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Thursday, May 28, 2009


While I was staying in Mbandaka, I met this little fellow:

Gaston, a chimp from Congo

His name is Gaston, and he was staying at the same place as I did.

Gaston, a chimp from Congo

Although I must admit that my room was slightly more comfortable. And more spatious too.

Gaston, a chimp from Congo

He was staying at the procure of the archbishop of Mbandaka, after being 'rescued'. This means that he was bought from a trader, but of course that's exactly what keeps the trade in baby chimps and baby bonobos going. Hunting, catching and selling chimpansees and bonobos is 'highly illegal' in Congo, which means that you have to avoid the cops or you may have to bribe them.

Gaston, a chimp from Congo

The sad part is that to catch these baby/infant chimps, they have to kill the mother. Gaston is still a young animal, but when he's fullgrown, he'll be able to tear that cage apart like a house of cards.

Gaston, a chimp from Congo

There's nothing really much for him to do all day long in that little cage, except for eating. As you can imagine, his diet is not really adapted to his needs, although the staff of the center are quite fond of him and regularly offer him food.

Gaston, a chimp from Congo

He spends a lot of time sucking on a piece of bone.

Gaston, a chimp from Congo

All in all, his food was almost as fresh as ours...

Gaston, a chimp from Congo

As you can imagine, it's a pretty miserable life. The chances that he'll ever get out are slim. I talked to his caretaker, and he said that he would be released into the wild when he would be old enough. Problem is, he won't know how to feed himself even if he does regain his freedom. One stormy night, his old cage blew over and broke apart. But Gaston didn't run away. He was lured back into another cage with a bit of food.

Gaston, a chimp from Congo

To try to cheer him up, I made him some toys. My brother works with bonobos in the zoo, so I tried to create something similar to what I saw there, something that might keep him busy for a couple of hours. Here you see the Chimp Amusement Device Mk II (the Mk I was just an empty water bottle). You can see the hole in the cap, which is just big enough to get one of the nuts out that are inside the bottle.

Gaston was very happy when I offered it to him. It captured his imagination for at least five whole seconds. Then he understood that it was not immediately edible, and that he'd have to work a bit to get the peanuts out. So he discarded it on the floor of his cage.

Well, at least I tried.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Hot Stuff

When I'm on a business trip I mostly function on restaurant food. That might seem appealing, but you have to take into account that a) good restaurants are hard to find in Congo in general and even more so in the interior of the country and b) I work for a humanitarian organisation, so think more in terms of 'local grub' than 'exquisite local cuisine'.

I was in Mbandaka for four days, a city situated on a place where the mighty Congo river meets a number of tributaries. It's a region known for it's fresh water fish, and the first evening we had a great meal of grilled fish, poached fish and fish steamed in banana leaves (Liboke). It all tasted wonderfully and I tasted plenty of it. The next day for lunch we got the same meal. I still thought it was great, and wolfed it down like a crocodile that had been on a vegetarian diet for six months. That evening, it was the same menu, as was it for the remainder of the four days we were there. The same three fish dishes every lunch and every diner. The last days, we were offered (canned) sardines for breakfast. I drew the line there.

I ate in various local restaurants during the rest of my visit, eating various meats and avoiding the fish even when it came highly recommended. And after ten days or so, I really start to dream about home made food.

So an invitation from local friends to dine at there place is a very welcome opportunity away from the steak-with-fries or grilled chicken. And what a feast it was! There were at least five different dishes, with chicken, steak, goat, fish, rice, pasta, fries and of course 'la boule nationale': maniok. There were also different kinds of local vegetables that I recognise, but I keep forgetting there names. So I scooped up a bit from every plate and went for the rice, because maniok is really not my thing. And I put plenty of the sauce that accompanied the chicken on my rice.

Nobody told me that it was pili-pili sauce. They didn't have to, because one mouthful of rice was enough to show me the error of my ways.

Temperatures suddenly rose from a balmy 35°C to somewhere between 1500°C-3000°C. My fork melted in my mouth. My seat burst into flame.

I bravely continued conversation while doing my best to reduce the mountain of rice on my plate to proportions that would show that I appreciated the food very much – not implying that I didn't finish half of my plate because it was foul. And it was great food... just a tad volcanic. In fact, I bet you could use that sauce to convince volcanoes that it is not a good idea to erupt because it's too hot outside.

Luckily, there was plenty of beer to cool down the furnace in my stomach. By the time the evening was coming to a close, I'd finally stopped sweating and the colour of my face returned from bright signal orange to deep red with hints of actual flesh colour.

I might add that the fun doesn't stop there with pili-pili sauce, because the next day my bottom experienced what my tongue felt the day before. But I won't disclose any more details on this particular experience...

Posted by Bart at 10:19 PM
Categories: The intrepid explorer

Monday, May 18, 2009


Evening view on the Congo river in Mbandaka (Dem. Republic of the Congo).

Evening view on the Congo river in Mbandaka (Dem. Republic of the Congo)  

Just to let you know I'm back and more or less still alive.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Who Needs Adventure Anyway?

Transport problems so far:

  • The rear wheel on the left side of our jeep fell of while we were riding (very slowly). The whole thing started to jiggle like a belly dancer on steroids. Not surprisingly, because there was only one bolt holding the wheel. We had to return on foot, but luckily this happened right when we entered the city. We'd just returned from a trip 20 miles out in the rain forest.
  • The plane from Mbandaka to Kinshasa was five (5) hours late.
  • We almost missed the plane to Kananga because the lady at the check in made an error while entering us in the computer. We then had to wait for the ICT specialist of the airport to rectify that error. We had to make a mad dash over the tarmac. The plane's ladder had already retracted and the engines were running. Luckily, the lowered the ladder and we could enter.
  • It's the end of the rainy season, so there's more turbulence than calm air around.
  • If you thought European/American airline food was bad, try the sandwiches here. One of my colleagues had the runnings after eating two of those sandwiches.
  • I almost missed my plane back to Europe because of a giant traffic jam right during the evening rush (although Kinshasa seems to have an all-day-long rush these days). A couple of cars collided near Patrice Lumumba's memorial, and of course nobody moved one before they'd made a detailed study of what happened. We arrived at the airport less than 30 minutes before take-off. I only made it because basically I rushed through customs and security checks without showing papers or opening my bags. Try that in a European airport!

So all things considered, quite a normal and uneventful trip really.

Posted by Bart at 4:19 PM
Categories: The intrepid explorer

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