Brother-in-law, Tom, bicycle repair artist, two-wheel tinker and enthusiast wrote us out of the blue « I’ve bicyled on every continent but never in the heart of Africa. I’m coming to TL2. What are the conditions? I’ll build you bikes and we will go together ». And so the TL2 bike tour was born. Two sturdy, three-speed bicycles were transferred to Kindu.
But the little family bike ride suddenly changed into a diplomatic mission. Here is how:
Germany is going to contribute to the creation of the Lomami National Park. Because of that the German ambassador accompanied by the head of German’s environmental aid organization, GIZ, wanted to visit; the only time they had available was when Tom was already on site.
« Would you like to visit the area by bicycle », we suggested, certain the answer would be « Impossible ». Instead the answer was « We are coming, tell us what to bring »
The provincial government insisted that someone from the army, the secret service (ANR) and internal security (DGM) accompany the ambassador — on bicyles, of course.
This would be over 350 km without hotel, no telephone network, no air-strip, not even a medical clinic. How to prepare? More porters had to be found for every leg of the trip; At every campsite we dug two outhouses and put up two shower shelters — the ambassador is bringing his wife as well!
We sent out one of our most experienced communicators, Crispin, and told him to judge distances and choose evening camp sites. He prepared the villages. My guess is that precious few of our village collaborators have any idea what an ambassador is – but they definitely knew someone important was coming. Most of these villages never even get visits from provincial deputies, let alone someone of national significance
In the end, we learned something of what it means to be diplomat. We learned that diplomatic communication takes precedence over exhaustion and hunger. We learned that diplomacy is a skin not easily shed.
Here is the course of the trip:
Day one. Three dugouts lashed together take delegation downriver from Kindu to Lokando. Ministers, Coordinators, and assembly members at close quarters over the roar of the motor. At Lokando, all authorities had a word with the population, and the ambassador talked about the priority of saving the forest with its animals.
Day two. The peloton launches. After fifty kilometers by bicycle, we feel we have our wheels under us. We are greeted with music at lunch in Kakonga and with more music in the evening at Tshombe Kilima. The ambassador holds his first village meeting with the chiefs from surrounding villages.
Day three: The bikes are taken apart and ready to be carried but we are delayed by the flooded Nyamatindi river on the edge of the village. They build a raft. It ends up ferrying us – the women – and all the rations, tents etc. The guys strip and swim. A cool beginning to the first day of walking and the tone is set for the rest of the trip..
The end of the day is wet, too, as the Luidjo River on the edge of the park is flooded
Day four: We walk in forest and then in savnna and more forest and finally arrive on the banks of the Lomami. We call across to our Camp Katopa and they send a dugout to get us.
Day five: We spend in camp. Putting the bicycles back together and visiting the rapids up stream where artisanal fishermen work during the season of floods. From late in the afternoon and on into the night, the ambassador met with villagers.
Day six: Is a lovely bike ride along forest paths to finally end up at the village of Kahodi.
Two sectors and the territory of Katako Kombe are all gathered to meet the ambassador. Meetings start over goat meat and chicken, continue late into the night and start again the next morning as we wait out a heavy rain.
Day seven: Luckily this was the shortest day, we weren’t on our bikes until close to 11 AM, and then we had to negotiate rain-slick clay. We crossed back to the east side of the Lomami, and then had our longest 20 km savanna to cross. Thank goodness the sky was overcast. The views were magnificent.
Day eight: We have more water to cross than any other day. Flooded savannas and flooded streams have little patches of dry land in between.
But the ambassador was ready to salute and hold meetings when we arrived wet and hungry at Olangate.
Day nine: We line up for a group shot in the morning. Then we cover the last 50 km to Kindu.
What will be the upshot of the ambassador’s trip?
At the very least: there will be new babies named Abasidori,
And at some level there is a better understanding among the chiefs of just how important their protection of their forest is to the rest of the world.
The ambassador’s own assessment of the trip:
“It was breathtaking, amazing and stunning, and of course mouthwatering for more.”
Maybe next year the peloton will do the north.