Democratic Republic of the Congo travel guide

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Democratic Republic of the Congo

Beauty amidst confusion and violence

The Democratic Republic of the Congo can be a puzzling sort of place. Usually people call it "DRC" for short, or sometimes simply "Congo," but this can cause confusion with the smaller Congo just to the west of it. This central African country stretches from the eastern Great Rift Valley all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. That's twelve hundred miles, give or take, and traversing it will take you the better part of three months -- presuming a traveler with his or her own vehicle, plenty of money for bribes, and maybe access to a military aircraft or two for an airlift over the real trouble spots, since it is a country torn by years of civil war, a fact one only too evident when visiting. The capital of Kinshasa is a huge city; with more than eight million people, it is the world's largest Francophone urban area. The city trundles on in an understated chaos, and recent development has been beneficial -- roadways are newly paved, hotels are booked solid with the long-term presence of UN staff. Upscale restaurants and supermarkets have made a mint from the well-paid new arrivals in the capital who were supposed to guarantee fair elections. Yet after the first results were posted, factions of the two presidential candidates began some brutal street fighting. The beautiful new roads were emptied of traffic, recently mended buildings ripped open again. Outside of the capital, the open jungles are home to many unique animal species - the bonobo, a curious primate that exhibits many "human" qualities; the okapi, a stunning giraffe-zebra concoction; and the famous mountain gorillas of the east. Seeing any of these animals takes time and money - both are needed to get the most out of a visit. Finally, the vast northern areas of the country -- jungles loaded with valuable gems, all untouched by tourism.

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