The last time I had Congo River fotos here was almost seven years ago! In that post, I mention being a Peace Corps volunteer in the DRC (then Zaire) back in 1973. When I completely training and tried to fly up to my post, I learned the airplane was out of commission and the river was my only option to travel up there. I was thrilled! And now I’m thrilled again to have these fotos. These are NOT my fotos but Gregory Farino–who worked there about five years after me–generously permits me to use these. We don’t know the name of this “pousseur” tug–not unlike some of the Mississippi River “pushers,” but it looks similar to
what I recall of my conveyance, Major Vangu lashed to four huge barges. I believe Major Vangu has since sunk. The “O” on the stack stands for Onatra (Office National de Transports). For four nights and days non-stop, the tow went north. I shared a cabin on the second level with another PC volunteer. The enclosed area forward was a bar/restaurant with beautiful carved wood. The two levels above that were crew accommodations and wheelhouse, which I didn’t see.
These are two “second class” accommodation barges. Our tow had one of these. It also had two “third class” units, regular flat cargo barges with barrels of fuel for upriver towns, breakbulk bundles, and truckloads of fuel and other cargo. As I recall this was a pre-container time. And passengers who hadn’t even enough for the “second class” barges, rested in the shade of the cargo and under the trucks.
During my trip, I watched dozens of dugouts (pirogues) like these, loaded deep with forest meat and dried/fresh fish, paddled up alongside the tow while underway to trade for products (medicine, blades, ammunition, fish hooks and line, salt) not available in the forest/river villages. And when I say “paddled,” I mean stand-up paddled . . . as it was then done. More than once, the pirogue, caught in the wake, capsized, sending paddler(s) and cargo into the river. And the tow continued upriver.
I’d love to hear from anyone who has traveled on the Congo River in the past 10 years. I have a fantasy to retrace this trip, dangers and inconvenience notwithstanding.
Many thanks to Gregory Farino for bringing these fotos out.