Bikepacking the
Democratic republic of congo (DRC)

Introduction

The following is a collection of stories from 5 weeks bikepacking through the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

I continued riding through this part of Central Africa with Matthias and we had one hell of an adventure.

Each day was extremely taxing physically, mentally and emotionally. Although it was challenging, it was one of the most rewarding and incredible places I’ve ever been.

I have plenty more stories to share about riding through the DRC. I wrote a detailed daily journal while I was there, so let me know if you want me to hear even more stories than the ones below.

I could also share the raw journal entries directly onto the website if people are interested.

You can message me on Instagram @lewiblake if you have any questions or need any advice about visiting the DRC.

The Boat journey from hell

It was our 5th continuous day travelling up the Kasai River on an old wooden boat that was barely holding together.

Water would fill up the floor of the boat through the cracks in the wood and have to constantly be emptied over the side with an empty bottle.

We weren’t even on the main boat but the smaller boat that was tied to the bigger boat to give it some extra power.

We were only a couple of metres away from the loud, oily motors that constantly chugged for a week straight. Even with ear plugs in, I still felt like I was getting permanent hearing damage.

As my final piece of clothing got soaked in the mix of water and oil swishing around the floor, I looked up at Matthias. The expression on his face said it all. This boat trip was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

We were both mentally and physically exhausted.

We somehow managed to be on the slowest, loudest, dirtiest and most crowded boat on the river.

It was the middle of rainy season so we were either getting caught in the torrential downpour or stuck without any shade under the blistering sun with temperatures reaching as high as 46 degrees celsius (115 fahrenheit) during the day.

There were 300 people stacked up like sardines on the boat with no space to sit down, let alone sleep.


We both kept telling each other that we would get off the next time the boat stopped even though we knew that were stuck on this boat with no way of getting off, we just had to stick it out.

Getting off the boat wasn’t an option as the villages were only accessible by the river and it could be days before the next boat comes passed with no promise that it would be any better.

This boat journey was familiar for most of the people on board. They would take it several times a year to buy/sell merchandise in Kinshasa and sell it in their remote villages for a tiny profit.

After a week on the boat but what felt like a couple months, we finally made it to Inongo.

We’d both survived the most difficult journey of our lives but the adventure was just beginning…

A typical day riding through DRC

It was 5am when I woke up to the sound of whispers around my tent. We had camped in a school classroom in a small remote village in the jungle. The walls were made of a mixture of mud and sticks and the roof was made out of sticks and leaves.

As I slowly opened my eyes I noticed there were already hundreds of little eyes staring at me. The kids were already there watching us sleeping in our tents.

As we began to pack up, more and more people from the village would arrive to watch us. It felt like we were an animal in a zoo enclosure.

At around 6am we were packed up and ready to go. After waving goodbye to the villagers, we rode off with a group of kids running behind us.

We were already exhausted from our first 2 days cycling in DRC.

Every small village we’d pass through involved hundreds of kids shouting and chasing after us (check out my last reel).

We were the first white people they’d ever seen so understandably, they weren’t expecting us to arrive and when they saw us, their emotions got the better of them and they lost control.

Sometimes they would follow us for up to 5km just to spend a little longer looking at the 2 white guys.

This happened several times per day each time we passed through a village.

Everyone was extremely friendly but the amount of attention we received was overwhelming. We would try our hardest to cycle away from the kids but they were fast and the trails were hard to navigate quickly.

Each time we passed through a village and eventually lost sight of the kids, we would find a gap in the forest and hide so that we could relax and get some energy back before passing through the next village and repeating the process.

Riding through the jungle was absolutely amazing. At times, we weren’t even sure if we were still on the main trail as it disappeared into the overgrowing forest.

But we would always continue and almost every time, a small 30cm wide trail would reappear.

Typically, towards the end of the day we would find a small village and ask the Chief if it would be okay to camp somewhere.

This was never a problem and generally there was somewhere under cover for us to pitch our tents. Sometimes it was the church, school, medical centre or outside the chiefs house.

The only problem with camping in the village is there is nowhere to escape from the people.

Everyone was understandably curious to see us. So as the time went on, a larger and larger crowd would appear. We would sit with the chief and some of the older villagers and discuss who we were and what we were doing there.

Eventually after the sun sets we would be able to set up our tents and cook dinner. The whole village would follow us and watch us until eventually you would have to tell them to leave us alone and let us sleep.

So from the moment we wake up till the moment we fall asleep, there are hundreds of eyes constantly watching us.

Matthias and I were both having the time of our lives though and loving the challenge.

But the days were about to get a lot harder…

Riding through flooded trails in rainy season

It was our 10th river crossing for the day. We were both completely exhausted. We’d only managed to progress 30km with our bikes in the last 9 hours.

Apparently there have been extreme floods in this area in the last week and the trails have turned into rivers. For many of the locals, they’ve never seen the trails this flooded.

Some of the locals used this opportunity to bring their pirogues (canoes) to the flooded trails and use them to transport people across for a small fee.

For us with the bicycles, this was really helpful as lifting your fully loaded bikes through the water was difficult and not good for the bikes.

But there were only pirogues at about half of the flooded river crossings, and the others you had to walk through with the bikes.

On our final river crossing for the day, we noticed another flooded trail. At first it looked like it was only a couple hundred metres long, so Matthias and I began to walk through with our bikes.

But it was the deepest river of the day. We were belly button deep and carrying our heavy bikes over our heads to keep them out of the water was impossible.

Once I reached a bend in the trail, it was clear that the trail continued for several hundred metres and would not be possible to continue with the bikes.

So I found a tree to lean my bike against, unloaded all of my gear and started walking through the water with my bike bags, leaving my bike behind.

I wanted to see how far the river went and if it would even be possible with the bikes.

We were only 50 metres away from the Kasai river so the flooded trail was running into the river.

I waded through the water that was as high as my belly button for more than 500m until I saw a pirogue.

At this point I’d already been walking for 20minutes through the water. I found a fallen tree to stand on so I was standing out of the water.

I signalled to the man paddling the pirogue to pick up Matthias and our 2 bikes at the start of the river and get me on the way back.

I watched the pirogue go past and waited on the fallen tree with my bike bags.

As I was waiting, I started seeing small bubbles coming up from below the surface of the water a few metres in front of me.

My first reaction was, I wonder if there are any crocodiles in the water. Then I remembered we were only 50m from the main Kasai river.

The Kasai river has Nile crocodiles which are the largest in Africa.

Moments later, I saw a large splash in the water.

How could I have been so stupid. I used to work in Croc country in Australia. It’s during floods and the rainy season that the crocodiles expand their territory by using the flooded rivers.

I didn’t actually see a crocodile but I was convinced there was one there.

15 minutes later the pirogue arrived and we were taken another 500m to the other side where the land was finally dry.

We rode a further 1km and camped at a small village. Later that evening, randomly, one of the villagers asked if we wanted to go see some crocodiles.

I asked “Are there crocodiles in the river here?”

His response said it all “Yeah, yesterday they saw a 5m long crocodile in the flooded area you just passed through.”

riding Into the deep congo jungle

We’ve finally reached the deep jungle. The trees are towering above us over 150m high. This was the part of the trip that both Matthias and I were most excited about.

We’d been staring at this area on the maps for weeks trying to figure out how to get from point A to point B.

It hasn’t been an easy journey to get here. It’s taken us more than 2 weeks since we crossed the border into DRC.

We’re following a small hunters trail through this part of the jungle that’s mainly used by hunters to sell meat to the villages 100km on either side.

But it’s been raining non stop for the past 7 hours and we’ve only come 20km. We can barely ride our bikes because the trails are so flooded.

We finally see an abandoned hunters hut and quickly seek shelter.

We’re absolutely drenched.

The hut is made from sticks and leaves. The water falling off the huts roof is the perfect opportunity to fill up our bottles with clean water as we’d just run out.

Matthias made a small fire with a combination of wet wood and sticks that were being used as the huts frame.

We were able to cook some pasta on the fire which was lucky because my stove had broken the night before and we had no other way to cook our food.

After a few hours, we decided to push on as the rain didn’t look like it was slowing down.

The trail wasn’t on any of our maps so it was hard to see how much progress we were making. Our GPS location didn’t look like it was moving but maybe that’s because we were going so slow.

At times it felt like we weren’t even on a trail anymore but instead bashing our way through the thick jungle.

We were both struggling but strangely having the time of our lives.

We were in the middle of the Congo Jungle in DRC in the middle of rainy season on a small overgrown jungle trail that’s not on any map.

After 3 days, battered, bruised and broken, we emerged from under the jungle canopy with big smiles on our face.

We’ve just had the adventure of a lifetime.

But the adventure isn’t over yet. We still have a couple of weeks until we cross the border into Angola…

Riding through the kasai region to the border

We’d made it out of the Jungle but it would still be another 2 weeks until we reached the border with Angola.

It was New Years Eve and we’d just entered the Kasai Region. This region has been a no go zone for many years due to the conflict with neighbouring tribes.

Although the conflict has finished, people weren’t used to seeing outsiders. The result was some of the most intense people I’ve ever encountered.

The sight of us riding passed was too much for some people as they screamed and shouted and lost complete control of their bodies.

Each village we rode through would welcome us by screaming “Bonne Annee!!!!!!!!!!” (Happy New Year). The whole village would run out of their houses screaming and chasing after us on the bikes.

It was a very hilly region so between each village, Matthias and I needed to stop and catch our breath before we arrived at the next village.

I can’t imagine there are too many places in the world where grown adults would lose control of their bodies at the sight of us.

Most of the time this intense energy of the people was friendly as they laughed and cheered.

But at times, people would get physical and forcibly stop you from riding ahead.

They were very suspicious of outsiders due to the years of conflict with neighbouring regions and the presence of rebels. And since they’d never seen tourists before, it was hard to explain to them what we were doing there just travelling around on our bikes to these remote regions.

On the road between Tshikapa and the border, there were more than 10 police checkpoints in the space of 100km.

But we eventually made it to the small border post and after a few hours of formalities, we’d crossed into Angola.

We’d spent 5 weeks in DRC without seeing another white person.

Matthias and I had mixed emotions about leaving DRC.

We were happy for things to start being easier and especially having some nice food to eat.

But we’d just had the most intense adventure of our lives and both of us already wanted to go back.

Reflections after bikepacking through DRC

DRC was an amazing place to cycle through. 

 After trying to get a DRC visa in 4 different countries, I finally got it last minute in Point Noire after I randomly heard that the consulate there started issuing DRC visas to tourists (normally you have to apply in your home country). 

Because it was already a month later than I had planned to enter, I wouldn’t be able to take the exact route through DRC that I would have liked, but it still gave me 5 weeks to explore the country.

However, 5 weeks simply isn’t enough time to go too deep into DRC. Everything is slow and takes time there. Boats are infrequent, DGM takes hours in every bigger village or town, police checkpoints, talking to village chiefs to ask for somewhere to camp etc.

But DRC was even better than I’d hoped it would be!

It really was the country I was most looking forward to visiting before I left Australia at the start of 2023 on my bikepacking adventure across Africa

It almost became an obsession to try and get there.

Travelling with a bicycle through the Congo is a real adventure with no tourists…in fact we didn’t see a single white person or tourist the whole time we were there!

It isn’t an easy place to travel and I honestly don’t know if I would have been mentally able to handle travel through there at the start of my trip.

DRC really is the true African adventure. It’s without question one of the greatest adventures I’ve ever been on.

As soon as I left, I was already planning to go back. I think next time I will travel lighter and go with a bicycle and a packraft.

Route through DRC

Route through Africa so far

Matthias watching the sunset
Africa
Lewi

A Boat Journey Down the Congo River

A boat journey downthe congo river In this article I’ll be talking about my experience taking a boat down the Ubangi and Congo Rivers from Impfondo to Brazzaville for 7

Read More »

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top