We cross the border when it opens at eight, and hope to reach Cabinda – the region’s capital – by day’s end. But the road is longer than the map indicates, and we get to struggle to reach before sunset. It is already dark as we cycle the last hour; pass through the northern outskirts of northern Cabinda town. We share the road with a steady stream of workers returning home in their cars. From time to time, their bright headlights give us flashes of the road ahead of us. As we climb a steep hill some ten kilometers outside the center, one of those cars stops. Nico from South Africa, who works in the oil industry, invites us to come stay at his place. The cars behind soon begin to hoot and toot as a smaller queue builds up, so after having given us directions to his place, Nico drives off again.

Half an hour later, we find the bright blue colored police station, from where we follow a small dirt road to a house behind where Nico stays with his colleagues. He is the manager of the hotel-resembling complex that is the home for numerous workers of one of the big oil companies. We get a private room with luxuries such as hot shower and clean linen. There are workers from all over the world: Algeria, India and Dubai. Cabinda is Angola’s equivalent of the Republic of Congo’s Point Noire or Nigeria’s Port Harcourt. If not for the oil, the town would probably be as sleepy as the other villages along the coast.

We get to stay for three nights, enjoying great food and much rest. We also get the chance to wash up our clothes, tents and bags. Thanks Nico & Co.!

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We set off in hope of making it across the border to Angola, only to reach there just three minutes past closing time. The Congolese doesn’t care about those minutes, but the Angolans are impossible. They are the same way as during my last visit to Angola – adamant when it comes to rules. Not very African, or like the Congolese immigration said: “They’re not like us!”

We turn back a few kilometers and camp behind the house of a local family.

Summary Republic of Congo
After only ten days in the country – of which three at hospital, sick in malaria – it is difficult to fairly describe Congo. Of the little we did see, the roads were absolutely crap, but the people were wonderful. Like usual.

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Partially through pouring rain, we make our way to Point Noire. It is the capital of the country’s oil industry, and therefore hosts numerous foreign workers. Shortly before reaching, we meet Renoud and a friend of his, both from France. They invite us to stay with them, inside the gated compound which the company they work for owns.

The next day, we move over to their friends and fellow countrymen Solenn and Gilles, who stay in a big villa in the center of town. We’re thankful for the rest and the good food; I even more so after the past days’ illness.

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The next morning, we decide to hitchhike to Madingo-Kayes – the nearest larger town by the coast, where there is a main hospital. I don’t feel well at all, and need consultation on whether or not to change medication. Some Malaysians working in the logging industry give us a ride in their Toyota Landcruiser. On the way, they share us some stories from their work.

Why, to begin with, is it that almost only Malaysians, Chinese and Indonesians do the dirty (in more than just one sense) work? For once, they ask for far less pay than what a European would demand, yet work ten, twelve, fourteen hours a day without complaint. And then they have the knowledge, too. Who knows best how to – as efficiently as possible – cut down a forest and ship its green gold to the industrialized nations – if not Malaysians? Who does it without questioning the morality – if not Malaysians? Besides, their own forest is near extinct, so those that previously worked there are now unemployed. Malaysians are professional pillagers.

Jimmy, 25 years, sits behind the wheel. The road is the toughest I’ve ever seen – often covered by deep mud. On several occasions, I turn around and look at the road we’ve just passed, and ask myself how it was ever possible for us to get across. At times, the road is just a huge waist-deep sea of mud. But Jimmy knows how to tackle the mud with the four-wheel drive. He searches for the best part of the road on which to pass, and then just drives. Resolute and tenacious.

We halt several times along the road. Jimmy’s colleagues drive old trucks on terrible roads, and we often pass ones that has got into trouble. They’ve parked their trucks by the roadside, with a broken hub, broken axle or ‘just’ a puncture. Jimmy stops and makes sure that everyone is assisted so to get going again. Each stop lasts for about half an hour, or sometimes a full hour. Just to fix a puncture with the tools they have takes a lot of time and effort – a tedious work requiring much patience. There are about ten stops this day, from Vunda where we join to Madingo-Kayes where we get off.

Jimmy’s colleague Eli, also from Malaysia, criticizes the local truck drivers. They sometimes drink and drive, and take no regard of rain or bad road conditions. It has happened that they’ve forgotten to check the brakes before setting off, he says. He then changes subjects and asks me if I’ve tried the local prostitutes. Eli proudly tells me how he was able to bargain the price down to 10,000 CFA for a night, when his colleagues paid up to three times as much. “But you have to use condom – there is a lot of HIV here,” he adds. He estimates that a third of all the Malaysians here have children with Congolese women and comments that they get a “Funny look with the straight hair and the dark skin.” Eli ends up leaving us halfway. He had been out the night before, drinking too much, felt ill and went to sleep in one of the road workers’ roadside barracks.

We reach Madingo-Kayes by tenish in the evening, say goodbye to Jimmy and cycle the last couple of kilometers to the hospital. The night is pitch dark. Jimmy bought a baguette with peanut butter and turned back east again. He will drive back on those same muddy roads we just came on – at nighttime. No rest.

The hospital is easy for us to locate – actually, coming from the East, it is the first building in town. The place is clean and decent, and the doctor is professional and kind to us. He changes my quinine tablets for three days of injections.

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Despite a bit of headache from the quinine – the malaria medicine I was prescribed yesterday – we decide to continue westward. If I get worse, we will have to hitchhike to a larger town by the coast anyway, so we might as well try to cycle. A heavy afternoon rain interrupts us – we halt in small town Vunda.

As the rain finally abates, we’ve already decided to stay the night as I feel quite weary. The local auberge charges just 1,000 CFA a night. I feels as if the quinine just makes me feel worse. Unfortunately, the doctor in Vunda has recently traveled to Point Noire (the main town by the coast), so there is no help to be found here. Head pounding – I can’t sleep; can’t stand staying awake. Lina is fast asleep. I head for the bar next door, where I blend in quite well with the drunken truck drivers.

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Reaching Kibangou, I have been feeling faint throughout the day and yet again have a malaria test taken at the local hospital. “A lot,” and later, “quite a lot,” the doctor tells me after having received the results half an hour later. He prescribes me a five-day treatment of quinine. We stay the night at the hospital, that has actually been renovated recently and is quite nice. We get one of the many empty rooms for ourselves; lay out our mattresses on the tile floor.

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In small town Nyanga are an additional three checkpoints to go through – one each for customs, immigration and police. We get to wait for a while at the latter, and soon realize what a bribe haven it is. First, comes a Mauritanian man who gives 12,000 CFA for not carrying a certificate for yellow fewer vaccination. “Or else the boss will detain you here,” the police officer behind the desk threatens. Then comes a Gabonese on his way home without any papers at all. He has to give 3,000 CFA – negotiated down from the initial request of “6,000 CFA and a beer for the boss.”

They also ask us for a ‘dash’ – money to buy a bottle of Coke – but we got no trouble for refusing.

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We stamp out of Gabon in Ndendé – swift and easy. After passing the famously numerous checkpoints on the Congolese side – both police, immigration and customs – we meet an overland truck with some dozen tourists. We make company for the following ten kilometers, and then bush camp together. On the terrible roads, we could pedal as fast as their bus could drive.

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