This is just to inform you that as of June 2016, the authors of this blog have all left the Congo. While this means that when you read this blog, the information may be a bit outdated, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do the many exciting adventures suggested here (security permitting). We’d be happy to update information if you find something has changed drastically, and we’ll also be happy to include guest posts for new adventures!
Virunga Park, with Mt. Nyiragongo in the background.
I did it. I climbed a volcano.
You know, Congo has a lot going against it. There’s extreme violence, there’s severe corruption, there’s absolute poverty. But there is beauty. There are things you can’t even dream of doing in other places, like seeing gorillas, camping by the Congo River, or floating down rapids. And climbing a live volcano to see the pool of lava at the top.
It was a long trek, took us six and a half hours to get to the top, though a lot of the delay was a result of the rain storm that decided to grace us with its presence towards the top of the mountain. I seem to have a tendency of attracting said storms during hard hikes, such as in Kimpese [note to self – be better prepared for the rain in a rain-heavy country]. Continue reading
\ Wait, where is Kinshasa?
Spending the day on a sandbank may be one of my favourite escapes from Kinshasa. Buy some drinks and make some food (or not, maybe bring some raw meat and just grill it there), get on a boat, arrive at a sandbank a nice distance upriver from the city, have the tents, chairs, tables and BBQ set up for you, and just enjoy the rest of the day. What’s not to love?
There are the typical Congolese adventure-inducing things such as getting stuck on sandbanks (how many expats does it take to push a boat?), hand print sunburns, running out of gas before making it back to shore and only having one paddle to make it back, etc, but really, what is Congo without those?
Sunset over the Bombo Lumene plains.
I have so many Bombo-Lumene stories that I don’t even know which ones to share. There have been floats down the rapids, frolics in the valley beyond the river, terrifying bridge crossings (though nothing like Kimpese), Milky Way Galaxy sightings, goats chasing dogs, dogs chasing goats, “wild animals” that turned out to be friends looking for food after everyone had gone to bed, or two guys singing “No Scrubs” and not remembering (or admitting to it) the next day.
The great thing about the Bombo-Lumene National Park is that it is such a hassle-free camping trip. Almost everyone who likes to escape Kinshasa has made a trip here, and it’s a relatively short trip on a much calmer road than the Route de Matadi which goes towards Zongo, Kimbese, or Kisantu. There are amenities if you want them, like a chalet with two rooms and a bathroom, hotel rooms in case you want to sleep in a bed, Florence Nightingale-type tents that can fit up to 10 people inside or smaller ones, each fitted with mattresses for each person, or you can just bring your own tent. There is no electricity though, so keep that in mind while making your decisions! The people who work there light the BBQ for you (if you want it), wash your dishes before you wake up the next day (bliss), and even light a bonfire after dinner if you so wish. You can apparently see wild animals like antelopes and water buffalos, but since someone from WWF who I think is by default luckier in seeing things like that than I am told me so, I am not convinced.
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.
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 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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Baby gorillas’ favourite place to play? On top of their sleeping mothers.
This was not only on my Congo Bucket List, but my Life Bucket List as well. Visiting eastern lowland gorillas, the most endangered of the gorilla family, in their natural habitat? Yes please! So while going to Bukavu on a mission, my colleague and I realized we’ll be there over the weekend and immediately started planning a visit. We went to Coco Lodge, a boutique hotel near MONUSCO headquarters where a Swiss man who’s been in the Congo some 20-odd years tells you if there is space to go (there is around a 12-person limit per day to visit the gorillas), helps you schedule and organize, and off you go!
We got to the base station of the Kahuzi Biega National Park, where I was told I was too fat to comfortably hike (ummm…), but was given rain boots all the same and headed up the mountain. We were exceptionally lucky because after 15 minutes of the guides hacking at the dense plants to create a path on top of meters of jungle growth, we bumped into Chimanuka’s family. A large silverback with an even larger family, we got to hang out with him and his family. It was amazing. Continue reading