Road Trip Journal - Democratic Republic of Congo Pt. 1

 
 View in the hills - Democratic Republic of Congo.

View in the hills - Democratic Republic of Congo.

The Democratic Republic of Congo is a vast country with the most beautiful landscapes and interesting people but it has problems and not just a few. One of those problems is that the roads are in horrible condition or just non-existent at all, which makes traveling around difficult to near impossible, especially when it rains.

On my last trip to Congo, I was commissioned to photograph the difficulties locals face to get access to healthcare. They often have to travel for hours or even days to visit a doctor. We went to the villages of Pai Kongila, Sia, Djuma and Kinzamba and to give you an idea; sometimes it took us a whole day to cover just 80 miles. What follows is a small collection of experiences we had on the road.

In a little shack by the river

We left Kikwit early in the morning for the first destination: Pai Kongila and even the quick stop at the supermarket before we left was memorable. An armed guard, an MC shouting promotions through a microphone, a manager who appeared to be Indian and a Congolese photographer trying to make money by taking people's passport picture. Anyways, we bought some cans of food, sausages and bread and off we went.

 Supermarket - Kikwit.

Supermarket - Kikwit.

 Checking luggage on the 4x4 between Kikwit and Pay Kongila.

Checking luggage on the 4x4 between Kikwit and Pay Kongila.

The first part of the journey wasn’t too bad. The dirt roads were in reasonable condition and it didn’t rain so our driver could hold a steady pace. After a few hours of being thrown around in the back of the 4x4 we arrived at a river. There were a few buildings scattered around and a barge slowly rolled in from the other side. It touched ground and of course there had to be this one impatient guy who tried to jump off before it came to a halt. He tripped and almost saw his leg disappear under the scraping bow of the sluggish metal beast that was still crawling up the river bank.

 Metal barge at the river crossing.

Metal barge at the river crossing.

Our guide took us to a small, sweaty shack to meet the guy in charge of the river crossing. I was still clicking away with my camera but he demanded me to stop. Barges are, like military installations, forbidden to photograph.

We were asked to show our passports and then there was a lot of writing and discussing while we were all sitting on a little stool like schoolkids waiting to be scolded by the headmaster. The heat in there was unbearable and I was sweating like a pig. I was really tempted to take some candid pictures but that would surely end our trip right there. A lot of discussing later we agreed on how much to bribe and we were allowed to cross the river. We arrived in Pai Kongila a few hours later.

Read part 2 here.

 Kids playing on the river bank.

Kids playing on the river bank.

 River crossing shack on the left.

River crossing shack on the left.

 

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