Submitted by Andy Stuart-Hill

To the Congo – Chapter 3

In high spirits, we sped along a good narrow road when we ran into a heavy storm. Within a few seconds, we were off the road and up to the axles in mud in pitch darkness, and for the first time, we had to attempt ‘deditching’ operations. 

The first stage was to dig the wheels clear and then drive a rail with a sharpened end, which we carried for the purpose, into the solid part of the road. A Block and Tackle was attached to the bus as well as the rail, and then the whole party pulled on the muddy rope. In most cases, we were soon on solid ground. In this case, however, we struggled for a long time. 

At the same time, a passing tourist from the north arrived and told us that the road ahead of us was flooded and quite unsuitable for our vehicle. Naturally, we decided to go back. This was not as simple as it is sounded as we could not turn the bus on the narrow road. Next, following the longest reverse I have known – two and a half hours in the darkness with flashlights lighting our way when we got back to our normal 27 m.p.h – it seems as though we were flying along.

Extraditing truck from muddy road in Southern Congo

We eventually arrived at the southern Congolese border frontier at Mokambo. This after having decided not to proceed via Kenya due to the Mau Mau uprising there. (One thought being we could handle the little Pygmy people, who were also troublesome at that time. However, the big Mau Mau warriors were another matter!) 

Heading north on the (only) main road to Elisabethville, a modern European-type town with lots of shops and hotels. Next was Jadotville – somewhat empty. I went into one store and found no one there – everyone had gone to lunch and left the store unattended! We saw the Shinkolobwe Uranium Mine (Uranium from this mine was used to construct the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear bombs) and came across Kiubo Falls. We parked the bus near the Falls, which could be heard all night. 

Sunrise saw us sitting on the verandah of the Guest House having breakfast overlooking the beautiful falls in the early morning – a truly “African scene.” Driving north, through the scenic bush country of Katanga Province, we passed innumerable native villages, as well as a few larger villages Witwaba and Monano.

We crossed the Luavua River at Kiambi and arrived at the main very European city of Albertville overlooking Lake Tanganyika. I spent an extra day on the shores of this beautiful Lake resting, swimming, taking photographs as well as washing and cleaning the bus inside and out. At our hotel, a lady in the kitchen had severed an artery – a panic ensued as nobody knew what to do, so I took charge. I used my First Aid training to stem the flow with hand pressure, and we took her to the nearby Hospital for treatment. The hotel manager rewarded all of us with bottles of Stella beer. Then, we drove on the West side of the Lake and climbed the Mitumba Mountain range, which provided magnificent views of Lake Tanganyika. In just seven miles, the road dropped 6,500 ft.


The roads of Central Africa – Chapter 4

Our progress through the Congo became slower as the rains caught up with us. We were stuck many times, and each time the bus collected more mud.

One night in the Mitumba mountains, on a long hill, we became bogged down. After about an hour, we gave up in despair and decided to wait until morning. Soon afterwards, another truck came up the hill and skidded off the road a few hundred yards from the bus. We went along to give them a hand but discovered that the back of the truck was overhanging a sheer drop of several hundred feet. We were not able to give the driver any assistance and went back to bed – a very muddy bed it was!

When I checked the driveshaft of the problem truck, I found it to be twisted like a piece of liquorice. Such was the power of the mud.

Twisted truck drive shaft by the power of the mud

Later that night, we heard dozens of natives singing and dancing around us. We were rather concerned as we were completely trapped in the mud. The next thing, our bus was practically lifted out of the mud and pushed boldly up the hill. Later we learned that the problem truck was loaded with aircraft parts, worth a fortune, and the driver had recruited all the local natives to get him on his way. It was fortunate for us that he could not get past our bus and therefore had to get us out of the way before he could proceed. I should like to know what he had to pay those natives to get them out on such a stormy night. Such are the roads of Central Africa. 

Mud roads near Mutumba Mountains

Shortly after leaving Uvira, we found the main bridge had been washed out – this necessitated a 175-mile detour through western Burundi and southern Rwanda. The sleepy Border Guards in both these countries just cheerfully waved us through as they were aware of the washout problem and the traffic diversion. After a hairy all-night drive, we rejoined the main road at Bukavu on the shores of Lake Kivu in the Congo.

To be continued in another Pioneer…