Hotel Beni is smack in downtown Beni and has beautiful grounds and buildings. We stayed here in 2006 and not much has changed.

Beni Hotel in 2006

Beni Hotel in 2006

We opted for an upgraded room for the astronomical $60 per night. Stepping into the nicely tiled room, we thought things would be quite fine. We had our first misgivings when we looked into the bathroom and from there on we saw the flaws.

The toilet did not have a seat. There was the brown Beni city water in the toilet. We lightened the colour of the water when we urinated. There was no hot water, but they did provide a bucket of hot clean rain water on request. During the night, it rained extensively and we woke to large puddles on the floor in the bedroom and bathroom.

With the restaurant opening at 7:00 and being told by the airline to check in at 7:00 for our 9:00 flight, we checked out of Hotel Beni without breakfast. Our driver, James and Charite stayed with relatives but we wish we had a better understanding of what that looked like.

The new Beni airport is just north of town now. We arrived at 7:00 with no cars in sight so we sat in the muddy parking lot as the rain poured. The airline didn’t have a representative arrive until 8:00. Instead of airline employees, it was us and 30 Congolese soldiers who were guarding the airport. One day Michael is going to find a soldier willing to be photographed, but it obviously was not here. Many were wearing the UN blue beret, but we later learned that it was a case of the Congolese soldiers scrounging for a hat.

This new airport could better be described as a new cow barn. There was no electricity (we couldn’t find any lighting fixtures) and bare mud floors. The Chinese had built the beautiful road north of Beni but the final road in was a sandy road just begging to be washed away.

Once it was 8:00, the masses seemed to appear. We had our bags moved aside when an obviously (at least self) important person arrived. Our tickets were checked, a $20 fee was requested: slip into a back pocket. We watched as our bags weren’t getting weighed and tagged. Remembering that Ross and Dawn Penner’s bags didn’t make their direct flight from Goma to Bunia in October, we stuck with them by the scales. Another representative said that when we bought and paid for our tickets in Bunia last week, they failed to tell anyone else so we weren’t registered and he didn’t know if the plane would arrive with seats for us. (What did we get for our $20 on check in? Didn’t the first guy know that too?)

A third employee came by seemingly in a panic and was shocked that our bags weren’t tagged yet. He quickly weighed and tagged them, asked for our tickets, told us to go through passport control, and left. It was a domestic only flight, but passports were checked anyways, a $20 fee was requested: slip into back pocket. Next was a check for our yellow fever vaccination. Michael pretended he didn’t hear the request for money and got out of there fast. Next, getting by an armed soldier was more problematic. A simple solution was available though. Insert $10: slip into back pocket.

I think someone was upset that we were travelling so light and we weren’t dinged for our bags being over weight. Someone asked for our carry ons, weighed and tagged them (hoping for more weight?), returned with them, but for some unknown reason then walked off with them. That’s our passport and most of our money! We asked James to follow and not let them out of his site.

A short time later, mini buses come up and we were yelled at to get on board. We aren’t leaving without our carry ons! The rain is now pouring down. Where on Earth is James? We went rushing to a nearby building to try to find him, ignoring the shouts to get on the mini bus. The mini bus is waiting to leave for the plane when at the last possible moment, James runs up with our carry ons. We had seconds for a too short farewell before being whisked away uneventfully to be picked up by Dr Philip and Nancy Wood at the Bunia airport.

Saying farewell to James Kataliko and Charite at the Beni airport

Saying farewell to James Kataliko and Charite at the Beni airport where pictures were allowed


To continue with the airlines theme, from Vice News an interesting video report on Russian pilots in eastern Congo: