We have been very privileged to visit the mouth of the Congo River at Soyo on the Angolan side of the Congo. The extent and size of the Congo River left an unforgettable impression on all of us.
The Congo River was made famous by explorers like Stanley and Livingstone and many tales have been told about their explorations and discoveries. The Congo River originates in west-central Africa. With a length of 4,700 km, it is the continent’s second longest river, the Nile being the longest. It rises in the highlands of north-eastern Zambia between Lakes Tanganyika and Malawi as the Chambeshi River.
With its many tributaries, the Congo forms the continent’s largest network of navigable waterways. However, a series of cataracts render the Congo un-navigable between the seaport of Matadi, and Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as on the right bank Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of the Congo.
Although the Livingstone Falls (so named in honour of David Livingstone by Henry Morton) prevent access from the sea, nearly the entire Congo is navigable in sections, especially between Kinshasa and Kisangani. Until recently, large river steamers worked the rivers. The Congo River is still a lifeline in a land with few roads or railways.
We decided to explore the lower region of the Congo River crossing over from Angola into the DRC and the Republic of Congo and were amazed by the size and extent of this river. The areas we explored stretched all the way from Brazzaville, Matadi and right down to the town of Banana (DRC) opposite Soyo (Angola) at the Congo mouth. At this point the river mouth extends over 12.km!
We crossed the Congo river the first time at Noqui and Matadi border crossing on the Angola/DRC border. At this point a bridge over the Congo river has been constructed and it was with great excitement that we made our first ‘river crossing.
To find big tankers, freighters and container ships some 140km inland from the sea was unreal and is hard to imagine to us desert dwellers.
The trip proved to be a true 4×4 adventure since the main routes (N1 in both countries), both in DRC and the Brazzaville Congo are exceptionally bad dirt roads and totally congested by literally thousands of trucks and minibus taxis. Known for abundant rain, it is not hard to imagine what these roads would look like in summer (muddy, slippery).
This time of the year however, the roads are covered with red powered dust, worse than the ‘extreme’ dust you would find in the Khowarib Schlucht in Namibia!. The distance between Dolisie and Kinkala, on the way to Brazzaville, being a mere 280 kilometres, takes up to 18 hours to complete (not bad for the national N1 road). For the rest the tar roads (what are left of them) are riddled with potholes!
The good news is that Chinese contractors are working hard to construct new roads on the major routes and on the stretches that have been completed It is sheer delight to take a breather and enjoy the beautiful country and scenery – in a year or two it could be a different story all together!
The most eastern point of the Congo River, that we visited, was at Brazzaville and Kinshasa, the Capital cities of the two Congo’s that extend over kilometres along the banks of the Congo River.
Our Patrol: In these extreme conditions the Patrol has once again proven that it can and will take whatever happens, towing a heavily loaded trailer, carrying two fridges and all the camping equipment for communal use (kitchen, shower, toilet etc), water, extra fuel and supplies. We had an average consumption of 5 km to the litre, over a distance of 8,000 kilometres.
On the e difficult roads and in the extreme dust conditions fuel consumption dropped to 4 km to the litre in spite of doing only an average speed of around 20 km to the hour.
We carried a Wild Earth rooftop tent and this proved to be an extremely comfortable and versatile tent. The hard shell offers ample storage for bedding when closed and is also secured with two lockable latches. This was a trip of a lifetime and we cannot wait to return, so many roads, so little time!