Listen free for 30 days

Canoeing The Congo

First Source to Sea Descent of the Congo River
Narrated by: Gareth Armstrong
Length: 7 hrs and 18 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (63 ratings)

£7.99/month after 30 days. Cancel anytime

Summary

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

Critic reviews

"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)

What members say

Average customer ratings

Overall

  • 4.5 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    30
  • 4 Stars
    25
  • 3 Stars
    6
  • 2 Stars
    1
  • 1 Stars
    1

Performance

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    29
  • 4 Stars
    18
  • 3 Stars
    5
  • 2 Stars
    2
  • 1 Stars
    2

Story

  • 4.5 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    32
  • 4 Stars
    20
  • 3 Stars
    4
  • 2 Stars
    0
  • 1 Stars
    1

Reviews - Please select the tabs below to change the source of reviews.

Sort by:
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Thrilling

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!

2 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

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.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

interesting up to a point

What did you like most about Canoeing The Congo?

It seemed like a fairly honest account of a challenging journey.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Canoeing The Congo?

The various times he had to square up to the locals.

What about Gareth Armstrong’s performance did you like?

Excellent, conjured up the atmosphere very well. I picture the other as something like the Mitchell brothers from East Enders though.

If you made a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

I was having none of it. Bosh!

Any additional comments?

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.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Took me on a wonderful journey

What made the experience of listening to Canoeing The Congo the most enjoyable?

Felt I was being shown a whole new world - enjoyed every mile of this amazing trip.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

A good read

I enjoyed listening to this book. A good adventure story, well told. If you like travel, survival and natural history literature you will enjoy this.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Amazing

For anyone who loves canoeing , loves adventure books this is a must.

I couldn't stop listening to this book from start to finish.

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

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.

Sort by:
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars
Profile Image for Kevin McCoffee
  • Kevin McCoffee
  • 26-10-13

Adventure travel is human harassment

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 how cool this trip sounds, you don't really want to do it.

6 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
Profile Image for matthew
  • matthew
  • 07-10-13

Something best left to the confines of a book

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.

5 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars
Profile Image for John S.
  • John S.
  • 07-10-19

Took a while to get through it

I don't want to denigrate the author's adventure, as he accomplished a miracle in coming out of this trip unscathed. Moreover, I never cease to admire that he was friendly and generous to those who were nice to him, and stood up to bullies trying to shake him down; at one point in the Congo, when an immigration official was holding his passport for ransom demanding a large sum of money, the author came up with a brilliant solution.

However, I found that reading the book straight through left me exhausted long before the trip ended. For readers who are considering tackling this title, I would very strongly urge pausing the book roughly halfway through (Zambia vs. Congo). Audio narrator does a terrific job presenting the author as a likable guy, probably more so than from reading a print copy.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars
Profile Image for T.Stick
  • T.Stick
  • 07-02-16

Insightful adventure

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.
Recommended

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
Profile Image for Jim
  • Jim
  • 18-09-19

Mind opening and open eyes. Fantastic Read.

I am greatful to have stumbled across this book.
It truly felt as if I had traveled along with the author.

I will be looking up the video the author took.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
Profile Image for Jireh
  • Jireh
  • 18-07-19

This was a beautifully illustrated!

An amazingly well orated telling of an adventure along the magnificent yet perilous Congo river. Phill Hardwood's journey takes place in modern times, yet the danger and adventure encountered on his trip is reminiscent of the tales of 1800s explorers of the Congo before him such as Livingstone and Stanley. He not only pays hommage to them in action, by trekking through the same waters they did, but also in literature by properly journaling his experiences with scenic detail. Real explorers not only tell their own stories, but also the stories of the people amongst which they find themsleves; and boy does Phill tell the story of the Congolese. Their history and their struggles, he knows all too well. As you listen to "Canoeing the Congo", you are not only joining Phill on his trip down the river, but also down Congo's dark past. You reach the end of the journey just as he does...with a better understanding of Congo's present.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
Profile Image for Dwayne Hall
  • Dwayne Hall
  • 17-03-19

epic journey

This is a true story of amazing fortitude and courage. It's a must read for anyone who dreams of adventures like the Congo.

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars
Profile Image for Anonymous User
  • Anonymous User
  • 19-02-19

Inspiring adventure

Well narrated, honest account of life's challenges while bravely facing up to the mighty Congo.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
Profile Image for Azura S
  • Azura S
  • 20-12-18

I Am Completely Jealous (Sort Of)

I wish I had the courage to undertake a journey like this. I have some idea of just how hard and miserable this trip would have been but the author makes it sound like a walk in the park. Gareth Armstrong's narration is absolutely excellent here and I really enjoyed his retelling of the story. If you want to know more about The Congo, this is as good a place to start as any. It is an admirable adventure and possibly one of the last remaining on the surface of this increasingly tiny planet.

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars
Profile Image for Adam Reinhardt
  • Adam Reinhardt
  • 12-10-18

This guy had quite the adventure

Wow, Phil had quite the adventure to canoe the whole congo. He covered a wide array of facts about the people and places visited along way with a large number in great detail. The story could have been improved if helped to convey what it felt like to be on the trip by giving more details or time to some of the specific encounter types that were had several times through the adventure.