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Part 3 : Blood River: A Journey to Africa's Broken Heart...Walked to Death...The Jungle Books

Posted By: oldmaninthedesert
Date: Friday, 19-Feb-2021 18:46:17
www.rumormill.news/166476

Good afternoon,today we continue with Tim Butchers 'Blood River: A Journey to Africa's Broken Heart'.He is attempting to retrace Stanley's route to the Congo River from Kalemie in the east of Congo....

...As I emerged from the house on the morning we were to leave Kalemie, Benoit appeared to be wrestling with eels. It was still dark, and with my head torch all I could make out was his shape, leaning over the back of one of the motorbikes, struggling with various long, black things with a springy and clearly disobedient life of their own. The eel image was reinforced by Benoit's outfit. He was wearing a bright yellow plastic raincoat, with heavy gloves, knee pads, goggles and black, shiny wellington boots. He looked like a ninja North Sea trawlerman.

'Can I help?' I asked without much conviction.

He ignored me and, in between the grunts and curses, I worked out what was going on. He was using old bicycle inner tubes as luggage straps to attach my kit to the back of his motorbike. Knowing the balance of his bike and how it depended on the loading, he insisted on doing it by himself. Eventually, after much stretching, snapping, knotting and restretching, he stood back, let out a sigh and pronounced himself satisfied everything was secure. To me, it looked anything but. The 100cc motorbike was now sitting heavily on its rear wheel, with my rucksack, a jerrycan and various other pieces of gear bulkily taking up most of the rider's seat. Above the handlebars was another hulking arrangement of fuel bottles, water canisters and other bundles, trapped in its own web of straining inner tubes. And on top of it all, Benoit was wriggling into two rucksacks - one on his back, the other slung in reverse across his chest.

He could see I was sceptical. 'It's okay; these bikes are amazingly strong.'

I found him reassuring. The same cannot be said for Fiston. My `local hire' motorbike-man had turned up stinking of booze, swaying extravagantly and mumbling something about needing more petrol. The day before I had impressed upon him the importance of having a full tank when we set out, and had paid him part of his fee in advance so that he could make sure it was full. In retrospect, this was a stupid thing to have done. He had clearly spent the cash on getting wasted. I grimaced, but, yet again, Benoit was the one who dealt with the problem.

'I thought this might happen,' he said. 'Last night I bought another few litres of petrol for emergencies.'

In a town like Kalemie where there are no petrol stations, fuel is sold on an ad hoc basis. It is of dodgy provenance, having been smuggled here by boat from Tanzania, and of even dodgier quality, `watered down' with palm oil or any other suitable solvent. It is sold in old bottles, jars or cans and nobody cares too much about making sure they are clean. By torchlight I watched Benoit filling Fiston's tank from a plastic bottle. Instead of throwing it away, once he finished pouring he carefully crushed it flat, screwed the top back on and tucked it under one of his tame eels.

`Never know when you might need that,' he said quietly.

A frantic footfall announced the arrival of Georges. He barged through the gate, panting an apology for being late. As he caught his breath, there was a brief conflab about who would ride where. Benoit would ride alone with his unfeasibly large luggage load; Odimba, Benoit's colleague from Care International, also dressed like a ninja trawlerman, would follow with Georges as a passenger; and I would sit behind the sozzled Fiston and pray for him to sober up.

https://exploringrealhistory.blogspot.com/2021/02/part-3-blood-river-journey-to-africas.html





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