In the clouds north of the city, I can sneak a peek of my next day destination, the Nyiragongo. This active volcano rises 1600 meters over the landscape to a sheer altitude of 3470 meters. It was this volcano who converted half Goma into a modern time Pompeii, covering the streets and half the airport under meters of lava. As I walk down the main street, one of the rare tarred roads of the city, the threshold of the lava stream forms a visible bump in the cityscape in front of me. Everything north of this line was rebuilt on new grounds.
My guide picks me up at the hotel, where I just had breakfast with a major from the Nigerian army working for the UN military police, and we head north. Passing the airport, little houses build out of volcanic rock edge the road and soon the road ahead of us is blocked by a turnpike, my guide negotiates and complains about miss-use of the fee and refuses to pay. Little money, but he insists on not paying for a horrible road. It must have been a great road once upon a time; the pavement does not bare potholes, the potholes contain pavement. It’s a bumpy 30 minutes to the starting point of the Nyiragongo climb. I wait together with two Germans for a group of eight WWF staff to get ready for the march. The foot of the mountain is a thick green jungle and the path winds through rough terrain.
The ground is covered with roots first and changes into volcanic gravel cutting my shoe soles with their sharp edges. Our group of 11, is accompanied by three park rangers. Armed and on guard all the time. At halftime we pass a camp with other dozens of rangers responsible for the safety in the area. Their rubber boots look a little bit out of place and I only can imagine how walking on this rough underground will feel through the thin soles.
For them it is hard work. I decided to carry all my supplies myself and after hours of uphill walking the hip belt of my backpack leaves his markings on my hips. He is filled with water for two days, food, rain gear, a sleeping bag and warm clothes. The 17kg feel soon heavy. Just before the last ascent, the weather changes. Rain is pouring down and we are lucky to have reached the old shelter and hide inside. I prepare my supper. It’s canned meat with bread and an apple.
At this point, I still planned on returning to Rwanda, but as the mountain raises and I have time to talk with the two Germans in my group, my plans start falling apart. They tell me about their intention to cross Congo. It is an ambitious plan and somehow, I feel like doing it. So my mindset starts changing and the weather as well. After avoiding the rain and the water leaking from the roof, the sky clears a bit and allows us to climb the last meters; the hardest meters. I learn a new lesson here: Never walk to close uphill with someone with a gun, eventually it will hit you in your face. Thousand little paths lead up the steep slope. The volcanic gravel is not made to be walked on. It rolls away under your feet and I loose my balance a couple of times, as my feet slide down all the way they just came from one step before.
The sun starts setting down and the clouds still cover most of the area. I reach the last meters before the rim and start pacing uphill. Even the calls of my ranger, don’t stop me. I want to see it. The magic of the volcano takes me in it’s spell and I cannot escape.
I reach the rim and all the exhaustion is forgotten. There is only insanity in the air. This huge crater in front of me. I stand on the edge of a huge drop. The magna lake is 800 meters away from me; down! I take a step back to calm the worried ranger behind me and my eyes see an enormous lake of red glowing lava. The solidified lava on the surface is floating like ice floe. Where they meet, on eats another, they dive and the edges glow in an color, I will never forget.
It’s my first active volcano and I am taken away by the beauty of mother earth. The force of nature unfolding it’s still quite power in front of me. As first on the rim, I choose the tent next to the viewing point. Five meters to hell. At night, I take seat on the small bench and watch the earth moving. Even this far away I can feel the heat of the lava. As the weather was already in a rainy mood, a thunderstorm passes the volcano and while hell was greeting from below, the lightings illuminated the sky. In the atmosphere after the thunderstorm, the fumes and gases from the lava lake, were illuminated in red colors and brought a light into the darkness.
As the morning approaches, I head to the big viewpoint. No one is up yet. It’s calm and cool. I just watch the sunrise over the Rwandan volcanoes and as the first sunbeams reach me, the others join in. The volcano, with it’s steep slopes is like a gigantic theater playing the symphony of nature.
We prepare our bags and start moving down hill. The ground makes it not easy to decent. It’s a hard walk and with a backpack, keeping the balance a challenge. On the foot of the mountain my guide is waiting for me to pick me up. By now, my mind is set for staying in Congo. But I am not prepared for this. My visa is not long enough and without that, heading into the mainland is not a fair deal. Together with my guide, I visit the Direction Générale de Migration (DGM). I soon will learn all about this organization, but for now, I need a visa extension; the most expensive visa in my life until now: 183 US dollar for one month. Preparing better and getting the visa at home, is definitely cheaper. Being spontaneous leaves a big hole in your wallet.
I am unlucky today but bureaucracy promises luck for the next day. So I head to my hotel and charge my batteries for the new day to come.
Crossing Congo – The moving Perspective
Crossing Congo – The Series:
Part 1 – Heartland
Part 2 – The East
Part 3 – Glowing Earth
Part 4 – Majestic Gorillas
Part 5 – The Flying Whistle
Part 6 – The Stream
Part 7 – Jungle Bumps
Part 8 – Equator Rocks
Part 9 – Capital Walks
Can’t wait for more?
Check out the German series of “Crossing Congo“!