|Children coffins at roadside funeral directors|
We proceed to the Belvedere, the highest point in Matadi from where the surveyors took the lay of the land for the railway to bypass the rapids to Kinshasa – a magnificent panorama of the now
house-cluttered hills and the soaring rock mountain beyond.
|More coffins - before the angry charge|
Blip no:3 – Gabriel, the very sweet little middle-aged receptionist at the Metropole rushes me across to the office of another air company, Kinavia. Oh yes, they have a plane leaving at 1330. Great, says I. Oh but it's full, says they. Perhaps it's just as well; Congo air companies have about as good a reputation as those in neighbouring Angola.
Blip no:4 - All buses for Kinshasa have already left for the day, so now we have to look for a taxi to Kinshasa.
|A Matadi neighbourhood from the Belvedere|
|Another Belvedere view|
This is a whole new phantasmagorical experience. Vast areas are blacked out, others have a few scattered, exceedingly weak bulbs in an occasional building, or the odd flickering oil lamp. Virtually no street lamps, but there's no lack, of course, of the usual huge traffic jams due to a slow-moving lorry or huge heaps of sand left for road works. And overwhelming everything are vast armies of humans at every turn, selling food and other wares, walking in unending columns on the side of the rutted roads way out from the centre to where they can get transport; or worse, darting in and out of the traffic. Many come from a protest demonstration, marked by the huge presence of Darth Vader riot police, at the funeral of a recently assassinated human rights activist.
|Road to Kinshasa|
It takes nearly three hours to cover the last few kilometres to the hotel.
Apocaloops Now! - Oops! For lack of anything better to do, I've just looked at the guidebook again and it says: 'The DR Congo still requires anyone photographing anything to have a photo permit... Permits sold in Kinshasa that are valid for the whole country can be as much as $50.' So all those people asking where my authorisation was were right and I was wrong? Well, I got through the country very nicely without it, thank you very much. And have a nice day!
Apocollapse Now! - After all this month-long swanning around equatorial Africa muggins is somewhat bushed and in need of a true holiday. So I'm off tomorrow to the other side of the continent to Djibouti at its hottest, which everybody else tries to escape at this time, and Somalia - which everybody else tries to escape at any time.
|Further along the road to Kinshasa|
There are four separate baggage searches; you got something for us 'to drink', ask the officers at three of them. Let's just forget the long lines, the three different immigration officials checking the passports even before you get to the one who stamps them – and now the computer system's gone down. Let's just say that despite the apparent total anarchy everything does get done.
Past immigration control and through a door, and yet another search; an imposing man sitting on the metal detector conveyor belt says: 'Mr. Arkus, I'm the police commander. I see you're going to Djibouti.' Gawd,called by name! What's going on? 'My younger brother who lives in Djibouti is suffering from a very serious illness – sexual impotence – and he needs our traditional medicine,' quoths he. 'I have here a little bottle of the stuff and I wonder whether you could take it to him as a humanitarian gesture.' Sorry, old chappie, quoths I, as much as I am in favour of promoting humanitarian causes, I am not authorised to take photos - or anything to anybody. Was this some entrapment attempt, with some cohort down the line ready to pounce at yet one more check point, find the bottle (drugs?) and extort a huge bribe to let me proceed?
The Ethiopian Airlines flight is fine, but Addis Ababa airport seems determined to cede the crown to no one for worst arrival reception. We wait for well over an hour as a single immigration official slowly goes through the inexplicably long process of stamping you in. An officious official comes over to move some of us to the line for airplane crews, which moves even more slowly. Then a second official joins in the process for the original line, though you'd hardly notice, and some of us move back. Everybody is muttering complaints. Time for muggins to hold forth: Every country should hold up Ethiopian officials for three hours at their airports, though not the ordinary people of course, quoths I. Naturally, as I get more and more radical, the immigration booth becomes vacant, the immigration official is gesturing furiously and my audience is shouting at ME to get a move on.