All I could see of Angola was a distant shore line on the other side of the river, a river that wasn’t supposed to be there. Leaving the Democratic Republic of Congo I wasn’t going to be easy as I thought…
It was late in the afternoon and the border which would lead me out of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) was finally within reach. I carefully navigated my fully-loaded motorcycle around large trucks, overloaded vans, buses, and smoking cars, which were contributing to a near standstill. Vehicles were jammed so tightly that mules, children, dogs, and hordes of adults could hardly move between them. My eyes picked their way forward, searching for a path, only to discover that the recent rains had taken their toll and had flooded the narrow land bridge that connected DRC to Angola.
At least the route was clearly marked, as people and stalled vehicles occupied every inch of the now-submerged land bridge as they ferried cargo and local trade goods from one side to the other, using baskets and boxes in knee-deep water. My travel partner Miguel and I had no choice but to push forward with the crowd and attempt to navigate the 400m crossing without drowning our motorcycles.
We slowly nudged forward, wedging our way between gridlocked vehicles as our Mosko Moto 35 liter Backcountry panniers compressed as they pushed against vehicles on either side. Standing out as foreigners amongst the crowd, we quickly gathered a contingency of unsolicited helpers, all hoping for payment for their assistance in getting us across. They yelled at people and vehicles to shift the inches required to keep us moving forward.
As we worked towards the water’s edge I found myself teetering at the outer edge traffic, to my left a 2 meter drop off into the deep flood waters and in front of a van precariously hanging off the edge of the road. The only option I had was a sharp 90 turn between the bumper of a large truck and the front end of a 3-wheel delivery trike. Surrounded by my impromptu staff of helpers and no space to even climb off the bike I reached back with one hand and spun the steel rotary draw attachment latches on each of Mosko Moto’s panniers, grasping the hand strap and slid each pannier off the wedge mounting system. I handed both panniers to my unnamed helpers enabling me to squeeze through the tight space and continue moving forward.
Finally at the water’s edge I remounted the panniers onto my bike, knowing even if I tipped over or suddenly became submerged in the flood waters, my computer and belongings would be safe, ensconced within the removable interior liner made of 22oz PVC with welded seams. Only 50 meters in, the engine became overwhelmed and began to sputter and struggle to keep running until finally it gave one final bark from the tail pipe with the sound of a cannon before falling silent. Without a single word, my growing assembly of helpers began pushing the bike forward. I was precariously perched on the very edge of the land bridge. Finally reaching the opposite shore and the ramp that would lead us to the next challenge of border officials, police, and military, I was able to get the engine to fire up once again. My once-united team began yelling and accusing each other, arguing the importance of their part in helping us across and demanding additional pay. Miguel pulled them in and identified one member from each team of helpers, and spoke to them as I slipped away to dig for US dollars in my panniers. Finding two $10 bills, each leader was given the payment to divide amongst the nearly fifteen helpers. As they continued to argue amongst themselves, Miguel and I continued to the first border checkpoint into Angola.