“As we left Monga and drove towards the east, we saw in the sky ahead a flicker of lightening. I think that both of us saw this, but we each carefully refrained from making any remark about it. As we neared the ferry 9 miles beyond Monga the flashes became so frequent and so obvious that it was impossible to ignore them any longer. Humfrey said, “I do hope that doesn’t mean a storm ahead, Bertie.”
“Oh, no,” I answered as casually as I could manage, “only summer lightening.”
We went on kidding ourselves in this way as we drove the car on to the ferry, crossed over the small River Bili and landed on the other side. But soon it wasn’t any good pretending any more that it was only summer lightening. Darkness fell as we started off again from the ferry and ahead of us all across the black sky, brilliant flashes of lightening flickered. The lightening was not just in individual flashes, as we see in our English thunderstorms but it was absolutely continuous: in five or six different places in the sky at the same time the jagged streaks flared out, so that it was just like some giant pyrotechnic display or as if some small boy was playing with the electric light switch. When we had covered some ten miles or so, the storm seemed to roll away to the north and we began to hope that it might have passed before we passed its path. Suddenly, while we were discussing the possibility a roaring peal of thunder crashed out, and right across the sky, directly on our path, the lightening flared.
“We’re in for it, Bertie,” said Humfrey.
“I’m afraid we are, “I replied.”
They drove into the Congo forest with trees as tall as 80 – 90 feet in height. The storm was all around them with lightening flashing and thunder crashing as the rain came cascading down – the windscreen wiper was unable to deal with the torrential rain. They drove in second gear at 10 miles an hour. The thunder got louder and suddenly Humfrey jammed on the brakes so fiercely as to lock the wheels and we stopped just 100 yards from where, a huge great tree, 80 feet high or more, lay white-hot and smoking directly across the road. They only had a small axe and they needed help. Their log book had a record from the previous trips that there was “a European house on the right.” Humfrey decided to go and try to find the house armed with only a torch. Bertie was quite nervous about Humfrey being in the forest on his own and he started to fear the worst. Finally Bertie decided to get out the car and call for Humfrey. At last Bertie saw the beam from the torch and was relieved to see Humfrey.
“I told him that I had thought of a gorilla. He replied that he was glad that hadn’t occurred to him, but he had decided, as he could see no sign of any village and it was most inadvisable to wander about Africa in the dark armed only with a torch, to return to the car. I said I had been terrified.”
They turned the car with some difficulty and decided to return the 20 miles to the ferry. They were creeping slowly along while feeling disconsolate “when I suddenly shouted “Look, Humfrey, the European house! there on the right! I remember it quite well.”
“We must have passed it in the rain storm,” said Humfrey, “without seeing it.” He turned in at the gateway, stopped in the compound outside the door, and blew the horn. A young Belgian by the name of de Boose appeared – he was home as it was New Year’s night. He invited them in for dinner and organized about 30 natives to go and remove the tree. de Boose exclaimed to Humfrey and Bertie “Good heavens! You took the most fearful risk in continuing to drive through the forest in the storm. If one is caught anywhere near here when the trees are so thick there is only one thing to do and that is quickly to find a clearing where there are no tall trees on either side that can reach the road if they fall and stop in that clearing until the storm has ceased”.
Later that evening the foreman sent back a message that there were in fact 6 trees that had fallen. “Six trees in half a mile! Humfrey and I looked at each other but neither of us voiced the thought that was in the minds of us both. We must have stopped on the very fringe of the storm’s path! Our tree was the first! There were five others down in half a mile! Suppose we had been a quarter of a mile further on, in the midst of those six falling trees! Well! We looked at each other and silently lifted our glasses.”
Bertie slept well but Humfrey had a buzzing in his ears. “He put this down to the effect of the continuous travelling telling upon his nerves.”
They woke early to find the sun shining in a cloudless sky and enjoyed a hearty breakfast. Humfrey thanked de Boose and his men and he paid the men a couple of hundred francs and some cigarettes for their assistance.
“Our good engine sprang to life at the first touch of the starter in spite of its soaking of the night before and at five minutes past eight we drove away with heart-felt thanks to our young host for his hospitality.”
One thought on “Chapter 17 A Narrow Escape”
We had a similar experience with storms and roads being blocked in the area. We had to turn around and go another route, not a brilliant plan when you carry only just enough fuel with you on these trips!
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