Tag Archives: Bwindi

News: Presenting at Overland Expo 2014

Commandeering a boda boda in Uganda

Commandeering a boda boda in Southwest Uganda

I’m excited to announce that I’m going to be a Presenter at this year’s Overland Expo in Flagstaff, Arizona, 16th-18th May 2014.

As many of you know, I was there last year manning the Charley Boorman stand with my friend Billy Ward. I had a great time meeting lots of fellow overlanders, adventure motorcyclists and 4×4 enthusiasts, and really loved the adventurous spirit and camaraderie that filled the air over those three days at Mormon Lake, about 2 hours’ ride from Phoenix.

This time round, I’ll be doing a one-hour session about my recent three-month African Film Adventure in southwest Uganda, down by the border with the Congo and Rwanda. I’ll be showing some clips and photos from the trip, talking about some of the challenges of travelling and filming in this remote part of Africa, and fielding questions about how to combine overlanding adventures with volunteering. 

I’m a big advocate of doing good while travelling and have done a number of trips now which have combined adventure with “giving something back”, including my big Sahara trek with UNICEF Ambassador Russ Malkin in 2010. This year I’ve been lucky enough to travel to Africa (most recently Ghana) as a Journalist with Comic Relief to film and report on the many charity projects that are being funded by them there.

Exploring the Grand Canyon after the 2013 Overland Expo

Exploring the Grand Canyon after the 2013 Overland Expo

I’m really looking forward to sharing my experiences with the OX14 audience, not to mention hearing about everyone else’s adventures. It will be great to be back at the Expo, which is now one of the biggest overlanding/adventure events of the year. I can’t wait to be back in Arizona – last time, I borrowed a motorbike and toured Route 66 and the Grand Canyon; this time, well, let’s just say I’m going to be having another good look around!

Details about session times and venue for my talk at OX14 are still being firmed up by the organisers, but keep an eye on the Overland Expo website: http://www.overlandexpo.com. Hope to see you there!

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Film Africa – Shooting Starts

Screen grab from video shot with the Batwa near Nkuringo

Screen grab from video shot with the Batwa near Nkuringo

It’s been a busy week down here in southwest Uganda. After a few weeks of field research and collating some basic bits of camera equipment, we’ve been able to do our first shooting for Film Africa – or “Film Club” as the locals have dubbed it.

On Tuesday, we headed up the mountain on motorbikes for a first meeting with the Batwa tribe near Nkuringo, to broach the idea with them of documenting their culture and way of life on film. I’d always wondered if pygmies really existed – or whether it was just an outdated term for indigenous tribes – but as soon as we met the first Batwa, I realised that at 5″4 I towered above them all! Moments later, we were heading deep into the pocket forest with them for a first taste of how they live. After showing us various medicinal herbs and some “chat” leaves (“These make a very strong drink!”), we went to one of their settlements, where they live in small huts made of mud and leaves and a rather spectacular two-storey treehouse.

The Batwa come to welcome us into the forest

The Batwa come to welcome us into the forest

We then found ourselves huddled in the dark in one of the small huts with all twelve tribe members staring at us expectantly with wide eyes. The moment had come to talk to them about our film project. With the help of Kenneth, our local guide and interpreter, we talked the Batwa through our hopes of capturing their stories and way of life on film. When we said we wanted to get to know them better, they broke into wide smiles, clapped excitedly, and invited us to come back soon to spend a full day and night with them – and they would bring their questions for us to discuss things further. We left on a high, knowing that the first step towards filming with the Batwa was done. A special day indeed and one I will never forget.

One of the local kids plants a tree at the TRees For Life event

One of the local kids plants a tree at the Trees For Life event

Then on Friday, we filmed our first big community event – Trees For Life, a tree-planting event organised by Louise, a fellow volunteer. The whole town of Rubuguri turned out for a day of ceremonial tree-planting, speeches, music and dancing. As usual, the kids stole the show with their colourful costumes and enthusiastic singing as they led everyone down the town’s main street towards the ceremony.

So the Film Africa project is well and truly up and running. It’s been a struggle with limited electricity and minimal equipment but, undeterred, we’re now forging ahead!

Uganda – The Adventure Begins

First boda boda ride from Kigali, Rwanda

First boda boda ride from Kigali, Rwanda

Well here I am in Rubuguri, southwest Uganda – a remote town near the border with Rwanda and DR Congo. It’s exactly three weeks since I came here overland from Kigali and I hardly know where to start in describing this place where I’m setting up a new film project for the local community.

It’s a dusty one-street town teeming with life and typical of many in remote, rural parts of Africa. Women carry all manner of items on their heads, picking their way slowly but surely along the sides of the road. Men drive goats and cows in front of them to distant mountain pastures, while others come off the land back to town, wielding huge lethal-looking machetes and sweating in the tropical heat. Kids with bare feet and dirty faces run along, calling out to me: “Mzungu, mzungu!” (“white person!”) and sometimes, “Give me money, give me pen!”

A music roadshow rolls into town and I'm caught up in the middle of it!

A music roadshow rolls into town and I’m caught up in the middle of it!

Motorbikes are the main form of transport here – cars are rare, apart from the odd 4×4 carrying tourists through town to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest to go gorilla tracking. All bike riding is off-road here – there’s no tarmac for miles in any direction and the local boda drivers could certainly teach budding off-road motorcyclists a thing or too about handling bikes on rough, rocky, steep terrain! I’ve been using the boda bikes to commute to and from work so far, but I’ve got my eye on a sturdy little 125cc Suzuki I saw the other day…

Things are more basic here than even I imagined – limited electricity, patchy internet, and the shops (such as they are) stock very little other than basic foodstuffs and vodka sachets! The poverty here is quite confronting – and yet the local people are incredibly warm and friendly, some of the most welcoming I’ve ever met on my Africa travels.

Entertaining the local kids!

Entertaining the local kids! Photo courtesy of Louise Henry

It’s in this environment that I’m charged with the task of starting up Film Africa – a film project that will enable local people to use film to tell their own stories and spread vital health, conservation and education messages. With resources painfully limited, it’s going to take a lot of improvisation and a large dose of patience to get anything off the ground here, I think.

Armed with one small camcorder-style video camera (I desperately need a bigger one!), we’ve already made a start. On Friday, I filmed with the local Sunbeam Project, a music and dance project for orphaned and vulnerable kids. They were rehearsing for a performance at a local event and their sweet, perfectly in-tune voices filled the skies above with a rich, full sound that was unmistakeably Africa.

There are some big challenges ahead, but this place has already captured my heart. Happily, my work means I’ll have to integrate with the locals and I can’t wait to see Uganda through their eyes. And with a new set of wheels, I can’t wait to explore further afield – Lake Bunyonyi, Lake Victoria and the National Parks are already calling me! Yes, my African Film Adventure has truly begun…

African Film Adventure 2013

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Uganda

The magical landscape of Uganda

Well after a few weeks back in the UK, I’m now excited to reveal the details of my next adventure! It will star Africa, volcanoes and great lakes, rare mountain gorillas, a rural village tribe called the Batwa, and yes…motorbikes!

On August 15th – yes, in just over a week’s time – I’m flying into Kigali, Rwanda, then heading overland into the southwest corner of Uganda. I’m joining a small international team there to help get a new filming initiative off the ground that will tackle conservation, health, education and cultural issues.

For three months, I’ll be immersing myself in a tiny village in the Great Rift Valley near the border with the Congo and Rwanda, filming local stories and development issues, the rare mountain gorillas in the nearby Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, and training the locals to get behind the camera themselves and make their own films. I’ll also be part of a pioneering project to bring mobile cinema (via “pedal power”!) to the region.

Filming in Africa

Filming in Africa

Living conditions will be basic – no electricity or running water, everything runs on solar power – and the location couldn’t be more remote, on the edge of dense jungle in the very heart of rural East Africa. But I can’t wait to be on the ground, bonding with my new team, getting to know the locals, and tackling the challenges of setting up a filming initiative in a far-flung but fascinating part of the world.

Those who’ve followed my UNICEF adventures will know how much I enjoy projects that combine adventure, amazing locations, and the chance to give something back. This expedition, spearheaded by a fantastic grassroots organisation called Big Beyond, really caught my eye as an experience that would supply all three!

As well as bringing my TV/media skills to the project (on a completely voluntary basis), I’ll also be mucking in with many other daily tasks in the village. And I’ll be doing my best to learn the local language, Rukiga, a form of Bantu – I’ve already got my first word: Agandi! Hello! Motorbikes (or boda boda, as they locals call them – my second useful word!) are the key form of transport here and I hope to use them not just for work but also for exploring the terrain in any free time I have. By all accounts, it’s an absolutely beautiful region, so I can’t wait to get on two wheels and explore further afield as soon as I can.

It’s a daunting challenge, but one I’m definitely ready for. With barely a week to prepare, I’m now in a whirlwind of packing and planning. Once again, I’m excited to say: Africa awaits…

For more details and to show your support for the African Film Adventure 2013 expedition:

http://www.gofundme.com/3tev04