#DiaryofaMuzungu’s Charlotte looks back at 2021

(Posted 19th January 2022)

Article by Charlotte Beauvoisin, first published at http://www.diaryofamuzungu.com

Pandemic people – my best of 2021

From #LockdownDiaries to gratitude! Diary of a Muzungu’s review of 2021

Wasn’t 2021 extraordinary? Isolation has given us all an opportunity to rethink many things – whether we wanted to or not! – and I certainly ended the year in a more positive frame of mind. This would not have been possible without the support and inspiration of so many friends and colleagues. Pandemic People is dedicated to them.

The biggest shout-out goes to my family who I had not seen for nearly 3 years. When I finally made it back to the UK for my dad’s 80th birthday, I took every occasion to reconnect with family and childhood friends, reminisce, dip into the family photo archives and allow myself to be full-throttle nostalgic! Travel to Red List UK via Spain was a logistical nightmare but a useful exercise to share with would-be travellers.

Cheers to the octogenarian! 2021 was the summer of reunions

I do not confine my gratitude to 2021. Many of the people I list below have been with me – frequently just virtually – since the start of the pandemic. I share my thanks to them individually here, in no particular order:

In 2021, Ugandan athlete Joshua Cheptegai won gold and silver medals at the Olympics in Tokyo. Ugandan social media was buzzing for days after his win and British sports commentator Rob Walker’s words went viral:

“And what unadulterated joy this win will have triggered back home in Uganda – one of the friendliest, most beautiful countries you could ever hope to visit!”

Rob Walker, sports commentator

Joshua Cheptegai won Uganda’s first gold medal for athletics at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 and gave millions of Ugandans reason to be proud! Rob Walker’s words were the icing on the cake.

As regular Diary of a Muzungu readers know, home is a wooden house at Sunbird Hill, on the edge of Kibale Forest, my green sanctuary during the pandemic. I have endless stories about my incredible life here with Julia and Dillon. I remain Grateful everyday.

When Internet failed me (and my mojo was at an all-time low) aviation expert and fellow travel blogger Prof Wolfgang Thome invited me to publish a series of #LockdownDiaries for his site ATC (Aviation, Travel and Conservation) News. Although my morning forest walks frequently felt like the 1993 film Groundhog Day, lockdown gave me the chance to connect with nature on a deeper level.

Travel writer friends Solomon Oleny, Prof. Wolfgang Thome, Edgar Batte and me, Charlotte Beauvoisin at Kilimanjaro Airport, Tanzania, with Precision Air (pre-pandemic)

Damn has this digital nomad missed traveling! Solomon Oleny and I both write for Ng’aali, Uganda Airlines magazine.

In 2021 I took my first flight with Uganda Airlines to Mombasa. It was a great experience!

When I want to know what’s going on in Kampala, my friend and social barometer Arthur Mwenky Katabalwa is just a tweet or phone call away! (Newspapers can only be bought in Fort Portal, an hour’s drive from home).

Bradt Guides author Philip Briggs lives in Wilderness, South Africa, where they endured some of the toughest lockdown measures. His daily run around the cabbage patch in his garden inspired me to start running again. (Ironically, he was the first person I know to have had COVID-19).

WTM London 2021 gave me a chance to finally meet my virtual colleague Daniel Quintana in person

Daniel Quintana of I Like Local was the first person I spoke to when we finally got broadband Internet (several painful months into lockdown). How different our lives were during the pandemic: he isolating in modern Miami, us in the forest! In December 2021, I Like Local announced that they will become “the world’s first community-owned travel marketplace… we aim to prove that organizations can be run more sustainably by focusing on maximizing impact and conscious growth rather than focusing on profit maximization at all costs.” Learn more about becoming a co-owner of I Like Local.

With so much on hold, I’ve missed working with my web developer Sam Risbond. I know we’ll be back on track in 2022 😎

As the pandemic hit, Steve Dumba voiced his concern at how I would survive with tourism dead in the water. Dumba helps me update this blog and runs E-zone School of Computing in Kampala.

Steve Dumba, Wolfgang and I are members of Kampala’s dynamic WordPress developer community

In 2022 I will dedicate more time to working with Isaac and his brilliant team at Neuwelt, a media and technology company (think websites, apps and world-class graphic design). Another support team member I must thank is the ever-patient George Mukalazi of Laz Systems tel +256 702 926323. George is my go-to person in Kampala for fixing PCs and laptops.

I was honoured when Miha Logar invited me to be one of the Gorilla Highlands Experts, a global team of volunteers who are passionate about developing and promoting responsible tourism in the Gorilla Highlands of Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Above are some of the Gorilla Highlands Experts team. Diary of a Muzungu is pictured middle left, counting birds in Semliki Wildlife Reserve (and dodging hippos near Ntoroko!)

The Gorilla Highlands Experts’ virtual picnics and group Zoom sessions reconnected me with coffee growers in Kisoro, expert chef Rama Ramadhan Sindayigaya in Rwanda, award-winning photographer Marcus Westberg in Sweden, Jon “The Voice” Lee in California and countless others all over the globe. I can’t tell you how much that connection has meant to me during lockdown. Gorilla Highlands’ latest endeavour is the SEE AFRICA BREATHE AFRICA podcast.

Charlotte Beauvoisin, Diary of a Muzungu with “Uganda Safari” book author Andrew Roberts. December 2021. Kampala

I was tickled pink when Andrew Roberts asked me to help with a spot of proofreading for his fantastic Uganda Safari book. Andy and I worked together at the Uganda Conservation Foundation. You may know Andy as the co-author of the Bradt Uganda guide.

I was over the moon when Susan Muumbi invited me to write an article for The East African. In 2018, we tracked Rwanda’s gorillas and attended Kwita Izina gorilla naming ceremony together. Here’s Susan’s story about our big cat safari in Akagera National Park.

Above: Charlotte Beauvoisin with Susan Muumbi and the brilliant Dr Carmen Nibigira. Pre-pandemic days at Kigali Serena Hotel, Rwanda

Harriet Owalla James is bae! This prolific Kenyan writer is a fantastic travel and tourism promoter. We first connected on social media and met for the first time at Magical Kenya Tourism Expo in 2019, as pictured in the above photo. (I’ve missed these expos!) Harriet goes beyond the cover shots to interview key players in the industry. The pandemic has prevented us travelling together but we are hatching a plan to make up for that.

Daily connection with nature has kept me sane (well, almost!) A high point of 2021 was getting back into running. Kudos to Canada’s top fitness trainer 2020 Philip Ndugga for the virtual coaching.

What’s worse than being stuck in lockdown? Being in lockdown when you are a freelancer! Journalist friend Amy Fallon and I compared notes on our double dose of isolation. Best way for us both to get through it? Start running again!

Ah…. the sea! View of the Indian Ocean from Mombasa Serena Resort, Kenya – Diary of a Muzungu’s first stop after having both Astra Zenecca jabs!

The sea – specifically the Indian Ocean – was the number one thing I hankered after during lockdown and my first international trip was to the 5 star Mombasa Serena Resort, Kenya. The thought that I would see the ocean again made the first few months of 2021 bearable!

While tourism was closed in 2020, I watched how friends in the Kenyan coastal resort of Watamu came together to feed a community that was financially decimated by lockdown. They were some of the first people I had to see after lockdown. Kudos to Jane Spilsbury, Steve Trott, Mike Mwangombe of Watamu Marine Association, Mel and the team at Hemingways Watamu, Lynne Elson and Tushar (and many others) for keeping the community going. In December 2021, KTN News Kenya broadcast a report about the Watamu Marine Association’s work to protect the Indian Ocean’s wildlife and beaches. This circular economy project: creates jobs to collect plastic waste, upcycles old plastic to make cool products, cleans the ocean to protect wildlife and keeps beaches clean to welcome tourists!

Watch this short video “Saving marine life: Estimated 8 million tonnes of plastics enters the oceans” a Watamu Marine Association initiative

One of the upsides of travelling on your own is having quality time to connect with new people. In Kilifi (north of Mombasa), rafiki Thomas Mbashu of Tripesa and I discussed Kilifi’s tourism attractions over fish, prawns and oysters at Nautilus Restaurant – a delectable treat after all those months in the village eating posho and beans!

Kilifi sunset dhow cruise with Captain Issa, organised by Distant Relatives Backpackers, Kilifi

A week at Distant Relatives renewed my desire to be a digital nomad… If you are looking for a cool place to hang out, party and enjoy superb live music and DJs, at extremely affordable prices, look no further than Distant Relatives Backpackers in Kilifi, midway between Mombasa and Watamu. Far more than just a backpacker hostel, DR is one of the most innovative, well-run places to stay on Kenya’s coast. Distant Relatives Backpackers Instagram page is 🔥!

While most of us tourism folk languished in the doldrums, Albert Ntambiko showed us how to turn a business around during the pandemic. What do you do if your café isn’t allowed sit-in customers? You reinvent yourself as a takeaway business! Coffee at Last is in Makindye, Kampala.

Breakfast at Kikorongo Lodge with Mungu, overlooking Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda

I have missed the lovely Moreen Mungu during the pandemic. Our trip with the Kasese Tourism Investment Forum was a highlight of my year. In Kasese, I was honoured to speak alongside David Gonahasa, the brains behind Tripesa, a company I will tell you more about in 2022, and Home of the Gorillas Initiative that “seeks to increase global awareness of Mountain Gorillas by leveraging technology to generate non-trekking revenues towards gorilla conservation.”

It was great to chat about conservation with Ian Redmond OBE, chairman of The Gorilla Organization and leading great ape expert

I could listen to Ian Redmond for hours: he is a master at explaining complex ideas in non-techy language (for us non-scientists!) For example, did you know that the ‘ecosystem services’ offered by a single forest elephant are valued at 1.7 million USD? This recognises elephants’ value in carbon sequestration (preventing the release of carbon and thus reducing climate change). This staggering amount of money is in addition to elephants’ value to the tourism economy. Ian is co-founder of Rebalance Earth a social impact company that proposes using block chain technology to offset carbon emissions: win:wins for elephants, forests, local inhabitants near National Parks, the climate, EVERYONE!

In 2021, Ian was part of the team that launched Ecoflix “the first not-for-profit global streaming platform dedicated to saving animals and the planet.” Do check it out!

Dr Celestine Katongole in traditional Baganda attire at Kasubi Tombs, Kampala, Uganda

Every interaction with Dr Celestine Katongole is a learning experience. Celestine masterminded Uganda Tourism Board’s tourism recovery plan and the award-winning Entanda Tours (traditional hunting experience) near Mityana. His latest project is Work & Rise a company that “connects people who have jobs to those looking for the jobs.”

Jean Byamugisha preparing to hike Mount Elgon, Uganda, accompanied by porters and Uganda Wildlife Authority rangers

Sleeping in a tent up a mountain is not for the faint-hearted, especially when it’s your first time. I was intrigued to know why Jean Byamugisha CEO of the Uganda Hotel Owners Association, chose to swap her self-confessed ‘boujee’ lifestyle for walking boots and a tent. In Out of my element Jean shared her personal account of climbing Mount Elgon. I really felt her pain! (And her determination).

Grade 5 white water rafting in Jinja, Uganda pre-pandemic days. Peter Fabricius (left), Beewol and Truth. Beewol’s “A wet and wild escapade” is the funniest read this side of the River Nile

The CBI project to train tour operators in digital marketing involved Peter Fabricius and I writing a syllabus and developing training materials. Revisiting old content in the context of the pandemic brought some illuminating discussions and a new hybrid approach: in-person group discussions, live remote presentations from Peter’s home office in Cape Town and virtual breakout rooms on Zoom. Working with Peter is like having my own personal coach – I can’t think of a better way to get back to full-time work!

Theo Vos is the driving force behind Kara-Tunga Tours and the #DiscoverKaramoja brand. We were photographed at Kara-Tunga Safari Camp, Moroto where Theo shared his experiences managing one of Uganda travel’s best YouTube channels

Finally – after so many years daydreaming – I made it to Karamoja, where Theo told me all about their plans for the Warrior Nomad Trail and the Tour of Karamoja Uganda’s ultimate wilderness bicycle tradition, taking place in April 2022. “Expect a physical and mental challenge, rich cultural encounters, dramatic scenery and Uganda’s finest wildlife.” The Warrior Nomad Trail takes you 6 completely unique days / 6 stages through Uganda’s final frontier on the extreme edges of the East African Rift. The final days are celebrated in the award-winning Kidepo Valley National Park.

Digital marketing training with the Karamoja Tourism Academy – an EyeOpenerWorks project – Moroto, northeastern Uganda

I’ve loved being a small part of implementing the EyeOpenerWorks’ vision for tourism and hospitality. I look forward to working with Martijn, Lex, Laiqah and the team again soon.

It was a pleasure to spend two days with Sheila Kogo-Malinga at Kisubi Forest Cottages off Entebbe Road. Her company Lodge Solutions is a one-stop shop for everything you’ll need if you’re setting up a tourism business in Uganda.

In 2022 I’ll be travelling to Tanzania. Kudos to CEO Sirili Akko for the great work Tanzania Association of Tour Operators TATO are doing promoting Tanzania during the pandemic. Their approach has been radically different to Uganda’s but as long as visitors are travelling to Africa again, I’m happy!

In London, I attended World Travel Market. Africa had little representation but West Africa Tourism Association did the continent proud. Here Daniel of I Like Local introduced me to WATO’s delightful CEO Ola Wright.

Harriet Fowler is a great guide to West African food as our recent lunch at Bight of Benin in Nakasero, Kampala proved! Harriet has her finger on the Kampala’s pulse. After 30 years living in Africa, there is nothing this resourceful lady can’t tell you about expat life

Horizon Guides has grown to be a reputable travel brand. I’m thrilled that Matt Barker asked me to update the Guide to Tracking Mountain Gorillas in Rwanda and Uganda, a project we first launched in 2016.

Liz Warner is one of the UK founders of Different Kind, and former CEO of Comic Relief, a new online marketplace for “goods that do good.” I got a buzz from recommending a few ideas from Uganda and hope to recommend more as DK evolves.

David Attenborough continues to inspire us all to take better care of our planet. His short New Year message for 2021 gave me hope! (It may be a year old but the message is more pertinent than ever).

How inspiring to have a young Ugandan woman at the forefront of the global climate change event COP26 in Glasgow UK! The brilliant Vanessa Nakate was a key spokesperson. Uganda has a formidable environmental activist, why are we not listening to her?

In this short clip, Vanessa Nakate talks about the changing weather patterns in Uganda. “Historically Africa is responsible for just 3% of global emissions yet is suffering some of its worst impacts.”

Closer to home, I am a big fan of the work of AFRIYEA and their practical clean-up Fort Portal / River Mpanga campaigns. Let’s support young environmentalists in 2022!

Trends indicate that post-pandemic, more of us will choose to travel sustainably. Silver linings! Kudos to Judy Kepher-Gona and the team at Sustainable Tourism and Travel Agenda in Kenya who are at the forefront of training young people and tourism businesses on how to operate sustainably. I hope to attend their annual summit in May 2022. Follow the event hashtag #STAS22.

David Bakeine invited me to track the rhinos at Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, western Uganda. I can’t wait to revisit for a longer stay!

We were delighted when our former colleague Lilly Ajarova became CEO of UTB, but can you imagine being head of the Uganda Tourism Board during the pandemic? Not to be deterred, in 2020, Lilly led a team of climbers to the top of Mount Margherita, the highest point in Uganda. Where she leads, others follow. Domestic tourism has come of age during the pandemic!

Lilly Ajarova, CEO Uganda Tourism Board. Hiking Mount Rwenzori Uganda. December 2020. PHOTO UNDP, UTB

Voluntary Service Overseas was my ticket to a new life in Uganda (and the first three years of Diary of a Muzungu recount those life-changing experiences). In 2021, I was delighted to help promote VSO’s work in an interview with Woman and Home, the U.K.’s bestselling women’s magazine.

“Approaching Entebbe Airport, bright orange sunshine filled the plane. I felt like the sun was rising over Africa and my new life. I was a little nervous and very excited.

VSO was a passport to an incredible life. I didn’t know anything about Uganda beyond Idi Amin, Lake Victoria and mountain gorillas, but I had a feeling I might stay longer than my two-year placement …”

And what does 2022 hold for Diary of a Muzungu?

I don’t know how I would have survived the last two years without everyone featured here. In small ways and big, they’ve helped and inspired me. I’m still processing so much of the last two years. I felt hopelessly lost at certain points but now I’m just letting things settle. Conservation, digital marketing training, travel travel travel and AFRICA will continue to be central to Diary of a Muzungu but quite how that all pans out, I’m still figuring out!

Mwebale nyo – thank you – to everyone who has attended my training workshops and to the lodges, tourism activities, destinations, and tour operators that advertise in the Travel Directory. We look forward to brighter times 🙏😎

My last thank you is to everyone who reads Diary of Muzungu! Wishing us all the very best for a successful and happy 2022! Keep in touch – sign up to my monthly newsletter.

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