As promised I just need to write a little update about our attempt to
get a visa for the D.R.Congo. Just to write off my frustration. We dont
have the visa yet and they didn't even accept the visa application from
Just imagine the following happening in Australia:
On Thursday morning we visited the DRC embassy in Lusaka for the first
time. And were met with super friendliness by one guy we shall, for the
purpose of this post, call 'the friendly guy'. Who listened to our
situation and said the visa is no problem. But the decision lies with
the chancellor who we need to see but who was not in the house. But
expected back any moment. So we were adviced to go back home and the
friendly one would send us a text message to Martin's mobile as soon as
the chancellor arrives.
We did not get any text message all day.
So back we went on Friday early morning. To be told that 1.) the
chancellor is not in the house, no one knows if or when he would be in
and 2.) we could not get a visa because we need a letter of invitation
from within the Congo, rubberstamped by the Congo immigration
department. So we referred to Thursday's conversation and said we wait
here for the chancellor. Nothing happened then for at least an hour.
There were six people waiting with us in the waiting room. One wall of
the waiting room had a little window in it which you could speak through
to the lady at the reception. Another wall showed fotos of Mountain
Gorillas, Okapies and of Kinshasa, each boasting the title 'Visitez la
Republique Democratique de Congo'. The other side of the room was
occupied by an empty desk on which every now and then a clerk in a
'Jesus is Lord' shirt would appear just to sit there and mostly ignore
us all. Sometimes he would call someone from the waiting room to his
desk for a long conversation with lots of laughter. And that was it for a
while. He ignored us two completely. And whenever we talked to him we
got pushed back with a one sentence reply. To sit and wait. Standard
answer to every question. Sometimes he would just go out and stand in
the sun. Just stand there for 20min motionless. With his back to the
window through which we looked out at him. It was a nice sunny day. And
he surely made the best of it. We kept asking reception and the clerk in
turns if the chancellor will come in today. And were told to sit and
wait or leave. So we sat. And waited. We asked reception to give us our
visa application forms to start filling them in. Nothing else to to. And
we got one. A second one would have been too much. We asked for a
second form. But got told "No". The friendly guy from thursday rushed
past us a few times without looking in our direction. When we run after
him to talk to him he was friendly again and told us to sit and wait for
the chancellor. So we did. Then, some three hours later the lady from
the reception came round to us and without a word dropped us a second
visa application form. And went straight back. There is probably only
one form available every two hours? Nothing else happened for another
hour. The six others and us just sitting there watching the clerk watch
us. And the clerk going outside to just stand there. Followed by eight
heads turning after him in apreciation of the movement in the room. And
the clerk disappearing through the back door. And the clerk coming in
through the back door to just sit on his desk. All in slow motion. We
couldn't ask the reception lady any more because she was by now asleep
in the far corner of her room, as far away from the reception window as
possible. And out of reach for our voices. She has a tough job indeed
and deserves a proper sleep.
So we waited and no chancellor came. And waited. And no one knew if the
chancellor would have the grace to appear at all. Hours later a fine
white limousine entered the compound and a friendly well dressed guy
walked through the waiting room, friendly greeting us with 'bonjour' and
disappearing through the backdoor. That was the big highlight for
another hour and a welcome distraction for the six others and us. Apart
from the usual routine of the clerk leaving the room to stand in the sun
a bit. Can't blame him, it was a nice sunny day. So why not enjoying a
bit of sunshine? Than the well dressed guy came back. With the friendly
guy from yesterday to walk straight past us, to their car and
disappearing. The reception lady had now woken up and went for lunch.
Having such a tough job she really earned a big lunch today. Asking us
what we were still doing there on her way out. 'Waiting for the
chancellor' we said but she was already out the door. The rest of the
room waiting patiently or talking loudly in some local language. Which
everyone seemed to enjoy. Nothing else happened for another hour. It was
lunchtime after all. The embassy closed at 4pm so we thought we might
just wait till then. The reception lady came back with the clerk, we
asked her a question, without even listening she just told us we need a
letter of invitation while walking straight past.
And then all of a sudden strange things happened. Movement! A few cars
started arriving with people going into the building through the side
door. Unfortunately the reception lady stopped talking to us completely.
The clerk ignored us by now, regardless what we did. So whenever a car
came into the compound Martin and I walked in turns to the security guy
at the boomgate to ask if it was the chancellor in that car. Until he
was too upset and just told us to sit and wait and the chancellor was
not in yet and he would not know if he comes in at all. We came back
anyway after each car to ask him until he too disappeared and was not
seen again. I hope we did not stress him into an early grave. By that
time we doubted the chancellor even existed. I mean, c'mon!?!? The
friendly guy came back, this time without the well dressed guy. Just
telling us to wait. It was 3:30 by now. Time for the reception lady to
come around and asking us what we were still doing there. She probably
scheduled that question for 3:30pm since the early morning. And noting
that we need the letter of invitation. And that the chancellor was not
in. Then the well dressed guy came back and there was a lot of motion
around. He sat down at the little desk, the clerk now standing beside
him and really looking busy. We were afraid all that stress would cause
the poor guy to collapse. But he was tougher than we thought. There was
actually stuff happening, right in front of us! The reception lady had
just left for the day, laughing that we were still there. Before she
left she actually smiled at us and told us to come back on Monday.
Sitting in Lusaka for a whole weekend just to have more of the same on
Monday wasn't a great outlook. So I asked her if we would not need a
letter of invitation on Monday. Her reply: "come back on Monday". My
question if Monday would be any different from today. Her answer: come
back on Monday. And gone she was, shaking her head. Meanwhile the
welldressed guy was busy signing papers, given to him by the clerk. His
presence had a profound effect on the mood in the room. Something was
happening. He talked with authority to everyone (except us), was
superfriendly to everyone (just ignoring us) and obviously told a lot of
jokes because everyone was now in a great mood and laughing a lot.
Except the two white guys in the room who dont speak the Tonga language.
After an hour of signing and talking and laughing the well dressed guy
was finished and went to the backroom. It was now just after 4pm,
closing time for the embassy. But the waiting room was still full. Full
of the same people as at 11am this morning. All just sitting in the same
chair as they did all day. None had achieved anything. No one seemed to
bother though. So one by one they left. To come back on Monday. One
waiting lady asked us why we were still there. 'Waiting for the
chancellor' we said. "But the chancellor was just here, the guy signing
the papers!". Which was Mr. Welldressed guy.
To get this straight: we were sitting there all day, wasting time
waiting for the chancellor. The same chancellor everyone in the embassy
was aware we are waiting for. The same chancellor who earlier today
walked past us together with the friendly guy who promised us to let us
know straight away as soon as the chancellor is in the house. The same
chancellor who sat there next to the clerk who told us a hundred times
that the chancellor is not in and it is unknown if he comes in at all.
And the same chancellor who was now laughing and talking loudly to the
clerk and the friendly guy in the reception room. So when the clerk came
out of that room we just jumped on him. "Ah yeah, the chancellor is in
there". The clerk, calm as usually would now tell the chancellor about
our request to talk to him. Good that we reminded him, right? That again
was it for another half an hour. Of sitting there hearing our
chancellor laughing in the backroom.
Then, finally, the unthinkable happened. The door opened and the
chancellor appeared. We were the only two people left in the waiting
room, so he must intend to talk to us. And he did. However, all his
friendlyness and good mood was gone. Instead he gave us a dressdown
about the impatience of white people, that there is no way to hurry
things up. He gave us no chance to talk. Whenever we tried he just
interrupted us loudly and continued his tirade against impatience. So we
carefully listend and tried to be following his speach with silent
interest. Once he finished we could say one sentence: "we just want to
apply for a visa, however long you need for processing doesn't bother
us, but we dont have a letter of invitation. " We said that very
quickly, always afraid not being able to finish our sentence. But we got
the whole sentence out! He asked us about our business in the Congo.
"Tourists" we said and pointed towards all the nice colour photos on the
walls saying in capital letters "VISITEZ LA REPUBLIQUE DEMOCRATIQUE DE
His response? "Come back on Monday".
But then, in the most amazing moment for the whole day he said "Please
go ahead and apply for a visa on Monday". "We won't have a letter of
invitation on Monday either". "No problem, you don't need one." This was
said by the mighty chancellor. 5pm Friday night.
We shall now see what will happen on Monday morning.
19/10/2011 Still in Lusaka
19/10/2011 Stuck in Zambia
The Congo Visa - it seems to be a never ending
story. But at least a story of a little progress. When the guys at the
embassy said last week that we should come back on Monday it obviously
did not mean we would get the visa on Monday. However, Monday was a much
better day than Friday. The same people who kept asking for an
'invitation letter' on Friday accepted our application with a smile and
without the invitation letter on Monday morning. No problem. And they
even said we should come back on Monday 2pm! We surely would not get the
visa on the same day, would we? Asking what would happen at 2pm we just
got the response to 'come back at 2pm'. Anxious of messing up our good
run we stopped asking questions. And came back at 2pm. When we were told
to come back on Friday.
By then we have stayed in Lusaka for 6 days. Just
for the visa. There was nothing else to do for us in Lusaka. And another
week waiting did not feel very tempting. So we left all our papers at
the embassy and promised to be back on Friday.
Then we started studying the maps again. There is
not much you can do around Lusaka without travelling a great deal there
and back. And both, Martin and me, had no strong preference of what do
do. Except that we needed to get out of the city. Martin, keen on more
sightseeing, suggested to see the South Luangwa NP. That would be a
1000km return trip from Lusaka. I, keen on not wasting too many km out
of nothing to do, suggested to visit Lake Kariba, a 400km return trip.
At the end we thought it would be stupid for two people to do a massive
return trip just for a visa. Or the hope of getting one. So we decided
to split up for a week. Martin going to South Luangwa. Me going to Lake
Kariba and on my return picking up both our passports from the embassy
on Friday. And we would then reunite on the Malawi border on Sunday.
Good plan, hey?
So on Tuesday I went down the 200km to Lake Kariba.
My map showed a town called Siavonga which looked like a good place to
relax for a few days. And again things took a fantastic turn as soon as I
engaged with people.
Just stopping for a cold coke in Siavonga I was
immediately called to come and sit with a group of young blokes
underneath a shelter next to the road. Why not. So we sat together and
talked a bit, soon getting over the typical questions. And people
started telling me their little everyday worries. One was looking for a
sponsor for the only radio station in town. Another one has had a car
accident and when going to the hospital got a diagnose that his knee was
swollen and needed to be bandaged and painkillers were prescribed to
relief the pain. Only that the hospital had no painkillers and no
bandages in stock. And a third one had just bought a car from Lusaka but
the car behaved strangely and the battery was flat. Here I am, the
traveller, tell me all your trouble! So I promised to look at the car
first which quickly got pushed to our location. It was an old Nissan
Pulsar, it would not get a road worthy certificate anywhere in
Australia, but for Zambia it was in pretty decent shape. The battery was
flat. The only key broke inside the lock for the boot. So the ignition
was laid bare to start it by connecting the wires every time. And the
boot could only be opened by skillfully pulling on a wire which could be
accessed from the back seat. Some damage on the front and a broken left
rear shock completed the picture. However, the real problem was the
alternator belt. Two problems actually. First it was way too lose. And
second, it was fitted the wrong way round. The sticky rubbery bit on the
outside. And the stiff textile bit running over the sprockets. So it
didn't move the generator at all, hence flattening the battery and not
powering the ignition. Fortunately I had a spanner in my panniers. Which
made it easy to quickly turn around the alternator belt and tighten it
to a degree that it was actually doing something. And this changed
A tourist happily getting his hands dirty to help a
local without charge sure was unusual. So immediately the Nissan's
proud owner by the name of O'Brian became my best friend and brother. I
was given free coke and free
And a big plate of lunch which we decided to share with the group. And
he knew someone who knew someone who owned a guesthouse. Where I could
stay courtesy go the manager with my tent pitched not even one meter
from the waters of Lake Kariba. And his friend the barber helped me out
looking human again, shaving my 2 months worth of beard off and cutting
my hair so I looked like the guy on my passport photo again. And we sat
together in the group and talked all evening long about the world, the
universe and everything.
The next day I started seeing the full impact of
what had happened the day before. O'Brian's car had a big importance
here. It was used for Police duties (the Police did not have their own
car!?!?) to transfer suspects between their home and the Police station.
And O'Brian got paid for it. He also used the Nissan as a taxi for
fellow people who had to go somewhere. And he got paid for it. And most
importantly, O'Brians main business was to sell diesel to the fishing
boats to go out onto Lake Kariba and supply the town market with fresh
fish. The diesel has to be bought either expensively at the a service
station outside the town or cheaply off O'Brian who purchases it on the
Zimbabwean border 70km away. So with the car running again O'Brian had a
busy day taxiing people to and from the Police and to other places,
travelling all the way to the border to load up the poor car with a few
hundred litres of diesel and thus having something to sell to the
fishing boat guys.
And whenever he was not busy he came looking for me, shaking hands and buying me coke or
. It's hard to describe the extraordinary hospitality in Siavonga.
I was also invited to the towns radio station.
Which was a state of the art and really modern radio station. Sponsored
by a South African charity the building was airconditioned, full of
computers, flat screens and expensive european made broadcasting
equipment. There was a news room, an interview room and an editing room.
The South Africans sponsored the construction but they won't give money
for the running of the station. So I hope they find a way to cover
their operating costs into the future.
As a traveller you are quite often asked about your
'mission'. Or why you are here or who sponsors you. And the question
sure came up in Siavonga too. I suppose it is hard to understand why
you would travel without having a destination, someone to visit or
business to attend to. Spending all that time and money.
So what am I doing here? I explained that I am here
to learn, to see what's happening in Africa. To talk to people and
learn about their way of life. Which varies from country to country. And
is surely different from the lifestyle in western countries with it's
focus on money and work. The purpose of the trip? See and learn as much
as I can and return home as a 'wise man'. And this purpose is understood
quite well. Most interesting is that people who question the reasons of
travelling would still love to come and see Australia. But they can't
tell why. I guess we are all the same somehow, right?
So now I am back on my way to Lusaka to hopefully pick up our passports with Congo visas tomorrow. Cross fingers for me, okay?
There was a great news day for us last Friday:
we've GOT the D.R.Congo visa! After all that waiting and messing around
it was as simple as going to the embassy, paying the fee and picking up
the passports. Only a 5 minutes affair. It's almost sad because we
started feeling at home in the embassy in Lusaka. But how cool is that -
we are going to the Congo!!!
With the visa issue out of the way I jumped
straight on my bike and got the hell out of Lusaka, spending way too
much time there. The plan was still to catch up with Martin at the
Malawi border on Sunday, Martin coming from the South Luangwa NP.
However, we already run into each other on Saturday at the supermarket
The current issue with Malawi is the countrywide
fuel shortage. In another HUBB post it was declared over and filled us
with good hope. But it is not over. Asking other travellers who just
crossed the border from Malawi into Zambia we got told the same story
over and over again. The only service stations selling petrol are in the
capital Lilongwe. There's maybe three or four. Queues there are such
that it would take around 5 hours (!) till you get to the pump. If fuel
does not run out before. In all other parts of the country service
stations have nothing to sell. And even on the black market it would
take at least a day to line up a seller and a deal. Not good news for
motorbike travellers. This combined with the expensive charges for toll
and carnet fees when entering Malawi was reason for us to give Malawi a
miss and stay in friendly Zambia a bit longer, eventually reaching
Tanzania from here. And Zambia is still awesome and I totally dig this
We discovered a small unsealed road on the map,
leading North from Chipata along the South Luangwa NP, crossing the
Luangwa River and connecting in between the South and North Luangwa NP
to a paved main road to Mpika and the Tanzania border. The gravel bit
would be around 350km long. Should almost be possible to get through the
next day and enjoy a cold dring in Mpika.
However, we did some more sightseeing along the way
and had a rendevous with hippos and only made it around 100km North of
Chipata where we stayed in a future camp right next to the Luangwa
River, the camp currently still in construction. Which was cool because
we prefer camping in our tents anyway. In the camp we met a friendly
Dutch couple who invited us for lovely food and good conversation.
Asking about the road ahead they said the road is alright, there will be
steep ascends onto a plateau which would be rocky and challenging. And
yeah, the pontoon across the Luangwa River is not running. Oh s...t,
that's bad news. But they were not sure. So we asked some local people,
building on the camp. They all agreed that of course the pontoon is
operating. No worries then. Early next morning we were off to an early
day full of surprises. A day to remind us that we are alone in Africa.
And alone we were. Along the 100 or so km to the pontoon we did not meet
a soul. Just a few boom gates manned by friendly rangers who all
assured us the pontoon is running.
Arriving at the pontoon site we immediately
discovered the first hurdle in our path. The road headed straight into
the river and came out the other side. Through the river some sticks in
the sand indicated the straight way through.
200m downriver we also discovered the rotten
remnants of the pontoon landing platforms, there has not been a pontoon
for many many months. A huge hippo just surfacing right on the platform
on the other side, eying us suspiciously ('What the hell are humans
So it's either through the river or many hundred km
detour. And through the river we went. It was our first major river
crossing so we took it extremely carefully. First walking through,
anxiously watching the Hippos bathing a few hundred metres away. While
waiting for a big crocodile to pop up and eat us alive we measured the
water depth to just above knee level with moderate current and sandy
ground. Back on dry land we started preparing the bikes for being pushed
through: removing the luggage, taping the air intake and the exhaust.
Just in case. Then pushing our bikes through, one by one. Wading back
and forth a few more times, still watching the hippos watching us
getting our luggage across. Putting everything together again.
Alltogether 90 minutes hard work in the midday sun. The ground too hot
to walk barefoot. But we made it. Made it slowly and safely across and
both bikes starting normally. Thank god!
The rest of the way looked pretty straight forward.
On the map. But out there the road quickly deteriorated into deep
tracks, unbelievably bumpy over the hard black sunburnt ground. There
were dry riverbeds to cross, a hundred meters of deep sand. Or dry
creekbeds, a sudden deep drop of a few metres followed by an extremely
steep ascend of a few metres. Steep enough that the front wheel lifts of
the ground when accelerating to much. Steep and rocky and full of ruts
where others dug out their vehicle. And sections full of round little
rocks, so deep that the bike sinks in and follows our beloved deep sand
behaviour. All an extremely shaky ride in 1st and 2nd gear under the mid
day sun. And no one else there, not a single other car or bike all day.
And sure enough right there I got my first flat tyre. An old nail was
too much for my front tyre. Right what we needed, another hour hard
physical work in the boiling heat. But we succeded proudly in that one
too. At the end however I had to sit down a minute because my mind
started playing funny tricks with me in the heat. Drinking our water
which was on the verge of being too hot to drink quickly gave me some
relief and back on the road we went. In hard work through the gravel,
shaking our bones over the hard bumpy sections and going down the creek
beds almost in freefall. Simply the thought of a cold coke in Mpika kept
us going. Until some 90km before the end of the gravel road. When
Martin's Africa Twin engine cut out. And didn't start again. Just us two
wannabe mechanics out there - it was a great thing to happen. In hours
of analysing and taking things apart and putting them back together we
could not find the reason. Starter engine running. Motor not starting.
Spark plugs did spark. And fuel pump did pump. Filters all clean.
Fortunately, and thank god for that, we were only a
km away from a village. With the road steeply going up and down there
was no way we could push the heavy bike there. But at least I could ride
there on my little Suzuki to fetch some drinking water for us before
the sun disappeared and darkness engulfed us completely. By the time I
made it back to Martin he was able to locate the defect on his bike and
repair it. Something as simple as a loose electric connection behind the
front cover. With the engine now starting it was only a matter of
putting the rest of the bike back together. Which, done in the dark by
two exhausted travellers, can take it's time. It was late and pitch
black by the time we reached the school compound were we got the
friendly approval to camp. So tomorrow it is, tomorrow we will reach
Mpika and finally have our cold Coke.
And tomorrow came. And Martin got up with a big
ugly eye infection. He couldn't open one eye at all. Tears of pain
running out the other eye. In a little school compound 90km of extremely
demanding dirt road away from civilisation. A km from a village of six
straw huts. No way Martin could ride this road in this condition. So
let's stay here for a day. It is like destiny plans to keep us from
Mpika. But tomorrow, tomorrow we will reach Mpika and drink a nice ice
cold Coke. Mpika more and more sounded like the golden city of El Dorado
for us, more legend than reality.
And so tomorrow came. And we kept going. And the
road as sandy again. And a massive steep incline littered with big rocks
and gravel. But anyway, we made it. We had a cold Coke in Mpika. And a
second Coke thereafter. And I am now sitting in the only Internet café
in Mpika. What a journey!!!
Before I forget - I need to tell you one more cool story from Zambia.
Just a short one, I promise. It's about a teacher at the school in
Kazembe. That's where we had to wait for a day to let Martin recover
from this strange eye infection.
However, if you happen to be a teacher, just imagine the following job description:
the school is located in a rural area just around 100km from any sealed
road or town or shop. There is only a dirt road passing 2km from the
school. Which is so beyond repair that no vehicle can use it. It's a
scenic and very quite area. Most people actually fled the area in recent
times because of the rising numbers of lions and elephants. Elephants
are likely to come around every now and then to eat whatever you happen
to grow on your fields. You will live at the school compound next to a
village of 7 huts. There is 3 classrooms. For 122 students of grades
1-7. But school has to finish by 12 noon to give the ones walking from
further away the chance to reach home before sunset. Too many lions
There is no power. No phone. No mobile reception. There is a well at the
compound for water. But it is unfortunately dry. Good news is that 300m
away and down the steep embankment there is a river, clean enough to
drink and wash and bath. Even better news is that crocodile attacks in
this river only occur during the wet season.
Accomodation is provided for you free of charge. For food - well there
is no shops anyway. Or delivery trucks. So you are instead provided with
a nice piece of land and are free to grow whatever you feel like
eating. All fresh and organic. There is nothing else to do after 12 noon
so you surely will appreciate the opportunity to do your own farming.
The generous renumeration package is AU$ 300 per month. But don't worry,
there is no shops to spend money anyway. Payment is cash only, to be
collected in person in the town of Mpika once a month. It's only a 100km
walk which most people can do in just 2 days there and 2 days back.
Walking in the African sunshine once a month is certainly good for your
fitness. You will have three colleagues so there is always one teacher
for each of the three classrooms and one teacher walking to collect his
salary. Dodging the lions on his way to keep things interesting.
Sounds like the job you're dreaming of? It's all real here in Zambia.
However, this was Zambia for us. Up to now my favourite country in
Africa for it's super friendly people. After three weeks in Zambia we
crossed another border today just from Nakonde in Zambia to Tunduma and
are now in Tanzania. The border crossing was very easy and straight
forward. US$50 for the visa. The bikes get in for free. A free temporary
import permit can be issued if you don't have a Carnet. Or if you're
like us and try not to use your's. Registration with the Police is for
So here we are - Tanzania. First impression - Tanzania seems to be a lot
more developed than Zambia. There is no huts but brick houses. Roads
have linemarking and footpaths. Right at after the border we already
found someone equiped for aluminium welding to repair Martin's cracked
luggage frame. Petrol and cold drinks are a lot cheaper. And people are
just as friendly. But only a few speak English. We might have to learn
some Swahili here...