With all our day-to-day concerns about Bwindi’s mountain gorillas, animals and plants we tend to focus our attention close by on the forest. Indeed, on the steep slopes, we spend a lot of time watching our feet. But sometimes its worth looking to the horizon.
The views from Bwindi can be impressive. The last few days they have been especially clear thanks to the wind. The air is clear and we can see far.
You need to find the right vantage point — trees are common obstacles in a forest — but sometimes to the North the peaks of the Rwenzori Mountains can be seen. Unfortunately it is too far to definitively distinguish shrinking glaciers from wisps of cloud. Directly to the West we can see the stacked ridges and hills, receding with increasingly faded colours, across the forest and far into Congo.
But the real iconic image lies to the South: into Rwanda and the neighbouring portion of Congo. There, like fallen legendary characters of some ancient epic, lie the cones and crags of the the Virunga Volcanoes. Here, where the Earth is rupturing along the extent of the great Albertine Rift Valley, we see the scars where the Earth itself had bled molten rock and ashes.
The Virunga volcanoes date back to about 12 million years ago. The volcanoes in Uganda are all, as far as anyone knows, long extinct. Mt. Sabinyo likely dates to the early Pliocene (four or five million years) while Mt. Muhavura and Mt. Gahinga are younger at just a few hundred thousand years or so. I have not been able to find any definitive account when any of these mountains last erupted (any leads welcome!).
The Virunga Volcanoes as seen from the road below ITFC, Ruhija, Bwindi – April 2011. The mountains are (from left to right) Muhavura, Gahinga, Sabinyo, Visoke (in clouds) and Karisimbe
Another view of the Virunga Volcanoes as seen from the road below ITFC, Ruhija, Bwindi – April 2011
Generally the mountains get younger, and less furrowed and rugged, as you move Westward (to the right in the photos). To find live volcanoes we need enter the Congo. Actually, we don’t need to go. We can see some hint of the drama from here.
During the darkest hours of the last few nights, when looking from our house here at ITFC a red-glowing smudge can be seen on the southern horizon (right of Karisimbe in the picture above). The fiery light is coming from the clouds over Congo’s most active volcano: Nyiragongo. A lava lake casts abundant heat onto the skies above. Unfortunately it is too dim to make a convincing photograph — but to night-adapted-eyes it is clear.
We’ve seen the glow occasionally over the last three years but never so regularly as the last week. It is incredible to contemplate the amounts of heat released from this mountain minute by minute, month by month, and year by year.
I was curious what it looks like from nearby and found some recent pictures. They are striking. I’ll let one image speak for itself and give you the link to more here. Enjoy!
Lava lake – Nyiragongo (from National Geographic: see link above)
I wonder if the mountain gorillas ever turn their eyes and thoughts to the far horizon. If so, I wonder what they make of it. Any ideas anyone?