The other day I came upon a picture of me waiting in a café in Kisangani for a ride south to Kinshasa in the then Zaire.

The river steamers that usually made the trip down the Congo River had been stripped clean by soldiers. 

The money that had meant to pay their monthly salary had gone missing and President Mobutu gave them permission to loot in lieu of pay.

The Zairians are nothing if not adaptable.

Soon the captain of a river tug that had survived the looting strapped two metal barges either side of his vessel and was offering passage to the capital.

Passengers strung up canvas to shelter from the equatorial sun and set up charcoal fires in braziers to cook on deck.

Soon a little makeshift settlement was floating down the mighty Congo, heading for Kinshasa.

The Yakinvu (Peter Moore)
Barge life, Congo River, 1992 (Peter Moore)

I was told the trip would take four days and bought enough supplies to last for six.

It ended up taking six weeks.

Along the way people paddled out in canoes offering bananas and, alarmingly, char-grilled monkeys.

I soon ran out of food, of course.

But thankfully, the captain’s wife took pity on me.

We were shipping a load of Primus beer, so we came to an agreement that if I bought her husband a bottle of beer each evening, she would give me a serving of the fish stew she prepared for him each day.

Sunset over the Ziare River (Peter Moore)

It was a long old trip. 

I created a little nest near a rusting funnel and hoped the batteries in my Walkman lasted.

I watched people try to feed orphaned chimpanzees, stolen from their nests and heading to dealers in Kinshasa who would smuggle them to Europe.

I don’t remember much of the everyday life on board. Just the clank of the cooking pots and the scrubbing of toothbrushes as I joined everyone at the back of the barge for our evening ablutions.

And the sunsets. 

The sunsets were always spectacular.

Main image: Peter and the captain, Congo River, Zaire