Congo Journals

Finding Brightness in the Heart of Darkness

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A November 2008 trip to Congo by fallschirmhosen

Okapi Reserve Photo, Congo, Africa More Photos
Quote: In the summer and fall of 2008, Laurent Nkunda and his cronies began months of trouble in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. So, naturally, I felt this was a great time to visit the DRC.

Beni

Hotel Source Kabungulu

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Hotel | "My Home Away From Home"

Hotel Source Kabungulu Photo, Beni, Congo
Quote:
This was my home away from home while in the Congo, as I spent more nights here than anywhere else (a grand total of 3 nights). Considered to be the second-best place to stay in Beni (according to the latest guidebook), the hotel can be classified as perfectly fine for budget travelers, but all others may find it sub-standard. It was perfectly suitable for my needs, despite the dirty walls and dilapidated look (honestly, though, what doesn't look dilapidated in the Congo?).It's conveniently located a few hundred feet south of the main traffic circle in Beni, across the street from Restaurant Okapi and Wimpy Snack and Pizzeria, behind the main road of shops, and next to an internet cafe. ...Read More

Member Rating 4 out of 5 on March 12, 2009

Restaurant Okapi

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Restaurant | "Don't Expect Okapi on the Menu"

Restaurant Okapi Photo, Beni, Congo
Quote:
A door or two down from Wimpy Snack and Pizzeria, south of the main traffic circle, and diagonally across from Hotel Source Kabungulu, is Restaurant Okapi. Despite the name, there is no okapi on the menu. Shucks!The menu either exists or doesn't. On my first visit I had a menu to choose a number of items from...fish, rice, chicken, pasta, etc. But, on my second visit I was handed no menu and told all they had were fish and chicken. Both times I chose fish...the first time being excellent, the second time resulting in me getting sick. The fish (tilapia) is cooked crispy on the outside and served with a salad and chips. I imagine all meals are similar. An average meal will cost aroun...Read More

Member Rating 4 out of 5 on March 12, 2009

Wimpy Snack and Pizzeria

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Restaurant | "A Pizzeria Without Pizza"

Wimpy Snack and Pizzeria Photo, Beni, Congo
Quote:
On the main road through town, between Restaurant Okapi and the main traffic circle, sits the Wimpy Snack and Pizzeria restaurant. It is located on the upper floor, accessed via a staircase on the right side of the building.Though "pizzeria" is in the name, don't expect to pop in anytime for a slice of pizza. Pizzas must be ordered before noon if you want it for dinner later that day. Remember, this is the Congo. On my visit, I tried fou fou with some vegetables, while my interpreter had a steak. Both were delicious. Two meals and sodas were less than $10. Also on the menu were typical options: fish, chicken, pastas, etc.The atmosphere is much like a bar, complete with a...Read More

Member Rating 3 out of 5 on March 12, 2009

Local Market

Attraction | "For Everything You May Need..."

Beni Money Changer Photo, Beni, Congo
Quote:
South of the main traffic circle, near the U.N. base in the middle of Beni, you can find the local market. Yes, there are plenty of shops in town that sell plenty of other items...canned goods, cookies, water, etc. But, the market is especially ideal if you are preparing to spend a few days away from Beni or other major towns, and need to stock up on fresher food and supplies. Rice, beans, soap, vegetables, pasta, oil, meat, and fish can all be found. I only saw citrus fruits for sale, though one store in town did have (expensive) apples.I've seen many markets in different parts of Africa, but this one had an unusual assortment of meat sellers. Some were only selling the legs of anima...Read More

Member Rating 4 out of 5 on March 12, 2009

Komanda

Restaurant Taux du Jour (Restaurant and Hotel)

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Hotel | "This Place Made My Day"

Room at Restaurant Taux du Jour Photo, Congo, Africa
Quote:
Komanda (between Beni and Bunia) is not a town most people plan to stop in. I had the unfortunate luck of being stuck here when by bus missed the window to cross the Ituri River a few kilometers up the road. There is not much to see or do in town, so the best option is to find a decent place to eat and sleep, and then spend the evening catching up on journal entries or playing cards.Just before the main Beni-Bunia road splits (left to Mambasa, right to Bunia), there is a restaurant on the left (west) side of the road: Restaurant Taux du Jour. The restaurant, though extremely basic and without a menu or any options, serves some hearty plates of rice and large pieces of goat meat for a fe...Read More

Member Rating 4 out of 5 on March 12, 2009

Epulu

Okapi Reserve

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Attraction | "Who Else Has Been Kicked By an Okapi?"

Okapi Reserve Photo, Congo, Africa
Quote:
If you find yourself in Epulu, and you're not just passing through, one of the main reasons you're here is probably to visit the Okapi Reserve. Just as the name says, it is a vast area of land designed to help maintain and protect the okapi population. It is not quite a national park, but is probably as close to a national park as you can get.What puts Epulu on the map is a capture station where they keep several okapis in pens for research. Each pen looks to be about a half acre or larger in size, with one okapi in each pen. There are approximately 8 okapis at the capture station. Some local pygmies are hired to help run the capture station, some going into the forests to fetch speci...Read More

Member Rating 4 out of 5 on March 12, 2009

Okapi Reserve

Epulu

Okapi Reserve Lodge

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Hotel | "Pricey for the Congo, But Worth It"

Okapi Reserve Photo, Congo, Africa
Quote:
On the grounds of the Okapi Reserve, just off the main Trans-African Highway road, you can find a lodge specifically built for tourists. Situated just inside the main gate to the reserve, overlooking the Epulu River, the lodge has a certain charm to it...something you can picture tourists in the past using on their great African adventures. Today, though, few tourists pass through, and the lodge sits vacant more often than not.The pens for the okapis sit a few hundred feet behind the lodge, and you may spot one or two from the lodge if you're lucky. Overheard, monkeys can be seen and heard, jumping from tree to tree as they try to see who is staying at the lodge below. Right in front i...Read More

Member Rating 4 out of 5 on March 12, 2009

Visiting Pygmies in the Ituri Forest

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Attraction | "How I Spent My Thanksgiving"

Okapi Reserve Photo, Congo, Africa
Quote:
Aside from the capture station for the Okapi Reserve, there are large numbers of pygmies who live in Epulu and the surrounding area. It is very possible to go to Epulu and then spend time with these pygmies.My original plan was to spend two days with the pygmies. This would have allowed me enough time to go hunting with them in the Ituri forest. This is a two day activity, the first day spent hiking deep into the forest, hunting, sleeping in the forest, and then returning to Epulu the next day. I had really hoped to do this, but because of transportation issues I was only able to spend one day in Epulu.However, you can still visit the pygmies. The visitor's center at the c...Read More

Member Rating 5 out of 5 on March 12, 2009

Rwenzori Mountains (from the Congo side)

Getting to Mutsora (ICCN Headquarters)

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Story/Tip

Quote:
Mutsora is a very small village located 1-2 miles south of the village of Mutwanga. Mutwanga, itself rather small, is located approximately 5 miles east of the main road between Beni and the Kasindi border. Though the road from this main Beni-Kasindi road to Mutwanga can handle 4x4 vehicles, it is narrow and rocky, which makes travel time relatively long and more suitable for Yamaha dirt bikes or the usual "Senko" motorbikes in the area.From both Beni and the Kasindi border, travel time is approximately 2 hours on a motorbike...give or take some time for possible flat tires. In Beni, all it takes is a little bit of asking around for a motorbike driver to take you to Mutsora, ideally the...Read More

Rwenzori Mountains - Arranging the Hike

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Attraction | "Not as Easy to Arrange as in Uganda"

Welcome Center at Mutsora Photo, Congo, Africa
Quote:
There is very little, if any, accurate information about hiking in the Rwenzori Mountains to Margherita Peak from the Congo side. I did as much research as I could before my visit in December 2008, though almost everything seemed to be outdated. Here is how I arranged it:I first contacted Go Congo, who was the tour operator I was hiring an interpeter from. They contacted the ICCN station in Mutsora to inform them of my plans to hike. I asked for an English speaking guide who could take me to the top, Margherita Peak. All I knew was that it would cost me $100 for an entrance fee and guide, or so I thought. Porters and their food was supposedly only $100 more.The day before...Read More

Member Rating 4 out of 5 on March 12, 2009

Rwenzori Mountains - Cost

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Attraction | "Much Cheaper Than Hiking in Uganda"

Quote:
In short, it is much cheaper to climb the Rwenzori Mountains from the Congo side, rather than the Uganda side. Here's a breakdown of all the costs:There is a $100 fee you must pay to enter Virunga. Some guide books may say this includes a ranger/guide, but it does not. This fee covers your entire stay in the mountains, whether it is the standard five day hike to Kiondo, or seven day hike to Margherita Peak. This fee is paid at the ICCN station in Mutsora before the hike starts.Both the porters and guides cost $7 per day each, plus $3 per day each for their food. My hike consisted of three porters, and two guides (one English speaking, the other French speaking), and so my ...Read More

Member Rating 4 out of 5 on March 12, 2009

Rwenzori Mountains - Mutsora to Kiondo Hut

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Attraction | "A Fast Ascent to the Peaks"

Kalonge Hut in the Rwenzori Mountains Photo, Congo, Africa
Quote:
The first two days of hiking take you from the village of Mutsora (at 1700m), down to Mutwanga (1500m), then up to Kiono Hut (at 4200m). So, it is a fast 8500+ foot ascent in two days, which means you must properly prepare and properly ascend to be successful.Because of transportation problems coming from Beni, I did not arrive in Mutsora until the early afternoon, nearly 3 hours after I expected to arrive. After settling payments for the hike, and gathering porters and guides, it was decided that the late start meant we could not reach the first normally scheduled hut: Kalonge. Instead, we would only hike halfway, to the Virunga rangers' camp at Kyondolire.In Mutwanga, the ...Read More

Member Rating 4 out of 5 on March 12, 2009

Rwenzori Mountains - Kiondo Hut to Moraine Hut

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Attraction | "For Peak Baggers Only"

Rwenzori Peaks from Moraine Hut Photo, Congo, Africa
Quote:
This is, by far, the shortest day of hiking. Moraine Hut lies only about two hours from Kiondo Hut. Since Moraine is a small hut (only big enough for a handful of people), only those climbing to the peak sleep at Moraine. The porters (and in my case, an extra guide), will make the hike with you to Moraine to drop off your food an equipment for the final ascent the next day. They then turn around and hike back to Kiondo for the night, only to return the next afternoon when you come down from the peaks.In short, the hike skirts around Wasuwamesu Peak, then descends to Green Lake before climbing up to Moraine Hut. Between Kiondo Hut and Green Lake is the "danger" pass, a traverse you mus...Read More

Member Rating 4 out of 5 on March 12, 2009

Descending Margherita Peak Photo, Congo, Africa
Quote:
Starting somewhat early (around 5:30am), we left Moraine and walked across the rocky path to reach the base of main peaks. Moraine is situated right at the foot of the main peaks, so this walk was only a short 5-10 minutes. At the base, it is clear the only way to go was up, which meant we were to scramble up a relatively steep slope of rock...some of them loose. From here on forward, a helmet would be necessary.My guide took the lead, telling me to stay well behind him as he went up in case he tiggered any rockslides or what-not. I did as he said. The rock climb is mostly straightforward, with a few tricky sections, but none requiring the use of ropes. After 30-45 minutes, we reache...Read More

Member Rating 4 out of 5 on March 12, 2009

Catholic Mission - Mutwanga

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Hotel | "Nicest Place in Mutwanga"

Catholic Mission in Mutwanga Photo, Congo, Africa
Quote:
There are two places to stay in the Mutwanga/Mutsora area: at the ICCN headquarters in Mutsora, or at the Catholic Mission in Mutwanga. Both are similar in price ($8-10 per night) and comfort, though the Catholic Mission is newer and closer to the main town (in case you need to buy anything or want to venture out for food).Rooms are very small and basic. My room only had a single bed and chair, yet there was not enough room to open the door completely. Some rooms were only slightly bigger. Beds come with fresh sheets and a mosquito net, and are generally very clean. I had no worries about bed bugs or mosquitos. The rooms are a bit small for mountain gear, so I left some stuff outside...Read More

Member Rating 4 out of 5 on March 12, 2009

Logistics

Go Congo Tour Operator

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Story/Tip

Quote:
Finding a tour company to take you inside the Congo can be a tricky undertaking, especially if you're going to eastern Congo. Months in advance, I contacted a tour company based in Goma (that I will not name here). Upon Laurent Nkunda's threatened takeover of Goma in the summer of 2008, this tour company simply closed shop and disappeared (I would eventually learn that the owner fled to Kisangani). Looking at my only other option for a Congo-based company, I contacted Go Congo to help me out.Go Congo was nothing but helpful. They presented me with all the options I had for what I wanted to do, and never said it would be impossible even with all the fighting in eastern Congo. The owner...Read More
Quote:
The thought of entering the Congo is enough to give most people the heebie jeebies. While it is anything but simple to do, it is possible to do with a little patience. I crossed into the Congo in mid-November 2008 at the Kasindi border with the help of an interpreter from Go Congo.To enter at Kasindi, you must first make your way from the main Fort Portal-Mbarara road to the border. Kalita runs buses from Kampala to the border. Alternatively, you can hire a local car to take you to the border from the intersection where the road to the border meets the main Fort Portal-Mbarara road. This costs $5-$10, however you can pay the same price from Mbarara to the border on a Kalita bus....Read More

Kasindi to Beni by Car

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Story/Tip

Broken down car Photo, Congo, Africa
Quote:
After crossing into the Congo from Uganda without my own transportation, my interpreter and I needed to find a ride to get us to Beni, several hours up the road. On a map, Beni is close. But, the road between Kasindi and Beni is a rough, rocky, dirt road.A couple hundred meters beyond the border post, following the main road into Kasindi, is a main intersection with numerous parked cars and motorcycles. It is here where you look for a ride to Beni. You should have a few options: shared minibus, shared car, or motorbike. Shared minibuses are about $5, shared cars $7, and motorbikes $10. Minibuses only leave when full, cars leave when they have 3 people (suppposedly), and motorbikes on...Read More

Travel Options from Beni to Epulu

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Story/Tip

Quote:
There are several ways you can travel to Epulu from Beni. Flying, renting a car, hiring a motorbike, taking a bus, or riding on top of a truck are all possible options.The fastest, and most expensive, is by flying. MAF Congo offers flights to Epulu at about $500 each way, which is for the entire plane. I believe the flight time is only an hour or so. There is not a set schedule, and there is a possibility their planes will be in use elsewhere the day you want to fly. Contact MAF Congo for the latest prices and availability.For about $100 per day, plus fuel, you can rent a car with driver in Beni. The best way to find a car is to simply ask around town. Prices will vary, ...Read More

Beni to Epulu by Bus

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Story/Tip

Ituri River Photo, Congo, Africa
Quote:
Taking the bus to Epulu seemed straightforward enough: Buy a ticket, board the bus (Les Enfants D'Abord), and get off in Epulu. But, as you may have guessed, not everything goes as planned in the Congo.In Beni, the bus station posted fares to the various towns their buses traveled through...Butembo, Bunia, Komanda, Mambasa, Beni, etc. Epulu was not posted, but we knew the bus would be passing through. So, we got a price quote of $20 per person, and the bus would be arriving in Beni at 10:00am that day. It was 9:00am at this time. Doing the math, my guide and I figured we'd get to Epulu by late afternoon. So, we ran back to Hotel Source Kabungulu, grabbed our bags, checked out, and we...Read More

Epulu to Beni by Motorbike

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Story/Tip

Ituri river Crossing Photo, Congo, Africa
Quote:
Though not as easy to arrange as a motorbike from Beni to Epulu, it is possible to hire motorbikes for the journey between Epulu and Beni. On my trip, my interpreter and I found motorbike drivers at the Ituri River crossing in Komanda who were based in Mambasa. They agreed to drive to Epulu the day before we wished to leave Epulu, then depart for Beni the next morning.The road between Epulu and Beni (via Mambasa and Komanda) has been improved within the past year or so. It is still dirt, but major potholes and problems with the road have been fixed, making it a mostly smooth ride, even on a motorbike.Only one of our two drivers showed up the night before our departure, when ...Read More
Quote:
When traveling in the Congo, you will (undoubtedly) come across people who wish to make your traveling a little harder than it already is. Despite all of the "fees" and "tips" you will be told you need to pay in order to pass a certain checkpoint or town, you are not required to pay any bribes or what-not (aside from obtaining a permit/visa).The recent Bradt guide to the Congo mentions that you should carry a lot of small bills and be prepared to hand them to those who seek a bribe. This is nonsense. Though I was often asked to pay a fee or buy someone a beer, I almost always played dumb with a smile, said I had nothing on me to give (a total lie), and was able to avoid paying most brib...Read More