MotorBikes: From Kilkenny to Cape Town
Managing a careful water crossing
Continuing his journey across Africa, Hugh Bergin navigates a treacherous route to another border crossing

I had just asked a lorry driver which way would he go to Cabinda – the longer way round via Pointe Noire on the coast, or the more direct option through the tiny border post of Kimongo. He had laughingly opted for Pointe Noire without pausing. “Trop bizarre!” was his take on the shorter 45km stretch of road south. Hmmm. I’d got through the mud and the water so far, how bad could this be?

Off I went to the south side of town, to Bar M’Bela for information on the state of the road from local people. As usual I approached someone who looked like he was on the ball, and it didn’t take long before there was a large group discussion with various individuals shouting their contradictory advice.

My practice was to disregard those who actually didn’t know first hand the conditions, as dramatic or sensational gossip would likely be repeated. Others liked to be regarded as knowlegeable, though in fact they aren’t. If there was no obvious authority that others deferred to, I had a tendency to gauge the consensus of the group, which perhaps wasn’t the most reliable method of getting accurate information!

I recognised this also tended to be influenced by what I actually wanted to hear! The best I could hope for in this kind of positon was to find out if there was a definite hazard or obstacle to be aware of.

Today what emerged from the group deliberations was the ominous phrase “grand mer d’eau”, or great sea of water, and whether I’d be able to make it through. Even the most positive advocate for the road condition admitted that no taxi could travel the road - but maybe a motorbike!

An engine sucks in air to combine with the petrol before combusting in the cylinder. It’s not a great idea to let water get in as it does not compress, as air does, and the results can be a little destructive! The air intake on the F650 Dakar is about waist high, so trusting I wouldn’t encounter anything deeper I set off with a little trepidation.

There weren’t any cars on the road, though a few small motorbikes passed which gave me some optimism.

After walking a few flooded stretches before riding through, I eventually came upon the dreaded “grand mer d’eau”. So this was it. About thirty or forty metres long it was indeed a lake.

I waded through and established a line where the water didn’t come over my hip, nor dip too deeply, and decided to go for it, finger at the ready to cut the engine if it got too deep or the bike fell over. Very carefully, I guided the bike through, eventually getting shallower, and out the other side.

Success! A few more water hazards of varying depth and muckiness had to be negotiated, before I arrived in Kimongo, nearly passing through it without realising. A track led off to the right to Cabinda. This was the Congo border post.

The first few hundred yards of no-man’s-land up the mountain to the Cabindan border post in Angola only flattered to deceive.

After about fifteen minutes slowly wending my way through this rapidly deteriorating, overgrown, and muddy track, I was surprised to encounter a very well dressed couple out walking, the man sporting a natty “Pleasant Valley, Martha’s Vineyard” golf shirt and trimmed goatee.

When he spoke, in Portuguese, I eventually grasped he was the Angolan Immigration officer, and there in the middle of the bush, he took down details from my passport on a crumpled piece of scrap paper. He then happily agreed to take a photo of me and the bike, before wishing me well and continuing on his walk with his elegantly attired lady towards the Congo!

The track got progressively rougher and rutted as it climbed through the damp, slippy and dark rainforest.

A four wheel drive would have difficulty making it through here, and I was glad of the bike’s high clearance and off road capability, as well as the 650cc engine able to handle the weight of me and the luggage struggling up this increasingly precarious path.

Out of the gloom of the forest, I emerged into a clearing, a timber pole across the track, and a lean-to hut. I had arrived at the border post for Cabinda, the northern exclave of Angola.