February 26 1953 (Thursday) Land Mileage 4575
After a pretty good night's sleep in Bangassou, we tidied up the rest house, cooked breakfast, then managed to buy four dozen bananas for about one shilling; we thought that this was very cheap!! We then reported to customs and the police and then boarded the ferry on the River M'Bomu - this was the only route we could take into the Belgian Congo from French Equatorial Africa at this point. The ferry, as you see below, was composed of a planked vehicle platform spanning four long dugout canoes, and propulsion delivered by 8 rowers, one at each end of each boat! This did not look the safest of ferries that we had seen, but it obviously did the job and we had very little choice! The rowing speed was controlled by the "captain" beating a steady rhythm on a large drum! We nevertheless arrived safely on Belgian Congo soil at 09h15.
Waiting for the ferry
Arrival of the ferry from the opposite (Congo) bank
Off we go under paddle power!
Naturally we had to go into customs yet again and there met a very nice man who was particularly helpful. The guns all had to be sealed while going through the Congo and even the cameras had to be checked, so it was 11h30 before we finally got on our way.
The road was dirt, but in excellent condition, although not very wide and quite winding. The Trans-African Highway Book says 'Good but sinuous and hilly road. Several bridges and rather awkward corners. Country wooded with dense vegetation'. We thought that the countryside was very clean and palm trees lined the route, with very thick forest further back on either side. We stopped at 13h00 for a meal and managed to buy six eggs from one of the 'materialising locals'. We would soon find out how fresh our purchase was! We continued our drive, passing through Bondo, which consisted of the Hotel Vicicongo, a small garage and an administrative centre. The rain had now started and it was coming down quite heavily by the time we reached the ferry at the river Uele at 18h30. The ferry guys managed to get us loaded and across the river in what turned out to be one of the first storms of the rainy season. We had never seen lightning like this before and it was quite dramatic, if a bit scary; it zig zagged down, lighting up the whole countryside. Dad gave the ferry guys quite a good tip for managing to get us across in such bad weather. There was nowhere to stop on the other side and we drove on in the terrible storm for almost another 30 miles before we found a point we could pull off the road. It was not a pleasant drive, on an unknown dirt road, with the rain and lightning not giving us a moment's peace. The sides had been removed from the Land Rover earlier because of the heat and packed on the roof; it was impossible to remove them from there and try to put them back on. David was holding a piece of tin up to the opening on the passenger’s side, trying to prevent the main force of rain coming in, when a lightning strike knocked it out of his hands, giving us all a huge fright. Obviously it was not a direct strike or more damage would have been done, but it was close enough to cause us to decide that getting wet was better than another strike. With the road awash, it was almost impossible to see anything ahead and we were very worried that we might come across an invisible hazard. We finally stopped just to the side of the road on what appeared to be a safe area and just settled down for what we hoped would be a reasonable night's sleep.
February 27 1953 Land Mileage 4757
The rain had stopped overnight, but by the time we had generally tidied up and managed to have a meal, we only started driving again at 07h45. We really needed to get on, as we did not want to get held up in the Congo by thunderstorms. We had not gone far when we read in the Highways book that there was only a railway bridge, not a road bridge, over the River Likati, and we would have to cross by ferry. We were so lucky that we had not gone any further the night before; we could well have been washed away, as we may never have properly seen the river crossing point ahead of us in the torrential rain. After crossing by ferry, we passed the Likati Station and carried on through thick forest and narrow roads for another 90 miles until we reached the village of Buta. Here there was yet another Hotel Vicicongo, petrol, garage, bank and stores. Dad decided that he should stop at the garage as he needed to do a bit of welding on the bumper, and he wanted to check the remainder of the vehicle. When he was satisfied that all was in order, he went to pay but was told that it was 'on the house'! The owner said it was in recognition of his friendships in the R.A.F during the war! We filled up with petrol, did a bit of shopping; exciting products like cheese were on the shelf here, and went to the bank to top up the finances. We left Buta at 11h45 and continued on until we found a lovely spot to stop at 13h00 for lunch. Luxury, cheese and biscuits! The scenery was quite lovely around this area, with so much to see after the desert. We carried on until 16h45 when we decided that we would stop and have a cooked meal while it was still light enough and dry, but after the meal we carried on driving for a while before we finally found a good stopping place at 21h00. We were still worried about the storm the night before and felt we needed to get on as far as possible while we could. During this last part of the day’s drive, we saw lots of monkeys swinging through the trees and crossing the road in front of us. How I wish I knew now what species they were!
To be continued :-)
I have put this section of my life story on Kindle if you should be interested:-