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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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

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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Kisantu Botanical Gardens

Beautiful trees with species labels on them.

Beautiful trees with species labels on them.

While there aren’t many flowers, the Kisantu Botanical Gardens are a lovely place to spend an afternoon as a day trip from Kinshasa or on the way to and from other destinations in Bas Congo.

The main thing to do is to walk around and see what there is to see. When you enter, you may want to stop at the small museum/gift shop where there is a little bit of information about the gardens. If you are feeling like you want to be uber prepared, you can print out the map below (which comes from some missionaries). The good thing is that wandering is pretty easy, and there are a few signs that will lead you in the direction of different attractions.

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Camping at the Massage Falls/Sunguza Beach

Sun setting on the Congo River (our camp site).

Sun setting on the Congo River (our camp site).

Just a short drive (30 minutes max) from the hustle and bustle of the Zongo resort is the peaceful paradise of Zongo Beach a.k.a. the Massage Falls a.k.a. Sunguza Beach. Many people visit the beach at Zongo (Sunguza Beach) for a day trip while staying at Zongo, but camping on the empty beach is a great, peaceful alternative to the roar of Zongo Falls and constant stream of people at the resort.

We arrived at the Zongo (Seli Safari) resort much later in the day than planned, so we were hoping our stop there to check in and pay would be short. After 30 minutes of the lady working at the reception unsuccessfully trying to convince us that we really didn’t want to camp because it might rain, we were off. You do need to stop at Zongo because you need to pay to camp there. Usually when people go for day trips they take a guide, but we found that a guide is really unnecessary. The route is well-marked, and if you aren’t sure you are going the right way, you can stop and ask for directions.

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