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TO report

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263 posts
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TO report

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.

Isle of Man, United...
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38,535 posts
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1. Re: TO report

So sorry to hear about this. Whilst things can and do go wrong it is the a manner in which they are corrected that counts in my book. I think we need more information on the background to the booking problems and to the state of repair to the first car.

<of course I have not heard a word since, nor do I expect I will.> I somehow think this is unduly pessimistic. How long have you waited? I believe Ether is in Europe at the moment so this may have delayed things a bit.

Edited: 08 March 2014, 14:27
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2. Re: TO report

Dear Pam's party,

I am sorry that I hadn't gotten time to actually get back to you in writing and apologize for the breakdown that you got while on safari but its because you actually finished your trip while I had just flown to Europe on a marketing trip and I hadn't actually ready your full safari report.

I know that your safari has just ended about 10 days ago and yes I did speak to you and apologized while on safari and promised that we will offer you compensation for the lost time because that's what we usually do in case some thing like that happens. I know these vehicles are badly beaten up on the terrible roads of Uganda and Rwanda and any thing can happen but the way you respond to the problem is what matters. While in Uganda, we did respond by calling you and apologizing and also offering a refund before you asked for it.Some one else would have just kept silent after all you had paid. That's not that way Churchill works and we were going to look at the report after the marketing trip and offer the appropriate refund as promised. which we will still do. The chimp habituation issue was just a miss communication from the reservations department who forgot to change the activity from chimp tracking to chimp habituation. I know this was sorted out immediately and clients didn't loose any thing and they were not involved in sorting this out.

So apart from the vehicle break down (which can happen when you are in Africa) but we do greatly apologize for, the rest of the trip went well and all activities done as expected. We are sorry again about this unfortunate event on the vehicle breakdown on your trip but we promised to compensate you and its going to be done asap. Thank you again. Ether

Level Contributor
263 posts
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3. Re: TO report

I was simply reporting what happened on our particular trip. Mufwe, I may have been pessimistic regarding receiving a response, but as our trip ended Feb 23rd, I thought that almost 2 weeks was ample time for a response. Oddly, I did get a response less than an hour after posting on TA.

I was aware that the roads and driving conditions were rough and breakdowns were to be expected. I was not expecting SIX breakdowns. The vehicles, except for the last, were not in good condition. (Broken window aside)

All that said, we had a great trip. I will certainly keep TA advised of future developments regarding Churchill trying to make amends. I waited two weeks to post this so that I could be fair in my assessment and not post during my frustration of the moment. I was not trying to bash Churchill but to let travelers know what may be in store for them by reporting how it was for us. Obviously most other travelers have had very positive experiences but unluckily for us, ours was less than perfect.

San Francisco...
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4. Re: TO report

keeponcruisin1, thanks for your post. It does sound like you definitely had some bad luck with the vehicles. I often wonder how many vehicles the different TOs have and how many trips they are hosting at the same time. There seems to be a fine balance between finding a TO that has experience, and enough vehicles, to be able to respond quickly to any problems that might come up or using a smaller company that might respond quickly but have fewer or subpar vehicles, or any combination of the two extremes. I think it really is the luck of the draw.

Since I'm still in the planning stage, I would love to hear more about your trip overall and see any photos you took. This forum is very quiet most of the time so I'm always thrilled to read trip reports.

And just a quick note about Churchill, I applaud Ether for coming here and explaining what happened from their point of view.

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5. Re: TO report

I don't feel Ether should be applauded for coming on here and giving an explanation. If she had had the decency to respond to keeponcruisin 1 earlier, and personally, all this could have been avoided. I think keeponcruisin 1 gave her ample time to respond, but sadly she didn't. Responding now, on here, is simply not good enough in my opinion. She is simply trying to protect the reputation of her company, with scant regard for keeponcruisin 1.

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263 posts
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6. Re: TO report

Sea-Lon, I am just beginning to wade through my pictures and will post a trip report as soon as I can get some free time.

No broken down vehicles could ruin our trip and we had an excellent trip, overall. The chimp and gorilla treks were our main focus, and they did not disappoint. We weren't expecting a whole lot in terms of other wildlife. Rather, we enjoyed what sightings we did see and began a new appreciation for the incredible number of birds we saw. You have picked a great destination and I hope to get something posted by the end of March.

PM me if you need any specific details sooner.

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7. Re: TO report

Like many of our former clients have reported/reviewed, 98% of our trips have always been successful and unfortunately this was one of the unlucky ones which we greatly apologize for. Any business owner or outfitter who will tell you that all their trips are always 100% perfect, will not be exactly honest because of many things that can happen while on safari. But again, the way you quickly respond to them and handle them does matter.

We have always been first at this as we know what it means and have been in the field for over 14 years but unfortunately, due to the bad travel timing, this wasn't the case for this group. Once again, we do apologize and ofcourse the lost time will be compensated. For Churchill, its not about how much money we make but about the quality of service offered, how its offered to any client of any category and to ensure client satisfaction and retention at the end of the day. Thank you again for your response Pam and for confirming that your safari wasn't ruined and you had an excellent safari overall!. Ether

Arlington, Vermont
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8. Re: TO report

All 3 vehicles breaking down! So, there had not been enough preparation for this one trip. Ether, I appreciate your interventions but you should consider acquiring Safari vehicles in sound condition. It is unbelievable that all the three cars were in a deplorable state! This one time holiday experience was ruined! No matter you offered to make some compensation.

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9. Re: TO report

I want to report back that our group has received a refund for our travel problems and missing game drive. I felt it was a fair reimbursement. While you can't really put a dollar amount on these things, she tried, which I appreciate. We asked that our guide receive a fourth of the refund since he had numerous out of pocket expenses without receiving receipts. I have asked, but have not yet had confirmation as to whether this was done, but I will post again once I hear. I did want to let TA readers know what has transpired since my last posting.

I am still working on a trip report.....

Isle of Man, United...
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10. Re: TO report

Well whilst this sort of thing should not happen it unfortunately does. the main thing is that firstly your overall trip was enjoyed and that Churchill did make recompense for the disruptions caused by two unsatisfactory vehicles. I have always found any vehicle takes quite a bashing on African roads and whilst such things as Fluid levels ought to be checked before problems occur I can understand when perhaps breakages of running gear take place without warning.

The third car damage was of course no one's fault as this was an RTA and not a maintenance problem. Indeed from keepon's post it was actually in good order so perhaps Bart's comment was a little wide of the mark in that all 3 cars did not breakdown although two would be two too many for most folks?

Looking forward to some pictures from you and the report of course.

No doubt you are planning another trip soon?