We were currently working in a very remote place close to the Zambian border when my fellow Congolese geologist put this stupid idea into my head: Let’s find the legendary source of the Congo River.
We sometimes take a Sunday off from work, so we decided to start on an early Sunday morning the expedition to the source. The watershed between the Zambezi and the Congo River makes the border between Zambia and Congo. Before we left I did some research on the satellite photographs we have for our work, where we could find the source and I stored the location on my GPS. I knew that there should be an old colonial road following the border between Congo and Zambia which should basically lead right to the source. I estimated the distance to the source to around 85km as the crow flies. Doesn’t sound far? It is! So we started early morning and just outside of our camp when we reached what’s locally called a dambo we got screwed. A dambo is a swampy area often dry during dry season but generally overgrown by tall grass, up to 3m high. So we couldn’t see where we were driving and we drove right into a trench. The vehicle was stuck and it took us 2h to get the car out and I knew we wouldn’t make it anymore. The rest of the day was used to clear the track from fallen trees and termite mounds as far as we could go for the day. This track hasn’t been used be vehicles for a very long time.
On the second attempt a few weeks later we had the advantage that we knew all the bad parts of the track and we made considerable distance along the border when after 4h the track changed directions and turned into the Congo (country not river). After several hours following this road I started to become worried that it wouldn’t lead us to the marked point on the GPS. We asked several villagers we met on the way if this is still correct and they confirmed we should just keep going. A few minutes later we reached a village which “marketed” the source as a major tourist attraction. We met the chief to ask for permission to see the source. The chief told us he welcomes tourist groups regularly and he asked us to sign into a visitor book. When I asked him how many groups are visiting a day he didn’t really understand. Only after some time and explaining he understood what I wanted to know and said around 3-4 people a month. He asked us for a small contribution for his community. I was pretty euphoric that we made it so I gladly paid 40$ for the entire group of us. The chief took us then to the source where he first needed to ask some ghosts or ancestors for permission. After several minutes of debating we were granted and we could experience a ceremony of cleansing our body with the crystal clear water of the Congo.
The chief also wanted us to see the natural bridge, another major tourist attraction in the area. Just 10m from the source the natural bridge is the first bridge which “spans” across the newly born Congo River. First I thought it should be made out of travertine since there are other natural bridges in the area which I am usually working in made out of limestone. But to my surprise this is a wooden bridge. A root connects two trees on either side of the river, what a spectacle. It was a great experience and I think not many Mzungus ever had the chance to see that. The drive back was just as long as going there and we spent a full day driving to spend an hour at the source of the Congo River.
While mapping in the field I have seen several traps, or in some cases I was lucky I didn’t step into one.
The first trap is for small rodents. The rodent walks into the trap attracted by the bait and steps on the trigger, which is a small stick. The stick releases a string which holds the large log into place.
The other trap has a noose and once stepped into the bent branch is released and the prey is hanging on the string. They are pretty nasty since they are difficult to see and I almost walked into one of them.
In the field I came across a weird-looking creature. I was so amazed that I can’t decide which photo to drop out.
The new field season has started and here are the first pictures.