Tag Archives: Uganda

No Fixed Abode: 18 Months Living Out Of A Suitcase

Soaking up the sun in Andalucia

Soaking up the sun in Andalucia, southern Spain

As many of you know, in March 2013 I left Melbourne – quit my job and my rented apartment, sold all my stuff including my car and beloved Suzuki motorbike – and, with no “Grand Plan” or itinerary in mind, threw myself, for better or worse, into the big wide world. Armed with a suitcase and some savings, my self-appointed remit was simply “to live a little”. Eighteen months on, I’m sitting here in a little cafe on the sunny Andalucian coast, sipping an Americano and looking back on what a year and a half it’s been.

Gorgeous Granada

Gorgeous Granada

I kicked things off last year with a couple of months in beautiful Granada, soaking up its gorgeous Moorish architecture and ambience, indulging in tapas and southern Spanish wines, and generally living la vida loca for a bit. All very nice – but soon I was itching to DO something and, after heading to London in the hope of scoring some casual work with a charity such as UNICEF, I found just the challenge I’d been looking for…

Getting to grips with a Ugandan boda boda!

Getting to grips with a Ugandan boda boda!

Bring on 4 months in the farthest reaches of Uganda and Rwanda, near the border with the Congo, working with a small British NGO to set up a community film initiative for local people, teaching them video skills to enable them to tell their own stories about their lives, culture and key issues like health and education. I was plunged into a surreal and challenging life in a remote town with no running water or electricity. I filmed with a local pygmy tribe, had a heap of adventures involving 125cc Chinese motorbikes and some of the roughest terrain I’ve ever been on, and helped pioneer “pedal power cinema” (screening films in remote areas where, in the absence of electricity, you use a common or garden pushbike attached to a dynamo to generate power to run a DVD player!). Not to mention spending time with gorillas…

With the Comic Relief crew in Ghana

With the Comic Relief crew in Ghana

Coming back into “civilisation” after all that made me all the more appreciative of the simple things in life (light switches, showers, internet, Suzuki motorbikes…) and Christmas back in Granada saw me making the most of all these things and more! Early in the New Year, I landed some freelance work at Comic Relief‘s London HQ – and barely a week into the job, they posted me out to Ghana to oversee some vloggers making YouTube films about some of the charities Comic Relief funds in the capital, Accra, and in remote Tamale, near the Guinea border. I was the proverbial “pig in shit”, loving being back in Africa so soon and enjoying, once again, being able to act as a mentor, this time to two young film-makers.

Standing simultaneously in 4 states - Utah, New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona!

Standing simultaneously in 4 states – Utah, New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona!

After some work on the Sport Relief 2014 campaign and a few months overseeing, amongst other things, a documentary about the Street Child World Cup, shot in Brazil, India and Tanzania, it was time to hit the road again – this time in the good old US of A, yeeha! I’d been invited to be a presenter at the Overland Expo in Arizona, speaking about my Uganda/Rwanda Film Adventure, and decided to combine this with a road trip through some of the surrounding states for a few weeks. After a great time catching up with fellow travellers at the Expo, I spent some time hiking through the mighty Grand Canyon before hitting the road to travel through Utah, Colorado and New Mexico and some of the most memorable and challenging scenery I’ve ever encountered.

On location with the Zambian TV crew

On location with the Zambian TV crew

All too soon, my money was starting to run out again and it was time to look for some more work. Back in London, though, work was proving pretty tough to find – until yet again, the travel gods smiled, and a contact at the BBC emailed me about an opportunity to consultant produce on a series of documentaries being made in Zambia. Again, this was an offer too good to miss –  I found myself winging my way to Lusaka for a few weeks to work with a local Zambian documentary team on a UK Aid/DFID-funded film. It was very challenging work but after delivering a first film that “exceeded expectations”, they asked me back to oversee a second documentary – so back I went to Zambia!

Jeanie at Grand Canyon 2013

There’s adventure out there somewhere…

All of which brings things pretty much up to date and finds me here in Spain, sitting by the Mediterranean Sea, contemplating what’s going to happen next. Looking back on the last year and a half, it’s been a roller-coaster of unforeseen opportunities and adventures that I could not have imagined before leaving Australia last March. I won’t lie, though – as a wise man (or woman?!) once said, “you can’t have the ups without the downs”: there have been more than a few hairy moments when I’ve had to stretch my money to the max and tighten the old belt considerably to make ends meet. Plus, living out of a suitcase as I have been – staying with friends, in cheap B&Bs, remote African village with no amenities (!), calling home “wherever I lay my hat” – is not always as glamorous and fancy-free as it sounds: sometimes you just want to be “home” somewhere, surrounded by all your own “stuff” again. But as all you long-term travellers out there well know, once you get a taste for “life on the road” – the freedom, the feeling of being truly “alive”, the chance that there’ll be another adventure just round the next corner – it’s pretty addictive.

So what next? Well, like I said at the beginning, there’s no itinerary and no “Grand Plan.” The next chapter is, quite literally, waiting to be written. What I can say is that it will take just one phone call, one chance email, or one random encounter, to set me on the road to the next adventure. Can’t wait to see how it’s gonna turn out…! 🙂

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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!

African Film Adventure: The Final Week

Well, here I am at Kigali Airport, Rwanda, looking back over my final week in Uganda with Film Africa. Yes, after an incredible three months in Rubuguri, the last week has gone in a flash – and what a week it’s been!

Film Africa's first graduation ceremony

L to R: James, Justus, Amos, Kobs – here I am with Film Africa’s first graduates!

My first four Ugandan film trainees graduated with flying colours, becoming Film Ambassadors who will spread skills throughout their local community, as well as making their own short films. I’m so proud of what they’ve achieved, and although it’s time for me to go, I’ll be remaining as Film Africa’s Project Director, so I can keep raising funds, equipment and awareness of the initiative, no matter where I am in the world!

In a second ceremony, the “stretcher groups” I’ve been teaching First Aid and disease prevention to also got their certificates. It was a wonderful community event and I felt so proud to have contributed something else in addition to the Film Africa work I’ve been doing – health education is desperately needed in this far-flung community and their appreciation of my teaching was so heartfelt. A wonderful day.

This fella was a natural poser for the camera!

This fella was a natural poser for the camera!

I also went gorilla tracking in the gorgeous Mgahinga National Park right on the border with DR Congo – another one of those life experiences I will never forget. Scrambling around in the steep muddy rainforest to find the gorillas, accompanied by trackers hacking their way through the foliage with machetes, was memorable enough (!) – but finally coming across the gorillas in their natural habitat was surreal. The group were sitting up in the trees feeding, including a huge silverback, and unbelievably they seemed happy to pose for photos while we just sat down below observing them. The physical exertion it took to find these amazing creatures was more Bear Grylls than David Attenborough, it has to be said – but wow, was it worth it!

Saying goodbye to some of the kids

Saying goodbye to some of the local children

All up, my three months in rural Uganda has been an incredible experience and the people I’ve met here – fellow volunteers and locals – have been wonderful to work with. Very sad to leave…but I know I’ll be back!

And so, what next? Well, the plan is to head to London Heathrow via Doha, pick up my motorbike gear, and then go back to beautiful Andalucia, southern Spain, to plan my next adventure… See you on the other side!!

Road Trip To The Ssese Islands

At the Equator, 100km from Kampala

At the Equator, 100km from Kampala

After five weeks of pretty hard work setting up the Film Africa project here in Uganda, I decided it was time to take off for a few days and see what else this amazing country has to offer. And craving to see open water again, I decided on a trip overland to Lake Victoria to spend a few days in the glorious Ssese Islands.

With only a few days to spare, fellow volunteer Louise and I decided to split the cost to hire a car and driver. A wonderful guy called Godfrey, who’d driven us from the Rwandan border to our new home in Rubuguri, said he’d do the trip to and from Kampala/Entebbe ferry port for 1 million Ugandan shillings (about £250), which sounded like a bargain to us. So at 7am on Thursday morning, we hauled our luggage into Godfrey’s battered Toyota Corona and set off for the long haul northwards.

For the first two hours to Kabale, we enjoyed the notorious “African massage” as we bumped along precarious dirt tracks through the mountains around Bwindi. Early-morning cloud hung in the trees, giving everywhere a magical feel – we truly were “Muzungus in the mist”! When we finally hit tarmac – the first we’d seen for 5 weeks! – there was elation at the smoothness of the ride. The 10-hour journey overland to Kampala was a profusion of roadworks, dusty bustling towns, markets teeming with produce, and occasional wildlife-spotting.

The MV Kalangala to Buggala Island

The MV Kalangala to Buggala Island

After a night in bustling Kampala, we battled through the capital’s chaotic traffic to the Entebbe ferry port, to pick up the MV Kalangala across Lake Victoria to the Ssese Islands. The ferry was crammed with people, goats and all manner of produce – our First Class tickets afforded us a cushioned seat rather than just a wooden one, but otherwise we were squashed in alongside dozens of other passengers.

Buggala, Ssese Islands

Buggala, Ssese Islands

Three and a half hours later, here we are on gorgeous Buggala Island, the largest of the 84 Ssese Islands. I’m writing this by the lakeshore, sitting on a pristine white-sand beach with the soporific noise of the tide washing in and out. How wonderful it is to be back by water again!

The bird life here is extraordinary – I’ve already seen shoebills, herons, storks and dozens of other varieties in the past 24 hours (apparently there are 240 bird species here!). Vervet monkeys scamper all around us, watching us cheekily from high branches. The Mirembe Beach Resort we are staying in is basic but clean, and the overwhelming sensation here is of enjoying unspoilt natural beauty.

Vervet monkeys scamper round the cottage

Vervet monkeys scamper round the cottage

Looking out across the vastness of Lake Victoria, our home down in the mountains of the southwest seems a world away…

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