I reached my destination in Congo. After three weeks of amazing and hard touring in the country, I am sitting in the passenger seat of a cab. My two fellow travelers sit in the back and we head for the center of Kinshasa. The bustling streets and the sheer size and good condition of the road leaves no doubt, we are in the capital. For it feels like a grotesque city if you just came from the deep jungle.
Electricity beams you up to heaven, light all night and even paved roads. After checking in at our hotel in the city center, we set out for a short walk through the near perimeter of the hotel next to the American embassy. It strikes me like a lightning. Huge supermarkets, fast food chains, shops and little restaurants from Asian to Lebanese. Everything in reach, but somehow still out of reach. The pricetags bare cryptic numbers and only rare tables on the shelf announce the real price in dollars. The prices are sky rocketing high: 100 grams of chocolate cost three to four US dollar, Nutella almost 15 USD and 10kg of dogfood 52 USD. I am definitely not willing to pay these prices even though all products are imported. UN-workers and diplomats are continually coming and going and push huge carts full of products head of them. A total affront to the poor people who have to live of five US dollars a day with a whole family.
Our promenade ends in an Asian restaurant next to the Chinese embassy, which thrones over the area with its sheer tallness. The menu is not even in French and we choose by pointing on a picture and asking where this delightful meal is on the menu. While we wait for the meal, that will turn me sick for the next days, I go through the guidebook and prepare the next day. Checking out the few sights in town. I prepare the others for a walk; a small walk and maybe a taxiride to cover all sights. And then food arrives. A small portion, for a horrendous price, the walk blends into the background. Even after darkness plunges the city into darkness, the streets are busy and well lit. We leave and find another restaurant, that even screens German soccer. I use the chance to book my flight to Ethiopia. At least I try. My visa card gets blocked in the process and only half a day later I receive a confirmation.
The next day breaks dawn and after three weeks of minimalist breakfast, I see a full table. I feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of food. On the roof, I watch the harbor, the river and even Brazzaville appears in the background. We prepare to set out and discover this enormous 11-million-people-city. The promenade takes us down to the harbor, passing the eastern train station and along the huge “Boulevard du 30 Juin”. Framed by skyscrapers, this boulevard seems to be on a Sunday depression: empty. We take a turn and head to the central market. And luckily it is Sunday. We blaze the trail through thousands of empty wooden stalls packed together. The trash is pilling on the ground and I don’t want to imagine the crowd pushing through here on a market day.
Just before we reach the “Stadium of the Martyrs”, we pass an old velodrom, now filled with dirt, to accommodate an soccer field. The tournament is at a high point when we enter and join the crowd. We watch one game and continue our walk. Just after passing the “Stadium of the Martyrs”, we stop for a coffee, well in a bakery shop, with no coffee, but with good pastries. Around the corner is the wholesale of the bakery. Mostly woman buy a basket full of bread, just to return to their neighborhood to sell it for a little bit more. At the presidential palace, we are forced to turn around by a roadblock. The sun is burning heavily and the turn very welcome. Close to the German embassy, we can finally reach the river bank. Something that is rare in Kinshasa. Brazzaville is just a stone’s throw away. The last highlight, except our red highlighted skin, is the Monument of Laurent Kabila. His tomb, in front of the national palace, is in a high security area and we pass through a military checkpoint where we have to present our passports. Luckily my copy is accepted as well. Surprisingly the area can be photographed without problems. Everywhere else in Congo I faced issues while taking photographs. Here even the military allows it without hesitation. A quite irritating fact. Back on the “Boulevard du 30 Juin”, we desperately look out for a place to buy something to drink. The Asian food from yesterday complains as well and I am happy to be back in the hotel a hour later.
The last day in Kinshasa starts lazy. As the bell rings to call for breakfast, we slowly head this way. We are still exhausted from yesterdays walk, but decide to go to the harbor to check out the old passenger boats we saw along the road coming from the airport. We ask our way around and are escorted to the general manager, where I present our wish to be shown around the shipyard. As he sends us back to get our passports, we can already have a look over the area. Back again and waiting to be shown around, we meet a young engineer who shows us videos and pictures of the first refurbished Congo passenger ship in years.
The journey is supposed to take two weeks up stream and one week back from Kisangani to Kinshasa. If I would not have seen the videos, I would have thought it is a joke. Sadly the marketing director requests a letter from DGM to let us further into the area. His excuse, the river is the border and no one without permission is allowed close. So we cancel our try and just enjoy the view from the multi-storey building over the shipyard. The new ship is even in sight as we return to the hotel. My two companions are about to fly back to Europe. I stay behind.
I have one more night before leaving the country. I have time to reflect the last days and weeks. But the full grasp of this experience will hit me later. It was a wonderful and hard experience to travel in this country. Friendly and natural people, out of reach of tourism; the genuine hospitality and the gaze facing forward after the last decades of troublesome history. Congo will stay in my mind as great country!
Crossing Congo – The moving Perspective
Crossing Congo – The Series:
Part 1 – Heartland
Part 2 – The East
Part 3 – Glowing Earth
Part 4 – Majestic Gorillas
Part 5 – The Flying Whistle
Part 6 – The Stream
Part 7 – Jungle Bumps
Part 8 – Equator Rocks
Part 9 – Capital Walks
Can’t wait for more?
Check out the German series of “Crossing Congo“!