DR Congo hopes massive volcano eruption will draw tourists
By Shabtai Gold Nov 15, 2011, 18:38 GMT
Johannesburg/Goma, DR Congo - Mount Nyamulagira in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo erupted on November 6 and the steady column of red-hot molten lava has been bursting from it ever since.
Experts say such a large and lengthy event happens only about once every 100 years, and naturalists in Congo are urging tourists to visit and take in the spectacular sight.
With a trained guide and some careful treading through the jungle, a hiker in the Democratic Republic of the Congo might just be rewarded with the rare and magnificent sight.
'There are moments when the eruption is just 20-30 meters high. But the last three nights it got to 200 and 300 metres. It has been just enormous, quite an intense period,' according to Cai Tjeenk Willink, the head of development and tourism at Virunga National Park.
'This is an incredible opportunity for people to come and see a very active volcano from a very close distance,' he told dpa by telephone.
Tjeenk Willink and Italian volcanologist Dario Tedesco have teamed up to provide overnight hikes for tourists. The walk from the park to a campsite situated some 1.5 kilometres south of the volcano takes around three hours.
'From the campsite there is a full view of full the eruption, but you are far enough away so it is not dangerous,' says Tjeenk Willink.
The heat from the lava serves as campfire at night.
In 1989, the lava flowed from Nyamulagira for nine months, but it came nowhere near the current level of energy being exerted. No one can predict how long the latest eruption will continue.
Congo is not a sought after tour destination, especially not the east. Numerous militia groups roam the area, in a stark reminder that the Central African country's civil war is still simmering.
The country is also known for its biodiversity, including more than 200 critically endangered mountain gorillas who live in Virunga. Poachers are their biggest enemy.
The region boasts another active volcano Mount Nyiragongo, that sent lava racing downhill at some 90 kilometres per hour in 1977 and forced the evacuation of some 350,000 people from the nearby city of Goma in 2002.
Scientists are concerned that a major volcanic eruption could bury Goma, much like Pompeii in Italy. Tedesco has called Goma 'the most dangerous city in the world.'
But years of conflict in the area has stood in the way of research projects at Nyiragongo, which has the world's largest lava lake.
For now, says Tjeenk Willink, tourists have no reason to worry, as eruptions at Nyamulagira would not upset Nyiragongo.