The DRC Part 2. - The Congo by River

This leg of the journey sees us uncertainly navigating the River Lulua and encountering more obstacles than we ever could have imagined.

The decision to travel down the River Lulua was made simply. We spotted it on the map and it fitted our requirements: it headed north, it wasn't too wide, and next to no information was available about it online. When we began our weeklong search for an adequate pirogue (the hollowed-out tree trunks traditional on Congolese rivers) we were bombarded with dire warnings of rapids, waterfalls, hippos and crocs. Put simply, we were told we would die...

Here are a few photos from our pirogue journey down the River Lulua -

This is blog 2 of a 3 part series covering a journey across The Democratic Republic of Congo. You can find the first blog here: The DRC Part 1. - Cycling to Sandoa

Map Key: The blue line marks the section of the River Lulua that we descended. The yellow marks the first part of the journey to the river were we cycled from Lusaka to Sandoa.

FIshermen gather vegetation to place in their fish nursery.

FIshermen gather vegetation to place in their fish nursery.

After previous experiences in Malawi with dugout canoes, we had learnt that they were not very stable so came up with this configuration in the hope of keeping us upright if we became unbalanced.

After previous experiences in Malawi with dugout canoes, we had learnt that they were not very stable so came up with this configuration in the hope of keeping us upright if we became unbalanced.

This, however, did not stop us becoming fully submerged in rapids. A new design was quickly needed.

This, however, did not stop us becoming fully submerged in rapids. A new design was quickly needed.

Sunrise through the reeds whilst Charlie makes the morning cup of tea on the fire.

Sunrise through the reeds whilst Charlie makes the morning cup of tea on the fire.

A local village helps us drag our pirogue overland to avoid a large 1km set of rapids.

A local village helps us drag our pirogue overland to avoid a large 1km set of rapids.

Bicycles onboard on our trusty pirogue that cost us $160 with only a few leaky holes.

Bicycles onboard on our trusty pirogue that cost us $160 with only a few leaky holes.

Scouting ahead to ascertain our chances of making it through the next set of rapids dry.

Scouting ahead to ascertain our chances of making it through the next set of rapids dry.

With a rope on the back and a long stick on the front we were able to guide the pirogue along the edge of rapids where banks weren't dense with forest.

With a rope on the back and a long stick on the front we were able to guide the pirogue along the edge of rapids where banks weren't dense with forest.

A fisherman draws in the dirt with a machete to outline the best route for tackling the next set of rapids.

A fisherman draws in the dirt with a machete to outline the best route for tackling the next set of rapids.

Early morning mist as we begin another day on the river. 

Early morning mist as we begin another day on the river. 

Charlie discusses with fishermen which side of the river we should take to avoid the worst of the rapids.

Charlie discusses with fishermen which side of the river we should take to avoid the worst of the rapids.

Charlie acts as anchor whilst I guide the the pirogue through a narrow set of offshoot rapids.

Charlie acts as anchor whilst I guide the the pirogue through a narrow set of offshoot rapids.

We spent the night with a couple of fishermen in their straw huts after they saw us descending the Tschala falls.

We spent the night with a couple of fishermen in their straw huts after they saw us descending the Tschala falls.

The morning's catch

The morning's catch

 Each evening, the fishermen set up numerous hooks, mostly tied to low tree branches and with frogs as bait. They return in the morning to collect their catch.

 Each evening, the fishermen set up numerous hooks, mostly tied to low tree branches and with frogs as bait. They return in the morning to collect their catch.

The main river crossing to Kapanga, one of the larger towns along the river.

The main river crossing to Kapanga, one of the larger towns along the river.

Fishermen come to check their lines next to our camp spot.

Fishermen come to check their lines next to our camp spot.

A small channel that avoided a set of rapids turned out to be a maze of fallen trees.

A small channel that avoided a set of rapids turned out to be a maze of fallen trees.

Several sections of the river consist of islands with numerous winding channels between them. In these parts, following the flow of the water is the only method of navigation.

Several sections of the river consist of islands with numerous winding channels between them. In these parts, following the flow of the water is the only method of navigation.

A fisherman takes a photo of Charlie.

A fisherman takes a photo of Charlie.

Getting some local assistance tackling the next set of rapids. Our several  leaks necessitated hourly bailing sessions in order to keep us afloat and our gear dry.

Getting some local assistance tackling the next set of rapids. Our several  leaks necessitated hourly bailing sessions in order to keep us afloat and our gear dry.

A few bits of advice from a fisherman about the next stretch of the river. After loosing our map on the second day, we were left never knowing where we were. The only knowledge we could garner was from talking in our basic Swahili and French to the fishermen on the river.

A few bits of advice from a fisherman about the next stretch of the river. After loosing our map on the second day, we were left never knowing where we were. The only knowledge we could garner was from talking in our basic Swahili and French to the fishermen on the river.

Charlie frantically bails out water before jumping out himself whilst we take on too much water during some rapids.

Charlie frantically bails out water before jumping out himself whilst we take on too much water during some rapids.

Tents up, fire started and time for our standard meal of pasta, potatoes and tomato paste.

Tents up, fire started and time for our standard meal of pasta, potatoes and tomato paste.

Fishermen offering us their fresh morning catch.

Fishermen offering us their fresh morning catch.

We came through many rapids dry. Some sank us and briefly dampened our spirits, but we had gone from utter amateurs to a well-drilled two man team in a pleasingly short time. We had effective routines for overcoming the various challenges we encountered. However, we finally reached a set of rapids that was vast, broiling and stretched for many hundred meters. We made the tough but sensible decision to continue by land. To that end, we were now landed on a remote river bank and needed to find a road. Some villagers led us part way on narrow footpaths. We were physically drained, peppered with infected wounds and Charlie seemed on the verge of collapsing into a tropical fever. We had to get to a town with medicine, and fast...

Follow me on InstagramTwitter and Facebook to keep updated for the next part of this trip:

The DRC Part 3. - Malaria, Typhoid and Trucks. 


Charlie has written a great piece on this part of the journey which you can find on his website, Charlie Walker Explore.

We were speeding towards a churning field of rapids. Boulders littered the wide waterway and each one threatened to undo us. We managed a couple of risky and unplanned 360 degree pirouettes between obstacles before the breaks became too high and we inevitably struck a rock. Water gushed over the sides and, in a desperate attempt to avoid the pirogue sinking, we leapt overboard. The fierce current dragged us unsympathetically over shallow rocks...
— www.charliewalkerexplore.co.uk

The DRC Part 1. - Cycling to Sandoa

The first leg of the trip takes us from Lusaka in Zambia to Sandoa in the South West of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

I first met Charlie on the road out of Cairo in Egypt towards the Red Sea, him on a bicycle and me on a motorbike. We then continued to bump into each other on our way south and despite him being on a bicycle we arrived in Cape Town in South Africa at roughly the same time! From here we made the plan of crossing the little-understood, seldom-visited and much self-abused "Democratic" Republic of Congo. So when Charlie reached Lusaka in Zambia on his way back north, I was to meet him there and exchange my motorbike for a bicycle.

Here our a few photos from my first journey by bicycle -

While we wait for our visas in Lusaka, Charlie gets his bike ready for the first leg of the trip.

While we wait for our visas in Lusaka, Charlie gets his bike ready for the first leg of the trip.

For £96 I picked up a Buffalo Charger in Lusaka, It was a bit small but I hoped it would do!

For £96 I picked up a Buffalo Charger in Lusaka, It was a bit small but I hoped it would do!

Taking a break next to another badly parked African truck.

The sun sets over our tents.

The one advantage with camping in a cemetery is that we are the only fools to be hanging out there at night.

The one advantage with camping in a cemetery is that we are the only fools to be hanging out there at night.

Kasumbalesa, the last town before we cross into the Congo.

Kasumbalesa, the last town before we cross into the Congo.

A Congelese woman carries her produce to the market.

A Congelese woman carries her produce to the market.

D odging inbetween trucks and taxis  as we arrive into Lubumbashi, the mining capital of the DRC.

Dodging inbetween trucks and taxis as we arrive into Lubumbashi, the mining capital of the DRC.

Women lie on the floor of an Evangelical church in  Lubumbashi  after they fall into uncontrollable fits after believing they have  'caught the holy spirit'.

Women lie on the floor of an Evangelical church in Lubumbashi after they fall into uncontrollable fits after believing they have 'caught the holy spirit'.

A small roadside restaurant outside Likasi. Lunch wasn't quite like how it was advertised.

A small roadside restaurant outside Likasi. Lunch wasn't quite like how it was advertised.

Kolwezi was the end of the tarmac for us. The locals warned that the road from here gets very bad, to begin with we could not understand, and then later on we understood!

Kolwezi was the end of the tarmac for us. The locals warned that the road from here gets very bad, to begin with we could not understand, and then later on we understood!

Kanzenze catholic mission.

Kanzenze catholic mission.

On the search for a good out of the way spot to camp.

On the search for a good out of the way spot to camp.

Sandy roads aren't fun; sandy roads and getting a puncture is even less fun.

Sandy roads aren't fun; sandy roads and getting a puncture is even less fun.

An abandoned steam train left from the colonial times at Mutshatsha.

An abandoned steam train left from the colonial times at Mutshatsha.

The sun sets over the main street in Mutshatsha

The sun sets over the main street in Mutshatsha

A Panhard armoured car lies destroyed from the previous Congo wars.

A Panhard armoured car lies destroyed from the previous Congo wars.

Far away from the road and protected by the dense bush we pitch up for the night.

Far away from the road and protected by the dense bush we pitch up for the night.

Charlie sits unamused that he has spent more time pushing than cycling.

Charlie sits unamused that he has spent more time pushing than cycling.

A crowd gathers as we enter Tshimbalanga.

A crowd gathers as we enter Tshimbalanga.

Hot, dirty and sweaty.

Hot, dirty and sweaty.

Catching  some rest in the midday heat. Aswell as a dusting from a freak Bus.

Catching  some rest in the midday heat. Aswell as a dusting from a freak Bus.

Two brothers in their store in Sandoa.

Two brothers in their store in Sandoa.

After 1000 miles cycling we made it to Sandoa, the town we had randomly picked back in Cape Town as a good place to start our next challenge. From here we spent the next week in search of a pirogue (a traditional dug out canoe) with the plan of descending the River Lulua, only to be told by all locals that the rapids are too dangerous and no one has ever heard of someone doing it... 

Follow me on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook to keep updated for the next part of this trip:

The DRC Part 2. - The Congo by River. 


Charlie has written a great piece on this part of the journey which you can find on his website, Charlie Walker Explore.

We were unable to communicate with each other over the noise but we both seemed to know that we’d passed a point of no return. If we were caught now we may not have time to explain that we are simply tourists (rather than spies, rebels, mineral thieves etc) before something regrettable happened.
— www.charliewalkerexplore.co.uk

The View Ahead

A collection of images of the view ahead from our motorbikes whilst we travelled across Africa, from Edinburgh to Cape Town. 

A cold start to the journey across a snow covered Europe.

A cold start to the journey across a snow covered Europe.

The sun sets in the White Desert of the Sahara, Egypt.

The sun sets in the White Desert of the Sahara, Egypt.

In search of the Meroe Pyramids, Sudan.

In search of the Meroe Pyramids, Sudan.

Kids and their donkey haul water into the town of Kassala, Sudan.

Kids and their donkey haul water into the town of Kassala, Sudan.

Heading towards the Eritrea border in Sudan.

Heading towards the Eritrea border in Sudan.

Gridlock in the Tigray hills in Northern Ethiopia.

Gridlock in the Tigray hills in Northern Ethiopia.

Camel trains on our descent into the Danakil Depression in Ethiopia.

Camel trains on our descent into the Danakil Depression in Ethiopia.

Dusty villages of the Afar people in the Danakil Depression in Ethiopia.

Dusty villages of the Afar people in the Danakil Depression in Ethiopia.

Desert warp speed, Ethiopia.

Desert warp speed, Ethiopia.

One less truck to dodge whilst in Ethiopia.

One less truck to dodge whilst in Ethiopia.

Scottish convoy, Ethiopia.

Scottish convoy, Ethiopia.

A tribesman lets his wife and daughter struggle with their heavy load from the market, Ethiopia

A tribesman lets his wife and daughter struggle with their heavy load from the market, Ethiopia

The Turkana people of North West Kenya.

The Turkana people of North West Kenya.

Picking the smoothest route south in Kenya.

Picking the smoothest route south in Kenya.

The village chief greets us and get us to sign the villages guest book as we arrive in the small village of Namasale, Uganda.

The village chief greets us and get us to sign the villages guest book as we arrive in the small village of Namasale, Uganda.

The rains start in Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda.

The rains start in Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda.

Locals hitch a ride up the rolling hills of Burundi.

Locals hitch a ride up the rolling hills of Burundi.

A river ferry take us across the Malagarassi River in Tanzania.

A river ferry take us across the Malagarassi River in Tanzania.

Out of the salt pans and into the open dry grassland of Botswana.

Out of the salt pans and into the open dry grassland of Botswana.

Sandy trails in North West Namibia.

Sandy trails in North West Namibia.

You can read the full story about this journey on our trip page: www.facebook.com/wildtracksinafrica

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