In December 2019 I’ve decided, together with my wife, to visit Virunga National Park located in the Democratic Republic of Congo, to trek mountain gorillas and hike Mount Nyiragongo. The latter is a stratovolcano containing the world’s largest active lava lake. You would think twice just hearing Democratic Republic of Congo. However, the adventure of hiking Nyiragongo and spend the night at the rim of the volcano, and probably have the best experience one can think, dissipated all our fears.
To reach the top and take this picture, we went through a very hard hike all the way up, with constant heavy rain that didn’t give us any rest. Furthermore, I was carrying my backpack with most of my photographic gear, as we had also been trekking Gorillas, so the hike was even harder. Due to the weather we not even enjoyed the scenery while hiking, so we were quite apprehensive with what was expecting us up there. We reached the top after 5h and completely soaked and dead tired. We dropped our bags and went straight to the edge of the rim and... NOTHING. We couldn’t see anything due to the fog. Our guide eased us and told us to wait that at any moment the fog would dissipate. In the meantime, we changed our wet clothes and had dinner. After about an hour warming ourselves, we decided to go back to the rim and WOW… blows and glows. We just forgot all around us. It was just us and a wonder of Nature. Without any fog or clouds around we had a perfect and clear view of the whole crater. What an exhilarating gift, a lava lake churning away in a mosaic of molten red fire.
We had this spectacle all for ourselves, as we were the only tourists. We were still very cold from all the rain coming up, but none of that mattered. Even though we were up in the rim, away from the lava lake (about 600m) we could feel the heat in our cheeks warming us up. The lava is in constant move, shifting and changing its course, creating an amazing sound, like a roar. Even when the clouds disappear, there is always some fog down that comes from the heat. So the spectacle was not just visual, but also sonorous.
After almost half an hour just contemplating the lake, I took my camera and tripod and then start registering my lifetime experience. I’ve decided to take a close-up of the lake highlighting the astonishing patterns of the alive fire. The constant movement of the lava makes it difficult to shoot with such low light. I had my hands so cold that I hardly could move them to try the different camera settings… but I never gave up.
We highly recommend a visit to DR Congo, but bear in mind that this is not a trip to the fainted heart. It is a dangerous country indeed, but it is worth it. Its people, wildlife, Nature and its history make it a lifetime destination. Make your research, ask advice to trustworthy travel agents and choose a safety window moment to go. That’s what we did. We were anxious when we crossed the border in Rwanda, but at any moment we felt our life was in dangerous. In the end we had the most humble experience so far.
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Dimitri Vasileiou • Editor