Congo Stories and Tips

Epulu to Beni by Motorbike

Ituri river Crossing Photo, Congo, Africa

Though not as easy to arrange as a motorbike from Beni to Epulu, it is possible to hire motorbikes for the journey between Epulu and Beni. On my trip, my interpreter and I found motorbike drivers at the Ituri River crossing in Komanda who were based in Mambasa. They agreed to drive to Epulu the day before we wished to leave Epulu, then depart for Beni the next morning.

The road between Epulu and Beni (via Mambasa and Komanda) has been improved within the past year or so. It is still dirt, but major potholes and problems with the road have been fixed, making it a mostly smooth ride, even on a motorbike.

Only one of our two drivers showed up the night before our departure, when expected. The driver who arrived said the other would be there in the morning for the planned 6am departure. I was happy at least one of them came, so I fed him some pasta (which he had never eaten before) and tea before he left us at the Okapi Reserve to head to a relative's house for the night.

The morning of the departure, the second driver never arrived. We waited around until 7am before deciding that we had to start asking around in the town to find another driver. Our guide at the Okapi Reserve (Katsongo) volunteered to do this. However, just as he left a second driver arrived...not the one we hired, but a new guy who his friend sent due to having bike problems. After a very short goodbye to Katsongo and our cook at the Okapi Reserve, we hopped on the back seats of the bikes and left.

The first 30 minutes we fine. The weather was cool, and the road was smooth. We blew past village after village with kids screaming at the muzungo on the bike. However, my driver then noticed my interpreter and his bike were gone from behind us. We doubled-back to find them in the last village we passed with a popped tire. So, we waited while they fixed it.

I was probably the first white man to pass through the town in a while, as the children became quite fascinated with me. I soon noticed they were mimmicking everything I did. So, naturally, I started to do really odd things with my hands and make weird facial expressions. They copied all of it. After an hour and a half of waiting, the tire was fixed and we left.

The rest of the ride to Mambasa was relatively uneventful. We only stopped a couple times to say hi to the drivers' parents or wait for the interpreter's bike to catch up. The worst thing that happened was that I got bit, through my pants, by a huge wasp of some sort as we rode. That was painful.

In Mambasa, the drivers refueled and spoke with their bosses about the rest of the ride to Beni. They needed some paperwork, though their bosses figured they'd be fine without it...and that they could get paperwork for the return trip once in Beni. The drivers, as sly as they were, told the bosses we were paying them $40 each for the ride...obviously so they could pocket the difference and make a nice profit.

From Mambasa to Komanda it is 2 hours. We reached the Ituri River crossing again. Luckily, it only took 30 minutes, and not the 5 hours it took with the bus a few days before. We briefly stopped in Komanda for lunch, though my interpreter protested and the drivers decided to keep moving instead. All was fine, aside from nearly running over a snake slithering across the road, until we reached the border crossing between the Orientale and North Kivu provinces.

Each region has their own motorbike association that employs local motorbike drivers to transport people in the area. If you're doing a long-distance trip like I was doing, the drivers are supposed to only drive you in their region. If they decide not to oblige to this rule, they are at least not supposed to cross into neighboring provinces. My drivers, however, were planning to do the whole Epulu to Beni run themselves, which is why they needed paperwork in Mambasa. Their reason for this was two-fold: 1) I convinced them to, and 2) they probably wanted the extra money.

So, at the Orientale-North Kivu border post, the police recognized the drivers as not being local. We were forced off the bikes and sat down in a makeshift shack on the side of the road. For the next 30 minutes, a series of policemen and their boss took turns yelling at us in French and Swahili. It was very obvious they were not pleased, especially when they discovered that one of our drivers had no official form of identification.

Word spread fast about our situation, and then the local motorbike association manager approached our drivers. He was mad that the drivers were taking business away from the other local drivers. So, a bribe was demanded for our drivers to leave the border and return back to Mambasa.

Away from the police, my interpreter and I struck a deal with the drivers and paid them accordingly. Of the money we gave them, they then had to give up at least one-third to the police and local motorbike manager to get out of there. My interpreter and I, though, now had no ride to Beni. Since the local motorbike drivers knew of our situation, all we got were inflated prices for rides to Beni. After getting a decent price, we left.

From the provincial border to just north of Beni (about 2 hours) was uneventful. However, literally one mile from Beni I noticed my interpreter's bike was missing again. We waited for almost 30 minutes before he showed up on another bike, because he had popped another tire. We then rode the last 5 minutes into Beni and arrived at 4:05pm...5 minutes too late to renew my temporary travel permit.

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