Nyiragongo volcano, DRC

Since the largest lava lake in the world was within Virunga National Park (where we communed with the gorillas), we figured we might as well hike up to it. We started at 6,560 ft elevation and climbed to 11,385 ft over 4.25 miles. Our track was essentially straight up. They estimate that it will take you 4-6 hours to reach the summit, and we were confident that after all our training throughout May, we would complete it on the shorter end of the estimate. However, an older couple in our group caused us to complete the hike in a little over 5 hours. To be honest, we were the only 2 tourists in our group. :)

on a deceptively “flat” part of the trail

on a deceptively “flat” part of the trail

We were extremely lucky with the weather, as we didn’t get rained on during the climb (and the descent), as this is a common occurrence. This was my worst nightmare, as I HATE being cold and wet.

There were 4 rest stops along the way, and the climbing and pitch became progressively harder, the closer we got to the summit. I was able to take medication to avoid altitude sickness, but Steve is allergic to it, so couldn’t. Since he didn’t have any troubles when we were hiking the Andes in Peru, we didn’t think we’d have much difficulty with this. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to acclimatize like we did in the Andes. Our pace up the mountain felt glacial at times, but we just kept putting “one foot in front of the other”. About 2 hours in, Steve started feeling cramping in his legs, that progressed to full on cramps in his thighs and near muscle exhaustion. We would walk up about 5 minutes, then rest 2-3, then continue on. (we had porters carrying our bags, water, camera, lens and tripod, but Steve had his usual backpack on for our water and jackets.) I borrowed his phone to take a quick picture of the terrain, and the path. Loose volcanic rock (scree) is the pits to walk on - up or down.

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When we got to the fourth (and last) rest stop, Steve called for a longer break.

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That was Adolph, our lead guide/park ranger, who kept us safe, along with the 5-6 other armed guards who accompanied us up the mountain.

This was our goal - the huts at the summit:

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…and then up close:

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The far hut pictured was the kitchen hut, which even though having the open side, was thankfully warm from the charcoal fire in the decrepit metal brazier over which our amazingly tasty dinner of steaks (!), vegetable medley and potatoes was cooked.

Ok, ok… pictures of this “world famous” lava lake…

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Our first views were during day light, and were quite breath-taking, but nothing compared to after dark.

The caldera (that forms the crater around the central lava lake) is 1.2 km across, and we had great views when we first arrived.

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But it was after dark when the real show began. Unfortunately, it was cloudy and starting to sprinkle after dinner, so I gave up after 1/2 hour of waiting for it to clear, hoping that before sunrise, it would clear up enough to get some good shots—which it did:

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On our way down, Steve took this reminder shot of where we’d been. Our thighs are still screaming at us, 36 hours later.

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Next stop - safari in Tanzania, where we may not have Internet, so you may not hear from me until July.

Gorilla family time

First, some info about the family we saw. They have a total of 34 in that particular troop and we saw 28 of them! We found out later that we were quite lucky to come upon them just lounging around and grooming (and this may have been helped by us being the only 2 on the trek that day) We were also told that we were the first tourists to see a newborn that the rangers were seeing for the first time. We had to wear masks because we don’t want to risk passing any human diseases to the gorillas.

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This next video that Steve shot of toddlers in a tree shows just how close we were -

In this next video, at first you’ll see the silverback grooming another gorilla (which was very surprising to Steve and me - we figured the “chief” didn’t do anything except eat, sleep, mate and ward off usurpers). Then you see the youngsters playing and acting just like human kids. Then the focus goes on a gorilla in the back, which was the new mother grooming her baby’s stomach and the baby hanging upside down over her arm (this part’s hard to tell - I’ll have some stills later).

Just above the silverback’s head is the newborn’s upside down face -

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When I zoomed in, at first I thought it was nursing, but it looks like it’s sucking its thumb!

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Momma holding the baby foot:

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Baby fingers:

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Peek-a-boo!

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Time for another video - watch the youngsters at play; see just how massive the silverback is compared to the others (he can weigh more than 400 lbs, while females are often half that size); note the downed branches and leaves that we were standing on.

Interestingly, each gorilla’s nose is unique. Now for some more candid shots -

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Looks like a hug to me (!) :

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Next post is about our hike up Nyiragongo volcano. Until next time…

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Eats shoots and leaves

With some trepidation (and much fear on the part of our families), we went to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to see Eastern Mountain gorillas up close and personal in their own habitat. And we got them in spades! I wanted to get out a quick blog and share just a few of the amazing pictures we got, while we still had WiFi. Amazingly, we had WiFi deep in the jungle in the Congo!

We hiked about 3 miles over 1 1/2 hours, up and down the mountains and through the jungle. At first, it was a well worn packed mud path -

(yes, we had 10 armed guards accompanying us)

(yes, we had 10 armed guards accompanying us)

that quickly turned to jungle.

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This was my first picture of our new friends and was taken with my regular lens -

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as was this one of the dominant silverback:

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Then I really went to town with my long lens:

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Their hands and feet were almost as interesting as their eyes -

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(check out the various feet in this picture)

(check out the various feet in this picture)

I need to keep this post short, as we have to get up early to go hike up a volcano tomorrow. I’ll leave you with a promise of videos in a future post, as well as a few more of the highlights.

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I’ll end with The Thinker:

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