November was a crazy month, in all good ways. Three of my best friends from school, Mimi, Meg, and Charlotte, came to visit me in Kigali for an epic East Africa reunion. Meg lives in Uganda, Charlotte was living in Kenya and has since gone back to the States, and Mimi lives in DC. Needless to say, we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and had a blast catching up and adventuring. The epicness of our reunion was only amplified by an epic adventure we embarked on: hike up Nyiragongo, an active 11,400-ft volcano just west of Rwanda in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and sleep at the top.
The volcano is located near the city of Goma in Virunga National Park, a park known for volcanoes and gorilla tracking that stretches from eastern DR Congo to western Rwanda to southwestern Uganda.
We set out around 11 am with a group of 10 hikers, 8 porters, 3 armed guards, 1 cook, and 1 guide. It was quite an expedition.
The hike up took about 5 hours. It rained for half an hour but besides that the weather was comfortable.
It was breathtaking in many ways – from the views of plains behind us to the unique flowers around us to the steep hike that left us breathless at points.
We reached the top with an hour left of sunrise. It was freezing at the top, much to my dismay. I was hoping that the lava lake would act as a big bonfire, but I was forced to resort to putting on my 5th layer of clothing.
The volcano crater was covered in smoke at first so it was hard to see the lava lake.
As night fell, it became much clearer.
The permanent lava lake inside of Nyiragongo is the biggest in the world, with an estimated 282 million cubic feet of lava. In 1977 and 2002, the lava lake overflowed from the crater, destroying a large part of the city of Goma.
We spent the night in little wooden huts a few meters below the ridge of the crater. Each hut had two beds and so naturally the four of us piled into one hut. It helped generate some heat but not enough.
The morning views of the landscape around us were just as breathtaking as the lava lake. We were essentially looking out on the land from the same perspective as an airplane would.
We started the hike back down around 7 and it took about 4 hours. It was easier on the heart but just as difficult on the legs, especially since the lava rocks could be a bit slippery and crumbly.
On the way back to the border, we drove through Goma and walked around to take in the sights. The Congolese presidential election was just held this past Monday, November 28th, so while we were there we witnessed a frenzy of campaign posters and political demonstrations in the build up. There were around thirty candidates in the presidential election and the incumbent was Joseph Kabila, who took office in 2001 following the assassination of his father, former president Laurent Kabila.
If you are interested in going on this trip, the man to know is a local tour operator named Emmanuel Munganga. He did a great job organizing everything for us (visas, transport from Rwanda, permits, security updates, etc.) and gave us quite reasonable prices. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org. This was truly an incredible adventure and will be something I remember forever!