Volcanic eruptions responsible for the formation of Karisimbi, Bisoke, Sabyinyo and their sisters created other geographical features as well. These include lakes, rivers, craters, plateaus, basins and hot springs.
Right when I thought I had seen it all, one follower of this blog recommended a visit to Musanze caves. After years of frequent visits to attractions found on the surface of the earth, I made a decision to look for adventure below that surface.
I showed up at the tourist information office in downtown Musanze and booked a tour. Fifteen minutes later, I was driven to the mouth of the mysterious caves a couple of kilometers away. The starting point looks like an entrance of a military bunker.
I followed my guide’s lead along a rocky path deep down the scary underground channel covering a distance of about 2 kilometers through three segments.
Anything that lies beneath the ground instills fear into me. This fear seemed to be intensified by every step I took towards the interior of the tunnel. We were escorted by two armed soldiers but I was still afraid.
These caves have stood the test of time. They have survived massive earthquakes wreaking havoc from time to time. Mother nature is unpredictable but my instincts assured me the ground wouldn’t collapse. Still, I was afraid of something I can not describe.
I once watched a horror movie featuring monsters looking for their lost superstitious artifacts in dark places underneath the ground. While searching for their voodoo items, they were confronted by hostile ghosts and the encounter led to the outbreak of a bloody war. Maybe this fictitious story portraying the underground world as a battleground involving monsters and ghosts is what caused this persistent fear.
We strolled deep below the main Kigali-Rubavu highway and a higher learning institution known as INES. Yes, we walked along a horizontal opening under the ground on which the road and the school are constructed. Students were attending classes, kids were playing football, motorists were traversing the tarmac and I was touring caves below their land.
A lot of work has been done to pave the walkway inside the extensive caves. Something similar to a cobblestone footpath is built and stairs are shaped to ease climbing up and down the uneven floor. I saw several deviations from the main route into smaller, darker and scarier chambers. Although the trailer of the movie mentioned above was playing on my mind, I didn’t encounter anything apart from a colony of bats.
How were these caves formed? That’s a million dollar question every visitor asks. When volcanic eruptions took place in the Virunga area, discharged lava flowed towards the least resistant directions. As the outer parts of the streams eventually cooled down and hardened, the inner currents continued to flow unobstructed leaving behind huge openings known as lava tubes beneath the elevated ground.
Volcanic eruptions showered blessings on this land. Most tourist attractions the area boasts came into being as a result of volcanic activities. Even the dollar-coughing mountain gorillas wouldn’t have settled here without the altitude, climatic conditions and vegetation created by the volcanoes. In addition, gas extracted from Lake Kivu is linked to a substance emitted from the underground molten rock. Volcanic turmoil can be destructive and catastrophic but eruptions took place before the area attracted widespread human settlements.
There was a time in history when Musanze caves sheltered families of hunters and gatherers. Some of their tools are still there. During the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, they served as hideouts and saved lives. Today, the mammoth holes are attracting tourists and transforming livelihoods of the people. There is more to these caves than meets the eye.