From the moment I got into the city, I liked it.
This was almost a trip that didn’t happen. First, the embassy sat on my passport application for over 3 weeks, despite the “10 days” timeline on the website, and they didn’t answer any requests about moving it along.
I found out about “flying visa” (visa volant) and contacted my hotel to sponsor me for this. The fee is $400, but that was less than what rearranging my trip was going to cost me, so I bit the bullet and set it up.
At the airport in Douala, because they don’t have direct flights to Kinshasa, they’d never seen my visa volant document before and thought it was something fake. They didn’t want to let me board, so I finally convinced them to just check me in to my layover in Togo, where I had to get airport staff to walk me through passport control and baggage claim to do my new check-in/pass through without having a visa or anything, and they were super familiar with the document so it was no trouble.
On arrival, the visa process was super smooth, simple, and had no inklings of anyone requesting a bribe from me. I found out later that they had done this behind the scenes from my hotel’s manager, and I had to repay him. Of course.
I was required to have a licensed travel agent meet me at the airport with the original signed document from the foreign ministry in the city, so I had to pay him and pay for our taxi ride back together. In all, the extra fees wound up making this more expensive than I’d thought, but I really liked Kinshasa.
The ride from the airport into the city is close to an hour, and I really liked the vibe of the city.
I was told multiple times by hotel staff to not take my phone out while on the street and to not wonder around alone, because street crime after dark is a real problem. After one of the employees helped me haggle for a good exchange rate with a guy on the street, he rode with me to the plaza near the president’s house, and I took some pictures from the taxi window.
We then rode down to “Victoire” which has a ton of stuff happening, lots of people hanging out. We grabbed a Coke and did some excellent people-watching.
He directed the taxi past the national stadium and Congress on the way back, I paid for both of us (it was only $1 each!), and I sat on the open terrace of the hotel for a while just enjoying the sounds of the city.
I was up early to maximize my time. I walked a lot along 30 of June Ave. and saw the St. Anne’s Church that was supposed to be awesome but wasn’t.
I caught another shared taxi and then another southbound from the same route we’d taken the night before, so I could wind up at the art school with awesome displays for the public.
I walked a bunch and beat the heat with a drink in a cafe, where the employee was not at allllll happy that I wasn’t buying a full meal.
Another shared taxi got me back up near where I’d been the night before, and I saw a golf course right in the middle of the city. I will bet 90% of their clientele is from the government.
I caught a late lunch at Loving Hut, and I was surprised by the prices – not just what they were (high!) but also the fact they were all in US$. Looking back, I’m sure most of their ingredients are imported, and they’re near a lot of the embassies/UN offices/government buildings, so they’re clearly catering to the foreign crowd and not locals. However, it was still surprising to see $15 appetizers in a city where a full meal at a cafe across the street would be $2.
That said, I did enjoy my “Vegan KFC” that I ordered.
Oh, and they deliver! haha
The rest of the day was rather inconsequential, other than the fact the front desk employee just couldn’t believe that I don’t believe in god, don’t want to have kids, and don’t eat meat. He took turns being more shocked about one and then more shocked about another, rotating his mind being blown. He kept trying to ask me questions and convert me to his sense of what my life should be like, which became rather annoying and resulted me in trying to sneak in/out of the hotel when his back was turned. He was nice, but I didn’t come to Kinshasa to convert or be converted, so let me just enjoy the city. Thanks.
The next morning, I was up early and off to the ferry area to get a ticket and find out times for the boat across the river to Brazzaville. This is an exercise in how many ways people can try to rip you off. I supposedly paid a guy $5 to stand in line for me for the boat while I went back to get my suitcase, and he did absolutely nothing.
When I came back, he wasn’t there, and so I needed to get a ticket. Supposedly, the boat was leaving really soon (which is why that guy was supposed to stand in line for me), so someone else wanted me to pay him a ‘rush fee’ to make sure I get added to the passenger list. Nope. This is why I had promised the other guy some money up front and some afterward, and I wasn’t going to pay this guy, when I was definitely going to wind up on a boat at some point.
When he had the nerve to come into the passenger waiting room and ask me for $20 for all of his work wheeling my suitcase and telling me how to get the ticket, I dressed him down in French, English & Portuguese to make sure everyone in the room understood that I’d already bought him a bottle of water (it was hot, and he worked in the sun all day every day) while he tried to move me to the front of the line, but I hadn’t asked for that, and there’s no way I was giving him $20 when the boat ride itself is only $25.
Yeah, I’m a foreigner, and you see me easily as one of the few white people in the area, but that doesn’t mean you can grab my suitcase without me asking you, push it on wheels until I demand that you let go of my stuff, and then think I’m going to give you $20 for the dishonesty you displayed towards me. Nope. I was fuming and told him I’d start insulting his whole family if he approached me again, and that was the end.
I was on the boat soon (surprise! no bribes and no risk of being left behind), and since our boat had so many people they told me the suitcases would come on the next boat. Everyone else seemed totally fine with this, so I trusted that was their system.
DR Congo was great. Other than the douchebags at the boat point, I really liked it. Off on the shortest capital-capital crossing in the world, going over the mighty Congo river.