The Wandering Scot

An occasional travel journal.

Browsing Posts tagged DR Congo

Gorilla, Gorilla, Woops

Mr HumbaI’ve been on two Mountain Gorilla treks in the last week, one in DR Congo and one in Rwanda. I got to see two family groups and watch a lot of relaxed interaction and play, which was extremely cool.

In the Virunga National Park in DR Congo, I visited the Humba family. By chance I was the only tourist visiting that family that day, so I lucked into a private tour. After a fairly short hike, I saw a large tree trunk blocking the trail ahead. Oh wait, that’s Mr Humba, the boss silverback himself.

Important safety tip: A silverback in the forest, 20 feet away, looks MUCH bigger than a silverback in a zoo enclosure.

Over the course of the hour, I think I saw everyone in the family group. They were foraging, so the group was frequently moving and a couple of times either the boss silverback or a large female passed quite close to us. A junior silverback seemed to be staying a little bit away from the main family group. He seemed to dislike human presence and would typically move away quickly if we got close. Several times I heard him doing chest-drumming offstage, which was very cool.

In the Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, I visited the Pablo family. This is a very large group, with 35 members, but we only saw one part of it. They were having a midday rest and were pretty relaxed about their visitors, including a lot of loud shutter clicking, which they are probably well accustomed to by now.  We got clear views of the boss silverback and about ten others.

SAM_2180Unfortunately on the way back down I managed to slip on a steep section and fall badly on my left wrist. At the hospital the following day the X-ray showed a small simple fracture, so I’m going to be doing the rest of my African trip with a fine Rwandan cast on my wrist and arm. Drat.

Practicalities: I organized my DR Congo trek though the Virunga National Park and my Rwanda trip though Umubano Tours, who also successfully navigated me through the Ruhengeri Hospital. I recommend both of them.

DR Congo: Nyiragongo

“I survived Nyiragongo, but he ate my camera.”

When I was about ten, I had a very clear idea of what a Real Volcano should look like. A steep cone, with a razor sharp rim and sheer cliffs down to an inner caldera with a bubbling pool of lava. Aah, it is to dream.

Nyiragongo is that volcano.

It’s 3470 meters tall, in the Virunga National Park in DR Congo. Complete with steep inner cliffs and the world’s largest lava lake. He only slaughters people occasionally, but he can act decisively: during the 1977 eruption lava flow was clocked at up to 60 kph on the volcano slopes.

I took the trek up (4.5 miles, but 4800 vertical ft, a lot of it on loose slidey volcanic rock) on Wednesday and overnighted at the top.

The mighty volcano graciously gave us a good view of his lava lake. There was mist (and smoke from the lake) but we could clearly see the bright red lava. Most of it was simply red cracks between caked surface slabs, but there were periodic localized bubblings up of fresh red lava, sometimes leaping up in small fountains. We could hear a continual grumbling and rumbling from the lake.  It was mega cool. I just sat and stared!

Unfortunately on the way up we had hit rain. I had thought my camera was safe deep in my day pack, but I deceived myself. Other electronics survived OK, but the camera gave up the ghost and wouldn’t recover. So no exciting Nyiragongo lava pictures for me.  Aargh!  But it was still a great experience.

The photo below from the Virunga National Park website shows a typical night time view of the lava lake, very similar to what I experienced.

© 2015 Virunga National Park

© 2015 Virunga National Park

I highly recommend Nyiragongo.  I arranged my visit (transport in DR Congo, lodging, trek) though the Virunga National Park and it all worked out well.