Nyiragongo, sleeping on top of the most active volcano


We have always been passionate about Julio Verne's novels such as "Around the World in 80 Days," "From Earth to the Moon" or "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" but, if one of them especially excited us, that was " Journey to the Center of the Earth". Today, after much sacrifice, paperwork, visas and bribes we will finally be where heaven and the deepest part of the earth come together to marvel and frighten us. We are at the top of the assetNyiragongo volcano with a lava lake at our feet ...

For the first time in a long time we don't know how to start this story too well. The truth is that what we will try to convey here is the most exciting experience (in addition to the encounter with the mountain gorillas) that we have ever lived on a trip (and there have been few adventures that have happened to us). Neither Calleja (can you let us have this license? It’s cool to exaggerate) in your best programs, haha.

The tense border of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

As we write these lines, on the way to Kigali, we are exhausted, shattered, shattered ... The adjectives that we put to describe how we feel fall short but it has meant an apotheosis ending for an incredible journey.

It all starts very early on the morning of August 26, 2011. The night has been strange on the banks of the mysterious Lake Kivu. They say you can tell if the nearby volcanoes present danger seeing anomalies in this lake. We have not been allowed to sleep some disturbing waves that have stirred the night silence ...

Ali and Norman pick us up at 6:30 and, after checkout (500 RWF), set a route to a conflicting border with R.D. Congo. Not many months ago they have asked for important bites to travelers here according to the forums although we bring us the visa from the Embassy of the R.D. Congo in Madrid (120 EUR, when formerly it was worth 35! A scam!).

In the border of Rwanda, which is supposed to be less inconvenient to leave, we get a thousand problems a "very bad flea" customs. For a moment we believe that we could hardly leave They told us that to return we would need 72 hours to obtain the visa. !! But we already did it online! Finally we make him understand although work costs us.

Touch the hard part. We walk just 100 meters between dozens of old trucks waiting to get their permits. Many of them are old oil tanks that could well be in a scrap yard. !!Shit! Another customs officer with a bad host face !! But this one has no computer. In the border of R.D. Congo towards Goma has no computer means. He seriously asks us about our profession and where we obtained the visa. But you don't see him putting it in his passport? In Madrid. Look and breathe. Pass sheets. Finally seal it. After 40 minutes we have achieved it, we are in! Democratic Republic of the Congo!(What will we have missed here?)

Here Mukanirura, a young boy of 24 years (and his father Joseph), who have a small business called Mapendano Voyages which we reached through Matoke Tours. Joseph scares us. See that we don't carry bags and look at us like crazy. It's very cold at the top tells us. After several calls and a few minutes of uncertainty we get to rent a team for about USD 5 per person. Wait for everything to be correct and cross the border. He has a tour in Uganda and Rwanda where he will guide. Mukanirura raises us to a Pajero with the steering wheel to the right although here he also drives along that side. The rest of cars and trucks have the steering wheel where it fits. Everything here is chaotic.

The impression when crossing Rubber is absolutely heartbreaking.

Towards the base of the Nyiragongo after crossing Goma

Although tomorrow we will focus a little more on it because before we go we will try to take a partial view of Goma, the mixture of volcanic stones, lava that will arrive in the last eruptions of Nyragongo in 1977 and 2002, the worst roads we have seen, streets where we would not get in even if they paid us all the money in the world, guerrillas, police, poor, missionaries, barefoot children, UN containers and bases, an airport cemetery of an airport that once It was international washed away by lava ... and defiant looks among dirt, we get a certain respect.

While we cross the 19 km that separate Goma from the base (where we will begin climbing Nyragongo volcano), we see yellow flags on top of a sign that warns of its activity today. That yellow means level 2, which is active but without danger. From 3 people should tremble. Mukanirura explains that in 2002 many people died well, unlike in the previous one of 1977 where the lava had arrived very slowly (and had stayed far away), nobody could intuit that the effusivity on that occasion was much greater. People perished in their confidence and resistance to leave their land. The volcano swept EVERYTHING through huge cracks up the slopes and with lava speeds of 100 km / h. In addition hundreds of thousands of people were left homeless.

!!We have arrived!! We are in a kind of makeshift camp in Kibate Village with just two boxes where we are presented with a ranger, Enmanuel, who along with another less talkative will be who "protect us" in this complicated experience. Down here, between laughter and illusions we were not aware of what awaited us. We were 1,997m above sea level and we had to reach 3,400m in just over 8km with only 4 stops at 1h, 45 minutes, 45 minutes, 1h 30 minutes and 30 minutes late. THE WORLD'S MOST ACTIVE volcano was barely felt, hidden among the lush vegetation at this height that, as they explain to us, has all kinds of birds, antelopes and small monkeys.

At this year's contest / club We gave a clue to win this year's prize winners. This was that we will go to a place where "heaven and the deepest of the earth come together to marvel." Do you guess now what it was?

The climb we will do will be something similar to the following scheme (on paper it is all prettier)…

In this "madness" will accompany us, in addition to the 2 rangers, 8 porters with our personal items (We barely carry photographic material and bags -which just arrived brought by 2 boys on a motorcycle-) and general equipment (waters, hot dinner, sandwich for the road, fruit ...) and a cook. We sign the permits and see the last people who have ascended: Dutch, Rwandan, British, German ... mmm ... the last Spaniards are from August 13. Every day 3 or 4 people go up, there seems to be movement. Today we will do it alone.

Guys, are we ready? It is 9.35 in the morning when we cross the sign that presents the park. A "superman" (because he has no other name) opens the way loaded with a huge bottle of about 30 liters of water. Behind rangers, cook and us and, in the end, porters with sacks, huge boxes and tools on the head. !! These people are from other pasta !!

A 5-hour climb to the Nyiragongo volcano

He initial terrain is slightly steep, among lush vegetation but without too much difficulty. In some sections we are avoiding the first obstacles. At 30 minutes the thing starts to get ugly and the slope rises sharply but we go to a clearing. It seems to be our first rest. We took 40 minutes.

The smile becomes agony when we begin to see small and huge "pebbles" in this next phase. The slope does not allow a rest and walking around here is almost impossible. We only have good news, the sun has not come out at all ... and less bad because we started to drip. 35 minutes later we arrive at a kind of esplanade with 4 trunks. We sit. The legs are heavily loaded on such hard ground. They give us a sandwich, fruit and some water that we don't stop asking for. Surely we already have 1 or 2 liters per person.

It costs more although it seems that less volcanic stones. The lava at this point is solidified forming curious unions with trees and vegetation. Life always makes its way and we, hardly, too.

We are tired, dripping, stopping every bit. We are in a very hard climb and the worst of all comes at the moment we look far away ... !! It is the top of the volcano that is literally TO BE TAKEN BY THE C ... but what have we traveled then? We have not stopped climbing and we still have what seems the worst climb.

And that here the zizgag concept do not understand. The shortest distance is the straight and so apply. 25 minutes later We stop again. We eat sandwich that we have reserved. We drink and we drink. They approach us to see where the volcano breathes, a kind of pools that emanate boiling water and where geologists have installed a kind of recorders. We drink again. We see some booths on the top of the mountain or rather we intuit them.

After another break that is usually 15 minutes, we resume the march remembering Calleja and its Extreme Challenge. When are you coming here? (UPDATE: It came years later). This is a put ... madness. Its inhuman. We carry our hearts in our hands and our legs walk alone. Luckily we have done the chimpanzees, gorillas, pygmies and golden monkeys treks and we come as bulls ... but we wanted to see each other here at the beginning of the trip. At a weary pace, looking just where we step, we continue ascending. The climb has turned 45º. We will not be able to explain it with photos but we have great videos that you can already see in this story (VIDEO1, VIDEO2, VIDEO3, VIDEO4). Now the 20 second stops are every 5 minutes.

After 1 hour and a half We arrived at a kind of metal booths that tell us that the porters used to sleep in the past. We look up. We are in an area where there is no vegetation, no life. There are only stones and a terrible climb. How could it be that all that remains? We already see some wooden and metal panel houses with more clarity. We also intuit the 30 liter water carrier. Is not human. It is already up.

We look one foot. We put the other one. The porters now throw. The desire may more than physical exhaustion. The girls have behaved like champions. We have all taken a phenomenal pace. Enmanuel tells us, we don't know if to cheer us up, we are "strong people".

Another little step. We almost intuited it. From there comes a lot of smoke, it has to be there. !Is there!One last effort puts us in the booths. That is where we will sleep. It looks like we will be very cold.

But we can't wait. A huge crater awaits us a few meters ...

… Our sweaty eyes like our whole body completely soaked, see a huge elliptical crater base 900 meters (!! almost 1 kilometer!) that throws all kinds of gases inside. Below a bright red, our objective, is so incandescent that even the vapors are not able to cover. At night it will be incredible.

It's 14.34. It has taken almost 5 hours to arrive. We are surprised to see a cross. It is in memory of a tourist who fell down the precipice in 2007, which makes it very clear to us how far we can go. Enmanuel is responsible for reminding us.

There are things that can never be understood by a traveler who is not Spanish but surely many of those who read this will understand. The effort has been INHUMAN, SOPORIFERO. We drank about 10 liters of water among all. This deserves a good empty ham and a 1 hour Spanish nap. Although we have been given 2 cabins, we stay at 1. The night seems to be very hard. Here it hits very cold wind. Luckily the sacks because the wind enters through each corner ... We are 3,400 meters. ZzZzZ

!! KNOCK KNOCK !! It's 17.30. It is not yet dark and they come to find us for dinner. The porters are located in two boxes a step above us, almost touching the top. It is very cold. We go out with everything we can, sweatshirts, gerseys, fat socks. We have not brought more.

VIDEOS ON YOUTUBE: Those who prefer the most complete AUDIOVISUAL EXPERIENCE have in our Youtube channel All the videos. Although they are very old and not as worked as the current ones, they will help you to enjoy the article more and feel what we live. Here the last one already on top ...

Here we meet Am Pierre (or as it is written), the cook, who has prepared an improvised plastic with several food pots (chicken, rice, a stew ...) and several utensils! Metal!

We must recognize that, with the freezing level that we carry, First, our soul falls to our feet, but just as it transmits the cold, it also does it with the heat and that instant coffee at the foot of the coal (which heats the water gives us life). A nice crow shares it with us.

!! And finally the great moment arrives! After taking the bags to get even more shelter, we return to the best point of view.

Nyiragongo, the world's most active volcano with lava lake

You can't walk around the crater perimeter. It would be crazy at this time. "But how has that come down"Ruth repeats over and over again. It's something we'll talk to you about. The level of the lava lake drops month after month but tonight it's beautiful. You never know if it will rise again but since 2002 it has only come down which suggests that there will be a time when it is not seen.

We're the closest we've ever been to heaven and the gates of hell (UPDATE: Years later we would visit the Yasur volcano in Vanuatu and the Darvaza well in Turkemenistan). The boiler is boiling, even true lava waves form.

For the moment the volcano turns so red that it leaves a unique stampto. Only the cannibals are missing throwing their offerings to the lake as in the best films. Never in life have we enjoyed such a spectacular phenomenon of nature. There, just a precipice between us and the underworld.

"But how has it come down there?"The precipice is such that a wrong step would be an uninterrupted fall by the abrasive volcanic rocks of maybe 500 or 600 meters. So we had the very simple options and as we are writing this, you know which one we chose.

Tripod and camera in hand, about 3 meters from the edge of the volcano with the rangers watching, the view was fascinating. The lake boils, emits all kinds of gases that the wind was responsible for removing from us. It was as if the lava were swallowing pieces of small solidified areas and forming sources of fire and heat. 2700º?

The color of the sky is deep red around us. The strength of a volcano can illuminate everything. Is like a cathedral of candles That turns everything on.

Sitting there, with a little less feeling of cold, We enjoyed our last minutes before Enmanuel illuminated the steep terrain that brought us back to the cabin where in small beds we share sacks and heat Juve and Ruth and Paula and Isaac.

The day was ending but our eyes do not rest. Maybe because of the cold, maybe because of the discomfort, possibly because of the image on the retina of a day as exhausting as magical, one of those adventures that bring you back to life, make you feel lucky, privileged and happy. When all these images pass through our heads, nothing matters, neither the cold nor the pain in the knees, nor the feeling of canned sardines. Of course, family, friends and readers, we have never felt bad. We are perfectly and more excited than ever and tomorrow from Kigali (although there is coverage here and we have already called one of you) if this is published, we will have already left Congo and will surely be back home. The adventure is over ... the trip too. But Juve, Ruth, Paula and Isaac will always take East Africa to our present

Juve, Ruth, Isaac and Paula, from the top of the Nyirogongo volcano (R.D. Congo)

EXPENSES OF THE DAY: 500 RWF (approx 0.61 EUR) and 10 USD (approx 7.14 EUR)