Eleven months have passed, but Africa didn’t miss us. It is the same hustle and bustle, as if we just woke up another day. The roadwork that last time we thought was just paused for the weekend was still in exactly the same state. The arrival reminded that the brain remembers selectively and romanticises the past. The heat. There was no recollection of the unrelenting humid heat that doesn’t stop in the night. I fail to comprehend how do they bother to wake up in Congo and for years go shooting at each other in this sauna, rather than find a shady mango tree and tough out the heat.
First stop DRC embassy. Bad news, the Belgian Congo visas here are only available to the Gabon residents and no-one else. Now we have 3 options, ideally we’ll 1) try to get a DRC visa in Brazzaville; 2) we attempt to cross the border without a visa – I’ve heard of people having succeeded in the past; or 3) we find a pirogue in Pointe-Noire and sail around the Angolan enclave of Cabinda and the strip where DRC meets the Atlantic ocean. Probably in that order, but all of these options likely add a week of hustling to the trip.
The other part of the day was more positive. Our little shed had clearly been battered by the daily torrential rain and burning heat, but it was very much intact and soon the dust-covered Kotilda and Suusi appeared. There was no power in the batteries and the petrol in the tanks had evaporated, but I could move the piston in the cylinder so it hadn’t been completely rusted in. Good chance that once we have power and gas, the ladies will be ready to roar.
Our 3rd companion was a bit bored watching us work on the bikes, so she took a nap in the garage for most of the day.
In 48 hours the bikes were going again. The carburetors had to come off and be cleaned, magically quite a bit of mud had ended up there, as it was the case with the air filters. The biggest remaining issue is my starter clutch. It engages rarely, most of the time starter turns without clutching the engine and sometimes it tries to engage with a terrible screeching sound. It was already the case in the last leg of the trip, but has gone worse – I shouldn’t even attempt to use the starter now and do kickstart only. When I changed the oil, the magnetised bolt had attracted a lot of shreds of metal from the oil, I was told this is all from the starter clutch. Kickstart on a 640 engine means both me and Kriss have to get off every time the engine dies.
80km inland was as far as we got before first breakdown – Kotilda kick start lever just split in half. No electric start and now no kickstart either. KTM LC4 kickstart levers don’t hang about in Africa. The fastest option worked out to buy on ebay and arrange DHL to pick up from the seller Monday morning with an estimated delivery on Wednesday afternoon in Libreville. While we were debating whether to leave the bikes behind and take a bus for the next 300km to Lambarene which is the highway junction of Gabon’s river life, seven bikes pulled over for a pitstop at the bar. They happened to be the only motorcycle club in Gabon and so organised they even have a purpose-kitted voiture balai (broomwagon) truck following them on their rides. We pushed Kotilda on their truck and headed back to Libreville.
For the truck it was yet another day on the African road. His double wheels on the rear axle came off as we skid to a halt. For the repairs he took two nuts off the other side. The empty cans of lager you see on the picture don’t suggest that the driver was thirsty, these cans were used to make spacers as the bolts were otherwise too long for the tools he had. During the remainder of my trip I was combining my rudimentary understanding of physics and statistics to calculate the probability that wheels on both sides come off together and model the skid route.
With a couple of idle days in Libreville, we packed one tent and crossed to the Point-Denis peninsular, a 20 minute boat ride across the estuary. The locals call it an island rather than a peninsular. On the estuary side there are some hotels and holiday villas of the well off gabonaise, on the outside there is just white sand beach for 70km, separating the jungle from the ocean.
The only boutique was a shed with 12 items for sale – we bought 4 of the items. The grumpy shopkeeper-lady wasn’t going to cook us lunch, pointing at Kriss and saying: “You have a cook with you!” With a bit of hustle we got to use her kitchen to cook ourselves rice and some beans from the can. Later two local dudes arrived and I got to listen in to their French chatter. One had recently been to France and was chanting to the other: “They have those trains that 40 minutes and boom, you’re in the next city.” I can understand his amazement, given the only gabonese train line takes 10 hours to reach the first bigger city.
An hour’s walk on the empty beach took us to a perfect spot to set up camp. Me and Juka decided to check out the jungle before sundown. Only hundred meters in we met the first local – a chimpanzee climbed down a tree and vanished into the flora. While this dude was big, he was still smaller than both of us. However next we stepped into someone else’s footstep. There was no sign of him, but he must have been one massive elephant leaving footsteps of 40cm across. That slowed us down and soon as the path narrowed, we decided to return to the illusory safety of the beach. We also agreed not to mention our new acquaintances to Kriss.
The first night camping wild revealed some of our rookie mistakes. I had borrowed my parents’ 2-person tent, which was both expensive and spacious to fit three. However, I hadn’t paid attention to the branding of “ultimate arctic 90” written on the side in bold letters. It is probably the best tent you can buy for the Everest base camp where they last took it. In the jungle heat with three people it was suffocating at best. I gave in first and laid on the beach, Juka followed. As the evening breeze died we encountered a bigger problem than the lack of oxygen – mosquitos. The rest of the night continued in our little tropical plastic sauna fighting each other for the rare oxygen molecule.
On our trek along the beach we passed an empty resort and stopped to ask for water. In spite of the heat we were told off that we’re trespassing on private property. It was confusing, weird and rather frustrating. Only later when the locals mentioned this was the King of Morocco’s fishing lodge it all suddenly made sense.
DHL is a true wonder of the modern world. It took them 36 hours to get a new starter clutch from an eBay seller in rural Poland to fly it to Libreville. Then it took me another 36 hours and twice the cost of the part to get it through Gabon customs. Soon it will be fitted with a help of local mechanics. The kick start got delayed by a lousy Lancashire seller, but I found a local KTM owner Herve through the bike club, who was kind enough to borrow his until the new one arrives. The road awaits. Maybe tomorrow we try again.