Before the war


No matter how hard one tries to prepare for unforeseen events, it is never possible to prevent everything. It had been almost 10,000 km since I had left Cape Town and since then I had been carrying 10 kg extra in spare parts. No matter how much it weighed, it was inevitable because I knew that until Europe I would not find anything of good quality in case of breaks, so any problem could easily turn into a nightmare. Anyway, as usual, Murphy's Law proves to be infallible and something always breaks and it is not within the things you can replace. In this case, after several days of pedaling banging the bicycle hard on the craters to be found on the road before Makokou, I noticed that the right side of the front rack was loose in the air. It had happened to me many times before that due to the impact and the weight, the screws would be cut because of the strong shear. However, this time what was cut off was not the screw but the fastening eyelet attached to the fork itself.


There was nothing I could do in the middle of the jungle rather than appeal to the Mc Gyver genius that all adventurers carry inside and create a complex fixture using wires, flanges and duct tape to get to Makokou where I wished I could find a 'surgeon'. The piece in question was very delicate. The size so small and the cut-off point so close to the fork, that it required that the welding should be performed by an expert welder very carefully, so that it would not melt or deform the inside of the thread. At the same time he would have to leave the little piece aligned so that the screw could be screwed back in straight. Having welded myself quite a bit as a teenager, I was very nervous because I knew how difficult the task was. But in Africa there is no need to fear these things, because part of its greatness is that of being a continent where the necessity entails the development of the greatest ingenuity and the greatest abilities of the people to be able to subsist in a world of scarcity and to make the most out of the least amount of available resources.
I was about to venture into the unknown and I knew that it would be extreme, I had to leave with everything ready. It took me the whole morning to walk through the auto repair shop market in town, asking in one place after another, until I found Stephane, the Senegalese welder surgeon par excellence, who with his 2 meters of height and thick voice concluded decisively after his diagnosis: "Il nya pas de problem! (There's no problem!) Do not worry, I can do it". The operation was not easy, it lasted 20 minutes but Stephane pulled it off and the piece fit was almost perfect. I paid 3000 CFA (~ 5 dollars) instead of the 500 CFA that he expected in return, although he deserved much more. Now, it was all ready to go to the extremes.


Mekambo, the last stop I have 180 km left to cycle to reach the last town of Gabon, from which everything will be a big unknown. I spent weeks researching, looking for information to re-enter Congo from the remote northeast of Gabon and found absolutely nothing. Neither bikers, motorcyclists, nor overlanders (travellers in 4x4), nor backpackers; no one has any idea of whether or not it is possible to cross from one country to the other over there. The local people, even in Makokou, tell me completely contradictory things depending on who I speak to and most do not know absolutely anything. I do not care, I have time, I feel strong as a train, but above all, I am moved by a thirst for adventure and adrenaline that I can not stop. I am ready for everything and I will go all the way to Mekambo to find out.


The first day is strangely easy, the road is not sealed but it is in perfect condition. It is wide, graded, hard and has the perfect curvature to divert the rainwater. Unfortunately, it does not take me long to know that it is not to improve the quality of the lives of the people living in this remote corner of the country, but to improve the means that allows Chinese predatory companies to take out as fast as possible from the jungle the pieces they mercilessly tear from this lung of the world. The roar of the trucks overrides the jungle symphony, lying on top of them are the corpses of dozens of ancient trees on the way to becoming cheap furniture in some polluted city of China. They do so with the absolute endorsement of a government that, in return for loans at obscene interest rates, gives away its resources to pay for them, without any control or consideration for sustainable exploitation. Meanwhile, the profits are shared between a handful of politicians and scavenger businessmen on both continents. Every truck that passes me feels like a stab in my heart.


I arrive with much sadness at the end of those miles of road in good condition, dressed in the red dust that the passing-by trucks threw on me, and with a sense of impotence and uneasiness that dominates me. Just as I travel I experience moments that restore my lost faith in humanity, I also experience these where I feel that everything is lost and our self-destruction is imminent, and I dare say, well-deserved.


When I get past the last detour to the current extermination point of the jungle, the road returns to "normality". Mud reappears, immense puddles form on the holes and life because even harder. I see it in the faces of the women of the villages who pass by me carrying heavy baskets on their backs. I see it in the sad eyes and the inflated tummies of children who live a childhood of hard work instead of one of fun, helping their mothers to carry the manioc and water jerry cans.

It takes me 3 days to reach Mekambo, accumulating almost 3 weeks of hard days of long distances and a permanent discomfort that one can never get used to. But at the end of each day, every village I come to, the chef du village always has a place where I can hang my mosquito net. In spite of the sadness of reality, the moments that I spend with the people I know along the way are the ones I treasure the most. They remind me that they are the real reason why I travel the world. Sometimes I can believe that I'm having a hard time on this or that day, but just a stop and a conversation with a local is enough for all that to take on another dimension. Sharing my life with others widens my perspective brings back the equilibrium. I like people to lend me their eyes to see the world in a different way, because that way I never stop learning, as well as reflect on my own mistakes and prejudices, which sometimes seem to have no end!
 Allowing yourself to knock down and rebuild your very idea of the world through multiple eyes, again and again, is an exercise that is much richer and certainly braver than performing such or such physical prowess. There is no need for complex philosophical exchanges but simple open-hearted talks. Everyone can teach you something.


I arrive in Mekambo, the last large village of Gabon in the extreme north-east of the country, and finally receive the good news: the local people assure me that there is a way I can cross into Congo, not the one I originally had in mind because that one does not exist, but another one that did not know of. But there is even better news: they assure me that I have to be completely insane to even try on a bicycle, not even the vehicles can make it through these days because that road ... that road is war.