Monday, August 30, 2010

25 - A Bush Taxi In A Shooting Gallery

Farewell, Cabinda
 We pile into a bush taxi, a big fat market Mammy in the front seat and three of us squashed into the back of the small car, for the two-hour journey to the border with the Republic of the Congo (Brazzaville or former French).This is the Togo Alley shooting gallery, where Cabinda separatists ambushed the Togo soccer team on its way to its African Cup matches in Cabinda in January, killing three people.

 We zip past a large modern stadium, then the Malongo base where all the expat oil workers live. They're helicoptered everywhere for security reasons, and the ground on their side of the wire fence is said to be heavily mined against infiltrators - ensuring that anyone fleeing violence on this side and scaling the fence has a very good chance of losing a limb.

We enter undulating rain forest, excellent ambush country for any separatist bazooka Joe. If separatist bullets don't get us, though, the driver's skills will – he's forever chatting up big fat market Mammy and giving her the glad eye, with only an occasional cursory glance at the road ahead. The car stops and big fat market Mammy gets out for a little squat and pee – well, that must have put any would-be ambushers to flight, because we reach the border without further mishap.

Cabinda's coastline

 The frontier is a large mud and dirt lot. Amid multiple shouting rugby scrums, we're swarmed by money changers who don't have the word 'no' in their vocabulary. A drunken group is dancing around in a circle, singing, chanting and holding bottles and cups smack in the middle of the dirt track. Photos most categorically verbotenissimo, honourable senhor, and most highly ill-advised with all those gun-toting guards about.

At the official health post on the Angolan side everybody is buying duly stamped yellow fever vaccination booklets, required by Congo, without having the vaccination; well, there's a giant step for public health. On the Congolese side, meanwhile, an official wants me to pay $20 for a cholera vaccination, which he assures me is required by both Congos.

‘We're not going to vaccinate you, we just put the stamp in your health booklet,’ quoths he, with a breezy smile.

‘His Excellency, your ambassador at the UN, assured me that I only needed the yellow fever vaccination,’ quoths I.

He is unimpressed. But a co-goon tells him to let me through without paying. He eventually does.

Now the Congolese police official at the next little kiosk wants $4 for entering my name into a big entry ledger.

'But His Excellency, your UN ambassador....' I trot out the same schpiel again.

Old Chief Constable Poker Face is even less impressed than his cholera cousin. But I eventually bargain him down to $1, and I'm through and on my way to Pointe Noire, Congo's off-shore oil drilling hub, principal port and second city.

View Cabinda to Pointe Noire and beyond in a larger map

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