After our experiences camping in the jungle, avoiding sweat bees at the bai and the otherworldy gorilla encounters, our return to the city afforded us time for reflection. The subdued finale to our great Congo adventure was an activity-free day in Brazzaville.However, it is well known that one can indulge in only so much introspection. So we improvised and turned to Jesse’s 5 tips for traveling in Africa…
- Visit the open markets, especially fish markets
- Cool off by the water
- Have a beer at a local bar
- Avoid malls, chain restaurants
- It isn’t rocket science, but bring a knowledgable local.
The open market is the heart of commerce in most African cities. Vendors congregate in a few city blocks which becomes a market and usually serves a city section. You can buy anything here, from yams to caviar, from palm-wine homebrew to Johnny Blue. Traditional healers or “witch doctors” hawk their wares next to used-wheelchair salesmen. There are sections dedicated solely to wigs. To a westerner it may appear to be chaos as people fill the narrow corridors chatting, haggling, or restocking, but it works. And it’s great.melons and brasThe fish section of the market always produces something interesting.After passing on the selection of still wriggling hybrid catfish-eels, we decided on buying q-tips.
Next stop, the cataract, aka the Congo river rapids. The river divides Republic of Congo from the DRC and Brazzaville from Kinshasa. You can make out Kinshasa’s skyline in the distance.We spotted a brave angler near a rusted out, river-shipwreck working his favorite fishing hole…opted against taking a dip…and clung together for dear life as, unbeknownst to us, sand fleas feasted on our flesh.The day ended with a hearty discussion of culture over some cold Ngok beers. Generally, most values we share. However, in one particular area, Congolese culture differs dramatically from ours. We were told traditionally, a man’s wealth is measured by the size of his family (and number of wives). Case in point – the president has 31 children. We were told to get right on it, and they were shocked we were wasting so much time traveling.Though Congo is a poor country it is not a desperate one. Despite the cultural differences and language barrier we found many things in common. The pride, humor, and sense of style are obvious, and though Conogolese people may be wary of outsiders at first, they are warm and welcoming if you reach out. The people made our brief visit even more special.
Now off to Tanzania and Kilimanjaro!