No matter how many times you go gorilla safaris in Bwindi, every subsequent experience is as exciting as or even better than the first time. “Gorilla trekking is very intimate, more like entering a family sitting room as opposed to racing around in a vehicle while on safari”.
After a long, sweaty and absorbing trek comes the moment of truth when your guide ushers you quietly into the clearing. The Nkuringo Family is taking their mid-morning break: dark black fur protrudes from the glossy greenery on either side – a crooked elbow here, a swollen belly there. Below the drip-drip of the foliage you hear a loud fart, some sporadic snores and the soft sound of wind. Yes, there isn’t much going on, but you have never felt so alive. You inch forward and reach for your camera.
Soon you are done clicking away and turn to enjoying the privilege of observing this extraordinary animal up-close. One hour is never enough, but it is an hour that you will cherish for the rest of my life. Compared with excitable chimps, gorillas are very relaxed animals. But this is like no other encounter and nothing prepares you for its sheer intensity. Many tear up, convinced that they have felt a “connection”. And while some will say this is overly dramatic, there is no denying that being in the company of these great apes, meeting those searching intelligent, eyes in a face that seems to reflect your own, is an out of this world experience.
Mount Nyiragongo, in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo rises majestically to an altitude of 3470m overlooking the Virunga National Park and associated Albertine Rift. The climb up Mount Nyiragongo is not technically difficult and reaching the top should not take longer than 5 hours. After an early wake-up call and breakfast, drive on towards the Kibati patrol post at the base of Mount Nyiragongo, a mere 50km outside Goma. After a safety debrief and final check of everyone’s packs and equipment you begin the climb towards Mount Nyiragongo summit.
The party will be lead and escorted by a set of rangers/guides and a small contingent of porters. For the first two hours of the walk you will traverse a lush pristine forest, where towering trees offer a welcome shelter from the sun until you emerge from the forest onto a small plateau with commanding views that stretch towards the infinite horizon, with Lake Kivu, Bukavu, Rwanda and Burundi at your feet. You are now standing on the lava flow remnants of Mount Nyiragongo 2002 eruption.
From here on, the climbing trail becomes firmer and the forest gives way to several swathes of recovering heath with vegetation dominated by ferns, sedges, heather and everlastings. Shortly after noon, you will reach Mount Nyiragongo crater and your overnight cabins. The remainder of the afternoon will be spent exploring the craters edge and soaking in the surrounding views and Mount Nyiragongo bewitching lava cauldron. Fortunately your guides know exactly how to reach the best observation and photogenic spots safely.
When everyone has had enough, the party will return to camp to settle into their cabins, rest and enjoy an early supper. At 18h00 you will return to a designated spot at the craters edge to gaze and appreciate again Mount Nyiragongo molten lava lake. In the dark of night one is able to appreciate better the dark crusty surface of lava, spliced and splitting into ever changing plates.
As the plates separate, bright orange lava fill the cracks and a fantastic spider-web pattern emerges. Every now and then fountains of lava flare up disrupting these pretty patterns, but adding a surge of dynamism and power to this spectacular sight. Sometimes, fountains appear throughout the crust like a collection of campfires, creating yet another fascinating show.