Democratic Republic of Congo: Lubumbashi to Kinshasa


New member
"We almost lost our car to the flames a few days later when a fire started behind the dashboard when the stoplight wiring shorted out again. "

wow!!! this cant be the end of the story!! :clapsmile

Christian P.

Expedition Leader
Staff member
And now for the surprise I promised earlier...

That's right, Frederik and Josephine will be our first featured guests!
If you have any question you would like them to answer, please forward them to me and we'll try to cover it during the presentation.

Martyn, Brian and I have been working hard testing a few platforms and we think we have found an exciting new way to discuss Overland topics.


Wiffleball Batter
Frederik & Josephine:

What a great experience! Not that I'd want to do it myself, mind you - that's waaaaay above my level. But I salute your dogged perseverance and your determination. No doubt you continued on when others would have quit.

You guys should seriously think about writing a book. You are a talented writer (especially considering that English is not your first language) and your photos are great. I would buy that book in a heartbeat, and I'll bet I'm not the only one.

Thanks again for sharing your experiences in the Heart of Darkness! :sombrero:


Day 46

We tried again to take the ferry. It was still not running. Some paperwork was not in order to release the ferry and apparantly the official who had to sign the document could not be located. Both ferries were stuck on the other side. Maybe that afternoon.

We came back that afternoon: Nope.

Day 47

Great news: all the paperwork was done. But today was an official holiday in Congo. Nobody worked that day... so no ferry

Day 48

We were finally able to board the ferry. We had previously used the other ferry which are three boats attached to eachother (in a rather dodgy way). This time we took the bigger ferry. Bigger did not mean we had more space. As the ferry hadn't run for a few days there was a lot of stuff that needed to get across.

The ferry's diesel engine made a slow rythmic noise and struggled to push the heavy ferry upstream over the Congo river. The skyline of Kinshasa became smaller with every beat.

We had spent 53 days in Congo, and had gotten out just in time. Our visa was expiring in 2 days time.

And thus ends our leisurely stroll trough the Congo..

(Keep reading, wrap-up and more background information still to come)

Recommended books for Overlanding

Christian P.

Expedition Leader
Staff member

Don't forget, we will have a live session with F&J so if you have question you would like to ask, please send it to me.


(Keep reading, wrap-up and more background information still to come)[/QUOTE]

OUTSTANDING!!!! I have enjoyed this detailed report very much.

You and your wife really did push hard this entire trip! One obstacle after another handled well. I had so many thoughts racing through hy head as I went through these posts. I have tons of questions, but am holding back until you have completed your final thoughts.

So, where to next and when? :wings:


The Wrap-up

(It's going to be long... sorry. I normally don't like to be so serious, but I feel I have started something and I have to finish it. If you're only interested in the technical bits, they are the end)

So is that what Congo is really like?

Ofcourse not! This is what Congo could be like if you try to drive a 4x4 from Lubumbashi to Kinshasa.
In the beginning of the rainy season.
In 2008.
After being on the road non-stop for more then 600 days travelling half of the world.

That is a very specific situation and leads to very specific events with specific people who show a specific behaviour. It can hardly draw a representative picture about the Congo, about us or about overland travel in general. (I feel like I am writing a typical American disclaimer here, please don't put your children in the microwave oven! :D )

The important bit here is: it's a trip report. Nothing more nothing less. I have told the events as they have happened. I have added the extra dimension to describe our feelings and thoughts at that moment. I have no hidden agenda. I am not trying to push my own agenda/principles/opinions on you. I am not paid to write this trip report nor am I representing some company whose interest I might be defending. My job or my future does not depend on it. As a result I have no reason to paint a nicer, or worse, picture then how it really was. I have been very honest about everything that has happened and made ourselves very vulnerable for critisism at that as I also do not hide our mistakes. It is also important to note that we are not complaining or whining when we repeat certain things (the corruption, the bribes, ..). Those are just the things that happened, I tell them how it happened and how we felt at that moment. When all is said and done you must certainly not forget that this report is just a simple unambitious report. Not an opinion article in your favourite magazine. Not an official report describing humanity in Congo. Not an overland handbook on how to traverse the Congo and interact with the 'locals'. Oh.. and English is my third language, so sorry about the spelling!

The result is a very crude story. Certainly not a happy story. You might even have a foul taste in your mouth when reading certain passages. Because of the description of the misery. Because of our behaviour.

Please, allow me to add a bit more perspective and hopefully make you understand - if only a little - the view of Congo we gave trough our eyes.

What happened before you entered Congo?

The complete answer is ofcourse impossibly long, but I feel it is important to summarize a bit what we have been up to before, as I think some people think the Congo story is a stand-alone event where we flew in and when it was done flew back out again. An impulsive plan just for the sake of adventure. It wasn't.

in 2006 we sold all our belongings (literally: ALL), quit our jobs, took all of our saving money and decided to go on a little trip. We had done our homework during the many months/years we had saved up for it and bought and prepared a Landcruiser. (I will go into further detail on the preperations later on). We planned to travel for 1 year. People who have done this too will certainly remember the moment when you say goodbye to all your family and friends knowing you will not see them for an entire year. That is a big decision to make. We travelled overland, 25.000km down Africa (west route) and after 9 months found ourselves in South Africa. We liked the travelling so much and found it such a pitty that we had such little time left to drive back that we started counting our money: Lo-and-behold, if we didn't do crazy stuff we could extend our 1 year trip with another year. We shipped our car to Japan and from there drove trough Siberian Russia, Mongolia, Central Asia (all the *stan countries), the middle east back to Africa. Once there, we really longed to visit the East side of Africa and while we were at it we could visit DRC, a country that I have dreamed and read about for so long. So that is what we did. After the traverse of DRC we would find ourselves back on the westcoast and we would drive back north as central as possible (via Niger-Algeria) which was a pretty daunty route in 2008. We travelled for 715 days non-stop. 100.000km. We never went home or even set foot on the European continent during that time. In fact, we did not have a 'home' apart from our car. We had crossed dozens of remote deserts, driven trough some of the most barren mountain ranges in the world, hacked ourway trough many jungles. Returned on our paths many times when we though we were risking it too much. Always unsupported. Always with the two of us. Always with the same car.

We had been in Kinshasa the first time in 2006 with the plan to drive to Lubumbashi. We had done our preperations and were ready. But then the elections came and Kinshasa transformed into a war zone, and lef the rest of the country as unstable as it could be. We rushed out of the country towards Angola at that time.

By no means do we consider ourselves experienced travellers or experts in Africa or "Third World problems" (and certainly not in their solutions). The first months of our trip were quite difficult. Learning to adapt to the cultural differences, how to deal with officials, bribes, corruption. Seeing and living between poor people. Seeing the influence foreign aid has (good and bad). Seeing the attitude of people change when crossing country borders... when crossing continents. After a while we got the hang of it. It's a continuous search for balance and when you think you found it, things change again and you need to rethink everything all over again. It never ends. But that's allright for us. We did stupid things every single day. We still do. We have always done. But we do try to learn from our mistakes.

You just did this for your own pleasure? What about supporting a good cause?

We prepared this trip for many, many months so ofcourse this topic came across. Many people do it. But if you dig a bit deeper one really needs sponsorship to get started. We have also seen people who only do the good cause thing to get sponsorship. Fair enough, they get a few bits and pieces to bolt onto their car and in return raise a bit of money for some NGO in return. Usually not too much, but every bit helps. A win-win situation. But this did not fully convince me. I do not feel comfortable with sponsorship if I have the feeling I am not retuning something valuable. I am just not good at selling myself(and too honest). I also don't like a car plastered with stickers when travelling around, it draws way too much attention. I also feel uncomfortable with many NGO's. There are many, many good projects, but there are probably an equal amount of nonsense projects as well. If I attach my name to a project, I want it to be a genuine project. To make a long story short I am not good at this entire sponsorship/aid thing and would probably have made a mess of it. That does not make us heroes, but that is allright because we are no heroes.

How can you travel trough such impoverished countries without providing them with some sort of aid? Be it money or supplies or volunteer work?

I felt guilty about that in the beginning, certainly when we decided not to attach support to some good cause to our trip. But why was that?

Why is it that we have no problem spending millions on a house and a new car. Eat out, wear fancy clothes. Go on a beach holiday to the other side of the world. And never feel guilty about it? But as soon as we set foot in poor-poor Africa that attitude changes and we feel we MUST provide aid. We could all cancel that Internet subscription we have and send that money to Africa every month. A ridiculous thought ofcourse... but yet, we cannot set foot on African soil without bringing a stash of old clothes, a gazillion of pens and feel best about it when our car is plastered in stickers from NGO's. Not that there is anything wrong with that (well, sometimes there a few things wrong with that), but why do we feel as if it is a necessity?

Isn't there a poor part of our hometown? Don't we ever pass trough there? Do we support these local causes?
Do we feel guilty when we see a begger in our hometown? Do we have the instant reflex to give that begger a ridiculously large amount of money and a pen? Ofcourse not, because we are afraid he'll spend it on a bottle of liquor from the nightshop. But why don't we care about what happens to the aid we all sent to Africa? Ever been to a market in Africa? You can buy your donated T-shirt back and all the pens we have thrown out of the window when blasting past.

Give sweets to children? You'll get paid with an instant smile and it will make you feel realy good about yourself. Do you also give them toothpaste and brush? Pay the dentist? Do you know these kids can earn more by looking sad at the side of the road then their parents earn working? Parents actually stop sending them to school and make them stand at the side of the road as it is so profitable. So by giving a sweet to a kid you could have potentially been (partly) responsible for it dropping out of school and waisiting all chances of a good future. Far fetched you think? Not really I'm afraid. I have seen that first-hand in several countries. Does that mean you cannot do something as simple as give a sweet to a kid? Ofcourse you can. But in our hometowns, we don't just give sweets to children we don't know, do we? We usually even ask at the parents if we can. Providing aid requires a bit more then just giving away a few things. That is what makes it so hard when you are constantly on the move. Now substitue sweet with any other thing you would like to donate.

I can go on for a long time with questions like that.. There is SO much that can go wrong with providing aid. That is ofcourse no reason not to provide aid, but at least we should appreciate the fact that it is a bit more complicated then we would like to think. I have no answers, I don't know how to do it 'right'. I try my best in own way and I can only hope others do the same.

Jay Leno, of all people, once said: "In America, we like everybody to know about the good work we do anonymously". The in America bit is not important(replace it with 'western world' maybe?), but the rest is. He said this about why the Toyota Prius was so popular while he thought it was not really saving the planet at all. It's all about image.
Sensitive topics. Who doesn't want to save the planet? Who doesn't want to do something about poverty in Africa? The reality is, we don't do much AT ALL, but we want to keep up the image. And we even convince ourselves that we do. And preferably we want to boast about it on the Internet, show off on our websites, talk about it on forums. We want to write books about it, want to discuss it. We want everyone to know how important WE think it is. And preferably at the same time belittle people whom we think don't do enough. And you know what, at the end of the day there is no more time, money or resources left to actually do something about it. But we sleep good at night ofcourse, it's the others who failed, not us! And we have a portfolio to prove it!

This is ofcourse very unfair to the many people who are actually helping out on the field. Or assisting with logistics from abroad. As always it is very unfair to generalize. People like Frère Louis we met in Congo is one of these people. Their generosity and engagement is endless. I have immense respect for him. Nobody knows about him ofcourse... he's too busy doing 'the good thing'. He is definitaly somebody worth supporting in any way possible. If you really want to donate, I think that is the way to go. Find a reliable organisation person and give it them with as little in-between people as possible. Who would have thought that providing aid would be such hard work eh?

So how does that correlate to our adventure in Congo? The reality is: there was very little we could on the ground. We did not have the time, we did not have the money, we did not have the supplies. Time, money and supplies, all of it can be generated. But for us, at that time, it was not possible. Period.

The everyday little gestures(giving and receiving) don't usually make our trip reports. They are just the most normal things in the world - not worth mentioning(at least not for the right reasons). If we receive exceptional hospitality, we will write about it. I we provide exceptional help, we will (probably) write about it. If you do not read many good experiences in our trip report... that's because they did not happen and I did not want to make the little gestures - both directions - look bigger then they really were.

I wrote the anecdote of the guy on a little motorbike who asked for oil. If I had just given it to him and nothing would have happened I would not have written about it. I wrote about it because it struck me that I was so hard at that time to him. The whole series of events prior to that situation made me act that way. I do not approve my behaviour. I felt bad for that guy afterwords, I wished I would have reacted otherwise. But put me in exactly the same situation and I would react exactly the same. That's the whole point: Congo changed our normal behaviour. Nowhere in Africa (or elsewhere) had we experienced this to such an extent. That is what I write about. That is also why I dared referencing to Conrad's book.

Have you noticed how little this entire explication actually takes the Congolese (or other benificiaries of our aid) opinion into account? It does not seem to matter much in most discussions I have seen. I often make the mistake of forgetting that all this aid we are discussing is actually meant for a real live person. And I don't think I am alone. So what is his idea about all this aid stuff? Do we actually care when, for the umpteenth time, we have this discussion? Or do we think we are expert enough to know his opinion without asking?

Ok, but why don't you pay for services you receive? Why do you expect freebies from some of the poorest people in the world?

That seems to be a hot topic for many people and for starters I would like to recommend to reread my report again. Because asking something for free is something I never do. I don't even dare it at home. That does not mean I will not accept anything for free if people insist. But asking? Sorry, no. Expecting? Even less.

I am very proud on the way we take our responsibility if we take risks. We often take risks (as you might have noticed), but never will we not accept the concequences. We got stuck hundreds of time and we knew we would before we entered Congo. We always started working our way out on our own. We did not ask for help when we thought we did not need it, and we rarely did. Yes, I did get cross when people begged when we were digging. But it's not like they were offering help in return for money, they were just begging. Was it friendly to be cross? Ofcourse not.. but hey, I am a human being like all of us you know.

If we get offered help (we did not ask, remember) in return for money and we do not really need it, we usually decline. Our experience tells us that we lose more time with negotiating about the price then with fixing it ourselves. Our experience in Congo tells us that, unlike most other parts of Africa, the asking price will be insanely high to start with anyway and the discussions will probably be very heated (we have to think about our security too). Does that mean we have denied them the chance for a quick job? It certainly does! But it is just impossible, and dangerous, to proceed like that all the time. That is the reality and sorry to dissapoint you that it does not correspond to what you would have liked us to do.

What if people started helping us, why did I tell them they would not get any money? Unlike us, westerners, these people do not need fancy contracts with addendums and disclaimers. They know perfectly well what I am saying. They also know I am a mundele who might not know the regular customs, so they take a very small risk that they will not actually receive anything. But these people are not stupid. Nor are they ignorant. They know they will get rewarded. They know they will get rewarded more then if they would be helping a fellow Congolese. But it will not the be the 'Grand Prize' they had hoped for in the beginning.


But why don't you pay them the 'Grand Prize"? For you it's almost nothing

I have read this trip report from a backpacker a long time ago. I can't remember his name or website so I cannot give credit. But he told of something that had happened to him in a south-east asian capital city. It went something like this (free interpretation)

Uknown backpacker said:
While walking around I was stopped by a guy selling little drums. I quite fancied them so I asked how much. He wanted 5$. That's virtually for free, I could buy twenty of them with the money I had in my pocket! I knew it was normal to talk the price down, but I hated that so much. I did a quick attempt and got the price down to 4$. Hey, what's 4$ to me anyway? And the salesman looked happy!

A few moments later a man came to talk to me. He introduced himself as a professor at the local university. He had seen how I bought the drums and he was quite upset. He asked me if I know something about economics? "Sure", I answered, after all I studied economics at school. He then went on to explain me a bit about the simple principle of supply and demand.

- The real value of the drums is 0,5$. And expensive item for local people, but if they saved up they could just afford one.
- I had now bought a drum for 4$. The salesman was really pleased with that. He also saw that this western tourist gladly paid it.
- If that salesman could sell 1 drum to a western tourist, he would earn 8 times more then if he would sell it to a local. The idea of selling locally suddenly became a lot less attractive!
- Because of the principle of suply and demand, the value of that drum was now 4$.
- Local people could not afford to spend 4$ on a drum. They would no longer be able to purchase one.
This is ofcourse oversimplified, but I think it holds some truth. Let's create the following fictionial, but not unrealistic, situation:

There is a big boghole. We get stuck. We ask for help. It takes them a long time and its hard work, but in the end we pay them 600$ After all, that is what it would have cost us in the US if we called a tow truck and these guys worked hard. We can afford 600$, we came prepared with a lot of money for cases like this.

Guess what happens when the next truck arrives and gets stuck? They will not ask 600$ because they know they can get that. They ask 1200$ as it is quite normal to double the initial asking price. How much will that truck be able to talk it down?

And what about the fact that in this little village there is now 1 guy who owns 600$ while the rest his village owns nothing at all. Imagine the turmoil that is going to cause? It is not going to be pretty! (that was one the underlying messages from "The gods must be crazy" if I am not mistaken.)

The consequences of paying 400%, 500%, 600%, ... more then the normal going rates is quite dramatic. Not just to you, but to the economy. And it only enforces the image that all "whites" are rich and stupid (and can be treated as such). We are very much aware that we ALWAYS paid more then what locals would have paid. We don't mind. But we made sure we kept it reasonable.

Having said all that. No we were not surprised to see the attitude from the locals towards us. We had seen it many times elsewhere. But yes, the sheer scale of it surprised us.

In dibaya-lubwe we had a (very friendly) conversation with a group of young, curious and intelligent guys. They asked how many mobile phones we had. That question surprised us. And our answer (one) surprised them. They asked how many mobile phone networks there were? We have 3 in Belgium. So why didn't we have 3 mobile phones then? "In Belgium the mobile phones are for free and you do not have to pay for the conversations". They honestly believed that! Where do they get that kind of information? Why do they think things like that? Why do they even consider believing it? Not surprising really if the few white people they have met are spending money as if they get it for free.

I can go on forever and I notice this is getting more into a rant then into background information. For which I apologize.

But you don't pay the official fees either?

I see 'The Internet' has accused us of not paying the toll fees in Lubumbashi. Please, once again, reread the trip report, I actually explained why. I also explained why us normally do pay them. I am not going to repeat it here.

Some other random thing you should have done better. Why are you so arrogant about *random thing*?

It saddens me that some people have the impression that we are angry in everything we do. That we wildly kick about but are generally clueless. I can only say: we're not really like that. Honestly! ;-)

I hope you understand by now that there are little things we do/did that we do not think about. So much even that I often get completely fed up with it all, as I do not know the answers to all these difficult questions I keep asking myself. And I hope you understand that the situation in Congo is quite exceptional. It cannot be compared to other African countries. It is certainly not representative Even with the best intentions and the best preperations, once you are down there, crawling out of your capsized 4x4 things change. I am sure psychologist can explain this very well.

We really try hard to be responsible in our travels. Travelling means everything to us. The impressions we leave are as dear to us as the impressions we gained during our trips. Our opinions constantly change. But we are not Mother Theresa. This whole idea that travelling trough the third wolrd dictates that we must act like saints makes me very tired. We are normal persons, who do normal things. We just like to do those things in unusual places I guess ;-)

When I initially started writing this trip report I planned on writing a very brief item about everything I said above. Due to the surprising amount of attention this report got and the surprising amount of (sometimes very negative) reactions I felt obliged to do it a bit more elaborate. Sorry if I bored you with that.

The reason why I wanted to keep it short initialy is because I know from experience this would start a pointless dicussion. Everybody has their own opinions about it. Strong emotions are usually involved. I sometimes think it is because it handles about solidarity. And solidarity is something we get fed from our religion (be it Christian, Muslim, ...). And you know how people are when they see opinions that do not stroke with their religion..

It's a discussion usually held in a pub. And when the beers start flowing, the discussion gets heated and ends in a fistfight. The next day everybody will feel embarrased for what they have said and done, but nobody will apologize because they are too proud. In the end nothing is accomplished except some dented ego's. And the topic of the discussion? You know, those poor souls in Africa? Nothing will have changed for them...

For that reason, I agree that this belongs in Fireside Chat. But I will leave that up to the moderators to decide.

Before you respond in that thread I have one favour to ask. Or make that two.
Firstly, don't take this all too seriously, it's just a silly trip report.
Secondly, wait 24 hours before you reply. How can one reply to such a heated matter seconds after they have read this?

But you don't have to ofcourse... it's a free world!


More wrap-up is coming on everything specific to the truck and the route, the preparation. You know, the interesting stuff ;-) I'll promise I will not make that such a long read! :)
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