Thursday, September 2, 2010

28 - Fasten Your Seat Belts, Please

The so-called thrice weekly train from Pointe Noire to Dolisie between the coast and Brazzaville is very iffy at best - it seems to leave when it feels like it, and then mainly in darkness, preventing any scenic views. So plane seems to be the only real option despite the warnings against African air transport. Passepartout has already made travel out by bus or truck iffy; he screwed up my tentative road transport, telling me there’s a daily bus (there isn't) on the now tarred road (it isn't) to Brazzaville.

View POINTE Noire to Brazzavile in a larger map

De Brazza's baobab
Passepartout wakes me up ages before needed to get to the airport at 7 a.m. for the 9 a.m. flight. Thank Gawd I am now free of him; I give him $20 just not to come to the airport and hinder me any more. He did get me a good exchange rate in the market, though.

The thing about flying out of Pointe Noire is that you end up not caring if the damn plane does crash. They make you get to the airport two hours before departure, then make you stand outside for more than an hour among the shoeshine boys and lottery ticket sellers. It must be terrible in the rainy season. Perhaps it’s all to take your mind off the reputed lack of maintenance of their planes.

Immortality-seeking scratches

Once we're inside the departure area a fellow passenger says I should have bought a padlock for my case because everything gets stolen. There is in fact a not-bad little cafe inside, though. When they call us for the flight, we have to walk the whole length of the parking apron to get to the old Fokker F-28 twinjet. What a Fokk up!

It's only about half an hour to Dolisie, and the pilot lands with such a thump that my window shade comes slamming down. Now immigration wants to sign me in again, but this time they don't ask for money. They only have two un-motorised luggage carts to bring the luggage from the plane and there's an inordinately long wait while they load up first. I may not have a padlock but my case is still a virgin.

Jungled hillside outside Dolisie

Dolisie is a dusty little town, a mixture of solid buildings and street-side shacks with not much of interest, although it apparently served as a cooler mountain retreat for visitors from Brazzaville and northern neighbour Gabon before civil war and militia conflicts a decade ago screwed that up. The scenery outside is very pleasant, with dry hills giving way to forested mountains. Out of town to the west there's a large baobab tree where the Italian-born explorer de Brazza carved his name into immortality on his way to Pointe Noire from what is now Brazzaville on the Congo River to claim the territory for France in the 1880s. Needless to say, there are now 36 million other names slashed into the poor suffering trunk. Yours truly does not join the immortality-seeking scratch crowd. As a bonus, though, the taxi driver gets through a nearby police checkpoint without paying because he's a relative of the guard.

Dolisie view

Congolese President Denis Sassou-Nguesso went to school in Dolisie, so he has a huge house up in a forested enclave, and the town is said to go into lock-down whenever he's in residence, with armies of soldiers swarming the streets. Fortunately he's not here today.

A train is due in at the station and it's time for muggins, having watched Greece clobber Nigeria, to indulge his childhood fetiche and become a train spotter, wandering down to the tracks. A goods train is just leaving for Brazzaville with people perched precariously atop a swaying heap of bundles on an open wagon. On a siding a single first class carriage waits for departure to Pointe Noire - a sorry dusty affair with broken windows, a large privacy-seeking shawl flapping insolently out from one gaping hole, and banks of metal bunks.

Dolisie hair dressing salon

A swarm of police and army goons drape a stone bench on the broken platform, canoodling with their collection of weapons, some double-barrelled. I manage to sneak a few photos and have just stuffed my camera back into my trousers (... or are you just pleased to see me?) when a super-goon approaches to enquire the nature of my business.

'Just strolling about,' quoths I; 'tourist, trains, whooo whooo, clackety-clack, clackety-clack.'

He is unimpressed. 'Where are your manners,' quoths here; 'you can't just stroll along like that without first announcing yourself to the police.'

Dolisie haute couture
'So sorry, Your Grace,' quoths I, off-buggering without more ado. A little truck on train wheels trundles in along the tracks; on the street outside a large billboard proclaims: Rape is a crime, let us all fight against sexual violence.

I disappear into one more of those magnificent African evenings, the blood red sun descending, the smell of wood smoke hanging fragrantly in the air, a blue haze hovering over the mountains - totally mellow, wonderfully balmy, and delightfully cool. Indeed the weather has been great throughout so far, not much humidity or excessive heat and no need for a/c at night; in fact a blanket comes in useful.

African twilights are spell-binding: The curfew tolls the knell of parting day/The lowing herd winds slowly o'er the lea...

Dolisie station
First class rail

Campaign against rape

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