We were advised to cross the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (or: DRC, Congo-Kinshasa or Congo Democratique) at the small Luvo border crossing, rather than Matadi, because it is friendlier and less corrupt. And, indeed, the border crossing was very easy. The Angolan side took a while with quite a few checkpoints by army, police, military police, immigration, customs and just random bored soldiers. They wanted to know everything from our weight to the names of our parents, and meticulously noted everything down in the register. The number of registration books with our names in them in Africa is already too much to count, and we often wonder what happens to them. I suppose in Europe my name will show up in a few thousand computer systems, but at least you can then recover the data. This mess of incorrectly written European names in illegible handwriting seems a pointless exercise though.
At the DRC side of the border we were happily greeted by a group of officials under a tree, all of them wearing a different uniform, and we got our first taste of French. After telling officials in Angola “não falo Portuguese” (I don’t speak Portuguese) for a few weeks, we could now at least communicate a little bit. In a small office we got our passports stamped by a cheerful guy, and customs was dealt with just as quickly and pleasantly. As soon as you enter the DRC the paved road stops and turns into a muddy track. A while later you reach the only main road in the country, which runs between Matadi and Kinshasa.
There are two ways to get across the Congo river to the Republic of Congo (or Congo-Brazzaville): take the ferry from Kinshasa to Brazzaville for an extortionate price, or drive the remote but beautiful Luozi-route. The latter is not accessible when it rains, and we were there at the start of the rainy season. We still opted for the latter, though, hoping to save the ridiculous $600-1000 they charge for the ferry in Kinshasa. However, one of the bushes that connects the suspension to the chassis was worn out, so we had to replace it before we started on the most gruelling offroad track since Lake Turkana (or perhaps Luanda). Perhaps we had to go into Kinshasa afterall…?
We drove into Kimpese, a small typical African city. I spotted a Land Rover, waved him down and stopped to have a chat. I asked him in my best French if he knew where to get Land Rover parts here. He told me he knew a mechanic who could help. We drove to the Catholic Mission where there was a mechanic who quickly identified the problem, along with several others, and told us he could fix things. The rest of the day was spent getting parts and fitting them, while we had a much needed shower and chatted with the locals. That night we slept in the tent in the garage and wondered why we had been so worried about this country to begin with.
The next morning we stopped by a welder’s and got supplies for the Luozi route. If it rained while we were on the route, we might get stuck until things dried up, so we filled up our water tank and stocked up on food. We then got some bits of valuable local information and hit the road again.