35 Days of Backpacking with a Donkey










Marc Ethienne Cuendet at Lake Bunyonyi, the Gorilla Highlands; photo by Miha Logar
Marc Ethienne Cuendet at Lake Bunyonyi, the Gorilla Highlands; photo by Miha Logar

Ever thought of travelling with a donkey? Marc Ethienne Cuendet, 26, once briefly tried it in Morocco and liked it so much that he bought Rafiki in Mubende and walked with her to Lake Bunyonyi! Their 35-day route went through Fort Portal, Kibale Forest and Ibanda; they avoided Queen Elizabeth National Park not to tempt the lions but ran into some trouble with baboons and drunkards.

Marc comes from a Swiss family of vegetable and fruit farmers. He will take over their farm with his brother next year, and he wanted to tour a bit beforehand. He has been on his way for 9 months, spending most of it in Ethiopia (4 months) and the rest in Kenya and Uganda. He prefers travelling slowly. He especially likes moving on foot and camping, so a donkey was a natural companion – he could load most of his stuff onto her. He still kept a backpack on his own shoulders, “otherwise it would be like slavery”.

Rafiki with Marc Ethienne Cuendet; photo by Miha Logar
Rafiki with Marc Ethienne Cuendet; photo by Miha Logar

Rafiki is not high maintenance. Once he used dog shampoo to wash her “like a car”, once he went to a vet to get her an injection against worms. She needs maize seeds, grass and water and loves sweet bananas – whenever Marc ate them without sharing, Rafiki would start crying.

Every morning she was so eager to get moving that Marc found it hard to control her: that was the only time he used a leash. The other problem was that she would want to return where she had slept and it took Marc quite some energy to change her mind.

Most people had never seen a donkey. Most thought it was a camel. After Marc got tired of the same questions being asked in every village, he began to lie for fun. People would believe him everything (including that he started with the donkey in Burkina Faso) but not the only truth he shared: that he was a farmer. “Can you dig?!” they would say. White people can’t be farmers!

As he moved towards the Gorilla Highlands, the numbers of drunk people bothering them as they walked kept increasing. He found that very annoying, and generally had enough of the experience. He found a buyer for Rafiki in Fort Portal and is now working on getting her there by truck.

… Oh, and not to forget that Kibale Forest incident: Rafiki would not fear even a big aggressive cow but is scared of monkey-like creatures. Getting surrounded by 30 baboons in Kibale totally freaked her out… They were alone, Marc and her, and she was acting crazy. Well, thankfully other people came, chased the primates away and the adventure could continue…

Marc Ethienne Cuendet preparing Rafiki; photo by Miha Logar
Marc Ethienne Cuendet preparing Rafiki; photo by Miha Logar

This story was originally posted on the Gorilla Highlands Facebook page in April 2015.