Stepping off the bus in northern Rwanda I say to myself, “what I am doing crossing into the Congo at nine in darkness?”
My trip took longer then expected from Uganda, but the voice on the phone assured me that all was all right, and that he was at the Congo border crossing waiting for me.
Hopping on the back of a small motorcycle with my large backpack strapped to my back, I hire a ride to take me to my meeting place.
Riding through quiet dark spaces on the red dirt illuminated by a poorly lighted headlight, I try to balance my body and backpack as we bounce over rocks and holes.
Stepping up to the immigration window in Rwanda the guards says through the glass, “the Congo border is closed for the night.”
I reply in an over-confident tone, “No, I just called them on the phone, they're waiting for me.”
He gives me one of those whatever looks, and says OK, good luck.
Waiting for me I see Alex, a Ugandan who works out of the border town of Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo organizing gorilla and volcano treks.
“Come this way,” Alex says in the darkness, “we need to get your visa at the office.”
Only problem now is, the office is closed and those who can issue it are gone.
“Welcome to Congo,” says the young immigration officer with a huge smile, “we are happy to see you here.”
I say to myself, that's because, no one in his or her right mind would pass into the Congo at night.
“You will have to leave your passport with us, because we have no receipt to give you for the $30 visa,” he says, and adds quickly, “you can trust us, we are the immigration office,” as if that was supposed to make me feel better.
Alex pipes in, “it's OK, I will come back tomorrow and get it for you.”
“OK Alex,” I say out-loud, “If you say so.”
We hop into the car, as the private driver who was waiting for us takes off into downtown Goma.
I had wanted a little extra adventure on my journey, the kind of experience that is impossible to plan for, but necessary and longed for by those who want something different. Every time I told someone I was going to the Congo, they looked at me like I had two heads.
Years of civil war, ethnic wars, volcanic eruptions, political corruption and unpredictability have made the Congo a no go for most. But there is something about this kind of journey that begs you to test your luck, or face the conceptual fears learned through media coverage.
I notice right from the moment I cross the border, the air has wildness to it, an edginess that comes from unpredictability.
We sit down at a table in a restaurant to put together a plan for my visit.
Alex asks, “So you have come to the Congo for some adventure?”
“Yes,” I reply, “I am on a mission to see gorillas in the wild.”
Without the desire to plan months in advance for the limited number of permits to see gorillas in Uganda or Rwanda, the Congo offers the chance to see a family on short notice. Only 700 gorillas remain in the wild. And they happen to live in one of the most unstable places in the world at the moment.
You've come to the right place he says with a smile, this you will see for sure, and maybe much more.