the congo jungle
FERRY ACROSS THE SANGHA RIVER
I enjoyed 3 days in Ouesso. Although not a huge town, it was the biggest of the region and had everything I needed. It was great to have easy access to small shops and have more than one option to eat at the restaurants…although typically only 2 options.
At least I didn’t have to eat anymore rodents or monkeys for a few days.
After 3 nights in Ouesso, I made my way across the Sangha river on the ferry which was free.
I was making my way to Pokola which was the last town I would see for a few days. I knew I only had 45km to ride for the day so I took my time talking to the locals and telling them about my plan to ride all the way to Impfondo.
Everyone told me how crazy and long that is but assured me it was possible. Although they told me that I wouldn’t be able to ride on the dirt roads after rain as the roads become very muddy.
So I slowly rode towards Pokola along the dirt road through the jungle. It was really nice. People would pop out of the forest every so often carrying baskets full of nuts, berries and insects which they would later eat or sell.
Although it hadn’t rained, the roads were a little slippery and muddy at some points.
Given that it was rainy season and raining almost everyday, I became a little worried. If it rained, the roads would be impassable. Maybe instead of a week it would take 2-3 weeks to make it to Impfondo.
After a few hours I reached Pokola. I made sure to resupply on a weeks worth of food just in case I got stuck somewhere.
I found a guesthouse that was super dirty but I got them to remove the bed and I set up my tent in the room. Still cost $12.50AUD for the night…accommodation in Congo so far hasn’t been cheap.
At about 3pm, it poured down with rain non stop for 4 hours.
Oh no, how was I going to be able to ride this 550km to Impfondo along these dirt roads in rainy season.
Staying with the eco guards
I didn’t leave Pokola until about 10am the next day as I wanted to give the roads a chance to dry. The immigration police were waiting at a barrier before I left and asked me to pay $5 for the privilege of registering my passport details.
I declined and left without paying as I knew it was a bribe.
After crossing the barrier, I couldn’t contain my excitement. I knew the next big town was 550km away and I wasn’t going to be turning back.
It was a nerve-racking but exciting feeling.
I saw a group of Pygmys not long after leaving. They are the local tribe hunters who are very small in stature…about half the height of me.
Every so often, I would see small huts on the side of the road with people dressed in traditional clothing going about their day to day lives.
To them, I was the tourist attraction, so whenever anyone saw me, they let the rest of their group know and they all came running onto the road to watch the white guy riding his bike off into the distance.
At one point, I noticed some extremely small 1 person shelters made on the side of the road. They were made only out of branches and leaves. I thought they might be little poachers shelters, as this was a protected area, but I was later informed that these are pygmy shelters…so cool!
At lunch time I arrived at an Eco-Guard barrier. These were the people working for the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) who protect the park.
They were very interested in talking to me and finding out what I was doing. They’d never seen someone riding their bike through here before and just wanted to make sure that I had everything I needed.
My plan was to stay at one of these Eco-guard barriers for the night as I knew there were a few around and they are the only form of shelter/people along the route from here…
They told me it was another 75km to the next Eco-guard barrier which I knew I wouldn’t be able to make, but I continued anyway, thinking that I’d be spending the night camping in the forest.
The afternoon continued, luckily there was no rain but it was extremely hot and humid.
I noticed there was a sign “Congo Hunting” which was completely overgrown and looked like was no longer in use. I found it strange there would be a hunting sign in a protected area of the forest where there are signs everywhere saying no hunting.
I later found out that hunting is still allowed if you get a permit. Basically rich tourists come and pay a lot of money to buy a tag for a certain animal. They are then allowed to kill only that animal, or if they buy multiple tags, they can kill those as well.
I was told they are allowed to then take the animals back with them to their home country but I highly doubt you’d be able to fly overseas with a dead elephant or gorilla.
I didn’t really understand how or why they’re able to hunt endangered species in a protected area. Maybe the money they get for each tag is worth it to put back into the conservation effort? Do you know?
Anyway around 3pm I arrived at another Eco-guard gate and asked if I could camp there for the night. The guy was very friendly and welcoming and told me to pitch my tent inside the building as there are gorillas, elephants and a lot of leopards that visit during the night.
There were also some people there who work for the logging company.
During the evening I sat and spoke with them about the area and told them about my bike trip around Africa. It was a really nice evening.
I went to bathe in the river and filter some water and just as the sun was going down, someone spotted a forest elephant. It was the first one that I’d seen so I was pretty excited about it!
I did about 80km for the day and fell asleep around 9pm after having a can of sardines for dinner.
encounters with wild gorillas,
forest elephants and chimpanzees
I woke up at 5.30am with the sun the next morning. My plan was to leave by 6am as it was the best chance to see wildlife before the temperatures got too hot.
I said farewell to everyone and within 15 minutes of leaving, I saw another forest elephant crossing the road. It lingered on the road until I was about 30 metres away and then disappeared into the dense forest.
The day had gotten off to a good start.
Contrary to everything I’d heard, I didn’t find either of the 2 forest elephants I saw to be aggressive. They were very relaxed just as they were in East Africa.
I’d been told that the Forest Elephants are a lot more aggressive than savannah elephants, but the eco-guard told me they weren’t aggressive if you don’t annoy them…just like in East Africa.
It’s amazing how easy they disappear into the forest. It was on the road one second and then it entered the forest. 5 seconds later, I reached the point it had entered the forest and it had already disappeared.
I found myself stopping very regularly that morning. There were several species of monkeys jumping around in the trees and the sounds of the jungle were relaxing.
The temperatures were cool and I wasn’t in any rush. I stopped to take a video of myself riding passed the camera and just happened to look up.
There was a chimpanzee in the tree above me just looking down at me not making a noise.
It was just relaxing and had probably just woken up.
I was astonished and it made me think that I had to be more attentive. It was only purely by chance that I happened to look up and see it.
Another 20 mins passed and I head something in the tree, I looked over and there was a group of wild gorillas. I instinctively slammed on my brakes, alerting the silverback to launch himself down the 50m high tree in less than a second. He was grunting and letting the others know there was a potential danger…me.
They slid down into the forest floor and I couldn’t see them anymore. They were silent and didn’t move so it was impossible to see them. I must admit, it gave me quite a freight when I saw the silverback slide down the tree making loud noises.
At first, I thought it was sliding down the tree to come and get me.
What an absolutely amazing experience! Gorillas in the wild!
Another 15 minutes down the road and there was a big silverback on the side of the road. I got to within 10 metres of it before we spotted each other. Again he was massive, and sprinted into the forest behind some bushes. This one kept carrying on and making loud noises for a couple of minutes.
Once again though, they went into the bushes and became completely silent. Not moving a muscle as to not alert me of their position.
This would happen 2 more times through the day. I would see a total of 4 groups of wild gorillas.
I’d only come about 10km in the first 2 hours of the day.
It was probably the most exciting day of my trip so far in Africa!
After making it to another Eco-guard barrier at around 2pm, I decided to continue another 45km to a small village.
Reaching the village marked the end of the protected area and national park.
Even with the slow start to the morning with the constant stopping to look at wildlife, I rode 120km for the day. I was absolutely exhausted by the time I made it to the village. They had a small restaurant where crocodile and rice was on the menu.
I think I got the bad part (top) of the crocodile. The meat itself tasted pretty good but it was so tough and hard to eat. Plus it was covered in the hard scales which were obviously inedible.
I found somewhere to stay for the night and they even had beer, although it was warm. Somehow I drank 6, I guess I was thirsty!
pygmy villages and eating caterpillars
After all those beers I didn’t sleep that well. I started riding around 9am and it was already quite hot.
My body was a little bit sore and tired so progress was slow.
At around 12.30pm I stopped on the side of the road in the shade. There were millions of millepedes along the road. It was a strange site. But I didn’t care, I really just needed to sit in the shade.
After 5 minutes, one of the locals came and told me he preferred if I didn’t sit there and directed me further up the road.
Little did I realise but there was a small intersection where 2 roads join up. There was a little guesthouse and small shop there. It was there to cater to the logging trucks that used these roads.
Although I’d only come 60km and it wasn’t even 1pm, I decided to stop for the day. The guesthouse was very basic but only cost $5.
It was a small pygmy village with Bantou people there to run the shop and guesthouse. The Bantou people are local people who can speak french and often give the Pygmy people work who want it.
The Pygmys don’t speak any french so you have to communicate with them through the Bantou people.
I spent the afternoon with the Bantou guy Daryl who runs the Auberge and shop. He was about 25 years old. We went down to the river to bathe and he assured me the crocodiles in the river were a hundred kilometres up river.
But I know crocs like to move in rainy season so to be honest, I was waiting for a croc to grab my leg.
After talking with Daryl for the afternoon, the good news came that one of the Pygymy’s had killed an antelope and we were all going to be eating meat for dinner.
It had been over 5 days since they had eaten any meat so everyone was pretty happy.
For Dinner, Daryl’s mum cooked the antelope, caterpillars, foufou (manioc with flour) and manioc.
It was quite the feast. The antelope was absolutely delicious. I can’t remember eating a piece of meat that nice in a very long time!
At dinner, Daryl was telling me about the Pygymys a bit. They go days without food sometimes and it doesn’t bother them.
And apparently they love marijuana. So much so that if they have enough money for marijuana, they will buy that instead of eating food.
It was a really interesting and authentic night. I really had a great time. Just goes to show you don’t know where the day is going to take you.
Daryl insisted that dinner was free and we chatted into the night.
my longest day on the bike
The following morning I wanted to get up early and ride 95km to Enyelle. As I left the Pygmys and Bantou village, there were several others along the road.
All seeing me and coming out onto the road to watch me. To me they were the attraction, but to them I was!
It would be amazing to learn the Pygymy language and actually be able to communicate with them directly to hear how they think and what they believe.
Originally the Pygymys only lived in the middle of the forest with no contact with other people. But these days many of them seem integrated into communities with the Bantou people.
While I did see several small pygymy tribes dressed with nothing more than a piece of string covering their private parts, most of them are wearing modern clothing such as t-shirts and shorts.
Although many of the women were topless.
This part of the forest was more cleared out than the first couple of days and there were a lot more huts so it was harder to see wildlife.
I made it to Enyelle around 1pm and went into the town to look for some lunch and somewhere to stay for the night.
I had some grilled chicken and bread for lunch and got talking to a guy who was a refugee from Central African Republic. He was very friendly.
He informed me that it was meant to be heavy rain over night and that I should continue riding as the roads might not be in good condition tomorrow.
It was 45km to the next village and it was 2pm. After finishing the chicken, I felt like I had some energy again and decided to continue to Boyelle.
I managed to do the first 30km pretty quickly although I can’t say I was enjoying it too much. It was more of a head down and pedal pedal pedal attitude.
With about 10km to go, I met a guy from Boyelle who was also cycling there. He had just gone to buy 2 ducks and a chicken for tonights dinner and was riding back.
They were still alive and strapped to the back of his bike.
The last 10km of road was really terrible. It was very bumpy and was hurting my bum a bit which was already sore from the long day.
But it was nice to have some company.
In these smaller towns, people speak french about as well as I do, so sometimes communication can be a little difficult. But it’s always fun.
We arrived in Boyelle. I’d ridden 140km on dirt roads, the most I’ve ever ridden in a single day off-road. I was pretty proud of myself.
I was directed to the river where I was told there was a guesthouse nearby. I had to sit out the front for an hour while they tried to find the key.
Eventually, he found it, let me in and just tried to neaten up the sheets and pillow from the last person that slept there rather than change them.
To be honest, I didn’t even really care haha
He went to the river to get me a bucket of water so I could wash.
I walked into the village and found only one place serving food. An unknown meat that no one knew the name of the animal in French, only in Ngala (the local language).
I decided to get some anyway. I waited for about an hour and a half until it was actually ready.
I got 2 pieces and after my first bite I knew straight away that it was the same rodent that gave me food poisoning a couple weeks earlier. But it did taste slightly better although I can’t say I enjoyed it. I ate most of it and retired for the night.
The guy from the guesthouse first asked me for money for petrol for him then told me the price of guesthouse was an extra $5 than the price he told me originally that we already agreed to.
So I basically just told him to give me the rest of my money and that he shouldn’t treat his guests like this.
Luckily the Congolese people have been the friendliest in Africa so far. I only get asked for money 3 times per day instead of the 50-100 times in East Africa.
This means I’m actually able to have genuine interactions with people not wondering if they just want to ask me for money at the end of our interaction.
I still get asked by everyone about my bike. They’ve never seen a belt or gearbox bike before and it gets a lot of attention. And people always ask for me to give it to them or sell it to them once I’m finished in Africa.
I’ve now started telling people that I’m just borrowing the bike and that I need to return it after the trip which seems to work well.
Surprisingly it didn’t rain overnight. Which meant I could probably make the final 120km to Impfondo.
I started riding at 6am and the road was super bumpy, like it had been for the last 10km yesterday.
It also became super muddy in some parts and I had to walk it. There was no way I was going to reach Impfondo at this pace.
I had to take the bike on a pirogue/canoe twice to cross some rivers. They charged $5AUD each time. One of the times when we were already half way he told me I needed to pay $12.50AUD but I just told him we had already agreed on the price and I’m not paying.
As long as you don’t show any concern or weakness, people don’t argue. They just try to get more money and I usually don’t take it personally.
The second canoe was really small and half of my bike was hanging out of the water. When we reached the other side, the machete was missing. but we eventually found it in the water.
Somehow, by midday, even with the bumpy and muddy roads, I’d still managed to ride 65km and had reached a small village. It was perfect timing as it just started raining. I was able to buy some goat meat for lunch and thought that with the rain, I’d probably just stay there for the night.
I got talking to some people and they told me the route between there and Impfondo was good and it would be possible even in the rain.
So after finishing lunch, I left the town and was met by a paved road. It was amazing. Perfect timing.
Usually I prefer dirt roads but with the long kilometres over the past couple of days, the bumpy roads, the mud and now the rain, I was very happy to be on the paved roads.
It continued spitting rain all afternoon but I didn’t really care. It was only 55km to Impfondo and it felt very easy.
The road was very narrow and the jungle had began to eat up the sides of the roads but there was absolutely no traffic and it was easy riding.
In the last 15km or so the road began to turn to mud again, the pavement had all collapsed so it was slow again. But I was so close and happy to make it.
I heard rumours that the big boat that goes to Brazzaville was already in town and is leaving in the next couple of days. Because it only comes once every 2 months I decided to ride straight to the port to see if it was there.
I spoke to the Port Boss and he told me that it had already left but there was a smaller boat that was leaving in 3 days.
So I rode halfway around town to the smaller boat to meet the crew and walk on the boat.
It was a 4-7 day boat ride and I would be pitching my tent on the top deck. It didn’t look very appealing to be honest.
I only really wanted to take the big boat because it was like a little market on the river. It would have been quite an experience…this other boat seemed like it would be very boring.
And everyone kept asking me if I knew how to swim…which didn’t fill me with much confidence.
fabricating a canoe in epena
After waiting in Impfodno for 4 days, I decided to go to Epena which is in the Lake Tele Reserve. There is rumoured to be a dinosour that still exists called Mokele Mbembe that lives somewhere in the vast swampland Reserve.
The last unofficial sighting was a couple hundred years ago but research teams venture here every couple of years looking for it.
Because the swampland is so big with little to no human population, the rumours of its existence spread.
After talking to some locals though, they assure me that it went extinct with all the other dinosours millions of years ago.
My plan was to ride to Epena where the roads end and the only way forward is via Pirogue. A pirogue is a canoe made out of a big tree.
While in Epena I spoke to the chief of the village and told him of my plan to canoe down the Likouala-aux-Herbes river to Mossaka. It runs for 650kms until it meets up with the Congo River, so it’s quite far!
I was meeting up with Matthias, a German cyclist who was arriving to Epena via Pirogue.
The chief told us that it would be very long journey but theoretically possible. In my mind it would take us 2 weeks, but after tracing the map and noticing the river would be over 650km, I realised it would probably take us at least a month.
There were crocodiles and hippos in the water that we would have to watch out for too!
The river didn’t have much of a current and meant progress would be slow.
Someone in the village overheard us talking about potentially buying a pirogue and taking it down river and informed us he was from a village across the river who is currently building a canoe/pirogue that would be ready in 5 days.
The price would be $250AUD and would be big enough for the 2 of us plus both of our bikes.
So the next day, Matthias and I took a canoe to the village to see the size and progress of the boat being built.
We walked through the forest to meet the boat builders and saw that it was literally still a tree. They had just started cutting it down and it hadn’t even fallen over yet. We couldn’t help but laugh.
It became clear that they heard we wanted to buy a pirogue and pretended they were already building one that was almost ready. But when we arrived 2 days later, they were still cutting down the tree.
In the end we decided to return back to Impfondo and wait for a boat to take us down river to Brazzaville.
We are currently still waiting in Impfondo for the boat as there is only 1 boat every week.
Route through northern congo
Route through Africa so far
malaria and Getting locked up (Bikepacking Cameroon) missing my connecting flight While I didn’t do much interesting riding in Cameroon, there were many interesting things that happened during my 4