DISCOVERY: Hiking Bisoke under tight security

Sunday October 27 2019

Hikers who reached the Crater Lake at the peak of Bisoke volcanic mountain.

Hikers who reached the Crater Lake at the peak of Bisoke volcanic mountain. PHOTO | MOSES GAHIGI | NMG 

MOSES K. GAHIGI
By MOSES K. GAHIGI
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When I signed up to hike up Bisoke, one of the five dormant volcanic mountains that make up the Virunga range, in Kinigi a couple of hours drive to Kigali, I had no idea what lay ahead.

As a first time hiker, I joined a trip organised by Sharama Tours, a local company owned by Uwase Divine, a 20-year-old student of Akilah Institute for Women.

I paid the Rwf40,000 ($40) as Rwandan national. Other East African citizens pay $80, while everyone else parts with $120. It covers transport, park fees, guides' fees, lunch, a photo-shoot and video footage of your adventure.

The next part was the early morning pickup. Hikes commence very early, meaning you have to be awake by say 4am for a 5am pick up.

We set off at 5am from Kigali to Musanze, a three-hour drive away. At the Rwanda Development Board office in Kinigi, we were offered a complimentary cup of hot chocolate as all hikers changed into their hiking gear—hiking shoes, tracksuits and walking sticks—and soaked in the morning freshness.

The vistas of Kinigi, flanked by the splendid, imposing smoky volcanoes is breathtaking.

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Bisoke being a dormant volcano is the only one in the Virunga range that boasts a crater lake of about 400 metres in diameter at its summit, formed after its last eruption in 1957.

By the time we arrived in Kinigi, my phone battery had died, so I had missed an important piece of information streaming in that morning, that the very place we are all eagerly looking forward to visiting had been theatre of an armed attack by rebels the night before and that several civilians had been killed by machete-wielding militia, but that the army had it under control.

We started off at 10:30am, which was a mistake, because for a first time hiker, it would mean it was almost impossible to reach the Crater Lake on time.

At the volcano entrance we were met by armed soldiers emerging from the thickets, and more guides.

Mount Bisoke has a variety of vegetation, the itching nettle, bamboo, shrubs and trees that grow tall to form canopies at the top.

An hour into the hike, I realised most people had gone ahead and I found myself in a group of three laggards and one guide and a soldier, who never left us.

I was Mighty Superman when we started out, snapping photos, psyching myself up for the task ahead, but 90 minutes into it, everything was deadweight, starting with the jacket, water bottle. And even, my shoes.

Physically, this was the hardest task I have ever undertaken. It challenged everything in me. Half way up, we reached Kumunyakenya (place of the Kenyan) in remembrance of the Kenyan tourist that gave birth there two years ago.

At 1:30pm, we started our descent. Sadly, only a few of us reached the crater lake and have amazing pictures to show off their feat. It was worth the risk and trouble and I was glad I had challenged myself more than I ever have.

We later learnt that the military had engaged and killed 19 militia the previous night.

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