Heart of Darkness: Contemplating a Trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo
// June 5th, 2010 // DR Congo
Out of 664 pages in my guidebook, there are exactly 5 pages covering the Democratic Republic of Congo. Since my 2008 visit to Kenya, I’ve been intrigued by DR Congo. I read the book Blood River, and even though the name sounds discouraging, it was fascinating, and I actually wanted to take a ride on the wild side. My brother-in-law’s response was, “If you go there, you deserve to get shot.” Yes those words never left me. My parents’ response was “Absolutely not!” After reading about the rape and violence towards women in eastern Congo, I have to admit, I actually began to rethink such an idea. The Nyiragongo Volcano and the Parc National Des Virunga had been closed to visitors due to war and civil unrest since 2008. Even as I was planning my RTW trip, they were closed. I figured that it just wasn’t good timing and pushed it to the back of my mind.
Tourism Open Once Again
Once in Kenya, after glancing at the limited number of pages in my guidebook and classifying the DR Congo as a bit of a mystery, I got the itch again. After all, I was going to be in Rwanda in towns bordering Congo. I got online, went to Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree travel forum, and to my surprise, the parks were back open. And everyone that wrote about his or her experiences so far, felt safe. I was beginning to feel like it was a sign- I should go.
My biggest concern for visiting DR Congo was the border crossing. Being held at the border or bribed for money, quite frankly, scares me. Being a solo female traveler, I felt it necessary to hire a guide who would safely escort me across the border and in the country. My yearning to visit the Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as my vision to bring awareness to the positive aspects of this war-torn country made me get to work and start planning.
Searching for a Guide
I got in touch with Kennedy of Hakuna Matata Tours. This tour company takes people through Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Kenya, and most importantly, Democratic Republic of Congo. There are very few tour operators in DRC at the moment, so I was relieved to come across Hakuna Matata. A native of Congo, Kennedy is extremely familiar with Goma and its surroundings. His most popular trip in Congo is up the impressive Nyiragongo Volcano, which is exactly what I was looking for. The company runs so many types of tours that are appealing to the adventurous spirit. Not only does Hakuna Matata have popular tours posted on their website, but they will also put together a custom tour. If you request it, Hakuna Matata can arrange it. I also find the company appealing as a budget traveler- they can work with all budget types and make off-the-beaten-path trips accessible on a backpacker budget. They have an office in Bunugana, DR Congo, just across the Ugandan border. Most people visit this office for gorilla tracking in Congo (after all it is $100 cheaper than Uganda or Rwanda). Otherwise you can visit their website: www.hakunamatatatours.com.
I arranged my trek to Nyiragongo Volcano and decided it was time. Into the Heart of Darkness.
To continue reading about this trip, check out:
Heart of Darkness: Trekking the Nyiragongo Volcano
Montage Monday: A Photo Essay of Nyiragongo Volcano
Disclosure: Complimentary services were provided by Hakuna Matata Tours.