|Downtown church with Congo River and mountains|
It's barely daylight but the mud streets of La Cite, the African heart of Kinshasa, are already alive, more than can be said for one of its resident; a coffin lies on a platform under a canopy with rows of chairs already filling up with women. We pass a vast stadium and arrive at the bus 'station' – a dirt road with a dirty great black clapped out bus drawn up for the trip to Matadi, a perfect picture in decrepitude.
|Interior courtyard of Metropole Hotel|
The Holler! The Holler! And a-hollering indeed they are aboard our bus; a-whooping, a-cheering and a-clapping too. An evangelical preacher has just beamed up onto our roadship, and is energetically helping us to travel with Yahweh – in French and Lingala. It's last night deja vu all over again. The passengers, mainly portly women, are amen-ing and halleluya-ing for all they're worth, whooping in praise of God as if at a sports match. The reverend gentleman is now praying against 'crashes, sorcery and satanic attacks' on our journey. Amen! Amen! Halleluyah! Halleluyah!
|Church square at sunset|
It is at this moment that my seat mate, a portly, aristocratic looking lady with enormous pouting lips and huge false eye lashes, starts a mutiny. The huge lips form a determined, elongated O and she lets fly at our driver, telling him to stop playing chicken with our lives. She is clearly a leader of men - and women - because everybody else is now screaming blue murder. We have a riot on our hands. The driver is finally prevailed upon, we drop back, Maersk draws ahead, and in a flash another Maersk comes swinging along in the opposite half lane within half a hair's breadth of our flank.
But Hot Lips is not yet done. We're speeding along nicely across savanna, up-hill and down-hill, mountains rising on the horizon, when a truck draws across our path. Our Jehu promptly overtakes him, forces him to stop, jumps down, and we have a new Congo war on our hands. Curses start reverberating, fists start flying, arms start straining to restrain the incipient country lane-side reprise of the Rumble in the Jungle – the 1974 Mohammed Ali-George Foreman bout in Kinshasa – and Hot Lips decides it’s time to show some more leadership.
|Night falls over Matadi port|
We move on, the crew giving us free soda, rolls and tins of sardines as we pass rough and ready towns, an overturned van and sundry other wrecks. At every stop little children run up and down the road selling packets of small paper hankies to mop our sweat. The bus arrives after eight hours – hot, dusty, uncomfortable, but still progress on Conrad/Marlow's more than a month, even if without the evocative poetry of their slog through forests, over mountains and past indigenous villages.
|View of Matadi from right bank|
|Matadi neighbourhood as seen from right bank|
A bridge and the country itself move north to the right bank, the left one becoming Angola. Matadi must once have been very pretty town, with a Tyrolean type church near the water front in the lower town, and the massive Moorish style fort that is the Metropole Hotel, a venerable institution that is now more venereal, if a building can be so afflicted - cracked, peeling, chipped and much else; it has a/c and decrepit little balconies but no hot water, and no water at all in the evening, all for $60 a night. But with its grand staircase, lofty lobby, exceptionally high ceilings, Moorish arches, and more than a little imagination, it is still impressive. In fact both hotel and city have real character, even if deadly election riots in 2007, and the wreckage they left, haven't exactly helped.
|View of part of Matadi from Metropole window|