In the spirit of getting out and getting to know Kinshasa, I spent my Sunday with a number of State Department and UN friends on a little boating pilgrimage to a Portuguese "resort" called Maluku, on the banks of the Congo River.
I don't know how I would have ever found it myself... we started the day early in order to get to the marina and take out the boat, a US Embassy vessel appropriately named "Getaway" since, when it's not being rented for day trips, it is the evacuation boat for certain Americans.
The marina itself was lined with fancy speedboats, yet surrounding this stashed wealth were people, literally living on the fringe of society. Camped in rusted old tugboats, many of them clearly askew as they slowly sunk with time, laundry line hung between cracking masts and naked flagpoles. A line of stilted houses, made not with tin or wood but hung on the sides with old billboards or ripped and dirty flaps of cloth, cluttered a sand dune that sat between the channel out to the river and the river itself.
It took about an hour to get there, the sky was still overcast when we left, and its grey haze, reflected in the still water made it difficult to distinguish between water and sky. It was early still, and Sunday, and still we saw the occasional fishing boat, the men inside in the midst of a beautifully coordinated dance as they released their net into the water and pulled it out.
When we arrived, we were among the first, and we sat in our fancy yellow beer-sponsored plastic chairs and put our things down on the beer-sponsored tablecloths. Eager and opportunistic young men came from the shore and from the trees to sell us things: catfish, still alive and wriggling, so heavy that the young men struggled to bring them up the hill from the beach.
Men came from the forests along the edges of Maluku, arms laden with fresh avocados and green lumpy lemons.
I thought we'd be relaxing and reading, but the good collection of folks chatted until, after about 2 hours, our food came. Delicious, FRESH fish right from the river, grilled and sweet, if not a bit bony.
I was the only one who felt like swimming after such a big meal, most likely on account of the unknown factors of the river mores than the full stomachs.
There are all sorts of "exciting" waterborne parasites, which I felt were more of a danger than any real threat of crocodiles :)
I planned originally to go into the water in flip flops, but two steps in told me that if I went in with them, they weren't coming back with me. The bottom of the river was slick, slimy, and impossibly suctioning. I took my feet out of the shoes even to get them out of the mud, and threw them back to the shore.
The slick slime of the bottom gave me some pause as I waded out deeper, needing to go quite far to even have water above my knees. If I had gone much farther, I would have ended up in Republic of Congo, right across the river!
The water itself, though brown and murky, wasn't cold and felt refreshing in the hot sun. The current was strong, but I wondered what it would take to actually swim across to RoC.
After the swim, we relaxed more in our small little grass-thatched shamba, watching various cargo boats and makeshift sailing boats go by, their plastic tarp sails taut with wind.
Big logging boats went by too, a small tug followed by 50+ logs, bound together and floating on the river, their guardians standing, watchfully, on the surface of the logs that were also dotted with their rudimentary sleeping tents.
By 3pm, we needed to get the boat back, so we packed up and lazily boarded The Getaway, the afternoon sun scorching us as it bounced from the still water.
I've traveled a lot by boat in Congo, and what strikes me most often is the vestiges. We passed lots of old, half dilapidated factories and retaining walls, and in the distance I spotted a greyed and crumbling diving tower next to an old waterslide.
Everyone was tired when we got back, and over sunned, though I'd made sure not to get more burned after my Saturday burn!
Funnily, I discovered later that "Maluku" means "crazy" in Portuguese.
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