The DRC Part 3. - Malaria, Typhoid and Trucks

The final leg of our Congolese journey sees us crammed dangerously-tightly into trucks travelling the indescribably bad roads to the capital.

We assumed that we had come through the worst with the end of our ordeals on the river. However, when squeezed into a dark metal cage on the back of a truck with a hundred or so fighting Congolese, the open spaces and occasional peace of the river seemed like a paradise.

Here are a few photos from our nightmare truck journey from the river to Kinshasa  -

This is blog 3 of a 3 part series covering a journey across The Democratic Republic of Congo. You can find the first and second parts here: The DRC Part 1. - Cycling to Sandoa and The DRC Part 2. - The Congo by River

Map Key: The red line marks the final route we took by bicycle and truck to reach the capital, Kinshasa. The blue line marks the section of the River Lulua that we descended. The yellow marks the first part of the journey to the river where we cycled from Lusaka to Sandoa.

  After leaving the pirogue to a village on the river we struggled on by bicycle to the Bilomba Catholic mission. One of the brothers shaves the head of an elder father in the courtyard.

After leaving the pirogue to a village on the river we struggled on by bicycle to the Bilomba Catholic mission. One of the brothers shaves the head of an elder father in the courtyard.

  A local cyclist takes a photo of me on his phone. The road here is near impossible to cycle so everyone is left to push along the well trodden single file lane.

A local cyclist takes a photo of me on his phone. The road here is near impossible to cycle so everyone is left to push along the well trodden single file lane.

  Charlie's bicycle frame cracked at the seat joint leaving him unable to ride. Fortunately, we encountered a broken down goods truck 2km on and were offered a ride to the next town, Kananga. The driver and his mechanics work through the night with the hope of departing the next morning.

Charlie's bicycle frame cracked at the seat joint leaving him unable to ride. Fortunately, we encountered a broken down goods truck 2km on and were offered a ride to the next town, Kananga. The driver and his mechanics work through the night with the hope of departing the next morning.

 With no way of progressing we settle in for the night by the side of the road with the truck.

With no way of progressing we settle in for the night by the side of the road with the truck.

  We spend the rest of the morning sitting with the other passengers making tea and waiting for life to return to the old truck.

We spend the rest of the morning sitting with the other passengers making tea and waiting for life to return to the old truck.

  With the roads in such a terrible state of decay, the main mode of goods transport is with these tough porters who push their loads along the sandy trail hoping for a bit of downhill during which to jump on their bicycles. They often travel several hundred kilometres.

With the roads in such a terrible state of decay, the main mode of goods transport is with these tough porters who push their loads along the sandy trail hoping for a bit of downhill during which to jump on their bicycles. They often travel several hundred kilometres.

  By mid-morning, the truck's engine remains in many pieces. With minimal traffic passing, we are lucky to flag down a land cruiser. At first they hesitate to offer us a lift with all our baggage and bicycles but, seeing Charlie's deteriorating state of health, they kindly make space with our gear strapped to the roof.

By mid-morning, the truck's engine remains in many pieces. With minimal traffic passing, we are lucky to flag down a land cruiser. At first they hesitate to offer us a lift with all our baggage and bicycles but, seeing Charlie's deteriorating state of health, they kindly make space with our gear strapped to the roof.

 A young boy is lead by his older sister back to their home on the roadside.

A young boy is lead by his older sister back to their home on the roadside.

  With Charlie now too weak to move, Stephan - a helper at the Greek Orthodox mission - kindly takes us to the Kananga Catholic Mission where they provide us with a small room for Charlie to recover.

With Charlie now too weak to move, Stephan - a helper at the Greek Orthodox mission - kindly takes us to the Kananga Catholic Mission where they provide us with a small room for Charlie to recover.

 After a few blood tests, we find Charlie has contracted not only Malaria but Typhoid aswell.

After a few blood tests, we find Charlie has contracted not only Malaria but Typhoid aswell.

  In the bustling pharmacy, nurse Martin collects Charlie's twice daily quinine drip while he remains unable to move.

In the bustling pharmacy, nurse Martin collects Charlie's twice daily quinine drip while he remains unable to move.

 Time on our visas is running short, energy is low and the roads ahead nearly non existent. We resort to riding the trucks to the capital, Kinshasa.

Time on our visas is running short, energy is low and the roads ahead nearly non existent. We resort to riding the trucks to the capital, Kinshasa.

 A boy takes a rest in a recently unloaded truck. Names of towns on the trucks passage are marked on the back door.

A boy takes a rest in a recently unloaded truck. Names of towns on the trucks passage are marked on the back door.

  Riding on the trucks is the only motorised way out of Kananga. For some, cycling is the only option and can take them days or weeks to reach their intended destination.

Riding on the trucks is the only motorised way out of Kananga. For some, cycling is the only option and can take them days or weeks to reach their intended destination.

 The road ahead to Kikwit. In the rainy season, what takes normally a couple of days can take months with trucks getting stuck and blocking the route.

The road ahead to Kikwit. In the rainy season, what takes normally a couple of days can take months with trucks getting stuck and blocking the route.

  Getting stuck in deep sand and experiencing mechanical failure was just part of the daily routine.

Getting stuck in deep sand and experiencing mechanical failure was just part of the daily routine.

  Resting in the early hours of the morning while waiting for repairs to the truck. With no seats everybody simply holds on to their neighbour and braces themselves for the bumpy ride and the impact of low tree branches.

Resting in the early hours of the morning while waiting for repairs to the truck. With no seats everybody simply holds on to their neighbour and braces themselves for the bumpy ride and the impact of low tree branches.

  Every hour or so chaos resumes as cargo is unloaded and new cargo loaded on.

Every hour or so chaos resumes as cargo is unloaded and new cargo loaded on.

  The space at the back of the truck had more air and was therefore much sought after. The strongest/most imposing men took this spot. We befriended them.

The space at the back of the truck had more air and was therefore much sought after. The strongest/most imposing men took this spot. We befriended them.

  A convoy of trucks forms as we drive through the night.

A convoy of trucks forms as we drive through the night.

  With the fear of falling off the roof or too bumpy to sleep inside, every unload stop was the only chance to catch a piece of sleep.

With the fear of falling off the roof or too bumpy to sleep inside, every unload stop was the only chance to catch a piece of sleep.

  Our bicycles suffer as dusty and uncomfortable a journey as their riders.

Our bicycles suffer as dusty and uncomfortable a journey as their riders.

  Our truck takes an unannouced 24 hour stop in Tshikapa to take on new passengers and more cargo. We find another truck heading to Kikwit that leaves soon after our arrival and we jump on.

Our truck takes an unannouced 24 hour stop in Tshikapa to take on new passengers and more cargo. We find another truck heading to Kikwit that leaves soon after our arrival and we jump on.

  Every space is occupied. The next 24 hours sees fighting break out, men and woman being sick and kids urinating, all within the back of the truck.

Every space is occupied. The next 24 hours sees fighting break out, men and woman being sick and kids urinating, all within the back of the truck.

  Passengers wait patiently as another truck finds itself thwarted by the treacherous Congo roads.

Passengers wait patiently as another truck finds itself thwarted by the treacherous Congo roads.

  The main road that connects the Congo's fourth largest city (that still remains off the power grid) with its Capital, Kinshasa.

The main road that connects the Congo's fourth largest city (that still remains off the power grid) with its Capital, Kinshasa.

After five truly terrible (but darkly fascinating) days of travel, we were disgorged at Kinshasa's bus terminal. We loaded up our cruelly battered bicycles and rode into the city centre and to the sanctuary of a friend's flat: hot shower, cold beer and cultural dislocation. We brushed shoulders with the country's elite at a diplomatic soirée that night. The expensive and developed centre of the capital was a far cry from the sub-basic fishing villages we'd become accustomed to. However, to remind us that we were still in DRC, the following day the city locked down and tanks patrolled the streets as some armed rebels attacked the barracks of the elite presidential guard.

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Incase you missed the the first and second parts, you can find them here: The DRC Part 1. - Cycling to Sandoa and The DRC Part 2. - The Congo by River


Charlie has written a great piece on this part of the journey which you can find on his website, Charlie Walker Explore.

With each violent lurch of the road, the barely-settled human traffic was thrown into disarray. Sometimes we were all hefted a foot into the fetid air before crashing confusedly down. Spats resumed and fists flew. I saw a man thump an old woman’s head and a small child was bodily picked up and thrown a couple of meters onto a tangle of knees, heads and elbows...
— www.charliewalkerexplore.co.uk