Cycling the DRC part 2
August 4, 2021
After a day of rest in Kananga I left to find slightly better road conditions. The whole drive to Lubumbashi took me another 2 weeks to complete with a few good roads, and many terrible ones to push the bike. Despite the bad road conditions I had a really great ride in this country.
From Kananga I head to Mbuji Mayi, another diamond city in the heart of Congo. But before reaching it, I stop by lake Mukamba where I read there’s a catholic mission with some nice rooms to rest. The road itself is better and I have to walk only about 10 percent of the drive to Mbuji Mayi. One of the bridges broke and the locals made one out of bamboo to cross it. This means no cars or trucks passing by that can’t destroy the road that much. After a great rest at the lake I’m off to the next city. Mbuji Mayi is a very loud city and everyone screams at me while entering. Not in a bad way, just trying to get my attention. It is annoying to do that while trying to avoid potholes, passing cars and motorcycles. Very soon I find a place to sleep and prepare for the next day.
From Mbuji Mayi to Mwene Ditu I find an asphalt road, not perfect but good enough for cycling and that day I can make some good distance. When it’s almost getting dark I’m trying to find a place to sleep, but then a guy on a motorcycle starts to follow me. It happens quite a lot (in many parts of the world) that people do that and mainly they do it out of interest. We start to talk a bit but I’d prefer him to leave so I can find a nice place to camp in the forest. He tells me there is a police barrier further up. Because he’s worried about me so continues to follow me. In the end it’s very nice and he drops me off at a secure place then continues to his house. In all these parts there are less checkpoints but when there are, they are very nice to me. Just doing their job, being friendly and not trying to persuade me to pay. Even on one occasion the DGM (much feared immigration) asked money, I explain them what I’m doing and they get me a free drink!
Ups and downs
My hopes where high after the asphalt road but that didn’t last long. The conditions got very bad again with several stretches of pushing the bike for hours. Sometimes I feel strong, other times I’m exhausted, pushing the bike. Sand everywhere, pain, itch, a dry mouth, pedals hitting my shins, blisters, it’s a struggle… But all the amazing kind people I meet, make up for that. Sometimes I’m not cycling alone. I meet several people who are travelling for a week or more to the next town, just to buy dry fish and head back to their village to sell it. All on these old steel bikes. Their stories touch me and I’m happy we can share this experience. They’re pushing their heavy loads in the sand. It’s a great lesson of humility, I’m not doing something extraordinary, these people do! And with a smile.
That’s what I like about travelling by bike, being able to meet people from all kind of places, not just going from city to city but everywhere in between. This way I understand their life a little bit better and just makes me respect them more.
As the villages are getting further apart I’m camping in the wild regularly as well. Not only because there is nothing, also because it gives me some privacy. Being in a village is nice but after a while I want to be able to sit alone without 30 people watching everything I do.
Back on track
The road mainly follows the old railroad that is still operational, but I think I only once saw a train. They are not very frequent, neither fast. The same goes for the trucks, they are overloaded with stuff and lots of people on top. Crazy to see and when they pass me I get covered in a cloud of dust and fumes. Many times I pass them the next day because the truck is stuck, had an accident or broke down and they’re working on it. My whole trip from Kinshasa to Lubumbashi took me about 25 days, most trucks do about the same time on that…
It all starts to get difficult, and I’m really looking forward to some rest. Therefore I’m pushing it more to reach Lubumbashi where I promised myself some rest days. The last 200km are asphalt again, but this is the only time I feared for my life in Congo. The trucks and traffic, connecting Kolwezi with Lubumbashi, are just extremely dangerous. I see many cars and trucks in the side of the road, completely destroyed after horrific crashes. Most don’t care if you’re there. They will overtake another car or truck and if you as a cyclist don’t get out of the way, you’re in bad luck… Even from the back that happens and having the mirror on my handlebars saves my life many times.
After all, I had a really good experience here in the DRC. I read and heard many stories of corruption, dangerous places and people. Out of my experience it’s different. Yes there’s corruption but not very different than in another African country. The problem is mainly focused at the locals I’m afraid, having to pay police to be able to transport some goods on their bicycle, which is really sad… People in general where amazing and kind, except for a few, but you have those everywhere in the world. I learned a lot and this country will have a long lasting effect on me, I will have to process what I’ve seen and experienced here for a while.
Congo exceeded my expectations a lot and I’m happy to have cycled here, thank you for that!
Thank you very much to my sponsors who make this project possible.