Pushing the borders

April 8, 2020

After my relaxing stop with Mathias in Yaounde I was ready for another push towards the south. The Belgian stay was amazing (beer and fries!) and gave me a good time to mentally and physically recover. I got my visas for the next countries (Gabon and DRC) and was ready to go to Kilimanjaro!

From chaos to tranquility

Every big city is chaotic to cycle though, Yaounde wasn’t very different. After a day I reached the Gabon border and I noticed an even more relaxed atmosphere. Crossing the border was easy, except they didn’t have any documents there. I had to cycle 30km to the next village and by the time I was there, the immigration closed. I had to stay for one night in a hotel and the next day they gave me a stamp so I could continue my journey in the tranquil Gabon.

Good company

The cycling was a bit hilly and the people are still very friendly, as usual saying hello everywhere I pass by. There’s less and less people but that’s okay, not too many cars either so I could enjoy cycling through the rainforest a lot! At the end of a day of cycling, in Oyem, I saw a cyclist and a backpacker on the side of the road. Birgit and Jonathan met each other the day before and we decided to camp together for the night. They’re going North, I’m going South. A perfect opportunity to exchange experiences and information about the route and roads coming up.

From forrest to savanna

Gabon is a really nice country to be cycling in. There are not many cars and mostly I saw trucks transporting big trees. Mainly these are Chinese companies exporting wood, the roads are obviously really good here.

One day Birgit sends me that the borders are closed in Gabon, at least all land borders. She was stuck there for 2 days before they let her out and into Cameroon. Because of the news I’m getting more and more stressed but still try to enjoy the change in landscape. After cycling through the beautiful rainforest I’m entering the savannah.

In these parts of Africa you see bushmeat everywhere. Almost every village I pas by I see barrels with dead animals hang around to be sold. It can be anything from lizards to gazelles and even monkeys. A very strange image to see this hanging at the side of the road. I don’t like it, but on the other hand it’s their source of income/food. The saddest part is that because of deforestation and poaching some of the species like chimpanzees and gorillas are endangered. In Yaounde (Cameroon), I visited a sanctuary to learn a bit more about their work. If you are around, it’s worth to visit the Mefou Primate Sanctuary.

The savanna is a very beautiful and flat part with high grass which makes my progress much easier. The downside is that it gets really hot out there. The humidity and the sun at the equator give me a hard time when cycling trough the Savana. There’s no shadow from the rainforest to protect me. While cycling, it feels every moment a lion or elephant can pop up! But the only thing I see is some elephant dung and footprints. 

Corona heat

Exiting Gabon was a bit stressful because I was afraid they wouldn’t allow me out, or allow me into Congo. They checked my fever twice, asked some questions, called around and after a couple of hours I could depart Gabon. On the other hand, entry in Congo was very easy. A very small village and the officials didn’t seem to care about anything.

I was supposed to pass different checkpoints, but none of them cared and said it was all fine. I didn’t mind and just got stamped in and was ready to go. The scenery was really beautiful and I continued my way to Dolisie, my first city in Congo. The first part was still pretty hard because of the burning sun. The dusty road through the savanna didn’t allow me to take some breaks from the sun. After 3 days and just 30 km before Dolisie the road was asphalt again and was just perfect until Pointe-Noire, an industrial city with some oil drills offshore. When I entered different people shouted at me: “corona!!” even 2 hotels didn’t allow me to stay there…

Closing time

The day after my arrival in Pointe-Noire I heard the news about the borders getting closed. I called many people to get their opinion and I decided to stay and try to get back to Belgium. As soon as possible booked a flight back home, like many advised me to do. A day later the government suddenly shuts down their airspace so my flight got cancelled. I really wanted to prevent to be stuck there in Congo, sadly that didn’t work as planned. Luckily I met a German couple (Quirin and Lara) who are travelling by van. We decided to stay together and rent a house for the time we’re trapped here. That way I wasn’t alone being stuck and made things a bit more bearable. The Swiss consul helped us a lot. I got in touch with the Belgian consul and embassies to see if they could help me out.

The whole situation was hard and confusing. It’s stressful, but I realise it’s very stressful for most people. I’m very happy my sponsors, friends and family called me regularly to check if I’m fine. It’s a perfect moment to appreciate that I’m surrounded by extremely wonderful people.

The great escape

After being stuck in Pointe-Noire for 2 weeks I got an email from the Belgian embassy. They said that there might be a chance I could fly out from Kinshasa. This is another country, there are 2 Congo’s. I had to get to Brazzaville that same day. With great luck I still find a place on the last domestic flight. The next day the confinement starts and all transportation is blocked. Our embassy was negotiating hard with authorities of both Congo’s (Brazzaville and Kinshasa). Brazzaville and Kinshasa are both the capitals and are separated by the Congo river, there is no bridge. They finally got a permission to pick me up by boat from the embassy and bring me to Kinshasa airport. Since the borders are closed this was not easy to negotiate. From Kinshasa there was a repatriation flight back to Belgium.

After being 6 months and 14.000km away from home it is strange to be back. On one hand I’m happy and feel more relaxed because of the situation here is more comfortable. On the other hand I’m disappointed that I have to pause this adventure. I’m completely aware that this was the best decision and there’s nothing to blame me. Normally when I come back to Belgium I can see my friends and family, drink a beer and have fun. Now I can’t even hug or kiss my girlfriend, very strange times….

Very thankful to my sponsors who support me to get this project done and supported me to get back to safety!

and thanks for the great support!