Note: Staff Sergeant Amanda McCarty is TDY with U.S. Africa Command colleagues Jack Holly, Freeman Nlandu, Nicole Dalrymple and Stars and Stripes reporter John Vandiver, to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in support of the U.S. government’s humanitarian demining training being conducted in Kisangani.
Boating down the massive Congo River in a carved out wooden canoe, a light rain quickly turned into a downpour with lightning and hail, then the engine went out.
Nicole, John and I, along with John Travis Jr and Didier Lifenya with the Borlaug Institute, were soaking wet as we excitedly continued toward our destination – a restaurant named Bamboo Palace. Of course, we quickly became the only ones on the river and locals looked out at us oddly from under dry cover ashore.
The boat was slowly filling up with water and the boat’s driver decided to pull ashore after restarting the engine. We quickly found cover in a nearby outside bar. We sat down and waited, hoping the storm would pass.
Still quite wet and a bit chilly, we all agreed to press on again to the restaurant after the storm lessened to a sprinkle.
With a rapidly darkening sky, we headed downstream. Other boats joined us on the waters, providing some comfort that we weren’t alone in presuming the storm had passed. Nightfall left us boating in the dark down the Congo for the remainder of our journey and only flashes of pink lightening provided us enough light to see our surroundings better.
The boat’s engine continually died and Nicole, John and I were all thinking we might have to swim to shore. And, after hearing about the infamous Goliath tigerfish that have shark-like teeth and can grow as large as humans, I was hoping there were paddles hidden somewhere.
Although we couldn’t see much except the dark blue sky, a black outline of the trees on the shores and a few house lights in the distance, it was serene and beautiful.
We floated toward the coast in search of the one spot along the river’s edge where a set of very vertical steps allow boaters to disembark and access the restaurant above. After we found the exact location in the darkness and ascended up the ladder-like stairs, we all settled into our chairs and awaited our long-sough-after meal of fish, beef and plantains, discussing our adventure that left us all with an interesting story to tell about our trip to the DRC.