Almost 3000 miles long and second only to the Amazon in its annual flow volume, the Congo River curves counterclockwise through the Democratic Repbulic of the Congo, taking in tributaries from a watershed that exceeds 1.5 million square miles. The Upper Congo, known as the Lualaba River, receives the Luvua River from Lake Mweru, on the Zambian border, and flows northward, gathering the waters of other streams from Lake Tanganyika, to its east. Alternately placid and turbulent, the Lualaba reaches Kisangani following a sixty mile course of rapids known as Boyoma Falls (formerly Stanley Falls).
From Kisangani to Kinshasa, at the west end of the Malebo Pool, the 1000 mile stretch of the Middle Congo is wide and navigable, receiving large tributaries such as the Lomami, from the south, the Aruwimi, from the east, and the Ubangi, from the northeast; just upstream from the calm, deep Malebo Pool, the Kasai River enters from the southeast. Below Kinshasa, Livingston Falls, 90 miles of rapids and cataracts, make the Congo unpassable once again; to bypass this stretch, the Matadi-Kinshasa Railway was constructed in the 1890s. From Matadi to the Atlantic Ocean, the river is broad and navigable and its braided delta begins just west of Boma; the Congo's total elevation drop, from Lake Mweru to this delta, is just over 3000 feet.
Crossing the equator twice and winding through the second largest tropical rainforest on our planet, the Congo evokes a sense of adventure, mystery and hidden danger. Long before humans tainted its name with the atrocities of colonialism and slavery, this mighty river nourished and cleansed the Heart of Africa, connecting its lush savannas and dense forests to the distant sea; that role will surely continue long after we have plundered the natural bounty of our native Continent.