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2012 Oct by Othmar Zendron
We often passed by this elephant on our way to Lubumbashi train station inquiring about the next train to leave - after 3 weeks we successfully got a ticket to Kalemie at Lake Tanganyika. |
2010 Dec by Tor Erik Helgesen*
I entered DRC from Gisenyi,Rwanda, my Visa was issued at the consulate in Copenhagen. Many people were refused to enter because they had Visa issued in a neighboring country being told they should get the Visa in their home country or the closest Embassy/Consulate.|
Be sure to bring Cash, had a hard time. I stayed at the Cape Kivu hotel in Goma. I was told that could pay with credit card, but had to pay in cash. Last night in DRC I was invited to stay in a private home, nice people good experience. Goma and the surroundings were peaceful when I was there no problems.
2009 Feb by Kolja Spori
I entered Goma, the troubled Eastern Congolese border town by foot from Gisenyi, Rwanda, just after the ceasefire. It is possible to get a visa at the border if you negotiate your way and speak straight to the boss. The Hotel Ihusi is walking distance for a nice lunch with a view on the lake, but it is worthwhile finding a private car for a city tour. I didn't stay overnight. Goma could be Nr. 1 on the dangerous places list, given it's recent war history, the volcano eruption that destroyed half of the town and the poisonous gases that regularly erupt from Lake Kivu - plus all the other little problems that Central Africa has to offer. Well, it was both an easy and a challenging country point... |
2007 May by Pete Bartlett
One way to visit to the DRC is at Goma - just a short walk from the Rwandan town of Gisenyi.|
When I visited in May 2007 there was a very visible NGO and UN presence in Goma, but the violence had not yet re-flared up. Many refugees were reported to have gathered in Goma in the second half of 2007 and I doubt the surrounding areas were safe at that.Indeed the border itself was closed at times. Today (23rd January 2008) a peace agreement has been reached. It remains to be seen what effect this will have locally. For those who want to "bag" the DRC whilst enjoying the gorillas in Rwanda, I imagine an afternoon in Goma remains a plausible option.
I, a British passport holder, didn't need a visa to enter the DRC from Rwanda. Instead we paid an entry fee of $30 each. Assuming relatively safe times, many tour operators in Gisenyi will arrange short tours around Goma with a guide/driver. I think we paid around $40 + a beer for the afternoon but didn't bargain hard.
1992 Nov by Jorge Sanchez
I left Brazzaville port early in the morning to cross the Congo River.|
When our ferry arrived to Kinshasa port I noted how the customs agents were exchanging smiles. They were happy because they noticed the presence of several westerners, what means tips.
When I showed my passport, the agent could not stamp my passport, alleging:
- Oh, it is very hot; I can’t work in these conditions. I need to drink something but I have no money.
Finally I saw how all the westerners were giving some baksheesh to the agents in order to accelerate the entry procedures.
I did the same. In Brazzaville I had changed my last CFA for zaires. I took 2 millions of zaires (about 50 cents of 1 American dollar at that time) and gave them to the agent who was thirsty. He considered that amount was enough, put the stamp in my passport and let me proceed inside the country.
I gave another million of zaires tip to the luggage inspector and he did not check my baggage.
The picture of President Mobutu was everywhere in the Customs premises.
Soon I realized that Kinshasa was one of the most dangerous cities in Africa. In about half an hour I saw how a soldier robbed a car to a Korean citizen threatening him with a pistol. The Korean got out of his car and the soldier drove it somewhere.
It was about 10 AM and many people handed bags containing millions of zaires just to go to the supermarket and buy food for the day. Some of them used supermarket chariots.
Most of the notes were valued 20.000 zaires, so if you wanted to buy a soft drink you needed a lot of notes, and if you intended to buy, let us say, a television, then you needed a car to transport the kilos of notes to pay for it.
I have my two pockets filled with zaires and still kept many more notes in my bag.
Many speculators were selling zaires in the street, transporting them in big bags back in their trucks.
I did not see many Westerners people. Many of the European men that I saw were Belgian missionaries, Greeks and Portuguese selling macaronis and vinho verde in their supermarkets. Many Chinese ruled shops selling all kind of cheap trifles.
How to continue my journey to the south of Africa? I could not get the visa to Angola, thus the only way to the south was via Zambia. But those days were dangerous and the western Embassies were evacuating their citizens.
I went to the post trying to embark to Kisangani, but owing to the lack of fuel there were no boats available for a week. The only way was to accede to Zambia via Lubumbashi.
I headed to the bus station but everybody advise me to fly to Lubumbashi because at the exit of Kinshasa there was a military control and all westerners were robbed of their possession, without pity, even the shoes. I asked guidance to the local people, and one of them advised me to wait until it was dark, paint my face with black bitumen and then try to outwit the military control out of Kinshasa.
I followed his recommendation. That man even helped me to find a shoeshine man, bought him a box of black bitumen and painted my face and hands. I put a cap on my head to cover my straight hair. Afterwards with my last millions of zaires I boarded a truck carrying black passengers until Lubumbashi, in Katanga. I sat at the end of the truck, in the back.
At the exit of Kinshasa nobody noticed that I was European. All my travel companions showed me their solidarity.
We stopped in Kikwith, later a ferry crossed a river, then we changed trucks and passed through the towns of Ilebo, Kanaga, Mwene Ditu, Kamina, Bukama and finally, after six days we reached Lubumbashi, where I was given accommodation in a Spanish missionary society.
The Spanish sisters in that Mission helped me to get rid of the bitumen of my face and hands.
After several days eating a lot thanks to the Spanish sisters, I left in a truck to Zambia.
1991 Jun by Merja Lunkka
From Car Bangassou crossing to Ndu Zaire, on bicycle to next town Monga. With many intresting ways done my way to Coma. |
1990 Jan by Peter Kuiper
We arrived without problems from Brazzaville with the ferry over the Congo River. It was a big multistory ferry boat, too bad we couldn’t take pictures. Now we stayed for three nights in the fabulous InterContinental Hotel, for staff rate and that meant for free.
The front office manager had worked for training at the InterContinental in Frankfurt with a guy who had made career and was at present the GM in Berlin where I work. We were welcomed like royalty and introduced to some of the other staff. A Flemish guy from Belgium was the IT chef. For a day he generously offered us his car and driver to show us around town. We toured the city and the suburbs and saw a lot, but the driver – not to get any problems - did not allow us to bring our cameras. Kinshasa is very green and quite ok. The main boulevard is the Boulevard du 30 Juin and has a big city appearance. At the end of this boulevard we went to see the souvenir market. They had nice stuff here, many old statues, but way too expensive and we were only halfway on our trip from Niger to Burundi, so things would have been hard to transport. I regret that I could not take pictures of the many very well painted commercials on the mostly one story buildings. Especially the walls of the hairdresser shops were full of painted examples of possible haircuts. The walls of the small supermarkets were covered with exact painted pictures of their products.
We spend a lot of time at the pool and ate at the poolside pizza restaurant. In the hotel shop we bought a FAZ, one of the leading newspapers in Germany, and were amazed what we read there. When we had left Berlin the end of December, less than two months after the fall of the Berlin wall, the major news was about changing and improving the political system in the GDR. Now just three weeks later, no one was writing about that. There was only one subject: the reunification. We couldn’t believe it. So we enjoyed the deckchairs along the pool and read every single article.
The next day we went out by ourselves and walked to the center of the city. As we walked on the Boulevard du 30 Juin again, a car stopped next to us, some guys in uniforms jumped out and summoned us to enter the box wagon with no windows. After a small ride we had to get off at a police station. There, we were put in an empty office, and had to wait. We knew of no wrong doing since we even didn’t carry our cameras and we had our passports with us. We had to wait a long time. Than a Middle Eastern guy entered the room - most likely he was Lebanese - and started to ask us all kinds of questions, like what we were doing there walking around. We told him that we were tourists and we wanted to see the city. This he could not accept as normal behavior, for him this was highly suspicious. He said: “White people drive cars and do not walk around.” Finally we were ordered to take a taxi back to the hotel and stay there the rest of our stay!
We were happy to leave Kinshasa the next morning. We had been able to get a flight ticket to Goma, with a stop in Kisangani. Staff in the hotel had convinced us that it was impossible to cross the country overland. The Belgian guy was so nice to have his driver bring us to the airport early morning.
The flight took many hours. Too bad we did not see Kisangani, the airport seemed to be far from the city.
In Goma the runway crosses the city, no need to take a taxi to town. Since we planned to go hiking in the Ruwezori Mountains and would be back here in a few days, we looked right away for a road leaving the city in a northerly direction. At the end of this not very attractive town - just a bunch of shabby one story houses standing on pitch black earth - we waited for some transport. Soon a Toyota pick-up passed and stopped. First we hesitated if it wouldn’t be better to wait for a real bus, but since it was getting late, we decided to take it to the next town. It was quite fun to travel this way. Ingo managed to get a good place among the dozen or so other passengers in the middle of the load area and was accompanied by three little pigs, each one of them wrapped in a basket. One time, when the car made a sudden stop, he plunged his hand into the fresh shit. I was sitting on the edge with a nice view on the slowly disappearing Virunga volcanoes.
Our transport was only going as far a Rutshuru. In three hours, we had just covered 70km. Tomorrow, we hoped to get a fast bus to Beni. It was getting dark now, but we found a hotel quickly. The hotel consisted out of a row of rooms around a courtyard. Simple but clean. The restaurant offered only one dish: meat from an animal and a big plate of boiled potatoes, not very tasty, but filling. The staff of the hotel was extremely friendly. We had a good time and the next morning we were optimistic to reach Beni to have a few days for the Ruwenzoris.
When we asked if there was a bus to Beni the next morning, they hardly understood our question. In fact there seemed to be no public transport at all in this part of the world. But again we were lucky. An empty truck was heading north and we could sit in the back. The drawback: the load area was deep, the walls around it high and there was no way of seeing anything. As the truck drove off, we soon found out that it was impossible to sit down. The truck drove fast and tossed us around. The only way to survive was to hold on to the struts above us. Thank God it did not take too long to cover the 73km to Kanyabayonga.
This was definitively the most beautiful village we have seen in Africa. Like Rom it is built on seven hills. The little houses have tin iron roofs and look neat and clean. The mud streets are swept, without dirt or rubbish. And the people were very friendly. We found a small restaurant to eat potatoes again. From the terrace of our little hotel we had a beautiful view over the roofs. There was no electricity, in the evening people used oil lamps made of the bottom half of a plastic water bottle filled with oil, the burning wick floating on the surface.
The next day we were lucky again and found another pick-up driving north. This time our little Toyota was a bit full. We were, including the driver and his co-driver, 27 people plus three goats and lots of chickens in baskets. The load area was covered with sacks full of potatoes. Somehow Ingo managed to find space in the middle of the load area, on top of several sacks of potatoes. During the trip the goats disappeared ever deeper between the potatoes and luggage and screamed for their lives. The chickens suffered the same fate and were cackling softly. I found space on the edge, but I had only enough room for one bun. I could not stretch my legs, they would hit the trees or bushes on the side of the road, and I had to take care of the wheel under me as well. It was not easy to keep my balance for hours.
Zaire is an organized country, and laws and regulations have to be respected. We were severely overloaded and that is against the law. Only about 15 people are allowed to travel on a small pick-up like ours. So before entering a village, more than ten people had to get off and walk behind the car. As everybody was afraid that the car would drive off without waiting, we were running as fast as possible behind it. So the car, with some lucky women plus Ingo on top of the potato sacks, was driving through the villages and ten or twelve people were running behind it, of course without attracting attention to the iron fist of the law.
Behind the first curve after passing the village we could get back on again. Everybody had to fight for some space. The driver, most likely the owner of this little transport enterprise, often got out of the car and walked around the vehicle with a face like a thundercloud, to pull out a leg or push a knee in another direction to create sufficient space for all the passengers. The co-driver was always the last one to mount before take-off. One time there was absolutely no space left and he was sort off hanging on to the car, keeping his balance by holding one of the tits of the female passengers, much to the hilarity off the others and the girl herself.
Since many, many years Ingo has a problem with his bladder and has to pee all the time. Not today! Like the queen of Saba held on to her throne, Ingo tenaciously kept his grip to his stack of potatoes. At the end of the day he told me that he had to choose between his legs or his camera: “I have to sit on my camera, otherwise my legs will die.”
Somehow we made it to Butembu. The 140km had taken us a full day, but it had been one of the funniest days we ever had in Africa, and also, the scenery had been very beautiful: rolling hills with fertile gardens, green forests, beautiful villages with big round huts and thatched roofs. In Butembu we planned to stay in a real good hotel, mentioned in our guide. When we finally found the place on a hillside above the truck park, we had to notice that the place had shut down. A caretaker tried to convince us to stay and pointed on one of the dilapidated bungalows. It didn’t look good. We walked back down and stayed in a primitive hotel downtown.
Beni wasn’t far anymore, but we slowly lost hope that we still would have the time to hike through the Ruwenzoris.
It was easy to find a pick-up for the last little stretch of 53km and we arrived in Beni well before noon. Here, surprise, surprise, there was a real good hotel with a nice restaurant, all built in Spanish style. Since we always sleep under our mosquito nets - also in good hotels - we hang them up right away. Since we did not want to soil the perfect white walls with Scotch tape, we had to take down the pictures to use the nails and move the beds around accordingly. Very quickly the beautiful room turned into chaos. Before departure two days later we put everything back into place.
The Ruwenzori Mountains were still too far. It would have taken at least one day to get there, a day hiking, plus a day back, time we did not have. We were happy to hear that there was a flight connection from here to Goma the day after tomorrow, no need to travel back four days on a Toyota pick-up.
Our day in Beni we used to make a walk in the direction of the mountains. The hills were covered with little villages made of round huts with thatched roofs. The people were really friendly and we could make some pictures. From the top of a hill we could see the mountains in the distance, even the snow was visible. Back down in the valley, nature was just beautiful. The farmers use the shade of the big trees for cultivating cacao and coffee. We passed some buildings of the colonial era on our way back in town.
The flight was awful! This was definitively the worst flight I ever experienced. It started fine, but the weather deteriorated ever more. On our left hand side - the side of the Ruwenzori Mountains - a huge black cloud was developing and got pitch black within minutes. The plane tried to move away from it. Lightning flashed out of this black wall. The plane was caught by strong winds now. Suddenly the door of the cockpit of our 16-seater slammed open. I saw the first officer looking on a huge map. The captain was holding on to the wheel with all his force. Now the first officer dropped the map on his lap and helped the captain to keep control over the wheel. The plane sunk and lifted violently. Ingo was holding his hands tightly on to the camping chair style seats. A nun in front of me vomited on the floor.
Finally we got away from the storm and we made a big left curve to get back on track in the direction of Goma. We landed safely. Thank God!
Since the airport is in the middle of the city, we just walked through town to the border, left Zaire and entered Ruanda without problems. |
1988 May by Veikko Huhtala*
My first visit to Zaire happened 1985 when I was visiting in Bujumbura in Burundi. Then I drove by taxi to small border town called Uvira, on the north coast of Tanganyika Lake. Three years later I flew with Oili from Bujumbura to Kinshasa by Cameroon Airlines. We stayed four days over there, because we needed the visa to Congo Brazzaville. It was not so easy to get, but we managed anyway. Kinshasa was a typical African town, a little bit dirty and boring. After four days we flew to Libreville, Gabon by Air Zaire.|