5 Dec

Kayaking the Congo: the ultimate adventure

If you’re a Westerner, like I am, chances are you probably don’t know too much about the Congo River. Again, if you’re like me you probably know about it from Joseph Conrad’s novella Heart of Darkness, a controversial anti-slavery book that some nowadays consider racist but at the time was considered a masterpiece of liberal thinking. The story recounts an Englishman’s journey up the Congo River.

While I admit that I have never been to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, ever since I read Conrad’s work I’ve had a fantasy to visit and as an avid boater myself, I’ve always wanted to go there and explore the river by boat. It’s absolutely not for the novice kayaker and I admit that while it’s possible to kayak the Congo, I’m a little bit afraid myself. Nevertheless as a life-long fantasy I’ve looked into it and many a sleepless night have I planned my hypothetical journey in my mind and done plenty of research over the years on the internet and in libraries.

The first step would be getting to the Democratic Republic of Congo. With the jet age being a bit passé at this point—or at the very least taken for granted—flying to Kinshasa is not much of an issue as there are regular flights from all over the world (although many require a stopover somewhere).

The tourism industry is less developed in the DRC than in other places, but that doesn’t mean it’s non-existent. There are still plenty of outfitters who could provide the intrepid traveller with all the necessary supplies.

But for me the best option would be to travel with locals, as opposed to professional tour guides. One of the criticisms of Conrad’s book is that he doesn’t provide voice or other representation to the locals, instead using them as a backdrop to the exploits of Westerners. That might very well be the reason if I were to ever complete my journey I would want to do it with the locals, whose knowledge of the river and its surroundings would be better than anyone’s—including guides.

Whatever the reason one would want to go, it cannot be denied that the experience would be one of the most remarkable journeys into wilderness still left on a rapidly developing world.


4 Nov

Finland’s thousands of lakes

Finland doesn’t make headlines too often. When Finland does make the papers, the Scandinavian country is usually being reported on for its remarkable welfare or education systems or some new pilot scheme such as basic income, which has been in the news in recent years. To the luck and delight of the Finns, it’s rare to hear of massive tragedies coming out of Finland—though of course like anywhere tragedy does strike. For all of Finland’s quietness, shall we call it, it’s one of the more interesting places in Europe to go on holiday. And for water lovers it definitely needs to be at the top of the list.

Finland has thousands of lakes and hundreds of rivers and streams. Like many arctic regions the growing and receding of glacials over the last thousands and hundreds of thousands of years has left a landscape that’s absolutely littered with lakes, making it one of the world’s best places for canoeing. Not only does it offer fresh water lakes and rivers but it also has plenty of coastline in the Gulf of Bothnia, the Baltic, and the Arctic Ocean. While the Arctic Ocean probably isn’t the easiest place to kayak or canoe it can most certainly provide the more adventures paddlers with an unforgettable experience of a life time.

But for the average person there’s plenty to do and see that doesn’t require a drysuit and the bravado of an explorer of old. Even within an hour of Finland’s capital Helsinki there are places to kayak or canoe—and at that there are lakes, river, and the sea—meaning that the visitor doesn’t even have to leave the capital to have some time on the water.

However, to really see some of the beautiful nature that the Nordic country has to offer it’s probably best to head up north. Scandinavia is one of the few remaining places in Europe with proper wilderness and the farther north one goes the less populated the country becomes. It’s probably best to plan a trip more thoroughly than one would otherwise if heading up north because the nature can get dangerous.

Don’t let that discourage you though because Finland really is one of the most beautiful places to go canoeing or kayaking and for any avid fan of water sport it’s a place worth visiting.

 


7 Oct

Pass can fade, but love (of kayaking) never does

Boating has always been a major part of my life. When I was younger—a child and a teenager—it informed so much of my identity, in the way that hobbies and collections and that sort of thing often inform one’s personality, since it people of that age haven’t had enough experiences and thoughts to have a mature personality.

Kayaking specifically was how I defined myself. It was what made me me, to borrow a common phrase. All of my daydreams and fantasies and goals about my adult like somehow involved boating: I’d be a professional kayaker, or a world-renown sailor, or I’d kayak down rivers and lakes that were unexplored by humans. Nothing was too grandiose for my young mind and naive understanding of the world. Kayaking was who I was and who I would always be, I thought, and it would be the factor that guided my life.

Although one hears this story more often with more popular sports like basketball or football, the narrative of childish ambition was the same and this hobby was my saviour, in some way that is less dramatic than that sounds.

As time went on and I grew up and matured, I went through the normal stages of life such as moving out on my own, going to university, getting my first proper job, etc. In that phase of my life when my priorities were realigning themselves I had a sense of loss in regards kayaking and how something that was once so meaningful had started taking a minor role in my life. It was nothing that caused alarm or wasn’t to be expected, but it caused some small pain, if I’m honest.

That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy the sport anymore—and I was still doing it regularly—but somehow it just didn’t have the feel that it once did.

Nevertheless, I came to the conclusion that what has informed one as a child tends to stay with one throughout one’s life and in that sense kayaking will always be a part of who I am.