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March 8, 2013 / samwilson60

To Luozi, hopefully

That night at the mission we did see a rather large thunderstorm, but it remained far off and in the morning the priest agreed that it was worth seeing how much further we could get. He then asked us which route we were taking, which was a hard question to answer. We had a single line on the GPS map but we’d left that route in Mindouli and still not quite rejoined it. It was also just a line, with no place names until Luozi itself, some 150km away. The priest came to the rescue by writing us a list of five villages we should pass through – if we kept asking for directions to the next village instead of simply to Luozi, we should find our way.

We thanked our new friend profusely, made a donation of money and a football (thank you, Rosie), both of which went down very well, then said our goodbyes. Slightly embarrassingly, but as a clear sign of things to come, we had to ask for directions before we’d even got out of sight of the mission gates. The locals were the saving grace all day. The excitement with which they greeted us was heartwarming and their selfless desire to help was crucial. There were so many potential turnings, where bits of piste had deteriorated to such an extent that an alternative had been created, but to our eyes they all looked much the same.



Thanks to all our helpers, and because the piste was at least dry in most places, we were making surprisingly good progress, but just before midday we came to an abrupt halt. It looks silly in the pictures, but as in so many places, we couldn’t see what we were getting ourselves into until we were already in it. And in this case, deep in it.



Sam, in particular, remained very calm and collected and, as ever, had soon formulated a plan, most of which involved Cat inching the Beast backwards along the sand plates. We had a few hiccups and gathered a bit of an audience, but all came out smiling – including the truck herself…


Relieved but very sweaty, we were in need of a time-out. The abundance of onlookers forced us on a little and the lack of obvious shade forced us to get creative…


We soon decided, however, that the shadiest, most insect-free place was in the truck, on the move, so we carefully pushed on, and on, until the sun started to drop and we started to flag. We were within 50km of Luozi but that’s still a long way on this sort of terrain and we needed to stop before making any more silly mistakes, so we hauled up in one of the only clear, solid spots beside the piste and called it a day. Even the cyclists that passed just waved without stopping, so we were fairly confident it didn’t matter that we were in full view. Until we were getting ready for bed that is, when we saw torches and heard the animated voices of what sounded like an entire village heading our way. We made a snap decision to play dead inside the tent and, although they doubtless meant no harm (we were just an out-of-place light in the distance), we still bricked it, briefly. The commotion and incomprehensible shouting seemed to last an age, but at some point they must have headed back to the village and we had a surprisingly restful night. The next morning it was so calm it was as if we’d dreamt the whole thing, but still we packed up fairly swiftly and bypassed the village as discreetly as possible.


Apparently not as discreet as you’d think


Soon after setting off, the sky darkened dramatically. On the upside, we were on the move early, with relatively little distance to cover; on the down side, the Tinker Beast was developing an alarming, tinny rattle. The noise crescendoed and we had to stop, but with no obvious cause and limited options on the side of the piste, we then agreed we should to try to make it to Luozi before taking the diagnostics any further. We made it to town without any more bother but nonetheless aware something was wrong. Frustratingly, the noise had stopped by this point, meaning it would be even harder to work out what was wrong, but once in town we had more pressing concerns anyway.

Our first task was to find customs, as the car had still not been stamped into the country. We asked around and got a confusing array of responses. The only thing we could tell was that, even if there was a customs post in Luozi, it wouldn’t be open today (Sunday), so we could forget that for now. Next up was money (a surprisingly easy win), then somewhere to stay. The priest in Miamba had told us to ask for Père Benoit but just as we were about to do so, a lone Finn on a heavily loaded motorbike pulled up and escorted us to his door.

As we were thanking our unexpected helper and excitedly swapping stories, the black sky grew even blacker and the rain quickly followed.  Frederik – travelling a similar route in the opposite direction – had arrived the previous night and was heading towards Brazzaville when he’d spotted us, but in view of the rain and all we had to talk about, he soon decided to stick around another day. We fired relentless questions at him about the bits he’d just done (DRC and Angola), and answered lots of his about Congo, Gabon, Cameroon and on. It was great fun and very helpful, hopefully for him too!



Sam also checked everything possible on the truck and, without identifying the source of the weird sounds, was happy with her overall health and ability to carry on as planned.


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