What I Learned from Hikers on the Gorilla Highlands Trails

One must say that the world is changing! As a guide leading trekkers across our region for over 10 years, I have learned a lot and forgotten nothing culturally, economically and politically.

Culturally, who can deny that girls in the Gorilla Highlands region are a source of wealth in the family? If you want to marry someone’s daughter in Uganda or Rwanda, you must consider many things. The bride price is determined based on the level of education, hardworking nature, behaviour and family background of the girl. So when our hikers tell local people that there is no payment involved in their marriages, they get surprised! Even more shocking is how girls need to pay for boys among the Indians!!!

Polygamous marriage (one man sharing more than one wife but not one woman sharing many husbands) is allowed here, as long as the man is capable and has enough resources. However, tourists cannot believe such things can happen, thus we have come to understand that both women and men have equal rights in the Western culture. It is one-man-one-wife there, yet instead of marrying more ladies guys tend to cheat on their spouses.

It is so interesting when a tourist tells you about his job and how long it took him/her to save money for the trip. It’s true, the level of their savings is high but the cost of living is high as well. Talking about savings, we also have some rich guys here but they don’t like adventuring. A wealthy man can easily spend a lot of money on very luxurious hotels, partying with women and men. Tourists, on the other hand, budget well and I have learnt how to wisely spend my money from them.

I’m proud of my cultural heritage… I always get impressed with how tourists show their interest in learning and experiencing our local way of life! It was hard to believe that somebody from another continent wants to learn about your culture and beliefs. They have interest in us and they respect us. I found it wonderful when I brought a Carpe Diem [external link] group to Mama Bena and they were all dressed decently, knelt when they greeted the grandma, shook hands with both arms and participated in cleaning the dishes.

Our treks in the Gorilla Highlands region have brought about cultural exchange. This happens especially around campfires when trekkers discuss issues and everybody shares folk tales. I didn’t think before that Westerners have such stories!

We once sat down at Lake Kyaumbu with our host, a lay leader of Church in Uganda. He believed condoms did not exist, so he asked our visitors why they didn’t have children yet they slept together. They told him about different ways of contraception, and we spent some good hours at the fire.

Local people are becoming more romantic in their love affairs after experiencing the way some tourists do it. Even today in the remote areas where we trek, some still don’t get it when it comes to kissing. A couple hiking with us kissed at a certain point and the locals wondered if one was feeding the other with the mouth! Only children are kissed here, and only by their mothers and fathers.

It has been noticed that visitors from abroad like sharing and intermixing. It always makes for an interesting couple when a local guy marries an international! Such couples behave in a totally different way compared to couples from the same culture. For example, they want to spend more time together and they give each other more attention.

Observing tourist behaviour I have learned how to treat my wife in a better way, respecting her more, taking care of her needs and being more open in my conversations with her.

photo by Marcus Westberg


  1. Dear Owen, your humorous and intelligent words have made me a sunny day. Not only you observe and compare the different relations in marriage and family in very different cultures, but you also make your own totally new values on these basis. Literally – and this is rare – you transform and practice them in your own family and share with friends.

    I hope your wife read your article and gave you a big french-afro-whateverkindof a kiss!

  2. So interesting and entertaining to read! 🙂
    Just like locals are interested in the strange and various ways tourists behave, so are we (foreigners) interested in what they find intriguing, shocking, disturbing… I’d love to read more from Owen and other local people’s observations. What other tourist culture and behavior did he learn from and adopt in his life? What are some things he reckons we, foreigners, got completely wrong?

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