Wednesday, November 17, 2010

nobody panic

On every mission there are moments that have the potential to stop it in its tracks, moments with consequences so monumental even a spoon of Nutella won’t cheer you up. Sometimes they are associated with danger, more often they are logistical. When the immigration officer in Goma handed us back our passports with visa’s annulled and entry denied, we were looking at such  moment.
Expeditions should not have many rules, but since there is nothing common about sense, some have. Our only rule is jokingly quoted but of the utmost importance. “ Nobody panic” Our visas from the embassy in Kampala were worthless to anyone apart from the Congolese embassy who made 550$ from the ink squares. The new regulation, unbeknown to all but the border post, was that you had to get your visa’s issued in your country of origin. As the official told us to return to Rwanda, we instead stood around in the rain. What she did not know, was that we were going to get into the Congo, I just wasn’t sure how.
We threw ideas around to minimize the damage and were just about to cut our losses in Kivu province, with the hope of trying another border post further south,15minutes
later the door to the Congo opened slightly wider as we pushed 850$ through the crack. Apparently we could get a Special passes, granting us the pleasure of 7 days in the not so Democratic republic of the Congo. When asked about the chance for an extension once inside, we were told that” There is always a chance”
We thanked them for the opportunity but a verbal thanks was not what they were looking for. Another 100$ and we had our Special passes issued.
In an effort to help us get our budget back on track Bryce offered us accommodation at the IRC. It was close, but we made it their in time to watch the second half of the Springboks, Wales rugby match. Finishing of our day in the unexpected surrounding of a beautiful house overlooking lake Kivu.
Goma is special, apart from having possible the worst political mess in the world and being surrounded by some of the most unpleasant armed group you could imagine, it sits on the banks of a lake filled with poisonous gas, capable of killing every living thing in the vicinity if triggered to bubble to the surface. A lake in Cameroon, 2000 times smaller, filled with the same methane, was triggered by a landslide and wiped out the entire neighborhood. Goma has landslides but that is nothing to worry about compared to the volcano. Goma is built on the slopes of Niyarongo, in 2002, She spilled into the city, leaving 120 000 people homeless but thankfully did not turn the lake over.
I had been wanting to see it since I first visited in 2001, but security in the outskirts of town changes like the weather. This time round, the line to the top seemed open and under armed escort we made for the 3000m cone. Getting to the top, we could hear the lava churning down below but the cloud of CO2 (its releases as much as the entire USA) obscured the actually pool. After eating the 200th can of tuna on the trip with some crumpled bread, it finally opened up, at first just a slash of red, but as night settled visibility grew. Feet dangling over the very edge of a crater 3km wide and 2000m deep, we looked into a pool of Molten lava( love the world molten) perhaps 700m in circumference. Everyone can watch a camp fire for hours and some find equal pleasure in watching water run, for hours we watched the combination of the two, imploding and exploding on itself. The venue was breathtaking and the view unbelievable, as we watched the earth’s core bubbling up.
We set our bivey’s set up meters from the rim, on the only flat spot available and possible the windiest place in Africa. With wind gust of up to 1ookm/p(entirely made it figure) it was possible the coldest I have been for quite some time, since I had just come of a glacier last week, I mean it was freezing but that mattered little, somehow it might even have added to the experience. The guards tents was flattened repeatedly until they eventually gave up and simple rolled themselves up in it. I admit to moments when I felt I might be blow of the mountain but for the most part I loved being wind blasted on the side of a crater boiling  with a power I cant comprehend.

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