Happy Thanksgiving everyone.
Is it just me or is it actually easier to understand what we are thankful for in 2020?
Despite business and personal struggles this year, I remain very positive. I want to thank everyone who reads this blog; family, friends and clients, whether that's once a week or once a month. I'm deeply obliged to you for letting me appear in your Inbox at all. Thank you for sticking with me and allowing me every week to walk the tightrope of continuing to encourage travel dreaming and future planning while fully understanding that it is an intensely personal decision whether you even leave your home right now. I also have deep gratitude to our host agency Gifted Travel Network, who have encouraged us advisors this year like no other, and are relentlessly driving home a positive message.
Top 5 - Uganda's Beautiful People
Early on in the trip whilst in Entebbe, I opted for a local fishing village walk in about as non-touristy an activity as you could wish for. As is so often the case in Africa, whether it's the wildlife or the people, the experience was humbling.
Kigungu is the site where Catholic missionaries first landed in Uganda in 1870. Today the village is almost exclusively devoted to the hard slog of fishing. Locals were wary of us, but friendly once the ice was broken by our excellent guide, Eric. As customary, I always ask for permission before taking photos of individuals or small groups and of course the kids steal the limelight. There is unrestricted happiness in their faces so often.
Charity was my porter for Day 2 of gorilla trekking. She literally pulled me up a mountain while carrying my backpack and somehow saved me from tripping or slipping on several occasions. Aside from it taking me a few minutes to face the fact that I really needed to accept the help, I learned just how much the local community needs tourists to return. This was Charity's first job since February and we were the first largish group since Covid began. She was a single Mom with one child and has survived on home grown produce and raw determination. The $20 she earned from this hike may need to last her another 3 or 4 months, and she will manage that. It is both heartbreaking and uplifting all at once. The joy in her eyes was clear to see. She was so happy to be back in the forest.
I don't have a photo of Deo, but he is a remarkable man and I am very grateful for the introduction to this close friend of our lead guide Eric. We were taken to a small farming village that sits just outside the border of Queen Elizabeth National Park and learned that the leading reason for success in conservation of the wildlife has been to engage local farmers, and show them that there are alternatives to poaching, or killing animals that destroy their crops. Deo has paved the way in this particular district. The trench photo represents a 6-year project, digging by hand by this village's residents, purely to keep elephants out. It's a 20km trench and there are also the equivalent of watchtowers along it, so as to to have an early warning system if elephants are approaching. Elephants can devastate a crop in a matter of minutes. We were so warmly welcomed by yet more huge smiles (above). The villagers had not seen any travelers since the beginning of the year and our small contributions to their cause were greeted with huge gratitude.
Evelyn (above) is as dedicated a lady as you will ever meet. She and her husband set up Ride 4 a Woman in 2009, an organization that supports local women struggling at home with issues associated with HIV, domestic violence and poverty. More than 300 women from 11 villages now use or work at the Ride 4 a Woman community center, where they can learn to pedal sew, weave baskets, dance, sing and drum, making it possible for their children to gain an education. The organization also offers microfinance, helping women to help themselves and support their families.
Our group was simply blown away by the quality of the sewing and dressmaking work they were producing and of course the African color palette is both bold and beautiful. I have loaded up with lots of small future client gifts, and many of our crew ordered multiple dresses, face masks and all sorts of items.
Evelyn told us that in the last couple of months she had seen hope draining from the faces of many of the women involved in the project, but us arriving and buying what we could had visibly lifted all of them and renewed their faith that better times are ahead.
This is why I travel. I don't mind weeping at sad stories. I want to know and feel what is going on in the world at a local level. I can't help everyone I meet, but just doing a little wherever I can fulfills me.
5. Ndali Lodge
Yes, it's a hotel, but Ndali Lodge is really the story of one family's determination to do something good, for both travelers and the local community. This immediately became one of my favorite hotels ever. Aubrey Price (an Englishman) has the most perfect spot to fulfil his dreams for this place. Incredibly fertile soil and a valley where the property is growing coffee, vanilla, cacao, bananas, plantains along with an abundant kitchen garden.
I've visited several spectacular locations in my time, but this may top them all. It overlooks 3 extinct volcanic craters which are now caldera lakes. Combine this with just 9 individual thatched suites, and the Eden-like garden. Above is the breakfast terrace, and below is the view from my back deck and the pool area. Heaven!
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