Some months ago our guide Owen Bright shared what he had learned from hikers on Gorilla Highlands Trails. This time he wants to give them some advice …
When travelling in Uganda and Rwanda, keep in mind that you are visiting cultures different from yours. Try to understand them and do not get upset when they surprise you.
Some words that you avoid are commonly used here. We say “fat” or “big” in our communities and people feel comfortable with their size, so it’s fine calling them what they are… When I realised that tourists don’t say that at home, I found it funny. At the same time, I understood that it was painful to hear those words. For example, when we hiked from Lake Bunyonyi to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, we met a gentleman who liked one of our female hikers and kept telling her how big she was. “Like my own sister,” he said admiringly. But our lady felt annoyed and it took the man some time to grasp that she was uncomfortable being called fat. I encourage travelers to always feel free to talk about anything that they are not alright with.
Locals consider lower parts of the body the most private. While you look at the breast as something to hide, a woman here doesn’t mind exposing her bosom for a moment. I can’t even imagine how inconvenient it must be for your women to be forced to breastfeed in private, when our ladies are free to do it anywhere! They will, on the other hand, protect anything below their waist and expect you to dress properly. To demonstrate cultural respect and avoid attracting unwanted attention, it is important for women to hide their chest, navel and thighs. Men’s conservative dressing is not that crucial but they should not have their trousers too low, flashing their underwear.
I have noticed that you don’t like begging but please understand that it originates from careless tourists. They dish money out to children, and children then expect money from everyone. It is good to give a donation to a school, a church or any organised group but not to individuals. Just do not feel obliged to do that at any point – your guided walk on the Gorilla Highlands Trails already supports many communities.
Learning our local languages is the best. Make sure you have our Pocket Guide at hand, as it includes a useful phrasebook. I have witnessed a traveller wanting to take a photo and being rejected by locals. However, once he greeted them “agandi” they started to laugh, they came closer and even didn’t mind his camera.
Express your feelings and preferences to your guide. I have learned that you are interested in many things, even in those that locals take for granted. Your questions encourage guides; when you ask you get much more.
Let me conclude with some technical advice…
The weather here can surprise you any time. Bring both warm sweaters and shorts, raincoat and sun-block. You can never be sure if it is going to rain in the next hour, but when it does, it doesn’t take long. Unlike in your home countries, a shower seldom lasts but it definitely can, for a short period of time, rain cats and dogs.
The topography of the Gorilla Highlands region is hilly so don’t expect anything to be flat. When you hear us talking about “flat” it normally means “less steep”. And you know what else won’t be flat? Your shoe soles, if you are smart… We will walk through jungles, up and down, on rocky terrain and through mud. Be prepared.
You will probably not be shocked to read that there is no electricity in remote rural areas. Buy extra batteries and power banks and charge your camera and phone before the hiking even starts. Otherwise you will miss taking extraordinary shots, or run out of juice before you reach the next socket.
Internet connectivity is sporadic but when you have a chance to access your social media accounts, please share your photos and stories with your friends at home. Become our regional ambassador by spreading your experience worldwide.
text: Bright Owen; photo: Jiro Ose
Gorilla Highlands blog essentials: