: Uncertainty was now virtually zero, and secondly I could really stop and take in the sights I’d raced by the first time.


I was soon through the Angolan border and now dealing with Congo: Well, it was French only, and the customs guy, I could see, just saw my motorcycle as a source of money?  We struggled through conversation, and he then said I have to pay a sizeable amount of money for the bike. I asked what for, and he said because I was bring it into Congo. I told him I had the Carnet Passage and all he had to do was sign and stamp the entry side of it, and I had no money to pay, as I had already paid the deposit through the carnet system. Well, this guy didn’t understand a thing, just demanded money, to which I politely refused, and so he took me to his big boss. This guy was dressed as the bloody general of the Congo army, looked at me with contempt, but seemed to understand the Carnet process. He asked me some questions, and then when I showed them all the other country stamps I had, and how they worked he instructed this guy to go ahead and sign. We went outside again, and this guy was still not convinced, wanting to check all the details of my bike, every now and then adding, that I must pay money….? I finally got him over the fence, and he filled it all out, but come stamp time, he said no the chief must stamp. Back into the chilled air-conditioned office, and too my surprise, the chief, obliged with his stamp. Then the other guy couldn’t help himself: In front of the chief, he directly asked me: “Can you now give the chief some money for doing this for you?”  It was time for me to be strong: I said no, I’m not paying anyone for this, the days of corruption are gone, and also I don’t have a lot of money. I watched the chief, he wasn’t embarrassed, standing behind the undignified sacrifice of his subordinate, and now unable to use his rank to demand my gift payment. I’d won on all bases, and walked out a free man with all my goals achieved. Passport control was easy, the visa did it’s trick, I sensed they knew I’d already been raped that day….


I was free to explore the Congo….and 30 kilometres or so to Pointe Noire, but I was hungry, thirsty, the bike was now low on fuel, and I had no cash on me. The days ordeal had drained me of ‘everything’, and it all happened as I was gloating about how well I had managed the approach to the border the first time!  Herein the lesson, I have been shown many times, but don’t seem to learn: You are not there, till you are there, and remain pessimistically real till you are!


The ride into Pointe Noir was so different to what I’d imagined. Lots of ‘quaint’ villages, local bars and ‘restaurants’ around, and a long ride through high density, but low economic areas to get to the centre of the city. It is a city, a really big place, with lots of character… I was worried that there were no banks, but as I hit the centre I saw a few signs up, but not ones that I thought took Visa cards.


The only one that did, had a 24hr sign up, but after parking the bike and walking up to the ‘door’, there was a sign that it was closed and a security guard outside. I asked him what the story was, he asked me if I had ‘Visa’, and when I showed him my card, his eyes lit up, and he opened a shabby door and led me through to an ATM machine.  Well, the screen only showed French, and not wanting to make errors that suck up my card, I called him to help. He was delighted, and by the way he took control I realised this guy was more than a security guard!!!  It gave preselected amounts, but as I chose these my transaction was declined. I called him back, and he then showed me ‘the trick’: You can’t chose the pre-set amounts, you must type in your own amount!!  How strange, I thought, anyway that got me the money, and as I started leaving the security guy asked me for his cut for helping me!!  Gee, I had had enough for the day, and refused to give him anything. I am sick and tired of this hand out for everything mind-set. Wealthy people, and tourists have helped these people move from their pure humanitarian helping mode, to one of blatant commercialisation of their help!

Anyway I had money now, and it was time to relax, and have some food and liquid, my home for the night could wait! I soon found the beach, the ocean, and a great bar / restaurant on its own right on the beach. Well it is hard to explain how nice it felt, to finally relax, with a 1 litre bottle of water, a brand new type of beer, and then some good Asian style meal, all with the Atlantic breakers right in front of me. Prices were reasonable, and as I sunk into the environment, I thought to myself: Maybe this is the night you just sleep on the beach? 



Logic took over from this romantic idea, and after enjoying the sunset I was back on the bike searching for tonight’s home. It was quite a mission but eventually found a place in the city centre that was both well priced, nice location, and nice people. I must say since I have been in the Congo, the people have been very nice and friendly, and contrary to what I thought, I feel very safe!


I very content, but tired boy, I went to bed with CNN TV babbling about what’s happening in Ukraine…. Hmmm, an uncertain world!


Today, did yet again fit the, ‘adventure ordeal’ model, but thankfully it wasn’t a hugely, or life challenging one…..


Tomorrow is another day, and given how I feel about Pointe Noire, I think I’ll take a ‘nice’ rest day, and find out whether I DO need a Gabon visa or not!