It’s still January 1993 in Zaire. In part two of his epic journey through what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Travel Africa’s Publications Manager Phil Clisby heads for a date with the mountain gorillas, with one or two strange encounters along the way…
Walking round Kisangani, Den, Viv and I bumped into a real dude. He was wearing leather trousers with laces up the side, black cowboy boots, a leather jacket, a dagger necklace and a baseball cap. Anyone would have thought it was only 30°C. He looked like he was one of the Village People.
Stopping us, he asked: “What on Earth are you doing in this crazy, mucked-up place with a not very nice president who’s not doing very much for the country?” I’ve substituted a few ‘F’ words.
It transpired that he was born in Kisangani but had left 35 years previously to find fame and fortune in Germany and America. His accent was all over the pace, as if to prove the point. Switching from a Noo Yawk drawl to clipped Germanic to guttural African, all in the same sentence. He claimed to own a few diamond mines, a couple of recording studios and be the composer behind such groups as Boney M and Milli Vanilli. Thinking about it, perhaps that should have been diamond mimes.
Our Noo friend had come back to see his old country and check on his diamonds, and was completely devastated by the state of the place. To give some context, Zaire was experiencing a bit of turmoil at this time. In December 1992, the army had looted Kisangani, smashing up everything in sight, including people, because they hadn’t been paid. There were bullet holes in many of the buildings around town, bearing witness to this.
Lucky Martin (if you remember from part one of this tale, he’d had his passport stolen) had spent the morning at the Immigration Office, trying to sort out his passport situation. He was told to return at 2pm to collect a "more official" letter than the one he’d acquired in Lisala, but by 4pm there was still no sign of the immigration officer.
Unfortunately, we had to leave Kisangani that day, and the guy still had Martin’s original laissez-faire document. There was nothing else for it: we were going to have to smuggle him over the border into Uganda.
Read the full blog to learn what it’s like to navigate through huge mudholes, meet a mountain gorilla, marvel at a samosa… oh, and smuggle someone across a border.