I’ve first read about Nyiragongo volcano near Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) during my trip to Rwanda three years ago and it caught my interest as it is one of the few volcanoes on Earth featuring a lava lake. However, when my wife and I were visiting Rwanda we did not have enough time to venture to Nyiragongo. Since then I kept the volcano in my mind, but there was no good opportunity to see this breathtaking spectacle.
After returning to Kampala, I accepted the invitation from Domi and Mick and stayed in their house equipped with a swimming pool and surrounded by tropical plants. They told me about their time in the DRC two years ago when they also climbed Nyiragongo volcano. I was impressed by the amazing pictures and videos of bubbling lava and glowing clouds they showed me and I decided to organize a visit to Nyiragongo.
A cheap flight from Entebbe brought me to Kigali via Nairobi (makes not much sense, but that’s modern economics). From the capital of Rwanda, I took a bus to Gisenyi, on the border with DRC. Getting a tourist visa to DRC is difficult to get for individuals, but if you leave the formalities to the Virunga National Park, which organises the trek to the volcano, you can get it within one day. Crossing the border was hassle free.
Signposts with a color system showing the current activity of the volcano are present everywhere in Goma
Strolling around in Goma I came across the Goma Volcano Observatory where a very friendly employee named Jeanpy introduced me to the work of the observatory and their various seismic measurements. Their objective is to predict future major eruptions to minimize the threat posed to the city of Goma and it’s inhabitants. The last eruption in 2002 was predicted a couple of days in advance and consequently more than 400,000 people were evacuated from the dangerous zone.
A Chukudu is used for transporting freight and is „endemic“ to east of DRC, where it was developed in the 1970’s
Mickael linked me up with their friends so I had a place to stay in Goma. The nicely build house situated at the shore of lake Kivu and surrounded by a lush green garden is dubbed Le Chateau for a reason 🙂 I definitely didn’t expect to spend my time in Goma in such a nice and peaceful place. I was really lucky to be hosted by Soop Mai, Mathieu, Baastian, Herman and Max. They introduced me to the expat life of Goma by taking me to parties where I met their friends and got some insight into the situation of DRC. Unlike most of the country, thanks to the presence of MONUSCO, the UN mission in DRC, Goma is quite safe in most districts. But the power of MONUSCO and the Congolese army diminishes outside the city. Rebels and gangs control much of the rural areas of the eastern DRC and it is not recommended to travel around on your own. Unfortunately, the situation worsened in the past months as armed groups attacked villages in the South and North Kivu regions and thousands Congolese fled to neighbouring countries. Staying a couple of days in Goma before my trek to Nyiragongo wasn’t bad. Apart from strolling in Goma and hanging around in the garden of Le Chateau, I cycled to Lac Vert which is 10 km east of Goma, and paddled with Mathieu’s inflatable kayak on lake Kivu.
A heavy thunderstorm broke over Goma the night before the trek. I saw the lightning through closed eyes and the bed shook when thunder crashed. I was assured by my hosts the next morning that it was just an ordinary tropic thunderstorm. I was wondering how would I feel during this storm in the tiny huts on the crater rim on 3470 m. The good thing about the thunderstorm was the calm and clear weather the next morning after several cloudy and hazy days with barely any sunshine.
We set off on the trail heading to the volcano at 9:30 am after some instructions from one of the rangers. The security situation in the Southern Virunga National Park around Nyiragongo was said to be stable these days allowing us to hike in a comfortable atmosphere with armed rangers in the front and the back of the group. On the way up we came across three ranger outposts equipped with machine guns. Almost 30 rangers are securing the trail up to the volcano. Definitely, a tough job as there is no shelter and heavy rain falls almost every day. We were supposed to be a group of four this day, but a group of 12 from Czech Republic missed their ferry across lake Kivu from Bukavo to Goma two days ago, so they have joined us. They paid a visit to the eastern lowland gorillas in Kahuzi-Biega National Park near Bukavo before coming to Goma to see the mountain gorillas in Virunga National Park and trek on Nyiragongo. Finally, they will continue to Bwindi in Uganda where they volunteer for a small NGO supporting orphans which was founded by one of the group. Initially, the hike goes through a rain forest and continues on the sparsely overgrown lava from the last eruption in 2002 and finishes on the rim of the crater where hardly any vegetation is present. We’ve been very lucky as we had almost no rain during the five hour hike. Everyone else I know who did the trek told me stories of hours of heavy rain, even during dry season.
When we reached the crater rim, I was stunned by the view. Inside the huge crater with a diameter of 1.2 km, lava is bubbling and releasing smoke and hissing. During sunset, the scenery got even more spectacular. I spent almost all night at the rim watching the continuously changing lava lake and the glowing smoke melting with the clouds illuminated by the moon. Unfortunately, getting a closer look on the lava lake is rather difficult due to the instability of the rock that forms the crater. A rope, climbing equipment and a lot of courage is needed to get to the lower terrace inside the crater. Luckily, the good weather continued until we returned to Goma.
In the background there is a smaller crater that got filled with lava during the last eruption in 2002
Directly after the trek, I took a bus to Kigali and a next one to Uganda the following day. My next destination were the Rwenzori Mountains in Western Uganda where I will spend nine days hiking through a unique landscape ranging from tropical rain forest to glaciers.