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.
Upon arrival in Mbanza Ngungu (which, incidentally, is a really interesting town with old colonial buildings serving as government offices, an old train station, and lots more I think will be cool to explore), we drove to the tourism office, but unfortunately everyone was out of town for the day, so we did not have an official guide. However, it was quite easy to make it to the caves. They told us the first cave (Lukatu) was closed, so we went to Dimba ou Finzolua Ndombolozi. We asked every person we crossed where the caves were, until we found the turn off (4.3 km from Route de Matadi on the dirt road, you will see a small turn off to your right that goes down the hill), drove down, and parked our cars. We had to negotiate with the “tourism official” who met us at the gate to collect visitor fees from us ($5/person for residents, and we confirmed the next day that Claudy was, in fact, a tourism official. I made sure to get our signed form from him showing that we paid for the permits). We then had to negotiate with the villagers guarding the entrance to the cave to pay them a fee as well (which you will have to do at each cave, we learnt). At this point we realized that having someone come with us from the Tourism Office would have saved us a lot of hassle.
The first cave was cool, though muddy. I didn’t make it far in, the mud got to be too annoying to squelch through, but those who did saw a waterfall at the end. It was incredibly dark and flashlights, boots that will stay on your feet through sticky mud, and anti-fog glasses are all required.
We then got back to the main road, and headed to the next cave. We drove past the three villages (village 1: 3.7 km after turnoff to the first cave, village 2: 1 km after the first one, and village 3: 7.1 km from the turnoff, 11.4 km from the main road) and stopped in the third one to visit the “Chief.” The “Chief” was an old, drunk man who clearly had been drinking for 7 days in a row and couldn’t form a single coherent word. Fortunately, another villager came to our rescue and helped guide us to the Ngovo Cave. We asked for a camp site, and found one on top of a hill past the village. After paying the village for access to the cave, arranging for a guide to meet us the next morning to take us there, and paying someone else to bring us firewood and make sure the kids left the campsite, we finally settled in for the night.
It was incredibly windy at the top, so make sure your tent is WELL staked in. We had one or two tents fly off, but once we were in the tents it was fine. Also make sure there are no thorns in the ground where you stake your tent in. Ahem. We had a nice fire, cooked the food, had a delicious picnic, and went to bed quite early. Unfortunately for us, there was a wake in the village, which meant non-stop music from 6 pm to 6:20 am. And when I say music, I don’t mean gorgeous church music, I mean religious music with a techno beat. So needless to say, not much sleep was had.
The next morning the guide arrived, and we headed to the cave. It truly is like a scene from Indiana Jones or Jurassic Park – I was convinced I was going to come back out into a world with dinosaurs! You descend into this cave for quite a bit (so again, lights and good shoes were imperative), until you get to the bottom where there are the blind fish. There are also bats and this funny grasshopper things with no pigmentation in their skin colour, but that’s all we saw. The climb back up was a real hike for about 30 minutes, but the Tourism Office had built stairs for parts of it, so it was manageable.
It was a really cool place to visit, and we were glad to have gone someplace where many visitors to the Congo don’t get to explore.
All information can be found in the previous post.