After six slow, bumpy kilometres I arrived in the village of Ndalatando, the last village in the DRC. As I rode toward the immigration office, a man stopped me in the street and told me he was the immigration chief. Right from the start he seemed angry and unfriendly.
He directed me to the immigration office, which looked like any other house in the village, smaller than most. I went there, and got my documents ready. He still wasn’t there so some locals directed me to a building which turned out to be his house. He wasn’t wearing any sort of uniform but he thrust his phone into my face. The profile picture was of him in uniform. “I am the chief! Me!” he told me (in French, of course).
We went down to the immigration “office.” He asked for typical documents – Covid vaccine certificate, Yellow Fever vaccine certificate, copies of my visas and my passport data page. He first complained that I don’t have three doses of the Covid vaccine, but dropped that pretty quickly. He then spent a long time insisting my visa was expired because it was over a month old (it’s valid for three months).
Once he’d accepted everything was in order, he demanded 20 USD for stamping my passport. I try not to pay bribes, so I declined. That was the start of a roughly 40 minute back and forth.
He kept insisting that I give him some money. I kept refusing – I said that my government doesn’t permit me to pay bribes. He kept insisting, I kept saying it’s not possible. He tried several times to hand my passport back and told me to leave. I refused to accept it back and asked him to please stamp it.
At one point he threw my passport on the floor at my feet. I picked it up, placed it on his desk, and asked him to stamp it. He raised his fists and asked “are you going to force me? I was in the military!” He wasn’t very intimidating and I didn’t take the bait, just asked him to please give me the stamp.
After a while, seemingly in an effort to say he was finished with the conversation, he started sweeping. He held up a dead bat in my face and asked if I knew what it was. I told him that in English, it’s called a bat. “Bat,” he repeated and threw it out of the window.
After this he finally stamped my passport, complaining all the while. We then had to go through a similar, but shorter, procedure for him to stamp the date. And again for him to sign it. After this he suddenly turned quite friendly and started giving me directions to the border. I cycled away.
There were a few more kilometres to the border, which were characteristically slow and rough. At places the road was overgrown; this is obviously not a well-used border.
The road on the other side was immediately better. A few kilometres of smooth gravel brought me to Tambo, the (first) immigration post. There was a policeman there, who was quiet but not unfriendly. He explained that the immigration officer and was unwell and at the health centre across the street, so we would wait for him. In the meantime I pumped up my tyres in anticipation of better road surfaces ahead. After a while he came over. He clearly was unwell, poor guy, and was shaking as he took down my details and stamped my passport.
For 15 kilometres the road was genuinely good, smooth gravel. The word road was now finally accurate!
The next ten kilometres were of middling quality, still much better than the DRC side. This led to a short section of sand where I had to push for 100m or so.
Once back on solid ground the road climbed steeply for a few kilometres. This at last brought me to the town of Boko, where the dirt road finally ended and I gladly rejoined the tarmac.
I was now out of food. I’d meant to get some in Ndalatando, but forgot after the whole immigration affair. I’d tried on this side of the border, but there was nowhere to change money and they wouldn’t accept Congolese Francs. The Republic of Congo uses Central African Francs, a currency shared by six countries – and pegged at a 1:1 rate to the West African Franc, used by several more.
I tried the shops in Boko and none would accept dollars or Congolese Francs, nor would they change money. I sat down with some locals and tried asking if any of them would swap some local currency for my dollars. None would, though one went off to search for someone else. He returned, not having found anyone.
I was pretty keen on not having to cycle the next 130km without food, so I kept asking around. One of the people I’d spoken to originally came running over; a shopkeeper had decided he would exchange some USD after all. It was a bad rate, but not as bad as it could have been.
Now that I had some money I bought some food, and a sim card. Then I set off cycling, on tarmac at last. It was a bit potholed but still far, far better than the last few days.
After about 30km I reached a village, Louingui. From comments on iOverlander I knew I needed to get a second entry stamp here. It was a good thing I knew, as no one tried to stop me as I rode through. The immigration building was unmarked but I asked at the police station, and was led to it. The immigration officer took down my details and gave me this second stamp. I don’t know if not having it would have been an issue but better safe than sorry.
I went to a shop in the village which had fridges with cold drinks! I’d not seen those in a while; there hasn’t been much electricity around. I rode on for another hour or so, aiming for a wild camping spot marked on iOverlander. Near that spot I saw an abandoned house. There were no people around so I made my way over and set up my tent in the house.
I made an early start to begin the last stretch into Brazzaville, the capital city, where I planned to apply for some visas and therefore have time for some well-earned rest. Well before sunrise I started cycling, and soon joined the RN1. It wasn’t really any busier but it was wider and had road markings.
For a couple of hours the road was pretty hilly but traffic remained low. Despite the hills I was of course going far faster than my norm for the last few days. A humid haze hung over the landscape, limiting the view.
The road levelled out, and things got a little busier starting about 20km from Brazzaville. There were lots of minibuses and taxis – almost all green – but didn’t seem to be many personal vehicles, not even motorcycles.
I tried a few ATMs on the way into the city, but none would take foreign cards. I rode to the Hotel Hippocampe, a hotel which kindly allows Overlanders to stay for free. West Africa is generally more expensive, and the cheapest options here are £20+, so these free options are much appreciated.
I got set up here and had a very overdue shower. I met a Swedish man called Anders, recently retired – mostly, anyway; he was here for a two week contract repairing some vehicles for the park service. He’d lived in various places in Africa over the years and had some interesting stories, especially about the Central African Republic.
I set off into the city centre and, after a couple more attempts, found a working ATM. I then went to a supermarket which was decent but not as good as the one in the DRC. It definitely beats plain biscuits though!
I went to the Cameroonian embassy and arrived at about 1:30 PM; iOverlander said it was open until 4. Unfortunately they now stopped receiving visa applications at 1 PM. The lady there was very friendly and swapped to fluent English after asking where I was from. She explained what documents I’d need and handed me a form to fill in so I wouldn’t need to wait in the morning. She told me they send the visa applications off around midday, so it was quite nice to know that even if I’d rushed here first thing it probably wouldn’t have ended up being any faster than arriving the next morning.
I returned to the hotel and spent some more time chatting to Anders, and befriended the local cat. It rather wanted to join me in the tent but eventually settled for sleeping just outside the door, curled up on my empty handlebar bag.
The next morning I walked over to the Cameroonian embassy and submitted my visa application. I then cycled over to the ferry port. The DRC capital, Kinshasa, is just over the river and a ferry runs between the cities. Formal bureaux de change didn’t want my DRC currency, but I figured I’d find money changers at the port. I did. On the way over there I also managed to find some pretty good tape, which I used to repair my tent.
In the afternoon I returned to the Cameroon embassy and received my visa. I then went to the Gabon embassy, though they were by then closed. They told me what documents I’d need and I returned with them in the morning. The visa was done while I waited, and took about an hour. They agreed to put it in the first visa page of my passport, which was still blank despite the fact I now have only 6 free pages.
I’d realised that the Cameroonian embassy hadn’t given me the Laissez Passer I’d asked for. Cameroon’s borders are officially closed (due to Covid) and this is required to cross. I’d heard it wasn’t needed when entering from Gabon, but figured I might as well get it anyway. They processed it that afternoon.
With these visas as well as Nigeria’s, I have visas for the next three countries. After that comes Benin, which has an e-visa system. That should mean I have a month or so of cycling with no planned stops along the way – though of course that leaves a lot of room for unplanned stops!
I made a reasonably early start the next morning, and the roads in the city centre were almost deserted. It got busier when I rode through a market, which was already underway, and remained busy as I cycled through the urban sprawl where potholes and oversized speed bumps create bottlenecks for traffic.
Traffic reduced gradually as I moved out from the city, then dropped significantly when I passed a toll booth. This was the end of the flat riding and for the next few hours I rode through the hills – backtracking along the route I’d entered the city on.
The backtracking came to an end when I reached the town of Kinkala. Not long after, the smooth tarmac came to an end as well. I rode around a barrier – checkpoint or toll booth, I don’t know which – and the road became uneven and potholed, with occasional washouts. On the plus side there was almost no traffic.
It got worse, alternating between gravel and tarmac and everything in between – that is, at times it was completely gravel, at times there was a narrow section of tarmac, and at times it was about half and half. There was one section of deep sand.
After a while the tarmac ended completely. The road was – or had once been – under construction, so there was still gravel. It was made of fairly large rocks which isn’t ideal for cycling.
A little later again the gravel came to an end as well, and I cycled my way along what was now just a dirt track.
In the evening I approached a junction and rejoined the tarmac and the RN1. According to my map the road I’d just been on was the RN1, but this made more sense. This road doesn’t go through Brazzaville, but there’s another tarmac road that links them. It’d be a much longer route but, being tarmac, that’s the way the trucks go.
I cycled along for another hour or so before finding a way to camp. A section of the old road ran next to the new one, and I rode along it a little way before finding a big clear space to put the tent.
As usual I set off early in the morning. Unsurprisingly, this road was busier than the unpaved roads yesterday. But, in proportion to it’s size it was quiet and there was always room for vehicles to move over to the other lane to overtake me, which they did. The road didn’t go through the villages and towns so it was an uneventful but pleasant day.
Although the road didn’t go through towns, people had set up shops by the road on the outskirts – mostly garages, but I was able to get the food I needed – just biscuits, really. I still had some food from Brazzaville as well. Near one of these towns, a cablecar crossed the road. It wasn’t for pedestrians but rather a huge construction plant nearby.
At the end of the quiet day I set about finding for a place to camp. Again the remains of the old road were visible. I pushed the bike through the long grass (with some difficulty) until I reached a clear section large enough for the tent.
After an hour or so’s cycling in the morning, I reached the edge of the city of Dolisie. The road bypassed it to the north, with a crossroads where I planned to leave the RN1 and head north toward Gabon. First, though, was a petrol station at this crossroads. It had a “croissanterie” that was highly recommended. When I walked in, the smell was very enticing. I had a croissant and a pain au chocolat and can confirm they were very good.
I then headed off, riding north. I was surprised to find there was tarmac. A toll station called the road RN3; the kilometre markers called it RN5.
The tarmac lasted about 30 kilometres before the road changed to smooth gravel. It still made for nice cycling but it was dusty, which could be unpleasant when traffic passed, particularly the big logging trucks.
I reached a market at a crossroads and after that the traffic stopped almost completely. The road worsened a little, but not much – except in a few cases where the dust was so deep it was like riding in sand. In such times I was glad there were so few vehicles – because when some did pass, it wasn’t pleasant…
At one point I saw a truck ahead, without a cloud of dust. Sure enough there was some tarmac, but just a few hundred metres – a bridge and short sections either side.
Then it was back to the dirt, maintaining a reasonable pace on the mostly smooth surface. Of the few vehicles I saw, there were some trucks, loaded with cargo and also with passengers sitting atop that cargo.
Outside the villages the road was generally lined with long grass, making it difficult to find somewhere to camp. There was a spot marked on iOverlander but as I arrived there a man was walking through. He didn’t want me to camp there but to go to the village to camp. I prefer not to have people crowding around watching me setting up camp and trying to sleep, so I cycled on a bit further.
After a couple of kilometres I passed some trees. They had a thick canopy of leaves so I guessed the ground was likely to be relatively clear of foliage. I pushed my way in through the clear ground, and did indeed find that the ground was mostly clear, so I set up camp.
Unfortunately there were more of those insects that had eaten a bunch of holes in my tent in Angola. I reckon they’re subterranean termites. Well, in the early morning the ground came to life and they ate some more of my tent floor. They have quite a distinctive sound – a pulsing beat, like their heartbeats are synchronised. There were so many of them around, I was lucky I had only one set under the tent. I carried all my things back to the road and packed up there, waited for it to get light, then set off.
That morning there were more villages than usual, with several in a series, just a couple kilometres apart. In these villages the word “give” competed with “Mbele” for the most common word shouted at me. “Give, give give…” was the chorus.
There wasn’t much traffic around between the villages. One of the few vehicles I saw contained a couple of Overlanders! Omar and Chadyne are Moroccans, driving from their home to South Africa. It was nice to chat to some other travellers, and nice to be speaking in English! We chatted for a while, giving each other advice for the road ahead, then continued on our separate ways.
I passed a fairly large town, Nyanga. Large is relative, but it was bigger than any settlement I’d passed through since Dolisie, with multiple shops around a central square.
This was the last largish settlement on the Congo side of the border, though I passed through several more villages. The word “give” was no longer much used, though the sentiment remained, with lots of people trying to get me to stop to give them stuff. I did not.
About 10km before the border the road, which up to this point had been mostly quite good, deteriorated a little. There were some bigger potholes, some filled with water, but nothing too bad in comparison to the DRC.
I reached the border and made my way to immigration, where my details were entered into a Big Book of Names, and my passport was stamped. A hundred metres further on, a policeman entered the exact same information in another book. Then off I went to Gabon!
The main immigration is in Ndende, about 50km from the border. Near the border itself there were just a couple police checkpoints, where my details were entered into two more books. They didn’t even check if I had a visa.
The road on the Gabonese side was significantly worse, and much less used. I passed a couple small hamlets but outside those, I saw just two trucks in two hours of riding. The grass hung over into the road, a sign of it’s disuse. There were some deep puddles and rivers to cross through – after a truck overtook me, I caught up to it a couple kilometres later. There was a muddy hole about 2 metres deep, and they were laying rocks down to give the wheels some traction.
In the evening I passed some roadbuilding vehicles parked next to the road – rollers, diggers and the like. Around these there was lots of room to camp and so that’s what I did.
May 29: 104 km
May 30: 79 km
June 3: 147 km
June 4: 174 km
June 5: 145 km
June 6: 129 km