CAMERA SMASHING PICTURE HATERS
Taking photos in the DRC is a very delicate art. People hate having photos taken of themselves and sometimes even whole areas – even trees. This is much worse in some areas and especially in Goma. In the Virunga National Park Area you get less hassle from villagers. You never want to even attempt to take a picture of armed soldiers that are often on the side of the road or on the top of civilian vehicles. Then you also have corrupt undercover Policemen who would love to see you taking photos, but that is a different warning al together. Not only do local people not like it, they will attempt to smash your camera. Seriously. I found the best way to take photos was to use a guide and 2 motorcycles (with drivers). So I had local knowledge of the dangers of when and where to take photos and a fair warning that some people get very angry about it. Some tourists have even had rocks thrown at them and their cameras. I also thought I would have safety in numbers and safety in speed. As we whizzed around town on the motorcycles I snapped away with most people not noticing me at all or too late. No, I was not trying to be insensitive, but to get lots of local photos so we have more here on VT.
As I was driving past and snapping away I suddenly noticed, too late, that a young angry looking man had seen me from a distance. As I went past him at about 30kmh he raised his open hand to smack the camera out of my hand. Somehow his dirty hand and fingers managed to hit the body of the camera and the back of my hand, but miss the extended lens. I honestly thought after I felt the pain that my camera was smashed and my hand really hurt. When were a safe distance away I looked and found the camera ok, but dirty fingerprints all over my camera and right hand. I was very lucky.
So if you want photos here, you need to be as subtle and quick as you can. Otherwise get prepared to have to socialise a lot to get a few people’s permission to take their photo. And the best option is still either a motorcycle of a car with windows/windscreens that are not cracked and/or very dirty. Trust me the motorcycle is more realistic and I have done both.
Take care.Related to:
- Adventure Travel
- Road Trip
YELLOW FEVER CERTIFICATES REQUIRED
To get into the DRC you need a Certificate of Yellow Fever Immunization to show at the border. That means that you must actually get the shot. It’s not cheap, it hurts like hell and leaves permanent small red dots on you. Well it did me anyway. Before you think this is just some hassle from the DRC authorities – please remember this. It could save your life around here. You may or may not be able to pay a bribe to get around this, but it would be very unsound travel planning. DRC is right at the heart of the African Yellow Fever endemic zone. I have always known other African countries routinely do not ask Tourists for it. This is the second thing they wanted to see after my passport.
So what is Yellow Fever? It is a deadly virus spread via the bite of an infected (female) Aedes Aegypti mosquito. It does occur both in CITIES and rural areas. It damages the Liver leading to jaundice – making the victim turn Yellow. It has NO TREATMENT if you get it. Only about 5% of victims living in affected areas die an agonising death over days. VISITORS HAVE A FATALITY RATE OF 50%! That’s Tourists. It is, however, 100% PREVENTABLE by being immunised. Also the VACCINE LASTS 10 YEARS. It not only protects you – it protects locals from the spread of the disease by YOU.
So it’s worth ever penny and make sure you know where your Certificate is !
Please follow the link below for maps of endemic zones and more information on this terrible disease.Related to:
- Adventure Travel
Beware of Kennedy and Hakuna Matata Tours
This is a warning for potential travelers to the Great Lakes region (Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda and Burundi) NOT to use the services of Kennedy Nari Ndayisenga or his tour company, Hakuna Matata Tours & Travel. Put bluntly, Kennedy is a liar, a scammer and a thief who will think nothing of stealing your money and cannot be relied upon to deliver on any promises or commitments that he might make.
We decided to engage Kennedy as a tour guide based on some very positive recommendations from highly respected members on the Virtual Tourist website whose advice is usually reliable and accurate. These highly complimentary reviews were written by individuals who are extremely well travelled in Africa – however, looking back at these positive reviews, I note that these refer to tours run by Kennedy several years ago.
If you Google either Kennedy or Hakuna Matata Tours & Travel, you’ll find a large number of positive reviews on his tours and service. Part of this coverage results from the fact that Kennedy has an IT background and has a genius for self promotion by placing highly visible blogs and reviews, but also seems to reflect the fact that at one point, he actually did provide good service. As we learned to our cost, this has sadly changed.
Our personal experience is as follows. Our family was due to travel to Rwanda just after Christmas 2012 and we agreed a provisional itinerary with Kennedy, subject to confirmation after he had secured permits for gorilla trekking. In late November, he confirmed that he had managed to reserve permits to trek gorillas on the Uganda side of the border and asked us to pay a deposit of US$2140 to secure the permits, which we forwarded by Moneygram on 30 November 2012. We were notified that the money had been collected on 3 December 2012, after which he went silent, and all attempts to contact him via e-mail and both of his cellphones went unanswered.
After a concerted effort, I finally managed to contact him by e-mail. He claimed that he had been unable to contact us as he had been caught in an altercation on the DRC side of the border with Rwanda, in which his vehicles were damaged and his cellphones stolen: as this tallied with media coverage of unrest in this area, we were gullible enough to believe his story. In subsequent highly emotional e-mails, he claimed that he had barely escaped with his life and begged us to pray for him. Naively, we responded sympathetically and offered to postpone our trip until Easter to allow the situation to calm down and give him time to get on his feet again.
This was a big mistake, as from this point on, our trust and sympathy was systematically exploited and abused. Kennedy proved impossible to contact throughout January, and I only managed to track him down via his Facebook account.
He gave me yet another cellphone number to contact him on and I had a brief conversation with him, during which he informed me that he was conducting a tour in Uganda and would respond to me when he returned to Rwanda at the end of the week. Of course, he never did respond, but did send me an offer to become his ‘friend’ on Facebook, along with an invitation to view the photos he’d taken of his involvement in ‘peace talks’ he was participating in Kampala, Uganda.
After several unsatisfactory telephone conversations (always initiated by me), I told Kennedy that I did not trust him to look after myself and my family, and notified him that I wanted a refund of the deposit that we had paid him. Predictably, he became even more evasive after this point, making unspecific statements about the fact that he could only refund me ‘next month’. He promised to e-mail me the specifics of repayment (which, predictably he never did) and feigned surprise when I contacted him to confirm that the promised e-mail had not arrived. Communication ceased altogether when I pointed out that I was using our Facebook correspondence to establish a ‘paper trail’.
By this time, I realised that we had been scammed, and followed up with another respected member of Virtual Tourist whose name I recognised from his Facebook friends list. In fact, she had not followed through on the tour that she had discussed with Kennedy, but directed me to postings on TripAdvisor, including
or or this link
These discussion threads confirm that Kennedy has scammed many other tourists, and that his modus operandi is consistent. Even worse than the tales of people like us who have lost substantial deposits are the accounts of the disastrous tours that Kennedy has ‘organised’ over the past few years, where tourists have had their much anticipated ‘trip of a lifetime’ ruined by his failure to book hotels, secure trekking permits, provide a roadworthy vehicle and/or pay his guides (some of whom have even had to cover costs out of their own pocket despite having paid for their tour in full).
Further research has indicated that neither Kennedy nor Hakuna Matata Tours& Travel are members of the Rwanda Tour and Travel Association. A phone call to the office in Gisenyi through which gorilla trekking permits are issued also confirmed that he is considered to be an untrustworthy and unreliable operator.
A subsequent Internet search turned up the following warning has been issued by the Virunga National Park in DRC: “The management of Virunga National Park would like to inform potential visitors that we advise against using the following travel agency: Hakuna Matata Tours & Travel. We have had multiple complaints from visitors using this travel agency and are now actively boycotting them.” (click here for more detail).
In closing, I would highlight that we are not naïve tourists who were caught short venturing forth into the developing world for the first time. Quite the contrary, since we have lived and worked throughout sub Saharan Africa for over 25 years, and this is the first time ever that we have ever been scammed. Because we are experienced ‘Africa hands’ and placed faith in recommendations from trusted associates on Virtual Tourist, we felt that we had done proper research and had identified a reliable service provider. However, in hindsight, our mistake was that we neglected to follow up on more recent references.
If it is possible for Kennedy to scam people like us, then how much easier is it for him to take advantage of tourists from overseas who are visiting the region for the first time?Add to your Trip Planner
Heart of Darkness
While some travel guides will tell you that just about anywhere is safe, I know of few who will recomend a holiday in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. There is a reason that Joseph Conrad used this land to personify Africa's dark heart, as DRC is a dark, violent and downright dangerous destination. I am a journalist, I was posted to various African countries where I honestly feared for my life, none so as much as this unfortunate land, not even Somalia delivered nasties on the scale of DRC. The capital Kinshasa is a truly violent place day or night , the crime levels I witnessed surpassed even those in the wild deserts of Somalia.
It is also worth noting that traffic and pedestrians are required to stop for the raising of the national flag at approximately 6:00 a.m. and 6.00 p.m. every day. Police and military personnel often detain people who neglect to do so.The people of DRC are good people trapped in a brutal land, run by a corrupt and violent police and army and truly out of all the places I reported from Africa, DRC is by far the most dangerous and any travel there should be extremely well-planned.Add to your Trip Planner
The infrastructure in this country is horrible. I am surprised that there isn't more fatalities as a result of it. Many of the roads were built many years ago and haven't been maintained. Same with a lot of other stuff. Many vehicles are in horrible condition. Yes it can be hard to maintain in a country where most of the people are extremely poor. But many people don't drive to the conditions of their vehicle. With one driver that I had with an ok car, he drove that car hard. At one point I could smell the brakes burning and it wasn't like we were going down any big hills. The bridge in the photo collapsed 2 days after I crossed it. It was because he was driving a big truck carrying a heavy load over a bridge that was meant to be temporary that hasn't been maintained. Just something to be aware of if you are choosing to travel to a place like this.Add to your Trip Planner
Something that I learned when I was at the airport to fly home is that you are not supposed to export Congolese Francs. When going through security and was getting a pat down, I left some Francs in my pocket. The security guard found them and said I had to had them in. At first I went straight to thinking corruption since it's another guy in uniform asking for money. But then they asked if I lived in Kinshasa in which I replied no, I'm a tourist. I had to hand it in. I told them I was going to be coming back though. Then another guard asked how much I had. I showed him and it worked out to less that US$2. He said it wasn't a problem and let me through. So if you are planning on taking some home as a souvenir, hide it. But of course after you clear security and you are waiting in the departure lounge, there is a restaurant where you can buy food and drinks. I paid in US dollars and can you guess what currency they gave me the change back in? You guessed it. Congolese Francs.Add to your Trip Planner
Danger, Danger, Danger, Danger!
Got your attention, didn't I? Contrary to popular belief and the US State Department warnings, the DRC is not really dangerous IMHO. But, because it is a poor country with poor communications, roads, etc. there are a few precautions one should take. Obviously, one should get all the vaccinations one can think off, and expect to take Malarone or other anti-malarial drug.
Plus, this is not a nation where the DRC government welcomes you with open arms. Police are not rude, but communications between regional police is nonexistent, so you want to travel with extra copies of your passport, letters from important people in the DRC, and whatever other fancy letters you can drum up. You must file for a visa of course, but part of that process involves obtaining a "letter of invitation" signed by the Interior Ministry in Kinshasa and written by Junior at the Balis Center Hotel or other such reliable friend within the DRC. I recommend, that you walk around the corner from Balis Center hotel and get a nice letter from the Senator of Mai-Ndombe province who will entertain you for tea.
Banking is horrible. Bring plenty of US$ in bills of recent issue. Convert into smaller bills before you leave Kinshasa. You are generally safe to carry cash on you, but for modesty's sake keep it covered. You are in a poor country.
Other dangers include the chaotic traffic that might run you over, the open sewers into which you may fall, and other such stumbling, but otherwise there is very little chance of being robbed or molested (not sure about women) in Kinshasa, and zero chance of being troubled by the villagers. Like most everywhere in Africa, the hospitality and attitude of everyone is unbelievably friendly and sincere. Ineptitude is the only other danger you might face as your cargo is being transferred, or mistakes in ticketing, and so on. Just pay attention and you will overcome these problems.Related to:
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- Budget Travel
the violence against women
Some call Eastern Congo the "rape capital of the world" - the region has been torn by conflict and civil war for almost 20 years now though theoretically a peace settlement has been signed years ago. But nothing has changed for the communities in the Kivus, and as so often, it´s the civilian population who takes the worst. Sexual violence and rape have become weapons of war, also used systematically to destroy local communities. The stories are gruesome, and they are only the tip of the iceberg. There are only rough estimates how many women and girls (as well as men) were affected as many of the victims don´t step up because they feel ashamed and are afraid they will be abandoned by their families (which unfortunately only too often happens)Add to your Trip Planner
Beware of all the army...
Beware of all the army throughout as they are badly paid. Hence every little white guy is a potential source of income. Knowing about the authority of a uniform these arms flaunting usually tall guys will try to order you about to find out how easy prey you are. While standing your ground still remember 'Life is cheap in Africa' so don't try to be Rambo while avoiding getting looted to badly.Add to your Trip Planner
The Soldiers Want A Ride?
It was bad enough 30 years ago regarding the lack of central control. On one crossing of the Pedicle, soldiers with machine guns stepped out onto the road and flagged us down for a drive. What do you say? 'Sorry I am not headed that way' - like I said, be flexible and things usually work out much better! I hate to think what the situation is like now with all the rebellious factions fighting over the eastern part of the country.Related to:
- Budget Travel
This area is not the safest...
This area is not the safest part of the world. There are regular incursions by Rwandan soldiers & poachers. Our guides all had AK 47 rifles. There is also a large refugee camp nearby it took us 20 minutes just to drive through this one and there were tents as far as the eye could see. There was also an incident in nearby Uganda when some tourists were killed a few years ago. Check out the information on the political situation before you venture anywhere near here.Add to your Trip Planner
do not go alone in...
do not go alone in parks,especially at night of course;many people say they work as taxis,in fact,you will go in their car to a desert place where they will take your money and passport,rape you and kill you;before travelling,make a photocopy of your passport,if the police or the army asks for your documents,give the photocopy and tell them that the original is at your hotel.
the picture shows the border uganda-congo(zaire),it does look peaceful ...because you do not hear the bulletsRelated to:
- Adventure Travel
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