Mt Nyirogongo, viewed from Kibumba Camp bar.
Reading this week:
- The Rise of Endymion by Dan Simmons
After an evening in Rubavu, the next day it was time to cross over into the DRC to visit Virunga National Park. I was supposed to be at the border at noon, so in the morning I went for a walk. As I was walking around, there were a lot of other people carrying large carafes like the kind you keep hot water or coffee in. I also spotted two people carrying large pots on their heads, and in Rubavu and on the way there from Kigali I spotted a large number of little old women sweeping up sidewalks or weeding hedges. I was impressed. Eventually I took a taxi to the border, though I was delayed again by the president giving a speech or something preventing the taxis from getting to the border.
The border crossing went largely smoothly, though it was a bit confusing. First you have to check out of Rwanda, but there weren’t any signs or anything being like “check out of Rwanda here.” But I figured it out and then just waltzed across the border to the DRC. I had to wash my hands and had my temperature checked twice I think as a precaution against ebola. On the DRC side I had to go through immigration of course.
In the DRC they speak French and I had meant to brush up on my French, but then got lazy and figured my high school French would see me through. I really should have brushed up on my French. At DRC immigration I got in a line and went up to a counter with a sign that said “Rwanda -> RDC.” I figured that was for me but when I got there the dude behind the glass immediately yelled at me “ONE TWO THREE FOUR FIVE YOU GO. ONE TWO THREE FOUR FIVE.” I stood there bewildered and eventually he explained slightly better that I should go to window number five. I went to Window #5, got my stamp, got my yellow card checked, and went to the Virunga office which is right at immigration. Waiting for our ride to the park to arrive, I met Peter from Belgium. He has spent most of his career though working around Nigeria. He’s a pretty interesting dude and liked to talk.
Goma street scene.
Eventually our driver showed up and took us to the park. The thing about the DRC of course is that if you are a consumer of US you only ever hear bad things about the DRC if you hear about it at all, so I didn’t know what to expect. To get to the park we had to drive through Goma, the border town and home apparently of 1 million people. I don’t know what I was expecting but Goma isn’t it. A lot of it was really nice though as you got to the outskirts it looked more familiar to my Zambia experience. I was struck by the stylishly dressed people. I guess I shouldn’t have been but I was. Outside of Goma we went through a checkpoint where we met the park rangers. That checkpoint was kinda wild. There were tons of motorcycles going through, dudes with guns (the rangers), run down buildings and volcanic stone, and it was sorta gloomy and the whole thing had a Mad Max vibe to it.
The rangers showed up and we got back in the Land Rover and drove the rest of the way to the camp. We drove through a few villages. The kids yelled Muzungu at us. The villages had goats and lots of sheep and a few cows, and the trees were these trees that look to me like bamboo but are regular trees, and the views got more and more gorgeous. Eventually we got to the camp and had a welcome passion fruit juice. Almost immediately there was a delicious lunch and then we got shown our glamping tents.
The tents at Kibumba Camp in Virunga National Park have hot showers and running toilets and hot water for coffee in the room. It’s lux. They have a bar and patio with a fireplace (it was pretty chilly that high up) with stunning views looking right a Nyirogongo. I don’t have the words to describe this part of the country. The volcano was covered with mist most of the day but it rained eventually and cleared up and it was stunning. Off to the right is another volcano, also stunning. At night you can see the glow of the caldera on the clouds. In the evening one of the rangers came by and told us all about gorillas and about our trek the next day. After that I had a beer with Peter the Belgian and a German guy, and then a delicious dinner, and then returned to the tent to find a hot water bottle heating up the bed for me. The DRC is nice!