Hello there! My name is Charlotte Beauvoisin and I am a British expat currently living in a wooden house on the edge of Kibale Forest National Park, Uganda. The park is famous for its population of chimpanzees that I can hear pant hooting — their particular form of communicating — from my window. Kibale also has 400+ bird species, which I enjoy as an amateur birder. Next to leading the Birders group on the platform, I will occasionally write for you guys about my life as a travel blogger.
I have been an informal member of the Gorilla Highlands team since 2015. What a superb experience that first trip was! Our exploration of the region started in Buhoma where we set off for a day’s hike through Bwindi Impenetrable Forest from north to south. Although famous for its gorillas, the forest itself is spectacular! Indeed it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Since then, I have paddled in a dugout canoe on Lake Bunyonyi, explored Echuya Forest with the Batwa ‘pygmies’ and attended Gorilla Highlands Silverchef competitions at Birdnest Resort on Lake Bunyonyi; at the Kigali Marriott Hotel and Five Gorillas Lodge in Musanze, Rwanda.
What really made me fall in love with the region is the amazing local people and experiences. I have eaten crayfish from Lake Bunyonyi; fresh honey (with waxy honeycomb!) at the legendary Tom’s Homestay; drunk local brew from a gourd; and eaten lunch with the fishermen of Lake Burera, Rwanda. I can’t wait to try my next Gorilla Highlands experiences! What next – the Mega Trek?
Let me tell you some more about how I got where I am now. I have always been passionate about travelling. When we were kids, we travelled around Europe. We had the typical beach holidays and every other year we would go skiing. My grandparents lived in Majorca, so we had long holidays there. I always loved immersing myself in the local language and trying new foods.
I watched wildlife programmes from a young age and was inspired by the likes of David Attenborough and Jean-Jacques Cousteau, the diver. Sometimes my parents would wake me and my sister at crazy times in the night saying, “you have to come and watch this amazing programme!”
I went to university because I didn’t really know what else to do. If I’d had more courage (and money and life experience) I would have gone travelling right away. However, the travel bug always kept calling me. I spent one summer vacation working in a hotel in the Lake District, a particularly beautiful corner of England. Another year, my boyfriend and I drove a 30-year-old Bedford van around Ireland, trying to retrace where his grandfather had been born.
When I was in my early 20s, I spent a winter season in Tignes in the French Alps where I managed a chalet for groups of skiers. My job was to cook, clean and shop for a dozen people. I had a far better time than if I were on holiday: I spoke French fluently, had local friends, skied (for free) every day and every week new visitors arrived on my doorstep with bottles of duty-free gin! That’s the beauty of slow travel.
Next, I spent six months in the Middle East. I didn’t have much money to travel, just a flight and a bit of pocket money. By the time I landed in Tel Aviv, I already had a new friend. We tripped down to the recruitment office and signed up to work on a moshav (farm) in the West Bank of Occupied Palestine and later in the desert on the Egyptian border. Farm work was gruelling: by 5 AM we were on the back of the tractor heading for the melon and grape fields. Temperatures were in their 40s and we worked until dusk. We worked alongside Palestinians and lived – and partied with – workers from Australia, New Zealand and Thailand. Some of us were travelling the world, one was on the run from the law; many were migrant workers.
Diary of a Muzungu
I started writing my blog in 2008 when I packed up a 9-to-5 job in London to become a Voluntary Service Overseas volunteer (think Peace Corps) with the Uganda Conservation Foundation. It was life changing. I went from the comfort of the corporate world to being a penniless volunteer in what felt like a very foreign land.
My blog Diary of a Muzungu [A muzungu is a foreigner, usually white] documents my first few months adapting to a new life: leaning to live with insects (my phobia), going on safari with the rangers and meeting impoverished villagers who spend their nights chasing elephants from their crops. Now, I am at my happiest sitting in a safari vehicle, taking photos and writing notes or collecting feathers. Before COVID, work took me around East Africa, where I train tour operators in digital marketing. Right now, I am working from home which is a place called Sunbird Hill, owned by my primatologist friend.
After three years in conservation, I took a sideways step to work in tourism. I started writing about gorilla and chimpanzee tracking, birdwatching and safaris, music festivals, life as an expat in Kampala and travels to neighbouring Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Burundi. Blogging has given me the platform to work with the regional tourism boards. I have twice been awarded Best Digital Media in Uganda’s Tourism Excellence Awards.
Living in Uganda has not always been easy. One of the hardest things is the work culture, especially if you have to deal with the government. Bureaucracy can drive you nuts and there’s a lot of nepotism. A lot of work is awarded based on who you are related to rather than whether you’re the right person for the job. I even had one lady take content from my blog to win a magazine contract. That is very frustrating.
There have also been lots of dating disasters during my decade of living here. When things get out of hand, I always tell myself “at least that’ll make a good story.” I always try and turn a difficult situation to the positive and my dating stories have made for some hilarious radio talk shows! Still, I love my life in Uganda, at Uganda’s 50th anniversary of independence I even wrote down the 50 reasons why. My biggest recent achievement is being named a contributor in the Bradt Uganda Guidebook, the best guide to the country.
Volunteering is the single biggest thing I have done to get me where I am today. Exchanging skills and giving conservation organisations a platform for their stories has been an incredibly positive way to gain experience, practice my skills and help others in the process. The most important lesson I have heard is that if you really want to travel, just go. You can spend years saving up, downsizing etc. but it’s easier than ever to work and travel at the same time. There will never be a perfect time, so what are you waiting for?!