After an hour’s flight from Kinshasa that included a breakfast tray of three kinds of stale bread and an equally stale cup of coffee, we landed in Mbandaka, a city that sits on the Equator where the Congo River no longer forms the border between the two Congos but instead sneaks inland a bit into ours. From here, the river continues north for awhile before starting its dramatic arc southwards. (Technically it flows the other way around — beginning in the highlands of DR-Congo and Zambia, semi-circling the country and exiting into the Atlantic Ocean — but I think you know what I mean.) Since it crosses the Equator twice, it’s always in a rainy season somewhere, making it second only to the Amazon in terms of flow rate. It drains into the Atlantic Ocean with so much force that it’s carved out a canyon below the seabed 1,000 meters deep, and fresh water can be found in the ocean 200 kilometers out. (Source: Blood River by Tim Butcher.) Experts say that if the power of this river could be properly harnessed, it could provide electricity for all of sub-Saharan Africa.
I’ve been eager to post more photos and stories about our trip down the Congo River ever since I wrote up my general impressions in this first post. But because many of my photos identify the company we traveled with — such as the one conspicuously placed above — I agreed to wait, in order to give them plenty of time to pay back our trip leader for the cash they “borrowed.” (Click the link above if you missed the story.) For awhile we remained on standby, poised to unleash the power of the internet to help trash their business reputation. Then another email would surface, more time would be granted, and we waited.
Here’s what eventually happened. Continue reading
There’s a reason we’ve been living in Congo this long but haven’t taken any major vacations here. We’ve read nearly every book about this place we could get our hands on over the years, and every single one of them tells crazy stories about corruption and danger, sorcery and poisonings, exotic diseases and dramatic plane accidents. At the very least, and by far the most common, travelers suffer failed plans while they part with lots of cash to get moving, or to get past the authorities who notoriously mis-stamp passports so their compatriots down the road can collect fines.
Then there’s this lovely warning from the US State Department: Continue reading