I dreamed of climbing Nyiragongo Mountain since I first heard of it five years ago. I was always up for a great challenge, but unfortunately something always came up or there was some kind of insecurity in the area. When a friend asked me if I was interested in joining them, I was excited! Why not? My friends though didn’t share my enthusiasm. All they wished was for me to be safe and “don’t come back with ebola.” I knew though this was going to be great and I would learn so much personally and professionally.
|Nyiragongo Lava Lake.|
I got a bus to Kigali and from there traveled with my friend to Gisenyi, a nice town located to the north of Rwanda and about a kilometer from the Congolese boarder. We arranged for our climb with our guide one day later. The whole day was spent in Gisenyi relaxing and contemplating our climb ahead.
|Beauty in Gisenyi.|
Our guide picked us at 1 pm as promised to cross with us into the Congo. Everything was very smooth. We waited a few minutes while he was getting our visas. From the moment I crossed borders, there was serious check points to prevent the spread of Ebola. We had to wash our hands and our temperatures were checked. At least this made me feel safer. I remembered a few months back I had said I would not enter Congo because of the EBOLA virus. But none of those thoughts came to mind because I was excited to enter a new country. Within a few minutes of waiting, we obtained our visas and climbing permits.
|Happy faces after getting into DRC.|
After some delicious lunch at our hotel, our guide said we would have a walk in the city. You know everyone thinks Congo is very unsafe but I was comfortable walking in Goma. It’s a very busy city which kind of reminded me of Kampala. The city is full of volcano rocks because of the eruption that occurred there and the resulting relocation of the population. The whole city was destroyed during the catastrophe. However, these rocks have been put to use for construction.
Dry magma monument in Goma city.
We were picked up in the morning after breakfast to go start the hike. First we had to report to the Virunga rangers who checked our identities and escorted us to our beginning point. Since the kidnap of tourists, security was vigilant. Our rangers were by our side at all times and were very good to us. We had about 5 rest stops before we made it to the stop, and were fed on every stop which kept our energy levels high. The theme of the climb was ‘pole pole’ which means “ slowly slowly”. They made sure we did not get worn out. The ranger told me not to worry because the pace was consistent with the slowest walker. It started getting harder where we found many volcanic stones where you could easily slide and fall but we had sticks and we were extremely cautious. Although we had some minor rain, the cooler temps was refreshing.
Kids on one of the famous wooden bikes.
|Excitement before the climb|
|Overlooking down on Goma.|
The hike became increasingly more challenging but my resolve was undeterred. We got a few breaks in between before we made it to the top. The visibility was cloudy but the view became more glorious the closer we got to the sky!
My favorite ranger who gave me all the attention.
Wild plants seen during the climb.
At three thousand, four hundred, and 70 meters, we reached the peak. It was awesome! Two years prior there was an eruption at the volcano where we stood. I reflected on that, on the destruction it caused below, but also on the beauty of mother nature. Every challenge, difficulty, and cuss I spoke along the way was worth it. A full six hours of exercise was required (an average hike). The volcano was so huge compared to the one I witnessed in Ethiopia. This is the largest lava crater lake in the world with 2km each way.
It was raining when we got there but later it stopped and everything was well defined. We could see Lake Kivu, the mountains, Goma and Gisenyi. We were above the clouds!
|When we arrived, the view was a bit smoky.|
|The Congolese flag says it all.|
|Above the clouds.|
We took some tea to warm ourselves up because it was so cold! You need all the winter gear available to you! As we took in the sights we enjoyed a delicious dinner gazing upon city lights from Gisenyi and Goma. After dinner we went over the volcano and sat by it for a while because it was so amazing, and we could not get over it! At some point we had the full moon and the fire below us-- how cool is that? I was glad to have seen this and tick it off my bucket list.
Off I went to bed with all the memories and the sound of the volcano though it took me some time to sleep because it was so cold! We got up so early to catch the sunrise and watch the volcano again. So beautiful! I felt like every time I glanced at the volcano, it looked more beautiful. We saw everything surrounding us so clearly!
Full moon and red smoke.
I couldn't take my eyes off.
After breakfast it was time to descend. This was not as easy but we still got some breaks along the way. We made it in four hours.
Morning View of the lake.
On a clear morning you can Lake Kivu.
I couldn't take my eyes off.