Monday, August 12, 2013

39. Zaire: Up the Congo and Kasai rivers to Ilebo

Bateau waiting to join the floating market on the Major Mudimbi
Our trip up the Congo and then mainly the Kasai remains very clear in our minds.  The main boat was the Major Mudimbi, dated from the 1920s (blue outline in diagram below).  It pushed a large cargo barge (yellow outline) which was covered with modern shipping containers, vehicles and what we realized was a travelling market with stalls selling used clothes, medicine, manufactured goods and some food items. There were also people camping among the shipping containers.  Alongside the large barge were two passenger barges (green outline) with 2nd class and 3rd class cabins. Each 2nd class cabin had 4 berths, while each 3rd class cabin had 18 berths.   The 1st class and Delux cabins were on the Major Mudimbi itself.  We shared the 2nd class cabin at front right corner of the front barge, so had an excellent view the entire trip.

Below are some original drawings we sent with the diary.  Please excuse the crudeness and the illegible handwriting belonging to Dan.
Contemporary sketch of the Major Mudimbi and the barges that it pushed.

 The boat made relatively few stops over the five days and six nights of the trip.  However there was a constant stream of boats (bateaus) and canoes of various sizes that would leave the shore and tie up to the barges for a while.  So the Major Mudimbi pushed 3 barges and up to 10 boats and canoes up river at any time.

Meeting a boat and barges from the same government company, on its way down river.

Congo River, Zaire, Thursday, 17 March, 1983

We slept pretty well, but with the metal mesh beds and no mattress, when one turns over one has to sound around a few times before one finds the right depth. There is one naked light and no switch, but we just unscrewed the hot bulb with my socks. Fortunately, our cabin mates are willing to sleep in the dark; most of the other cabins leave the light on all night. In these quarters the lights are also very effective heaters. The barge must have been very nice  back when it was so important to the war effort (WW II?). It has nearly identical “appointments” as first class, but very banged and rusted. There is a rat hole in the corner, and during the night one of Stewart’s African cousins ate a neat hole through our food bag, through the outside bags and straight through to our breakfast bread. Now we know why our mates had all of their things hanging from the bunk. It was a pretty cheap lesson; it might have been our boots, or camera case, or even one of our stacks of Zairois money.

Way back when Shirley[1] was giving us her reasons for never wanting to travel in Zaire again, a principal one was they “blast Zairois music the entire time.” (Shirley’s tastes ran to operas rather than Hi-Life.) The truth is they only blasted it till midnight, and even then only in the breezeway, further down the barge where all the shops are set up. From our mini-cabin at the front of the entire set-up, one mostly just hears the sound of water as it is forced under the barge, rather like the sound of rain.

There was one interruption about midnight. There were a lot of shouts and the sound of bodies hitting metal coming from the breezeway. Yours truly, ever the one to take in fires and fist fights, had to check it out. As far as I could tell, one woman, possibly drunk, was trying to jump over the side of the barge. Four men were trying to restrain her. Half her clothes were torn off, so I’m not sure which came first: the restraint or the urge to jump off.

After a good breakfast of café con leche and (ejem) singed bread, we set about for a leisurely first day. We have decided in view of our lack of privacy or security, one person is to always stay in sight of our gear. As our male cabin companion (Germain) commented, “You have everything!” And we’d like to keep it that way. We take hourly watches.

The river and landscape was a surprise. Starting during the first night and continuing until after we went to bed, the Congo and later the Kasai or Kwa ran through continuously hilly country, had no flood plain, and the river itself was never wider than 3 - 4 km. Not exactly cross-cutting, but  I think the river preceded the hills. We calculate we are traveling a net average of about 10 km/hr and we arrived at the Kasai at 1600, or 22 hrs into the trip. Our map shows it as the Kwa River for a stretch, but everybody seems to call it the Kasai right away. Our map shows the area nearby to be mostly grassland, and from our vantage point the hills are grassy, while the shores are forested or cleared.

So far the main activity has been the trade which is carried on with the canoes that come alongside. They wait up-river until the barges start to pass, they maneuver through the waves, and tie alongside. They mainly bring manioc and fish for sale, and then they spend time looking around the supermarket here. There are stalls set up in the breezeways, some on the big cargo barge, and a few on the bateau itself which cater to the canoes that tie alongside to sell fish to the first class mess. This goes on night and day. Last night I woke up after midnight and there were canoes appearing out of the darkness to tie up. The stall tenders simply sleep beside or on top of their wares. The main items for sale are: bread, salt, sugar, thread, matches, soft drinks and beer, cigarettes, and then there is a huge pile of used clothes on the cargo barge. The bateau itself has yet to stop.
Larger than average boat approaching the Major Mudimbi to tie along and exchange goods.  The settlement was also larger than average.

La Cuisine? We had been expecting rice and beans exclusively, but when Helena returned (you get your tickets stamped first) she had a pan of rice, and our little pot with big cubes of meat. However, though the meat did not smell, it was far from fresh, slightly off color, and unnaturally tender. However, it was hot so we put it all down. Then when supper rolled around we noticed people did not run when the bell sounded. It turned out we had the same fare barely re-heated. This time we could not put very much down. I guess it was mainly the feel of it. Fortunately, we have the stove and hot cups of tea.

The rice is good, not highly refined with plenty of germ and hulls to keep us regular. If the sauce continues, we have packaged soup and tomato paste bought with this exact turn of events in mind. We will be able to cook up a sauce to put on the rice.

The passengers? They remind me a lot of the people on the Dakar-Bamako train. Older women merchants, young, strapping men who look equally able and willing to load the goods as to defend them. There is one such group in the other second class cabin beside us. There is a good bit of cargo stored in the holds of the barges, probably belonging to the big time people lounging around in first class.

2nd and 3rd class barge on right, market stalls in any available space.

Major Mudimbi floating market seen from the bridge of the main boat.

Foreign travelers seem to be scarce in this part of Zaire. Geoff, our Lonely Planet guide book, for example, only describes the NE part of Zaire. We are the only “Caucasians” aboard, and apparently  the only ones in known history to travel on the barge area. We have been feeling we’ve left the beaten track since Cameroon. We have seen only one other “traveler” since we left Yaoundé about a month ago.

Usually the conversations run this course:

Them: “You are tourists?” (We either have on our packs or have just asked directions, or both when they ask this question.)
Us:       Oui.
T:         “Where are you from?”
U:        “Bolivia, South America.”

T:         “Is she your woman?” Here the flowchart divides, if it is a policeman or a kindly type--
U:        Non, she is my sister, same mother, same father, etc.”

If  T is a group of leering young men giving me thumbs-up signals behind Helena’s back--
U:        “Oui.”
T:         “Are you married?”
U:        (Sorry Pappy) “Oui.”
T:         “Where are your children?”
U:        “We don’t have any.”
T:         “Why not?”
U:        “We are too young, and I am still a student, etc.”

After this subject has been completely picked over the flowchart converges again.
T: “Why are you traveling 2nd class?” or “Why are you waiting here by the road?”, etc.

Tonight, however, I had a long conversation with two young men and compared the Congo and Amazon river systems. They told me, among other things, the African modern music we’ve been hearing since Cameroon, sung in an unidenti­fiable language, is really Lingala, the language of Kinshasa and Brazzaville.

Kasai River, Zaire, Friday, 18 March, 1983

(HELENA) One would. expect a slow, five-day river trip to be boring and monotonous, but no, last night and today have been far from that. We decided to go to bed fairly early last night because we thought we’d be making our first stop in the middle of the night and there would probably be a fair commotion. Well, that first stop came clear after we’d had our breakfast (we may finally have the combination for avoiding the lumps of milk) and it probably wouldn’t have awakened us. HOWEVER... we were to be awakened four separate times. At about 2300 the boat jerked slightly and stopped. It then backed up a fair way before continuing. It turned out we had hit a sand bar.

Not much later our young male cabin mate, Germaine, came in, turned on the light and got ready for bed.

At about 2:00, someone came banging on the door, the young man jumped off of his top bunk, slammed open the door (it’s a very noisy metal door) and came back almost immediately. Due to the time of night, Dan and I differ as to how all this happened, so I’ll do my best. The young man exclaimed and turned on the light. He sat on the other lower bunk beside the young woman who proceeded to sleep through the entire episode. There was blood on the floor and dripping from his foot. He’d apparently gotten out of bed thinking he was on the bottom bunk and stepped on the sharp metal edge of the bed. It cut him right between his big toe and the next one. Dan wasn’t saying anything (he apparently had seen him bending over and thought he’d hit his head and was drunk, so Dan decided there was nothing he could contribute), so I got out of bed to ask Dan to treat his foot. It took us a while to get our two first-aid kits out and get organized, but eventually Dan did his usual professional job. It was a really ugly four-way cut and Dan wants me to stress the quantity of blood which had spilled on the floor (after all he did have to clean it up)[2].

We finally settled back down, only to be awakened by banging on the door and calls of  “Police, police.” They were simply checking people’s tickets when they’d be most likely to find someone cheating -- 4:00 a.m. The young woman and we were all right, but our injured friend hadn’t paid for a second class ticket. They got him out of the room, but he soon came back, having paid a little something for the privilege (?) of sharing a room with the three of us.

Amazingly, aside from those interruptions, both Dan and I slept very well. The boat goes so smoothly and quietly (we’re so far from the engine all we hear is the water swishing by) one is lulled easily to sleep.

Helena in front of our cabin, which in turn was at the front of the first barge.

At daybreak we were going through grassy hills and the river had widened since yesterday afternoon. By mid-morning, however, the banks were level with the water and completely covered by trees.  As the day wore on, it changed back and forth several times.

It was a big day for the market part of the ship because there was always someone tied up alongside and often up to seven boats. Some of the boats had 10 and 12 men in them.

I was standing on the inside front corner of our barge when I noticed some scuffling going on on the freight barge. I didn’t want Dan to miss any excitement, so I called him. Together, we realized it was not a fight, but a bunch of strong men were subduing a man VERY roughly. They kicked him and stood on him as though he were an object, and finally tied him up. They tied up another man, but with less commotion as he didn’t put up a fight. Finally they carried them off toward the main boat. In the meantime, Dan had found out these two men had stolen a carton of cigarettes. It was awful treatment for any offense, no matter how terrible, and it made me realize how little violence I have actually seen -- off the screen, that is. Dan was reminded of some advice Olivia Carter (ex-Peace Corps, Kenya) gave us back in September: don’t cry “thief” because a whole mob is likely to gather and will practically murder the suspect. After the deck had cleared you could see a lot of blood where the beating had taken place.

Lunch today was more palatable: rice with a sauce of beans and some kind of panza (stomach lining). One thing we’ve discovered on our trip is a dish is much easier to swallow when it is hot. By supper it wasn’t quite so good, but after throwing out the panza part (Helena!, for shame) it was all right. On our whole trip, there have only been three times when we’ve had to force ourselves to eat: once in Sikasso, Mali, the other day in Brazzaville when we were served cold fish soup, and yesterday --  all three were cold.

I’m afraid my main preoccupation has become the bathroom. In a way we’re lucky to not have one near because of the smell, but in order to reach one we have to walk by everyone who sits around with nothing to do but watch. I’ve found one which is off the beaten path, but I get the idea maybe it’s one meant for the cooks or something. Washing up is also a bit problematic. So far we’ve only taken very small sponge baths. Most everyone else has access to a bucket which is filled by swinging a can over the side with a rope. They then can take the bucket into the bathroom. We’ve finally rigged our little pot for dipping water out of the river, but we have nothing large for a bath. We’ve really put to use the five-liter water bladder Jim Raymond gave us. We dip water out with the pot, fill the bladder, chlorinate it with a few drops of bleach, and hang it at the end of the bed to let the particles settle. We then use that water to boil for tea or café con leche, for putting in the canteen for further purification, or for washing dishes. Pretty nifty.

The boat really slowed down in the afternoon so we got to our second stop, Bandundu, at 2100 hrs, several hours later than expected. The first stop, this morning, was a small town where we simply left off a couple of passengers (one of them being our female cabin mate), but this time we left the Kasai River with what looked like a bit of fancy navigation and went up the Kwango for a bit. It was dark, so the search light did a lot of work to get us around islands and shallow spots. Once again we were impressed by how long the lights of a city are within sight before the boat reaches it. We’d been told we’d spend the night in port, so we were prepared for a hot, buggy, noisy night. In the end, it was another restful night and we were awakened only when we set off at 3:00 a.m.

Crowd gathered to watch the spectacle of the Major Mudimbi and the linking canoes.

Waiting to tie an approaching canoe to the floating market.

I’d have liked to see Bandundu by day because it looked like a fair-sized place. There was quite a boat graveyard and docks and we could make out at least one big fuel tank.

During the day we met quite a few boats going down-river. As far as we can tell, they don’t have as many passengers as ours does. We passed a Petro Zaire boat pushing four big cistern (tanker) barges. It must take ages for it to get anywhere.

We were originally quite proud of our little private corner, but it has proved to be quite a gathering place, especially in the afternoon when it’s the shady side of the barge. Sigh. I’m afraid a few exclusivity feelings tend to surface.

Detail of our travel map showing Bandudu a little less than half way between Kinshasa and Ilebo, where we caught the train.

Kasai River, Zaire, Saturday, 19 March, 1983

(DAN) One time we would like to have some exclusivity on our corner is at bath time. I can’t be in these latitudes very long without an honest to goodness, flood-the-grime-off bath. By 0900 I had become desperate enough to put on my swimsuit and attempt a dip bath with our little pot. Of course, as soon as I appeared, the four or five people who could possibly see me gave me their full attention. Of course, without my glasses it took me a couple of minutes to get a full pot (it only holds 3/4 quart to begin with), then I spilled it when I reached for the soap. The audience, immediately recognizing the potential in the situation, drew closer. A young woman, with a fine sense of the understatement, waited till I had my face --  and one eye -- soaped before she came up and asked me to draw a pan of water for her. People began to gather from the other direction. Helena was standing up in that direction, supposedly a decent limit to where people could approach, but one of our “physical” neighbors walked past her, and leaned comfortably on the railing beside me and stared pointblank. I did eventually get much of the grime washed off, but came away feeling there had to be a better way.

Actually, it was not the only grooming spectacle of the morning. Last night an elegant young lady came on board in Bandundu to join the party next door. Before the fans had completely dispersed from my shower, she appeared on a stool in front of her door and started to comb a wig. After placing each strand carefully in place, she got out a mirror and began to try it on. I think she was seeking attention, because after each position she would glance around for approval. I’m afraid we stared right back. Miss Elegance was a source of interest all day. In spite of finery (wig), shiny western dress, and gold loop earrings, she still had to cook for the “physical” crew in her cabin. As we never could in the same situation, she remained spotless and elegant all day.

My fame as a White Healer seems to be expanding. When Germain came around to have his bandage changed, another bandage was on. He said he went to the hospital in Bandundu last night to get a tetanus shot (ejem) and they had looked at it. By expanding fame, I mean two more people came by to have sores treated. One was not serious, while the other was really infected. It was an infected insect bite on his instep. There was a small open sore with some dead tissue around it, and a swollen area about 1 1/2” in diameter. There is not even a nurse on board for the 250-500 passengers. I cleaned up what I could, but I wouldn’t know what to do if he got blood poisoning.

We had a good change in our diet today. A little kid, off one of the canoes I guess, came around with a basket of lemons and matches. We bought a bunch of lemons at the price of 360 to 1 $US. We made lemonade twice, and had lemon in one cuppa at dusk. I we would have been a bit miserable by now without our little Campingaz stove.

We have seen a few more things being brought on the canoes today. Some citrus fruit, baskets, woven mats, and firewood. We observed an interesting way of preparing the fish. Three sticks had been crisscrossed with all points sharpened, then the fish had been impaled in a circle on all the points to be dried and smoked. The only agricultural products  we see being traded are still manioc (cassava), now in tuber form.

The ship food today was quite tasty. Rice, need I mention it, and small reconstituted dried fish. When I went to get the servings, the cook said, “you are going to eat that?” But it was the best we’ve had here, and some of the best food we’ve had on the trip, period. People rushed for the line for both lunch and supper.

The population is higher here; at one point I counted 24 canoes tied to the side of the boat and barges. However, in general, we have seen no “worked” land from the river.  We have not seen a single head of cattle.  In South America this kind of terrain would be full of cattle[3].

Once again it got very hot in the afternoon and a noisy crowd gathered on our shady front porch. The Zairois music blared all day again till midnight, and it does get old, especially since batteries soon run down --  the volume is just turned up. I guess it is essential to the festival atmosphere. There were some moments when we got some Bob Marley Reggae, (and Helena adds) AND Julio Iglesias, but otherwise....

In the morning I was up on the boats writing when a man approached to talk. He and two women occupy a DeLuxe cabin on the ship, and he, Sebastian, invited us to come up in the evening for a few “drinks.” When the time rolled around, we decided we could not both go and leave our stuff after all the stress we’ve been through watching it. I did go up for a while and sipped an Orange Véri Goud while we talked. He works for the Zaire Central Bank and happens to be transporting the Mercedes Benz sedan and bus which are on the big barge. He is taking them to Lubumbashi on the train and is enjoying it. He studied some years in Belgium and says they and the French, contrary to what they claim, are just as racist or more so than the British, and the least of all are the “Americans” he’s met. Now, he’s never been to the US... In general, French people like to maintain they are not racist. We also discussed Hergé and his infamous Tin Tin au Congo. Apparently it was written in colonial times and is so full of dumb, lazy blacks that it has never been reprinted and is officially banned in Zaire. Kind of the sentiment I got in Thailand about The King and I.

Before we hit the sack, we gave Helena a bath. We waited until about 2100, rigged one curtain with the rain poncho, and she washed while I drew water. It worked pretty well, no audience. (And Helena adds:) (I wore my bathing suit just in case.)

Ah yes, around dusk I was exploring the cargo barge and found a large group of people gathered to watch some sport boxing and wrestling. Six men took turns sparring with each other, only one of them was under 6’2” or 3’ and 210 lbs. There was one man, maybe my height but 220 lbs or so. Two of them were our neighbors who helped subdue the “thieves” yesterday. I don’t know about technique, but they looked mean and tough and fast. This tub has it all: romance, mystery, cuisine, excitement, and contact sports. Even a little friendly citizen justice. Not to mention the music and tax-free market.

                                                                       Kasai River, Zaire, Sunday, 20 March, 1983

(HELENA) We would never skip breakfast, but today’s cafe con leche and bread (we had to trim off a bit of mould this morning) was a bit ill—timed.  The water had just boiled when we started to dock at Mabenga. As usual, it was a big occasion for the town, so there were crowds of people there to watch, with some of them ready to rush on and off the boat for a few purchases. We gulped down our first cup of coffee, and just as Dan started out the door with the camera, the boat’s whistle blew. He decided to chance it anyway, jumped to shore, took a picture of the boat (he made quite a side attraction perched on the side of the steep bluff), and jumped back on right before the boat pulled away from shore. I could just see him swimming to the boat, holding the camera above his head.

We really timed our meals right today. The man came around ringing the bell for lunch right before we made a stop. For the first time we were met by a large (at least 100) group of kids swimming in the river. It looked mighty dangerous to us for them to be swimming so close to the boat, but they were obviously as at home there as the men are standing in their pirogues (we can count on our fingers the women we’ve seen rowing a pirogue). This was a place not named on our map, and the people piled on the boat (over the railings and any old how) to buy things. Bread seems to be a popular item. Someone told Dan none of these places have bread, so they bring it from Kinshasa in a cold-storage room on the Major Mudimbi.  Hard to believe.

Our third stop of the day was right at supper time (minutes past 1700), so we had our beans and rice (we couldn’t quite stomach the dubious meat) while still more people clambered on board.

At mid-morning, Dan’s DeLuxe Class friend Sebastian came to invite me to “promenade”. Dan had apparently told him I was a bit (?) timid about exploring more than is strictly necessary for my survival, so it was mighty nice for him to take me to see the bridge (very spic-and-span) and first class. He wanted to serve me a bottled drink, but apparently the bar was being used just then for some kind of religious service.

Piture of the Major Mudimbi complex taken from the shore on one of our few stops.

At the start of this trip I was worried about our diet because we had brought no fruit with us. But ever since we bought the lemons yesterday, things have really improved. Today Dan returned from one of his forays with eight of the biggest, nicest guavas I have ever seen. The largest of these was 6-7 cm in length and 3 ½ - 4 cm in diameter. Mm. We also got some green tangerines.

Early on we had decided to get plenty of sleep tonight and tomorrow night because we won’t be able to count on being able to sleep on the train from Ilebo to Kananga. 1930 came around and we were FORCED to rush for bed. The day had been so nice and overcast and cool, but darkness came and the mosquitoes took over. We lit an anti-mosquito coil (our poor upper-bunk neighbor who moved in for the third night was slapping at them constantly) and we were lucky to be able to climb under our mosquito nets. It has amazed us ever since Banjul, Gambia, the nets have been perfectly adequate. The Banjul mosquitoes must be a particularly determined, desperate breed. We slept in spite of the loud music.

Kasai River, Zaire, Monday, 21 March, 1983


One thing that has really been going against our grain is what we have been gathering about Mobutu Sese Seko[4]. Even before arriving we had heard he was one of the 5 richest people in the world, but his place in this country is even more deplorable. His face is on all of the bills; of course that is not new. What is new, for example, is a book at the Hostel called the 80 Day War. It is supposedly a history of the rebellion/invasion of north eastern Shaba from Angola. The entire book turned out to be a collection of pictures of Mobutu: shaking hands with “peasants”, shaking hands with his generals, shaking hands with Moroccan generals, shaking hands with the Moroccan soldiers who did the fighting, and shaking fingers at the prisoners who were taken. The entire text (it is a large book) is formed of various press releases given by His Excel1ency, President Mobutu Sese Seko, etc., etc., founder of the party of Popular Revolutionary Movement, about how he handled the 80-day war, etc. Helena happened on a comic book history of his life that attributes superhuman abilities to him: was the perfect soccer player when a boy, etc. One gets vibes of tremendous corruption, cynicism, and greed. Lions prowling around the gate of his mountain. Popular Revolutionary Movement, my foot.

Back to the trip. We continue to wonder at the river-boat trade. Last night we pulled up at Yuki, at a dock for a charcoal factory there. There were maybe l50 people lined up waiting (at 0030 hrs) and started pi1ing on before the barge touched in. For the next hour these people milled about buying and selling. One young man who was in the first wave went off with his purchase: four cigarettes and four-day-old French bread. I did see some thread and some plastic sandals go, but by and large...

The specialty of this “port” appeared to be peeled manioc, piles and piles of it. One of our roommates bought two bushels of the peeled manioc for $1.50 a bushel. Those of you who have tried to peel manioc... Some people came aboard with the manioc in woven back packs (wicker) that went for only a little more. The most common purchase now appears to be the bread.

I took a more careful look at some more of the stalls today. The stall of the man who has the infected bite turned out to be, of all things, mainly a medicine shop. He has ampules and bottles for injection of penicillin, expiration date Jan. ‘82. He has ampules of vitamin Bl and B-complex injections. He had some aspirin and a bottle of black and orange capsules he said were for pain. And he had some mustard salve. Earlier a man came to the door, and as far as I could understand, said when he’s home he itches all over, and wanted to know if I could give him anti-malarial medicine. Tonight another young man wanted some anti-malarial medicine. Don’t worry Mammy, we’re not about to give away our chloroquin for itching. Finally, when Germain hurt his foot the other night, he wanted to know if he should take two tablets of Chloramphenicol --whatever that is[5][6]. I’m sure you think I’m exaggerating, but I think it significant a man who sells penicillin and Chloramphenicol was going to let an insect bite rot his foot. (The penicillin brand name is Fostepen out of Austria.)

I’m glad we are travelers and not tourists; as the sportscasters would claim, I don’t have the “mental toughness” to be a real tourist. Today I finally got up my nerve to ask some of the people if I could take pictures of the stalls installed on the barge. In particular, I wanted to take a picture of the druggist, and across the way, the cloth store and soft drink/beer bar. I asked the druggist and he was more than glad. A couple of young men were also within range, so I asked them as well. Why of course. They got some more of their friends, and before I was focused, I had a picture of the barge soccer team kneeling and standing arm in arm in front of the desired stalls!!! The longer I waited, the more people gathered in. I realized I needed a flash but took the picture anyway. So, if you get a dark picture of a row of young men...

Not very clear picture of the Major Mudimbi football team posed in front of the pharmaceutical stall.

Not over yet. I turned around to find myself saying bon jour to the ONATRA policeman. He wanted to know why I hadn’t gotten permission to take pictures on board, and didn’t I know there was a tax on cameras and each picture taken? We argued a while until one of his friends came along and hustled him off.

The next stop of my tour was the bridge. The captain was there, eating lunch and having three beers. He informed me it was not polite for me to have waited virtually till the trip had ended. Yes, I could look at his chart, but he didn’t invite any beer. Helena, now, got to look through the captain’s binoculars. What I don’t know about Fluvial Protocol!!! I returned rather discouraged to our barge popular (sorry) to resume our “traveling.”

Today was a beautiful day for traveling. Almost as soon as we got up it started to rain. Nothing like watching storms come and go on a river. It was cool and overcast all day. Had good fish and rice again for lunch and supper. Germain got off at noon with a load of perhaps one hundred breads, three cases of beer, and a big sack he had mentioned had, among other things, soap. It is what he does for a living: ride the barge back and forth buying and selling.

Finally, I believe we have not mentioned the evenings and nights we have enjoyed at the rail of our front porch. We stand out there for hours at a time following the path of the search light and watching the shore creep by in the semi-darkness. We are both sorry to have our little cruise end, but in some ways it will be a relief (privacy).

The sunset tonight was something! The sky was pretty of itself, but we noticed that as the barge plowed through the quiet water, it caused successive waves maybe 4 feet from crest to crest. The unusual aspect is that all the colors of the sunset and darkening shore were reflected in an abstract way on each of the waves. Unforgettable.

We lost Germain today but gained, through a new cabin mate, four live roosters. Tomorrow may begin very early, so I’ll hit the sack.  During the night we arrived near the port of Ilebo.

[1] Shirley traveled with us in Morocco and Spanish Sahara, and had been almost everywhere at least once.
[2] We did not know it at the time, as AIDS was being identified and named even as we traveled, that we were traveling through an area where the disease was already endemic.  Our first aid kits did not include rubber gloves so cleaning up copious amounts of blood has new significance.
[3] We suspected at the time, and have had confirmed since that there was no cattle in this area due to the predominance of the tse-tse flies and
[4] President at the time and for the next 25 years.
[5] (When Mother (Ed.) was originally typing up this diary she commented, “Isn’t Chloramphenicol the stuff that causes aplastic anemia which was the cause of Juan Cordero’s death?  I kind of think Chloramphenicol might have been the subject of a “60 Minutes” program on medicine sold in Third World countries, but not approved for use in the industrialized countries."
[6] According to Wikipedia it was an early antibiotic that became very common. "The most serious adverse effect associated with chloramphenicol treatment is bone marrow toxicity, which may occur in two distinct forms: bone marrow suppression, which is a direct toxic effect of the drug and is usually reversible, and aplastic anemia, which is idiosyncratic (rare, unpredictable, and unrelated to dose) and generally fatal."


  1. Especially fascinating! I can see why it has remained with you all these years!

  2. wow!! i did this trip in September 1973. thanks so much for putting these fotos up. I took none! I considered cameras a pain back then.

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