Kayak guide missing, presumed dead after crocodile attack

kayak guide attacked by crocodileSouth African river guide Hendrik Coetzee is missing, and presumed dead, after he was attacked by a crocodile while paddling a remote river in the Democratic Republic of Congo on Tuesday. The experienced guide, who has led expeditions all across Africa, was taking a team of kayakers down the Lukuga River at the time.

Coetzee, along with American paddlers Ben Stookesberry and Chris Korbulic, has been exploring the river as part of an expedition sponsored by First Ascent, a gear company that is owned by Eddie Bauer. They have been paddling rivers near Congo, Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda, while spreading the word about the lack of clean water across the continent. The team had been making dispatches to the First Ascent blog along the way, and that is where news first broke about this tragic event.

While the exact details of the events are a bit hazy, it seems that the three men were paddling the Lukuga when a large crocodile sprang up from the water and pulled Coetzee from his kayak. His two companions witnessed the attack, but saw no sign of their guide afterwards. They immediately paddled to shore and called for help from the International Rescue Committee, who quickly dispatched a team to retreive them, and search for Coetzee. That search turned up no trace of the South African.

This story is a sobering reminder of just how dangerous some of the places we travel to can be. Reading it reminded me of a trip to Africa that I took a few years back, during which our guide warned us not to get to close to the river, which was crawling with hippos at the time. My companions and I nodded and acknowledged the large beasts, which are recognized as one of the most dangerous in Africa. Our guide simply smiled and told us it wasn’t the hippos we had to watch out for, but the crocs which lay just below the surface, waiting for us to stray too close. Needless to say, we gave the shoreline a wide berth from then on.

[Photo credit: Sarah Mccans via WikiMedia]

Travelers chronicle epic road trip through the Congo

Africa’s Democratic Republic of the Congo has earned a legendary reputation among travelers. This war-torn African nation was once the stomping grounds of the famous explorer Henry Morton Stanley (Dr. Livingstone, I presume?) not to mention the setting for well-known books including Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Tim Butcher’s Blood River. This infamous history was apparently no threat to Belgian travelers Josephine and Frederik, who undertook a road trip across the Congo earlier this fall in a well-worn Toyota Land Cruiser.

Josephine and Frederik’s tale actually doesn’t begin in the Congo – it begins in Belgium. In 2006, the wanderlusting couple decided they wanted to drive around the world, bought a Land Cruiser, and began their trip in Brussels, traversing their way across much of Asia and Africa in the process.

Though the pair had driven thousands of miles before reaching the Congo, their epic trip from the Southeastern Congo town of Lubumbashi to the capital at Kinshasa was a feat for many reasons. Due to more than 50 years of on-and-off war, the country’s infrastructure is in terrible shape. Roads, where they exist at all, are not much more than dirt tracks. Maps are inaccurate. And the Congo is notorious for its corrupt military and government, meaning the pair would be shelling out plenty of bribes and “taxes” along the way. Yet somehow, with a little bit of luck, plenty of supplies and a whole lot of bravado, the pair made it through the trip. The 14 page chronicle of their trip is an epic read…full of adventure and plenty of mishaps.

The reader questions and comments interspersed with Josephine and Frederik’s chronicle are telling. How did you do it? What was it like? Is it irresponsible to travel through a recently war-torn country? Each of these questions has contradictory answers, none of which is resolved easily. With a trip this epic – it’s up to the reader to form their own judgment. Grab yourself a comfortable seat and give this travelogue a read – you won’t be disappointed.

[Flickr photo by whiteafrican]

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Kayaking the Congo River

The Congo River runs through some of the most remote and wild regions of Central Africa, stretching 2914 miles in length, and reaching as much as 750 feet in depth at certain points. It is the eighth longest river in the world and second only to the Amazon in terms of the volume of its flow. Of course, all of that is fairly meaningless out of context, which is why this video is so amazing.

The video was shot by kayaker Andrew Maser, awhile back as part of a National Geographic expedition. It does a great job of showing us just how powerful the Congo can be, as the waves look more like something that would be found on an ocean rather than a river.

Personally, I think it looks like a lot of fun, and I’m ready to book a paddling trip to the Congo. Anyone want to come along?

Most survive (yet another) Congo plane crash

How is that for a positive plane crash headline for you? You always hear about “no survivors,” but all plane crashes clearly don’t have to be fatal. Not for everyone, at least.

BBC reports that at least nine people were killed today when an airliner ploughed into a commercial area during take-off in Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It appears the plane skidded in wet weather, smashing through a wall and catching fire. Most of the 85 people aboard survived.

According to Reuters, Congo has one of the world’s poorest air safety records with eight crashes in 2007. In October 2007, for example, a plane crashed into a residential area in Goma, killing all 27 people on board. Third of the runway at Goma’s airport was apparently affected by a lava flow from a volcanic eruption that occurred there six years ago. This makes Goma a particularly difficult spot for take-off.

Photo of the Day (7/16/07)

Not a beautiful scene, but a poignant one. The shore of Lake Tanganyika in Congo, shot by Martin Baran.

Not every beautiful beach is a peaceful one. It may be the world’s second largest (by volume) and second deepest freshwater lake, but it’s in a region where trouble is constant.

The first Western explorers to find it were Burton and Speke, while searching for the source of the Nile. The Congo side was used by Che Guevara to stage a coup against the Congolese government over a hundred years later.

Here’s hoping this region can find lasting peace, and future pictures taken here will show children making sandcastles.