Back in October my husband and I went on a 10 day safari in Kenya and Tanzania. We had several hiccups along the way, and while we rarely ever complain, we decided to take this up with the owner of the company since we had spent so much money on this safari, and expected so much more. Below is the email which we sent to the owner the same night the safari ended, and we were back in our hotel room in Nairobi. I had planned on making a review, because I would like to be informed if I was considering a trip with EASTCO, but I was waiting for him to provide us with our refund, which took many months. And instead of writing up a new review, I decided to use this original email that we sent to Simon.
My comments will be in brackets.
1) We would like to bring up the pre payment procedure as our first point of interest. We are not entirely sure why a credit card cannot be used for the purchase of the safari. At first we were apprehensious about using your company because not being able to use credit card, and having to pay 50% up front seemed to be fishy. This process in the future may scare off potential customers. Not only because it seems fishy, but also because people cannot collect points on their travel credit cards. I personally had to open a Paypal account for the purchase of this trip and was not too thrilled to have to submit my credit card info to PayPal for only this one purpose. Coming from Pakistan I had a somewhat difficult time getting USD and it cost me money to do so. Also having paid cash to the drivers I was unable to benefit from travel points on my Visa card.
(Obviously my husband just really wanted to earn points on his credit card, but not only that, it's incredibly difficult to transfer money - scratch that, not only is it difficult, it's actually impossible to transfer money into foreign accounts unless you do it at the bank, in person - into foreign bank accounts when we don't live in Canada and have Canadian bank accounts and credit cards. Thus, we had to open a PayPal account - not a huge deal, but still.)
2) We would like to get into the criteria of the itinerary and the quote that was given to me to coincide with the criteria. First of all, we were promised under your company's contract (itinerary), it states "this is a private safari with all game viewing in 4wd land rover or land cruiser". For the Kenyan portion of our trip this was not met as we were picked up in a safari van.
3) The itinerary also states "2 liters of bottled water per person per day". This was also not met for the Kenyan portion of the trip. I truly believe that this was not the guides fault as I brought it up to his attention and he explained to me what he was contracted out to do. I feel like the details of the trip were not laid out for him from the admin management side of the company. If the details were laid out for him, one, he would not have been in a van, and two, we would have been provided with water. Instead of having to purchase with my own money.
4) On day 3, according to the itinerary, we were supposed to have a morning game viewing in the Masai Mara before we made our way to the Kenyan-Tanzanian border. This criteria was not met. First of all, we woke up at 0400hrs to depart 0500hrs from the camp. We are unsure of anyone who wants to wake up that early on vacation for one, and for two, we did not arrive to the border until 1130hrs. The day should've been written as a travel day to Serengeti along with a night safari within.
(Again, waking up that early was not a huge deal. We knew the days would be long, however, when you're given an itinerary and half of the things don't happen, it's annoying, especially when you've paid thousands of dollars for this.)
5) As for the incident at the border. We arrived to the border at 1130hrs to meet the driver on the Tanzanian side for 1200hrs. We cleared the port of entry and called the head office as the Tanzanian guide was not there to meet us. At 1200hrs we were told from Betha that the driver was running late and that we had two options, either wait 1 hour for the driver, or to take a taxi to the Serengeti and meet the driver at the gate. Since we were reluctant to take a taxi all that way in a foreign country without any cellphones, we chose to wait. After 1 hour with no sign or word of a driver, we called Betha back using the Kenyan guides phone. Betha stated that the driver was having car troubles but is on the way. After another additional hour, we contacted Betha again and asked to speak to someone higher. She then provided us with Mr Bernhard's contact info. After speaking with Bernhard, he told me that he would get in contact with the driver and call me back, to which he complied. We were then told that the driver would be there soon. At this point it was already 1530hrs, and we had spent 4 hours at the border. By the time we had arrived at the Serengeti gate, it was too late to enter. We stayed at Speke Bay which was nice, but again did not meet the criteria of the itinerary.
(I should mention here that the Tanzanian guide never did come to the border to pick us up. We were picked up by someone else who lived near Speke Bay, an hour from the border. But we had no idea that it wasn't our guide and he didn't speak very good English either. Our Tanzanian guide didn't show up to Speke Bay until 8pm that night so it's a good thing we didn't wait for him at the border. He claimed car troubles, meanwhile Bernhard and Simon said he just didn't leave in time and blamed it all on him. So who knows what really happened but it's frustrating when people are just telling you things, like oh the driver is on his way, when really he isn't. Also, Speke Bay was actually fabulous but again, not what we signed up for. But again, we were meant to have a night drive and be on our way into the Serengeti that night, which obviously didn't happen.)
6) Upon arriving at the Nabia (Ngorongoro) gate, we were denied entry as the company card that was supposed to have money on it had run out, and they were supposed to have put more money on it. We had to pay the entrance fee out of my own pocket to expedite this issue. This money was supposed to be utilized to purchase a keepsake in Tanzania, as this will be the only chance to get something there and this is our ritual whenever we travel. We did not get a chance to purchase a keepsake from Tanzania as we had to save the last bits of cash that we had for tips, and we were unable to find an ATM machine that would work with our card.
7) It turns out that the driver had a completely different itinerary than us. We were supposed to spend the last 3 nights in Naitolia according to our itinerary, when the drivers itinerary had us only staying in Naitolia on the last night, and in Ol Tukai the other nights. Ol Tukai was never mentioned in our itinerary. Why were the itineraries different?
(It was confusing and a little scary actually, being in a foreign country and having the guide taking us to places that were not on our itinerary, which we had given to family members for emergency purposes. This may not seem like a big deal to some people but obviously I am a little paranoid and I was seriously freaking out. )
8) We never conducted any night drives as stated in the criteria. This is our second time in Africa so this is not our first rodeo. We have been on night safaris before and learned about the different animal behaviors and appearances during different hours of the day. We would also like to point out that we were given 2 different stories to why night drives could not be conducted. One from the driver guide, and a different story from Bernhard. We will let you find out the true reason for this, as we do not know.
(For the record, our guide William told us that the people working at that camp (the owner of the safari company owns a few of the camps we stayed at) had forgotten to bring the lights for the night drive. Later on we were told by Bernhard that it was because poachers had been spotted in the area and if we were out driving around at night, we could have been confused for poachers and the rangers could have shot us.)
9) We would also like to point out the quality of the vehicle during the Tanzanian portion of the trip. This vehicle was in poor working condition and barely road legal. The vehicle was unable to handle the posted speed limit and allowed an unusual amount of vehicles to pass us. It's not fun getting a nice dust shower every 2-3 minutes by passing vehicles.
(Seriously, the vehicle was hideous and absolutely crap. The roofs on these safari vehicles pop up, so you can stand up in them and have a better view of the wildlife. One of the poles on ours was broken so it had to be tied up with a thick rope to keep the roof from falling back down. And obviously this was a bit of an issue when it started raining and we had to take extra time to untie the rope instead of just popping the roof back down like all of the other vehicles in perfect working condition.)
10) According to the criteria, "all park fees and conservation fees, all village fees" were covered. What villages? The closest thing to a village we saw was one mans household and it was while we were in Ol Tukai, which was not part of the itinerary, if you recall. And seeing villages and culture was high on our to do list.
(Simon, the owner, was aware that we really wanted to see villages and culture. We went to one in Kenya, which we had to pay for and then the one in Ol Tukai, which obviously we weren't even meant to be at.)
11) After 4 days of waiting for someone to bring me the money I was owed for paying the entrance fee (see #6) so that I could buy a keepsake, I went to see Bernhard personally when we stopped in Arusha. Upon speaking to him I learned that there is no petty cash system, or company bank account float to reimburse me. He had 4 days to come up with the money and yet failed to do so, though kept telling William that perhaps someone would come to meet us with the money. It was not a surprise that we would be in Arusha, so he could have had the money ready. I'm going to chalk it up to lack of attention to detail on his part, but he still seems like a credible business man.
To be frank with you, these are just the main issues that arised. In conclusion, we would like to say that we feel the guides did the best they could with what they were provided. We feel that the breakdown in the system came from the admin management side of the business. If it wasn't for seeing the animals and meeting the people that we met, this trip would've been a complete and expensive bust. Looking back to when we decided to go with your company we were caught between budget safari and luxury safari. We decided to go with your company because it appeared to be somewhere in the middle; however this trip was far from cheap. We expected around 3-4 star experience, based on the criteria, to only be disappointed with a barely 2 star outcome. We are being very honest when we say that our land rover was actually the worst one on the road throughout the whole trip, by far. This is unacceptable as I'm sure some of those were budget safaris and would've cost less than what we paid.
Obviously we expect the to be reimbursed what we were out for the Nabi gate incident, but will leave all of this up to you to come up with a reasonable amount of restitution for all of the short comings during the trip.
(Before booking with EASTCO, I had read bad reviews, but I just assumed that maybe those people were picky or hard to please and that we could still go and have a great time. I've stayed in hotels that I have loved, that other people have hated. And I am not a picky or high maintenance person. We were fine with sleeping in a tent and showering with cold water. Unfortunately though, the trip wasn't as great as it could've been.
I would not recommend EASTCO. There are so many other safari companies out there, a few which we saw a lot of (and had really nice, new, shiny vehicles) were Bush2Beach and Leopard Tours, so I'd look into either of those 2 if you can.)