04.03.2019

LONELY TRAVERSE OF THE JUNGLE (D. R. CONGO)

“The further I move away from civilization, the more the locals have open hearts” - says Dominik Szmajda from Poland, a lover of extreme – walking, cycling and packrafting- expeditions through Africa, Asia and the Urals. He is also a publisher of travel books. His recent expedition “lonely traverse of the jungle” to the Democratic Republic of Congo, was the fulfillment of a long-standing dream, but took a different course than he planned.

Back on the boat and just about to leave a fishing camp located at the Momboyo river

Interview with Dominik written in quotation marks (moderate English).

What made you decide to go on this trip?

“My first adventure with jungle was rafting on the Dja river in Cameroon (2013). Since then, I have been obsessed with the idea of a lonely walk across the rainforest. In 2016 I was able to walk through the Odzala-Kokoua National Park in the Republic of the Congo (Brazzaville). But my appetite grows as I eat, and this time I was attempt for the biggest rainforest in Africa - Salonga National Park (Congo DRC).”

Boat = Bed  -  Camp on a lonely island at the Ruki river
Plants, animals and one guy with his little camp in the middle of the Salonga National Parc

His idea was to cross the jungle alone by foot and then paddle down the small, but charming river “Lokoro” and the well-known “Congo River” on a packraft (Anfibio Delta MX).

Did you follow that plan exactly?

“To be honest my plan was not legally feasible. Without going into the details, I spent some time in the headquarters of the National Park explaining my presence in this place. Finally, I had to change my plans. I was in another place and there was less time left. But I had a packraft and I don't hesitate to use it!”

Dominik and his home (Anfibio Delta MX) for a couple of weeks
"The early bird catches the worm." - Just before sunrise at the Momboyo river

In the democratic republic of Congo there are more rivers than roads and almost all of them lead into the Congo River sooner or later.

“… I started a trip down the rivers Luilaka, Lokoro 2, Momboyo and Ruki. Because I was paddling through the interior of the Congo, I mean completely outside the travel routes, I stirred up a sensation everywhere - both with the colour of my skin and with my packraft. So I avoided larger villages, slept in small fishing camps, or completely wild.

At this stage I predicted 450 km, paddling on average 50-60 km a day, being from dawn to dusk on the water. The current on these rivers is weak, there was no wind, there were no waves, completely flat.”

Good prospects for tasty fruits

Mbandaka, is the capital of the Equatorial Province and lies right on the Congo river. Dominik finally managed to get there and met his friends. From here on the second part of the trip began: Paddling down the queen of african rivers, the Congo River.

Part 2 - the Congo River

“Generally, the trip proved to be quite safe. Throughout most of its course the river flows in many currents creating a real labyrinth of islands. The last 200 km of the river narrows down pygmiesby the so-called "canal", the current is much faster - its speed reaches 7-10 km/h. Here, in the strong wind, waves reaching almost one meter in height were formed.”

Enjoying the sunset directly from the river after a whole day of paddling

What should one bear in mind when travelling in this area?

“When we paddled near bigger towns motorboats from various uniformed services came to us. Contrary to common opinion, these were not such unpleasant meetings - in the worst case, we served them with a cigarette or a small cash "for petrol". On the other hand, when it comes to the ordinary inhabitants of Congo river, we can say only the best things about their hospitality. Especially in small villages and camps. Sometimes we received fruits or fresh fishes as a gift.”

Surprised inhabitants of a fishing village after setting up the boat bed

For a trip like that the gear need to be ultralight. So he chose the "Anfibio Delta MX" Packraft, which is light, small and easy to carry. Instead of a tent, sleeping mattress or hammock he decided to use the Packraft for sleeping as well. For navigation he used his smartphone instead of offline maps. And last but not least the camera equipment came on top.

In two weeks they paddled 650 km on their packrafts before they finally, sunburnt and happy, arrived near the capital of the democratic republic of Congo in “Moloukou”.

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