There was a fuel shortage in Lope, and I was told that it could be a couple weeks before I could find enough gas to get myself back to some semblance of modernity. In the end, I came to the conclusion that the only way to make things work was to hop on the train to Franceville, relatively near the Congolese border, which meant leaving Anne Murray behind to catch the merchandise train that I was told would pass through the following day.
After constant reassurances the moto would get to me by Friday night at the latest – including a required swearing over the train master mother’s soul – I felt somewhat at ease leaving my precious travel companion behind. I should have known better.
Friday morning I walked into the train station and a jovial man told me the merchandise train would arrive at about 1700h, and I could call him to be sure. At 2200h I did. He told me the train was just down the rails 50km and that if I showed up in the morning I could simply whisk Anne away and drive into the sunrise.
Saturday morning I packed all my bags, filled a 5 litre jerry can with fuel, and hailed a cab to the train station.
“I’m here to collect my moto,” I say to the person who looked to be most in charge. “It should have arrived late last night.”
“Sure,” he said as he pointed to the area near the tracks. “Just go and identify it and then show me the shipping slip.”
I walked around the corner to an area of random merchandise: backpacks, toys, and even a couple crates of un-built scooters like Anne. However, my scooter was nowhere to be found.
Knowing that something was obviously amiss, I walked back to the station manager and asked let him know it wasn’t there. A voice from over his shoulder mumbled something in a local language and his face twisted as if he was about to tell me my mother died.
“I’m sorry,” he states while sinking his head slightly into his neck. “The train car it has to take still isn’t here.”
He turned to walk away as if the problem had been solved, but I continued with a sharper tone.
“What do you mean?” I push. “Where is it? They assured me it would be here last night at the very latest. Can you call Lope to see if it’s left there yet?”
He walks into his office for a moment and comes out, his head sunk even deeper into his shoulders. The bike is still in Lope.
Obviously, in travel some things go wrong. There are times you have to wait a couple days for things to sort out. The problem? I don’t have a couple days. In fact, even if the motorcycle would have arrived on schedule I would be pressed. I’ve not even yet arrived in the country yet, and my visa for Congo is set to expire in 5 days. I’m f**cked. F**cked in Franceville.
The station manager explains that the train that carries things like this has no fixed schedule because loading and unloading times vary. He said that they changed policy a couple months ago so that dangerous goods cars weren’t attached to trains also carrying passengers, which of course is completely understandable. The problem, however, is that they can no longer just toss things on the daily train. Worse, they have no idea when it will pass. They never know when the train is arriving until a couple minutes before it arrives at a station. If it hadn’t passed through Lope yet, it would be at the very least 2 more days, more likely 3-5.
So here I am today, sitting in my underwear and a white tank top writing about problems I can’t solve. Waiting for a bike I can’t ride, and potentially getting myself into even more trouble.
Best Case Scenario: The scooter arrives Monday morning. I ride what many overlanders call the worse 100kms of road you’ll ever have to drive in Africa – a bog of sand and sink holes – and then push through the next day all the way to Brazzaville some 500km away. Driving through the night is not an option as bandits rule the highway at night and even the early morning. On Wednesday, I cross out of the country to Kinshasa.
Most Mischievous Scenario: The visa on my passport is written in pen. It might be possible to manipulate a number to give me a couple more days if the bike doesn’t arrive until the day it expires.
Worst Case Scenario: Unfortunately, the worst case scenario involves another train ride or two. If the bike doesn’t arrive until the day it expires, and I’m unwilling to commit forgery, then my only option is to catch the train all the way to Libreville to get a new visa. Libreville is one of the most expensive cities in Africa, and about 600km from the nearest Congolese border. Moreover, I’d have to attempt to catch another train in Congo, since the section of highway that runs through there was ravaged by a recent rebellion and a group known as the ninjas. Even worse, I’d have to put Anne Murray on yet another merchandise train, unsure of her arrival in Libreville.
So, what will I do? What should I do?
I guess you’ll have to check in later to find out.