The other Congo – BrazzavilleSunday, 3 July 2011
I’m travelling around the Congo – or rather around both Congos, the big ex-Belgian one (Democratic Republic of Congo) and the smaller ex-French one (Congo Republic, aka Congo Brazzaville). I started in Lubumbashi and continued to the capital Kinshasa. Next stop took me across the river to Brazzaville, the capital of Congo Republic. The Congo River is 3km wide at this point, so Kinshasa and Brazzaville are the two closest national capitals in the world.
▲ This is the public ferry across the river, I took the faster and more expensive canot rapide, It may save some time, but more important it saves an awful lot of hassle and that’s a very important thing in Congo. Even taking the canot rapide still involved an amazing amount of form filling, small payments, waiting in assorted offices and, most worrying, seeing your passport heading somewhere without you. On both sides of the river my passport was handed back to me just as I boarded the boat from Beach (aka Beach Ngobila on the Kinshasa side) or Le Beach (on the Brazzaville side).
Brazzaville makes a pleasant break from Kinshasa, it’s quieter, calmer and altogether easier going. And there are a few things to see.
◄ A recent addition to the Brazzaville skyline is the curiously grandiose memorial to Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza, the French explorer who gave the town its name. It’s fronted by this huge statue of de Brazza looking like a barefoot travelling hippy from the ‘60s. De Brazza was a rival to Henry Morton Stanley (of ‘Dr Livingstone I presume?’ fame) who played such a major role in the other Congo across the river. His remains were moved here from Algeria, but Algeria was already the second stop.
He was originally buried in the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris, if he’d hung around he could have been in there with Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison.
▲ The Basilique de Ste Anne is the most interesting architecture in either Congo.
Designed by French architect Roger Erell and completed in 1949 it features lots of arches, an emerald-green tiled roof and brass-plaqued doors. I liked it! ►
▲ Just to the west of Brazzaville are Les Rapides where the Congo River take a sharp downhill plunge in a scene of dramatic turmoil where the Djoué River meets the Congo. From here down to the sea the river goes through a series of rapids making it impossible to navigate. In the other direction boats can travel upriver for around 1800km until they encounter the rapids just above Kisangani. That’s the next stop on my Congo travels.