A few years have already passed since I posted the first in this series, which I should have called and I’m still in search of a photo of the ITB Major Vangu back in 1973 and 1974. But I was thrilled to open my email the other morning and find these photos taken in 1992 by Matt Schoenfelder. Check out his impressive range of galleries here.
The huge pusher tug in the photo below is Colonel Kokolo, recently refurbished and returned to service on the Congo River. Click here for a map of key waterways in the Congo; upper center, I lived west of Basankusu for two years teaching at a high school.
Matt writes, “I was looking through the web for some images of the Onatra barge from the Congo River and came across your site and read that you had traveled up the Congo River some years ago (my note: 1973-4). In 1992, together with a German man I met in Kisangani, I bought a dugout canoe and the two of us paddled 4 weeks down the Congo River to Kinshasa. Needless to say it was the adventure of a lifetime! Anyway, I have just recently scanned some of the old fuzzy and scratched film and thought you might appreciate a few images. From Kinshasa I wanted to get to Zambia and the “best” option available was to get back on the river and travel by barge to Ilebo, where I could take the train down to Lubumbashi. Well it sounded nice on paper but turned out to be an ordeal (as was ANYTHING in Zaire at that time!!) After the 4 weeks on the canoe I then spent another 13 days moving slowly upstream to Illebo on the river (tug and ) barge, which was supposed to be 5 days. The 3-day train trip from Ilebo to Lubumbashi took 30 days…walking would have been quicker! I added that last bit as I will include a few shots from the river barge I took to Ilebo. The images are far from high quality but you may find them interesting nonetheless.
That (tug and ) barge was called the Wandeka IV. Actually I was only on it for 8 of the 13 days. It broke down somewhere along the Kasai River and I was able to get on a German [vessel] from the company Strabag. I don’t have any images scanned of that barge but should I get around to that I’ll send you a few.
Incidentally, in that image of the Wandeka you will notice a small bag just behind me. This was my “day pack” and all it carried was my money. In Kinshasa (after being robbed at gunpoint by the police) I was able to cash in 200$ of travellers checks – after several days of going from bank to bank and hearing that they simply didn’t have any money. At that time 1 dollar was 2 million Zaires (when I entered the country 1$ = 1,000,000 Zaires – 3 months later when I finally left it was 1$ = 5,000,000 Zaires!). The largest note they had available at the bank was 50,000 Zaires so that 200$ translated to 8,000 bills and it was a huge load to tug around with me! I carried it with me for the next 6 weeks, happy whenever I could pay for something and relieve the load a little.
I doubt I would ever repeat that journey but it was perhaps the most incredible chapter in my travels. Hardly a pleasure but fascinating and exciting nonetheless.”
I remember from my experience that riding on the tug was considered first class; the folks on the barge in the photo above . . well, they would be traveling second class.
Many thanks to Matt for getting in touch and sharing these photos.
Some of my scratchy old Congo photos can be found here. And yes, that person below was me as a mere young manster.
Bokakata, DRC (then Zaire) 1973