In the Middle

We thought they’d gone for the night but they soon returned with reinforcements as well as the chief of the village and he wanted to talk tough. Negotiations commenced.

Earlier we’d crossed the Equator at a town named Makoua. It was a pleasant little place beside the river Likouala. Next to the town hall is a roundabout, its other purpose is to mark the point halfway between north and south poles. There’s flakey white paint on the circular wall and above it you can see a large globe, the area of the Republic of Congo is picked out in gold. You won’t find any sign to guide you to this place of interest, in fact we drove straight passed it first time, I guess this is an illustration that so few tourists head this way. As soon as we jumped out of the truck we began taking photos, Gunter even pulled out his Helgoland flag for a special snap.

We needed to find a place to pitch up for the night and after deciding against a track near a communications tower because it might get us in trouble with the gendarmes, we found a football pitch. Michael parked the truck and hopped out to talk to a local. The young man with a wife and several children in tow said it would be ok. The nightly ritual of unloading and setting up camp started but tonight we had an audience. The young man and his entourage stood there studying our every move as we continued while trying to ignore the attention.

As usual my companions took charge of making dinner and instead of sitting and watching them prepare the food I took my camera and went for a wander. I’d noticed some ducks on a lake the opposite side of the road and thought I’d go and photograph them. As I reached the other side I was approached by a lad with a radio in one hand and a machete in the other. He said that I needed to ask the man down the road before I took any photos. It wasn’t going to make that much of an image so I politely indicated that I wouldn’t bother and returned back to base.

I sat at the table and listened to the Germans talking German. Our audience soon dispersed and we began to relax. Ten minutes later a group of men began to approach. For some reason they picked me out for attention and I did my usual ‘I’m English, can’t speak French’ routine. Eventually, they worked out that Michael was the one to parlent with.

Now the rest of the tale is my interpretation only, as it was carried out in both French and German. The village chief wanted payment as we were on his land without permission, he had just returned from work and discovered us. Michael’s approach was to suggest that he was probably just sitting around and questioned his authority. Turns out that his son had given permission so Michael then went on a charm offensive. The chief said he represented the police and would have to charge a visitor tax which was met with minimal response.

A chat about wives and numbers of child seemed to start all the while Michael continued to cook dinner which also popped into the discussion. By this time the son had returned with a bench and all of the men present squeezed onto it. Michael’s first offering was two tins of cheap beer that was politely received and quickly dispatched by the men on the bench. Further moves resulted in a bottle of sherry which, at first, I thought had done the trick. ‘Do you smoke?’ I heard the chief enquire. Cigarettes were then handed over and around but still they sat watching us while food was dished up. Of course, a plate full of our tomato and rice was then offered and quickly consumed. Michael had played for time, started off small but finally relented and handed over 5,000XFA (£6.40) which sent everyone home happy.

After the tension of the evening I was glad of a shower under the stars and the tranquility of my tent which was surrounded by little flashing lights generated by thousands of glowworms. Outside I can hear all variety of animals and insects. I’m pitched near to some water so, fingers crossed the crocodiles don’t drag me off in the night.