Adventure Travel

From the Jungle to the Ruwenzori

After weeks barging on the Ubangi and then the Congo River to Kisangani, I was back on land. It felt good under my feet. Kisangani was a dusty town with a long dirt road running out of town northeast towards the fabled Ruwenzori Cloud Forests (now called Rwenzori).

You might think hitchhiking in Africa was a dangerous thing to do, but I found the people helpful, happy and willing to help a poor weird looking kid who looked nothing like anyone around there.  My oddity (and always beaming smile) may have helped me get rides.  The people were more than a little curious, but everyone seemed happy to help a poor wayfaring stranger working his way eastward.

The worn red dirt road, which was more like a jungle path, headed uphill from Kisangani to Bafwasende, a town 150 miles away.  This was the main truck route and I was able to get a ride on the back of an overloaded truck from a cheerful driver.  At this point I was following along the equator into the jungle and the sun was almost directly overhead much of the time. 

The trucks that drove this road brought important supplies to the interior.  They usually had three seats in the cabin, one for the driver and two for the mechanics needed along the road. Starting with tires that were really bad and bound to get worse as we careened through potholes from seasonal rains achieving speeds of only 10 to 20 miles per hour.  The trucks were always overloaded, straining their way along.  A day without a flat tire or a mechanical breakdown was a miraculous day.  The two mechanics were not a luxury, but a necessity.  If I got a ride, it was in the back on top of the cargo. This was nothing like highway travel in the U.S. or Europe. 

After Bafwasende, the road crossed the Ituri (Aruwimi) River into dense jungle; it was the Ituri Rain Forest I had read about as a freshman at Cornell. The Ituri was the home of the Mbuti people, the pygmies described in the Colin Turnbull book, The Forest People.  Reading a book is nothing like seeing it in real life.  I had already visited with pygmy people on the western edge of the jungle south of Bangui.

Along the way, I took a detour and visited a small reserve for the critically endangered eastern forest bongo antelope, one of the largest antelopes.  Their large ears and tails were constantly twitching and spinning to keep the flies away.  I also saw okapi which look similar but are related to giraffes.  Okapi are so reclusive they were unknown to the western world until the 20th century.  Both get very large and have become a target for bush meat.  Even back then, both were endangered.

The red dirt road passed along through Mambasa and on to Komanda before heading south along the edge of the snowcapped Ruwenzori to the town of Beni.  The Ruwenzori Mountains, the Mountains of the Moon, were the remote home of mountain gorillas and a major source of the Nile River.

I reached Beni on July 16, where luck was with me. I caught a ride with the son of a prominent family with interests in Beni and Butembo.   My host, who had 7 children, invited me to stay with them.  The first evening, we had a wonderful dinner of chicken with cassava and vegetables.  As my host and his family ate the chicken, I noticed that they would break and suck the bones, then place the broken bones in a couple of special bowls on the table. 

When I asked about it, he explained that they loved the marrow and this was their custom.  Marrow is rich in fats and protein, so it makes sense. The next day, my host showed me around their town, we climbed a hill above the town for a great view in the valley and the town and on to Virunga National Park and Lake Edward.  After a week of bouncing on the back of trucks, this visit recharged me.  It was luxury.  I left well rested early the following morning as I headed south to the Nyiragongo volcano. 

3 comments on “From the Jungle to the Ruwenzori

  1. Your stories of the hospitality and sharing extended by complete strangers, who have very little, are heart warming and reminiscent of kindnesses I experienced in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia of that same era. While I did not hitchhike on cargo lorries,my travels to my agricultural work sites was on similar vehicles over similar roads. And in all instances people treated this over-sized, over-alabaster, overly-hirsute farang with total welcome. it seems risky to invite someone who looks like his dinner meal is the total of what the entire family would eat… but invite they did. What a wonderful world of people out there.

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    • You are so right, Larry. It may seem wondrous to us now, but as you apparently know from your own travels in these equatorial lands of harmony with their respective lands, virtually all the people I encountered in the interior of Africa — including in the CAR and Congo, were happy, friendly and welcoming.

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  2. Smolinsky

    After weeks of being locked down due to the coronavirus the story of your Africa travels takes me back to the open vistas and deep jungle of my own Africa journeys. A wonderful escape from the horrors of the virus and Trumpian lies and incompetence about dealing with it. I await your next missive and the memories it unleashes.

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