Family Cruise on the Lomami

Our youngest daughter, Jojo, and her beloved, Mike, came to TL2. 

Dream trip, but not a trip they will recommend to any of their friends, even the most adventurous….

The four of us at Obenge

Here we are- well underway- in the ghost town of Obenge, only village that existed in the forest that became national park.

Jojo grew up expecting to be part of our work;

Our family has always done it that way:

In grad school: John knocked on the seminar door – Sarah needed nursing;

Sofi with jojo, mamaAmboko behind

Jojo with MamaSofi.

In the Ituri, during PhD research : Sofi, our Mbuti nanny, sat outside the botanical plots -Bekah cooing in her lap; 

During okapi captures : Jojo watched the forest from a sling over my shoulder, or John’s shoulder.

Sarah, Bekah and Jojo at Afarama

Sarah, Jojo, and Bekah at our research camp in the Ituri Forest…circa 1990.

This year Jojo came back.  Mike had to see what a couple weeks with Mom and Dad was really like.  The trip could “Make it” or “Break it”.

There were plenty of chances to “Break It” before even getting near Mom and Dad.

First problem:  The visa.  They submitted all the documents plus a money order for $325 per visa in the middle of May – two months before trip-start date.  The documents included two heavily signed and stamped letters from DR Congo (another $300),  a formal invitation, vaccination records, and a long questionnaire.

After one month with no message from the embassy, Jojo telephoned.  Four days she called repeatedly – no answer.  On the fifth day an answer: “Our means of payment have changed: Full cash payment.”  

Rather than put $650 cash in an envelope, they contacted a travel agency to drop off cash on delivery of visa (a fee, of course).  The embassy then decided the whole application process should restart through the travel agency – minimally a 10day process and, by this time, there were 5 days left before departure.

We mobilized in Congo.  Matthieu went to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We discovered some of Jojo’s and Mike’s papers had been lost (thus the suggestion to restart the process).  Finally the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Kinshasa instructed the embassy in Washington DC to issue the visas.  YEAH!  But this was the day before travel.  

The embassy gave the passports to FedEX.  Unfortunately two months earlier, when they paid return mail, “overnight delivery” was not even considered.  A weeping Jojo pleaded over the phone with FedEX, but too late.  

The passports arrived after their plane had taken off,  they got new tickets for $3,969.00 (!) and were reimbursed a mere $1,134.00.  

A.Passports arrive in Colorado

Passports finally did arrive WiTH visas in Colorado.

Taking into account the changed airfares and all other costs, the price-tag for those visas was $1500 each. Being a tourist on the cheap in Congo is not easy.

Finally with John on the right continent

Finally: John with Jojo and Mike on the way through Goma.

This only added to the delight of seeing them.  John met them in Kigali.  Once he was with them I felt it was real – they would make it –they did.

We were sure the travel tribulations were over.  They flew together to Kindu

We took two full days downtime in Kindu.

Hard cider on the banks of Lualaba

At Vero Beach, the bar near our Kindu office, on the Lualaba (Congo) River.

John and Mike biking in Kindu

John and Mike went biking and birding.

Then off on the  “work vacation” with Mom and Dad – not luxurious, but with neither the uncertainty nor cost of getting to Congo in the first place.  

We started with a motorbike ride for 7 hours.

Map_of trip with Jojo and Mike

With a three day pause along the whole trip took 10 days.


Packing the caravan in our Kindu yard

The caravan gets ready- with a town garbage pile and ancient colonial era train beyond the yard’s bamboo fence.

Sand pits on the savanna

Motorbikes first move north through a prairie / forest mix.

trail narrows down in forest

Then west through forest;

20 small bridges along the way

And at least twenty local bridges where passengers walked.

Second day was the trek… from the Chombe Kilima patrol post to Katopa patrol post on the Lomami :  we walked 37km across…..

First formidable savanna

Through Prairie;

Here we have entered into the park


The Djodjo stream was the second crossing

Swamp And Mire.

When we reached Katopa base camp we took three days down time before the “luxury” part of the trip….

Katopa village comes down for some soccer

A bit of camp “foot” with the local ball Jojo and Mike brought …until it punctured;

every day a little jaunt on the river

Each afternoon we took a short, near-by cruise for bird watching, fishing, change of scene;

A tigerfish! almost there

The big deal was John’s haul of the tigerfish;

camp pleased with the fish

The whole camp was thrilled.

Then the trip down the river – we started packing the dugout a day ahead of time for the “luxury” cruise.

Packing the dugout for "work" and "cruise"

Actually it was a “work” cruise, patrols would be dropped off along the way.

chicken in the middle

Once underway, there was hardly lots of room, but there is always extra space for a few chickens…(see the rooster?).

Jojo and Mke play cards on board

And room for some games of cards.

Looking back in the rain

The luxury passengers were under the tarp during the rain…not so the helmsman.

Offboarded with supplies for 12 days of patrol copy

We dropped off the patrol team lead by BienFait in the late afternoon.  They were all set for twelve days in the forest with what they could carry on their backs.

On the prow in the sunset

And the first day was a bit long.  Still on the river after sunset.
We finally reached our patrol post at Kakongo well after dark.

The second day was shorter.  We camped that night at the mouth of Lomami’s tributary, Lifongo.

Here we met our northern dugout that had come upstream to meet us.  It had picked up a couple smaller poachers’ dugouts along the way (attached to side).

Before parting ways

We said good bye to the southern dugout, helmsman and crew.

one-night camp in ghost-town Obenge

The third night of our trip downstream we camped at Obenge.

Nothing is now left of either our original camp nor the small village that we originally found here.  

we used three small dugouts
we tested the Tutu tributary in small dugouts

The next day we used smaller dugouts to paddle partly up the Tutu tributary.

Maybe the diet was not luxury: lots of salt fish, fresh fish and bugali…no vegetables and the only fruit was lemons off of feral trees

Obenge camp_helping with bugali_standard fare

Jojo “helping” make bugali.

BUT it was, afterall,  a work cruise…as every trip down the Lomami must be.

Obenge discussion

With its meetings,

hastily abandoned poachers' camp

Destroyed poacher camps,

Meat left by poachers who fled

And confiscated bushmeat.

on hill at northern camp, Bangaliwa.

The final patrol post was Bangaliwa which is also now the new village of Obenge2.

After that was the small  town of Opala on the Lomami; then, a very long motorbike ride to Kisangani….we had to do it in one day, because the next day Jojo and Mike were to fly to Goma so that they could get their flight home out of Kigali the following day.

All this was well documented on Jojo’s Instagram at “HartEleanor”.

Alas, we reached Kisangani to be informed their flight to Goma was cancelled.

The travel tribulations in DR Congo were NOT over.  The critical Congo Airways  flight was cancelled; no refund, no apologoy…..just cancelled.

Mike learned in a day struggling to change tickets from Kigali, Rwanda,  to Boulder, Colorado, that it was just as cheap to buy new tickets and that internet negotiations are not always simple from the middle of Congo.  In fact it was not until they were at the airport in Kigali that they could buy new tickets.  

Mike and Jojo ended up paying three times the cost of their original round trip tickets…and that is after all the reimbursements came in.

Mike’s recommendations to intrepid travellers to DR Congo:

1/ Work through a travel agency from the beginning when dealing with the DRC embassy;

2/  Buy the top reimbursement travel insurance on your flights because most likely you will be forced to alter flights;

3/  Schedule a couple days in Kigali (or Kinshasa) on each end of the trip as Congo Airways will likely have issues and mess up planning anyway.

Relax at Obenge

And also: Enjoy it supremely when in DR Congo. Jojo and Mike did.


  1. Posted 2019-08-27 at 8:52 pm | Permalink

    Terese & John: surely #1 among Tour Guides on TripAdvisor for Eastern DR Congo! Intrepid travelers, well told story and great photos. All’s well that ends well, so they say. Congrats to John on landing that tiger fish! Best wishes to all.

  2. Posted 2019-08-27 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

    Oh my goodness! Oh my goodness! What a lovely story. What a life you Harts have. Thanks for sharing it with us. That Mike sounds like a keeper.

  3. Sheldon Schultz
    Posted 2019-08-28 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

    My wife was Born at Heri Hospital near Kigoma Tanzania near where Jane Goodall worked. I taught in Kenya so we both have Africa near to our hearts. Enjoyed the post, keep it up. We now live on the coast of California where I am Director of Albion Field Station.

  4. Kim G.
    Posted 2019-08-28 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

    Good to see John Sullivan leaving comments here after all these years!

    Well Mike, getting in and out of Congo is complicated, isn’t it.

    That’s why some folks never leave!

  5. Daniel A
    Posted 2019-09-07 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    Enjoying this post from a break from camera trap videos here in Abidjan. Glad Jojo and Mike made it, what a trip! And fantastic catch John! Hope to see you soon!

  6. June Bender
    Posted 2019-09-11 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    Dear John, Terese, Jo Jo,& Mike,
    What an amazingly and wonderful group of photos and captions of a trip that we are sure will last a lifetime in your family memory treasures! The photos were breathtaking! We are glad you are all safe and Jo Jo and Mike made it home safely!!!
    Safe travels to you John and Terese as you travel back to Red Pond!
    God Speed,
    June & Rick Bender

  7. Kate Detwiler
    Posted 2019-09-13 at 2:35 am | Permalink

    I’m just seeing this post and what an awesome write up! Congratulations on the family trip! I love your double timeline sequence… Starting with infant JoJo with no hair to adult JoJo with double braids, and wonderful travel details of the 10 day trip south to north through LNP!

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