DR Congo Trip 2010
Getting There (Feb 12-14)
I am off to Africa once again. Flew out of Seattle around 6:30AM on Delta to JFK. Transferred to Royal Air Maroc and flew to Casablanca where I had a nine hour layover. I was put up by Air Maroc at their Atlas Hotel. Flew to Kinshasa with a technical stop in Douala, Cameroon. Over Benin saw a fantastic display of lightening jumping between the clouds. Arrived in Kinshasa 2:20AM in the morning. Was met at the Kinshasa airport by Alino and Terence of Gocongo. They got me through customs and baggage. The airport is in bad need of repair or replacement. Discovered that my checked bag did not transfer between Casablanca to Kinshasa. This made the rest of the trip a real adventure since my clothes and other items, such as the group's first aid kit, were packed in that bag. I was driven to the Invest Hotel for a three hour stay before flying out to Basankusu.
Flying to Basankusu (Feb 14)
At 5PM I went down to the lobby and I met Lisa, Bryan and Laurie. They had arrived in Kinshasa several days before. We were driven to the smaller airport in Kinshasa, N'dolo. Our flight to Basankusu was on a Filair Let L-410 UVP-E Turbolet. We had a full complement of 19 passengers. Terence and Alino also flew out with us. We took off around 7AM going to the west which took us over Malebo Pool. After turning north we followed the Congo River for a little way until it went west of our path. Near the equator our plane was buffeted by a thunder storm. Each time the plane would fall in altitude one of the lady passengers would yell out. At Mbandaka our plane was refueled and some people departed. We stood under the wing during the refueling because it was raining. A UN helicopter and plane were parked at the airport and the UN had several portable offices and buildings setup. A conflict over fishing and farming rights erupted in the northwest corner of Equateur province around Dongo in late October of 2009 and the UN got involved after people fled out of the conflict zone and needed assistance. After a short hop we landed at Basankusu.
Basankusu (Feb 14-15)
After landing and unloading our luggage we had to go through the bureaucratic process of registering with the authorities. This took almost an hour. Finally we were able to leave the airport and were driven to our accommodations, the Assana II hotel. While they did not have running water, they did have toilets. The owner was in the process of upgrading his hotel. He owned a dog which acted as night watchman and kept most other dogs away. Before night fall we were given a tour by the local Government tourist official. Apparently not many tourist come through and he gave us the deluxe tour. Just across the street from the hotel we saw two Basenji dogs, a male and female. The female really drew our attention with her wrinkles, tight curly tail, and very red coat. She was pregnant. We wanted to bring her back but she was wary and close to giving birth when we returned back to Basankusu. We found out on our return from the trip upriver that both dogs came from Bokoli. The tourist official showed us the hospital, main Catholic Church, and the market. Saw plenty of dogs but most were mixed or full European breeds. A big moth joined me in my room later that night and was fluttering and scrapping on the floor and I couldn't get it to leave. So I left it until morning.
Next morning after breakfast we went to the market so I could get some replacement clothes. Bought a shirt and pants for 22,000 Congolese francs. The pants were too long and had a hole. So we went to a tailor just down the street and he hemmed up the pants and fixed the hole. Went back to the hotel and waited for our ride to the port. The truck arrived and after loading our baggage we were driven to our boat (pirogue). It was loaded with food, water, camping gear, chairs and a new outboard engine purchased from the fees we paid Gocongo.
The Crew and Travelers
Before I describe the trip up river, I thought I would introduce our crew and travelers. We hired Gocongo to provide logistic support and personnel to help with our voyage. Terence Mwanza was our guide and translator. He was a former teacher of English and still taught French part time in a Public and a Private school. Evelyn Makitu spoke some English and was our cook. Alino was our motorman and formerly had been a fisherman. Handsome Ancient Man (that is how we knew him) was navigator and night security for us and the boat. We were also giving Kajui, a park guard for ICCN (Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature), a ride up to Lingunda. For most of the trip Kajui acted as navigator and later would help us with our search for dogs.
Among the travelers was me, Lisa Saban, Bryan and Laurie Gregory. I got my first Basenji as a rescue. My second was a run away from a home she was placed in and a third generation Avongara. I became interested in the imported and native African Basenjis and now help with putting out the information on the African Stock for the Basenji Club of America. I provide Computer support to a federal government office. Lisa got her first Basenji, just like me, from Sandra Anderson and got a second one from Katie Campbell. Her male Basenji Ltle Man recently was a sire to litter born last year. She is a Partner in an environmental consulting firm and serves as a project manager, lead scientist, and technical adviser. Bryan and Laurie are longtime Basenji breeders in the Pacific Northwest under the Jumoke kennel name. Bryan is an architect and Laurie is a registered nurse.
Up the Maringa River (Feb 15-17)
Butterflies and more butterflies. They were crossing the river back and forth. All kinds of colors. A lepidopterologist would be in heaven. Up in the sky there were heron and predator type birds. Along the bank in the villages as we passed we saw several Basenji type dogs and some not so. Mostly red and white and some tri-colors. As we went up river we would be spotted by the kids and the cry would go up, "Mondele, mondele....", white person, white person. Wherever we stopped the kids wanted to have their pictures taken and to see their image on our digital cameras. Along the way we found people friendly and inviting. Just before we stopped Evelyn purchased a fish for our dinner and then we stayed for the night in Waka.
After breakfast were taken on a tour of the village. It was bigger than I expected and went away from the river. It was difficult to get good pictures of the dogs because the children would run up to try to get into the picture frame. As we saw on the river the day before the trend seemed to be mostly red and whites with some tricolors. We turned back at the school after meeting the teacher going to his class. We passed a sign, "Esote ezaili", which we found out said "Sweet meat here". This meant dog meat.
After the tour we took our leave and also acquired a live duck for dinner. Saw fewer villages along this stretch of the river. Sighted our first sunken ship and we would see further up. Some of these sank during the Congo war that ended in 2007. Now there are few options for the local farmers to get their surplus crops to market. The African Wildlife Foundation has started running a barge up the Maringa to help get crops to market and to reduce or eliminate hunting of wildlife.
We stopped for lunch at a fishing village. They were making a pirogue on the beach. An owl was being kept captive. When we stopped at the same spot on our way down river we didn't see the owl and assumed it had been eaten. They had two dogs, one a red and white and the other a capped red tri.
Further up the River
After our omellete and pineapple lunch, we continued up river. Saw more fishing villages with dogs.
Second Night Stop
An hour and half before sunset we stopped at fishing village after looking at two previous which did not have enough room for our tents. They had two dogs. One allowed me to pet it and it wandered around our camp. The other was shy and stayed away from our camp. Before our breakfast of fried bread with marmalade, the villagers showed us a snake and large fish they had caught. We left the village, which was off the main channel of the Maringa, after breakfast.
On our way to Baringa
We didn't see as many butterflies crossing the river until midday when they started dive bombing our boat and flying up and down its length. Saw several birds. In the afternoon we passed the mouth of the Lomako and reached Baringa.
Took a walk around the village and saw plenty of dogs. Type was not consistent so we decided not to get puppies here. Had lunch on the beach above where we had pulled in with the boat.
Up the Lomako River (Feb 17-19)
Went back down the river and turned up on the Lomako River. Saw several good looking dogs, including a red and white puppy Lisa liked and was hoping to try bring back, before we stopped at Isake village for the night.
They had three dogs, one with feather tail, the others were good Basenji type.
At Lingunda the ICCN had their headquarters for the Lomako reserve. We paid a fee to stay at the reserve and registered our names. We were the first official tourists to the reserve since its creation in 2006. Most of the previous visitors were Scientist, AWF or Government officials. Kajui was dropped off and he would help us find puppies by looking to villages to the south. We saw plenty of wildlife around the headquarters, mostly birds and monkeys. Two hours after leaving Lingunda we found a fishing camp where we could setup our tents. No dogs were kept at this camp.
Lomako Reserve at Ndele (Feb 19-23)
After our breakfast of fried bread and cheese we left the fishing village for Ndele. At the port we found that the boardwalk that was constructed to allow visitors not to get their feet wet when the river floods inland during the rainy season had fallen apart. Trees had been felled and their trunks formed the new path to the reserve through the flood plain. After balancing on the tree trunks we reached the area above the flood plan and continued on a path up to the village near Ndele. After passing through the village it was a short distance to Ndele. We were met by the staff and three scientist, Ashley, Ethan and Amy, currently doing research in the reserve. We were shown our cabins that we would be using during our stay. A thunderstorm came through during the evening during dinner.
The next morning we went out in two groups to walk in the forest. Amy, Ethan, Lisa, me and two park guards went off. Saw butterflies, heard monkeys and were shown a hollow tree with bats roosting inside. The guards showed us a rubber vine. The reserve is in one of the original areas where the natives were forced by King Leopold's company to find rubber.
On our third day at the reserve we went upstream on the Lomako River. The pirogue had to be pulled out of the mud. The park guards used oars so we would be able to go quietly up river. We saw several types of birds, such as Fish Hawk, a blue bird, Ducks and FIshers. Only saw monkeys fleeing into the forest or making noise. At the furthest point we stopped at an Elephant Bai. During the 1970's a herd of forest elephants were decimated by hunters in the Bai. No elephants have returned to the area since. On our return we observed people bailing out a dam they created to catch fish along the bank of the river. Later in the evening we went out into the forest to observe bush babies getting up for their night forage.
In the morning Lisa went into the forest with several guides while the rest of the group stayed in Ndele and took it easy. We were able to observe monkeys and birds as well as insects around Ndele. In the evening we went out into the forest and heard monkeys and other animals.
Getting Our Puppies (Feb 23-24)
After saying our farewells to the staff and science team hiked back to the river. The Park Guards carried most of our gear to the boat for us. On our way down the river saw more wildlife. Stopped at the same spot we camped overnight on the way up for lunch. At the end of lunch a thunderstorm started. We decided to continue down river during a pause in the rain. While on the river the rain and thunder started again and we had to put a tarp over us and the boat.
When we reached Lingunda and found that, unlike our experience on the river, they had high winds from the thunderstorm. There was damage done to trees and some buildings in the village. While we waited at the park headquarters for our campsite to be setup Kajui showed up and we followed him to his house. He showed us the seven puppies, four female and three males, he had acquired from the village of Bokoli for us to look at. One was a tricolor, one a very white dog with red spot, and four light red and white dogs. I was interested in a male puppy with an injured ear. After going back to our campsite and putting our gear in the tents we went back to Kajui's house and evaluated each of the puppies. Chairs were setup for us and the local people crowded around while we looked at the puppies. After evaluating the dogs we found the tri was in poor health, one of the lighter colored red and white had a bad bite, and one had too much white. We settled on three litter-mates, two females and a male. I selected the male with the injured ear and named him Mobengi (hunter). Laurie selected the other female and named her Lokalanga (peanut). Lisa decided to take the remaining litter mate and named her Lola ya Zamba (heavenly forest). During our dinner lightening flashed in the clouds.
The next morning we took a look at the school. Our campsite was on the edge of an open area which included the school. Later on school started with the children lining up outside to sing before going into class.
We wanted to see the mother of the puppies we selected and possibly pickup more puppies. So we rented a motorcycle and driver to take us down to Bokoli in the morning. Because we only could get one motorcycle it was decided that Bryan, myself, Kajui and Terence would make the trip. Kajui went down first to tell the villagers that we were coming down to see their dogs so they would be in the village and not out in their fields or in the forest. The rest of us started hiking toward Bokoli. Along the way we saw some dogs. After going 10 kilometers the motorcycle returned and Bryan and I rode together. We arrived in the afternoon and were seated on the village chief's veranda and under a chair was a sleeping red and white puppy. He was the fourth puppy we acquired and we named him Mosika (far away). Bryan and Laurie decided to keep him. It was hot and humid while we waited until Terence arrived before touring the village and seeing their dogs. While we waited I noticed several shirts with President Barack Obama's name or name and picture being worn. A mob of children and some adults followed us. Most of the dogs were red and whites with some tri-colors and mahogany tri-color. Along the way we acquired our fifth and final puppy. Terence and the locals named her Lokoso (greedy) because she was hungry all the time. Lisa decided to keep her. The dogs in Bokoli are used for hunting. After letting the villagers know we were interested in buying hunting bells we were able to get two.
Our return to Lingunda was easier because we were able to rent two more motorbikes with drivers. The puppies were placed in a basket tied to the back of the motorbike I was riding. It was a rough ride for them and Lokoso did not want to leave the basket at the end of the trip. She soon came out for food.
Down the Maringa River (Feb 25-27)
Before we left Lingunda we paid Kajui 9,000 Congolese francs for each puppy (approximately $10). Kajui decided to ride back down with us. We stopped along the way to see if it was possible to buy the puppy we saw on the way up and Lisa liked. We could not purchase her because she was the only dog they had. Stopped in the evening in the same fishing village along the Maringa River we camped at on our trip upriver (second night upriver).
The next morning the friendly girl played with our puppies. In the afternoon we saw a rainbow just before a small rain shower came down on us. It was just after sunset when we stopped and camped at a village where there were only women and children. The women sang after our dinner.
In the morning the puppies played with the children on the beach just before we left.
Arrived in Basankusu in the early afternoon. We walked to the Assana II hotel after hiring a cart pusher to carry our luggage. The hotel dog seemed to accept the intrusion of our dogs into his domain. Later in the night a terrific thunder storm came through. I thought the roof of the hotel was going to come off.
Return and Stay in Kinshasa (Feb 28-Mar 2)
Flight to Kinshasa
Around eleven in the morning we went to the airport. While we were waiting Gladez Shorland showed up to meet someone coming in on the plane. I had been in contact with her before our trip when she was at the Lomako Reserve. She was working with Lola ya Bonobo on a project to release rescued Bonobos onto a island on the Yekokora river just north of Basankusu. We arrived in Kinshasa around 5PM and were driven to the Invest Hotel for our stay in Kinshasa. We had late dinner on the outside terrace at the Hotel.
The Invest Hotel is located next door to Kinshasa's TV broadcast center. It has a small menagerie of Parrots and Monkeys kept in cages on the grounds. There is large outdoor dining area around the pool.
In the late afternoon we went to the Clinique Veterinaire Kinoise. Dr. Freddy Kalonji certified that the puppies were healthy for their upcoming flight. They were given a Puppy DP shot and chipped.
After returning the puppies back to the hotel we went out to a restaurant at a Tennis club which served European food for dinner.
I was leaving earlier than the rest of my co-travelers. On my last day in Kinshasa we wanted to go to the museum, but it was not open. So we went to the market. I purchased some paintings, bronze wall plaque showing a dog with a hunter, and other trinkets. I was walking by some carved wood figures and out of the corner of my eye noticed a Nkisi Kozo. This was a figure of a two headed dog (see my paper on Dogs in the Kongo spiritual world). Bryan was able to purchase it and now displays it in his living room.
Return Home (Mar 2-4)
After our visit to the market we drove across town to the "Beach". This is where I would catch the boat to take me across the Congo River to Brazzaville. While there we got held up because a VIP from Belgium had come across from Brazzaville and they had a military band there which played the national anthem for both countries. We went to a shop which sold drinks only to wait for the boarding call for my boat.
Both me and Terence crossed over and were met by a driver and a guide. They drove me around town for most of the afternoon in the city. For dinner we went to to a restaurant that served African food. The food was good but twice the lights went out. We then drove to the airport for my 11:50PM flight.
Arrived in the morning to windy and rainy weather. I was planning to visit the city since I would be staying overnight at the Atlas Hotel, but I was so tired that I took a nap most of the day.
Onward to Home
Flew out of Casablanca in the morning. We chased the Sun all day to New York, landing in the afternoon at JFK. After a five hour layover I flew on to Seattle arriving in the evening. The next evening I met Bryan, Laurie, Lisa, and the puppies when they arrived in Seattle.
Photos courtesy of (1) Lisa Saban (2) Laurie Gregory (3) Bryan Gregory.