Nigeria. The very name provokes a reaction. An emotion. A strong view. No-one I know has nothing to say about Nigeria. Everyone has a large opinion. And of course everyone’s opinion says as much about their own persona as it does about Nigeria, or more specifically Nigerians. Which is why this blog is just my experience, my opinion, so take it as a little window into a part of me too. 

Nigeria is big. Very big. In geography and in population. Nearly a million square kilometers wide and deep. With six ecological zones from savanna to forest to wetlands and mangroves. And over 200 million Nigerians with a median age of 18, speaking over 500 local dialects and “pigeon” English as its called by Nigerians themselves. That’s large and young and extremely diverse. Half Christian and half Moslem, Nigeria is the most populated country in Africa.

These numbers are just indications. No one knows exactly. The records are unreliable or non existant. Lagos is said to be one of the fastest growing cities in the world. Officially 14 million. Locals said its more like 20 million. Again no one really knows. Which kinda sums up a feeling too when you travel by road across the country. A feeling of the unknown. We did nearly two thousands kilometers, from an offroad track to Gembu in the mid southern border, to the part surfaced Seme border on the north west coast of Nigeria. It took seven days of hard driving. And all of it was unpredictable. Uncertain. Unknown. From the roads that go from four lane surfaced highways to rutted and deeply potholed dirt in seconds, to the 200 or more security checkpoints that we passed through. Each road and checkpoint carries that same feeling of unpredictability, of uncertainty, of the unknown. It’s grips you. Inhabits you. And it can overwhelm you. Hour by hour throughout the Nigerian crossing. 

It’s just a feeling I say to myself. Just a feeling. Just a feeling fuelled by the countless stories of other overlanders coming from the north. Everyone has a Nigerian scary story. maybe because I am an African I won’t experience it and I don’t experience it. Honestly. I don’t. In every engagement with Nigerians at checkpoints, markets, sleep over venues, on the jam packed streets or in the Lagos traffic, my experience is the same. And it’s a story of unbelievable energy, of loudness and overflowing warmth, in equal measure. So much so that it suffocates you at times. And you yearn for quiet time. Time to think. Time to appreciate. Time to recharge and face Nigeria again. But it is never aggressive, never threatening. It feels overpowering at times. Like the entire heart and head energy of Africa spills over in Nigeria with the force of the Congo and Zambezi and Nile rivers combined. It’s pervasive. All powerful. Present always. Strong and authentic and intelligent. It’s all that we South Africans are not. And so much more. 

And yet, yet we know that it shares some of our ills. It’s has its criminal side. And has it’s terror side. And a political  leadership that believes that public service is first about servicing themselves. A leadership who writes world class visions and plans and implements nothing. and a corrupt side. All of that felt like home. And yet Nigeria is so much more. “A lazy man does not deserve to eat” a elderly Nigerian man said to me in a bar when I was marveling at the fact that I hadn’t had a single destitute beggar hassle us and that I was in awe of the entrepreneurial spirit of even the poorest of the Nigerians. A lazy man does not deserve to eat I’m reminded. That’s it. The very core value system of the Nigerians is one of hard work and hussling and creating and selling and surviving by whatever means possible. 

The bare reality is that in our crossing of Nigeria we never were bribed or begged at. We were welcomed and loved and engaged everywhere. Even though it’s clear that Nigerians have no tourist industry at all. None. One officer asked us if our government payed for us to be tourists. Plenty of others said simply : are you tourists when we said we were tourists and stood out like torches in a black night. We didn’t see a single caucasian. Which wasn’t odd since we haven’t seen a caucasian since Angola. But in Nigeria we also haven’t even seen a chinese or asian person. Which is not to say they not there. They all over Africa. But it is to say that we were just swamped and swallowed by ordinary Nigerians everywhere. 

Nigerians are big and bold and loud. They are bright and sharp and in your face. More so in the cities of Benin and Enugu and Lagos and Jalingo. Less so in the rural areas and villages where we drove off road. But always there. Always present. And in large and loud and dense throbbing numbers. And maybe that is it. That is the beauty and the beast of the country. Wonderful in its warmth and humanity. Overpowering in its loudness and its closeness and its density. 

There is a lot of Nigerians that I wish for back home. No more, there is a lot of Africa that I wish for back home. The first and most striking want for all is education. Not just as a qualification. But as a means to self empowermment. To build confidence and creativity and ingenuity. I feel that everywhere. And especially in Nigeria. These people are strong and confident because they have a foundation of some solid education. It drives their creativity and entrepreneurship. And it raises their heads. Makes them bold. And confident and energetic to achieve and appreciate even the smallest achievements. We need truckloads of that back home. that get up and go and make a pan spirit. Much much more of that. Bring on the Nigerians. They can help us be what we can become as a nation. 

Village life 

It’s a mildly cool dawn. I can hear the swish swish of our neighbors hand broom as the mother of the house sweeps the dust from her front yard and into the street. Then she sweeps the dust on the street in front of her humble home. Something she does daily. To keep the red dust down and her home neat and tidy. 

Children dressed in reddish beige pinafore school dresses, the color of the dust, are emerging with their small backpacks on. Barefoot and ready for school. The bird chorus has begun and the ubiquitous cocks of the continent are crowing. In the distance I can hear the sound of humanity in the town rising, just as our village is rising, to a new dawn. Everyone is rising. 

We too are rising from our home in a village on the the outskirts of the town of Abomey, Tongo. Our rising starts with the sound of church bells ringing. Sometimes deep and full and at others there is a clanging, course and raw, sound of metal on metal. It matters not. It’s all the Christian call to prayer. Feels like any faith based hamlet anywhere in the world. Every day starts with the bells. It’s a supremely simple and wholesome tradition. And it is all over Africa. But it is not alone.  It stands as the twin brother alongside the Adhan – the Moslem call to prayer that means to listen, be awakened and informed – in the African towns and villages. Somehow neither sounds interferes with the other. And the people simply accept one another’s faith choice. Or so it seems. 

We have slept under a single cotton cloth on top of a hard foam mattress, just the way all Africans in equatorial climates do. We have washed with a small bowl, no larger than a grown mans hand, that one uses to scoop splashes of the water from a larger bucket in a washing area. We throw splashes of water all over us and soap up before washing it all off again. Cold refreshing water to combat the heat and sweat of the equatorial climate. Takes barely a few minutes. Then it’s done. 

There is no wastage here. Water is scarce. And it’s a daily labour to bring water to the household. We see that everywhere we go. Women and children mostly, and on occasion men on motorcycles, carrying water in containers from the well with their pumps, or from the rivers, to their villages. Every drop collected and used and then replaced. Day by day. 

And if it’s not water being carried, then it’s fuel. Large bunches of wood carried on heads or small bags of charcoal. Collected and burnt for fuel everyday, all the time. Fuel for the fire to bake bread or prepare meat or cook flour in oil. And everything else in between. This is the fuel for fires to eat. Not to create warmth. Or even security. Just to eat.

The water, the fuel, the sweeping and eating and singing and rising and sleeping. This is village life. Life so simple and so ordered that one wonders what the consumerist capitalist market offers this organic and complete order. What can be offered to this content and complete community? Nothing at all. Or rather nothing but hell I say. Nothing but hell. 

I am conflicted and confused. I know there is no way out for the villagers. And that their  dependence on market forces grows almost despite themselves. I used to only see poverty in the village. And I still see that. But less so. Now I see a simplicity and wholeness and quality of life in the day to day doings of the people. It’s clean and good and complete. People are supremely ordered and at peace and content. Seemingly without any aspirations of the trappings that I thought they may want. Resistant even to market forces. Holding on to their traditions and their lifestyle. So much so that we constantly hear stories of locals who refuse to take up the few jobs on offer. Preferring to stay home in the village. Protect the little they have and all that it means to them. 

Makes sense to me. There is an alternative economy here. One that needs to be supported in its natural rhythm and way. One that needs to be admired and honored for its value system that says each one holds another and we are who we are through others. I am compelled to search for ways to support and grow this lifestyle organically, as it were. Not by the flood of cheap Asian products which destroys local product and lifestyles. But through enhancing the trade of African products to Africans. Village by village, country by country, across the entire continent. Inside me I feel a nationalism, or continentalism, rising in defense of the African market and way of life. A sense that this needs protection. Admiration even. It’s the future for Africa. And maybe even of humanity in the age of climate change and the era of the anthropocene. 

A future where the household basic needs must be placed at the heart of all economic planning and social protection. From the dawn prayer to the sweeping of dust. From the water well to the fuel needs. From trade of one home with another, to one village with another, across cities and countries. This must be the foundations of all economic planning and activity. It requires a protectionist central state, not a developmental state. Knowing that development will come through protecting the home market and the African way. It requires a technology that is appropriate such that the digital revolution is an aid to assist in primary health, education, small scale agriculture and primary production and to facilitate trade of goods to markets. Where African artistry and innovation is protected and respected and admired for its creativity and ingenuity. Whether it’s the way plastic bottles are used and reused to carry ground nuts. we should celebrate that. Or the way hesian bags melted with wax from maas boxes to create patches to fix punctured tyres. we should celebrate that. Or the countless examples of the way Africans live appropriately in the twenty first century. Using and reusing damaged goods. Making useful goods where there once was waste. Leaving scarcely a drop of a carbon footprint behind. Surely this has lessons for all humanity. Surely the future is not the straightjacket of the dependency theorists model and of how this can never be done. 

We need to start again. Start from the bottom up. We it’s basic needs of the homestead and the village and the towns. Start with asking how we can use the forces of progress to grow the primary economy and social competence of the people. Through them and not despite them. Use the worlds innovation to protect and grow and enhance the African values and African production and distribution systems. Surely there are lessons here that have value for all the world. 

In saying all this I know I will stand accused of being an idealist and romanticist. I know that the devil is in the detail of how to support and grow the African economic future in ways that protect its organic goodness. But for me Africa has opened my eyes to what’s left of its inner goodness. It’s wholeness. It’s community. And it shines. Warmly. And needs to be supported. It has lessons for all of us. 

Commuting through Cameroon into the Banyo-Gembu crossing.

We are running out of time even though we have only been in the road for two and a bit months and we already cutting north through Cameroon. Heading for Yaounde to try again to get our Nigerian visa extended. We tried first time in Brazzaville but the Nigerian embassy there advised us to to extend the visa in Yaounde. Now we are walking the streets of Yaounde to the Nigerian embassy to try again. No luck. They won’t extend. Say we must do it at the border or anywhere in Nigeria.

So we are compelled to drop our dream of visiting the coastal village of Kribi in Cameroon and just keep heading north to get to the Nigerian border with sufficient time in our visa to cross Nigeria before its expiry – just in case they deny us again the extension of our visa.

It plays on our mind. Puts us under pressure to keep moving. We can’t risk not getting into Nigeria, or not crossing it in the time deadline of our visa expiry date, since anything goes in Nigeria. And everyone knows that the Nigerian visa is the toughest to get of all west African visas. We can’t risk a reapplication. So we just must keep on moving.

We drive north. North to the lovely city of Yaounde. We spend three days walking its streets and visiting galleries and markets. It’s alive and bustling and very, very welcoming. There are no street smart husslers here. No beggars. No fear. Nothing but warmth and friendship. It’s full and vibrant. And always welcoming. Even through the densest traffic and busiest street markets, we never experience a moment of discomfort. It is nothing but alive and warm and welcoming.

Moving on we drive north to Bafoussam and then west to wild camp at a Catholic Monastry that housed about 18 monks in long robes. We meet some of them at our campsite. They are evolved and refined people. Serene. Seemingly totally at peace with themselves and the world about them. And they kind of carry some gentle aura about them. Like they have been reincarnated and know all about them. No surprises. Just simple, peaceful serenity draped over them like a thick mist. It makes me think about my life as an atheist. Did I miss something ? Did I lose a path to inner peace and serenity ?

The highlight of our trip north and then north east of Yaounde, was our visit to the town of Foumban where the Sultan Ibrahim Njoya (1860 to 1933) Royal Palace was built just after the First World War. The sultan is best known for his creation of a new religion after his journey into Christianity and the moslem faiths. Neither worked for him. So he created his own religion. And that too was not enough. He also invented the an entirely new language – the Bamum language – created from the oral history of his ancestors. And he wrote numerous books, including a book on love and an original African karma sutra. All of this whilst he held 641 concurrent wives and invented a hand powered mill for grinding corn and other cereals.

His palace is a spectacular example of ancient African architecture. It is adorned everywhere with a logo that include a spider, two headed snake and a pair of bells. Our guide explains that the spider is the symbol of industriousness and hard work. It never stops working. A call to his kingdom to apply themselves to hard work constantly. And the two headed snake is a reminder of war. A war fought in both flanks of the kingdom. And finally the bells are the symbol of the summoning of the people to ritual or war. Or both. Alongside the palace the grandson has had built a giant museum in the shape of a massive eight legged spider, adorned with hairy legs. We can’t go in because it hasn’t been officially opened yet, but even from outside it is truly something to behold.

We spend hours in the markets of Founbam engaging with the people selling their wares. Everyone is warm and friendly and kind. And suddenly Africa feels like we have arrived in Mecca. More Muslim than Christian. Robes and fez headwear and soft spoken peaceful people everywhere. Something inside me lights up : it feels like I have arrived in another Africa. An unfamiliar new Africa. One I have read about but never immersed myself in. And the journey has just begun. I’m excited. And cautious. And committed. Before me lies the Banyo to Gembu offroad crossing into Nigeria. It beckons us and seems to boast with stories of its treacherous road, occupying my every thinking moment.

At dawn we are at the Cameroon immigration office of Banyo. Trying to get stamped out. We wait three hours for the officials to arrive. And finally get our passports and carnet stamped and we are good to go. Climbing up the first of multiple steep, rutted and rocky, offroad climbs. My heart is thumping with constant low level fear and trepidation. My head is alive with images from stories I have heard from south going overlanders of what the road will throw at us. River crossings, steep climbs, narrow tracks on the edges of deep fall away cliffs, huge ruts and holes in the ground. Some mud maybe, but the dry season has begun I think to myself. All of this is inside me as the purr of the cruiser gets us going up and over the first mountain.

We are navigating big time – point by point. On my dash the Garmin 276Cx, loaded with OpenStreetMaps, shows a purple line to follow. On my phone is loaded and we are following the waypoints, marked out by south going overlanders, of the villages we need to pass through. So we go. Checking waypoints on phone and marking them into the Garmin on the dash. Step by step. It’s slow and rough. But bit by bit the cruiser eats whatever the road throws at us: a deep rut here, a huge hole there, a river crossing, a balancing act across a narrow mountain track. The scenery is spectacular. We are climbing into savanna highlands and wide open fields and mountains. Up and down into the valleys below. All feels good and is good. I keep telling myself that I have the best vehicle for this and nothing can go wrong. It’s like a kinda wish and a prayer and an act of blind commitment all at the same time.

Despite everything things do go wrong. We take a wrong turn and suddenly we have dropped off OpenStreetMaps on our Garmin, as well as on our phones. Now we are chasing a dot on a screen with no route line at all. We are relying on the word of villagers to direct us and in presumably in good faith they send us on the toughest road ever: a shortcut to Gembu we are told. The road turns into a motorcycle track. We cannot see any car tracks for kilometers. We are stuck in forward motion. We cant turn the vehicle round because the road is too narrow and so you just have to keep going forward into the unknown. We are so affixed to the road we scarily take a picture. We hold on to the line and just try to keep our resolve up. Kilometer by kilometer, moving at an average of 10kilo per hour.

And going forward means some insanely narrow rutted tracks on steep cliff edges and hectic rocky climbs. Every moment I feel like we can just fall off the side of the cliff. Or drop into an immovable hole. We arrive at a huge wide river crossing and plunder recklessly through it. Determination and resolve is now all we have. At times we are white with fear and talk about stopping. Giving up. And then we know that we can’t go back. So we have to go forward. Still there is no line on the Garmin or our phone. Just a triangle showing our location in a blank space. But we soldier on. Knowing and believing that the villages we meet can’t all be telling a falsehood. Gembu is somewhere at the end of this track. We must soldier on.

Finally a line appears on the Garmin. We can work out that we will rejoin the main road to Gembu. We are inspired by hope and plunder on until our dot merges with the line and the tar all at the same time. We have made it !! Found the road to Gembu. Just as the villagers said. A huge relief swells in my chest. We hold each other as though we have just been rescued from a stormy sea. It feels glorious. A palpable relief surrounds the cabin of the car. We can breathe again. And again and again. It was hard. But we made it out thanks to the Troopy. I’m just so grateful for the work of the cruiser. I am in awe of its power and offroad capacity. Amazing vehicle I keep thinking to myself as we drive into Gembu, Nigeria.

Nothing is what it seems – searching for Gabon

Nothing is what it seems. It is whatever transpires on the road. I know this now for certain. Learnt my lessons the hard way. And I am still learning.

We spent time in Brazzaville decompressing and debating which road to follow north. We learnt that our north going German overlanders had driven directly north from Brazzaville to Quesso in north west Congo and over the border into Cameroon. By choosing that route they missed out on Gabon completely but got to Cameroon in record time. So we debated. Do we follow the Germans and drive north-east or do we take the main N1 and drive north-west thru Gabon. In the end Gabon won because we were keen to see the turtles and do some fishing at Sette Carma.

But it was not just destinations that drove our choice. It was also the road. On the map the west road appeared as a big bold blue line – stronger than any other. And it was marked N1 – indicating a main highway. Or so we thought. We imagined this meant a good asphalt road all the way to Gabon.

We were half right. Until we reached Dolisi the road was a big sprawling double highway. It was free of vehicles and free of potholes and full of tolls. Go figure. It was when we turned north from Dolisi that things changed dramatically. We went from good dirt road to deep rutted and potholed mud roads to mud tracks with large deep pools of water across them. Mud and water and slide and grit again. So severe that a one stage I submerged the entire vehicle so that the water covered the bonnet of the car and a third of the way up my windscreen. Miraculously the vehicle went under and through and out. And we breathed. At another we submerged our wheels in soft mud up to the chassis and had a few minutes of white fear as we rocked the car forward and back to be free it. Miraculously again the car screamed and heaved and managed to free itself from the fastening mud grip. And that’s how we rolled. A high tension drive. Bit by bit. Counting kilometers and hoping we will make it through. Hours passed until eventually we arrived at Ndende as the sun set. Relieved to be out and able to sleep.

The day had more in store though before we slept. On inspection we found that the left and right support stays for our rear bumper that holds the dual wheel carrier were both cracked. The bumper and wheels could be lost at anytime. So we were left with no choice but to offload the two spare wheels and place them in the vehicle to reduce the pressure on the bumper. And that’s not all. We also discovered that the feeder pipe for our water supply had been ripped out on the road and we had lost our store of water. So we are without the pleasure of water for a shower after a long drive. It is what is. I will repair it when I have a chance.

So suddenly everything changes. Without water we can’t get to camp out with the turtles like we planned, or go fishing at sette cama. We have to find a village that can help us weld together the broken bits and fix our water supply. Long held dreams get ditched in an instant and old plans are scrapped and new ones are made. Our priorities shift from turtles and beaches and fishing to car maintenance. It’s our house and means of transport. It takes priority always.

I keep thinking about that thick blue line up the west on a map. It’s so deceptive. The N1 is a track. A mud infested track. And I think about why so many overlanders just miss out on Gabon and go direct from Cameroon into Congo from the centre to east side. And why I never clicked. Never even thought. Never even imagined. Nothing. Africa has its way of presenting things way beyond what we think and imagine. Way, way beyond.

In the end we made it to Ndende and from there to Lambourine where worked the roadside welding repair job on the dual wheels carrier bumper and made a temporary fix to restore our water. And headed out to Lomé national park for new year. Wild camping on the way and treating ourselves to spaghetti and veggies in a lodge for New Years. A Lomé game drive delivered our first sightings of forest elephant and water buffalo and a bunch of birds. And some spectacular scenery in the park. But most of all Lomé delivered three days of chill time and restored us for the road ahead to Cameroon.

Decompressing in Brazzaville

Decompressing. A procedure used to reduce pressure. And a word popularized by some young techno ravers I know. They use it to describe the process of coming down from too much fun. It’s perfect. Descriptive. And with onomatopoeias ring. For me it says exactly what we needed after crossing from Angola through the DRC into the Republic of Congo. We needed to decompress. Find an apartment and sleep and drink and shower like normal people. Walk between rooms. And just breathe. Breathe.

This is why : the crossing of the DRC into Congo Republic was three days of gripping fear and resolve in equal measure. Exhausting. Seriously challenging. A venture into the deep unknown. Not least because we knew that we faced some of the most insane offroad travel well before the journey began. The young bikers whom we befriended at Club Naval, Luanda, had arrived exhausted from the north crossing, filled our ears with tales of getting stuck repeatedly and taking an entire day to do just 11 kilometers in crossing a tiny piece of no mans land between the DRC and Congo. That put the fear of god in us. And that fear grew white hot when we read on iOverlander stories of the same crossings. Big red warning signs filled the tracks we wanted to go on. When you clicked on a warning sign the tales of getting hopelessly stuck or rained in or sliding into dongas were ubiquitous. Basically everything we heard or read sang the same song of an extremely challenging offroad drive. A drive that should not be attempted alone.

And we are alone. There is no-one else. In fact we have only heard of one other overlander couple traveling south to north and they were already way ahead of us in Cameroon when we first made online contact. We won’t catch them. So we are alone for the crossing. We have only ourselves and our will to trust and keep true to our destiny.

The crossing starts with us heading north up the Angolan coastline and wild camping on a beautiful deserted beach. Then we drive east to Mabanza-Congo, which is the capital of the northern province, the ancestoral home of the Kongo kingdom, and located almost dead centre of north Angola. From there we drive north over the Angolan border at Lufo and into the DRC immigration at Luvo. From Luvo we took a long offroad drive and wild camped about 20kms from the Congo River on a deserted hill in the DRC. Early the next day we headed for the ferry. A fascinating wait for the morning and at midday we crossed the mighty Congo River on a small ferry and into the village of Luozi. Then we turned east along the northern bank of the Congo river and drove another 100k offroad to finally reach Boko where the tar begins. From Boko we drive a good narrow tarred road with occasional potholes to first Kinkala and finally Brazzaville.

The highlight of the drive was the ferry crossing of the Congo River. It started with a long wait for the whole morning on the south side. Trucks, people, domestic animals, vehicles all mass together and wait for the ferry. It’s is untidy and disorderly to those infused with a western world outlook. But there is an inner order behind the seeming chaos. We get in line and are told when to board. The ferry takes just three vehicles and one truck at a time. And with each exit and entry there is a lot of shouting and directing as the vehicles have to navigate their front wheels down two rickety metal plates, before dropping into the Congo river and accelerating up the bank. It’s steep. And dark and unknown. I smashed my water tap below my rear end bumper permanently shut, as my tail caught the edge of the ferry when my front wheels dropped onto the floor of the Congo riverbed. It’s wild and unknown and unexpected things happen in the madness of directing and shouting. Things can go wrong. And they do. So now we are without water to wash or cook.

Despite all this the crossing of the Congo fills me with a sense of wonder and awe and a kind of low level fulfillment. Its an odd mix of emotions. A feeling that here I am in the “heart of darkness” as Conrad put it. Crossing the greatest river in Africa alongside the Nile and yet, yet there is about me the ever present climate of the unknown. The unknown of the road ahead. The unknown a pulsating chaotic mass of desperately poor, foreign people all about us whom we can’t communicate with. The unknown of the countless offices with their officials doing what others have already done, repeat asking questions, waiting and waiting. Endlessly. Compelling me to dig deep into my well of patience and tolerance and engage low level, compliant driven, slow and deliberate negotiation tactics. These are some of the thoughts swirling around in my head as we chug across the Congo River.

But there is this too : this is not about me. My inner thoughts are raging with questions about the other, about the mass of citizens about me. How does everyone see us ? Do they even see us ? And if they do, what do they see ? Whiteness. Dripping privilege. Do they see my fear embedded behind my every humane gesture of kindness and humility ? Or what ? These people, this other worldly human mass, this chunk of throw away parts of humanity, what does it see and what does it think ? My mind is blank. Numbed. Empty. Lost. Incapable of even beginning to offer up any kind of explanation of the other at all. I am truly alone. Present. Visible. Exposed. Yet alienated and alone.

There is no time to think when you on the offroad. The opposite is true. Lou and I can scarcely talk as we come to the end of the nightmare Luvo to Boko road. It’s taken the whole day to cross the river and drive a total of 100kms to Boko. Rutted and pot-hold by past floods of rain, the road has pitched and tossed our car around relentlessly, like a light boat in a ocean stormy sea. Repeatedly it lurched and dropped so badly we felt we could tip over or break an axle or something else that would leave us alive but stranded. We search for tracks at times on the road and see none. We dunno when last a car went down the road. But we know our biker friends did do it. And that alone is enough for us to travel on.

The DRC part of the road ends with a barrier across it. No sign. No one there. Just a barrier. We return to a small village to ask in single words : “Immigration?”. We are led into a tiny room in a hut and are joined by a plain clothed official who declares himself the commissar. He goes through our documentation with a fine tooth comb. Asking questions in French. Our answers are guess work. It’s hot and slow and nearly 4pm and we still need to get on the track to the Congo border which is 11kms on. And we know from iOverlander that those last kilometers are the worst. No mans land. So no government does anything about the roads.

We wait. Patiently explaining. An hour passes and he seems approving of our passports but hasn’t stamped us out. We ask him to also to stamp the carnet for the car. And he suddenly freezes and announces that we need to go back to Luozi, where the ferry landed, to get the carnet stamped. He says they are an immigration office and “not customs”. Customs is at Luozi he says. Thats 60kms back on a dead awful road that we just survived though an entire day of high risk driving. This is what he is saying to us. Seriously.

We freeze. And protest. And Lou almost sheds a tear on desperation. We are distraught. And we declare that we can’t go back. We will have to stay here in the village. No fuel. And no more light for driving. We too are steadfast and the negotiations are deadlocked almost instantly.

Inside us we are jelly kneed with a sense of loss and waste and fear. I ask is we can buy a TIP (temporary import permit for the vehicle that is used instead of a carnet). This seems to break the deadlock. Money is now on offer and everyone know that money cures everything. More negotiation. There are now three cold and officious men in the small village room. The sun is setting. They are steadfast : they want $50. We try to ask for what and why as we already have a carnet. It goes nowhere. Fifty or nothing. Reluctantly we find the fifty and they agree to stamp our carnet and passport. And we are free to go.

The last eleven kilometers takes hours. They are the same eleven kilos that took our young biker friends a whole day in the wet just a fortnight back. Thankfully it’s dried somewhat for us. Still mud pools and massive ruts and hard dongas to ride. But not as slippery as we expected. And slowly, slowly, kilo by kilo, we make it to the border of RoC. Check through immigration in a another village house and drive to a wild camp just outside Boko. Wash each other in the pouring rain and find comfort in bed before falling into a a deep, welcoming and yes suffocatingly hot sleep.

Which is all to say we seriously needed to decompress when we arrived in Brazzaville the next day. Something in the universe aligned for us and we were offered an apartment at rock bottom prices from a caring person. As we handed over the money to the maître d’âme for the room a massive, raging, fire breaks out in the hallway electronic cupboard. And soon the entire hallways of the building are engulfed in electronic fumes and billows of suffocating white smoke. We cover our faces with wet cloths to breathe. Chaos and panic breakout as residents try to suppress the flames. We jump in too. Me with my torch and fire extinguisher from the troopy. Together we all do a partial job. Then fire men in a fire engine arrive. Rescue missions are underway. The fire is finally put out. And fortunately no one is hurt. Our apartment is restored to its former glory. The smoke is gone and the power is returned. And we lie down beneath the aircon. Exhausted. Happy. Relieved. And most of all : so very ready to decompress in Brazzaville.