Train to Kisantu and Mbuela Lodge

Train.jpg

I had two goals for this trip – to take the Kinshasa to Matadi train and to ride a quad bike.  This trip was a success.  It took a few times going to Gare Centrale in Kinshasa to figure out the tickets and timing, but I will save you the effort by sharing all of that information here!  You purchase the tickets on Wednesday and the train leaves Saturday for Matadi (via Kisantu, where we got off) and returns to Kinshasa from Matadi on Sunday.  So you either go for a day…or for a week.  Instead of the 8 hour-ish ride to Matadi, we got off in Kisantu, which takes about three hours.  We happened to take it on the one year anniversary of train renovations, so there was a camera crew as well as some high-level officials.  I believe we purchased second-class tickets for about $10.  While there was not air conditioning in our car and sand/dirt blew into the train at various points, the seats and the interior felt brand new.  There’s even this AWESOME bar that blasts music at all times.  So if you want to drink beer and dance at 9am in a discotheque, this train is perfect for you.

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África Park Aventure (Lac de Ma Vallée)

img_3784As of October 2016, Lac de Ma Vallée has transformed into an outdoor adventure park! This place is honestly amazing and pretty great for all ages. We arrived early, around 9am, which was perfect. We did not have to wait in line for any of the activities, which seem to form later in the day. It was just a blast. We raced each other in the treetops park (which is an obstacle course 20 feet up) as well as took turns on the Playclimb and zip line. It was very well-established, with the employees making sure we were following safety protocol each step of the way. The only drawback was that a sit down restaurant was the only option for food. It took forever to order and get the food, which prevented us from doing any other activities. I’d bring my own food next time, but could definitely envision going back many times. The activities available at this park are: Continue reading

Menkao to Mayi-Ndombe

2016-12-04-01-53-25We decided we wanted a nice hike outside of Kinshasa for the weekend, since there are limited opportunities to walk in the city. Our tour guide picked us up from Kinshasa and drove us to Menkao, which is a city outside of central Kinshasa but still in Kinshasa Province. When we got out of the vehicle, we were met by many locals, curious why we were there in all our backpacking gear. Our tour guide handled our passport and visa information with DGM and organized motos to bring our tents and extra luggage to the camp site in Karo village (31 km from Menkao). Then we started our trek.

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Volcano Trekking – Mt. Nyiragongo

Virunga Park, with Mt. Nyiragongo in the background.

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

Lac CEMKA

The lake

The lake

While Lac de ma Vallée is always packed on a Sunday afternoon, Lac CEMKA, which you pass along the way to Lac de ma Vallée, is almost always empty, and it’s a beautiful place to spend an afternoon.

When you turn off the paved road, you’ll experience a bit of up and down bumpy road before it flattens out and you circle around the lake to the restaurant area. The lake is in the midst of a pretty open valley punctuated by a big hill rising to a plateau with a Catholic church on top in the distance. Continue reading

Chez Tatem and the Island

While not a great photo, the limos are definitely Chez Tatem's claim to fame.

While not a great photo, the limos are definitely Chez Tatem’s claim to fame.

While Chez Tintin is undoubtedly the most popular place in Kinsuka to grab a beer and watch the raging rapids, Chez Tatem a little farther down the river has its own claim to fame. In the grassy parking area lie two rusty limousines that were purportedly brought to Kinshasa for George Foreman and Muhammad Ali to use while they were here for the Rumble in the Jungle. Continue reading

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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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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