I am back from a long awaited trip to Uganda and Rwanda. Plans had been in place and
deposit paid in Aug. 2012. While nothing would stop us from enjoying our trip, all three
of us felt like our TO, Churchill Safaris, was not up to par with our expectations. They
came highly recommended and I did my research and private messaged people who had used
them, so our experience may not be the norm, but I think future travelers need to know
what can happen.
While pre-deposit help and information was plentiful, once the deposit was paid, it
seemed like our TO was too "busy" or "traveling" or "had
Internet problems" to respond in any sort of timely manner. At one point, after
three emails and waiting ten days, I appealed on TA and finally got a response. Closer
to our trip, approximately two months out, we asked for a change to an all day chimp trek
from the original one hour trek. The three of us wired the extra money and waited for
confirmation of receipt. Eventually we all received a confirmation email, but one of us
was not credited for the extra amount we had sent. SIX emails later it was confirmed
that they did indeed get the money and the all day trek was confirmed. The night before
our trek, during our briefing for the next days activities, we discovered that an all day
trek had never been arranged! Our guide, Morris, quickly got on the phone and made the
correct arrangements. There were several smaller problems, but I chalked them up to normal travel glitches.
Our most glaring problem was with our vehicle(s). We had SIX breakdowns between Entebbe
and QENP. The first was in Kampala where we stood for over an hour at a gas station.
This was a problem with there being no transmission fluid. Morris spent a lot of time on
the phone trying to get another vehicle because it was apparent to all of us that there
was a lot more wrong than just a lack of fluid. After much ado and discomfort standing
outside, he said we would continue on.
Our next breakdown(s) happened en route from Murchison Falls to Kibale. The engine
overheated. Luckily, we were near a village so we first stopped to put tea leaves and
water in the radiator. Then we limped along to the town mechanic who removed the
radiator which had numerous leaks, not just one or two. After he worked on it for over
and hour, he took it to someone to weld something or other so we could continue. By this
time, Morris had convinced our TO that we really needed another vehicle. Eventually we
were met and we transferred everything to our new ride. I could tell immediately that
Morris was not pleased. The steering did not work well and he really had a time keeping
us on the road. The steering wheel was turned over 90 degrees in order to go straight.
At one point he wanted to switch vehicles back, but the other one had already broken down
again, this time it was the gear box. So, we continued. Two days later, leaving Kibale,
we broke down again. This time it was a problem with the front steering, suspension,
brakes on the left side. I am not exactly sure of all the problems, but after Morris
flagged down a motorcycle go to town and bring back a mechanic, they were able to
disconnect the brake and took some part off in order to enable us to get to the next town
where we visited another garage. They searched for a bolt and eventually got us back on
the road, but still no front left brake. Unflappable Morris was still trying,
unsuccessfully, to get us some reliable transportation when the Land Cruiser started
filling with smoke and we all tried to get out but our door was jammed. Morris got us
out safely, but by this time we were upset and a little scared. We were out in QENP
about 40k from Mweya in the heat of the day with no shade to be seen. Trusty Morris, who
is known and liked by everyone, was eventually able to have a friend come and get us and
take us to Mweya. Of course we had no guide and no vehicle, so we sat around Mweya and
missed our scheduled game drive. Morris spent that afternoon trying, unsuccessfully, to
get the vehicle patched together. The next day he did take us, very gingerly, on a game
drive and then left us at Mweya while he tried again to get the vehicle repaired. He
didn't turn up at dinner as planned, nor at breakfast the next morning. So, we packed
our bags and sat in the hotel lobby until he came. It turned out he had been too late to
get in the park so he stayed outside.
Next was our drive to Ishasha. He had gotten Churchill to send yet another vehicle which
we were to meet in a nearby town. Well, it was sideswiped by a truck filled with coffee
beans and the driver mirror, window, and air cleaner were all broken. After switching
the air cleaner and drivers mirror, we continued on. Now we had no driver window as they
couldn't be swapped. So, the rest of our trip we were to be subjected to all the dust
and no vehicle security and of course problems when it rained.
While I realize that problems can happen and Morris did an excellent job under extreme
conditions, we should have been given a new vehicle back in Kampala. The problems with
these first two vehicles were not simple breakdowns; they were from a lack of
maintenance. Who sends a vehicle out with no transmission fluid? Or a vehicle with
extreme steering problems? Or numerous holes in the radiator? The last problem was no
ones fault really, but I found it interesting that the third vehicle was actually in
decent running order. Why weren't we provided with something reliable from the
We spent many uncomfortable hours on the side of the road and missed one game drive
completely. After my complaint, Ether said she would compensate us for our lost time,
but of course I have not heard a word since, nor do I expect I will.
This is not intended to scare anyone off. I have no experience with any other company in
Uganda, so this may be normal. Our trip was still wonderful and Uganda is a beautiful
country with warm and welcoming people. My intent is to warn people of what sort of
things can, and did, happen to us.