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Kigali to Virunga National Park, DRC in 3 Days

CONGO (KINSHASA) | Friday, 8 July 2016 | Views [900]

With our guard Angie after the Gorilla Trek

With our guard Angie after the Gorilla Trek

It was an early start at the Discover Rwanda Youth Hostel in Rwandas Capital of Kigali.After a breakfast of bread and potatoes and the nations finest Tea we jumped on a motorbike taxi to take us to Kigalis Central Bus Station. The station was alive with activity and needless to say we attracted our share of attention but thankfully before long we got ourselves onto the right bus bound for Gisenyi. We were greeted with a great cheer as we boarded the Bus as it turned out we had gate crashed a local football teams weekend getaway, thanks to my footballing knowledge we made friends before we had even reached the outskirts of this impressive little African Capital. As we made our way through the hills that Rwanda is famed for (at breakneck speed) conversation moved away from football and onto discussions of our separate cultures and society’s, their stories and passion of a modern and united Rwanda were truely inspirational. As we approached Gisenyi and the border with The DRC we were even accompanied by one of our fellow passengers as he was aware of the issues some foreigners may face at the border, so with the assistance of our local friend, Julien, we hopped onto a Moto-Taxi and headed for the border. Upon arrival we were met with stern faces that didn’t help our optimism of a smooth border crossing and after a lengthy wait I handed over my Passport with copies of my Visa application that I had made through the Virunga National Park website, there was also a brief visit to the neighbouring Health Office to show my Yellow Fever Certificate. Another lengthy wait transpired before my passport was returned, I was in! But Natasha, my travel buddy, wasn’t, and despite our best efforts those stern faces told us to wait for a National Park Official as they had no record of her applying for her visa. It wasn’t till 2 hours later that a man from Kivu Travel appeared at the border with guests of his tour Company and offered his assistance, he contacted the national park who finally made an appearance (it turns out much to our expectations that the border officials hadn’t contacted them). Thankfully much to our relief Natasha had her visa approved and her passport back in hand, now all we had to do was make our way across Goma to our hotel, easy! Julien, who had stuck with us the entire time was now called back into action to assist in arranging Moto-Taxis to our Hotel, Lac Kivu Lodge. The contrast in Nations was immediate as Goma was busy, loud and dirty. Rwanda has a ban on plastic bags making it one of the cleanest Nations I’ve visited in the 3rd World. We paid roughly $40 each per night which is high for us budget travellers but it is definitely an Oasis in this crazy city in a beautiful location on the shores of Lake Kivu. We settled in for the evening and prepared our bags for the following day. 

Trekking through farm fields outside the park

The following morning our driver, Eric from The National Park arrived on time at the hotel at 6:30am, as we left the city the streets were crammed full with locals with their yellow drums making there way to the lake to collect water. Just before leaving the city we pulled up at a rangers compound and picked up our armed guard, Angie, and continued on out the city passing the South African Army UN Compound on the way. The road was very bumpy even by African standards but Eric was an expert driver, the scenery was beautiful along the way especially when we started into the mountains. After roughly 2 hours we arrived at Bukima, Eric and The Camp manager were keen to show us around the accommodation they had on offer, they were very impressive and modern bush tents and had an amazing view of Mount Mekino. Eric showed us the briefing room where there was another couple joining us on todays trek, thats just one of the many benefits about choosing The DRC as opposed to neighbouring Rwanda or Uganda where the Visitor numbers are much higher. Richard, our head tracker for today told us about the family we would be visiting, it was a family of 8 consisting of 2 silverbacks. We made our way out of the camp and through neighbouring farm fields that pushed right up against the boundary of the park. Richard eventually led us onto a very small track into the park before meeting some other trackers, they informed us that the gorillas were nearby, from here on in the machete skills of our guides were on display as we carved our way through the dense vegetation. After hiking just short of an hour we found them!We approached slowly as the guides made a grunting noise that helped to put the Gorillas at ease with our presence. They also cleared the surrounding area in no time allowing us to get a clear view of these amazing creatures! The hour we spent with them will last with me forever it was amazing how close you could get to them. Unfortunately it came the time to leave, Richard and the other trackers then guided us out of the park and back to the Camp and thanked the guys for an amazing experience. Even after Eric had dropped us back to the hotel I was on such a high and couldn’t sit still. That night we walked to a neighbouring Hotel, La Chalet for dinner, it too had a lovely location on the lake and it was just so hard to believe I was still in The DRC after seeing the poverty outside the gates. It was a Sunday and the majority of it patrons were NGO or UN workers. We returned to the hotel after a tasty pizza and prepared our bags for the following days trek up Mount Nyirnagongo.

Gorilla in Virunga National Park

Making sure to get a good breakfast we got picked up at 8:30am again by an official from the National Park, he kindly stopped at a very basic supermarket along the way so that we could pick up water and other snacks and just as we had done the day before we collected our guard and set off down that same road as we had the day before. We arrived at Kibati Ranger Station at 9:30am, signed in and showed our permits but had to wait till 11am before starting the hike. In my commitment to remain a Budget Traveller I refused the services of a porter, carrying 4.5liters of water was a solid workout, this wasn’t helped by the intense humidity that only subsided about 2 hours into the hike! The group was a combination of people who had like myself and Tasha booked through the National Park and those who had booked through a travel agency, the group was assigned 2 armed guards by the National Park who lead the hike and then a separate Tour Guide who was part of the Travel Agency group. Needless to say we all climbed as one group and it was only at dinner time that the group was somewhat separated as they not only had a guide but a cook too! The climb took around 5 and a half hours and that included 3 stops along the way, once at the summit we were assigned our cosy little Crater Huts. I couldn’t wait to climb to the edge of the crater and look down at the bubbling lava, it was incredible! Despite our distance from the edge of the crater and down to the lava you could still feel the heat! We ate our sandwiches that we had purchased from the Hotel for dinner and sat and watched as the sun went down, the darkness adding to the atmosphere and only serving to increase the intensity of fiery red lava. It was almost hypnotic just sitting and observing the Volcanoe it was other worldly and it was only due to my exhaustion that I managed to drag myself away from it and off to bed.

Mt Nyiragongo at night

Waking up on the summit at 5:45am high above the clouds and watching the sunrise over neighbouring Mt Mikeno was another beautiful sight. Sadly the time came to hike back down, this was tricky at times especially on the loose lava rock but we all managed to make it down unharmed by 10:30am. Another Park official met us at the bottom and brought us to the hotel to collect our bags and then dropped us at the border which thankfully on this occasion was very much straightforward. After locating the bus station in Gisenyi we didn’t have to wait long before piling in to a bus heading for Kigali and finally The Discover Rwanda Youth Hostel where after a lovely African Buffet I fell into bed after a draining yet amazing trip to The Virunga National Park!


Tags: africa, congo, gorilla, lava, mountain, trekking, volcano

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