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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Do people really care where you’ve been?

The humorist David Sedaris once wrote that as a child, he looked forward to a trip to Greece mainly because it was his chance to prove to his friends at home that he was worldly and continental. He imagined his classmates saying, “Did you hear? David has a passport now. Hurry, let’s run before he judges us.”

If each one of us were to take a dose of truth serum, we might admit to a similar feeling of self-satisfaction after a long trip. When I returned home from my first venture abroad, I embarrassingly thought that everyone I met would be dying to hear my tales of foreign intrigue. Turns out, few cared, and for those who did ask, I couldn’t provide a very satisfying response to their questions.

“So, how was it?” a friend would ask. “Umm, it was really good,” I’d answer. What more could I say? How could I condense a several-month-long trip into a several-second-long response?

In his 1902 novel Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad addresses just this topic:

No, it is impossible; it is impossible to convey the life-sensation of any given epoch of one’s existence– that which makes its truth, its meaning– its subtle and penetrating essence. It is impossible. We live, as we dream– alone.

A little bleak, yes. But it’s true– we can’t explain, especially in casual conversation, exactly what an extended trip has meant to us. Even worse, few people would want to hear it even if we could. I myself confess to lacking patience when someone recounts the details of their latest trip abroad. I roll my eyes when I hear that friend– you know the one– who relates everything in her life back to that semester abroad in London. (“I’m tired.” “One time, in London, I was tired, and…”)

But perhaps it’s for the best that most people aren’t terribly impressed or interested in other people’s travels. It makes traveling for the sake of status seem desperate and foolish. It forces us to create new memories rather than constantly trotting out old ones.

There are so many good reasons to travel that we shouldn’t have to rely on bad ones, like impressing our friends and family and being more interesting at cocktail parties. While these might occasionally be the result of a trip, they shouldn’t be its motivation.

What do you think, Gadling readers? Are your friends and family genuinely interested in your travels or do you suspect they’re just humoring you? Do you have any friends or family members whom you’ve heard tell the same travel story dozens of times?