Crossing the border from Gysenyi to Goma turns out to be surprisingly easy, and after finding a place to stay and leaving my stuff there, I continue walking the streets of this unique city. Just the name Goma stirs up images of endless streams of refugees crossing the border from Rwanda in 1994, trying to escape the genocide, while it came back to the news when it was part of the warzone of armed rebel factions and the army. Added to that, it lies at the foot of one of the most active volcanoes in the world, Nyiragongo, and has been destroyed several times in its history - the last time in 2002. There is a thick layer of grey clouds hanging low over the city when I walk the main street towards the north. It is dusty, I walk carefully because there are cars, motorbikes, and tschukudus, the typical handmade wooden autopeds that run down the streets. Often, a motorbike guy stops and offers a ride, but I do what I like most when arriving in a new place: use my feet, wonder aimlessly, and soak up the atmosphere. There are colourful, painted signs for hairdressers and beauty saloons, people sitting at the sidewalk, kids calling out muzungu, followed by either "morning" or "money", or just playing football with a self-made ball.
After the last major eruption of Nyiragongo in 2002, large part of the city centre of Goma was destroyed, and it does not take long before I see the signs of that disaster. The side streets are built on lava rock, and many houses have lava rock bricks, or a wall of lava rocks around a wooden house to protect it. During the eruption, the lava came down directly from the volcano, and ended up in Lake Kivu, where it caused a huge cloud of steam. The street level of the city was suddenly raised by two metres; many buildings erased. What is striking, is the resilience of the people. Instead of relocating to a safer area, they have rebuilt their houses, have tried to reinforce them against future eruptions, and continue living on their own land. The location has much for it for the casual visitor: right on the northern shore of Lake Kivu, with mountains in the background, and of course, the typical volcano shape of Nyiragongo.
Before traveling further north in the country, I want to visit Bukavu, on the southern side of Lake Kivu. After buying a ticket and fulfilling all the necessary checks of my documents, a malevolent officer from the migration service attacks me, and prevents me from traveling, and if that is not enough, his superiors protect him and detain me for five hours. The six officials turn out to be creative at inventing always more reasons to detain and harass me, and I am getting seriously worried about what will happen next, also because they deny me the possibility to call for help, and their pretentious boss hints at detaining me for 48 hours. After the positive experiences I had to far in Goma, I am now confronted with the ugly, and potentially dangerous side of traveling in the Congo. It is only with the help of a witness, and a lady from the Virunga National Park office, that the officials let me go. Their director will later apologize for their horrific behaviour - but I miss out on Bukavu, giving me some more time to explore Goma itself. Sitting on the second floor on a popular place, I watch life pass by on the main boulevard below me. With a little more distance from the street, it becomes clearer what a special city Goma is: for a long time, it has had the largest United Nations mission in the world, and you regularly see white trucks, 4WDs, and pickups with the UN signs on their sides drive by, passing a Congolese man pushing his tshukudu up the street. Many countries are represented, giving this otherwise provincial town in east DRC a distinctly international character.
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Goma (Democratic Republic Congo). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Goma.
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