The road suddenly became a sand track; thick, deep sand; the kind that channel you into a trough which you ride like a rollercoaster. Good fun but horrifyingly dangerous too!
Charlie Curtis : 6th August

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Congo 6th August

The road deteriorated further and we were soon fording rivers and crossing rotted log bridges.
Charlie Curtis : 3rd August

At 9.30am UTC we are standing on the Earth’s Equator”.
Charlie Curtis : 1st August

DIARY : August
Imagery: ©2009 Terrametrics
Map data: ©2009 Europa Technologies

6th August : Congo Tip: Click pictures to pop-up a larger view!

We crossed into Congo today sometime. I’m not exactly sure when we crossed. I think we did so several times. After leaving customs and immigration behind us in Gabon we headed for the border. The road suddenly became a sand track; thick, deep sand; the kind that channels you into a trough which you ride like a rollercoaster. Good fun but horrifyingly dangerous too! We followed this road for half an hour; at speed; no border in sight. We were on massive open plains. Not at all how I imagined the Congo to be.

The tracks would merge and diverge. We tried to stick to what seemed the main route and after an hour we reached a hut; just a straw hut; nothing else, anywhere. It was the immigration post. It was closed. We carried on. The tracks becoming deeper and we found ourselves in trenches as deep as the car. The back end was sliding everywhere. The hills were rolling away from us for as far as the eye could see. It was truly beautiful and completely at odds with our expectations making it even more striking. Our tracks went through bushes. Clearly no one had been here for a while. Suddenly as we burst through a bush there in front of us was a stretch of brand new tarmac; beautiful, flat tarmac. It was like a runway the way it just emerged from nowhere. Come to think, it had a lot of strange markings. Maybe it was a runway.

So we are now camped up on one of these rolling hills. And there is no one here. No animals. No mosquitoes. No lights. No sounds; nothing. It seemed that this part of the Congo was devoid of life.

5th August : Heading for the border with Congo

Overnight stop en route for the coast.

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4th August

We had now spent almost two days driving just 50km.

Finally the road improved. We caught up with a Toyota pickup. The first car we had seen on these roads for days. I can only assume the others had been taken in by the forest and were now being held hostage somewhere. The vehicle was a flat bed truck containing over 15 men, women and children. The driver did not like someone on his tail therefore he tried to lose us. We were not going to let this happen. We had a blocker and we were not letting go.

The biggest problem with driving in the bush is the unexpected. You could be driving along a glorious highway and you would hit a stretch of gravel with a one foot drop. In the forest you can drive at speed if the road is good, but the blind bends, ditches and potholes waiting to swallow a wheel can send you cart wheeling into the trees to join the dozens of trucks already

there. And so if you find a blocker you don’t let go. They drive just ahead of you and they announce the surprises for you. Our blocker was doing a fine job knowing the road ahead. We were absolutely flying through the forest; branches and plants whipping at the windows. Finally we escaped our green spiky prison. Back on the tarmac we made fast tracks for the border with Congo. We were aiming for Franceville.

We spent the night about 100km from the border along a track outside a village not meant for cars. We bridged a three foot drop with our sand ladders and then navigated an uphill trail of broken earth creating a minefield of deep crevasses and sharp protrusions. After the inevitable greeting by a troop of local kids and a visit to the chief we got some peace.

3rd August Tip: Click pictures to pop-up a larger view!

The morning brought an incredible mist through the village. Most of the men had already left so the village was very quiet; very eerie. I watched one villager walking through the trees with a homemade rifle over his shoulder and ammunition belt round his waist. Barefoot and topless he was going after bush meat. Snakes and monkeys mostly.

After some basic repair to the exhaust pipe (cable ties are amazing) we set off. The road deteriorated further and we were soon fording rivers and crossing rotted log bridges. I was pretty sure they weren’t designed to carry loads like ours as they creaked and cracked in protest as we inched over them. The last half always taken at speed when it seemed the end was in sight.

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2nd August Tip: Click pictures to pop-up a larger view!

The road was a single track through dense forest with the trees and plants. With the windows down you would be whipped in the face. At one point it was so dense that I sat on the roof with the machete cutting the branches and vines getting caught on the tent. Within 20 minutes I was covered in scratches and spider bites. I am now covered in tiny pink spots.

While the bush was trying to get to us from above and sides, the mud was doing a good job from below. The roads felt more like rivers. There were massive cracks running down the middle which you had to straddle. With the cracks meandering, we had to as well. Then you would find the mud holes which appear innocent but are in fact several feet deep. At one point we tore off the exhaust and water tap. Well and truly stuck we got the winch out only to find the nearest tree was 3 feet too far. Luckily some local villagers appeared and helped dig us out. We patched the exhaust and were taken to a nearby village for the night. Lots of curiosity as usual and we shared a lot of tea.

1st August : The Equator Tip: Click pictures to pop-up a larger view!

Waking up early this morning we continue south keeping a constant watch on our GPS system for the equator coordinates.

I used our GPS to find the exact position. We wanted to mark the crossing. It’s not often you cross the equator. In the true spirit of tourism there was a large sign marking the crossing.

We had driven 14,000 miles to get to that line and I was a touch disappointed. And they got it in the wrong place. The equator was actually 10 foot further south. However at 9.30am UTC [Coordinated Universal Time] we are standing on Earth’s Equator.

Car problems led us to stopover with nuns in a small mission. We spent a few days there while we had a local garage fix the brakes and the bungs. I tried some washing. It took me two days and I’m pretty sure that some of the stuff was actually dirtier than when I started.

We met a German couple on our last night in Lambarene. They gave us a lot of tips as they had just come up the coast. Unfortunately, they advised us that the ferry to Lubanga National Park was on strike so we could not see the hippos. They did, however, give us directions through the middle of the country – very useful.

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