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Published: September 30th 2009
"When carrying a camera can be more dangerous than carrying a gun"....it's the day you land in DRC, Congo at his best. So for this entry, my pictures are merely existing...as most of the time, the place for the camera was safely deep in my pocket. I will come back later on this lack of pictures.
There are countries which are simply not on my wish list to visit. But than again, if you know me you know I love to make plans, and for me, plans are made to be changed. So why Lubumbashi, capital of Katanga, why Am I here for a great week of discovery?
My Mum was born in Bukavu, East of Congo. She left the country when she was 12, and never made it back, so maybe history is bringing me back to this faraway land, but this is not the reason. I've managed to get few friends who have "landed" here, moving with their families...and when you end up having more than one friend in the same place, this is when I say "Why not, I'll come!"
Getting from Bangkok to Lubumbashi is not an easy task, but it is not impossible
either. This time I took the flight to Addis Ababa on Ethipioan airlines. It's my second time transiting in Ethiopia, but I never made it outside of the aiport, I promise, next time I will venture further...in this mysterious land...well, at least mysterious for me. Next flight was on a 737 from Ethiopian Airlines. Less than 30 people on the plane. First stop was in Lubumbashi, continuing to Lilongwe, capital of Malawi. In Lubumbashi, only ten of us left the plane...to jump in "another" world.
Before continuing further, I want to thanks my hosts. I must say that I did enjoy an amazing welcome. It was such a pleasure to discover this little corner of the world. I would never had such in inside without all the efforts made by my hosts, and I'm very thankful for this.
The first thing you see in Congo is the smiles. People are smiling...everywhere...well, it may simply be because I found a place where people are really friendly, regardless of the suffering of years past. Everybody is saying hello to everybody, it's quite an impressive fact to witness.
My arrival to Lubumbashi was a truly surreal experience. Never saw an
immigration, never saw a luggage carrousel, none of these....just ended up sitting next to few people getting on my last plane. When I tell you my hosts took care incredibly well, this was only the beginning. So, in the car, heading to town with my eyes wide open to discover my 77th country.
Few figures about Congo. First, Lumbabashi is the second biggest city of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Down south, it is only few kilometers from the Zambia border. A return flight to Kinshasa the capital is only two hours from here, but will land you at around 800usd...for a seriously non-safe plane (way worst than Indonesia). If you do not want to fly, it will take you between 2 and 3 weeks to reach the capital! It's faster to get by train from Saigon to Glasgow!
Lubumbashi is also the capital of the Province of Katanga...the place is poor above...but down below it is one of the richest place in the world. We speak of copper, cobbalt...and uranium. You may not be aware of this, but the two atomic bombs who ended Second World War in Japan were made of Uranium from the Katanga. This
is a way to show you how Katanga is today so important for Congo. Even if we all know, they could deal way better with all this underground wealth.
Than there are the few funny things of the country. 100usd notes bills...well, if it has been issued before 1999, it will simply not be valid in Congo...try to explain me this. You could get "fine" 100usd for just...driving your car with flip-flops. We did get stop by the police...for no reason...and the first question of the policeman was....do you have a drink for me...yes...true story! All this with a great smile!
I'm now coming to the camera issue. In a lot of places, you are simply not allowed to take pics of buildings, but also simply of "places". This would land you in the jail of the police station for the night...and few thousand USD poorer the day after to get out of it. But also, people do not want to be taken in pictures. I've heard stories of people getting trapped and attacked in their car, just for taking a picture of a market. So my decision was simple...I open my eyes, and keep the camera in
my pocket. Sorry for not trying to sneak too many pictures, but I did not want to put myslef and my hosts in troubles. And at the end of the day, travelling is also about respecting the local culture.
But at the same time, we went to visit a dam and hydro-electic central on Sunday. We were expected, and once they checked us, we had no problems to take picutres. 20 years ago, I was told, just getting to the dam would had landed us in jail...weird. Specially when you know that this central has been built in 1930s....and it is still running today. So I have the pics, I will simply not post them.
Congo should be a very rich country, but it is for sure not. The wars did not help, Mobutu did not help either...Imagine, with all the waterways in the country, there is enough to produce clean electriciy...to power the ALL of Africa!, I know, we all say the same thing, what a waste!
So on Sunday we did head for the bush. 300km, most of them on "pistes", tracks full of holes and sand, but what an amazing place, stopping on the
side to glimpse at villages (no camera...remember!). We visited the waterfalls, saw the turbines, picnic by the lake, and swam into the river. What a Sunday! They told us there are few hippos in the lake, but we did not see any. Not many wild animals are left rooming the country, as most of them have been....killed!
I also play twice golf while in Lubumbashi. Everything here is seriously expensive. One friend who is working for an NGO put it simply..."this is Africa, but it is as expensive a Geneva!"...and I quote! The only cheap thing, is actually playing golf, so I did indulge on the very nice local...and empty golf course.
Will I come back, oh yes, it is such an experience to be here. I've meet great people, and I must admit, all these smiles around are great!
On the way back...the flight will make few stops, first Lilongwe, Malawi, than on to Addis Ababa....and than finally home!
Our next entry is coming soon...more conventional I must admit. But I'm also preparing few more short ventures all around Africa...diving, rafting, animals...I do prefer to experience all these...and discoveries are indeed coming...pretty soon!
till next time, enjoy, because I do! And if you truly want to share with me, send me a private message, as there are things better shared in private...but don't forget, whatever, apply the rule of Congo, smile!
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