Unapologetically Miha

This is the first Gorilla Highlands quarterly newsletter delivered to subscribers by email. If you wish to get future issues simply register.

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New Year’s eve at Tom’s Homestay, Lake Bunyonyi (Uganda)

There were tiny gorillas all over the place: dangling from the tall bamboo trees, playing across the gently sloping volcanic landscape, and peering at a small group of visiting humans — all of whom were smiling from ear to ear. Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park had served Shannon up a treat.

When she handed me her phone with these photographic memories two days later, we were sitting together on an hour-glass shaped island in the middle of Uganda’s Lake Bunyonyi. We had just put 24 floating candles on the water’s surface and popped a bottle of brut champagne in a dugout canoe, celebrating the end of 2023. Relaxing around the campfire, Shannon excitedly shared pictures and stories of her gorilla encounter, as our visitors always do.

Normally, having seen thousands such photos — it simply comes with the job — I’d be nodding along politely. But not this time! Our American guest, who had grown up reading about Dian Fossey in National Geographic, had given her elder son a truly special wildlife experience for his 21st birthday. Her younger son was not yet old enough to track gorillas (the age limit is 15), so he and the boys’ father went canoeing on the Mukungwa river instead. In the afternoon they all came together for a chocolate workshop. “What a day!” Shannon commented.

You are going to have to trust my words about the gorillas on her iPhone — and revel in the images they had created in your mind — as when I write this the family is hiking into the remotest areas on the western side of Bunyonyi. At the same time another Gorilla Highlands traveller, Andrew from Britain, is beginning to cycle along the shores of Lake Kivu on a 10-day journey towards the Democratic Republic of Congo.

I met him yesterday morning in Kigali, before he was driven to Gisenyi and I squeezed myself into a “Cross Country” shared vehicle to Uganda. We spent most of the time talking about a podcast episode that our SEE AFRICA BREATHE AFRICA team intends to record with Andrew about western DR Congo. He works (and plays the electric guitar!) in Kinshasa, his job is in nature conservation, and he has plentiful knowledge about the Congo basin, so he will make a perfect guest. I was thrilled!

… Because, you know, deep down I am a media person devoted to changing Africa’s image. I became a tour consultant out of necessity — nobody else on the team was willing to take the job — but if I could, I would rather plan podcast interviews than toil to obtain scarce gorilla permits and book boutique accommodation.

First day on the Congo Nile Trail (Rwanda)

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Well, this new email product is built on an assumption that you know Miha Logar, or that you are attracted to his gigantic star power. Joking aside, at this stage of the development of the Gorilla Highlands idea, most people have actually been pulled in by an individual — me. However, as my number one priority is to build a team, delegate, and divest, in the future there should be less and less Miha in your face. In 2023, we had 100 tour guides take part in WhatsApp-based trainings, found Joe Kahiri a new SABA co-host, added a couple of youngsters to our office team, and, most significantly, held a Youth Spaces pilot program with very limited involvement from my side.

The Youth Spaces pilot was beautiful to witness. I apprecited experts from around the world answering our call to advise 26 Rwandan students every Saturday. It’s not hard to image what an impact such activities would have if done in three countries, connecting future leaders across borders … That would certainly bring us closer to the prosperous and peaceful Gorilla Highlands region of our dreams!

After I made a fundraising video for the program, its participants hardly saw me again — despite these kids being very dear to me. My life is a non-stop calculation about what needs me most at the moment, and Youth Spaces had a brilliant little team to run it. The only way forward is to get more stuff done this way.

As a substitute for my slowly fading direct involvement, you will receive a long-form email four times a year, explaining the thinking, the struggles, and the passion behind everything that’s happening. It will replace the bullet-point newsletter that used to keep everyone updated about Gorilla Highlands matters.

 In preparation for Youth Spaces in 2024, a Christmas Camp with Rwandan and Ugandan participants took place last month on Lake Burera (Rwanda).

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Andrew’s was one of the two very-last-minute travel inquires we received during the Christmas season. He chose us because we “could build a customised cross-border itinerary combining mountain biking and visiting national parks” (to quote him). He had looked for cycling in Rwanda on the internet, read about the Congo Nile Trail, found our web page about it, appreciated the amount of detail and the freshness of updates … and with his free time being constrained, he preferred us to do the arrangements for him.

The fact that his unorthodox travel wishes made me enthusiastic to help proves something important: 20 months after making tour consultancy my main job, I still kinda love it. As does the truth that I didn’t need to personally rush to Lake Bunyonyi to enrich my guests’ New Year’s eve, but I wanted to anyways. With my Muzungu (“white man”) background, it’s often easier for me to understand the preferences and needs of foreign visitors than it is for our local guides.

Also, I love young clients (Shannon’s 11-year-old is very cool) and Ghana is an important market for us …

Last year Kirsten, a Canadian diplomat stationed there, researched active family holidays in Rwanda and ran into us. They came, enjoyed our services, and — according to Shannon and other Ghanaian residents — had great things to say about their experience. (It humbles me that they reportedly consider it their favourite African tour.) Moreover, people tell people and through the immense power of word of mouth, we are already getting Ghana-based clients who haven’t even met Kirsten!

When I’m asked how we advertise, my answer is that we don’t. At the moment we can hardly cope with what we get organically. But anyone who knows my mindset probably understands why I decided to enrol in the not-so-cheap Tour Business Coaching program in 2023. This is supposed to get really big one day.

Some recent shots of Miha: with Alex at Kahuzi-Biega in Congo (a result of the pandemic article in the Washington Post) — on Lake Tanganyika in Bujumbura (Miha’s first ever visit to Burundi, accompanying a remarkable Cypriot client) — in a Kigali downpour (in the so-called dry season; don’t let anyone fool you!)

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Big for a good reason, of course. We have opted to prioritise our tourism side when communicating to the world, but look at how we present it in our WhatsApp guide training materials:

“We have the opposite of what usually takes place … It is common for a tourism business to add a non-profit section or a project that it pumps some money into. In our case, it is the non-profit organisation (Gorilla Highlands Experts) that is the real mother of the tour company (Gorilla Highlands Ltd). Based in Musanze, Rwanda, GH Ltd is meant to become an engine that powers the ambitious work of GHE.”

We once had a super smart volunteer at Lake Bunyonyi who could not understand why the concept of social enterprises/non-profit businesses even existed. He believed that you do something to make money, or you don’t call it a business.

I, on the other hand, thrive within the zone of the private sector — its speed, the energy, the no-nonsense attitude — but couldn’t care less about being rich in a financial sense.

I love being rich in all other ways, of course, and I wish that kind of abundance to you in this newly-born year. If you stay faithful to your values and do things that make your heart vibrate, all kinds of wealth will follow.

Happy 2024!

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