Kinshasa – Brazzaville; crossing the Congo River

The crossing, the ultimate crossing, between Kinshasa and Brazzaville is exciting. Between 7 and 7.30 am we gather in the open air breakfast lounge of Hotel Investe de la Presse. The climate, surroundings and hotel staff are exceptionally smooth, welcoming and peacefull. It’s completely opposite of what we’d expected from Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo. It’s hard to obtain a visitors visa for the giant Congo. With a formal letter of invitation supplied by one of the only two travel agents of the Congo and several other necessary documents we’ve managed. At breakfast that morning we do the usual chit chat, making up the balance of the evening before and for the day ahead. A taxi and a van arrive. Employees of the only two Congolese travel agencies meet us at the entrance of Hotel Investe.
One is concerned about the ticket we’ve booked with the other, which according to the one is a rip off. Even if we will effectively be transported to the other side of the river it will still be a rip off because it’s far too expensive. The rip off agent sents a taxi with driver to pick us up. But we decide to step into the van of the other agent. Off to the harbour, to cross the Congo river. Setting the two capitals of the two Congo’s apart. We’ve been talking about it and arranging for it, for weeks. One of us has a ferry ticket that has costed six hundred US dollar, a lot of official and some missing paperwork. Will we be able to get a second ticket as to both make it across and at least as interesting, at what price?

A broker has taken our passports. We wait in the exclusive lounge. Canal + is broadcasting an animated version of Saint Exupérie’s Le Petit Prince, one of my favorite classics. I like the coïncidence of the little explorer questioning all human behaviour without judging it and finding myself in a country where a lot of culturally conditioned behavior induces many question marks for me. The broker likes to whisper confidentially. He does some complicated calculating and comes up with a gap of two hundred dollar to be replenished. Excuse me sir, that’s impossible, I confidentially whisper back. Another piece of paper comes up out of our bags. He takes it and stays away again for a very long time. He finally returns and whispers confidentially that we both need to pay another ten dollars and that our boat is leaving in ten minutes. 

At the pier there’s several mid sized passenger boats and one speed boat. A couple of minutes later we ride the fast streaming water of the Congo river in that one speedboat. It kind of feels like James Bond. We arrive at the other side of the Congolese universe. Brazzaville radiates a laid back ambiance that associates well with croissants and café au lait. Congo Brazzaville used to be colonized by the French and it feels French. The broker at this side comes to tell us he wants our immigration to get over with as quickly as possible since it’s Sunday and he’s celebrating the holy day. You can see from his content face, he’s celebrating it with people that make him feel good, food and beer. He wears a fine white linnen shirt and a genuinly friendly smile. We wait. Until we’re being asked in at a small office, the colonel’s office. A colonel without an uniform; a festive outfit he’s wearing, bright and colorful. But his questions are serious. And he doesn’t seem to be wanting to take us for who we are. More questions. Why do you travel together, where are you staying, why do you’ve got different visas – as one is issued in London and the other in Brussels – where do you come from etcetera. After a quite severe interrogation the tension fades slowly and we make some jokes, exchange irrelevant personal information and listen to stories about his country. He is a proud man. I see a nervous tick around his upper lip. It’s not obvious. I wonder what his life has been like until now. We shake hands. And we leave the serious interrogation room a bit astonished about this happening here in laid back Brazzaville instead of in ‘el desperado de Kinshasa’.


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