As you read this, I’ll either be on a plane in what is an 11 hour series of flights or I’ll be on the ground, starting a two and a half week trip through the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is not to be confused with the Republic of Congo just to the north of it. For those not up on the last ten years of geographic shift in Africa, this is the country that used to be known as Zaire and was run by Mobutu (the guy with the leopard skin hat) for 30 years.
This is my first trip in to Africa and is probably one of the more odd choices in initial African landings seeing how this has been a country in Africa with one of the most storied histories. A more obvious choice would have been Kenya prior to the riots (I mean, even Virgin Atlantic flies there) or South Africa, which a good numbers of whities “venture” to.
Beyond the fact that I’ve never gone to Africa, the other big strike against me is that I don’t speak Lingala, Swahili, or French. Thankfully, I have a very able guide in #1 Fan, who not only speaks French, but lived in Congo for two years. This should make the trip considerably easier. Even still, how in the hell do you prepare for a place that has rampant diseases, endemic unemployment, next to no ATMs, undrinkable water, and no reliable airlines? Well, first of all, you fly on glorious Air France (which only takes you to the capital of Kinshasa) and secondly, you hit the books.
DR Congo is not Croatia and there aren’t 25 guidebooks on the country or many articles about the country in general. Lonely Planet had one, but it was from about nearly 20 years ago and yes, things have most definitely changed. There is a book that documents these changes exceedingly well, which is In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz. It’s not a travel guide at all, but a book that documents the downfall of Mobutu. It prepares a visitor for the general cultural sense of DR Congo and might make a great many change their minds about going. Nonetheless, it’s a great book to read even for those who have no intention of ever setting a foot in the country.
With a relatively stable peace established in 2003, this has brought about a couple of travel guides to actually pop up. One of the earliest was the one from, Petit Futé. It’s big downside is that it happens to be written in French. But, it is a good entry to the country, especially if one is of the French speaking mindset. The other book which has only just come out in the UK and is set to be released in the US in May is from, Bradt. I love Bradt not necessarily because they’re always the best guides, but because they publish guides on places like Congo (in this case both DR and R). This guide is in English and I have been reading it intently since getting an advanced copy of it. it’s quite well written and based upon what prior knowledge I have of DR Congo, it is very accurate. The author pulls no punches and doesn’t gloss over any of the ugliness of traveling there, showing the would be traveler what they are going to be up against, but at the same time showing the rewards of the trip. Things do change quickly in DR Congo and one of things that’s already out of date is that Hewa Bora should not be flown on. That was the only Congolese airline that the author recommended and they’ve just been added to the EU’s no-fly blacklist, which brings the total number of Congolese airlines not on the blacklist to a whopping zero.
But, this is how it is and I am going. This will be one of the tougher chunks of travel I’ve done and in the end I’m sure all will turn out fine. We’ll just have to see what direction the path of the next two and a half weeks takes. I have no idea how often I’ll be online, since internet is scarce, so if you see no posts here for some time, just remember that I am now in what I call Deep Travels.