World through my eyes

Friday 16th September 2011
In the night it rained so the dry season is coming to an end. This morning I left my laundry with the people at the Guest House. We drove from the Guest House to the conference center in a BMW. Christine re-organized so Misha and I gave our presentation back to back at the start. Thus we were done by 11:00am. We met Bienvenue Dinga who was printing out the invitation letters. They seemed to take forever and we left the conference center at about 11:25am. We stopped en route to get some money (in US$!) from an ATM, to pay for the boat tickets. AS we drove, we took some photos and videos of the traffic and shops. That was a big mistake, we were pulled over by the police in an unmarked Suburu. As I understand it they saw Misha taking photos and this was illegal. We sat in the car while Bienvenue and Celestin remonstrated with them and I believe they even called the ministry. They demanded Misha’s camera so as to delete the picture(s). Eventually in order to stay on schedule a payment was made. We asked for a receipt, however to get a receipt they said we would need to go to the ministry, and wait in the queue, so we gave up. Downtown Kinshasa had some elegant government buildings and well paved roads.

Figure 11: New buildings in Kinshasa. The tall buildings in the rear are clearly visible from Brazzavile.
We arrived at the river at about 1:00pm. There were lots of people all seeming to yell at one another in French, all very confusing. There were also lots of people carrying large loads (of reinforcing steel, agricultural products, large gas bottles etc.) to or from the river boats. Then the negotiating really got into its stride. First we had to part with our passports and go through passport control for Congo-Kinshasa, then to get a Congo Brazzavile passport, then buy tickets for the boat, then go through customs who wanted to know how much money we had on us and what objects we were carrying. Each step seemed to involve in depth negotiations and a need to pay someone for their “services”. In some cases we asked for a receipt but they would say, “Oh a receipt costs more”.

Figure 12: Waiting in the VIP lounge at Kinshasa port

Figure 13: . The ferry boat leaving Kinshasa for Brazzaville. Our boat is on the right.
We finally left on the boat at about 2:00pm for a 30 minute trip across the 5km wide Congo River. As we crossed the river Bienvenue who is a hydrologist explained about the navigation and in particular about the sandbanks. These can move in a period of months and need tracking and management (e.g. dredging to divert a flow to wash away a sand bank).

Figure 14: Kinshasa skyline from the boat crossing the Congo to Brazzaville.

Figure 15: Les and Misha on the boat crossing the Congo River
On arriving at Brazzavile port it was a similarly confusing scene. Once again we gave up our passports, however they said we had to go elsewhere, so we took a taxi elsewhere (about 100 yards away), where they sent us back to the first place. This time, they reviewed our visas carefully, gave us forms to fill out, and stamped our passports. We also paid a little more to ensure a smooth passage back through the various steps.
We hit the streets of Brazzavile at about 3:00pm in a standard Toyota Corolla green and white taxi.

Figure 16:Typical Toyota taxi in Brazzaville, Les, Biennvenue Dinga and Misha with the Congo River and Kinshasa behind
The roads were very good, with several impressive government buildings, and we passed Bienvenue’s universty. Many of the new buildings etc. are being built by the Chinese.

Figure 17: New building being built by China.
We had a brilliant driver and the drive was better than any video game since we did not have a lot of time before we needed to catch the last boat back to Kinshasa at around 4:30pm and we had no desire to be stuck in Brazzaville. We drove West to the rapids (which totally block any navigation) and stopped at a little café overlooking the rapids. There we had a coke and took photos. Even from a distance of a mile or so, the rapids were very impressive.

Figure 18: Congo rapids seen from Brazzaville.
We returned to the Brazzaville port at about 4:15pm.

Figure 19: Shops on the side of the road on the way from the Rapids cafe back to Brazzaville port.
Once again we went through the circus of negotiating, passport review etc. However now, in addition, we learnt there were only 5 passengers and the boat would not leave without 7. So we could wait, stay in Brazzaville, or pay for the missing 2 passengers. Not wishing to spend the night in Brazzaville, we paid up and took a photo of Brazzaville Beach.

Figure 20 : Brazzaville Beach (a sand bank)? This portion of the port used to be the landing point, however due to the movement of sand banks it is now blocked. The main port is about 100yards to the East, however some of the offices are at the old port.
The speedboat left Brazzavile at 5:00pm and arrived at Kinshasa about 15 minutes later. On the way Bienvenue Dinga explained that there was talk of building a bridge across the Congo to unite the two cities. Bienvenue Dinga was not to sure uniting the two Congos is a good idea, given that the DRC is about 10 times the size of Congo-Brazzaville.

Figure 21: Leaving Brazzavile on the “7 passenger” speedboat with a 300HP Yamaha outboard
.At Kinshasa, Bienvenue ran into a friend his who worked in the passport control. She offered to speed up the immigration process and was as good as here word. We were through by 5:30pm. To avoid the worst of the rush hour traffic we went to a small café and relaxed over a beer until 6pm when we started out for the University.

Figure 22: Celestin, Bienvenue, Misha and Les enjoying a beer in Kinshasa while waiting fof the traffic to ease up.
Despite waiting the traffic was still bad, we had to divert at various stages to avoid complete blocks. We arrived at the guest house at 8:15pm. Power was out, the hostess was just leaving. She had left a couple of large LED flashlights to illuminate the corridor and the dinner table. Dinner was in a thermos and consisted of cooked vegetables, potatoes and fish. Once again it was very tasty, especially since we had no eaten since breakfast of 2 eggs. After dinner I worked on the talk for Saturday. Then to bed. Once the flashlights were turned off it was pitch dark.

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