Quick trip to the Congo River

Trip Start Jan 15, 2010
Trip End Feb 17, 2010

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Flag of Congo - The Dem. Repub.  ,
Friday, February 5, 2010

This morning Jacob came to the hotel as requested at 9:00. We had a new taxi driver and car with which we would head out to a spot Jacob knew with a nice view of the river. It took about an hour to get there from the hotel and the trip took us to the outskirts of town, through the usual collection of terrible streets and roads, poverty and colorful scenes. Lines of people walking, ladies sitting and working almost in the street preparing food or other wares to be sold, and strange looking jobs, like the two men working on shoes using some kind of electric grinder - a bit counter-intuitive it appeared to me....

It was quite hot and humid today, and the taxis we use aren't air conditioned so we were soaked in perspiration by the time we finally arrived at the place called Mbudi. We had to pay a dollar each to get in. We walked to the top of a hill where there was quite a beautiful view of the fast running Congo River. For a big river, it runs surprisingly fast at this point where it narrows and where there are large rocks, rapids, and whirlpools. It would be quite exciting to run these rapids and while they are large scale, they don’t look impossible to my barely trained eye.  The river is dropping now after hitting its high point a month or so back at the height of the wet season. I was told it can run 20 or 30 feet deeper at highest water. During the driest season, it’s possible to walk another quarter of the way across the space now covered with water. On the other side, 300 or 400 meters away was the other Congo, the Republic of Congo, or Congo-Brazzaville as it’s often called.

We walked down to the water’s edge and watched some rather lazy looking fishermen, who sat and stood around much more than they cast their nets. Perhaps there was something I didn’t understand about the local technique, but it looked to me to be very low energy.  I dipped the sole of my shoe in the dark water. As I did so, I thought about the names of bodies of water I read about as a boy and that seemed unattainably adventurous. They inspired dreams of seeing and touching or swimming in them, and some of those dreams have come true: now the Congo.

Many African rivers are very dark, almost black, turned that way from the seeping of decaying tropical plant life. It doesn’t look very inviting. The Congo wasn’t as dark as some, but it was definitely brown.

After a short sweaty visit, we drove back into town stopping at a hotel that I might use next time I come. The Grand Hotel is expensive, and now that the security level appears to be increasing in Kinshasa, I can start looking for less expensive hotels.

That reminds of a conversation we had with Gabby a couple of days ago. He and Jacob were telling me that Kinshasa was becoming less dangerous. "People now go out at night, even westerners are going out at night" Jacob told me. “Of course you never walk, you always go in a vehicle” added Gabby, “but it’s safe now.” Then one of them remembered a story that happened recently that showed that one still should walk around at night, especially with money. Apparently a fellow hit it big in the casino across from the Grand Hotel. To hear them tell it, he won a million dollars. Gabby broke in “if I won a million dollars, I would rent a room for the night, it’s expensive, but… a million dollars!” Jacob continued explaining, that the fellow decided to take it home with him the same night.  The usually taciturn Gabby broke in again “even if I won $500,000, I would rent a room!”  Jacob gave more details: mysteriously when the winner left the casino there were no taxis available. Gabby was obviously enjoying dreaming of winning a large sum of money. He said “even if I won $100,000 I would rent a room, even $50,000!” Jacob explained that the winner decided to walk home with his million dollars.  Gabby said, “even $10,000!”  The winner was murdered on the way home and the money disappeared. I tried to tease Gabby, “even $1000?”  But he took me seriously, “yes, even $1000” he said with a big dreamy smile on his face.  Jacob’s conclusion was “the casino got its money back, it was all a set up; they don’t want you winning that much money!” Note to self: don’t walk the streets of Kinshasa at night carrying a million dollars, and stay out of the casino….

The hotel we looked at was African run, fairly clean by local standards, air conditioned, with a high wall around the compound, and located in a quiet neighborhood. No Internet access, but that might be remedied by the time I come back.  I’ll keep it in the back of my mind.

Jacob dropped me at the hotel around 1:00. I finished the leftovers of the pizza I hadn’t eaten last night, and made some phone calls to confirm visits. One man wasn’t able to come for the visit we had planned, but two others did, one after the other. We had good conversations and I felt the visits were useful.

My week in the Congo is nearly over. One more day, a full one, no doubt, and then if all goes as planned I’ll be on to the next leg of my trip.
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