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
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.
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.
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.
About 180km from Kinshasa, there are some spectacular waterfalls. Right next to them are one of the only “resorts” close by Kinshasa, and rain or shine, dry or rainy season, an excellent trip out of Kinshasa no matter what rocks your boat.
Zongo Falls during rainy season.
The first time I went, not much planning was involved. We basically decided on a Wednesday, reserved on the Thursday, paid on the Saturday, bought food and drinks from the then newly opened Shoprite, and left in the infamous Landcruiser*. On our way there we saw a great market where we bought lots of fresh vegetables. One of our group, a tiny British chica in DRC for a few months, kept getting asked how old she was. We finally asked the villagers how old they thought she was and they said three! So we burst out laughing, pointing out actual three year olds and asking if they really thought our friend was the same age as those kids. The villagers immediately started giggling, and we thought we’d gotten somewhere until the leader of the group, a very sweet elderly woman, while still giggling said “no! you’re right. She must actually be 12. ” Continue reading
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.