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Is anyone else bored of reading about San Francisco? The city, whose inhabitants constitute 0.012% of the globe’s population (I worked that out) seems to have been hogging around 96% of the Medium universe since the turn of the year:
“Look at what this man/woman has to say about San Francisco…” says one.
“That’s an outrage!” screeches another.
“I agree!” shout many.
“We don’t!” yell some more.
“Let us subject them to trial-by-internet!” clamors the internet.
But if you, like me, want some light relief from all the navel-gazing — all the interminable debates about over-opinionated entrepreneurs, over-priced housing and over-entitled millennials — I’ve got something else to offer. For what better way to escape the familiar than to visit a spectacular place you’ve probably never heard of — a volcano that harbors a lake of fire, in one of the most turbulent corners of central Africa…
surprisingly, my cell-phone had signal. For one giddy instant, I considered calling home: “Hi Mum, you’ll never guess where I am…”, then thought better of it.
For if there was one thing sure to put mother’s nose out of joint, one thing guaranteed to catapult her into a torment of parental panic, it would be the revelation that her son was currently standing on top of a hyper-active volcano in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Plundered by its Belgian colonial masters, bedeviled by fifty years of kleptocratic misrule, theatre of the most deadly conflict since the Second World War — DRC has languished pretty low on mummy’s vicarious holiday wish-list for the last hundred years. Only a couple of days before, I hadn’t been sure whether to go at all.
“But the Hutu militia are 200 kilometers north,” Kennedy had insisted with a broad salesman’s grin. “They won’t come near the border, because that would give Rwanda the excuse to cross into DRC to crush them.”
This, I imagine, was how most people had been arriving at their decision to defy the travel advisories. You’re sitting in Gisenyi, perhaps a little underwhelmed by the sanitized Rwandan resort town on the shores of Lake Kivu. You know that Goma, the gateway to DRC, is a mile down the road. Then one of Gisenyi’s émigré travel agents — a little grasping, but full of Congolese charm — gets wind of your interest, and tries to offer some reassurance.
“The route is safe,” Kennedy lent forward insistently, and I sorely wanted to believe him, for there was one glowing reason to cross the border. Yesterday evening, as yet another power-cut snuffed out the lights of Goma, I had seen that reason casting an orange incandescence in the northern sky.
At 11,382 feet, Mount Nyiragongo — the mountain Kennedy was cajoling me to climb — isn’t the largest of the volcanoes that stud the borders between DRC, Rwanda and Uganda. But deep within its crater there broods a special treasure: a giant lava lake 800 feet broad, one of the most spectacular natural marvels in all Africa.
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