Friday, November 11, 2011

Update from the Congo

The trip from Kigali to the border was very smooth, on a well-maintained road with spectacular views (that is, when we weren't in the middle of thick fog). The hillsides are checkerboards of terraces in many shades of green, and laterite-stained waterfalls jump out over rocky cliffs when you least expect it. Just before getting to the border we got a view of a pair of volcanoes (active, naturally) with their tops obscured by clouds.

We had been warned to expect having to cough up some bribes at the border, but the officials just smiled, stamped our passports, and waved us through. Goma itself is a pretty singular place. It's on the north shore of Lake Kivu, one of the Great Lakes of Africa. The city has a beautiful setting, with lush green hills marching up to the shoreline and fishing boats out in the deeper waters.

To the northeast are more active volcanoes, including Mt Nyiragongo (described as one of the most active in the world, and home to one of the world's few lava lakes). Lava from an eruption in 2002 flowed through -- and devastated -- central Goma, and now the city is strewn with piles of volcanic rock and gravel that are being used for (re)building materials. Its neighbor Mt Nyamulagira started erupting again a few days ago (news story here), but fortunately for us the lava is flowing away from Goma. However, the heat from the crater seems to be generating a big thunderhead cloud sitting over the mountain.

We've spent three days at the hospital here now and have already gotten a lot accomplished on our research project. We're staying at a guesthouse right on the shore of the lake, surrounded by riots of flowers and guarded by our faithful new canine friend, Poupé. There was a tropical thunderstorm with lightning over the lake tonight: welcome weather geek entertainment for us thunderstorm-deprived Bay Areans.

I was thinking of taking a shower tonight, but the enormous insect in the shower stall at the moment is obviously the dominant critter in our ecosystem, so maybe I'll just wait until tomorrow morning....

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At November 11, 2011 at 8:26 AM , Blogger Oaktown Spice Shop said...

Hi Ben,
Glad to hear that you and Neda made it safely to Dr. Congo as I like to call it. I wrote a friend in Kisangani to see if he has some contacts in Goma and I am awaiting his response. I guess I wasn't on the ball with this one. I hope to hear back before you leave! How long are you there?

If you come across any interesting spices, I'd love to hear about it.

All the best and safe travels!

-John and Erica


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