My Jeep ready to climb a volcano
Of the paradise that represented for me Goma's region was my
Jeep Willys (you will see it better on the other pages).
predecessor had left it in Goma because his wife hated it (she did not manage
to drive it and found it too uncomfortable), and I had to wait until Marc came
back for a short stay in Goma to buy this "old junk" from him, the only
vehicle which I could afford (and still, he gave me credit!)
25, 1990 was this blessed day, when besides receiving my first letter (of one
of my former teachers) and my suitcases (tortured in the cargo), I had the keys
of this extraordinary little car which I still regret having had to resell when
It was a Jeep Willys, model CJ3B of
the 60s, motorized by a 2 liters Perkins diesel.
The clutch was not synchronous,
so it was necessary to use the "double declutching" : declutch and let
in the clutch once to loosen the current speed, and again to engage the following
speed. But I got quickly used, by the noise of the engine, to be able to do it
at one time without making moan the gearbox... Most of the time.
bought it, it was already equipped with a soft top made to measures in Belgium.
personally replaced the tires, threadbare and bursting all the time, by very resistant
special tires (Goma is a volcanic region and normal tires do not survive more
than 5000 km there); welded a metal trunk in the place of the back seat to store
some fuel and tools during my strolls in the wilderness; welded protection grids
on the lights; welded an rollbar (just a few days before I actually rolled over
with it); and finally I had the seats redone by my friend Danielle.
that, this Jeep required no maintenance, faithful and strong as a tractor, of
which it was making the noise... And it was quickly nicknamed "my beautiful
Short-lived nickname because this Jeep already had
a history (two persons have already contacted me, saying "Hey! It is my
Jeep on this photo! I had it in 198...") and continued its life: after
my departure, a friend saw "my" Jeep towing a truck (!) out of the lake
of mud where it was stuck. Personally, I have no doubt that it was able to do
it. I'll tell you more about the adventures we had later in these pages.
if you want to learn more about the Willys, go to Derek
Redmond's pages : his site is quite amazing and probably the best ressource
on the Net on the subject (the link goes to the page where he listed my jeep,
but his site is way more complete than that).
First time out of the city
Five days after the purchase of the Jeep,
some vague indications in head (no map, no guide...) I took the track southward
and, so-so, I found the Green Lake after I-don't-remember-how-many kilometres.
lake formed in the crater of a volcano (there is a lot of them around Goma), the
region is little populated but there are two small villages on the sides.
is there that I found Africa and its magic for good, that I had my first real
good time, that I fell under the charm of Kivu...
Le Lac Vert ("Green Lake")
seen from the top
of the volcano
These pirogues don't sail often...
But not until the madness all the same: I had the luck to observe
the manufacture of the bananas' beer before one proposed me to taste it, which
urged me (strange, strange) to politely refuse, even if our ancestors did
so much with the grapes :
Bananas are peeled, piled up in
a pirogue (look at the pic.) then... Crushed with feet (not always clean nor healthy).
The juice extracted this way is fermented before treating the palate of those
who dare... Not me.
I had had my first load of recollections,
images and experiences, so I went back the way I came from, fortunately bursting
only one tire (only one spare, so...)
I would have been able
to drive on the rims, naturally, but...
I had the
chance to count among my new friends big landowners in the Masisi, mountainous
region South of Goma.
So I was invited, with other friends,
to spend a weekend in N'Gungu, nicknamed (as many of other places, notably in
Louisiane and in Vietnam) "Small Switzerland".
without reason: at first, N'gungu is very difficult of access and I shall always
remember the villagers who charged us to put boards on the crossbars of a destroyed
bridge so that we could pass with the Jeep (we had a great talk so that they put
back the boards for our second vehicle without charging again), then because the
landscapes were simply amazing with majesty, magnificence...
A small paradise in the Masisi
In the mountains
Zairean host received us there in a magnificent and luxurious farm reminding Brabant's
(Belgium) farmhouses, took us to see some of the 150 thoroughbred horses which
he raised in these mountains (with advanced techniques of artificial insemination,
right in the heart of Africa!) and also took us on one of its tours in the bordering
villages, where, for example, we saw him settling a conflict between two families
which threatened to kill each other, by his simple big owner's authority.
to show in photos...
about 150 km North of Goma is another chain of mountains, just after the Rwindi
If one has a little courage, one crosses these mountains
to visit Kanyabayonga on the other side.
With the Jeep, being
a little careful, it would be no problem, if the other madmen did not try to cross
these mountains with worn trucks or normal cars...
be so double careful...
This one is exceptionnally good!
And this is not the top yet...
if it does not spare a good prayer.
trucks, filled with goods, with "passengers" and their luggage on the
roof (it is not rare that some fall on the way, too bad for them...)
cars, or worse, trucks, stuck in the mud or even upside down, sometimes so deep
in the mud that it is impossible to take out them with the local means and that
the "track" moves bit by bit on the side, when it is possible.
told me the story of a truck so badly and deeply stuck in the mud that it was
abandoned, then that the villagers filled the holes in front and back of it with
soil, making "access banisters" so that the following vehicles could
pass over it! I don't know if this story is true, but I can believe it.
the end of this road (which is far from being the worst in spite of what precedes)
one arrives in the Kanyabayonga's nice village.
village dedicated to the "long-distance truck drivers" (numerous to
take a break there), a small friendly restaurant of which the walls were dedicated
to Mobutu's propaganda, but most of all I'll keep in my mind the landscapes which
made forget the road...
My dear mom, whom I dared to take
later to this same place, enjoyed it too.
The Mikeno volcano, near Goma
Tongo : the giant chimpanzees
photo (not even one!) for this chapter, the one that leaves me nevertheless the
most striking recollections or almost. You see, it was very dark in this forest.
Most of the photos which survived the humidity and the heat of this stroll are
blurred or too dark.
What a trip... I had left Goma early to join Tongo's
low part, at 80 kilometres - a drive of about three hours, say hello to a Zairean
friend, then continue the rather steep ascent towards the small farmhouse in construction
of the other Zairean friends, parents of one of my pupils, who had invited me
in their coffee plantation. Excellent afternoon and evening. The following morning,
as agreed, these formidable people (I certainly never thanked them enough) woke
me at around 4 o'clock in the morning and served a robust breakfast before I left
to go visit the giant chimpanzees.
It is the only time when the Jeep opposed
me: she did not want to start, in the dark all the way up this wet mountain, in
full fog... So I started it by letting it go down the beginning of the track.
Nevertheless, it turned out later that I did not need the engine...
the track had "moistened" abundantly, and as far as I remember, I
have never been so scared in my life:
I slid with the Jeep, there is
the other adequate verb, till the bottom of the mountain, steering with strong
instinctive moves of the steering wheel, trying to maintain my Jeep on the "track"
(a river of mud at this moment), seeing the ravines by occasional "flashes"
on the left-hand side and the mountain on the right, through occasionnal peeping
holes in the white curtain some call "smog"...
I do not remember
how I managed to stop at the bottom, but I well remember what's next...
The giant chimpanzees, finally
At the bottom of the mountain, I
met the two servicemen, big and sturdy, who were going to take me to see the chimpanzees.
Leaving once again the Jeep on a track lost in the middle of nowhere (way of speaking),
we sank into the forest. I later believed that I would stay there forever, 6 feet
No, no, no cannibal chimps, no rebels armed up to their teeth, no
tornado... Only the forest. Tropical. Both servicemen communicated by "phonie"
(kind of a walkie-talkie) with colleagues to try to find the chimpanzees. We walked
more than 6 hours, and I believed that my "athlete's" heart (according
to my doctor) was going to give up. The servicemen were fresh as roses in the
morning, opening the way with machetes, while I was slowly burning up all my energy.
Climb a tree blocking path. Crawl under the other one. Rise. Go down. Up. Walk.
And then... Finally... There are the famous and rare
giant chimpanzees. Observe them, see them living free,
well protected by this thick "jungle", which
would later become an immense desert plain after the episode
of the Rwandese refugees (more than a million) in 1994.
I was very, very relieved to be back on the worn seat
of my Jeep later that day. And very, very happy to have
had the chance to see these big monkeys closely. Again,
a blissful smile lit my face... Which was very dirty,
that day ;-)
Next page : in the
jungle, The Rwindi