Congo: Are we crazy?

When we tell people about our trip, the conversation rarely makes it past our second destination – Congo. 

The reactions generally fall into three categories.

1. They’ve never heard of it – so why would anyone go there.

2. Those who know of it are shocked by our hubris – the heart of darkness, blood diamonds, civil war, Virunga, and so on.

3. They loved the movie Congo, and are big Laura Linney fans. They want to discuss the albino gorillas and the weaponization of blue diamond lasers.

Actually, the Republic of Congo, not the Democratic Republic of Congo, has been a relatively stable and safe place since the civil war in 1997. Since then, the president has been in power for most of the last 36 years and is still going strong. In fact, he plans to change the constitution next year so he can rule past the age of 70. In the context of Congo’s neighbors, this is a relatively tranquil history.    For us, we saw the R.O.C. as the ultimate off-the-beaten-path destination – one of the few places left unspoiled by the tourist-industrial complex. Secondly, it is an African country I (jesse) haven’t been to. And finally, the lowland gorillas living in the jungles of northern Congo sold us lock, stock, and barrel.

The short story: it’s not an easy trip, but it’s probably worth it to those gritty enough to try. 

With these logical justifications, we set our sights and hearts on the Congo and Jen set about finding a guide to help us get there. A number of companies balked, explaining they were pulling out of Congo; others quoted us over $30,000 USD. After more false starts than Nate Solder, we found a guide willing to take the challenge and we arranged travel to Brazzaville and north to Nouabale-Ndoki, a park in the far north with very basic lodgings built for gorilla researchers.  

It didn’t get any easier after booking…

One week after sending in our deposit we received exciting news about the domestic airline that would have flown us from Brazzaville to Ouesso (near the lowland gorillas).

“regretfully air Congo has stopped flying”

“there is a rumor the airline was appropriated for the military. in Congo anything is possible” 

“the military once appropriated our guide to teach soldiers in the forest”

So instead of taking a 2 hour flight, our options were either a 14 hour bus ride or a 1200 km rented car ride over 2 days. 

“the bus is arduous” “there are few toilet breaks and when they occur you cannot be shy about dropping your drawers”

We hired a car.Three airplanes, a cab, and 6 hours of driving later, here we are now in Owanda, R.O.C.

“A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” -John A. Shedd


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