Jan 172014

CAUTION:  This post contains nearly 40 pictures, many of which are of extreme poverty and a few are of monkeys…well, being monkeys.  You’ve been warned!  

Yeah, I know it had only been two days since the coup attempt where over 100 people were killed trying to overthrow the government, but I’d spent so much effort planning this trip, and so much money getting close, I was determined to try and at least make it to DRC for a daytrip…in daylight. Fortunately, Jordan was just as insane and was game for it. We started by grabbing a taxi over to the boat docks, and after fending off several touts, we finally found the place to buy tickets on the “fast” boat and clear immigration. It involved about 10 different stops for different papers, taxes, stamps, etc etc etc, most of which seemed above ground, but I’m sure a few of the “fees” went straight into the pockets of corrupt officials. No matter…we avoided as much as we could, and even the fees we paid were no more than $3-4 each. Eventually we were crammed onto the boat with 15 of our new best friends for the 15 minute trek across the river:


On the other side, things got a little uglier.  Lots of people doing the “wait here” and “this fee” and “that fee.”  We argued several of them, paid a few, and eventually got out the other side about $20 poorer in total.  It took about 20-30 minutes, which wasn’t as bad as it could have been, but once they have your passport they kind of have you by the balls.  Plus, we were in a bit of a hurry without much time, so we were kind of stuck. We’d hired a driver in advance for the day, and finally found him outside immigration.  Turns out we’d thought he was another tout trying to get money from us on the inside and brushed him off, lol.  Would have helped if he had a sign!  He drove us first to the travel agency he worked for, where we paid the agreed upon $250 for a day’s rental of car and driver.  The agency’s building:


After that, it was time to go.  We were driving about 30 miles outside the city first, to the Lola Ya Bonobo sanctuary for Bonobos monkeys.  On the way, we passed the stadium:


Continuing the drive, we went through some quite poor parts of Kinshasa:






Getting outside the city and near the sanctuary, we came across this guy….selling a snake he’d recently killed!  Mmm mmm delicious!  Fortunately, it was already dead.


Countryside near the sanctuary:




We had to wait about 20 minutes while they assembled a group for the tour.  Right next to the water, it was a nice place to wait.




We had a guide for the tour, who spoke minimal english.  Fortunately, most of the 15 or so people on the tour spoke at least decent French, so it all worked out well.  The walk took about an hour total, and it was blazing hot in the direct sun.  Maybe only around 85F but with high humidity and lots of hills to walk up and down, it was very very tiring.  Several shots of the bonobos:






After being there around 90 minutes, we headed back to the city as we were starting to run out of time.  I asked our driver to stop somewhere like a cafe to get some espresso and a baked good, and he took us to a very nice cafe.  The pastries were seriously disappointing and dry, but at least it was clean and safe!  Continuing on, we passed some monuments:



Soon we were at the Tata Raphael Stadium, where Muhammad Ali and George Foreman fought the Rumble in the Jungle.  Unfortunately, it had fallen into major disrepair.  Of course, it wasn’t easy to get in.  There was a “fee” to be paid to the guy watching the stadium, and the guy with the gun who was also hanging around.  The outside gate:


The field:


The crumbling stands: IMG_2531

I decided to be brave, and ask the guy with the gun to pose for a picture.  I figured I was paying him, so it was the least he could do.  Fortunately, he agreed and I got a great shot!


Outside again: IMG_2538  

Biblical signs are EVERYWHERE in Africa:


Statue of the former president:


Soon, we were back at the docks.  We had agreed to pay someone from the agency $20 to handle immigration, so we didn’t risk losing our passports to the corrupt immigration officials and missing the last boat if we didn’t cough up a huge bribe.  Of course, he had his own scam.  “Not many people going today.  I think you should buy out the whole boat so you can go now.”  Over $250…NO.  THANKS.  We waited.  After about 30 minutes he gave up, and went inside with the passports to do the needful….soon he came back and got us, saying everything was arranged, and we could just walk on through…and he was right! Only one problem when we got on the boat.  It was made for 10 people, but there were 30 plus massive piles of luggage on it.  Not just any 30 people either, there were a couple of 300+ pound congolese in the mix, and I was convinced I was going for a swim.  I wasn’t the only one praying as the engine sputtered to life and slowly started heading across the river. I’ve never been so happy to see the other side, and the “welcome to Brazzaville” sign.  WHEW.


Oh, I’d also tripped over some vines back at the bonobo sanctuary, and they had my shoe for lunch.  It was going to be an interesting rest of the trip missing a good chunk of my shoe.


Immigration was much easier getting back into Congo, and no hassles at all.  We tried heading to Mami Wata again for dinner, but they were still closed for the holidays – go figure!  Ended up grabbing dinner at a cafe and then heading back to the hotel early so we could get up at 4am to get ready for the train to Pointe Noire! All in all, the daytrip went extremely smoothly, and there was really no sign of danger at any time.  Yes, Kinshasa was definitely edgy and you had to be on your toes, but with a driver I really didn’t feel the least bit unsafe at any time.

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