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.