Once you’ve tasted a real thing, everything else is a cheap imitation ~ The Bone Clocks
I was paranoid that I wasn’t prepared enough for the trip. Minutes before leaving for the flight, I was still nervously checking all the documents, phone numbers, reservation details, hotel bookings. In my mind, no one can fully prepare for a trip to Democratic Republic of Congo (unless you are Tim Butcher, but even him, on several occasions, he doubted his own level of preparation). I was nowhere near to be fully prepared, although I had read an ocean of articles and books and had watched Virunga documentary as well. I just didn’t feel ready to go. Ironically, the whole process of preparation, instead of boosting my confidence, made me feel pretty bad, perhaps equally excited and scared. Congo definitely turned me into a nervous traveler.
Anything to do with Congo is edgy, it’s part of its allure — The Telegraph
The luxury safari… that wasn’t — The Wall Street Journal
Inside the fight to save one of the world’s most dangerous parks — National Geographic
I deliberately played with a bit of ignorance of my family and friends. When they asked about my travel plans, I confidently stayed ‘I go to Congo’, very few asked, ‘Which Congo?’, and those who knew DRC shook their heads in disbelief, ‘You’re insane. Do you have suicidal thoughts? Would you like to talk about it?’. They were laughing, it made me laugh too but I knew their comments weren’t entirely humorous.
My plan was to fly to Kigali, to take the car and travel for about 3,5 hours by road to Gisenyi – a little town located at the periphery of a safe world, minutes away from the Congolese border. The border is strictly monitored and controlled by the Rwandese government, opened for a very brief period of the daylight hours. Although I followed the plan, I still reached Gisenyi late evening, so overnight stay was inevitable. Gisenyi was uneventful, unless I take into account an annoying drunk British or a dream the night before the trip. The drunk guy was totally insignificant but the dream… Oh boy, the dream stayed with me way too long. In my dream, in the forests of Virunga, I was shot by rebels, mainly for the fact of wearing pink blouse (dreams aren’t rational, so don’t judge me). Subconsciously, I was so scared of DRC, that even such trivial thing as a colour sounded like a good reason to be killed. Was it just a ridiculous fear?
My consciousness kept playing tricks with me the whole night, so when I woke, I was totally exhausted, but I was ready to go. Virunga National Park, here I come! I reached Rwandan-Congolese border mid April 2017. What happened next was magic. The charm and elegance of gorillas, an active, vicious volcano, heartbreaking Goma, dangerous roads, kind people, luxurious hotel (which supposed to serve as a shelter but felt extremely inappropriate), random tourists, very few travellers. I was lost in a Virunga world, what a lesson to learn.
Democratic Republic of Congo is a memorable destination for an intense mix of extreme emotions: pleasure and fear, joy and guilt, admiration and shame. Congo just won’t let anyone stay indifferent, actually it just won’t let anyone remain the same. Most traveling I do is all about fun and games. The sunnier, the hotter, the better. This time it was so much more important, relevant, almost ceremonial. It’s been five days of an emotional rollercoaster, which left me totally overwhelmed. There is one thing though, that Congo gave me, and I will never forget: a tremendous sense of gratitude. I feel so grateful for what I have: a freedom to live, to dream, to have a choice.
That’s just a brief introduction to the trip. Next episodes will bring more Virunga, more gorillas, more Goma and more lava lakes. Less chic, more voyage.