Launch of the Uganda Chapter of the Explorers Club
The Muzungu is always up for a bit of an adventure
, as regular Diary of a Muzungu readers will know – but what about “exploration to advance the frontiers of field research and scientific exploration on land, sea, air and space”…
I was thrilled to be invited to the launch of the Uganda Chapter of the Explorers Club – “the first real (sub-Saharan) African Chapter,” joked Dr Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka, our hostess for the event. The evening was co-hosted by Corne Schalkwyk from Premier Safaris and Marasa Africa.
Gladys and Corne are the Uganda Chapter’s first two members. Will the Muzungu join them?
Star of the show and definitely the Best Dressed: Dr Gladys Kalema and the Muzungu. Explorers Club Uganda
The Explorers Club’s East African connections
You may not have heard of the Explorers Club, but you may be familiar with East African primatologists Dian Fossey
and Dr Jane Goodall
Dian Fossey studied the Mountain Gorillas of Rwanda. Tragically, she was murdered, probably by one of the poachers she fought in her protection of the gorillas. Photo source unknown.
Dr Jane Goodall D.B.E. is most famous for her ground-breaking studies of the chimpanzees of Tanzania. Dr Goodall is now a UN Messenger of Peace
You will probably have heard of Gorilla gorilla Berengei the Latin term for the Mountain Gorilla, named after the German explorer Oscar von Beringe who in 1902 became the first non-African to encounter the mountain gorilla and identify it as a separate sub-species.
Oscar von Beringe identified the Mountain Gorilla as a separate sub-species. Thus we now have the term Gorilla gorilla Berengei.
Sign of the times: In the old days, ‘finding a new species’ usually involved killing one… the above photo shows a Mountain Gorilla killed by von Beringe. Interestingly, this photo is on display at the Explorers Club HQ.
According to Wikipedia, “in 1921, eager to learn about gorillas to determine if killing them for museums was justified, Explorers Club former President Carl Akeley
led an expedition to Mt. Mikeno in the Virunga Mountains at the edge of the then Belgian Congo. In the process of “collecting” several mountain gorillas [for zoos], Akeley’s attitude was fundamentally changed and for the remainder of his life he worked for the establishment of a gorilla preserve. In 1925, greatly influenced by Akeley, King Albert I of Belgium established what we now know as Virunga National Park – Africa’s first national park.”
What a list!
- First person to the North Pole.
- First person to the South Pole.
- First person to the summit of Mount Everest.
- First person to the deepest point in the ocean.
- First person to the surface of the moon.
But as the American comedian and actor Groucho Marx once said:
“I don’t want to belong to any club that would accept me as one of its members”
– Or do I?
I’ll be honest, I was tempted to dismiss the idea of the Explorers Club as a bunch of boys (women were not allowed to join the Explorers Club until 1981); a neo-colonial adventure – or just another American ambition – but, I decided to check my cynicism in at the lobby and jump right in…
Last year I was asked to create a Photo Map of Uganda to commemorate Conservation Through Public Health’s 10th Anniversary
Diary of a Muzungu interview with the Explorers Club
I was keen to know what made the Explorers Club decide to come to Uganda?
What is in it for Ugandans? And what’s in it for the Muzungu?
Alan Nichols is the eloquent and engaging president of the Explorers Club. My first question to him was more basic:
Is there anything left to discover?
“Forget what you have heard about the golden ages of exploration, it’s actually now. The 21st-century is the age of exploration. THIS is the golden age!”
The Explorers Club president’s excitement was palpable…
Alan explained how important technology is in 21st-century exploration. Modern cameras allow us to plumb the depths of oceans and photograph coral reefs, for example, and conduct research that was once impossible.
What made the Explorers Club decide to come to Uganda?
“We believe that the Ugandan chapter of the Explorers Club will help develop a new attitude to exploration.”
The Explorers Club is leading the change in the view that ‘explorers discovered Africa.’
Alan was quick to dispel any of the ‘old school’ associations of Western colonial types ‘discovering Africa.’
“Africa was already here, we didn’t discover it!”
He fully acknowledged that most places ‘discovered’ by the Explorers were already well known to local people.
What is in it for Ugandans?
Alan is wholeheartedly encouraging Ugandans to become actively involved in the Explorers Club’s activities. Alan took time to explain that the 21st-century explorer could just as easily come from Uganda and decide to interrogate some aspects of America.
Individuals can apply for student grants, for exploration projects in Uganda, overseas, even in Europe or USA – as long as they meet with the criteria of the Explorers Club.
“It would be really interesting if one of your students travelled to America, just like previous explorers, anthropologists and so on, travelled to remote villages in Africa to study your village life. I would like to hear what a Ugandan scholar would have to say about the town I live in in California. That is the switch. The idea is that we see the Uganda Chapter as showing the way – along with Bhutan, Morocco and other once so-called ‘undeveloped’ countries – to help us develop a new attitude and new findings within exploration.
We are looking at world centred exploration, not western centred exploration.”
Later the Muzungu had a chance to interview Alan and ask him about his travels around Uganda and his own explorations.
Have you been to Uganda before?
Was the gorilla trekking what you expected?
“Yes and no. At one point, I caught the gaze of one of the Mountain Gorillas. That was a great moment.
The Muzungu noted a similar feeling expressed by other Explorers Club members: these individuals freely admit that – in some senses – they have been spoiled. For example, after randomly encountering elephants on the edge of the rainforest on the beach in Gabon, it’s then hard to adjust to be being part of a scheduled overlanding trip, which neatly packages your wildlife encounters into a one-hour session, one Explorers Club member
explained to me.
What inspires you to travel?
“It’s in my DNA and always has been – and as you know our DNA all came from Africa!”
Alan Nichols has completed several Club ‘flag’ expeditions, scores of other expeditions and written 30 publications, including books. He was the first person to cycle the entire Silk Road (10,300 miles) and the first person to climb the sacred mountains of China when those areas were open to foreigners.
Which item can’t you travel without?
“My Tibetan cowboy hat.”
The Muzungu would love to be an Explorer and take part in some of the Club’s expeditions. Do you have any tips for me?
“We have over 50 flag (Explorers Club approved) expeditions each year. Each one must prove to a Committee and our Board that they will add to the world’s knowledge. In addition, there are hundreds more expeditions that we don’t keep track of. To take part, it’s vital to become a Member of the Explorers Club and participate in a Chapter or other exploration activities. With an open mind and a volunteer spirit, you’ll find plenty of opportunity.”
Enough said. My bag is packed!
So dear reader, where in the universe would you like to EXPLORE?
What and where shall we explore in Uganda? I’d love to know your ideas!