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The East African Safari and Touring Company - EASTCO

Sydney
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The East African Safari and Touring Company - EASTCO

Hi

My Wife & I are planning a trip to TZ later this year and after contacting many Operaters, getting quotes etc, I am thinking about proceeding with EastCo. Simon has been vety helpful in regards to information. planning and offered a good quote.

I know there are are numerous positive comments about this company but I have a few questions of my own:

1. EastCo is not registered with ToTa. I`ve read that this a cruicial. However, they seem to have TALA's Lic and registered with the Tourism Ministry - Is it vital that Tour Operators are registered with ToTa?

2. EastCo seem to have bank accounts in TZ, USA and Australia. Has anyone deposited funds to the account in Australia - Which is in the Owners Name and not a company account?

3. Can any recent travellers who used Eastco give some feedback?

Thank You

T

England
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64 posts
19 reviews
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21. Re: The East African Safari and Touring Company - EASTCO

This is also posted in the general Arusha forum but it seemed appropriate to post it here too.

Last Autumn we sought quotes for a three week trip to Uganda to see the mountain gorillas and Tanzania for a safari to include, for some added variety, the ferry across Lake Victoria and the train from Dodoma to Dar. We had three quotes and chose the most expensive because the responses from EASTCO's Simon King seemed the most competent. How wrong can one be?

We had paid over 80% of the costs months earlier, having negotiated down from 50% the amount we were asked bring in cash, but a week before arrival we were still trying to pin down with Mr King the accommodation quoted - unsuccessfully it transpired.

We enjoyed meeting the local people and seeing the animals in their wonderful natural habitat but this was marred by the EASTCO planning and management, which was quite appalling from start to finish, indeed before and after. The reasonably balanced feedback (below) to EASTCO was intended to form the basis for compensation in a process agreed with Simon King during the safari and afterwards by email. The delay in posting is due to the problems we had getting repayment from Mr King for additional costs incurred and the subsequent attempt to secure compensation for the inconvenience, injury and distress suffered when EASTCO abandoned us (and thus its duty of care to us) mid-trip.

Mr King has reneged on his offer to negotiate compensation, blaming everyone from his Uganda ex-agent for the accommodation problems to me for allegedly threatening "to destroy our business". It would appear that he is doing his best to make this a self-fulfilling prophecy.

We are reasonably experienced diy travellers so it is ironic that this was the first time we have used a tour company to organise our trip. Our experience is clearly unusual but it does little for EASTCO's reputation (or safaris in general). Does anyone know if safari operators in Arusha are regulated in any way or if there are any Tanzania Government channels or contacts who might be interested and able to help?

East Africa Safari and Touring Company Company

Uganda and Tanzania Safari

5 – 26 February 2013

Feedback to Simon King [sent 4 March 2013]

In summary:

We seem to have started with serious accommodation problems, had one or two more in the middle and finished with more, indeed we were lucky to get a bed for the last night.

Leaving us at Dodoma to fend for ourselves was a seriously bad idea and a dereliction of your duty of care to us as your customers. It might just about have been acceptable if you had arranged a private taxi all the way to the ferry terminal in Dar, but if we had known then what we now know about the terrible roads and notorious ferry agents we would not have so tamely followed your suggestion at Makuyuni.

We managed to improvise some quick changes to the itinerary, the extra night at Bwindi and the Bukoba – Mwanza ferry instead of the Walkguard. Yet you, knowing the train was not running and the state of the roads, did not suggest ditching Dodoma and rerouting via Arusha to avoid all the discomfort and distress of two hellish days on the road and two hours of extreme hassle at the ferry terminal and airport.

The itinerary was unrealistic in several respects: in the timing for Bwindi; it would never have allowed us to get the ferry at Bukoba - an explicit request; and it did not include the final night's accommodation. It was also grossly misleading about the presence of the lake and flamingos at Ol Turkul Manyara and the tarmac road to Dodoma.

We paid $20,000 for essentially a 15 day safari for four people with some b&bs at the end when we were on our own, abandoned en route to pay our way and claim back the costs from you. Given the cock-ups, hassle and distress we have had to put up with this represents very poor value. We spoke of some compensation at Makuyuni and you offered to refund the cost of the first night, which we did not find adequate. We agreed to provide this feedback as a basis for further discussion. Since, from Makuyuni on, things got a lot worse perhaps you would like to give this serious consideration. We still await the refund itemised in my earlier email. [This was eventually repaid, some four weeks later.]

Feedback

First, we really enjoyed the game drives and seeing the animals close-up. Cosmos, our driver/guide was awesome with his ability to drive well for very long periods, his incredible eyesight spotting the animals and birds - as well as policemen and speed bumps - and his constant good humour, even when faced with some of the difficulties we encountered.

Most of the difficulties seem to relate to poor planning and preparation:

1. Expecting clients to arrive with $10,000 in cash seems to be a recipe for disaster, although you did agree to reduce this to $3500.

2. The attempted substitution of Buhoma Lodge quoted in our itinerary for other cheaper alternatives was not explicitly mentioned. We had to spot it and request reinstatement. Although sorted just before we arrived it did nothing for our confidence.

3. Our arrival to find we weren't staying at the Boma as expected, even though you knew about this a couple of days earlier, shot it completely. I did say to Bernard that "this would not look good on Trip Advisor", not as a threat "to destroy your business" as you alleged later at Makuyuni but in an effort to spur him to get us to the Boma. In the circumstances it seemed only prudent to pay the remaining cash in instalments as our confidence in EASTCO returned.

4. The Land Rover and trailer were well past their best. The LR certainly looked older than the 15 months promised. There were no seat belts for rear passengers, which given the standard of road driving was surprising. Every application of the brakes, from whatever speed, resulted in an annoying high pitch squeal that did nothing for Cosmos' efforts to creep up unannounced on the wildlife. I appreciate that they get rough treatment but they both leaked like sieves:

- the LR above the front passenger door and the rear side windows, even though they were masticked shut, presumably to stop the leaks

- the trailer was a complete waste of space - our bags were either soaking, including contents, or covered in dust, which Cosmos had to shovel out from time to time. We had to suggest to Cosmos that he buy a tarpaulin to protect our bags, which he did once we reached Mwanza.

5. The trailer also slowed progress considerably and dictated our route in difficult terrain. On the first day's driving, as we approached Kibale NP, we were not able to take a short cut to the Forest Camp, instead we had to go via Fort Portal which added another two hours to the journey and meant we were not able to explore the NP in the afternoon. We urged Cosmos to ditch it but he was not able to do this before we got to Tarangire.

6. Although Cosmos appeared to know every blade of grass in Tanzania he was much less familiar with Uganda, so it was very surprising that he did not have a decent map. He frequently had to ask the way and had to rely on a hand drawn map from another driver in order to get to Bwindi. Even more surprising was the fact that he could not use his mobile phone there, presumably because he did not have a local simcard. There are very obvious dangers in not being able to communicate in the event of an accident or an emergency.

7. The schedule for Bwindi was unrealistic. The treks can take anything from a couple of hours to seven or eight, as in our case. By the time we arrived back at the lodge it was 16.30 and after showers and a beer 17.30. Although Cosmos encouraged us to start the journey to Mbarara it would have been positively dangerous for us to try. As it was it took four hours to get to the tarmac road and six hours in all, in daylight the next day, sometimes taking the wrong turning and having to ask the way. So what it would have taken at night or how far we would have got without a map or phone does not bear thinking about.

8. Although we managed to find a cheap place for the night, at the Buhoma Community Camp, it was disappointing to have to arrange it ourselves and to pay half, especially as by this time (day 5) Cosmos had all the outstanding cash - surely he should have enough to cope with contingencies like this?

9. The Bukoba hotel was a great disappointment, even though it looked the best in the book and we suggested it, but the news that we would miss the ferry if we stayed there even more so. Since we had made it quite clear before the start that we wanted the ferry and train journeys to provide some variety it seemed incredible that the itinerary as planned would not allow it. Fortunately we were able to ditch the Walkguard, since they had not been paid, and make the ferry. This turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip, especially as Cosmos said he had a very difficult seven hour road journey to Mwanza the next day.

10. I appreciate that you had to change the arrangements to book into the Tilapia but it was disconcerting to arrive without a reservation and then have to waste two hours the following day waiting for the bill to be paid before we could leave, at 11.00. This had a knock-on effect so that we were again late arriving at our next stop Mbelegeti and could not make use of the much anticipated swimming pool there.

11. It is probably the luck of the draw but the three short walking tours: the Ngorongoro crater rim, Ol Turkul Manyara and Boundary Hill Lodge all drew blanks, we were told due to local Masai activity - so it might be worth managing expectations better. In particular the "flamingos should be along the lake shore at this time of the year, so quite spectacular." promised in the itinerary proved to be a great disappointment - probably because it was the end of the dry season and there was no sign of the flamingos, or the lake! In fact we walked for an hour and they still seemed no nearer than a faint line of pink and blue on the horizon so our Masai guide took us back to his boma - something that was clearly in his mind before we started and which could have saved us an hour's walk in the baking, shadeless sun - we were not amused.

12. Food in the tented camp was fine, we even managed to get barbecued goat at special request (and so extra cost), but the food at Boundary Hill Lodge was a great disappointment - more like a basic tented camp than a lodge, such as Mbalageti. They seemed short of supplies so for example we had a pancake with every meal, had to share an orange and a slice of melon between four for breakfast fruit and there was no beer!

13. We had communicated some of our concerns via Cosmos, indeed you and I spoke when we were in Mwanza, so it was good to be able to meet but disappointing that it was as we were leaving BHL rather than either of the two previous days at Ol Turkul Manyara. The fact that we had to back track slightly to Makuyuni and thus waste an hour and a quarter waiting for you also did not help either, as once our rather fruitless 45 minute meeting was over we had to deal with the "480 km on new tarmac road" promised in the itinerary. Unfortunately this turned out not to be true as the tarmac ran out after an hour so it was not until 20.00 that we arrived in Dodoma, Cosmos driving as fast as he dared, the last hour or so in darkness - we could have done with the two hours wasted in the morning.

14. It was bad enough not being able to take the train from Dodoma, perfectly understandable if it was not running, but the "fast luxury coach" was something of a misnomer. True to his word, Cosmos arranged a taxi to the bus stand and reserved seats before abandoning us. We found ourselves packed onto the back seat and experienced every speed bump to the full. I had the centre back seat so I could sit without squashing my knees against the seat in front but had the dubious benefit of someone sitting on my feet on the aisle step. This wasn't too bad but when the driver started to lose time on the outskirts of Dar and started to overtake more dangerously we suffered. He decided to overtake a troublesome Safari beer lorry on a speed bump with the result that Ros hit the roof rack and ended up in tears while I ricked my neck from the whiplash. The woman on the other side of the back seat lay comatose for 15 minutes.

15. We were an hour late getting to Dar but a very helpful soldier,sitting next to Ros and clearly concerned about her condition, kindly arranged a taxi and negotiated a price of TZS10500 for us to be taken to the ferry terminal. The traffic was just as bad, if not worse, getting into the centre so it was not until about 16.00 that we arrived at the ferry, to find that we had missed the last boat that had apparently left at 15.45. We tried several ticket agencies but to no avail, everyone telling the same story and suggesting we take a flight. We also tried several times to call you and Bernard to discuss options, even using the taxi driver's phone to do so, but could get no response. We decided to try the airport but not before scuffles broke out between the ticket agency touts/hustlers and the taxi driver, presumably over commission. We drove off hurriedly only to be stopped after 50 metres by a traffic policewomen because the road had been closed with a presidential convoy due any moment. This enabled the touts/hustlers to resume their scuffles with the taxi driver, under the nose of the now disinterested policewoman. We had to lock our doors and close our windows to prevent attacks on the taxi driver. Eventually, with the third convoy past, the road was opened and we managed to get going again, but with the driver's door open and hands trying to drag the him from the car - it was really quite scary at times, particularly for Ros and Lissi.

16. It was just as bad when we arrived at the airport after 17.00. We were delivered to another ticket agency with just four seats left on the 17.30 last flight. Since it was so late we were told they would just issue boarding cards for seats costing $60 each. This sounded odd but we were assured we would get a receipt. In the circumstances we went along with this but the receipt also stated an explicit $40 airport tax for the four of us, even odder. We then tried to pay-off the taxi driver but he insisted the base fare to the ferry was TZS 25000, not the TZs 10500 agreed with the Samaritan soldier, so we had a stand-off. The security people would not check us or our luggage through until we assured them we had paid him - we eventually gave him an extra TZS 10000 bringing the total to TZS 35000. As we reached the gate our boarding passes were checked and we were asked for our receipt, odder still but not entirely unexpected, as the scam became evident. We paid the $40 but had the presence of mind to take a photograph of the baggage handlers involved. Evidently this worried them, for just before take-off the $40 was returned - a result, but not before Ros told me never to bring her back to Africa - for nothing had changed from her three months work in Nigeria 35 years before.

17. All the Dar transfer hassles could have been avoided if, as expected from the itinerary, the transfer had been properly organised. Moreover, since you were aware that the train was not running from Dodoma we could have saved ourselves two exhausting days travelling with all the attendant hassle and injury if you had adapted the itinerary and we had returned to Arusha from Makuyuni and stayed the night before flying to Dar or Zanzibar direct. As you said in Makuyuni you do seem to have abandoned us and your duty of care because of my Trip Advisor comment on the first night.

18. The rest in Stone Town allowed us to recover from our aches and bruises before the trip back to Dar. The transfer to Alexander's went smoothly without hassle, showing what can be done when proper arrangements are in place.

19. Gordon Alexander was extremely helpful in trying to find somewhere for us to stay the last night, he must have spent several hours on the phone before finding a rooms at the Sea Breeze Resort. It turned out to be a bit of a dump but at least we had a bed for the night - there seemed nothing else available anywhere in Dar because of a trade show. In the first room we tried the ac was spitting out ice shards and dripping water on the tv and in the second the ac was on but not noticeably lowering the temperature below 33C. Since it was the last available room we had to make do with a noisy portable unit - a great last night. Gordon very kindly arranged for his driver to pick us up at 5.45 am next morning for the airport transfer.

20. I gave you the outward and return dates on 13/11/12 with the spare day which you confirmed on 14/11/12. This amounts to 22 days yet there was much confusion with the itinerary: the headline says 23 days, the detail 20. Although I had raised the issue before we left home we finally realised that no accommodation had been booked for the last night about half-way through the trip and asked Cosmos to pass on the request for it to be booked. Luckily for us Gordon Alexander got involved at the last moment otherwise we would have been sleeping on the beach.

Isle of Man, United...
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22. Re: The East African Safari and Touring Company - EASTCO

Prompted by a TA alert to your post here, Here is a repeat of my comments on the other post <

I am very sorry to hear of your problems with this trip. I have no intention of being judgemental in my views here. It is never good to hear of anyone's dissatisfaction with a looked forward trip.

I do see several places where EastCo appear to have fallen short of providing what you requested. However there are also instances where perhaps you expected too much in the first place. I recall your first posts under "Sanity check" and I recalled saying this was an ambitious and complex trip. It certainly was.

There are several points where you seem to think EastCo should take blame for instances where the problem was outside their control and perhaps when looked at in this light it diminishes some of the real problems. eg. Can you really blame EastCo for the bus journey from Dodoma, the hassle at the Ferry and Airport in Dar etc., the faults at SeaBreeze?

I also think you are somewhat misdirected about the detour in Fort Portal. If coming from the south that is the road I would have taken to Kanyanchu and I don't think there is a viable short cut avoiding FP. There IS one if coming from Hoima/Kampala through Kyenjojo but I don't think you were coming that way.

As I said at the start I have no wish to be judgemental but would like to get these things clear from the start so that you are aware of them.

Mr King will no doubt be on shortly to give his own version for the areas for which he does appear to have some responsibility for the shortcomings. I look forward to reading what he has to say.>

23. Re: The East African Safari and Touring Company - EASTCO

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