5.45 A.M. I open my eyes. I slept 2 hours and I suffered the rest. The thin walls of my tent reveal the first light of day. The jungle is quiet, the elephants are gone and many insects have already gone to sleep ceding the singing to the daytime birds that are already beginning to wake up. When I open the zip, I finally get to see the hell I'm in. As I imagined, it was the worst possible situation, that of the mud that is not so moist as to liquify, but dry enough to become soft and thick. As I leave the tent, I look around and realize that not only I was not going to reach my destination during the night, but that I will never be able to get there even during the day, at least not with the bike fully loaded. It's time to think about alternatives.
My first step is to inspect the condition of the bicycle, which as expected, it is disastrous. The blocks of mud obstruct everything. The wheels do not spin, the pedals, the chain and all the mechanisms are absolutely blocked. Since I hurt my hands badly during the night, scraping the mud in the darkness to try to continue, I can barely use them today because of the pain I have. At least now I can see my surroundings and I can find some twigs and leaves that I can use to scrape and clean the essential parts, with patience so that I can start thinking about some option. It is a very difficult task, the mud sticks to the bicycle like a magnet and taking it off takes me a lot of work.
Even worse than the condition of my bike, is my condition. Fortunately I do not have a mirror to see me, but I feel my whole body swollen, by the inhuman effort I made the night before and by the blows of that son of a bitch, largely responsible for the night that I had to pass. All my muscles are sore and hurt. I am all covered in mud and I have enough smell to destabilize the whole ecosystem that surrounds me. I have trouble opening and closing my hands due to the pain. The lack of sleep and the stress I had during the night put me in a shit mood. The mere idea of dismantling the tent and packing things demoralises me and I want to do nothing more than sit there in the mud disconsolately and wait for something magical to get me out of there. I suppose if I had a battery meter like mobile phones, mine would be out of bars now and about to shut itself down.
But there are moments in life when you have no choice, it is not an option. I have to get out of here because it can take days before someone passes along this forgotten road. It is in remote places like these where when you have a problem, you really have a problem. There is no one else who can get you out of here other than yourself. I reckon that I still have 16 km ahead. Yesterday it took me 6 hours to do a little more than 5 km in these conditions, so at this rate and accumulating tiredness, it may take me up two more days to get out of here, but I have no water or food or energy. What's more, today was the day when I was supposed to meet with the American biologist at the WCS base to leave for the Central African Republic. By now, I can only wish that she has mercy and waits for me since I have never had direct contact with her. That's why I can not spend two more days trapped. I need to think of a solution and fast.
It is very early still and as I pack I come up with an intermediate solution. My absolute priority is to reach the base at least to meet this woman before her imminent departure, and beg her to wait for me. If she were to depart without me, I would have no way of reaching the Central African Republic, and that would mean, among other things, having to go back through this same hell and get my passport stamped to officially enter Congo again even when I haven't even left its territory yet. That would mean meeting with the same bastard that hit me the day before for refusing to pay the bribe that he demanded. I do not even want to think about all these implications, so I decide to leave all my panniers in the jungle, mark the coordinates with the GPS, and go with the unloaded bicycle until I can find some firm ground from where I can start pedalling and get to the base so I can ask for help.
Now, much calmer already, I have to ask the WCS management for help to see how I can collect all my things again. After seeing my regrettable state and listening to my story (and reminding me as a bit of a scolding that I was very lucky to be alive today) they proceeded to assign me one of their drivers to take me in a 4x4 to the point where I had left all my stuff. It took us 45 minutes to do just those 16 km, with the 4x4 completely untamed, drawing 'eses' in the deep mud sliding from side to side, sometimes skating uncontrollably, an needing to resort to both the quadruple traction to leave the worst sectors as well as the masterful command of the Congolese driver who was taking me.
It seldom happens that one has a second chance to relive, from another perspective, the places of an extreme situation through which one has just passed. Reliving everything in reverse and by day, from the comfort of the 4x4 while the engine roars fiercely making all the effort, makes me see clearly the situations which I put myself in where my vulnerability is absolute. Sitting from the inside of the car gazing out of the window, I reflect that if I had never cycled there, perhaps I would never want to pass this place on a bicycle.
However, hours later when I finally return to the base, I throw all my panniers and drybag on the floor next to the bicycle, I stop to contemplate the result of the last 36 hours and an intoxicating happiness takes over me. I can only smile and start laughing out loud. Now I look at the situation from the outside. I relive where I have been, everything that has happened to me in the last few days and all of what I havegone through and I feel the happiest person in the world.
I am broken into pieces, but a feeling of bliss invades me. Enough to tolerate with stoicism the fact that instead of resting, I will have to spend the rest of the day devoted to the hard work of restoring functionality to all my gear, which is now completely impregnated in the dry mud that clogs each and every mechanism. At least today I do not have to cycle, I can eat well, sleep in a comfortable bed kindly to the WCS team, and prepare for the exciting boat trip down the Sangha River to the Central African Republic the next day. Today I remember once again, the most important reality that I rediscover at every moment that I live: "There is more within us than we know". This life is good.