Lubumbashi

I highly recommend Lubumbashi.  You can get there from Kinshasa by Congo Airways, which is about a two hour flight (though a bit pricey).  It’s a new airline, and I can’t get over the Christmas music that plays every time you board and disembark from the airplane, kind of like the Brazzaville bridge lights that wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year every evening.  Oh, and that someone’s phone went off mid flight.  How did that happen?  I’m still not sure.

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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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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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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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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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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Gorilla Trekking in Bukavu

Baby gorillas'  favourite place to play? On top of their sleeping mothers.

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

Mbanza Ngungu Caves

 

Sadly, we didn't take pictures in the caves, but here's the after picture (mud is thanks to the road, not the caves.)

Sadly, we didn’t take pictures in the caves, but here’s the after picture (mud is thanks to the road, not the caves.)

The caves (which Wikipedia calls the Thysville Caves; Thysville is the former name of Mbanza-Ngungu) are located near Mbanza-Ngungu, about 150 km from Kinshasa. Wikipedia also asserts that the cave complex is 750 square kilometers in size, which is not surprising because they are massive. The caves are known for the threatened blind fish (Caecobarbus geertsii), which are only found in this complex of caves, nowhere else in the world.

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