Jonathan B and I started off for Goma for the day’s flights. It was his first time into Pinga so I was along to show him the area and get him familiar with the little bush strip. I love flying from Bunia to Goma. It is probably my favorite route in the country as far as pure unadulterated beauty of an amazing nature. You start flying over the green hills of Africa that fall away into the Samliki valley. Waterfalls and all. Then you fly the whole length of the Rwenzori mountains where you are almost sure to see some of the rare snow on the continent on some of the ruggedest mountains you will find anywhere. They were known as the Mountains of the Moon by early explorers because they look other-worldly. From there you drop down over Lake Edward with steep mountains running down into the west bank at a rakish angle and with Lake George off to the east. Hippos and often swimming elephants may be seen close to shore. Then you pass over the plains of the Virunga National Park where you can see any number of plains game as you fly into the volcano-rich south. Peaks point toward the sky up to 14,000 feet and you can circle the active Nyiragongo crater before dropping down on Lake Kivu where Goma covers the shoreline in shinny corrugated iron roofs of houses built right on old (and not so old) lava flows. Quite a sight.
But we were also working and had a load of people and cargo to deliver to Pinga. As we loaded up, we were told of security issues. It seemed government military in the area has split into two groups. One group of loyalists and the other from a former militia group that was assimilated into the army to help stop fighting. The people we fly here do medical work and have helped enough of the local population that we were guaranteed safe landing. We did land without incident, although there were militia around the plane while we were there.
Rain had been building all day so we had to do a little work to get around back into Goma. We fueled and loaded as planes landed and parked around us and soldiers rushed here and there. We took off but barely got out of town and on our way through the pass between the big volcanic mountains, Nyiragongo and Mikeno, before getting turned back by rain and clouds right to the ground. We went around the other side but the same thing there. We always keep a back door out and we still had Goma visual so we went back and waited out the storm. The rain was bucketing down in no time and planes trying to land were diverted to Kindu and Kisangani. They could not use Bukavu as a big Boeing had locked up its brakes there and popped some tires.
After an hour and a half it started looking quite good. In fact we could even see the top of Nyiragongo putting out sulfury smoke. With no time for dawdling, we took off again and had a wonderful trip back to Bunia with miles of visibility and shade from a cloud cover as well. The skies were washed of all haze and smoke. It could only have been more perfect if we had been able to slow down and enjoy all the sights at our leisure. But it was getting late.