I have decided to start doing these monthly recaps as I rarely have time or energy left to write much when I am traveling. I will probably need the next two years to catch up on my African trip, so it just makes sense to write these short summaries so you can know what I have been up to and why I have been so quiet.
So, what was September 2017 like for me?
Hint: It was probably the best travel month of my life!
HOW TANZANIA FINALLY STOLE MY HEART
I started the month safarying my way in Tanzania. I was lucky enough to get to go on a one-day safari to Tarangire National Park for work. During the few hours I was here, I managed to get attacked by tsetse flies, getting almost trampled by an elephant, falling in love with zebras, seeing more elephants than I ever imagined existed, and witnessing four lionesses taking a rest by the river.
After that, I headed over Emboreet, a Maasai village in the middle of nowhere. I got sent here for work, and it was easily one of the best weeks of my life! I got to see and experience first-handedly how the Maasai live and coexist with the wildlife around them. It was an eye-opening experience that I will never be able to forget. To read more about my time here, head over to this post.
I headed over to Moshi, the base for those who will climb Mount Kilimanjaro afterwards. I didn’t do MUCH while here, other than going for lunch with the different characters I met and drinking cider with views of mighty Kili. I needed some time to recollect my impressions from the past week and to rest a bit.
I did visit Kikuletwa Hot Springs with Karo and Lili from Lili’s Travel Plans, which I had low expectations of, but ended up not wanting to leave – it was paradise!
I got very ill while here, so bad that I had to get tested for Malaria. Weirdly enough, the pain went away after a day of leaving the city – something in the air, maybe?
A JOURNEY TO THE CONGO
Afterwards, I started my long journey to Congo. I have this weird aim of overlanding everything, so I took bus after bus after bus and a ferry on Lake Victoria. You know you are doing an unnecessarily long journey when you tell the Tanzanian man sitting next to you that you are going by road to Congo and he bursts out laughing and tells you that sounds ridiculous.
BUT HEY! I MADE IT TO CONGO AT LAST!
But not without making a quick stop at one of my favorite cities: Kigali.
I used Kigali as a base to do some last minute shopping for gear for my trek to Mount Nyiragongo. I was able to find everything at good old Nakumatt and several small boutiques along the road in the city center. It is always refreshing to come to Rwanda: nobody harasses you, the streets are paved and no one tries forcing you to buy something at every corner.
I then took my last bus to Gisenyi, the border town of Goma, DRC. I spent a day relaxing and over-thinking whether visiting Congo was such a good idea after all. I loooved Gisenyi, it is such a sleepy lake-side town with gorgeous views of Lake Kivu.
And then I crossed the border to Congo. Everyone had told me NOT to go there and the travel advisories online were less than inviting. I got stamped out of Rwanda and the voices of those who warned me against going began resonating in my head. Realizing there was no way back. I crossed over to Congo. I took a motorbike taxi to my hotel and was surprised at how relaxed it was. Goma felt so normal, like any other African city I had visited – the markets were bustling, there was music playing everywhere and everyone I met was so friendly.
I checked into my hotel only to realize there was no electricity. I spent the night in utter darkness and that was the most danger I felt during my time here. I SWEAR there was a ghost in the room. The hotel was a creaking old building and the furniture reminded me of my grandmother’s. At three am or so, the bathroom door began opening and closing itself. You bet I was unable to sleep the whole night after that.
The ghost decided not to kill me, I guess. The sun arose and it was time to get ready for my gorilla trek! I had arranged with the national park to get picked up at the hotel only to get forgotten. I ended up making my own way to the start of the trek – a two-hour long bumpy ride where I got to see the beauty of eastern Congo – the ride took me through tiny villages where houses were constructed using lava rocks from the nearby volcano, Nyiragongo. The lushness of the landscape captivated me and children ran towards the car to shout “hello” at me. “Is this the country government advised against all but essential travel to?”, I wondered.
The trek began, lasting about an hour before we found our gorilla family – Humba. I got the chance to get up close with two silverbacks, two adolescent gorillas, two babies and three females. The rule at Virunga is to stay 7 meters away from the gorillas, but you can rest assured that gorillas don’t care about this rule because they often got so close that I could almost touch them.
It was amazing! Many describe it as a life-changing experience. For me, it wasn’t, but I really did love my time with these gentle animals. They were so human-like in the way they looked, the way they moved and the things they did. To see them so up-close made me remember how blessed I am for the life I have.
The next day, I awoke to feel less than ready for my trek to Mount Nyiragongo. I didn’t train for it and everyone who wrote about their trek online stated it was the hardest thing they ever did. I was sure I wouldn’t make it to the top – I haven’t had a proper workout for more than three years and the volcano looked very intimidating from my hotel terrace in Goma.
But then the trek began. I made it to base 2, and then to base 3 without struggles. I then made it to the last base, with only a 25-minute long climb to the top left. I didn’t quite get why I have trouble going up two flights of stairs but I barely lost my breath during the whole trek. I guess it will forever remain a mystery to me.
But YES! I made it to the top and oh my god, it was the single best thing I have ever seen.
I stared for hours at the largest lava lake in the world – the movement of the lava and the sight of waves of fire crashing into each other made it impossible for me to look away. The night was freezing, but I just couldn’t stop staring with awe. At 9 o’clock, rain began pouring and it was time for me to go into my cabin and rest. I got up again at 3am – the sky above me was filled with stars and the fumes of lava added a reddish looking edge to the rocks. I sat down at the edge of the crater and just watched and watched as the lava moved and the figures made from the fire changed sizes and shapes – it was so captivating. I wish I could put into words just how amazing this night was.
And then the sun rose and it was time to trek back down. I struggled quite a bit here, as there are long patches of the trail that are filled with lava rocks and that was quite a strain on my already problematic knees.
THE SWITZERLAND OF AFRICA
I crossed back into Rwanda, a refreshing place to be in and forget the havoc of Africa. The plan here was to head straight for more adventures around Lake Kivu, but I ended up ditching my plants and staying in Gisenyi to just chill and recover. My right knee was killing me and I was so damn tired from the lack of sleep. With so much left to do in Africa, it just made sense to relax. Afterwards, I travelled to Kigali, which I used as a base to sort my life out (going to the doctor, buying much-needed things for the journey, and sending out a few packages for my online shop).
And that was it! This month was so enthralling that I am not sure anything will be able to top it! I got way out of my comfort zone and did many of the things that I dreamed of doing since I have memory.
Countries visited: Tanzania, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo
WHERE TO NEXT?
I am writing this from Kigali. Tomorrow, a new adventure begins. I will be overlanding my way down to Malawi, where I’ll be spending a good part of October! After that, I will slowly make my way to Dar Es Salaam via Zambia to catch my flight to Amsterdam at the end of the month. I will have just under a week of rest in Germany, before flying to Portugal to celebrate my birthday!