"Cars" and drivers

Oct 23rd, 2004, 02:14 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jul 2003
Posts: 137
"Cars" and drivers

It seems to me that one spends an incredible amount of time (especially in an all-overland safari such as we're planning) in one's vehicle and with one's guide/driver, so I'm surprised how little attention is paid to this issue.

Is there some way of selecting/reviewing driver options with most agencies? It would seem that the difference between a friendly, flexible driver and one who is just 'doing the job' can make or break a trip! Can one request specific folks? Can one assume, with a generous tip/discussion at the beginning of the trip, that one can, for example, ask to stray to visit a 'non-let's-put-on-a-cultural-event-for-the-tourists" school is possible en route between parks (timing and opening hours allowing?)

Second, how much choice does one have, generally, in the type of vehicle? We're planning an 'us only' circuit thru Kenya/Tanzania.
Steve007NY is offline  
Oct 23rd, 2004, 04:04 AM
Posts: n/a
Steve007NY -
With the exception of, if I recall correctly, there has been only one traveler that had a complaint about the guide/driver assigned for their safari. I believe this was thru a booking with Born Free Safaris. If others recall differently, remind me please.

All reputable outfitters are most particular with the guide/drivers who work for them. Guides are all local, have to go thru courses, some thru college, as to flora and fauna, tourism, country information, all parks/reserves you'll be visiting, transportation, vehicle maintenance, language skills, etc. Periodically, they have to take refresher courses. A prospective guide/driver goes through many hours of dry runs on the various routes and specific game park/reserves before working with clients. Most guide/drivers have many years experience in the work that they do. Their jobs are very important to them and they have to adhere to strict rules and regulations, including no drinking, have to be on time, etc. - or they can be fired.

Guides become your best friends while out on safari with regards to safety, game drives - where to go or not, help with negotiating if/when making purchases; you get a very good idea of who they are, their families; they show as much interested in you as their clients.

On a private safari, as you are planning, though most itineraries indicate early morning and late afternoon game drives, you can arrange your own schedules with your guide - even staying out all day, if you choose, though this should be conveyed to your tour operator at time of booking. In many of our own safaris, I'm not keen on doing early morning drives, so often my partner would go out at 6:30am return by 9am when he joined me for breakfast, then we both went out before 10am and stayed out till 1pm. Other days we both had early breakfasts and were out on game drives by 8am till 1 -1:30pm. And we've also had full days out on game drives, taking boxed lunches with us. There were never any conflicts with our guide/driver - we even gave him a break the morning after our very long drive from Ngorongoro to the Western Serengeti, not going out till right after lunch (earlier then the usual 3:30-4pm departure) for a very long afternoon game drive. It was a private safari, so as clients we set the schedule.

As to the vehicles, you will be in closed vehicles for covering the long distances and terrain. These vehicles have also been tested to be able to hold-up mechanically to cover the beating they getting you where you have to be. We've never had a breakdown or blown tire. Closed vehicles also protect you from the elements (heat, cold, wind, dust, wet), rocks and stones being kicked up from the roads - you don't want to be hit by flying objects - on some of the very long rides you cover. Even residents (Kenya specifically) who live out in these areas travel in closed vehicles.

Once at your lodge/camp you usually take your game drives in the vehicle "that brung you" - when the roof top is popped open for better viewing and photos taking. While a number of camps do have open canvas top vehicles, these can be used by travelers arriving in a closed vehicle if this has been pre-arranged and if enough of these "open" vehicles are available. There, are, in fact, a few camps that insist that all game drives be done in their own open vehicles, yet there is no reduction in price regardless that you have your own vehicle.

As to your comment:

>>Can one assume, with a generous tip/discussion at the beginning of the trip, that one can, for example, ask to stray to visit a 'non-let's-put-on-a-cultural-event-for-the-tourists" school is possible en route between parks<<

First of all, you do not have to tip prior anything - I think that is called a bribe! It's not necessary. Second, question for you: would you be able to "just drop into a school in the city you live (NYC) without prior notice?" - if you are not a parent, or have an appointment? I don't believe so. So it's not likely to do so in Africa. While I can definitely understand your not wanting to be put into a "touristy" situation, such as stopping at a Manyatta, you will find that schools located in/around some of the park/reserves have been built in cooperation with the lodges/camps in the area and the local (say, Masai) communities. These are small and rather simple, but provide the education needed for the students. These opportunities shoul be pre-arranged thru your lodge/camp so you can sit or stand in with the class, speak with the teacher, have time to converse with the students and share gifts you'd like to donate and are greatly appreciated by the school and students - pens, pencils, pads, story books, blow-up globes, etc. It is not "touristy" but very serious business - kind of like a "day-trip" for city school children. And no one will be trying to sell you anything and the children/community are well appreciative of your effort.

I hope this has answered some of your concerns.

Oct 24th, 2004, 01:31 PM
Join Date: Oct 2004
Posts: 75
I totaly agree with you Steve-There can be a problem, and we sure had! In a safari when you can hardly go out of the car you are kind of stuck with a person that you might even disslike.
For exampleometime you get the false information from the travel agent, and you have to discuss and solve the whole situation on the spot with the guide, who sometimes not in a position to help or to change things on the spot. That can raise a difficult atmosphare even with nice drivers, who are kind of stuck between you and the agent.
hamitzer is offline  
Oct 24th, 2004, 02:05 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jul 2003
Posts: 137
Yes, that seems clear...sure could use advice on how best to negotiate around the issue...ask for specific driver others have liked? Get written into the contract that one can ask for new driver? DO understand....we're actually easy to get along with and not terribly demanding...it just seemed like, in fact, this is more like a 3-person trip than 2 person, just us and a stranger, so seems reasonable to ask.

Seems like tour operators shrug off th3 question, while others seem more interested.

Thoughts, oh fellow Fodorites?

Steve007NY is offline  
Oct 26th, 2004, 03:09 PM
Join Date: Oct 2004
Posts: 75
First to sandi -I want to refer to what you wrote about getting into school in NYC without prior arrangment- you're right , but in Nyc you don't bring tourist to see your family and charge them or, just ask for '5 USD' to take your picture while walking in Time square. The tribes live from tourism and our quriousity to check every aspect in their life, and they should be ready to 'pay the price'. But they usually do. Steve- I think asking your driver to visit a school without notice can be done. I'ts a matter of how much you willing to pay. I don't think the driver/guide would mind. the problem can occure if there's an overmilage.We asked our driver to drive one day from Seronera to Kirawira. We were ready to pay for the extra miles but he was afraid from the agent's reaction, and refused. most of the safari he was terrified from his bosse's reactions. He knew cause we told him the first day that a good service will result in a tipp which can almost cover his daughter's school cost(he told us how much he needs to pay and how low his sallery is..),But still he was more afraid of his boss. Like you said about yourself, we are also easy to get along with.But some things were just too much for us: the radio communication in the car was shauting all the time and we ask to low it ,and he usually did, and in 5 minutes he would made it loud again , cause he was afraid his boss will call .Also the roof which should be open during the safari was broken the second day , and he could not do anything (I understand it's not a regular staff to change the car during the safari).He also used to stop the car and urinate next to it...there were many things , some of them were his fault and others just objective situation that he just could'nt fix, that made the atmosphare in the car unpleasant, with a lot of tension.
hamitzer is offline  
Oct 26th, 2004, 03:45 PM
Join Date: Apr 2004
Posts: 4,222

I'm sorry your experience was sometimes less than satisfactory.


When asking for and then checking with references, you could ask about the specific guides/vehicles former clients had and request them. We ended up (accidentally) with a guide a few of the references we corresponded with had recommended and were very, very pleased with him. However, I must say that on our trip to TZ, we saw tons of other travellers and really everyone seemed to be having an amazing time.

My sense is that most of the guides are quite good. We certainly loved ours. Yes, we did some kind of hokey/touristy things that ordinarily we wouldn't have been that interested in. But we still managed to enjoy them and take something away from the experience. My guess is that you will probably feel the same.
Leely is offline  
Oct 26th, 2004, 08:14 PM
Join Date: May 2004
Posts: 30
Interesting question, and one that I had at the back of my mind when planning my trip.

I tend to agree with Sandi - the operative words are 'reputable outfitters'. There are zillions of safari companies in Nairobi and Arusha, and in my opinion the best way to make sure you get vehicles in good condition and a knowledgeable, motivated, friendly guide is to go with a company that has built a good reputation over the years, not one which is merely looking to make a fast buck.

And you should not assume that price points are the surest indication of quality - I travelled with excellent companies that actually were amongst the lowest quotes I received, and some people on this board have shared experiences which were not ideal, despite paying fairly premium prices.

A couple of guides you could use to shortlist and finalise your company is to check the list of recognised operators affiliated to TATO (Tanzania Assoc of Tourist Operators) or the Kenyan equivalent (I think it is KATO...). This too, is not final - people have been with TATO companies and have complained at times, and I know people who have been with companies not on TATO and have yet had a great time. But the association listings is a good starting point.

A more definitive guide is really recommendations from fellow travellers. If you do a search on this board, you will find many recommendations (TSA, Best Camping, Roy Safaris etc.). You could safely go with one of these.

The point is that any of these reputed companies will make darn sure that they employ good to great guides, and keep their vehicles in top condition.
freddy123 is offline  
Oct 27th, 2004, 04:23 AM
Posts: n/a
hamitzer - I definitely agree regarding stops at a Masai Manyatta - rather "touristy" and there is a fee attached to this - range $15 - $25/person depending on what the head person at the Manyatta determines for a specific day. That said, and though we'd all prefer not to be "nickled and dimed" when on holiday, in the scheme of things it's not much to pay to get an idea of how the Masai still live in the 21st Century. Regardles the fact that many villager children go to school, even high school, eventually university - the main village doesn't change much. And it is an interesting experience.

On our very first trip we made a stop at a manyatta, found it a learning experience, the kids were cute though almost all had running noses and it took everything I had not to offer tissues, at least - but I did leave packets of tissues. We were't over-encouraged to purchasing anything, though we did find one mask we hadn't seen elsewhere. It was 45-minutes well spent. However, on subsequent trips to East Africa, we didn't make another stop at a manyatta.

As to schools, there are no fees attached except for recommended donations in the form of pens, pencils, notebooks, etc. And since many of these small local schools are on lands leased from the Masai (or other tribal groups) and funded from some of the money we, as visitors, pay to our lodge or camp - a visit should be "requested" to see where our money goes. Rarely will the request not be accepted unless school is not in session.

If on a drive itinerary, especially thru Kenya, you will often find that the school children can hear a vehicle coming from miles down the road and by the time you get to where the school is located, all the kids are on the road waving. We've stopped at these schools, without pre-arrangement, and spent a few minutes talking to the students - often only boys, though we did find a school for girls once - and even the teachers; here we've handed out pens and pencils and were then on our way. Our guide/driver never had a problem with these stops.

Another time, leaving Samburu, our guide/driver was asked if he could take a local woman who had been visiting her husband who was a guard at the Reserve, back to her home in Isiolo? Our guide asked if it was okay with us, which it was and we were on our way. When we arrived at her stop, a group of school children came from nowhere to welcome us. We took lots of photos, handed out more pens, pencils, erasers - then were on our way again. We gave the women some story books for her young children. Our guide was more then agreeable with these instances, not much time was taken from the schedule the guide knew he had to keep and everyone went on their way with a smile, including us.

As to guide/drivers - we were always pleased with ours. Our very first guide was such a delight that at one "potty stop" that also had a curio shop, my partner saw some hemitite necklaces that he thought to buy as gifts for women back at his office. The woman selling them wouldn't come down in price, so we left, but our guide said that he'd go back to her after depositing us at our next lodge. Well he did, negotiated a great price and returned with about a dozen or more necklaces. He did this on his time and later when my partner and guide went out alone on an early morning game drive - mano-o-mano - learned that our guide was actually having an affair with this women! You just never know!!!

I believe, that if you let your outfitter know ahead of time specifically what you might want to do, stop, see, longer game drives, etc.- even visit another camp/lodge - the appropriate guide/driver will be selected and there should be no problems.

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