Hong in the Congo
It is like an adventure when I read “Tintin in the Congo” by Herge.
I met an American man while hiking in Swaziland who aimed to travel all UN countries in the world (I don’t have the same goal though, always wanted to travel to 100 countries before turning 30).
Traveling to Congo
I did it, and I wanted to hike Mount Nyiragongo, which is a (very) active volcano with an elevation of 3400m. I was very excited to travel to DRC to see the lava lake, since it is one of the eight active lava lakes in the whole world.
Traveling to Goma was not difficult, but as soon as I entered the country, I faced quite a lot of difficulties. I know the conflict in DRC has probably been the worst since the Second World War. In which millions of people have been killed. And still today, very little has been done to put an end to it. I should have been more careful when I entered the country and walked to my hotel.
I was already suspicious when I saw so many UN stations while walking from the airport to my accommodation. Just to defend my stupidity a little bit: I have walked many times in the past from an airport to my accommodation. This time, when I looked at the map, it would be only 5km, so I thought, why not? It is a short distance anyway. But little did I know how dangerous it could be. Still today, I am grateful nothing worse happened.
Dangers in DRC
Some (probably) teenagers approached left and right, while I was walking and pushed me into distress. I walked faster to escape, and next thing I know, somebody opened my rucksack (I have a normal rucksack with zippers on the side) and took my things, including my beloved neon pink running and hiking flip flops amongst other items.
The good thing was that I had my valuables in a bag in front of me.
I felt so distressed and scared. It all happened close to an open market in daylight. This was reason enough for me to fortify myself in my room after I reached the hotel.
Similarly, something bad happened to me in the evening; I went out for a 200-metre walk to buy some water and got threatened by young guy with a knife. I didn’t have any valuables with me and gave him the cash I had in my hands. He wanted more (as far as my understanding of French told me), and I told him “J’ai rien plus”.
The youngster searched my pockets with his hands until he realized I did not have more stuff and ran away. I was even more distressed and fearful. I had a hard time in DRC. The fact that the country is French-speaking doesn’t make it better for someone whose French is rusty, because I haven’t spoken French in a while. My head is mostly full of Spanish words when it comes to Latin languages.
I would like to emphasize that even though you might go through a difficult time, always remember there are still things worth fighting for, like chasing your dreams while also appreciating the present moment. I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Also, I should have read more about the DRC before arriving. Seeing so many UN quarters while walking from Goma Airport to the hotel, I should have expected something like that might come up. But I was just blind and thought everything would be alright.
One thing I have seen, which I seem to never forget in my life, were the “Chukudu”, a two-wheeled handmade vehicle made from wood, used for transporting cargo. I felt like I was in a movie, from decades ago.
Besides what happened to me, I saw one of the world’s Top 10 natural wonders while traveling in DRC—the lava lake in the crater of the Nyiragongo volcano.
I had never seen such natural beauty like this lava lake, which left me in awe but also full of fear and respect to Mother Nature. To realize, like on my Atlantic crossing, how small we are as human beings, sometimes we just need to take a step back, breathe in, and keep fighting for our ideals and goals, without taking it too seriously from time to time.
The magnificently deadly lava was something to witness!
A once-in-a-lifetime experience I’m glad I didn’t miss. I stayed up for hours just watching the spectacular lava going up and down in the lake. It was one of the highlights of last year for me.
Thank you Javier and Felix!
And guess what—I met a wonderful Congolese friend on this trip – Javier! He was very friendly, gentle, and he shared a lot about the culture and its people with me. It is quite heartbreaking to see what happened in Congo, besides being one of the richest countries in the world due to their wealth of copper and minerals. By the way, if you love cheese, DRC produces delicious cheese (I guess this comes from the French influence like in my mother country, Vietnam).
Call me naïve, but I still believe, everywhere you go, you will experience lots of hospitality if you pour your heart out and be as authentic as you can be. I had horrible experiences in Congo, but it doesn’t stop me from remembering how many amazing people I have met in the past few years of my world journey!
In the end, when I had to leave Congo, I had to bribe my way out (lost like US $100). My heart was beating so fast that I might not be able to leave the country. I was so afraid and had sweat tears of fear thinking about the possibility that the officers won’t let me leave unless I pay them more.
Eventually, I made it out of Congo, with life experiences in the pocket which I will always remember.