Hear about travel to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) as the Amateur Traveler talks to Chris and Sasha Rosencranz about their recent trip to this African country. The DRC is located along the south bank of the Congo River. This large country used to be the Belgian Congo.
The DRC has been the site of a great deal of conflict over the last century. Of the regions in the east where there have been rebels, Chris says, “they’re a long way from the capital, and it doesn’t really feel unstable in any way that would affect any tourists in the capital [Kinshasa] that we know of. You will certainly hear stories. If you ask the embassy there, they will certainly tell you all sorts of reasons to be careful, but we found it to be friendlier and the easier of the two capitals [Kinshasa and Brazzaville].”
“They have a lot of nice national parks. There are not that many tourists, and they have a lot of wildlife. If you don’t wish to go to the interior of the country, there is a famous bonobo [monkey] sanctuary close to Kinshasa. We call them the hippies of the monkey world because they are absolutely non-aggressive, and they’re very friendly, and even if they have any conflicts, they solve them by having intercourse. It’s barely an hour outside the city and easy to visit. You need to have a 4×4 because the roads are bad.”
“Inevitably, you are going to come into Kinshasa. There are a lot of international carriers coming in, and we found the cheapest of them to be Turkish Airlines. It is quite a chaotic airport. I think checking in to leave is more of a hassle because there are all sorts of mysterious taxes and fees to pay. I think the place to stay [in Kinshasa] is the Boulevard du 30 Juin which is kind of the Champs-Élysées of Kinshasa.”
Chris and Shasha also discuss more ambitious trips like sailing up the Congo River. They took the ferry from Kinshasa to Kisangani, which was a month-long journey (or only a week on the fast boat).
Chris was previously on the Amateur Traveler, talking about the Republic of the Congo as well.
Travel to the Republic of the Congo – Episode 385
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Virunga National park
Lola Ya Bonobo
Kinshasa National Museum
Congo Travel and Tours
Fleuve Congo Hotel
Upemba National Park
Musee D’Orsay Photography
Sarah’s Must Visits
Thailand requires the Amateur Traveler
Chris Christensen: Amateur Traveler, Episode 433. Today the amateur traveler talks about night life and gorillas and a slow boat up the Congo River as we go to the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Chris Christensen: Welcome to the Amateur Traveler, I’m your host Chris Christensen, back from a week off. This episode of the Amateur Traveler is again, sponsored by BloggerBridge.com. If you’re looking to connect with content creators, then check out BloggerBridge.com. It will help you find people near you, it will help you find people in particular niches, and it will help you keep track of work they’re doing for you, bloggerbridge.com.
Chris Christensen: I’d like to welcome to the show Chris and Sasha Rosencranz from Voyage Brands. They’ve come to talk to us about the DRC. Chris and Sasha, welcome to the show.
Chris Rosencranz: Hey, Chris.
Sasha Rosencranz: Hi, Chris.
Chris Christensen: And Chris, it’s your second time on this show, and last time we talked about the other Congo, so when I say the DRC, we mean what?
Chris Rosencranz: We’re talking about the former Belgian Congo, or the Democratic Republic of Congo, so on the south side of the river, and the larger of the nations.
Chris Christensen: Excellent. And this is obviously the more democratic of the two, from the name, right?
Chris Rosencranz: Yeah, I mean, they’re also remarkably democratic, it’s just hard to commend them all.
Chris Christensen: I kid. We actually, last time we talked about the Republic of Congo, we said the DRC was a little less, let’s say, stable than the Republic of Congo. Is that still the case?
Sasha Rosencranz: Mostly, I never felt like really threatened while I was there. And I think people were even friendlier than people in the Republic of Congo. And people really did smile. And actually, all the news about Congo, about the DRC, they are never really positive. They talk only about the conflicts, and I don’t know, about the minerals and everyone is fighting. But it’s all about the eastern side. Western side was quite fine, so I don’t know. Actually, I was afraid, it was my first time and I was afraid of going there. But I felt fine, and I was… we never really encountered any problems with people trying to…
Chris Rosencranz: Even hassle us.
Sasha Rosencranz: Yeah.
Chris Rosencranz: Even on the other side of the river, there are a lot of people wheeling and dealing and just trying to rip you off as almost what happened to you anywhere, but…
Chris Christensen: And you say the other side of the river, the Congo River divides north and south. North of it is the Republic of Congo which we talked about in Episode 385, and the south would be the DRC.
Chris Rosencranz: Yeah. Kinshasa and Brazzaville are the two closest capitals to each other in the world. I mean, in terms of stability, for a little bit of context, John Kerry was just visiting Kinshasa, and there was sort of a definitive defeat of some of the rebels in the east. I don’t know how definitive that actually was, but they’re a long way from the capital. And it doesn’t really feel unstable in any way that would effect any tourists in the capital that we know of. I mean, you will certainly hear stories. If you ask the embassy there, they’ll tell you all sorts of reasons to be careful, but we found that to be quite a friendlier and I would say the easier of the two capitals. There’s certainly more to do.
Chris Christensen: Okay. And why should someone go to the Democratic Republic of Congo?
Sasha Rosencranz: Well, they have a lot of nice national parks and there was not that many tourists. There was a lot of wildlife. If you don’t wish to go into the interior of the country, like there is a very famous Bonobo sanctuary close by to Kinshasa, very close to Kinshasa.
Chris Christensen: I’m sorry, I missed, what kind of sanctuary?
Sasha Rosencranz: Bonobo.
Chris Rosencranz: Bonobo.
Sasha Rosencranz: Bonobo.
Chris Christensen: I don’t know what we’re talking about.
Chris Rosencranz: Okay.
Sasha Rosencranz: Well, these are the monkeys and they are the closest relatives to the human by DNA. Well, we call them the hippies of the monkey world because they absolutely are non-aggressive and they are very friendly. And all the conflicts… like even if they have any conflict, they solve by having an intercourse. I don’t know I should…
Chris Rosencranz: There’s a special group of primates called the Bonobos and they’re only found in DRC. And the reason they say is because they can’t swim and so they evolved on the east and/south side of the Congo River and they can never get out of the DRC, because to go to any other countries out of the equatorial rainforest, they’d have to cross the river. So that’s why they only live there. And they’re the most identical to humans in DNA. So, there’s a very, very famous sanctuary there. And there’s quite a few tourists, apparently, who go just to visit the sanctuary. They discovered new groups further up the river in different branches and different tributaries. So they look quite human. It’s a remarkable experience. And it’s barely an hour outside the city and very easy to visit, really in a very natural and wild setting.
Sasha Rosencranz: You need to have a 4X4 because the road is pretty bad, it’s unpaved. And if it’s rained before, it’s very slushy and you can get stuck.
Chris Rosencranz: Yeah. In a relative way, Botswana has more paved roads in it than all of the DRC, despite the comparative size of the two countries.
Chris Christensen: Interesting. And how would you approach the DRC? Where would you stay? What kind of itinerary would you recommend?
Chris Rosencranz: I would say, inevitably, you would come into Kinshasa. There’s a whole lot of international carriers going in there nowadays. We found probably the cheaper of them all would usually be Turkish Airlines. They’ve extended their routes all over Africa. It’s really, really impressive, the size of their network. And from there, it’s quite a chaotic airport. I could probably tell you, I would say, one of the most chaotic airports you’ve ever seen.
Sasha Rosencranz: Yeah, I would say so.
Chris Rosencranz: I wouldn’t say there are any personal security issues there. It’s just really, really funny, because it’s just kind of a free for all and there’s a million people doing a million different processes. But…
Chris Christensen: You talk about it being chaotic. Now, I recall flying through Nairobi and what chaos looked like there was we had to somehow pick up our luggage from one airline and take it and find the place that we needed to take it and get it into the other airline so it would make our plane, and there were people who made a living, basically, just handling the chaos of the airport. Are we talking about that kind of chaos, or what are we talking about?
Chris Rosencranz: Yeah, they may be in a similar way. I think checking in at Tel Aviv is a little bit more of a hassle, because there’s all sorts of mysterious taxes and fees to get paid and then while you stand in line, you have to hand off your bags to five different groups of people in front of you just before you get to the check in. You’re never ever allowed to talk to the airline until you actually get on the plane. You have to deal with the airport authority exclusively until you reach the tarmac. And so it can be a little bit intimidating, yeah.
Sasha Rosencranz: If you leave the country before you get to the airport, be prepared to pay some money to even enter the airport. And it’s actually illegal, it’s just the CTO of the airport…
Chris Rosencranz: It’s an exit visa.
Sasha Rosencranz: Yeah, they impose some sort of taxes, which are different every year. So the amount is usually different. Last time we paid about $60 per person just to be able to enter the airport.
Chris Christensen: Yeah, well, I’ve seen that. Even Australia has fees to leave the country, which caught us by surprise before. So it’s not as unusual as I’d like.
Chris Rosencranz: Yeah. You’ll head in, it’s about an hour into the city. I think the place to stay is certainly, it’s called Truntejun [SP] or 30th June Street. It’s kind of the Chamzi Lizei [SP] of Kinshasa. There’s all sorts of stuff going on there. You can take a bus either way, a public one or you can get a taxi. Those costs, respectively, either more than 50 cents or $5.00, right?
Sasha Rosencranz: It depends.
Chris Rosencranz: Yeah, I think, in the city, but a general ride within maybe a few miles would cost you 50 cents on a really cramped bus. And then a taxi is where you get the whole thing yourself and it’s tinted windows usually, is about $5.00. I think our choice of hotel was just anybody. It’s called Leon Hotel, like lion. They’re right under the Ministry of Economics and Finance which is kind of the most central location in the city. And then, the largest building which you can see from Brazzaville is this big brown former building of Gecamines, the state mining company, is right over 30th June Street. And also, where we think is the best bar and kind of restaurant in town, a Brazilian barbecue place called Tucanos, like a tucan as well. And I just think there’s some phenomenal night life and it’s also really, pretty, pretty cheap to eat and feels pretty fine to walk even at night.
Chris Christensen: And you hinted at the fact that the names were in French. I’m assuming that’s the Belgian influence. Is that the predominant language you were interacting in or what is the language situation in the DRC?
Sasha Rosencranz: Well, they have their local languages, but mostly Lingala, and the Kikwango. Well, I don’t speak much of these languages, I just know mbote which means hello or something like that. In between them, they speak French mostly. And we sometimes met people who could speak English. I think it’s because of their past friendship DRC and the United States or something like that.
Chris Rosencranz: They have always kind of looked up to America, which is surprising to learn. The U.S. Dollar is in use everywhere in the DR Congo. So, you can use dollars to pay for everything, even abilities. And furthermore, there was a NATO base in the strip facing the ocean. Apparently, anyone of any political note in the Republic of Congo, the French part, speaks some Russian, too. Cause there was a Moscow Cold War stronghold at Angola. [Inaudible 00:10:10] it was also in the civic union. Unfortunately, we also ended up propping up some people like Mobutu and some not so commendable behavior, but this was the Cold War front. And NATO and the U.S. heavily supported the DR Congo and even a little bit prior to that, some of the uranium for the Hiroshima bombs. Most of the uranium mines for the atomic bombs used against Japan also came from DR Congo. So there’s really, really old ties between American and there to this day.
Chris Christensen: And you mentioned the strip. So as I recall on the map, we’re talking about a country that’s almost entirely land locked with a little strip of coast line and that’s what you’re referring to as the strip?
Chris Rosencranz: Yeah. There’s probably a word for that. It’s like a little finger out to the ocean, and it has Angola to the south which is a very very hard border to cross. And so you can’t really go over land that way. There’s other places to go, but that region stretching out is called Bas-Congo, like B-A-S-Congo or Bas-Congo. If you take a bus, or you take a 4X4 from Kinshasa to the west, you’ll go by these huge waterfalls called the Zongo Falls, which are really spectacular and they can make a good weekend trip from Kinshasa. There’s a lodge there called Seli Lodge. You get a bit better rates with all these things if you use a tour operator in advance.
But Congo, they have a lot of colonial Belgian history, and some more modern history like there is a train line built to straddle the cataracts on the river because as the river flows between the ocean and Matadi, which is the ocean port of the DRC, is navigable. But then, it turns into really, really, really ferocious waterfalls and cataracts and it’s completely impossible for a ship to pass.
Chris Christensen: Okay.
Chris Rosencranz: These are really mean waterfalls. If your readers look up Livingstone Falls, names after Stanley- Livingston, and you take a peak, they look more like Victoria Falls. They’re really, really, really big. And there’s all sorts of these things all the way between Kinshasa and Matadi. So it’s impassable. So what the Belgians tried to do was build a railway, which still exists to this day. I mean, everyone of course, the transport between the two cities, they take the bus or 4×4 these days and you can get to Matadi and you can see the [inaudible 00:12:25] of Stanley, who, apparently, he was not a very nice guy despite all his fame. I mean, he was one of the worst Europeans, they say, ever visited the Congo, according to Congolese history. However, there’s a lot of monuments named after him all over the place. And Kinshasa itself which was a rubber trading post, which is now a really new city of something like 18 million in the surrounding area. So it’s like a mega-city in the tune of almost — most of it’s a slum, but there’s certainly a quarter in the downtown and some really big skyscrapers and a lot of international people there nowadays.
Chris Christensen: Okay. And now, I interrupted you when you were talking about what else to do in the capital. So let’s get back to that.
Sasha Rosencranz: Well, there’s some museums that you can visit. There’s a national museum, where there is an exposition of animals that you can find in the Democratic Republic of Congo. There’s some cultural artifacts and some historical…
Chris Rosencranz: It’s also on the side of Mobutu’s palace, overlooking the two capitals. So it’s a spectacular location that after he was deposed, they made it into a museum. And there’s the Avenue, what did you call it, the Avenue de Turiste, Tourist Avenue, which is kind of like a Pacific Coast Highway of Kinshasa, which goes along the river, and it’s a really really beautiful place to see the river, too.
Sasha Rosencranz: You can also see the cataracts, the rapids on the River Congo.
Chris Rosencranz: Yeah, really cool.
Sasha Rosencranz: And you can actually have a nice dinner or lunch there. We’ve seen a lot of experts having lunch or snack or dinner there, and it’s a beautiful view and you can see the other side. You can see the Republic of Congo, you can see the Brazzaville and its buildings. It’s just really a nice place to be. And some people swim there. We would not recommend doing that, because it’s kind of dangerous and because the Congo River is very powerful and strong river.
Chris Rosencranz: The strongest in the world.
Sasha Rosencranz: Yes. So you should be careful. You might just be…
Chris Rosencranz: It’s the strongest, deepest, fastest river in the world, and particularly there, exactly that part. So there’s a beach to boat near that place where Diogo Cao, he’s a Portuguese navigator. He and his crew, they portaged the boat around the cataracts and they got back in the river to try to navigate further upstream. Because between Kinshasa and Kisangani, which is about one month away by river, it’s nothing but perfectly navigable river with collectively tens of thousands of kilometers of navigable tributaries, just like a build in distribution network.
Chris Christensen: And let me make sure that I got you correct there with the units. One month away?
Chris Rosencranz: One month. Yeah. You can make it in a fast boat by one week, but as the public ferry goes, which I took about five years ago, which I will certainly never do again, it takes about three weeks to a month to get between Kisangani, which is the last navigable river city on the Congo River to the east before you start getting into Rwanda, Uganda, etc, and Kinshasa, which is the capital. And so the river bends, but there’s lots of other smaller tributaries which will lead to villages and sometimes just a bush. Between Kinshasa and Kisangani, this is all extremely navigable, one of the most navigable rivers in the world. So it was perfect distribution network which is why the Europeans, I suppose, were also in love with it at the time.
There’s actually quite a lot of other stuff to do in and outside Kinshasa. You can take a river cruise. You can ask around town, or use a tour operator and they can take you, for a day or a weekend. And there’s several places to stay. There’s a place called Safari Beach, Kinshasa with bungalows and you can have barbecues and you can swim in the river and such. You can see fishermen, local life, lots of boat traffic. There’s a place called Bombo-Lumene, which used to be full of game and lots of large mammals, but the person in charge of conservation, he sold off the rights to hunt them and now they’re all gone, unfortunately. So the first and closest national park to the capital is now — there’s nothing there except some huge fish with teeth in the river. So it’s not… but people still like going there.
Chris Christensen: So you won’t be swimming there either.
Chris Rosencranz: Yeah, unfortunately.
Chris Christensen: Now, you have been to this portion of Africa, now, this is your third trip, at least?
Chris Rosencranz: It depends on what you’d define as Western Africa. I think I’ve been to the Congo about five times, now. The longest I spent there was about five years ago, when I was just a backpacker. This time we spent about a spring there, so about two months.
Chris Christensen: What surprised you this time? You’ve been to the area, you think you know it.
Chris Rosencranz: I would say that it’s on a path to improvement and modernity, and there’s lights and bling and buzz going up everywhere. We heard that it’s getting worse and it was [inaudible 00:16:57]. We met some really cool South African helicopter pilots. They said they flew all over Africa, all over the world, Kinshasa was more scary to them than Afghanistan and such. We were really creeped out, and then we got there, and it was… man, we really liked it and stuff, we really liked it. You can go to malls, you can go to… and all sorts of great night life and cafes. You can walk around at night and feel a lot more secure than you used to. And it seems like they have moved up where there’s more options available and different consumer goods and items and even educational opportunities for people. The Chinese are building roads all over the place and major arteries and more of the interior’s going to be linked within the next few decades and such. I felt it was actually a bit more stable and safe and is on a good path.
Chris Christensen: It reminds me of experiences I’ve had of going to either third world countries or a less developed portions of countries, and the first time there being surprised by the poverty. And then second time there, getting used to that and then starting to notice this guy’s got a new shop and this guy’s adding on to his house. Are you seeing it getting better because you have eyes to see it, because you’ve been there a number of times? What would my response be, I guess, is part of my question.
Chris Rosencranz: I think you would actually find it a bit further along than even major… Some of the other cities in Africa, which get more visitors or get more press, you’d find Kinshasa a little further along than them even. If you head to Cameroon, or a lot of people go to Lagos or Nairobi, etc.
Chris Christensen: I had a friend who was just in Lagos.
Chris Rosencranz: Yeah, hopefully, they picked up a bowl while they were there.
Chris Christensen: Yeah.
Chris Rosencranz: Yeah, I think, Kinshasa, it almost looks like, at night, it almost looks like an Asian capital some places, lots of lights flashing everywhere, impressive huge new skyscrapers, and there’s a lot of investment in the hotel sector, a lot of options there. And it seems like there is enough stability for people to build long term businesses. Yeah, it’s not like there’s cut and run shacks and wheeler dealers, like… in the east of Congo there used to be, I’ve seen before, kind of temporary cities where people don’t really plan to stay there for at least more than a year or so.
Chris Christensen: Chris, that’s also where there was, as you said, more conflict.
Chris Rosencranz: Yeah, exactly. So why would you invest so much other than to make a quick or relatively quick buck. So but Kinshasa seems to provide a little bit better umbrella, maybe because it’s removed from distance or maybe because the whole country is getting a bit better. But with such a diffuse large place, it’s hard for me to invariably say. I’m not an expert or work for the state department or anything, so I’m sure they’d have a better idea.
Chris Christensen: The question we usually ask, when did you feel closest to home? Most familiar, most Western, maybe, and when did you feel furthest from home? This is not Kansas.
Sasha Rosencranz: It’s going to be the food, actually, because there was a fast food place close by to our hotel.
Chris Rosencranz: You could buffalo wings every day.
Sasha Rosencranz: Yes.
Chris Christensen: Okay.
Sasha Rosencranz: And this is the closest I felt to the Western world, in general, because the food was familiar. And it was sandwiches and pizzas and nice breads, actually, really nice breads. And yes, that was, for me that was the closest I felt.
Chris Christensen: Okay, and then the opposite, the furthest, most unfamiliar.
Sasha Rosencranz: Every time I walk out of the hotel, I felt like I wasn’t anywhere close…
Chris Rosencranz: Yeah.
Sasha Rosencranz: … to Europe or Russia or United States, because I was different, I was white, and I stood out.
Chris Rosencranz: Yeah, you stand out.
Sasha Rosencranz: I felt like I wanted to get some tan or something just not to so white. Well, yeah.
Chris Christensen: I’ve told the story on this show before that when we were in Tanzania, that one of the members of our party was separate from us, and he was able to find us just because people would see him and point to where the other white people went. You’re with those people. So yeah, I completely…
Chris Rosencranz: Yeah, it’s pretty funny. They actually seemed pretty used to seeing foreigners. I mean, there’s lots of Chinese and Lebanese and French there. And at any given time when we were walking on the street and most of the areas were downtown, you’d see other foreigners. The time I felt like, kind of unnerved and farthest from home, there’s a huge market near the river lodge where you would buy tickets to go down to Kisangani and stuff, and I remember turning up there and other places like that years ago. But it’s just, there’s hordes and masses of humanity is walking. And it’s not a mess, but everyone doesn’t mean you any harm, they’re saying hi and such and it’s pretty cool. But it’s like, there’s millions of people living off this river and thriving here and such, and you feel really, really small in that place because it’s the central focus point for the river dock of Kinshasa.
Chris Christensen: This last time you spent two months there.
Chris Rosencranz: Yeah.
Chris Christensen: What’s your best tip for fitting in? Obviously, you can’t work on the tan, so what’s your best tip for getting around?
Chris Rosencranz: Have some help before you go. Do some research, reach out to some third party services or some other expats there.
Chris Christensen: So how would we do that? Where are you doing your research or what did you research before you went?
Sasha Rosencranz: I sometimes used couch surfing, for example, as there are some expats who are active. It’s not as big as, for example, in America or Europe or maybe China, but you can ask them questions and they will try to help you.
Chris Christensen: So, the tip there is that couch surfing is not just a place to go when you want to sleep on someone’s couch, but just a way to connect to locals also.
Sasha Rosencranz: Yes. And also, I think that Lonely Planet’s country forum helps because people are very active there and I, a few times I helped, I answered some questions myself. Well, it depends on the question, because sometimes they are really specific and not everyone knows, but it’s worth a shot, honestly.
Chris Christensen: Okay, excellent.
Chris Rosencranz: There’s sections, like GoCongo.com and CTT, Congotravelandtours.com work together. They kind of answer everything even if they’re not selling you a tour, and they seem to be pretty knowledgeable even about the river and the city.
Chris Christensen: So what kind of things did you pick up from your research that other people should be aware of before they go?
Chris Rosencranz: I would think that the selection of hotels and the fact that you don’t really have to pay for a hotel before you get there. It would probably be better to arrange immigration assistance at the airport before you got there, because they can actually provide something like where the immigration knows you’re coming and so they kind of smooth your way through. You don’t only have someone picking you up with a sign, but they’re actually waiting for you inside immigration and everything kind of just cruises on through.
Chris Christensen: For a reasonable fee?
Chris Rosencranz: Yeah. I would, yeah, it’s certainly under $150 or so. And either the airport transfer is going to cost you $70 to $100 anyway. So it’s not like you’re going to get away with much better. Also, I think that you should just relax a bit and plan to get your legs the first two days. I think a lot of your conceptions will drop and you’ll find if you happen to be there to explore, you’ll find all the information you need rather quickly, especially with the help of hotels and tour operators. But if you’re there to do business, it’s actually a lot easier than other places in Africa, and people have a little bit better long term thinking than we’re expecting after some of the other African countries, and they seem motivated and they seem honest. They seem to be kind of positive about the future of their country.
Something you should not miss is if you head to the Fleuve Congo Hotel, this brand new Chinese built thing, it’s big monster managed by Kempinski Luxury Hotels. And you can see it from anywhere in either the cities, especially at night. You can go there for a drink. There’s no rooftop bar, but if you “accidentally” head to the 21st floor, and get off at the view lounge and lose your way, you have a spectacular view, and the staff certainly don’t mind, and you can chat with them for a while.
Chris Christensen: What do the guide books recommend that you didn’t think was worth the time?
Chris Rosencranz: The Mausoleum, right?
Chris Christensen: Mausoleum of the…?
Chris Rosencranz: Mao Zedong and Stalin. It’s like an embalmed or wax figure of themselves. So Kabila, I think against his will, they did that to him as well. So there’s a mausoleum for him there. There’s some other colossal buildings making a statement and such, and they’re not entirely interesting to see. There are some other historical sites that are better to see.
Chris Christensen: Like what?
Chris Rosencranz: There’s a place called a Gbadolite, Gbadolite, and that’s in the interior. It’s a jungle palace Mobutu built, which has kind of since receded into the weeds. The jungle has reclaimed it. In the city, somebody built a traffic robot, someone… and so it was some university thesis. A Congolese scientist, they built a robot that directs traffic in Kinshasa and it actually works really well. So it’s become famous there.
There’s so many different places to go out clubbing and see the night life, but one thing really remarkable about the capital is it’s famous in Africa for its music, but you won’t go there and find house music and the same old stuff you’d find in the clubs around the world from Europe to Asia and America. They really only like African music and especially their own music. And so you’ll probably dig it because it has a lot of rhythm and they’ve invented some really, really great artists and rhythm from time immemorial. So I think the music of Kinshasa and the Congo is amazing.
Chris Christensen: You were there for a couple months. Any memorable locals you met?
Chris Rosencranz: Yeah. There was a young guy. He’d done some time working in South Africa and around bringing back money to his family and such, and so there’s a young Congolese guy. He wanted very much to work in an international company or something, just to be part of the larger world. It seems like people are really anxious to be part of constructing something instead of just taking something. It was just really great to see. And all the managers or all the smallest shops to the biggest businesses and hotels, they would treat you like it was such a privilege to have you walk in the place. And so I really appreciate that.
Chris Christensen: In your opinion, the best time of year to go or the best day of year to go, a particular festival or something?
Chris Rosencranz: Just the dry season, which is May to September.
Chris Christensen: Okay.
Chris Rosencranz: You can do everything. You can go on safaris. You can go tiger fishing over the big fish. You can walk around without getting drenched. And even during the dry season, there’s spectacular thunder and lightning storms at night. I’m not sure why, maybe some…
Chris Christensen: So it’s the dryer season is what you’re saying.
Chris Rosencranz: Yeah, yeah.
Chris Christensen: Okay.
Sasha Rosencranz: It was also the road conditions are very bad in the DRC. And it’s better if you go in the dry season because you can just get stuck in the country, for example, if you’re traveling with your own car or if you’re traveling just yourself. You can fly there as well, and they have extensive flight routes, and pretty good airline companies, actually. It’s just, yeah.
Chris Rosencranz: You should talk about Kisangani and Gamba, real quick, which is almost a whole other country, but certainly worth the mention. The best time of year to do the Congo River, to traverse it is definitely right now, like July/August.
Chris Christensen: Okay.
Chris Rosencranz: Kisangani, which is the other end of the line, unfortunately, there’s no international flights that go there anymore, so you kind of have to start your journey in Kinshasa no matter what, or you have to drive in or get a private air into the place. Otherwise, Kisangani is the last stop on the river, not really remarkable in itself, it’s just a big ugly river town. But further feel of that, you run into a tour where all the pigmies live. There’s some national parks out that way which aren’t accessible because of the rebels at the moment, but Goma and Bukavu in the east. The governor of North Kivu has recently reopened Nyiragongo Volcano, which is one of the most spectacular hikes you can do in Africa. It’s like a live volcano that you can see at night. And there’s chock full of expats and foreigners living in Goma, Bukavu all the time and driving around. And it’s relatively safe and stable and such. And you can go tracking [inaudible 00:28:55], you can do some other activities from there.
However, between Goma and Bukavu, where the great lakes are which are very beautiful, and where the river is, there’s a lot of land you have to traverse. And besides a very uncomfortable long bus ride, it’s quite disconnected between those two regions and such. And so where the river ends, you kind of have to take to the land to get out to the other part of the Congo and eventually Uganda, Rwanda. It’s a very vast country.
For those coming from Zambia, it’s really, really stable and safe in the southeast. There’s a lot of copper mining and other sorts of mining down there. Lubumbashi is the second biggest city, which I’ve just been to once. But there not a whole lot of note, there’s Upemba National Park where you can see some animals and some very large waterfalls. But at the moment, there’s not much tourism going on, so it’s difficult to access any of them without a tour operator. And some of them, the animals have been over poached. So you have to travel for days and days and days before you see animals, because it just seems they over hunted them all, unfortunately. So that’s in the south east near Katanga and Lubumbashi.
So really, the star attractions of Congo, the thing that it has that nobody else has is really the Congo River which is a spectacular journey, very uncomfortable if you do it the public ferry way. I got to do that in my early 20s, but I would not recommend it to anybody. It’s not comfortable, not really safe, and not really air conditioned at all. Also, the gold mine and the volcano in the east are really a treasure. And everybody knows the Mountains of the Moon, everyone’s already out there. But that’s all the same region. Although where the gorillas are, the mountain gorillas are and the volcano, it’s really, really special out there as well.
Chris Christensen: Before I get to my last four questions, anything else people should know before they go to the Democratic Republic of Congo?
Sasha Rosencranz: I think you should just be really confident, just smile, because people do appreciate that. And also, I was trying not to take a lot of pictures there, because as far as I know, they don’t like their pictures to be taken. So if you want to take a picture of someone, you should ask first. They don’t like sudden, and they get very, very angry. In Republic of Congo, they might just ask you for money or something, but in the DRC, they are really, really superstitious and they might get very angry about that. So just be careful.
Chris Christensen: Good to know.
Chris Rosencranz: Apparently some of the people in the DRC, they think that taking their picture steals their soul. And they also, they hate going in the river if they don’t have to because they think that all the dead people from the wars reside in the river. And so they legitimately, some of them don’t want to take boats on the river and stuff, or they want to stay away because of that stuff. But by and large, I think we’ve been a bit sobering through this whole podcast. But as they say, chill out, it’s going to surprise you and there’s a lot to offer. Yeah, it’s not just because it’s one of the least visited places in Africa, there’s a lot of opportunity, and it’s probably going to have a bright future in our lifetime.
Chris Christensen: Well, to get to less sobering questions, you’re standing in the prettiest part of the DRC, where are you standing and what are you looking at?
Chris Rosencranz: Yeah, it’s going to be Virunga. That’s out in the east. Yeah, you can see a series of volcanoes, misty mountains, kind of… I don’t know, this is out of Michael Crichton’s Congo, just great. And it looks like you’re very, very far from home. And there’s spectacular lodges out there, too. I think the most pretty scenery is definitely the Goma region and the Congo River, and either one is going to be one of the best experiences of your life if you actually make it out there.
Sasha Rosencranz: Yeah, and also, when we were there, the volcano was closed, but apparently you can spend the night near the crater, and it’s lava you can see at night.
Chris Rosencranz: You can see the lava.
Sasha Rosencranz: It’s really great, I would love to go back there again.
Chris Christensen: Excellent.
Chris Rosencranz: Well, furthermore, you have the governor of the province just opened it this July, and so you can once again hike the volcano.
Chris Christensen: One thing that makes you laugh and say only in the Democratic Republic of Congo?
Chris Rosencranz: When the airport staff are going to go clean the airplane, the airlines, they actually have a little metal detector and they scan and they check the airport staff before they board the airplane to clean it, as if it’s like another security checkpoint. So I’ve never seen that before.
Chris Christensen: No, that’s new.
Chris Rosencranz: Have you heard of Sapeurs Chris?
Chris Christensen: No.
Chris Rosencranz: So I’m not even sure what it translates to, it’s a French word, but they’re Congolese men, who they spend almost all of the income they possibly can on a really, really crisp and fresh designer suit, like a top hat, sunglasses, great tie, and they walk with a swag, and their hobby is just to dress up, look really sharp and they saunter down the street. And they kind of just…
Chris Christensen: I’m looking at pictures here, and okay…
Chris Rosencranz: Yeah, and so they kind of have gatherings sometimes and sometimes there’s clubs that they meet on to see some music and such. But there’s people coming just to photograph the Sapeurs and such, and we certainly never heard of them before we got there. But it’s quite a phenomenon and it’s pretty cool. They can do a street walk like nothing I’ve ever seen.
Chris Christensen: Although, yes, according to Wikipedia, that’s their place in Brazzaville in Republic of Congo, but…
Chris Rosencranz: That’s what I thought.
Chris Christensen: Interesting.
Sasha Rosencranz: You see some of them in DRC as well. And generally, people like to dress up in this part of the country. So for example, if you want to do business, you have to dress up. People really appreciate when you take it seriously, so yeah.
Chris Christensen: Last two questions. Finish this thought. You really know you’re in the DRC when what?
Sasha Rosencranz: When people call you, there is, for the white person, I think it’s Lingala, they call you mwindo [SP]. And so, for example, when you walk in some neighborhood on the streets and there’s some little kid, they either call you mui indo, which means white, or they call you chinwa because there’s so many Chinese and they…
Chris Christensen: They think we look Chinese, oh, I see.
Sasha Rosencranz: They really think that we are Chinese, too, even though we’re white and they will call you chinwa sometimes, too.
Chris Christensen: If you had to summarize DRC in just three words, what three words would you use?
Chris Rosencranz: River.
Chris Christensen: Okay.
Chris Rosencranz: Volcanoes.
Chris Christensen: Okay.
Chris Rosencranz: Gorillas.
Chris Christensen: I believe you may be the first who chose three nouns, but thanks so much Chris and Sasha, telling us your love for the DRC. Now, you’ve got a new project coming up, but you’re not quite ready to announce it yet. Did you want to hint at it?
Chris Rosencranz: Yeah, I mean I’m not quite sure if there’s such a thing as a beta test of a cruise, but we work with a bit of the cruise industry and we’re developing a voyage that you can learn Spanish, as so many people are actively wanting to do in their life. So it’s a cruise that goes from Miami, and visits the Panama Canal, Galapagos Islands, Columbia, through Machu Picha, Padagonia, Rio, Buenas Aires, all these places and stuff. So it’s about a month. Not only that, but you get to have fun and learn 100 flat hours of Spanish courses on it. The idea is by the time you get off the ship, you’ve not only seen all these places you’ve always wanted to see, but you’re able to use the language and have fun and you know a bit of Spanish.
And since we haven’t really gotten up to speed totally, we’re playing around with the idea of offering a beta version of the cruise and giving, finding people on it for 5000 or 6,000, for a really, really cheap price for the whole month and just so they can tell us how to improve it and if they like it. They get the Spanish and the cruise for a good price and so we can actually prepare for the main launch of the program.
Chris Christensen: Excellent. And how should people get in touch with you if they’re interested?
Chris Rosencranz: You can send an email over at Chris on a ship, that’s email@example.com.
Chris Christensen: Excellent. Well, thank you both for coming back on the Amateur Traveler and sharing with us your love for Africa and, particularly, this time for the DRC.
Chris Rosencranz: Thanks, Chris.
Sasha Rosencranz: Thank you so much.
Chris Rosencranz: Catch you next time.
Chris Christensen: In news from the community. I heard from Cynthia, and Cynthia and I’ve had an interesting conversation, because she originally wrote in and talked about the episode we did on Paris, said the information about whether photography was allowed in the Musee d’Orsay was wrong. It turns out it must have changed since she’s been there. It’s certainly changed since I’ve been there, because I double checked on the website and they say no photography at all at the Musee d’Orsay in Paris.
I also heard from Sarah, who wrote and said greetings from Toronto. I discovered your podcast earlier this year and I’m really enjoying working my way through your archives. My list of must-visit countries is growing even longer thanks to you. My favorite episode so far had been the Windward Islands, Barbados is one of the places I love most, Panama, Vietnam and St. Helena. I really enjoyed the episode about your trip to Japan. I’ll be traveling to Japan next month, and your podcast inspired me to add Kamakura to my itinerary. I’ll let you know if I have any luck doubling my dollars after washing it at the Zeniarai Benten shrine. Looking forward to hearing more, Sarah. And Sarah, I absolutely recommend Kamakura. It’s just a short day trip from Tokyo, and I’m sure that you will love it.
The other interesting email I got last week was from the Thailand foreign ministry. It turns out, from now on, to get a position in the foreign ministry in Thailand, you’ll have to take an English proficiency exam. And yes, the Amateur Traveler, two episodes of the Amateur Traveler in particular, will be part of that exam. You’ll have to listen to them and then have a test on whether you comprehend them. They are not, strangely enough, an episode about Thailand or any place near Thailand, but one is about Yorkshire in England, and the other one is about narrow-boating the canals of England and Wales. I don’t know why they picked those episodes, but there you have it.
With that, we’re going to end this episode of the Amateur Traveler. We still have the space in the April 2015 trip to Morocco, so check that out at AmateurTraveler.com. Go to book travel. If you have any questions, feel free to send an email at host at amateurtraveler.com, or leave a comment on this episode at Amatuertraveler.com. You can also follow me on Twitter@chris2x, and as always, thanks so much for listening.
Transcription sponsored by JayWay Travel, specialists in Central & Eastern Europe custom tours.