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DRC Easter

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HURRAH IMPROMPTU TRIPS. A few weeks back one of my Nairobi-based friends mentioned that she had a six-month multi-entry visa from a work trip to Kinshasa and Kisangani, and did anyone want to help her make use of it by climbing Nyiragongo Volcano? Some friends of mine did the same trip last year and the pictures looked AMAZING so I was like HELL YES and then (quietly, secretly) started fretting, because as you may recall, last year I tried and failed to mount an assault on Karthala, a volcano in Comoros, and so what if I tried again and failed again but this time in front of friends thus a) embarrassing myself, and b) inconveniencing them when I inevitably had to be stretchered off the mountainside? But then the trip took on a life of its own, with three more friends / friends-of-friends committing, and then we set dates and applied for visas and booked tours and I borrowed a bagworth of hiking gear off a friend (who was much more sensibly going to Istanbul for Easter weekend) and I was borne along by the momentum. And so on Easter Friday, the day after I came back from Watamu, we flew to Kigali, and the next day we piled into a car and were driven to Goma.

Kigali!

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Goma was fascinating and I wish we’d had the chance to spend more time there. We stayed at the Caritas Guesthouse, right on Lake Kivu, which I’d last seen from Gisenyi in 2015. Goma’s main claim to fame, aside from its regular bouts of M23-related insecurity, is the fact that it was nearly swallowed by lava when Nyiragongo last erupted, in 2002. Relatively few people were killed (according to our fixer, Emmanuel, those who died were mostly either holed up in a church that promised to pray the lava away, or looting a fuel station that then exploded), and the volcano is now, apparently, much better monitored so there will be early warning for the next eruption. But volcano remnants are still very much in evidence, in the form of pitted lava rocks piled up by the side of the road, or used in construction.

Goma roadside.

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The volcano had been our main aim, but despite how short our time was, various logistical arrangements meant that we ended up with a day in hand, and Virunga was offering half-price gorilla trekking for Easter (didn’t know gorillas cared), so we took advantage of that and on Sunday spent a couple of hours bouncing about through achingly picturesque countryside (conical volcanoes hidden in the mists; exquisitely-kept terraced farms in the foothills) en route to Bukima. This was something that I’d been wanting to do for years and years, and it was absolutely incredible – and, as we agreed at the time, intermittently terrifying. Unlike what I’ve heard about gorilla “trekking” elsewhere, this was a proper, strenuous hike through the rainforest, two hours of slogging uphill, with our guides hacking through the bush for the last ten or fifteen minutes before we were encouraged through a gap in the greenery and suddenly there was a gorilla RIGHT THERE OH MY ACTUAL GOD. We got to hang out with a family group of nine gorillas – including three silverbacks – for an hour, and it felt like an immense and unwarranted privilege, interspersed with periods of intense terror when one of the silverbacks would lumber to his feet, fix us with a stern eye and lurch in our direction. We had been assured that in these cases our guides would know what to do, and were particularly adept at identifying when the gorillas were just playing (oh god) and when they were actually angry (OHGODOHGOD); Frederic, our main dude, generally responded to any potential gorilla aggression with pas de probleme, pas de probleme, and then: prend un photo! which we mostly did, when our hands weren’t shaking too much.

Entering the rainforest…

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AAAAAAAAAH!

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Gorilla selfie

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And then Monday was VOLCANO DAY. I had spent the previous few days silently performing my affirmations (you failed at Karthala because you were trying to do a two-day hike in one day! It’s only 8km (albeit with a 1500m elevation climb)! It’s all psychological!), and with my friends giving me very useful encouragement and tough love. In the event, I would by no means say it was easy (my thighs still ache slightly, four days after coming down), but it could not have been more worth it. This blog post gives an excellent description of the route (I may have read it slightly obsessively before departure), and the trek is planned incredibly well, in terms of the way that it’s broken up. I found it reasonably tough but OK right up to the second half of the penultimate stretch, when a very heavy rainstorm and the unrelenting steepness really began to get to me – but by that point I was a good three-quarters of the way there, and so there was no way I was going to give up. I was encouraged to the end of that stretch by one of my friends waiting uphill from me with a bite of Snickers in her hand, which she smashed into my mouth as soon as I reached her, before hustling into a hut to shelter from the rain. And then onwards to the summit once the rain had let up a little, which was physically difficult (probably the steepest and most perilous stretch of all) but psychologically straightforward, as by that point the end is literally in sight.

And then a night on the rim of a volcano, allegedly the world’s largest (or maybe second-largest) lava lake, drinking wine and whisky out of plastic cups and eating a surprisingly delicious meal, made by our stalwart cook, Janvier; the lights of Goma and Gisenyi spread out on one side; the crater on the other; shreds of clouds beneath, and Mount Mikeno poking its way through them. The whole thing shot instantly to one of my top five ever travel experiences.

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Volcano + wine

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Written by Jess

April 22, 2017 at 3:35 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. Hi Jess! Thanks so much for sharing the DRC volcano hike info from my site! So glad you had a great trip and that you loved the Congo as much as we did. A super special place, for sure!

    Shannon Kircher

    April 22, 2017 at 3:47 pm


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