Mgahinga Gorilla National Park takes its name from the middle of the three volcanic mountains that are in the park; Mount Gahinga. To the east of it is Mount Muhavura and to the west of it is Mount Sabinyo. A gahinga is a pile of rocks, and the name is a true reflection of what the mountains are made of – volcanic rock.
Our drive up from Kisoro in the late afternoon was much tougher than anticipated. The road – as with previous access roads to remote areas – was bumpy and rocky, littered with potholes of various sizes, occasionally bisected by big puddles of water, and wound its way through villages and farmland. As we left Kisoro we could see the clouds gathering, suspecting that we might get some rain on the way up to the park. And boy, did it rain when it started. We were about 3km away from the campsite when the heavens opened and it only took about two minutes before the track was turned in to a small river coming towards us. Most people were seeking shelter, while the few caught out resigned themselves to the fact that they were already soaked through.
When we arrived at our campsite we didn’t even get out of the car to run into the office – the rain was too hard, and the porch of the building was too full of people seeking shelter. As the rain eased the porch gradually emptied and we could arrange for parking on the site – and we did manage to find a piece of lawn that was not completely soaked through from the downpour.
The campsite is community run and is situated just 50m outside the gate of the park. It is basic, but the staff makes up for it in friendliness. We quickly heated up our dinner, and then headed down to the bar – and to the roaring fire they had put on to try to keep the mountain chill away.
The following day we rose early to be at the park entrance at eight to arrange for our walk into the Sabinyo Gorge. This walk is one of several starting from the park offices, the other walks on offer including a walk along the DRC border, a climb to the top of Mt. Sabinyo, and a cultural walk with a Batwa guide. Fees paid, we were introduced to our two guides (and yes, it was only the two of us on the walk) and then we headed out. The walk took us through former farm land, through two stretches of bamboo forest, before entering the gorge. Stunning! How small you feel at the bottom of the gorge with steep mountain sides around you and the occasional cloud coming in to cover the top of the mountain. About an hour after we arrived back at camp the shower bucket was filled with warm water – gorgeous after a long hike in the sun.
That evening we decided to have dinner at the camp, again next to a roaring fire. We were joined by a Dutch couple who had successfully completed the Sabinyo peak climb, so we had lots to talk about and photos to share. The next morning we headed down the mountain, crossed through Kisoro town again, and started our drive up to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest – and our long awaited Gorilla Trek.