Words & Images Peter Middleton
‘‘Attention! Attention!” we both screamed in an outrageous Monty-Python-like French accent, and desperately pointed at the untied mooring rope.
“Vite! Allez, allez!”
We were being pulled into the river, with the Land Rover held tight by the ferry and about to enter the current flow.
I grabbed low range reverse, but the front wheels shuddered and squealed as they attempted to free themselves from between two planks on the deck − with no help from the rear wheels as they had no purchase in the mud. I thumped the horn, but it was full of mud and we were rewarded with only the urgent mew of a gosling with laryngitis.
We turned to stare at each other, and then cracked up laughing at the absurdity of the situation. At last, the mooring rope was snatched by the ferrymen who were in as much of a panic as we were. After all, if the ferry were to float down the river, they would be out of a job.
The ferry began to swing, as the rope was wrapped around the mooring post, and continued to do so until another rope was finally tied on the other side.
We were no longer in danger of becoming a river boat, but were still trapped − half on the ferry, and half in the mushy Oubangui River.
The men attempted to pull the ferry back, but our weight was pushing the ramp into the bank, and acting as a wedge. All that we could see through the windscreen was sky, so I gave the Landy a slow increase in revs and worried the clutch. The mud tyres found purchase, and − to a cheer − out we lifted and crawled and sploshed back to shore. Bloody hell! (In an outrageous English accent.)
Leaving the ferry was as bad, and we had (literally) to build the off ramp. The planks had been taken for firewood until there were just enough to make the ferry operable, which meant moving individual planks from behind the Landy’s wheels and putting them in front, one at a time. They then had to be replaced to allow the Cruiser to follow. The sand ladders were put to good use again. Poor Doctor Dane was a sweating, nervous ball of frustration and fear.
Once out of Zaire at last, we thought our troubles were over. Of course, we were wrong. Climbing the muddy bank, we saw two small huts and the Central African Republic border post, and sensed trouble.
Customs was fine, but police/immigration housed two very aggressive characters who demanded cash in dollars for the ferry.
“Paid; sorry, mate.”
“Dollars for working on a Sunday?”
“No, your job.”
They need cash as no one has passed this way for three months!
One of them took all the pisspots before taking me aside and into a small alcove. Hanging on the walls were AK 47s, handguns, ammunition and hand grenades. I didn’t think he was giving me a tour of the castle armoury; he made the threat very real. Continuing the intimidation, they demanded dollars from each of us for the “visa cost”.