Gahiza Island – The trip
After delivering the first inspiring Community Storytelling Workshop to local tourism professionals in Kisoro, Uganda, as part of the ground-breaking activities of Traveller Storyteller, I was invited to visit a very special place, with the goal of helping them to tell their story and reach responsible travellers interested in exploring other activities beyond Gorilla trekking. The kind invitation came from a local tourism entrepreneur, David, who unfortunately wasn’t around to join us for the workshop, and who I hope to meet during my next visit.
PART 1 – The trip
The rain started to fall as soon as we reached the pier, and the sun was coming down too.
I didn’t want to rush it: I wanted to absorb the arrival of the night, and the changing of colours around me, in stillness. But voices started calling my name, prompting me to follow my luggage which was already on the boat. We were ready to raise the anchor.
I said goodbye to some of my new friends on the wet pier and jumped onto the slippery boat deck, excited to enter these waters blessed by the volcanoes.
In fact, Lake Mutanda – several thousand years ‘young’ – was created by the lava that erupted from the Virunga, blocking the course of the Rutshuru River. Located North of Kisoro, the 22 km2 lake is dotted with fifteen small islands, of which only two are inhabited by humans: the rest are a paradise for many species of birds, pythons and otters. I was heading towards the tiniest of those islands which, according to the University of Milan, has remained deserted for roughly 700 years, and I was thrilled by the idea of spending the night there.
The last rays of the sun filtered through the grey clouds that were weighing down on us, which were giving the water a charming, velvety finish of orangey-blue tones.
Distracted by the sun and its colour creations, I almost missed one of the ‘giants’. Far off on the horizon, an inverted cone had just made space among the clouds.
During the 30-minute ride to cover the 3 km distance from the shore, the other two giants appeared.
The three siblings stood perfectly lined up on the left-hand side of the little vessel, one next to the other.
Later I learn their names from my kind host, David. The first that appeared is – not surprisingly – called Muhabura, ‘the guide’. In fact, due to its height and clear shape, it was used as a reference for people that were going to Kisoro town, before the high road and GPS phones.
Muhabura is followed by ‘a pile of rock’ – Gahinga – whose miniature often appears in local fields, instinctive creations by the farmers.
The third in the line is the ‘old man’s tooth’ – Sabyinyo – because of its jagged top, and is probably the oldest of all eight of the Virunga family members. However, it is no older than two million years, which makes it an infant, geologically speaking. Sabyinyo is also the only one whose borders are shared by three countries – Rwanda, DRC and Uganda – and is perhaps the most well known of the massif.
Their dark shapes clearly stood out against the blue background of the falling night, and although they were about 25 km away, I could feel their presence right next to me.
And silently they escorted me to the land that was waiting for me.