People, People, People: Gorilla Highlands Bootcamp 2017


Last evening four determined people came back from the final Gorilla Highlands Bootcamp adventure: Mama Bena’s Bonus, a two-day canoe trek on Uganda’s Lake Bunyonyi.

They proved to be the toughest of the 20 participants from 7 countries — or perhaps the ones lucky to have more time at their disposal? When you host the tourism wardens of Bwindi and Mgahinga National Parks, the Uganda Tourism Board Public Relations officer and other tourism and media professionals, you assume their time is limited.

That’s why our second Bootcamp was divided into two parts: light trekking and heavy discussions from Saturday to Monday followed by a real hike on Tuesday and Wednesday.

But there was some action already on the first day! Trying out ziplining at Supreme Adventure Park

Dugout canoeing to Bushara Island for the Touch of Bunyonyi activity…

… And meeting one of Africa’s top comedians, Ann Kansiime, at her Backpackers. (During the Bootcamp we tried to showcase as many accommodation options as we could, from BirdNest down to Heritage Lodge on Habuharo Island.)

Sunday began with Miha Logar’s presentation of what the Gorilla Highlands initiative is all about. His focus was on people.

One of the most prominent Gorilla Highlands partners was Mr Jeremiah, the traditional healer, who shockingly passed away some months ago. For the first time ever we are proudly presenting the gentleman who has stepped into his shoes: Sam Rukundo of Silverback Travel Company. Early booking is required as our fresh witchdoctor always needs to come by night bus from Kampala…

We are kidding! Mr Gad Barara is our new man presenting herbalist knowledge, and the sharing still happens at his uncle Jeremiah’s home, on the ridge of Kyabahinga peninsula.

This location offers fantastic views of both the northern and the southern side of Lake Bunyonyi.

The program of Culture on the Crest ended with lunch at Mrs Annah. Our Bootcampers then checked out Entusi Resort and made it to Tom’s Homestay by motorboat.

Divided into four groups, they discussed some critical questions related to the Gorilla Highlands Marketing Action Plan (you can download the draft here).

The following morning they went straight from Tom’s Island to Batwa Today at Rwamahano.

They did a nature walk led by Batwa “Pygmies” and then visited their community.

A perfect opportunity to learn how to handle the bow, from the experts!

Monday concluded with a debate at Bugombe Gateway, on how to best include Congo in the Gorilla Highlands initiative. We were helped by opinions sent by 30 experienced consultants from around the world.

Eric Ntalo of the Daily Monitor was one of the most passionate proponents of adding Eastern Congo to our region fully and quickly. (And, no, Theo Vos of Kara-Tunga wasn’t scared!)

In the morning it was Mama Bena time! On Tuesday morning those Bootcamp participants who were unafraid of full-day walking began their adventure on Bwama Island, a former leper colony.

They taught Lingala dancing on Sharp’s Island, and paddled towards Mama Bena’s as if trying to break the world record. It took them only 1.5 hours they claim!

They were impressed by the structure Mama Bena’s father built…

… with some special touches you don’t see anywhere else in the Gorilla Highlands region.

But it was Mama Bena’s cooking that blew their minds!

And guess what? Yesterday, not slowed down by the unfit and skipping some cultural stops, they made it through the pretty landscapes easily and rapidly! It wasn’t nearly as tough as they had expected it to be.

Being our brave ones, they have been given the honour of the last word… Pascqa Lorna Abur of Eden Adventures (Uganda) said she most enjoyed the simplicity of staying in tents — throughout the Bootcamp — far from fancy places and close to nature.

Espoir Watukalusu of Centre de Rehabilitation des Primates de Lwiro (Congo) loved the interaction with the Batwa most.

Richard Niwamanya of Kwanzi Guest House in Kabale (Uganda) was proud to have defeated his fear of canoes; before the Bootcamp he never ever allowed anyone to get him into a dugout.

Joona Mäkelä, Finnish chef who works at Orchids Village at Lake Nabugabo (Uganda) could not stop talking about the food at Mama Bena’s, and the whole experience there.

And, number 4+1, our poster girl Spacey!!! She ate too much crayfish at Tom’s and that made it impossible for her to meet Mama Bena… Specioza Kawarach, Marasa (Uganda): “I heard that the Gorilla Highlands initiative was centered around empowering local people and the activities only gave life to that statement, especially sharing meals with the local hosts, Tom, Anna, and the Batwa. I was pleased at how much they didn’t try to impress and yet we were all saying very nice things about the meals and the services, the interactions and the places. Sincerely the night at Toms Homestay with the campfire brainstorm, first time to eat crayfish, and having to shower in the lake … That I would pay to do again!”

What about you? Would you be interested in doing it ALL for FREE? Do you have experience in tourism, marketing, media, design, IT or any other field that our initiative touches on? Don’t miss the 3rd Gorilla Highlands Bootcamp from 17 to 21 November 2018 — and you can already express your interest in the form below!

text by Miha Logar; photos by Joona Mäkelä, Miha Logar, Pascqa Lorna Abur, Specioza Kawarach and Vincent Mugaba

I’m Interested in Joining GH Bootcamp 2018!

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Gorilla Highlands blog essentials:

Why Gorilla Highlands?

20 Best Stories from the Gorilla Highlands Blog

“Responsible Tourism” – Right Term, Right Way