Mbanza Ngungu Caves – Dry Season Update

Entering the Ngovo cave

Entering the Ngovo cave

Following Crazy #1 and Crazy #2’s adventures to Mbanza Ngungu, a group of us headed to the caves during dry season to see what all the fuss was about.  We are so glad we did, because really, the roads are horrendous – I’m not sure I would have been as brave as the other two Crazies to make it all the way to the last cave, but it was totally worth the trip.

During the dry season (June-September), the dirt road is completely passable (though you would still need a high-clearing 4×4), but you can clearly see where the dirt will turn into clay mud and turn really slippery if there’s even a little bit of rain.

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Symphonies Naturelles

A view of the valley Symphonies Naturelles is in.

A view of the valley Symphonies Naturelles is in.

Symphonies Naturelles may be about 20 minutes from Gombe, but it feels like you’ve left the hubbub of Kinshasa completely behind. According to their website, the forest is home to lots of animals including monkeys and pangolins, but we’ve never seen those. What we have seen is the beautiful forest and surrounding villages, terraced fish ponds, cows, and a freshwater spring coming out of a cliff.

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Kimpese Camping

This trip turned into one of the biggest, craziest, and most hilarious adventures I’ve had yet in the Congo. We had the whole trip planned out. We would camp at the bottom of the mountain by one of the waterfalls, and hike up the mountain until we had to turn back to make it back to Kinshasa before dark. As we should have known, Congo had other plans for us.

The "bridge"

The “bridge”

The trip there was very easy, we called the guide when we got to Kimpese town to guide us to the campsite. We drove only a few minutes before we parked the cars, collected our stuff including coolers and packs of water, and got ready to go. We left some stuff in the car, thinking we would be camping 20 minutes away, and headed off. Only to face what some people call a bridge, or what I like to call a tightrope. The poor guide and one brave soul on the trip went back and forth a few times carrying anything we had to hold with our hands while the rest of us tiptoed across grasping at the two wires on either side, praying we wouldn’t fall into the river below.

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The Ultimate Bas Congo Road Trip/Beach Vacation

Enjoying the ride through Bas Congo.

Enjoying the ride through Bas Congo.

The ultimate Bas Congo trip, which can include detours to any of the many sights along the way, is a road trip to Muanda. Though it’s good to take a week for the trip, allowing two days to drive each way and some time to relax at the beach, we’ve heard of people doing it over a long weekend. We left early on Saturday morning and headed out of town. The first part of the trip, though beautiful was not particularly exciting since we’d driven as far as Kisantu before. After Kisantu, we passed through Mbanza Ngungu and Kimpese, checking out the Kimpese hills from a distance for future climbing possibility. As we approached Matadi, we were struck by the bamboo tunnels created by stands of bamboo on both sides of the road. We tried to stop and have lunch in one, but the mosquitoes pushed us to higher, drier ground.

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Chez Tintin

The view by Chez Tintin.

The view by Chez Tintin.

Imagine the scene: two women and a dog are walking down the stairs to the river, when they look over to the side to see one goat looking back at them. Thinking nothing of it, they continue walking down the stairs and immediately hear a much louder bleat than what one goat should make. Looking back over, the one goat had multiplied to around ten, each glaring at the dog and ready to attack.  Apparently, the dog had chased a goat the last time, and the goats were ready to fight back!

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Mt. Mangengenge (ngengengengengenge)

I come from a family of hikers, and so when the opportunity arose to take a hike near Kinshasa, I jumped for it. A relatively steep hill about 45 minutes outside of Gombe (30 minutes past the airport), it is great both for a half day of exercise, or a full day excursion.

The mountain from its foot.

The mountain from its foot.

Mont Mangengenge is a pilgrimage site for the Congolese, so as one hikes up the mountain, they will pass (and be overtaken) by many people praying step by step. The few times I’ve been there, the interactions have always been positive, asking about why we were hiking (“For exercise? Crazy mundeles!”), if we were tired (“*gasp* yes *gasp*”), and so on.

The hike itself takes about 45 minutes to get to the top – most of it is pretty easy, but the last 15 minutes or so is quite steep. It seems they have built stairs since I was last there, but I have not decided if that would make that part easier or more difficult. Regardless, the first time I went, we went with three kids ranging from ages 3-8, and they made it to the top rather easily (the 8-year-old, in fact, was the first one to the top!). I went once during dry season and it was significantly less comfortable of a hike.  As it hadn’t rained in several months, the ground had turned to sand so it felt like I was climbing a sand dune. For one and a half hours.

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Palais de Marbre

On January 16 and 17 of every year, DR Congo celebrates what it calls its Martyr Days, corresponding to the dates Laurent-Désiré Kabila and Patrice Lumumba were killed. On these days every year, the Palais de Marbre is open to the general public in Kinshasa, where Kabila Sr. was assassinated. A rather morbid, but fascinating trip back in time, it is well worth the visit if you are in Kinshasa during those dates.

After missing it several times, I finally made it out there. A group of us thought to avoid the long lines, so we showed up at 8am, when we were told it would open. It opened 30 minutes later after massive scrambling by the guards to set up security and several school busses had dropped off legions of kids coming to visit the site. The compound is beautiful, on top of a hill in Ngaliema Commune, overlooking Kinshasa’s valley. Driving up the windy roads to get here, it’s always a sight to see the huge lion statues guarding the gate and it was great to finally see inside.

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