Published: November 10th 2010September 23rd 2010
Time to visit a country not on the tourist trail, DRC... Gisenyi is a shared border town with Goma in Congo, although they are very different towns. Stamping out of Rwanda is simple and painless, entering Congo is another matter entirely. First we have to open our bags for customs inspection, which as we struggle every morning to close them is a hassle. Next the immigration official says we should have obtained a visa in our own country not in Rwanda, therefore we cannot come in. This is clearly a ploy for money as they used to sell visas at the border for $35 but have since stopped that practice, we are told no visas can be bought at the border but the women says she sells them for $220, so is basically annoyed at not making any money out of us. After half an hour of our guide chatting with her we are no nearer to getting in, and she still has our passports. We have had enough, so request our passports back to return to the embassy in Kigali to discuss with them. This is a good tactic as she suddenly decides we can come into Congo without paying
any extra money, she doesn't want her corruption being reported back to the ambassador.
Goma has little to no roads, it is mainly decaying tarmac or dirt tracks only. There is lots of building work under way as the volcano destroyed half of the town in 2002. The currency is Francs but all prices are quoted in dollars which make it very confusing. Either currency can be used, but we exchange our Rwandan Francs for Congolese Francs. We make a quick stop to buy food then off to the base of the Nyiragongo volcano.
We join 2 Belgians for the volcano climb, we also have 2 porters who carry the tents, sleeping bags and food and 2 armed guards which are their to lead the way and protect us in case any Congolese rebels try to kidnap us... The first couple of hours are basic walking with little incline, but the Belgian girl is struggling and has to stop every 10minutes for a breather. We meet 3 other armed rangers whose job is to walk ahead of us to check for danger, after we get above the danger zone we are allowed to break the group into 2, so we
take one of the armed guards and our guide and porter. We can finally speed up but the path gets steeper and more difficult so not too fast. We are climbing the side which erupted in 2002 so in places walk on volcanic rocks and sometimes on solid lava flows. After 5 hours a storm comes in and we walk for about 30mins in the rain before we reach a dilapidated metal shelter, it looks like it could blow over at any moment but is a great rest from the rain so we shelter in there for about 20mins. When we leave the skies have cleared and we can see the town at the base. We can also see another huge volcanic crater which is now covered in vegetation. We can also see the summit which is only 30mins away. This is a tricky climb though on jagged volcanic rocks and in places moving gravel. Unfortunately it isn't the best weather to view the lava lake inside the volcano, but when the steam and fumes clear we can see the molten red lava bubbling away, amazing! The wind is quite strong at the summit so the guards and porter battle
to put our tent up. It's a tiny 2 man tent and once the air mattress is blown up there is no space to move, we can't not have that though as the volcanic rocks are sharp in our backs. The Belgians amazingly arrive about 1¼hrs after us, just before dark. In the crater fumes it is quite warm, but damp, but in the wind it is freezing so as soon as dark falls we decide to stay in the tent. No meals are provided on this trip so we eat our snacks of crisps and dried fruit.
After a very long cold night, in the pouring rain, so also noisy we awake at 6am. It's still cold, but time to start the descent. The first part is very difficult as the rocks are jagged and steep. We both fall over and cut our hands. It also warms up quickly so we have to stop to take some layers off. The rest of the descent is quite quick and simple, at one point I shimmy down on my bottom rather than chance an unstable rock, but this cuts a hole in each bum cheek of my trousers! We reach the
base at 10am and wait for Fidel. We can't wait to shower and put clean clothes on, then Fidel gives us a quick tour of the town. Shattered so early to bed.
There are more photos below