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Published: August 11th 2012
I decided to leave Kabale on a Sunday, which is never a good day to travel on, as the transport options are limited. I was heading towards Kisoro, as I wanted to climb Mt. Sabyinyo in the nearby Mgahinga National Park. The only transport option to travel the short 68 km to Kisoro, was a shared taxi. This was a saloon style car, which I had to wait an hour to fill up before we got going. There was 10 of us packed in as we got going, but we still stopped and picked up anyone who needed a lift. The highest passenger count we had was 14 adults, a child and a baby, who of course was being breast fed inches from my face.
The scenery on the drive was beautiful as we wound around the mountains. They call this area 'Little Switzerland'. Approaching Kisoro, there was evidence of the recent trouble in Eastern DRC, as we passed a UNHCR refugee camp, which looked like it was still being set up. On arrival in Kisoro, I was mobbed by a load of boda boda drivers who were fairly pushy. I eventually agreed with one to take me to the
Golden Monkey Guesthouse, where I managed to get a dorm to myself and arranged my trek for the next day.
Mt. Sabyinyo, an extinct volcano, has three peaks, which look like three lonesome, gappy teeth. Sabyinyo means 'old man's teeth' in Kinyarwanda and the mountain takes its name from this. The highest of the three peaks is 3,645 m and when you are standing on its summit you are standing in Uganda, Rwanda and DRC at the same time.
I was up at 5.45 a.m. for some breakfast before being picked up by a boda boda to take me to Mgahinga NP. While the distance wasn't as long as my ride from Kabale to Bwindi, the road was in equally poor condition and it was a rough 30 minute trip. The sun was just about to rise and the mountains in the area looked magical. Luckily enough, the rain was also holding off.
At the park HQ, I met my guides and after a quick talk about the trek and the park we were on our way just after 7.30 a.m. Mgahinga NP is part of the same park as the Virunga NP in DRC and Parc
des Volcanes in Rwanda. There are some groups of gorillas there at times, but when I was there they had gone over to the Congo side. There was other wildlife in the park such as elephants and serval cats. At the start we could see the evidence of elephants having walked through. Parts of the forest had been demolished and the path, which was very wet underfoot anyway, had been destroyed by the elephants walking through.
The first hour or so was through some fields and bamboo forests, until we came to the edge of the rainforest proper. The climb got a lot steeper from this point on and it was quite challenging.After about 2 and a half hours we reached the first summit and I was standing in Rwanda and Uganda at the same time. We then descended onn the other side and went up the second peak, which we reached after about half an hour. Then after another half an hour or so we reached the third peak. There was a great sense of achievement at the top, but the visibility was pretty poor as we were up in the clouds. It was also strange to be
looking down in to the Virunga NP on the Congo, where the rebels had reportedly moved into hiding from the government soldiers.
The way back down was fairly treacherous, as the wooden ladders were extremely slippery. It required a lot of balance and poise to negotiate your way down, which anyone who has seen me fall around a football pitch will attest to, I don't possess in great quantities. I fell on my backside a few times, but luckily survived without falling off the mountain. The clouds stared to clear away and the views on the way down were incredible. The descent was quite tough and I felt it especially on the knees, but once we got out of the rainforest the worst was over.
We completed the trek in 6 hours and 45 minutes. My guide told me I was very powerful. The cynical side of me reckons this flattery was down to him trying to maximise his tip. But then again, the guidebooks and the park HQ say the trek should take 8 hours, so maybe I'm fitter than I think. I rang the boda boda driver who brought me up and after one breakdown, where
he swapped his bike with some random guy going past, I arrived back at the guesthouse. After some dinner, I was asleep in bed fairly early.
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