We are supposed to leave at 7:30am, but end up pulling out at 9:30 or so, after packing up the three motorcycles to the hilt. Twenty four 25-gallon buckets, a small ice box with eggs, salt, oil, onions, and tomato paste, and two shipping crates full of camping gear, solar lights, seeds, water filters, two plates, a couple forks, one knife, one spoon, powdered milk, freeze dried coffee, sugar, and some almond butter packets for snacks, make it on to the back of two motorcycles, along with a mattress, two pairs of rubber boots, in case of rain, and the personal belongings of each of the drivers. Our bike holds two overnight bags, an extra small pack with travel docs, snacks, and my sunscreen. Two bottles of water are strapped on, as well, and I carry an extra one in my right hand, while using my left to anchor myself to the bike behind Mandaba. Bike one is driven by Frito and the second one is driven by Toussaint.
We bounce up and down on roads that are rough and rocky, leaving town as we pass small photocopying shops, tiny pharmacies, bars, and an open-air barber shop. Eight kilometres into the trip, we are surrounded by jungle-looking greenery, lush and ripe, giving us a short time of respite from the sun, by providing shade over the road which has started to smooth out. Mandaba tells me that this road was built over 25 years ago and lately, it was all smoothed out by hand. I am left with that bit of information to ponder on as we drive along, weaving around an odd rock or large puddle left by last night’s rain. We are silent for a long, long time, but I am not bothered at all, as I spend my time gazing at rocky hills to my right, surprised to see some elevation happening. To my left, I see incredibly green flat lands, unperturbed by houses or buildings of any type. The views are magnificent, and I must be a pain in the neck as I say time and again, “that is SO beautiful!”.
As we round a bend, with our horn beeping incessantly to warn on-comers of our presence, I spot a blob of black on the ground in front of us and before I can ask what it is, we pass by and from the blob, hundreds of butterflies arise, flying in circles. I turn on the bike, wanting to keep watching them, but soon, I lose sight of the butterflies and turn to find that we are approaching the Ubangi river. I get off the bike to take some photos and Mandaba tells me I can walk across the bridge while he drives the bike. The wooden planks are not set evenly beside each other, but rather, there are plank-sized spaces between each plank. Some of the spaces are wider still, as planks have broken and not been replaced. I watch the river flow far below me as I walk cautiously to the other side of the bridge, water dark and impossible to see through.