After two weeks of rest and reflection we are returning to our good old publishing rhythm! The Daily Dose will be with you from Monday to Friday, but that is just a fraction of what we are up to for the rest of 2021! Allow me to pull you into the second chapter of Gorilla Highlands Experts with a very personal story …
This article is part of a 6-month Gorilla Highlands Experts evaluation that also includes an honest overview of our successes, failures and ambitions.
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It’s 7pm here on the balcony, almost freezing and somewhat eerily quiet. This top section of our rented house — the only useful space carved out of a huge pointy roof so fashionable in Rwanda — overlooks a trading centre on the outskirts of a city of ghosts.
There is an occasional heavy truck plowing its way from Uganda towards the Democratic Republic of Congo, as we are perched above a highway connecting the heart of the Virunga volcanoes to the normally busy shores of Lake Kivu. Outside of that … crickets, and my daughter singing in the living room below.
Rwanda has transitioned from an almost-total lockdown to a very-total lockdown. Even food delivery services are to be shut down for a good week, or more. That is a bummer, as we were hoping that our Gorilla Highlands Treats would grow its customer base on Vubavuba, a local app for ordering stuff.
But what is that little hiccup compared to the grand scheme of life under Covid-19?
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It was 1 January 2021 when I walked to our — now sadly defunct — office with a camera and a tripod in my hands. I arrived very early in the morning because I wanted to record a video before neighbours’ loudspeakers were to start blasting.
The message was: “join Gorilla Highlands Experts and save money and time — we are going to transform the way we travel and the way Africa is perceived”. Tour consultancy was listed among the services helping members “fully take in” Rwanda, Uganda and DR Congo, and we spent plenty of time thinking of how that level of membership was going to work.
The vaccines were ready and the assumption was that the world was digging itself out of the pandemic, allowing tourism to make a big return. Six months later our region had more cases than ever before …
It is still possible to travel at the moment and we had a highly successful Dutch Ultimate Hike happening quite recently, but the complex list of regulations and the ever-changing global situation is quite a deterrent. Few people are thinking of an African adventure right now.
Our next bet is that the situation is going to be under control by mid December when the Mega Trek begins. This plans to be a grand journey that will follow those heavy vehicles beneath me, winding their way to Congo — but we’ll take pretty village roads and scenic paths, by foot, bike or car. If the virus allows, it will bring together the amazing people who have over the decades built the Gorilla Highlands Initiative, and end 22 months of misery with an exciting bang.
Please, Nyabingi or any other gods on duty, make it happen …
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We have always felt that money earned through honest work should take precedence over charity. And it worked. We have helped uplift a Batwa “Pygmy” community, created an island hotelier on Lake Bunyonyi and a roadside family feast (see the photo above) on the Congo Nile Trail, led youngsters from three countries in their tour guiding aspirations, and more. Above all, we have expanded the horizons of countless visitors and emphasised the vital connection between nature conservation and human progress.
Until we all became a charity case.
Sure, there seems to be some consensus that our kind of responsible travel far away from mass tourism is exactly what people may crave after the lockdowns. But we need to make it to that bright future first.
That is why, in mid 2020, we started putting together the Gorilla Highlands Experts concept. And that is why, since May 2021, we have been overcoming incredible bureaucratic and technological obstacles to be able to convert your digital money into real change on the edges of gorilla national parks. Due to technical limitations, this won’t be a monthly subscription but a one-time donation.
Our message will be simple: dear people, it’s time to contribute a little something and help keep us afloat. You are investing in the time-tested ideas of social entrepreneurship; your donations are not going to create any dependency but strengthen a foundation.
You are joining a community of trailblazers.
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One would expect such a text to end on a personal note, and it will. With a twist.
It’s a numerical note: 1,080.
The number represents the total hours I personally spent on Gorilla Highlands Experts in 2021. About a half of all my productive life in the first half of this crazy year …
And, yeah, I’m ready to devote another thousand to it.
That is my contribution. What may yours be?