Monday, October 13, 2008

Kisangani to Buta - Day Two

During the night it stormed something awful, shaking the house with each crack of thunder. Everything seemed pretty saturated when we woke up too, but we still had so many kilometers to go.

We mounted the bikes again after putting on our old dirty, muddy smelly clothes and also put on our rain jackets and rain pants. The road through Banalia was quick because our next step was to load the bikes onto these huge dugout canoes to be taken across a large river.

We’d been told there would be canoes to take us across “swamps” -- I’m not sure who would call this a swamp, but it was really quite astonishingly large.

While we waited for the bags to be taken off the back of the bikes yet again, the DGM (a local official) came by and asked us to come into his office. I thought we were heading there to pay for the boat ride but instead he took our passports, and proceeded with the basic immigrations rundown. He claimed to known Michel, our project manager, and we talked like friends.

Then, he told us that it would cost us each $30 for “administration fees” because he and his comrade had had to write our names on paper. It’s a typical scam, which I’ll write more about in my entry on bribery, but it’s all about intimidating you out of your money.

I told him that I’d call Michel to ask if $30 per person was the correct price, and his face gave it all away. As Cleve and I call it, it’s typical of “the game” -- so I knew that I wasn’t going to be forking over $60. He didn’t know it yet, so we talked a little more, continually telling him that I’d call Michel to check.

Eventually, he succumbed and said, “Well, you can give me a little ‘sugar’ .... if you want to.”

Literally translated, by the way. It’s one of those ridiculous pretenses, because who EVER *wants* to give a bribe? We still gave him $20 and went on our way.

The boat ride was a bit nervewracking because it was so low to the ground. But I felt like the day was promising, because this DGM guy had said, “Oh, the road from here to Buta is MUCH better than the road from Kisangani to here. After 6 km, it’s paved!!

Ha! What a huge joke! We only managed to make it to Akole on Saturday. The roads were terrible, and muddy, and terribly muddy. There would be periods where you could see nothing but mud ahead -- seas of mud, and water, and gulches of water and branches and leaves. The mud was like quicksand -- one wrong step and you’d be sucked down to your knees.

There was no paving now. Vestiges of pavement from a road long since gone sometimes, a road from thirty or fourty years ago. The drivers were experts at navigating the terrain -- my impulse would have always been to avoid the water puddles, but if water was pooling, it meant the ground underneath was too solid to absorb it.

We finally got to a small town -- Akole -- where the first two drivers had already stopped with our bags, and they’d procured us lodging in a small “hotel.”

Another single bed, no light, but a tiny window. The door didn’t have a lock, but it did have this very heavy car part to hold the door closed. A bed is a bed is a bed, sometimes (even if we think in retrospect that there were bedbugs or mites in it) and even the brief respite was welcome.

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