The Republic of Congo
Beginning my fourth month in Africa with country number six. The Republic of Congo.
I’m no expert in Gorilla language but I’m pretty sure he was saying, ” Welcome to the Congo, Rich.”
I’ve just driven across the border of the Congo into the Congo. Yes there’s two Congos next door to each other. I’ve just left the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and entered the Republic of the Congo, also known as Congo-Brazzaville. The DRC is several times larger than the RC and used to be called Zaire. Both are French speaking.
Although I enjoyed my time in the DRC and was in no hurry to leave, it’s a pleasant change to be in Brazzaville.
In Kinshasa I was asked for money and food fifty times a day and a couple of my traveling buddies were robbed. There’s a huge obvious divide between the 1% filthy rich and the 99% desperately poor. The population is not happy, the people are all on edge and aggressive. It’s a totally dysfunctional, misgoverned and broken country that continues to slowly decompose into the rubbish ridden forest that supports it.
So far the Republic of Congo is a complete contrast. The most obvious thing is how relaxed the people are. It’s like they go out of their way to be as different to their neighbours as possible.
I’m spending four days in Brazzaville to organise my Nigerian Visa, which I’ll need in August and to get permits for a couple of the Northern Congo National Parks, which I’m planning to visit over the next week or so on route to Cameroon.
Brazzaville has to be the quietest capital city in Africa. There’s not a huge amount of traffic or noise, people are friendly, there’s very little crime and with a healthy splattering of patisseries and side walk cafes it has a very French feel to it.
My day in Brazzaville.
Today I had a late breakfast, did some laundry, wandered down to the local patisserie for a cake and ice-cream morning tea. Did some research into some national parks in the Northern Congo I’ll be visiting next week and caught a taxi to Mama Wati’s cafe on the riverfront where I had a plate of Congo River Prawns in Cognac Sauce for lunch with a gin and tonic. Caught a wooden canoe to the sandbar in the middle of the river and had a couple of beers before a game of beach volleyball. Hung around on the sandbar till after sunset, watching the bridge and city light up. Taxi back into the city for dinner at a local restaurant. Finish dinner 10pm and walk home through the city.
Five days ago the above sandbar was underwater. With each dry season it’s exposed for a few months and the locals set up a beach bar on the river.
I really enjoyed Brazzaville. It’s been my favourite African city so far and I could have stayed longer but after four days and with my newly acquired Nigerian visa it was time to head north towards the northern border town of Ouesso (pronounced way-so).
Northern Congo Republic is one of the least visited and least developed areas in all of Africa and one of the last examples of untouched wilderness left in the World. It’s home to 50,000 Gorillas, one of Africa’s largest Elephant populations, 500 bird species, remote villages and home to several pygmy tribes.
We first drove north to the Bateke Plateau, a surreal grassland landscape that’s looks more like Scotland than Africa.
We drove across a section of the plateau and then descended towards the Lefini River and the 440km sq Lesio-louna Gorilla Sanctuary adjoining Lefini NP, which is home to between 50-60 Western Lowland Gorillas.
I travelled two hours down the rainforest lined Lefini River, passing the occasional patches of savanna with the plateau escarpment enticingly nearby.
On one of the river bends we found a family of Hippos with three babies. As we were in a small boat we were careful not to get too close as an angry Hippo could of easily over-turned us. White-throated Blue Swallows, Brazza’s Martin’s, Horus Swifts and Black Saw-wings accompanied us on the river as we made our way along.
Further on we found a large male 20yr old Gorilla in the riverside rainforest. We sat and watched for a while and as he walked out onto the nearby savanna for better views. Unlike the Mountain Gorillas of East Africa, this guy wasn’t habituated to tourists and wasn’t happy with our presence, so we moved on.
I also climbed to the top of the escarpment and did a few rainforest walks finding a colony of Veillot’s Black Weavers, a few De Brazza’s Monkeys.
From the Lesio-louna and Lefini area we headed north towards Ouesso, across the equator and into the wet season.
I arrived at Ouesso on Sunday the 16th, which was the day of the National election and the town was closed. Police and army allowed no one to enter and exit the town, so we back tracked to a camp on the edge of Odzala National Park and spent the day there. I hired a pirogue (wooden canoe) and did a trip down the local river.
Ouesso sits on the Cameroon/Congo Republic border and is the southern gateway to a huge area of national park which extends across three countries, the other being the Central African Republic (CAR).
The first morning in town I went to the local jetty and hired a pirogue. We spent the day travelling north up the river towards the CAR border and visiting two Baka Pygmy villages.
After a day on the Sangha River it was time to depart Ouesso and the Congo across the river and into my next country….. Cameroon.
Over the next week I’ll spend a few days in Lobeke National Park, Cameroon’s portion of the Sangha Tri-nation National Park area. From there I’ll head to the capital Yaounde and then onto Limbe and Mount Cameroon, the highest mountain in West Africa. Hopefully I’ll arrive in Limbe around the 26th July.
Bye for now.