07 July 2021
These thirteen days journey is the last part of the Congo Local Guides 4,000 Km Eastern Congo inland road & water trip experience in November-December 2019 starting in Lusaka. The two first part were Lusaka-Manono and Manono-Kindu by Andreas (the Tourist) and Christian (the Guide).
Thursday, 21St November 2019 at 7.30am we left the Hotel for the dock to departure for Ubundu. While we expected to departure at 8.00am, we definitely did it at 11.45am. If someone has only experience of cruises in developed countries; this will be a life time experience to see how people board and travel in this floating wooden house. Maybe it was the only boat departing for Ubundu and there was any other departing for the two next days. The boat with many passengers, children crying, people had to sleep on the floor or in their seats. But believe it, this makes enjoyable the trip until you forget that you’re traveling. People’s amazing stories and experience; everyday life style like cooking; traditional therapy; etc. will be among take away outside of the impressing Congo River landscape.
We had a booked room that played a major role in keeping safe the luggage. Congo inland road trip is enjoyable but the feeling of the Congo river remains unmatched. The first day we rode 100km, what was at least fast than what happened the next day. The captain started all the three engines for us to overpass Lokando village. It is suspected to be a risky area to overnight due to ongoing conflict around. The weather was cloudy and rainy constraining us to stop at night. The situation was same the next night but the risk was even higher because we were crossing the part of the river with numerous obstacles: small islands; rocks; and sands. But the good thing was that, crew member knows well the river; they can drive day like night knowing where is safe.
The second day we only rode 50Km; mainly due to long and unnecessary stops and maybe to keep the trip long. It is advised to carry enough food and water; but be sure not any kind of food. The last stop of the day came at 3pm and the next village was at 25km. So no one expected that we could overnight at a such early time. Almost everyone on board was angry but no one could express it clearly because everyone had in mind how he/she boarded in; let us keep that as secret. The time we were waiting their mercy to carry us; a sudden dispute started outside someone claiming to not have received the total number of goods he was expecting. In no time, the peasants crowded the dock before a common ground being found late at 6pm.
The issue remained that everyone was finally aware that there were a “white man” on the boat when suddenly one crew member announced that we will definitely departure the next day in the morning (means with no hope to reach Ubundu the third day) adding that: “for everyone who is in rush, he was supposed to take Congo Airways flight”, this says everything. While at that time, none of Congo Airways or CAA was servicing Kisangani, and it was in our plan to have a taste of boat ride on Congo River. So, there were any regret about, and this was making tastier our trip, the more challenging, the more enjoyable it was.
As that was not enough, three man surprisingly passing themselves for Immigration workers to “identify and take care of Andreas,”, but successfully, Christian dealt with everything as all travel document were valid. A single advice is to never dare be travelling in the Congo without valid documents. If it may be quite challenging to the one with valid visa, one can imagine what can happen in the opposite case. However, overnighting in a such area was becoming more and more dangerous. We negotiated and paid some money for an immediate departure. The night ride is dangerous because of lack of necessary navigation equipment, but we only wanted to overnight somewhere else.
Further, every single solution always came with its own issues. After we paid, they immediately invited everyone on board for urgent departure. However, since everyone already knew that the departure will be the next day (third day), many went in the village looking for foods and drinks. The crew member went into the village looking for passengers. This took two hours for everyone to be on board except one guy who came late after we departed and was brought by a pirogue. We drove 30km more before we stopped to the verge due to storms and heavy rains.
On the third day, we went straight to Ubundu without any stop beyond thirty minutes. With many thanks to the Almighty, passengers touched Ubundu ground at 4.45pm. Lucky, we know how to meet to deal with admistration when arriving for the first time in a territory. We overnighted at a nearby Guest House, apparently the most famous in Ubundu, but do not expect much. A short walk walk was organized to find a restaurant as it was like three days without eating, but we could not find one. Amazingly, we ended eating a grilled maize with a beer with hope to be in Kisangani the next day.
On Sunday 24th November, people around helped in finding two reliable and prominent moto riders who took us at 6.30am, destination Kisangani. The road was in a very bad condition “terrible road” until vehicles spend 3 to 4 months or stuck forever in a distance of only 125km. It takes 8 to 10 hours for motorbikes, and with this, people have to drop off several time to walk and push the motorbike. To stuck become evident when motorbikes are heavily loaded as they are now the only mean of transport for goods and people between Ubundu and Kisangani. It was rainy and foggy but we did it safe to Kisangani. Our moto riders left us on the left side of Congo River for us to cross with a pirogue.
In Kisangani we stayed for a night at one of imposing Hotel in the city, with first class services. One of local worker introduced us to a local speaking English, Esperant, who joined us in discovering the city. The next day, we started our tour at 8.00am and had a good time seeing the city. We started by visiting the old Hotel des Chutes, The Villa Regina, former Mobutu Residency though pictures were restricted and only saw the building from outside. It would not be advised to a traveler to tempt visiting any DRC city without a local guide, and this is our job to securely and safely help tourists traveling across the Congo.
Few miles from there is located Kisangani Mosque, built under Mouamar El Kadhaf (The former Libyan President) financial support. Then followed the Wagenia falls: it cost us some dollars. It gives excitement to be to this historical place. Since nothing is officially organized, extra services are charged higher, such as a demonstration for fishing techniques in this trouble water. There are also some individuals mentioning that they sell witchcraft. On the agenda was also the visit of the Cathédrale du très Saint Rosaire. We also visited the churchyard of the war of six days victims. We ended our day celebrating Andreas’ birthday under the hot temperature of Kisangani.
On tuesday, the next destination from Kisangani was Goma. This was an extremely challenging journey for two main reasons. First reaching Goma via Beni, Bunia or Butembo was a very risky itinerary in terms of Security and Ebola. Secondly, Lubutu direction was the remaining alternative but with Maiko broken bridge, it was not possible for vehicles to link Kisangani – Lubutu. Further, the same security issues persist with Walikale and Masisi territories. Despite those challenges, we found the second option more realistic. We made it to Lubutu after a day drive for 245Km. While we had in mind that it would have been very easy to find a car or a truck to walikale because the road was very well paved, the next day any vehicle was departing for walikale until we remained with a unique option of pursuing with a moto the 203Kms. This took us the whole day driving.
No one could initially imagine that this will be the worse experience of the trip. Walikale Goma, the road to the hell. Exceptionally the price was also that high for single person to book transport. With much hope to arrive the same day in Goma around 4pm, we left Walikale on Thursday at 3.45am under a small rain which grew big later. The first 10 kms from walikale are full of gravels pertaining a very low speed for the ride plus a heavy rain that started thirty minutes later. But lucky we anticipated by preparing our bags to a such weather. This is extremely important for an inland trip in the Congo. There was no way for us to continue driving into the rain until we decided to stop for an hour.
We encountered around ten landslides where about five where very interesting for travelers looking extreme road challenge. We had to walk and found out the way. The first time we got assistance from a young boy with a machete to cut tree branches. The second time, we walked in the bush and the third time, we got help of two guys to lift the moto out of mud where we stuck. The Fourth time, we paid to cross into a small river after the bridge completely collapsed. This is without mentioning the several moments we stuck and got a push from random people around, though for a very low fee. Outside of landslides, the road is completely impracticable.
Trucks and other type of vehicles pass over four months or stuck forever, but this is worse than Ubundu-Kisangani. Some of them dig the road to find their way out but leave behind them deep holes where will stagnate rain water, transforming the road into impracticable rivers; making more challenging the inland road trip in this part of the Congo.
Despite the untimely rains, we ended by reaching Nyabiondo, about 170km from walikale made during 16 hours. After a peaceful night at Nyabiondo, we departed on Friday at 7.30 for Goma passing through the beautiful Masisi. We definitely made it to Goma in the beginning of the afternoon. This two-day tough ride would have been worse if we had chosen a moto driver not used to a such road. As per experience, Congo Local Guides already has a number of reliable contacts and guides across the Congo for safe and fearless inland trip for all road adventurers travelers. Saturday and Sunday, we overnighted at CAP KIVU HOTEL and had our first dinner at a well-known local Restaurant.
Though it was so hard to walk around the city due to the population protest against UN peacekeeping in Congo. We enjoyed a dinner at Christian’s friend and CLG shareholder, Elie. We only visited the handicraft and local market where Andreas bought two nice old status.
On December 2nd, the next stop was Bukavu, but before that, we visited Idjwi Island. We stayed in Christian’s friend family who also took us around to see what the island had specific. The landscape is made of hills, making it hard for moto ride, the unique mean of transport available, during rainy time. Apart from the king’s place, local carpentry and former abandoned coffee factory, we ended by visiting a local witch. His strength lies in his everyday killings of a number of people implicated in specific cases such as robbery, crooks, and all kind of behavior that may have offended to someone.
His work is a pure business. He has assistants, also able to manipulate his snakes and witchcraft, some being from dead people. He welcomes guests in this ground and nothing is secret about what he does. Outside of killing people, he also acts as traditional practitioner, healing all kind of sickness. Of course, one should not expect this from an inland trip throughout the Congo, but it is part of everyday life and the experience worth it. The visit to the Island took us about 7 hours and enjoyed our dinner made of fried fish and banana, before a peaceful night in our well-prepared room.
The next day, Tuesday, we had to departure in the morning for Bukavu at 9.30am. One hour and half later we made it to Bukavu. We spent two days at a very quiet and beautiful Guest House. Despite the heavy rain in the afternoon, we succeeded to visit the Peaceful cathedral; Nyawera; and PANZI Hospital of the 2018 Peace Nobel Prize. Then on wednesday, we visited Karhale for the old building of the ISTM (Medical School) and the Université Catholique de Bukavu. Then after walked down to the place de l’independence. This was before enjoying a walking tour inside Bagira Township where we had a look at street markets. One of the most interesting point was also the visit of Beach Muhanzi, located next to Bukavu dock, a colorful street market with breathtaking new and old/abandoned boats and ferries.
Finally, on December 5th, we crossed the Rusizi border. Destination Kigali for departure and end of the tour. What an incredible and amazing one-month Congo inland and water trip.