I was on a long flight and would not get home to Cher this night but if everything worked out just right, I could make it to Rumangabo in Virunga National Park where my sister LuAnne has been working for the last year. I was excited about that, as there have been many changes since my last visit. A new lodge has been built that is out of place in Congo, it is so nice. Built out of the lava that is so plentiful in the area and thatch that I love to sleep under, it blends perfectly into its’ rainforest environment. But the real draw for me, (other than my sister Lu of course), was the new volcano that has been going strong now for over a month. I saw it as I flew by en route to Goma on Monday but as I flew in to land at the Katali airstrip where Emmanuel de Merode keeps the little Parks Cessna 182, I circled this growing mountain of lava that blows molten chunks of rock into the air. Everything around it is black with the ash and rocks that have accumulated since the start of the eruption and it is surprising how far it has gone. I saw a line of smoke going away to the north but had to land so didn’t investigate further that afternoon.
I had a great time with Lu and her friends from the park as she introduced me as her brother to virtually everyone we passed and all the many changes and improvements of the park were pointed out with pride. It was obvious to see on every level that things were changing for the better and Emmanuel and his team were achieving Rock Star status as keepers of the treasure that is Virunga.
We spent a lovely evening talking around the fire in the new lodge and demolishing a loaf of cinnamon bread that Cher had made for LuAnne but which she generously shared out to everyone’s pleasure. I love sitting around a fire and talking but I may not have held up my end of the conversation as I had flown 1000 miles that day and was very eager to see the bed in my tent.
I woke early and walked out to see the clouds glowing from the fire of the volcano. Although it is dwarfed by all the others around that climb up to anywhere from 11,000 to 14,000 feet and are so striking as to be truly unbelievable, it is still an amazing sight.
Lu and I walked down to the gorilla enclosure where they have some approximately 4 year olds and some around 8 and 10 year old orphaned gorillas just in time to watch them get their morning cup of tea. Well, not really tea, more a protein mix to start their day. It is interesting to see them drinking out of cups and obviously asking for “another, please”.
I had to be in Goma for a 9:00 a.m. flight so after my cup of coffee we drove down to the airstrip and I was off to Goma, where I loaded up with supplies for the hospital and the MSF Holland work in Pinga.
Pinga is a little grassy strip nestled at the bottom of the mountains with a river by one side of it. It is a bit tricky to circle around the tops of the hills and get down in time to stop in the short 750 mt. length but it is dry right now and braking is good. You can see that it will be much more interesting when the rains start and the Caravan skids very nicely. There are ditches along each side for drainage but I can imagine them calling to the landing gear to come and fall in as the ground becomes soaked with water.
On the flight back to Bunia I had another chance to fly over the volcano and this time I followed the smoke trail leading away north. To my amazement it was a river of glowing lava. It took my breath away as I realized it was not just flowing but rushing as it churned and splashed and tumbled, reminding me more of a waterfall than just a river. I realized that there would be no way to outrun it and the whole scene was powerful and unsettling. The flow would go underground at points and then surface again, flowing just as fast, a kilometer or two away. All the trees in it’s path had burned away or were burning still in a continually widening path through the bush. It was an awesome thing to look upon from the plane and I wondered how much more powerful it would have felt down on the ground. This time I was glad for my eagle’s eye view.