Canoeing the Congo narrates the journey of Phil Harwood, who undertook an epic five-month solo attempt to canoe the Congo River in war-torn Central Africa. It was a historic first descent from the true source in the highlands of Zambia. Just short of 3,000 miles long, the Congo River is the eighth longest in the world and the deepest river in the world, with a flow rate second only to the Amazon. Along the way, Phil encountered numerous waterfalls, huge rapids, man-eating crocodiles, hippos, aggressive snakes and spiders' webs the size of houses. He faced endemic corruption, was arrested, intimidated, bullied, chased and he received numerous death threats. He also collapsed from malaria.
The people were mostly friendly, however, and Phil received tremendous hospitality from a proud and brave people, especially from the riverside fishermen who helped him wherever they could. On one stretch of river known as The Abattoir due to its past history of cannibalism and current reputation for criminal activity, he hired four brothers with a shotgun to accompany him as bodyguards. They paddled and floated for five days and nights on the river. Common questions from locals were, ‘why haven't you cut his throat yet?’ and ‘if you don't want to do it, tell us where your camping and we'll come and do it for you ...We'll share his money.’ It was an exhilarating, terrifying and wonderful journey but Phil managed to survive, despite the odds, to tell his story.
Canoeing the Congo will appeal to fans of adventurous travel writing and people who love the nature and wilderness. Phil, who is a fan of adventure stories himself, enjoys the work of Ranulph Fiennes and Bill Bryson. Phil has worked all over the world as an ex-Royal Marine Commando, ski-guide, expedition leader, outdoor instructor and development trainer. He is qualified as mountain leader, a level 4 canoe coach, a level 3 kayak coach, a rock climbing instructor, a wilderness emergency medical technician and a first aid instructor. Phil's passions are adventure and challenge, in particular canoeing remote wilderness rivers - the more wild the better!
©2013 Phil Harwood (P)2013 Audible Ltd
"An exhilarating account of former Royal Marine Commando Phil Harwood's epic solo journey from the Congo's source in Zambia through war-torn Central Africa." (ABTA Magazine)
"Harwood's epic tale of his solo journey from the Congo's source in Zambia through war-torn Central Africa." (National Geographic Traveller)
I like history and biography, novels too. I do have a thing for zombie books as well. I need crappy thrillers now and then.
Very good book. Phil Harwood comes across as a reasonable and friendly badass. He's ready with a smile and a handshake, but he's not going to be pushed around. There's not a lot of nature encounters in the book: it is mostly a tale of alternating harassment from venal officials and kindness from fishermen and their families. But Harwood does a good job capturing the feel of the river--while convincing you that no matter who cool this trip sounds, you don't really want to do it.
I am an English teacher in China and can now read and write some Chinese.I have been to 13 countries on 4 continents.I am an avid audiophile
Phil is an ex military elite from England and his stories of handling the customs officers with their Blackberries and white shirts are really amazing. We get to hear about all the intimidation that goes on in DRC. He buys into none of it, and always makes the immigration guys shake his hand and make eye contact with him before he gives in to their requests.
The more interesting part of the story is his interaction with the native fishermen, who are very poor and lead very austere lives, but know their way through the jungle quite well. Phil speaks French, Swahili and practices other languages along the way while he plies his canoe up to 12 hours a day.
In some ways it reminded me of Kira Salak's book where she kayaks 600 miles through Mali to the city of Timbuktu. She is treated well in some places and with great hostility in other places.
Both adventurers are fantastic athletes, and both are a bit crazy in my opinion, to put themselves in knowingly dangerous parts of the world. It must be part of their psyche to tempt fate and test their abilities beyond what most of us would consider reasonable.
This man's five month journey from Zambia to the Atlantic Ocean is a harrowing tale where we are treated to his deepest thoughts during stressful situations.
History, Historical Fiction, Science Fiction, Fantasy
Steadily paced, excellent narration.
An adventure best left for people like Phil Harwood who risked much during this trek and is lucky to have made it without losing more.
I envy people like him who gain invaluable experience by placing themselves in extremely dangerous situations.
Not all who attempt such adventure come out as well as he.
That being said, I feel that I learned something valuable from him by his experiences on the river, his interactions with the people and through his eyes describing the landscape.
Certainly worth your time.
Very repetitive story. Felt like hearing him describe the same day 300 times. I guess it is to be expected considering its a trip down a river but still not much excitement there. Description of Congo was quite interesting and makes you think twice about our Western way of life.
I generally love adventure memoirs, but they seem to come from two very different life directions: 1. the author was living their life, and happened to find themselves in a situation that was scary, interesting, exciting and/or adrenaline-producing enough to warrant writing about in memoir form, versus 2. the author was paid to go have an adventure for the purposes of writing and selling a book. The former category generally lends itself to an amazing, thrilling adventure memoir, while the latter generally reads exact like someone trying way, way too hard to have a memoir-worthy adventure. This particular book falls into the second category so I bought it with some trepidation, the only saving grace in my mind was that Phil Harwood was so open about his need to externally fund a trip he already really wanted to take (and that audible has a great return policy).
In the first hour of the book I wanted to give up, barf, and return it. White man arrives in central Africa and repeatedly reports, "the local government officials didn't want me to do X, but I smiled at/complimented/lied to them and they were soon eating out of my hand" (ew). He also said that he envied the Congolese people who faced war, slaughter, starvation, disease, complete lack of medical or educational infrastructure because there is "nothing like adversity to really educate you" and lamented that people like himself had to essentially create hardship in order to experience this valuable adversity education (yes, the lucky lucky Congolese and their free adversity education). He gave the valuable advice to NOT buy top of the line traveling equipment if you travel to a "third-world country" as it will make you more appreciative of the adversity of the locals, and make you feel more connected to them. He couldn't quite bring himself to go downmarket with his own gear, so he stuck duct tape and drew marker all over it to make it appear more downmarket than it was.
I don't know why I stuck it out, maybe at this point it was something of a hate-read, but I ended up listening to the entire thing. On the positive side, about maybe 2 hours into the book I felt like the way he talked about his experience and the people he encountered was starting to change. At a certain point, some of the locals started to come across in his writing as human beings, rather than a reverse-zoo he was canoeing through in order to gain an adversity badge. He actually stopped to wonder a few times how someone other than himself felt. He had short flashes of empathy. None of this was really enduring - just a flash here or there before returning to his heroic self image. He didn't spend a lot of time describing what others ate or drank or wore - just maybe a single sentence description. He kept himself at arms length from the locals much of the time (sometimes completely reasonably) but that meant the book is a lot more of him guessing at motives and imagining scenarios than actually encountering them. This changed when he hired a guide/translator, but not as much as I thought it would.
I don't know what the parameters of his grant were, but I feel like Harwood's take on it was 'Write an amusing report of poverty tourism set against the backdrop of a canoe trip down the Congo river' when it could so easily have been more of a narrative about the changing face of exploration in Central Africa - in some of the same places where 19th century explorers trekked and journaled and examined plant and animal and human life, for better or worse, now we have a 21st century explorer recording what they see through the lens of their own culture and prejudice, bringing their own hopes and observations. Something that gave even a small narrative voice to the people a modern corrupt government keeps in its careless vice grip. I don't know. Maybe that's exactly what this book is and I just don't like the reality of what that says about 21st century travelers, that they have more thoughts of 'how is this going to sound when it's published' than seeming to have a real experience, or make any meaningful connection to the people and places visited.
In any case I found the book to be pretty shallow, sometimes amusing, sometimes relatable, sometimes really interesting (I really appreciated the imagery of the snakes that swam confidently up to the canoe, heads raised - wish there had been a LOT more observation of that sort, less of Harwood-on-Harwood). The writing was amateurish. Half the sentences started "I'll never forget the time...." which gets old very quickly in a memoir. He also relies heavily on "deepest darkest Congo" and "chased by angry tribesman" verbiage. Only after I finished the book did I see that his accompanying 'documentary' was called "Mazungu canoeing the Congo" which gave me the shudders. But since there aren't many people who are writing about the central Congo right now, he doesn't have a lot of competition in that category and so, you know, this book exists.
The narration: the narrator has a fantastic voice that didn't match the subject or author at all as far as I could tell. At certain times listening to what sounded like a wealthy old guy talking about being a 'paddling machine!' and pooping in the bushes with an audience was really funny. Great voice, just a total mismatch with the nature of the book.
Yes. It was a good listen that provided an inside look at a part of the world that I will most likely never see.
I would have liked to see a bit more vivid imagery. I thought the book was good, but thought he could have done more to bring the setting to life.
He did an excellent job narrating the story and brought his own unique voice. His voice was easy to listen to and not at all dull.
No, it seems to sum up his adventure pretty well. Although, I would be interested in listening to more of his adventures in other parts of the world.
I loved how the author infused humor into his writing. I laughed out loud a few times. This is definitely a unique storyline and an interesting read if you like adventure travel.
"interesting up to a point"
It seemed like a fairly honest account of a challenging journey.
The various times he had to square up to the locals.
Excellent, conjured up the atmosphere very well. I picture the other as something like the Mitchell brothers from East Enders though.
I was having none of it. Bosh!
The story could be summarized as follows:
1. I paddled a long way
2. then I got tired
3. then the customs official tried to take me for a mug
4. I fronted it out and the official backed down
5. I slept
6. Repeat from 1.
I would recommend this book, there is some cultural background provided and it is highly impressive to learn how anyone can make that journey alive with just a machete. Personally, I shall stick to paddling up the Thames with Toad, Ratty and Mole.
"Took me on a wonderful journey"
Felt I was being shown a whole new world - enjoyed every mile of this amazing trip.
For anyone who loves canoeing , loves adventure books this is a must.
I couldn't stop listening to this book from start to finish.
"Pleasant report of an adventure"
This book does not stand out for its litterary quality, but it is a pleasant journey report of a great adventure, and you get a taste of what remote areas of Zambia and Congo can be like.It was easy and pleasant to listen to.
What an adventure. Well described and a good story. Having been to Africa on a couple of occasions I agree with many of his assertions about the goodness of the majority of the people with a few bad eggs in amongst but at the same time I'm sure that most people wouldn't survive this journey. Great respect!
"Essex boy's adventure"
Read, hilariously, by a plummy voiced Shakespearean actor. The adventure itself was exciting and the experiences and local colour was well conveyed.
The simplicity of language and conversational tone, which was charming in the paper version was jarring to the point of embarrassment when forced out of the RADA vocal chords of the reader.
Still enjoyed it nonetheless.
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