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...

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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