African Great Rift Valley

Before Bruce and Tass meet, Tass spends a winter traveling in South America with her friend Suzanne, and Bruce travels through Africa with his sister, Bobbi.

The photos and stories on this page are from Bruce's first African adventure in 1974.


After graduating from high school I work as a carpenter, ski patrolman, and oil field roustabout to save money for my first big trip.

Along with my sister, Bobbi, I join an expedition taking a four-wheel drive truck and Land Rover across Africa, where we hope to see remote parts of Africa that not many travelers visit.

In the Sahara Desert, Bobbi and I spend half a day filling water containers from a tiny trickle of water--the only water available in a small oasis in Niger.

During our three weeks in the Sahara, Bobbi gets amebic dysentery. Above, she is feeling better and beginning to gain back weight and strength. A few days later I get dysentery, and our truck breaks down for nearly a week, alone in the desert.

Our group camps out each night, we cook all our own food, take turns driving, and even do all of our own vehicle repairs--which ends up being substantial.

We go through three radiators in the truck while crossing the Sahara desert, break and fix a number of leaf springs in the suspension, and have to replace the clutch. And we still have thousands of miles to go!

Janet, from Australia, rolls the landrover on a surprisingly sharp curve. Both Bobbi and I are in the back seat at the time--luckily no one is injured.

My favorite place to ride during the trip was on top of the truck, which we named "Slobber Chops."

In the desert and the mountains I often had the top seat all to myself.

But as we drive into the hot and humid rainforests of central Africa, others join me to ride out in the fresh air.

Our thirteen-week route across Africa starts in Morocco and ends in Kenya.

Compare this map with the physical map on the right to find which of the countries listed above are in a desert, mountain or rainforest environment.

The red line on this map shows the eastern and western faults of the Great Rift Valley, which travels 4,500 miles from southern Africa, under the Red Sea, and into Syria in southwestern Asia. The red star is Nyiragongo volcano.
We arrive in Congo during the rainy season.

One of my jobs each day is to start a fire for breakfast and supper. Here, the fire pit I dug for the previous nights supper, along with half the field behind me, has flooded from an all-night rain.

Not to be deterred, I get a little dry kindling from the truck, and soon have a small fire of wet, smoldering wood on the pile of mud at the right. Oatmeal, again.

After crossing the Congo river on a ferry hardly larger than our truck, we drive into the mountains of eastern Congo.

In the Ituri Mountains groups of Pygmies stop us on the road to bargain. We trade an extra T-shirt for beautiful gourds and small but deadly bows and arrows.

We are now on the western branch of the Great Rift Valley, formed by movements of tectonic plates--huge chunks of the earths crust which "float" on an underlayer of molten rock. Some plates move as little as half an inch a year, while others might shift four inches each year, greatly increasing chances of volcanic activity.

One afternoon, after weeks of rain, the clouds clear to reveal Nyiragongo Volcano. When we learn that a trail runs to the crater rim we quickly decide to climb the volcano.

The next morning we begin hiking through an enormous swath of destruction, where elephants have knocked down trees and ripped off giant branches while feeding the previous night. With beating hearts we keep a careful watch so we don't stumble into them in the pouring rain. The rain continues most of the day.

At a camping hut near the top the clouds finally clear for a photo. Behind us is another, smaller, extinct volcanic crater.

I am the only one to carry a tent up the volcano, so Bobbi and I continue climbing to the summit, hoping to find a place to camp. Everyone else spends the night in the hut.

Standing at the edge of the crater rim, we look down at a rope set by two French scientists who are studying the volcano.

We find a tiny ledge to put up our tent nearby. As it grows dark the scientists appear, telling us they have a tent pitched further along the crater rim.

They also tell us we probably won't see much during the night because the inside of the crater is usually filled with clouds and mist.

But that night a lucky thing happens.

The wind begins to blow from a different direction.

As the clouds disappear we look down into the crater at huge rivers of lava flowing below us.

After twenty minutes the clouds return and block our view. We eat supper and then sit at the craters edge, waiting and hoping for more.

Around midnight the clouds began to thin again.

This time we see huge explosions as magma and hot gases from deep within the earth shoot high up into the air.

The show lasts nearly an hour, then it starts to rain. Again clouds move in and block our view.

But now we are even more excited to see more!

We stay up most of the night, hoping for another view.

At three a.m. the clouds clear one last time, and we watch in fascination for another twenty minutes.

As the clouds roll back in, I tell myself that one volcano is not enough.

That night I make a promise that I will climb and see many more volcanoes around the world. My volcano adventures have just begun!

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Volcanoes of the World