In this article, I will tell you the story of two countries that share one name, similar history and usually you can’t find them on the most travellers’ bucket list. I’m really privileged to have the chance to visit Congo. When I’m saying “Congo” it refers to the two countries that border the Congo River in central Africa. The larger of the two is the Democratic Republic of Congo to the southeast, while the smaller nation is the Republic of Congo to the northwest. I know that this is a little bit confusing, but I will try to explain it differently. To distinguish them people often refer to them as Congo-Brazzaville, the smallest one and Congo-Kinshasa, the bigger one. Both gained independence in 1960, but they were colonized by different European nations. Congo-Brazzaville was colonized by France while Congo-Kinshasa by Belgium. Read on to learn about these two distinct nations.
Maybe first I have to tell you that getting a visa is extremely hard. I can’t even begin to explain what an effort cost me to get one. I found a tourist agent to assist me and send me an invitation letter, but he told me that he can’t do that. I was really surprised and ask him, how then tourist visit the two countries? He answered me that they just don’t, almost nobody wants to go there… Yeah, well but I wanted to go, so I continued to search for ways to get a visa. I talked to a lot of people and spend some money to get this letter. For people outside of Africa, it’s really challenging to apply for a visa. But the most important thing is that at the end of the day I got my visa.
Congo-Brazzaville – a.k.a. the Republic of Congo
I arrived at the capital of the Republic of Congo – Brazzaville and spend around a day there, just enough time to explore it. Not a lot to see there. It’s a normal African city, not so much impressing. To learn more about the local history I visit Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza memorial. It houses the remains of the French explorer of Italian origin, who founded Brazzaville. The gleaming white marble mausoleum built as a memorial to Mr. Brazza.
My next stop was Pointe-Noire, the second-largest city. Really peacefully with beautiful sunsets and nice beaches. The nature surrounding the region is spectacular. Congo-Brazzaville is filled with just as many national parks including Côte Sauvage, Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park, Odzala-Kokoua National Park, and Loufoulakari Falls. All these spots are perfect for hiking trails, boat rides, or relaxing days by the beach. One thing that it’s not to miss is Gorges of Diosso. It’s a remarkable scenery of Diosso Gorge, which tears through the otherwise ordinary landscape between the village and the coast in a blaze of pinks, yellows and oranges.
The region is hard to find, so I get a local guide to take me there, but he gets lost funny right?! Thanks to the local people who give us a direction, we reached our destination. The park surrounding the upper Ridge of the gorge is very clean and the view is breathtaking. I didn’t get the chance to hike, but I could see the trail and it looks really fun experience.
The next day I embarked a great adventure – to conquer the mighty Congo River and go to Congo Kinshasa by boat. It’s easy to go there, I had to just cross the river, but arranging the trip was quite disorganised and unpleasant.
There are many formalities and checks that I had to do at the ferry port so I decided to pay a guy, known as a fixer an additional amount of money to take care of it all for me. The price is between 100$ and 500$. But all of this was a really interesting experience.
Congo-Kinshasa – a.k.a the Democratic Republic of Congo
The Democratic Republic of Congo, also known as “Congo-Kinshasa,” was formerly known as Zaire, and before that as the Belgian Congo. In 1960 it won its independence and became the Republic of the Congo. This country has one of the saddest moments in modern history. Congo-Kinshasa was devastated by the Second Congo War.
Besides its fascinating history, the country is carpeted by huge swaths of rainforest and punctuated by gushing rivers and smoking volcanoes, Congo-Kinshasa is the ultimate African adventure.
My first stop was the capital – Kinshasa. The city is a total experience rather than just visiting it. Full of chaos, music and a lust for life that is as infectious as it is overwhelming. Crazy traffic to go from one point of the city to another it can take up to 5 hours, for a distance that can usually take 10 to 20 min. Imagine that? There I found all kind of noises and colours that are hard to describe. The culture shock is enormous, but also it was so interesting to observe the people on the streets and their lifestyle.
As I mention the nature there is magnificent. Zongo Falls are must-see there. Powerful and photogenic, Zongo Falls gush out of a 65 m tall cliff and crash down through the jungle canopy, creating fabulous clouds and spectacular rainbows.
But besides nature the most interesting there are the bonobos. The great apes are found only in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Ninety minutes of Kinshasa, just beyond the city’s sprawl, is this excellent sanctuary, which provides a home for orphaned bonobos. Long thought to be chimpanzees, they are actually a separate species known for being much more peaceful than their cousins. Really fascinating creatures and not so different than us. I saw with my own eyes how bonobos really enjoy having sex with each other. In any given moment the male just crab the female and bang! They doing it, like nymphomaniacs. The locals use this to advertise the park and to attract more tourists to go there.
Eating in Congo
The cuisine of the two Congos varies widely. Congolese meals often consist of a starchy ingredient, along with vegetables and meat in the form of a stew. Fish are plentiful along the River Congo, its tributaries, and various lakes, and are baked, boiled or fried for immediate consumption, or smoked or salted when preserved. Markets often sell ready-to-eat peppered fish baked in banana leaves. Here I found a lot of weird and wonderful fruits and vegetables. Along the side of the typical local food, I notice how they incorporate a lot from the French and Belgium, cuisine. I discover that some French ex-pats live there and own really good restaurants. Typical Congolese dishes include fufu, a sticky dough made from cassava flour, and poulet à la moambé, chicken served in a sauce made from the outer layer of palm nuts. Pili pili, the incredibly hot pepper sauce beloved by the Congolese, is served with nearly everything.
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