After a month and a half in the bush, I decided it was time for a break. As often happens in situations like this, I became fast friends with a woman, Sylvie, who visited Carmen a few weeks ago. She is the director of conservation for Kahuzi-Biega, the national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site where CRPL is located. We instantly clicked and she invited me to visit her in Bukavu, the closest city to Lwiro. I was a bit hesitant to take her up on the offer, primarily because she is moving to Tanzania in July and I did not want inconvenience her. I was also dreading the thought of making the trek there by bus, which I imagined to be a long, hot, exhausting affair. The closest village to Lwiro is Kuvumu, which is only about 7 Kilometers away. But the only available mode of transportation to Kuvumu is by moto and the road is a brutal collection of deep rivets, enormous potholes and large, loose rocks; the whole ordeal takes over half an hour to conquer and this is only the first leg of the entire journey. However, the thought of a hot delicious meal (ex-pat style), wine and good company trumped my reservations and two weeks later, I was on the back of Obe’s moto (my new friend and ‘chauffer’) on my way to the ‘big city’. I was already sweating in the mid-day heat as I clung to Obe’s thick down jacket, which he wears faithfully regardless of the temperature. He agreed to drop me off at the ‘bus stop’ in Kuvumu, which turned out to be a row of old cars parked on the side of the road. He led me over to a man leaning against one of the cars that in any other context might have been mistaken for scrap metal. Obe assured me, “This is much better than ‘le bus’…”much faster, much better”. I deducted that this was the ‘official’ taxi service to the city, a process that entails waiting as long as it takes to fill any random car way beyond its intended capacity. “What the hell?” I declared in English. “When in Congo…” The back seat was already occupied by one poor woman who was smashed between two large, very well-fed men. The driver informed me that he would grant me the opportunity to claim ownership of the entire front seat for an extra 2,000 Francs (less than $2), or we could wait to find another passenger to sit on my lap. I tried to seem casual as I quickly rummaged through my bag, praying that I could locate the extra 2,000 before my potential travel companion was spotted. An hour later, front seat all to myself, we approached our destination. Lake Kivu dominated the view, expansive and tranquil, inhabited by only a few men in pirogues retrieving their nets from the murky water. But any sense of calm was instantly consumed by the cacophony of competing noises that bombarded the senses – relentless car horns, excited chatter from hundreds of vendors lining the road, herds of goats emphatically expressing their reluctance to follow orders, a haze of chalky dust making its way into the car accompanied by a steady stream of smoke from the piles of burning trash. The intoxicating beat of Congolese music spilling out of the radio served as the perfect soundtrack to capture the colorfully staged, frenetic scene. I caught a glance of myself in the review mirror, a huge smile firmly in place.
Welcome to Bukavu.