Page Seven - 'BELGIAN CONGO'

February 26 1953 (Thursday) Land Mileage 4575

After a pretty good night's sleep, we tidied up the rest house, cooked breakfast, then managed to buy four dozen bananas for about one shilling; we thought that this was very cheap. We then reported to customs and the police and then on to the ferry which was the only route we could take into the Belgian Congo from French Equatorial Africa at this point. The ferry was built with planks crossing four long rowing boats with men sat in them rowing. This did not look the safest of ferries that we had seen, but it obviously did the job and we had very little choice. A large drum that the ‘captain’ beat at a steady rhythm controlled the rowing speed. We arrived safely on Belgian Congo soil at 09h15. Naturally we had to go into customs yet again and met a very nice man there who was particularly helpful. The guns all had to be sealed while going through the Congo and even the cameras had to be checked so it was 11h30 before we finally got on the road again.

The road was dirt, but in excellent condition although not very wide and quite winding. The countryside was very clean and palm trees lined the route, with very thick forest on either side. We stopped at 13h00 for a meal and managed to buy six eggs from one of the 'appearing locals'. We would soon find out how fresh they were! We continued our drive through Bondo which consisted of the Hotel Vicicongo, a small garage and an administrative centre. By this time the rain had started and it was coming down quite heavily by the time we reached the ferry at the river Uele at 18h30. The ferry guys managed to get us loaded and across the river in what turned out to be one of the first storms of the rainy season. We had never seen lightning like this before and it was quite dramatic, if a bit scary; it zig zagged down, lighting up the whole countryside. Don gave the ferry guys quite a good tip for managing to get us across in such bad weather. There was nowhere to stop on the other side and we drove on in the terrible storm for almost another 30 miles before we found a point we could pull off the road. It was not a pleasant drive, on an unknown dirt road, with the rain and lightning not giving us a moment's peace. The sides had been removed from the Land Rover earlier because of the heat and packed on the roof; it was impossible to remove them from there and try to put them back on. David was holding a piece of tin up to the opening on the passengers side, trying to prevent the main force of rain coming in, when a lightning strike knocked it out of his hands, giving us all a huge fright. Obviously it was not a direct strike or more damage would have been done, but it was close enough to cause us to decide that getting wet was better than another strike. With the road awash it was almost impossible to see anything ahead and we were very worried that we might come across an invisible dip in the road. We finally stopped just to the side of the road on what appeared to be a safe area and just settled down for what we hoped would be a reasonable night's sleep.

February 27 1953 Land Mileage 4757

The rain had stopped overnight and by the time we had generally tidied up and managed to have a meal, we were only back on the road at 07h45. We really needed to get on, as we did not want to get held up in the Congo due to rain. We had not gone far when we discovered that there was a railway bridge over the River Likati which we had to cross by ferry. We were so lucky that we had not gone any further the night before; we could well have been washed away, as we may never have seen the situation ahead of us properly in the torrential storm. After crossing by ferry, we passed the Likati Station and carried on through thick forest and narrow roads for another 90 miles until we reached the village of Buta. Here there was yet another Hotel Vicicongo, petrol, garage, bank and stores. Don decided that he should stop at the garage as he needed to do a bit of welding on the bumper, and he wanted to generally check the remainder of the vehicle. When Don was satisfied that all was in order he went to pay but was told that it was 'on the house'. We filled up with petrol, did a bit of shopping; exciting 'things' like cheese were on the shelf here, and went to the bank to top up the financial position. We left Buta at 11h45 and continued on until we found a lovely spot to stop at 13h00 for lunch. Luxury, cheese and biscuits! The scenery was quite lovely around this area with so much to see after the desert. We carried on until 16h45 when we decided that we would stop and have a cooked meal while it was still light enough and dry, but after the meal we carried on driving for a while before we finally found a good stopping place at 21h00. We were still worried about the storm the night before and felt we needed to get on as far as possible while we could. During this last drive we saw lots of monkeys swinging through the trees and crossing the road in front of us.

February 28 1953 (Saturday) Land Mileage 5012

On our way again at 08h00 and we drove for an hour until we reached Poko and filled up with petrol. We then went on for another 155 miles into the village of Paulis where there was a garage. Here we could attend to a few odd jobs which needed seeing to on the Land Rover. Don managed to purchase a new Dodge spring which fitted onto the back of our vehicle and we welded the one which came off to again use as our spare. The manager took us for iced drinks and although he agreed to payment for the new spring, he would not let us pay for the labour in helping Don replace it, or repairing the spare. We were very grateful for the new spring as we had been running on repaired ones for quite a distance now. We finally left there at at 14h30 and after a short distance saw our first train pulled by a wood-burning locomotive. It was quite exciting for us to see all these changes in civilisation as we carried on further into Africa. We crossed a river on yet another ferry just as it started to rain, but nothing like the previous storm we had experienced. The rain did not last long, but we decided that we should push on as far as possible while we could. 

We saw lots of the locals walking along the road; they were now mostly dressed in pantaloons and small straw hats. They were all carrying dead chickens and we presumed that they were all on their way to a feast of some kind, this being a Saturday.

We carried on until 21h00 with very little change in scenery at this stage; we then found a good place to pull off of the road and settled down to the usual evening routine.

March 1 1953 (Sunday) Land Mileage 5235

A new month upon us and back on the road at 08h00. We had not gone far when we came across a tree that had come down over the road. Luckily we had an axe with us so David and Don got to work to make enough room for us to get by. We soon got back on our travels again and arrived at Nia Nia at 10h00. Yet another Hotel Vicicongo in thick forest here and a petrol station. We topped up the fuel tanks while we could, had some cold drinks and on our way again. 

After finding a small brook, we stopped and did some washing and as usual a group of locals appeared to see what we were up to. The people in this area were completely different, of a shorter, thicker build and far more pygmy like. There was one who had some pineapples with him and we bought two from him, for the equivalent of one shilling and five pence!

On our way yet again and at 15h15 we arrived at Mambasa, where we took a one way road to Beni. This road is very narrow and open on alternate days in opposite directions over a distance of 23 miles. Five miles along this road we found two trucks that were stuck in front of another tree that had come down across the road. Luckily for us, most of the hard work had been done and with a little help from Don and David, the tree was soon moved out of the way. The weather here was very much cooler and the road very narrow and twisting. We kept going as long as we could, until we found a small clearing on the other side of Beni and around 21h30 we made camp for the night.

March 2 1953 Land Mileage 5491

We were on the road early at 06h30, driving through the small village of Butembo and then we climbed to 7,000 feet where we crossed the Equator. We got out to take some photographs, but it was too cold to stay long. This was the coldest we had felt since leaving Marseilles and here we were at the Equator, which we had believed to be the hottest place in the world. Perhaps it is in places, but certainly not at 7,000 feet! Further on, we reached the village of Lubero where we managed to buy some strawberries for one shilling and four pence; what a feast we would have with pineapples and strawberries.

Forty three miles later we reached the top of the Kabasha Escarpment, this is followed by a serious descent with the road cut into the cliff face for 12 miles. The view was quite incredible and we could see right across the Albert National Park. Although not easily identifiable from such a distance, we could see huge herds of wild animals roaming over the vast expanse of land before us. Don unfortunately could not appreciate this magnificent sight as he had his work cut out concentrating on staying on the very winding, narrow road. It was certainly a sight that the rest of us would never forget. On reaching flat land again, we drove along the edge of the park and saw many types of antelope, buffalo, hippopotami and herds of elephant. While on one very narrow stretch of road with trees on either side, going towards Rutshuru, a very large bull elephant suddenly blocked our path. He walked slowly towards us flapping his gigantic ears and before we knew what was happening, Don had the vehicle in reverse and we were shooting back down the road from where we had just come. I doubt if anyone has ever been so fast in reverse gear before, or since for that matter! David and I were both ready with our cameras, but neither of us managed to get a shot in all the haste. Watching from a distance, the bull stayed in the middle of the road for some time eating from the trees, before had a good rub and a scratch against a tree trunk. Finally he decided to walk off into the bush and barely had his back foot disappeared when Don was in first gear and past the disappearing elephant.

We drove through Rutshuru into some hilly passes through stunning scenery. The road crosses the watershed between Lakes Edward (Nile catchment area) and Kivu (Congo catchment area). It passes through a chain of volcanoes, the Virunga Range comprising of Nyamlagira (10,025 feet), Nyragongo (11,380 feet), Rukoma or Kateruzi (10,850 feet), Karisimbi (14,785 feet) and Mokeno (14,560 feet). We went into Gomo which is at 4,800 feet and on the shore of Lake Kivu and stopped at the Kisenyi settlement about 2 miles out of Gomo, at the Bugoyi Guest House at around 18h30. Don booked us into a suite of rooms at the guest house and we all had the pleasure of hot baths and a really good clean up. After a good meal we went and sat outside to watch the volcanoes, of which several were showing signs of quiet activity. The sky above these had a glowing red colour, very exciting in the darkness that surrounded them. We decided that this was a lovely spot to have a break and Don booked us in for the next three days.

Note: The Nyragongo volcano in eastern Congo began erupting on January 17, 2002, with lava flows burning their way through towns and villages on January 18, killing an estimated 45 people. Hundreds of thousands of people were fleeing across the border into Rwanda. News reports say a 35- to 70-metre swath of lava, at some places 2 meters high, advanced through the city of Gomo and poured into Lake Kivu. Gomo has a population of 400,000. Many people evacuated on foot.

March 3 1953

What a wonderful night's sleep we all had; it was terrific to be back in real beds again. Coffee was brought to our suite at 07h00 and we made a slow start to a relaxing day, but making it in time to the dining room for breakfast. Afterwards we went into Gomo, had a look around the shops and bought some new films for the camera. We were told that it was completely safe bathing in Lake Kivu with a total absence of hippo or crocodiles. We were also told that there were no mosquitoes at all in that area. Diane and David went for a swim on our return and while Don and I had walked down to watch them something bit me on my foot. There was nothing visible, but it started itching and irritating soon after.

It was quite an incredible place, the weather being near perfect temperature and it was very quiet and peaceful. After an excellent lunch, we bought a few postcards and decided that we should let friends and family know how we were getting on and where we had got to. Afterwards I had a really lazy afternoon while Don, David and Diane went off for a walk before returning for the luxury of tea. It was the most relaxing day we had spent for sometime and none of us felt particularly energetic. After dinner, (which I did not have to cook) we played cards for a while and had a fairly early night. We were enjoying this place so much it was planned that at some stage in the future, we would return here for a real holiday.

March 4 1953

Coffee again at 07h00 followed by breakfast. Diane and David wanted to stay at the Lake while Don and I decided we would like to go into Gomo. We needed to go to the bank and if it was possible we wanted to buy a lens hood for Don's camera. We also needed to replenish our stores for the next part of the journey. At mid-day we had a short storm which we sat and watched from the Guest House verandah. Once it had stopped, the sky quickly cleared and Diane and David were back off to the lake again. Don and I cleared out the Land Rover and had a really good clean up, packing everything back in as tidily as possible. We sat and watched the magnificent sunset from the verandah before dinner, a game of cards and bed. I had a terrible night, my foot was red, swelling and itching madly. We put some Milton on it ,hoping that it would help and I kept putting my foot out of the bed onto the cold floor to try to cool it down. Nothing seemed to help and the itching got worse and worse during the night.

March 5 1953

The usual morning 'chores' and then off to breakfast. The manageress asked if everything was all right and luckily I mentioned to her about my foot and the terrible night that I had. She told us to wait right there and she went off returning with a very elderly African who had a look at my toe. He got a sterilised needle and with a small prod produced what was a small bag of eggs. It was a jigger and I had read about them in one of my books many years ago. They lay their eggs in a tiny sac which is embedded into the toe. This obviously was what had happened when I thought I had been bitten. If the eggs are allowed to hatch the result is that the foot actually is eaten in small amounts during the life cycle of the jigger. We had seen several people in that area with what looked like deformed feet, we now knew what the reason was. It was almost instantaneous relief with the eggs removed and the itching stopped. By this time it had started raining again and we went to our rooms for me to have a rest while the others all did a bit of reading.

We had a late lunch and at 15h00, when the sky had cleared up again, Diane and David went off to the lake and hired a paddle boat. This struck me as quite strange; paddle boats for hire in the centre of Africa, but as it was the kids enjoyed it while Don and I watched them having fun. Don went in the boat later with Diane for a short time and came out remarking that it was very leg aching! We walked along the beach before returning to the guest house to tidy up and pack ready for moving off the next morning. After dinner, we met some Americans who had just arrived; they were travelling from Cape Town to Kenya, so we swopped a few stories until it was time to go to bed.

March 6 1953 (Friday) Land Mileage 5756

Got up at the usual time and had nice hot baths while we could; who knew when we may get the next one. Had a good breakfast and set off on our travels once more at 09h00.

On leaving Gomo we found ourselves driving on a narrow track though lava fields, it was not too bad at all and not all dusty, quite a change from what we had become used to. We passed "Lac Vert" which was a small crater lake and very green. On leaving the lava fields we found the road to be very slippery and muddy due to the recent rains and it was very narrow and winding. We passed through Sake and on to the Bobandana mission, here the road became much steeper, narrower and winding. It was very mountainous country, the highest point being Col Nyabibwe at 6,500 feet. In places it was a one way road so there were several waits along the way, checking that the road was clear to proceed. In places it was very pretty, but again, Don never got to appreciate the countryside, as it was taking all his driving skills to remain on the road and not to slide off into the forest. We drove through some hilly areas which we understood to be coffee plantations before eventually arriving at Costermansville in the rain. Don went to the Belgian Tourist Office for maps, as we wanted to take a different road from the one in the Trans-African Highways book. We filled up with petrol then continued over some high mountain ranges with a one way system. When we reached the start of the one way system, an African on a drum beat out a message to another one further along the route. He would in turn reply by way of the drums, letting the other know where we were and if the road was clear. The system worked very well up until 18h00 when it was time to knock off work, then it was a case of take your chances and pray that you did not have to reverse for too far to allow another vehicle through. We were fine as it happened and managed to get through before knocking off time. While driving back down the other side of the mountain we were lucky enough to see a mountain leopard in the headlights. It crossed over the road in front of us and we were all able to see it quite clearly. As soon as we found a place to pull off the road we stopped for the night and by then it was just on 19h00.

March 7 1953 Land Mileage 5895

We left camp at around 07h00 and after travelling for only a few miles, we came up to a bridge that had been washed away. Luckily we only had to do a small detour and we were back on the right road once more. We went through a couple of small villages and then found ourselves travelling along the banks of Lake Tanganyika. The view was wonderful and the water was crystal clear and looked very refreshing. With the golden lights of the sun shining across the water, it was certainly a stunning sight after the rains. We then reached another drum barrier on the road through the mountains as we climbed up and away from the lake. Arrived at Fizi at 12h15 where we were able to top up the petrol tanks again and then on through even more mountainous country. This was gorilla country, but unfortunately we saw no more than smaller monkeys at intervals swinging through the trees. At 15h30 we came to more drum barriers, where we had to wait for a while for an oncoming vehicle. Everyone came out from their huts to take a look at us, so we gave the children some sweets that we had with us. Don turned on the radio and managed to pick up some music, meanwhile the oldest lady of the group started to dance and obviously had a lot of rhythm in her soul. Never a dull moment on this trip. The vehicle that we were waiting for had still not appeared, so they suggested that it must have pulled off somewhere in the middle and we should proceed with caution! We had to really be careful as it was a very twisting, narrow and hazardous road. We drove into each and every corner blasting the horn in the hopes that if anyone was coming they would hear us first. After a while we passed a broken down lorry so we then knew that the remainder of the road would be safe. We found a good place to camp around 18h00, so decided that it was not worth pushing on only to find that there was nothing else suitable for some distance.

March 8 1953 (Sunday) Land mileage 6140

Back onto the road at 07h00; it was now in very bad condition after the heavy rains and it was a slow drive into Albertville where we arrived at 10h00. Here we had a short distance of tarmac and we all thought that we were in heaven. We picked up petrol while in Albertville and made enquiries about the best route to Manona. We were told we would have to travel through Kapona as this was the best road. Leaving Albertville we climbed rapidly again into very mountainous country with thick jungle and while up at the highest peak, a huge storm suddenly broke overhead. The crash of thunder made us all jump out of our seats, as it was so sudden and within seconds we were soaked through, as the top of the doors were back on top of the roof. It was pointless trying to get them and put them on, and none of us could have got any wetter anyway. We found a place to stop at 13h00 when the rain had stopped,cleared an area and managed to get a fire going with all the wet wood. We did not take that long to dry out and the Land Rover after getting rid of the worst of the water, also dried very quickly. We had some soup to heat up the insides and then we were on our way once more.

We drove on over more hills with thick bush; it was all very beautiful, but there was a very grey sky overhead and the clouds appeared to be building up all the time. We did not fancy getting another soaking and when at 16h30 we arrived at Kapona , which was not very big, we only topped up with petrol before stopping about four miles on the other side of town to make camp for the night. We all slept remarkably well after the difficult day behind us.

March 9 1953 Land Mileage 6376

Woke up to a clear blue sky and the sun beating down. Happily, everything was drying out rapidly and we were on the road by 07h00. Still thick jungle type country and at 10h00 we came across another ferry which we had to go on. This was the best ferry we had seen and certainly the safest looking. The river was very wide and the surrounding countryside was lovely. After a safe trip across the river we pushed on until mid-day, when we stopped for a break and a snack. We were at last learning; this was the place to waste time so that we would only arrive at Manona after 14h00. 

Finally we decided it was time to move on to find Manona, an incredibly pretty village. Here we really had a major language problem and in trying to find the petrol station, we were sent to various places, including a tin mine. One hour later, we found someone who at last could understand what we were after and directed us to the petrol station. Meanwhile the clouds were gathering once more and we decided that perhaps this was the right time to put the windows back in. On leaving Manona, we had not gone far when the rain started again, but this time we missed the centre of the storm and with the windows in, we drove on in 'dry ' conditions.

At 17h00 we found a suitable place to make camp and after a hot meal, we decided that an early night would be the order of the day. We had not travelled very far today and the strain of driving and concentration was catching up on Don.

March 10 1953 Land Mileage 6570

Awoke early, but the rain was pouring down. We stayed in the Land Rover until 08h00 and then decided to just drive off and try to stop a bit further along the route to tidy up and eat. The rain had stopped at 09h15, so we stopped while we could. As soon as possible we were on our way again and we drove through some spectacular countryside. There were some beautiful gorges and incredible waterfalls, but unfortunately it was too misty to take any photographs. The road then started climbing again and it reminded us of the passes in Switzerland, minus the snow on top. At 12h15 we stopped again at an eye-catching, but small water fall. The sun had now come out so we had a good tidy up, did some washing, had a meal and left again for Mitwaba at 13h30. On arrival we found it to be another tin mining town and we had the same language problem as we had before. We had trouble finding the hotel,where we had been told we could pick up petrol. After doing a tour of most of the town before we finally found it, we were told that there was nobody there who could fill up the Land Rover tanks until 15h00. Meanwhile the rain started again and during the downpour, the hotel proprietor drove up. He said that he had intended going to a town some miles away. Due to the weather conditions and the roads being so bad, he had abandoned the idea. This in fact was a lucky break for us; if he had done the intended trip, he said he probably would not have been back until about 19h00.

The road after this was atrocious; we had hoped to see the Kubo Falls, but due to the conditions and the rain this proved to be impossible. At 17h30 we had to cross a small river by ferry only to find the road on the other side was completely under water. Don drove on steadily not knowing the depth of the water and wondering where the next pothole would be that we might disappear into. After a gruelling 30 mile drive, the road climbed upwards and we were at last out of the swirling floods, although it was still very wet. At times the water had been over the axles and being so black and dirty, it was impossible to know what it might have concealed. We finally managed to find a place where we could stop, but it was impossible to get out and walk anywhere. Apart from the mud and water, we had no idea what creatures may be close by and we were particularly worried about snakes.

March 11 1953 Land Mileage 6774

Up and away at 06h15, it was still raining and impossible to do anything other than carry on driving. The roads were diabolical and the vehicle was covered in mud. The side screens were impossible to see through and Don tried to wipe his side off with his right hand to see if he could improve his vision. This turned out to be a huge mistake as we swerved slightly to the left and landed in a very deep ditch. We tried to push the vehicle out, but all we did, was to get covered with a spray of mud. There was not a soul in sight, which, due to the weather conditions did not really surprise us. Don got out the tow rope, tied one end to the tree and attached the other to the winch. Thank heaven for Don's mechanical and engineering background and even then the winch was a last minute thought. It successfully did the trick and we were back in business again. We went only a little further before we stopped for a belated and much needed breakfast. At 09h15 we were back on the road again as we wanted to move on as quickly as possible; we were afraid that the rains would cause total havoc and we would find ourselves stranded in the Congo with still some distance left to do. After a very stressful drive we arrived at Jadotville at 11h30. It was quite a large mining town and the biggest we had seen for some time. It was a pleasure to be back on a decent road again. We found a garage where we stopped and having been told that the road we were intending to go on was very bad, Don decided that he should do a good check up on the vehicle and make sure that everything was tightened up. We didn't think anything could be much worse than where we had come from, but perhaps we were wrong! We went to the hotel to have a good meal as we were all a little tired of only being able to snack. Cooking had been impossible for the past couple of days. We had a look around the shops until the Land Rover was ready and managed to buy some fresh stores to take with us. Diane was fascinated by some chocolate 'gold watches', of which she was given some. We carried on back on the route again, only to find the road was far better than many that we had already been on. The people who thought that this was bad, should have tried some of the other roads we had driven on!

Kept going until 17h00 and after driving through a couple of small villages, we found a place to camp for the night and the rain by then had stopped.

March 12 1953 (Thursday) Land Mileage 6947

Back on the road again in the morning by 07h00 heading for Elisabethville (Lubumbashi). We did not have far to go, but the road was very slippery and muddy. We drove into the town at 07h30 where we stopped to fill up the fuel tanks and then straight back on the route once more. We carried on until lunch time with the road fairly wet, but not really too bad. We knew that we did not have far to go to reach the village of Sakania and the customs post, so while having our lunch break we had a good clean up as well. Arrived at the customs at 13h10 where we had to have everything checked once more including the guns and the cameras. We had no problems and at 14h30 we were on our way again on a pretty good road, arriving at Ndola in Northern Rhodesia in the middle of the afternoon. We reported to the Police and the Insurance company and then went on to the customs. The latter for some reason said they did not want to see us. We had a look around the town and decided that perhaps we should stay there the night so we could have a good clean and tidy up. We managed to find the Rhodes Hotel and booked in there. We all wallowed in hot baths and felt very much better for it. After dinner, Diane and David both opted for an early night, while Don and I sat chatting in the lounge to a couple of people we had met there before leaving for our rooms upstairs.


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