Day 126: DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo, formerly Zaire)

Soutpiel Safari
John & Jenny
Thu 10 Mar 2011 19:54
Day 127: Thursday 10 March 2011. Hotel Maranatha, Boma, DRC S05 50.418 E013 03.989 Distance driven 154 km in 5 hours!
I think today it has finally dawned on us how incredibly tired we are.  It is a combination of battling with the heat, the humidity, the awful roads, obstinate border officials, touts, hawkers, scammers, scumbags and struggling to be understood in the French language. So, we arrived in Boma after 150 km of terrible road on which we averaged 30 kph (18 mph), exhausted, hot, dusty, sweaty and decided to treat ourselves to a hotel room and a restaurant meal.
We were very sad to have to leave Cabinda after only one day and not to have had time to talk to Padre Carlos Gime, a fascinating man who has had an incredible life.  He was so hospitable to us and so very interested in our trip that we felt quite rude to be leaving so quickly.
The ride out of Cabinda was easy, on a good fast tar road as far as the border.  After that, on the DRC side, you really wouldn't believe that the narrow, rutted sand track which meandered through grassland, was in fact the main route from Cabinda to DRC's only port of Matadi on the Congo River. It was only possible by 4x4 or a truck. One interesting facet of the appallingly bad road was that we encountered a toll where the fee was $1 for 4x4's but $20 for foreign registered 4x4's! We have never been fleeced to that extent before.  Tomorrow we shall cross the mighty Congo River by a bridge from Matadi where, it is rumoured, the fee is $100 for foreign vehicles.
The border crossings were pretty straightforward and easy.  we were through in 2 hours. On the Cabinda side the Portuguese speaking officials in Immigration were pretty dour but Customs were very friendly and efficient.  Through a very scruffy No Man's Land, on the DRC side to process was very friendly, well organised and efficient. It was particularly impressive how they excluded the touts and scumbags from the official offices - quite a novel and welcome approach.
When I came to buy Congolese francs with US dollars I found that the bugger of a Lebanese Manager at the flashy up-market Atlantic Palace Hotel in Pointe Noire had passed me off with a bunch of counterfeit $20 bills.  It is my own fault really, as after all those years working with Lebanese in Saudi Arabia, I should have remembered NEVER to trust a Lebanese with money.  Keep your hand on your wallet even when talking to a Lebanese! I'm out of practice after 14 years absence. Any well-heeled US oil workers staying at the Atlantic Palace, be warned, the guy is a crook.
This hotel is pretty good by local standards, except as Jenny remarked, you would think that for $50 a night the toilet would have a seat attached, not on the floor! We have running water in the bathroom (cold), TV, fridge, AC, double bed and one small towel between us.  We just had a steak and chips in the restaurant and ended up having a row about the appallingly slow service in a restaurant in which we were the only ones eating.
We have a very tough 5-6 days ahead of us before we can relax in Namibia and we are not physically very well prepared.  Apparently, the road from here to Matadi and Songololo is good fast tar and we are planning to camp tomorrow night at the Songololo border post so that we can get a head start into Namibia on Saturday. After that we have to average 400 km/day for 5 days. We are up against the clock now, with a few days in hand.  My dream is a double or triple Wimpy Burger at the Wimpy just across the border into Namibia and then firing up the donkey boiler at the camp site and standing under a very hot shower for an hour! What a delight it will be to drive on the left side of the road, to speak English and not to have to endure more border officials and all their tedious manual record-keeping. 
Jenny tells me that this is our 15th country so we must have passed through 29 border controls - only 3 more to go, not counting Namibia/South Africa, which is easy!