Children ran naked in puddles as the rain bore down and turned the dirt roads into rivers. Hit by a sudden thunderstorm, my two drivers and I watching forlornly as the motorbikes (and my bags!) were getting soaked through. Beneath a thatched roof, people from the village sympathized.
“C’est la vie…Basankusu c’est 150km.”
Arms wrapped around my shoulders and shivering, I just hoped we’d make it before dark. This seemed unlikely now. Ten minutes later, The Quiet One (I never caught his name), dropped his cigarette, nodded at me and marched into the downpour, motioning I should do the same. Mort, the other and more upbeat driver who loves his Congolese whisky, handed me my helmet and smiled. No use waiting it out he seemed to say since we didn’t know when it would stop. Five hours until sunset…
Hopping onto the back of The Quiet One, we skidded into the road turned into streams and were immediately stuck in the mud. Hopping off, with water past my knees, I pushed on the bike as he revved the engines and tore off. Wading after him and looking over my shoulder at Mort, we made it through the deepest part.
Smiling, I got back on the bike thinking, “Holy crap this is fun.” This train of thought quickly changed as the journey went on.
Friday and day two of my motorbike ride. Fingers crossed for a Saturday flight and that all this would have been worth it. The bikes had arrived late yesterday afternoon and I had been stressing out the whole day at Lingunda after spending the night there in my tent.
“Can we go at night?”
“You really don’t want to.”
Finally we set off a little after 3PM with three hours left of sunlight. An hour and a half later, Mort’s bike was pierced by a stick and started dripping sticky black oil. This would prove to be a problem for the next two days. We stopped in a village to assess the problems as everyone swarmed around us. Curiously eyeing me as they brought out a large bench for me to sit on, an old, malnourished man insisted I take his eggs.
“If you don’t take them, he’ll be insulted.”
Suddenly, Gideon appeared surprised to see me.
“I thought you were leaving Sunday?”
Explaining the circumstances, he nodded and we reminisced about the nsombo (Are you Achin’ for some Bacon?) incident while waiting for the tinkering to stop. Finally, the bike was semi-OK to drive and we made it to some unnamed village to sleep. The head of the village let me set my tent up under his roof and prepared some smoked fish and mkemba for dinner. Sipping on tea and honey, we chatted for hours in broken French.
The next morning, I awoke to children whispering around my tent and shushing each other as I emerged with sunrise. Blinking shyly and looking away, one small child stuck his sticky hand out for me to shake. I tried to maintain a serious expression as he took this act very seriously. I tried to pay for dinner and allowing me to stay the night, but the head of the village waved it off, smiling and calling me his guest and wishing me good luck on the rest of my journey. Later, while getting off the bikes to cross bridges (which were thin logs piled over streams), a man ran up to me, handing me a 1.5m long piece of sugar cane before darting off. Congolese hospitality is great!
Arriving at a large river 100m wide and about 1m deep, we paid some locals to ford the river. Thinking of Oregon Trail, I giggled as they loaded our motorbikes along with some locals on bicycles. A goat bleated unhappily tied to the back of one and I noticed the prevalence of Obama T-shirts in the area.
A good start to our second day and before being hit by the thunderstorm.
Hours before dark and still shivering, Mort pulls over at his village and introduces his wife. Village children had been calling me bondele (turns out this means “white” or “foreigner”) all day while waving, screaming and smiling as we passed by. He hands me a shot of Congo whisky.
“This will make you warm.”
With a shrug, I down it as women and men give me amused looks and slaps on the back. Sunset and we’re still two hours away. The sky turns a vibrant purple and I’m sad to return to the city. Around 8pm, my driver points to lights in the distance and suddenly, we come across oil lamps lining the streets and people laughing—we have arrived in Basankusu. The streets remind me of Spirited Away and I expect to see some mysticism through tired lenses.
At The Bureau, they inform my flight is in the morning and they have prepared a room and shower for me (a massive basin with warm water and a cup). Bliss. Laying out everything to dry, I fall asleep wrapped warmly in the blankets–last night in the middle of nowhere.