|Abstract from :
The New Vision, Saturday, January 29, 2000
|Travel||Photos du journal|
|Exploring Africa, eating monkey|
|by Paula Beauchamp.|
The road was a pit of mud scarred with dips and holes big enough to
hide a truck in. Wheels spun hard. Mud splattered.
Tires slid, first one way, then another.
“We should tell our friends we're having fun in Africa just playing in the mud,” said the first rider, Chris van de Goorberg, smiling back at Tanguy de la Vigne, his companion. That was three countries an some months ago.
Relaxing in Kampala last week, van de Goorberg's smile still radiated a sense of joy as he recalled the 80 km trip through western Cameroon that took the pair three days. "It was a great experience. It gave us a real sense of achievement".
Van de Goorberg, a 31-year-old plumber from Eindhoven, Holland, always loved motorcycles. He loved motorcycles so much that in March last year he sold his house, packed up his things and rode off on his Yamaha XT600 planning to cross Africa from north to south.
His friend, de la Vigne, a 34-year-old architect from Belgium, quit his job with a Brussels-based architectural firm last April.
It was “an unshakeable wanderlust”, he claims, that drove him south to "discover" Africa and, perhaps, more about himself along the way.
He met van de Goorberg in Mali last June and the two men have been riding together ever since.
From Europe, through Western Africa, across Congo and into Uganda, the pair has covered more than 48,000 kilometres between them, visiting almost 20 countries along the way.
“When I left Belgium,” says de la Vigne, “I felt that my bike was just my means of transport. If I had to put it in a plane, I would.”
“And then I met Chris. He loves bikes and was talking about going all the way through Africa with the bike. And little by little I noticed I was changing in my mind. Going through Africa by road was becoming important to me too,” he says.
But crossing Africa by land can be dangerous. Many countries are embroiled in political strife and civil war and the region is politically volatile. Finding a path between them is sometimes difficult.
Initially the two men planned to cross Sudan. However, they were refused a visa because of the rebel conflict in the southern Sudan.
Despite their fears and misgivings about the war in Congo, the pair decided to cross there instead.
“All the way down Western Africa I was talking about Congo, saying my father was born there. But in peace time,” says de la Vigne.
Despite holding a visa validly issued by the Kinshasa authorities, de la Vigne and van de Goorberg spent two days at the Ndu border in northern Congo awaiting approval to enter the country. Officials at Ndu, a small town held by Bemba-led rebels, did not recognise the visa.
The officials hadn't seen tourists in years, says van de Goorberg, and they didn't know what to do.
After two days, rebel leaders from another town gave the pair approval to enter Congo and they were issued with 'rebel visas'.
Their fears for their safety in Congo were unfounded, they say.
In most of the Northern Congo, the people had not seen tourists in the
three years since Mobutu Sese Seko was overthrown. But they were very friendly.
“Sometimes it was like being in a zoo when we entered a village. The people looked at how we stepped off our bikes and they kept looking until we stepped on and went away,” says van de Goorberg. “Some people would stand in the middle of the road and demand we stop and go eat with them in their houses,” he says.
De la Vigne and van de Goorberg were fed unusual local foods like caterpillar, porcupine meat and monkey meat. “In a restaurant we were just given a monkey harm with a hand. I started eating the arm. It had a very strong taste. But the hand, I couldn't eat,” says van de Goorberg.
“Monkey meat was the only thing available. We were very hungry and that make the difference,” says de la Vigne.
Late last year the pair entered Uganda from Congo.
“We arrived on Christmas Day. When we crossed the border the officer said, “You are very welcome to Uganda. We love to have tourists and because it’s Christmas I’ll buy you a beer”. “So our first impression of Uganda couldn’t have been better,” says van de Goorberg.
“Even in Kampala people are friendly and helpful. If you are lost and want to find a place you can just ask someone. They will guide you there. All they want is a friendly chat,” says van de Goorberg. “In place like Central Africa and Nigeria, the people are friendly too, but they always expect something from you,” he adds.
According to the pair, Uganda is much more developed than the other African countries they have visited and this has been a nice change.
Van de Goorberg and de la Vigne spent New Year’s day in Kampala, enjoying entertainment at the Kabaka’s palace and watching the fireworks in the city. They visited the Murchison Falls National Park, Kabale and Ssese Islands, enjoying Ugandan hospitality.
African scenery is beautiful they say. But it is the attitude of African people that has reshaped the way they think.
Says quietly spoken de la Vigne: “Everywhere in Africa, especially in the small villages, people are generous; they share everything they have, even if they don’t have much. It’s a different way of life and I love it.”
Van de Goorberg agrees: “In developed countries, people build up a castle around them to keep other people out. You don’t dare to enter.”
“Of course there are places in the West where you are welcome. But here in Africa , it seems that everywhere you are made to feel welcome,” he says.
One thing the pair has found difficult to adjust to, both in Uganda
and elsewhere, is the tendency of males to take them by the hand. “In Europe
this gesture has very different connotations. Only homosexuals would do
this,” they smile uncomfortably and laugh.
The two men have now left Uganda and continue their travel southward towards Cape Town. Of the future they are unsure. Van de Goorberg and de la Vigne may meet up again to ride through the Americas, perhaps around the world. But for now they are simply content to keep riding south.
“I’m not ready to go home. If I went back now, the life I had before I left would be the same. I don’t feel I have changed enough yet to alter my environment in Belgium the way I’d like. But I will go back someday. My family, my friends, my roots are there.”