The 1st night. Noisy, crowded. Slow
The 2nd night. highlight of the day was a big butterfly gliding past.
Enjoyed a bucket shower that probably left me dirtier than I started.
The 3rd night of the trip, ~20' (or 40km) above the equator. The day started
with a loud radio at 3:30am. Arrived in the small village of Pikounda, where
I had to cope with torrential rain, bribery, as well as crocodiles, smoking
fish, canoes, pygmies, wet bedding, and a puppy that's the only live animal
on board that won't get smoked. music. At least it's cool.
4th night - bed mostly dry again, maize hooch & lime that tastes vaguely
like margueritas, day consisted of taking on board many crocs - whole stern
end is now a charnel house, car rests on croc farm. Lost shampoo down shower
hole. Still 6' above equator, went to 'church'
Reading Heart of Darkness for the second time - edition with notes is great
- no mention of Arab slave trade it notes, which was often a justification
for colonial expansion. How ironic that colonisation is really just a form
of slavery at a national level.
Enough philosophy. Elephant came aboard today - in a
flour sack - I protested that it was too small a sack, but with a straight
face they explained that it was in morceax.
Later saw half a monkey - surprisingly there were
comments about Ebola (which rages to the west)
Rain in the morning & night but tent stayed dry -
and a full stomach thanks to my cook Lilly.
Arrive in Moussaka one of three trading town established in the 1900s by the
Greek merchant Georgiou Stephanopoulis. The other two, Dolmades and Doner
Kebab, have been reclaimed by the jungle, but Moussaka thrives despite no
Greek restaurant, though lots of fish.
A message from God (& Bartholomew). God is the
skipper of the pirogue. They tell me that Richard and Roxana have left ahead
of me. Beer & dancing, & a return to a boat that's beginning to stink of
fish. The toilet is now a nightmare - it's next to a smoker so a visit
consists of a strange mixture of smoke & ammonia in your nose.
Told that we arrive Monday, not Saturday as expected - down spirited for a
while then resolve to make the most of the trip - it has after all been an
amazing experience. Boat gets more crowded by the day - by fish not people -
I just want a bit of space to myself as I is not an African. DVD night
tonight as I've cut a deal with the freezer man. End of Days with Arnie,
they lap it up as I retreat to the bows for a bit of piece and quiet.
The catfish have officially taken over the boat - in shallow basins stacked
all over the passageways they leave us only the narrow ledge outside the
railings for movement. Every day the traders lift the bamboo lids and palm
fronds used to cover and shade the basins to pick out the dead catfish (they
lose their silky black lustre and turn a deathly grey). The fallen are added
to the mounting piles on the oil drums used for smoking - the survivors
thrash in indignation at the disturbance, sending rancid water sheeting
To understand a boat of this sort you have to think
more in terms of floating communities rather than means of transport. I use
the plural because each is isolated in discrete sections or levels tucked in
amongst the cargo. Many People here live on the boat full time, buying
produce, mostly alive, as they travel towards Brazzaville, from dugout
canoes that come alongside as we pass each isolated village along the way.
They accumulate vast quantities of whatever they think will turn a profit,
and the boat is piled high and wide with their purchases.
It is a sociable society of course - those mere
travellers aboard are soon made welcome by the regulars, and as one of the
few whites ever to have been aboard, I am something of a novelty. More
interesting by far are my mysterious collection of possessions - the
Africans are fascinated by technology - the PDA is to them a must-have - the
camera a source of embarrassed giggling as they see themselves after each
shot. But beyond that there is a urge to grasp the consumer culture with
both hands. These are not reactions of surprise at the technology but
enquiries about where they can buy one. My insect repellent is a source of
wonder - whoever starts selling it in Congo will find a ready market.
As I write my companions watch a DVD, apocalypse
now, on my laptop. The connection to hod is lost on them; none have ever
heard of Conrad. Although the soundtrack is in French it is drowned by the
generator, and without it the film is simply disjointed violence. In the end
they grow bored of yet more American destruction and drift away to sleep
It's my birthday. Woke to find everything covered in a fine layer of ash.
Even my tent has been powdered in a dusting of smoked animal. reveille here
is before 5am and usually takes the form of loud shouting - this is not
rudeness at work - there seems to be different idea of considerate behaviour
- as if it is only I who minds being torn from my sleep so abruptly, and so
early. I lie perched above the fray in my roof tent for a while, trying to
doze through a political argument, conducted entirely in shouts, that is
taking place a metre from my head. After an hour or more the sun rises above
the light river mist, lacing our rippling wake with gold. I know that soon
my tent will become an oven and I will have to leave the closest thing to
solitude and join the crush below.
It's a day of crushing boredom - too warm to sit on
the car roof, and it's a relief when the evening arrives and I can slip into
the campement where we have stocked for a beer or two.
As we approach Brazzaville we are mobbed by a swarm of large pirogues full
of screaming women. It looks threatening, but they are here to lay claim on
the voluminous merchandise that has now completely taken over the boat. From
my vantage point on the roof I watch the amazing scene of chaos that amounts
to business here.
Later we pull in to the port, where I am to spend
two more nights waiting for the extortion brigade to lose interest me, and
eventually to get a crane to lift out my car with only three or four dents,
at an outrageous price. The officials here are doing nothing to encourage