A Break from ‘the bush’: Adventures in the Congo

An adventure to be sure…

After a month and a half in the bush (although it feels more like a sparse collection of trees than a dense jungle), I decided it was time for a reprieve.

IMG_1049As often happens in these scenarios, I became fast friends with a woman who visited my supervisor, Carmen, two weeks ago. Sylvie is the Director of Conservation for Kahuzi-Biega, the national park/UNESCO World Heritage Site where our chimpanzee sanctuary is located. We instantly clicked and she invited me to visit her in Bukavu, the closest city to Lwiro.

I was hesitant at first, primarily because I didn’t want to inconvenience her. But to be honest, I was mainly dreading the thought of making the trek there by bus- a long, hot, exhausting affair, to be sure.

The closest village to Lwiro is Kuvumu, only 7 Kilometers away. However, the only available mode of transportation there is by moto. The road is a brutal collection of deep rivets, enormous potholes and large, obtrusive rocks, so the whole ordeal takes over half an hour to conquer. And this is only the first leg of the journey.

That said, the thought of a hot delicious meal (ex-pat style), wine and good company trumped my reservations. A week later, I was on the back of Obe’s moto (my new friend/chauffer), on my way to the big city.

Me.obe.motoI was already sweating in the afternoon heat, clinging 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, would be mistaken for a pile of scrap metal. But Obe assured me, “This is much better than ‘le bus’…much faster, much better.”

This ‘faster, better, taxi service entails waiting as long as it takes to fill up any random car way beyond its intended capacity. But what the hell. When in Congo…

The back seat was already packed with one poor woman smashed between two very large, very well-fed men. The driver granted me the option of claiming the entire front seat for an extra 2,000 Francs (less than $2). Or, we could wait until we found another passenger, who would basically be sitting on my lap. I tried to seem indifferent as I dumped out all the contents of my bag, praying I had the extra 2,000 Francs before my travel companion was spotted.

An hour later, front seat all to myself, we approached our destination. Lake Kivu dominated the view, expansive and seemingly tranquil, with only a few men in pirogues retrieving their nets from the murky water.


But any sense of calm was overwhelmed by the cacophony of noises blasting through the window – relentless horns passed down from one car to the next, excited chatter from the endless row of vendors lining the street, herds of goats audibly resisting the ropes around their necks. A haze of chalky dust overtook the car, accompanied by a steady stream of smoke billowing out of the piles of burning trash.


vendorsThe spirited beat of Congolese music spilled out of the radio, providing the perfect soundtrack for the colorful, frenetic performance I was now a part of.

I caught a glance of myself in the review mirror, a huge smile firmly in place.

Welcome to Bukavu.

You can donate directly to the sanctuary here to support all the work that goes into protecting the chimps and other wildlife in danger of extinction. 

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16 thoughts on “A Break from ‘the bush’: Adventures in the Congo

  1. Brooke, how is it that you just continue to amaze and leave me in utter awe? It’s crazy, but you keep doing exactly that. But, umm, wait, let me say this first. What the fuck, dude?! Do you just simply not believe in safety gear for your head?!?! I see a pattern with you. 🙄 I DON’T CARE THAT YOUR BIKE IS PINK AND CUTE. I don’t!! Okay, wow…didn’t really see that coming, but I think I am done now. 😳 Got that off my chest. Okay, where was I? You and I are similar in so many ways, but you are braver than I will ever be, and I very much admire that in you. You put your mind to something, let go of fear and get it done. It’s remarkable. Not a chance in hell would I have ventured to her house on my own; I would have been too scared. Although, my biggest fear in the world is flying, but nothing excites me more than walking through the arrivals gate of a new airport. So I fly, fear won’t stop me. Guess I am a little brave. This comment is all over the damn place, so I better go before I start carrying on about some other random crap like the effects of wearing too much hairspray. Before I go though, want you to know that I think you are one hell of a special soul, and you inspire the shit out of me. I do want to be braver, just like you. #helmetsaregood #andsuperstylish #youareatotalconehead #forgodssakewearahelmet

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I can honestly say, after six weeks “in the bush,” I would have sat on the laps of the two oversized fellas in the back seat if the visitor had said “come by for some beers later!” If it were football season I would have let them sit on mine.

    Your adventures, though, and the descriptive, flowing way you present them, make it unnecessary for me to venture. With you, we are there.

    Looking forward to your urban tales in beautiful Bukavu!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I almost just spit out my coffee!!! Yeah, had I known the epic night ahead, I would have crammed myself in the back if need be. I love that I get to take all of you with me. Just wait til’ next week! ;o) Although I don’t know if I can beat that ‘taxi ride’…add in my conversation with the driver in bad French…quite the ride indeed!

      Liked by 1 person

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