It was December 2011. Ana had malaria, the Congolese presidential elections threatened to end in yet another civil war and Angola had suspended its visa services indefinitely. There was only one overland way out of DRC: across the country towards Zambia, 3,000kms off-road. Slap in the middle of the equatorial rainy season. DRC has the most thunderstorms of any country in the world, with flooding quite common during the rainy season, which makes roads outside Kinshasa and main cities almost impassable. Only the Congolese trucks venture onto Route Nationale One in this season. Loaded with palm oil, cassava and biscuits, they cross from Kinshasa to Lubumbashi in three to four months. The truck drivers became our companions.
Crossing this country, roughly the size of Western Europe, through swamps and rainforest with sky-high termite mounds, had never been part of the plan. We would be swallowed into the gut of Africa; a steaming place pounded by torrential downpours ten months of the year, devastated by years of armed conflict, haunted by legends of cannibalism.
A vast territory, too little explored since independence in 1960. Some would not have coped with four weeks in a leaking tent and in the same muddy clothes, consumed by hunger, thirst and exhaustion. But for us this was an opportunity to explore a land of exceptional biodiversity. 18% of our planet’s rainforest, which allows us to breathe, stretches along the mighty Congo River. It was for us more than a breath of fresh air.
This article was first published in Issue 5 of OVERLAND magazine.