On your trek to the top of Nyiragongo, you may come across a yawning fissure cut into the side of the volcano, as if a team of passing prospectors had raised their picks and cut into the rock in search of fortune. But these scars aren’t evidence of human exploitation; they’re the remains of Nyiragongo’s most recent act of destruction that it rained down upon the people who live in its shadow. 15 years ago, a stream of fast-moving lava burst forth not from the top of the volcano, but from its side, eventually reaching the nearby city of Goma – population 1 million – and forcing hundreds of thousands of residents to evacuate.
To walk the slopes of Nyiragongo is to indulge in both natural wonder and morbid curiosity. Beneath your feet rests an untold amount of liquid hot magma, bubbling up from the earth’s core to one day erupt into the open air. But most of the time this peak sits still, plumes drifting from its top, ambiguous smoke signals that both warn the wary adventurer and call to the intrepid. To stand upon its rim and look first into the earth’s boiling furnace, then across the swathes of green that make up Virunga National Park, is undoubtedly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.