Nothing has stuck with me more than the absolute difference between Brazzaville and Kinshasa. Despite sharing so much, they are different in an impressive way. Despite being the closest 2 world capitals and sharing similar names and the same language, it felt like another world entirely.
Kinshasa is huge, busy, loud, and full of petty street crime. Brazzaville feels like visiting my grandparents in a small town in the middle of the US.
After arriving in Brazzaville, I shoed away so many attempts at scams and bribes at the border checkpoint that I almost gave lip to someone it turned out was a real government employee collecting an arrival tax. Oops. Upon seeing the receipt book, I realized this was a legitimate thing and paid my minimal fee.
After this, things got wild. The passport control office demanded more documents than I’d brought with me, and 2 hours of work resulted in finally getting someone to make a wifi hotspot on his phone (so I could find the email with the invitation letter from my hotel, which had been provided to the embassy to get my visa), then the police calling to verify I really had a reservation and not just a fake letter, but the hotel was small and had no one answering the phone during the afternoon…so, we waited. 2 hours later, we finally reached the manager and confirmed my booking, my passport was stamped, and I was in a taxi.
I paid a baggage handler $10 US for all of the phone credit he’d used from his mobile by calling every 10min on my behalf, trying to reach the hotel. I was off, checked into the hotel, and out the door before noticing the clouds.
About 2 blocks down the road, the sky completely opened up, and I got soaked. I flagged down a shared taxi and jumped in before knowing where I wanted to go. I found some restaurants nearby on the map, asked for one, and the guy missed it. Asked for another, and he missed it again, so I got out and ran. Of course, the restaurant was closed. They were kind enough to let me in 30min before opening time, because of the rain.
I’d wound up at the most expensive restaurant in this area of Brazzaville. I wound up here because Middle Eastern food is always reliable for vegans, but I definitely won’t be back at L’Oriental.
I ate a small soup and waited out the rain, then I walked back to the hotel.
The next morning, I was up super early and out the door. At St. Anne’s Basilica, I learned that Jesus was apparently from Sweden, according to their pictures.
I walked down the ‘busiest’ street I saw that day, which was absolutely nothing compared to Kinshasa just across the river. It was crazy.
I arrived at the train station and was taking pictures until some really annoying guy obsessed with putting his nose in my business started asking if I had a permit for taking pictures and how did he know I’m not a spy? He wasn’t a government employee or cop or anything, just a guy looking to be annoying. There were 2 cops nearby watching me take pictures and laughing at this guy, so it clearly wasn’t an issue, he’s just ‘one of those’. I don’t get people who create problems where none exist.
I walked down and took some pictures of the famous Nabemba Tower. It’s obviously unique in its appearance, but so is its history. After a lot of damage in the civil war in the 90s, repairing it for millions and millions of dollars was tasked to a start-up company with no history or expertise. They paid more to fix it than to originally build it. It costs nearly $4mil each year just to maintain it, which is a lot–especially in Congo.
Walking along Ave. Cabral, I enjoyed some of the signs and was amazed at the Russian cultural center with a statue outside to Yuri Gagarin, the first astronaut in space.
The combo museum / Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza (after whom the city is named) memorial proved to be quite interesting, though quite small. Most of what I learned was from reading the signs and literature outside, and not so much from the displays.
de Brazza was apparently fired during changing political winds in France, his successor was super vicious, and he was brought out of retirement to come and get the locals to stop rioting.
After some more walking, I turned up toward the Cathedrale de Sacre Coeur (Sacred Heart).
From here, I meandered more, walking without any real aim.
At the end of the day, I grabbed my stuff and negotiated a taxi to the airport. It was definitely in the swankier area of the city, past all of the government buildings. The airport looks really modern and nice, but it was practically empty. Look at all of those closed counters and unused check-in spaces. Thinking of future growth, maybe?
I was off for an overnight layover in the Johannesburg airport and then back home. My flight home from Joburg took off nearly 2 hours late, because we were waiting for some family that was running late. That must be a REALLY IMPORTANT family, since over 200 people waited 2 hours for them.
Another great trip and more excited for the parts of the world I’ve yet to see.This entry was posted in Uncategorized