Finally the Democratic Republic of Congo! :)
Having to wait 40 days to cross a narrow river should tell you something about our world
Yes, so it finally happened! And very much to the credit of others. The list is long: Jérémie, Marie, Nora, Wilfrid, Anael, Gaëtan, Roger, Nelly and probably many more which I cannot remember at this exact moment, have all played a role in getting me across the Congo River from Brazzaville in The Republic of Congo (Congo) to Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Don't get the two countries mixed up, because they are not the same side of the coin although their names are similar. To start with Congo is merely 8 times the size of Denmark, while DRC is 54 times larger. But we will get back to that.
My long wait in Brazzaville has been sprinkled with fond memories of time spent with great people. I frequented a place near the DRC embassy which serves water pipe (shisha). It's owned by David from India who is an accomplished businessman. Shisha is not well integrated into Congolese country, but it's usually available throughout both West- and Central Africa due to the large influx of Lebanese businessmen of which there are many! They generally run all the successful businesses: Shops, malls, restaurants, cinemas etc. But in Brazzaville this particular place is operated 24/7 by David.
Thank you David!
One morning I woke up particularly nervous. I woke up in the same bed I had been sleeping in since I arrived to Brazzaville on February 2nd. I was in my room which the French Red Cross had provided for me and I was very nervous. I had this stupid plan which I had been wanting to realize for a long time: I wanted to eat the hottest chili I could find while being filmed! This idea had evolved to meeting Jérémie at the marché plateau des 15 ans, which is a local market in Brazzaville. Together we would buy this deadly piece of witchcraft and I would chew it, swallow and recite the 100 countries we had now reached within the Saga! That morning when I woke up every cell in my body knew how DUMB AN IDEA that was!! I was due to meet Jérémie at the market the very same day, and my mind was coming up with excuses to tell Jérémie on the phone to explain, why we had to call it off. I physically felt bad about it in the same way you would feel bad about going to the dentist for something you expect will cause pain, or to an important exam which you are not well prepared for...well, I maned up and went. The rest is history and the video is online here: https://youtu.be/nO7oKK5iqzU
It was the Fatalii chili!!! A local chili to Central Africa.
It all came together with the visas within a few days. You cannot apply for a visa to DRC anymore without obtaining a DGM letter from Kinshasa. That in itself is hard to do when you do not already have a visa to go to Kinshasa. So you need a friend on the other side of the Congo River. The DGM is basically an immigration letter which has been introduced in late 2015. In order to get the DGM you also need an invitation letter. And so far we haven't even started diving into the bureaucracy of going to offices, paying fees, getting stamps, wasting time and being treated like a criminal in the process. But I had a friend in Kinshasa...and I had friends in Brazzaville. So one day I had both the invitation letter and the DGM letter in my hand (which you need as originals). You also need to be a resident in order to apply for a visa at the DRC embassy. But we found a way around that.
The Angolan embassy didn't want to give me a visa, because I didn't have enough free pages in my passport. I only had 6 free pages and the minimum requirement was to have 5. Yeah...I know?!? Don't ask. Fortunately I travel with 2 passports, but in order to get the other passport I had to release it from the DRC embassy. Besides, the other passport has a different passport number than the invitation letter for Angola. So that was definitely something I could imagine the Angolan embassy would use to decline the application. Keep in mind that back in October, when I was applying for the Angolan visa for the first time, I was sent away for wearing a t-shirt in my passport photo and not a shirt!
But with some smooth talking from a friend who accompanied me it all went fine. And eventually I received my Angolan visa on a Friday and my DRC visa the next day: On a Saturday. Gold!
The Democratic Republic of Congo
The crossing from Brazzaville to Kinshasa is called "the beach" and it is notoriously difficult to navigate without getting upset and without paying extra. And Kinshasa itself has a bad reputation for being a rough city...especially for new arrivals. But as it happens the Red Cross has people posted on both sides. They wouldn't be working on a Sunday though, so I opted to cross Monday afternoon.
The French Red Cross has clearly demonstrated their strength in the region! Well done!
And it went embarrassingly easy and with very little adventure to speak about. Actually I was treated as a VIP on both sides and didn't even need to speak to any officials at all. That was all done by the Red Cross employees. It kind of feels like cheating.
If you're not claustrophobic then crossing should be no problem.
But it got "worse"! Because Andrew, who is an expat living in Kinshasa, had arranged for me to stay at his place. Andrew is renting a room in Liliane's house and Liliane came to pick me up at the beach and drove me straight to her house where she started mothering me. I had potato soup followed by spaghetti with meat sauce that night.
My "mother" in Kinshasa: Liliane Davin
Liliane, who constantly smiles and laughs, is originally from Belgium but has now lived in DRC for 35 years. She knows everybody and has experienced a thing or two in her lifetime! Her husband passed away 4 years ago and since then the house felt too big. So she now rents out 3 rooms and includes various types of service. You can even pay to have all meals included and free access to liquor. It comes with wifi, a garden pool, 2 dogs, a parrot and a monkey! It's great!
Andrew is currently out on a project so I haven't seen him yet. But we've been writing a lot since October when I first hoped to cross. Yes! Remember that? I originally tried to get my visa and cross before October 10th to make it 99 countries in 2 years flat. That should tell you something about the immense setbacks we have faced in Central Africa. Some of you know! ;) Well, I'm here know and DRC became country 101 instead.
Andrew is due to arrive today, Friday. We plan to go out for some local food and beer tonight and tomorrow we will venture out to see the indigenous Bonobo apes. If you have never heard about Bonobos before then look it up. It's quite extraordinary.
Kinshasa is the capital city and home to over 15,000,000!
So I'm probably leaving for Angola Sunday or in the beginning of next week. "WHAT?!? But you didn't see the country at all?!!" Yes, I know...and that brings me back to talking about size. But before I get cracking on that I can just mention that Francesca, a friend of Andrews, invited me to celebrate Iranian New Year. Yes, I know, maybe not a super Congolese experience, but it was great anyway. Her flatmate, Reza, is from Iran and had arranged for 3 small outdoor fires which we had to jump across while saying: "Red to me, yellow to you". Or for the advanced in the group you could also say it in Farsi which is technically more correct ;) In reality there were also supposed to be 7 small fires but there was no need to get excessive. Afterwards we all went up to their flat and enjoyed a delicious home cooked meal with great conversations.
I was also fortunate to be invited to see a movie about Dr. Denis Mukwege and meet him afterwards. An unbelievable man!!! Have a look: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Denis_Mukwege
Expat life is to be found in all capitals and in many cases it completely dominates certain areas in the city. Restaurants, shops, entire buildings are in place to cater for the expats. In DRC a large part of the expat base is tied up into humanitarian work and various NGOs including wildlife conservation.
DRC has an population of over 80,000,000!!
For me the headline of DRC is: ADVENTURE!! You may have read Tintin and about his ventures here? And Tintin was invented by the Belgium artist Georges Remi...and now that I have brought up Belgium I might as well add that this colossal country was in 1885 given to King Leopold II of Belgium as his "private property". The extravagance and cruelty of cultures past knows hardly no end. But that too is tied up into adventure! Because Belgium exploration was first led by Sir Henry Morton Stanley who we know from once having said: "Doctor Livingston I presume?" Start reading about that and you'll never go to bed!! But actually, to go back to the beginning you would have to go at least 80,000 years, back because that's were the earliest human history originates in Congo. And they weren't called Adam and Eve ;) We know about this from the 1988 discovery of Semliki harpoon at Katanda. Let me just add to this that the Roman Empire was at its high 2,000 years ago and the pyramids are only a few thousand years older.
Anyway; volcanos, jungle, mountains, gorillas, war, conflict, cannibalism, Pygmy tribes, 200 ethnic groups, 50 local languages...this place has got it all. And don't forget Jean-Patrice Keka Ohemba Okese, also known as the “African Einstein”, who is running the space program, while building rockets that can reach outer space!
Naturally you also have all the internet, smartphones, sitcoms, clubs, families, traffic, universities, supermarkets and everything else which ordinary people get caught up in. But that's not so adventurous to talk about ;)
But let's get into size for a bit. Because Sometimes SIZE DOES MATTER
What are you supposed to do about colossal countries with a project like this? Volcanos are currently erupting in Virunga, in the east of DRC. It's violent and on the news! But it is also 2,000 km (1,242 mi) away from where I am!! ;) DRC is a HUGE country. I will try to put that into perspective for you:
If you are from Denmark then your beautiful country fits inside DRC 54 times! DRC is 2,344,858 km2 (905,395 mi2)!
If you are from USA, China or Canada, then DRC fits inside your country 4 times!! And since you already live in a colossal country you probably know what I'm talking about ;)
France fits inside DRC 3.6 times while DRC fits inside Brazil 3.6 times :)
The Australians have room for DRC 3.2 times! And Greenland is roughly the same size as DRC...although with far more snow, and far less trees :)
I worked out that Russia, the all time big fish, has room for DRC more than 7 times!! WOW!!
Now to round this off; I'm visiting 203 countries. By averaging 7 days in each I will be away from home for 4 years. If I was to average a month in each then it would take me 16 years to reach home! So basically, colossal countries are no natural fit for a Saga like this ;)
Now im on "the right side" of the Congo River.
And get this: With 203 countries on my list I'm just below halfway now, since I've "already" visited 101 countries. This of course means that when I soon reach Angola that will be country 102, which also means that I will be past the halfway marker...and THAT means I will finally be in my way home!!