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Connect Hemisphere Safaris - BEWARE: Fraudulent, Incompetent

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Apr 12th, 2012, 03:42 PM
  #1
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Join Date: Feb 2012
Posts: 53
Connect Hemisphere Safaris - BEWARE: Fraudulent, Incompetent

I would like to warn everyone about my horrible experience with Connect Hemisphere Safaris and its owner, Lucky Bon, during my 5-day trip thru Uganda and Rwanda in February 2012. In sum, this company is fraudulent, incompetent, unsafe, dangerous and crooked, and I hope that they never have the opportunity to ruin anybody else's vacation.

I have used guides all over the world (including many poor or developing countries), and my trip with Connect Hemisphere was by far the worst experience I have ever had anywhere in the world. In contrast, I had amazing experience on this same East Africa trip with the three other tour companies I used: my guide in Nairobi, with my mountain-climbing company on Mount Kilimanjaro and with my safari driver-guide in Northern Tanzania. (As proof that I am not one who complains very easily, you can find my very favorable TripAdvisor reviews of these other African businessmen).

Rather than list each of the numerous ways in which Connect Hemisphere ruined my Uganda & Rwanda trip, I will provide a few of the highlights (or, perhaps, "lowlights") of my trip:

- Connect Hemisphere "bait and switched" me to a different guide than the guide I requested and was promised. As a seasoned traveler, I know that a guide can make or break a trip and wanted to have a specific guide. I spoke via phone to a former client of Connect Hemisphere who is a travel writer, and she spoke highly of her experience and of her guide "Emma." I requested that Emma be my guide, and was repeatedly assured that Emma would be my guide. Yet, when I arrived Entebbe airport, I was greeted (10 minutes late) by the company's owner, Lucky, and "Robert." Lucky informed me Robert would be my guide, and made some excuse about Emma's car breaking down. Robert turned out to be a horrible and incompetent guide, as detailed below.

- Connect Hemisphere, due to its incompetence and disorganization, kept me waiting for 2 hours in Kampala on the day I arrived. The first day of my trip, my flight arrived into Entebbe airport at 1pm and we had a 5-6 hour drive to my overnight lodge in Kibale Forest. Facing a 5-6 hour drive, the obvious plan would be to immediately head to Kibale Forest. But Connect Hemisphere apparently did not have the necessary paperwork for my journey, and Robert and I had to wait at 2 different spots in Kampala while Lucky went around trying to complete the paperwork. At 3:15pm, Lucky sent us on our way, but 5 minutes later called Robert and we had to return and meet him again because he had forgotten to give Robert some other paperwork. It wasn't until 3:30pm that we set out for Kibale Forest, when we would have left by 1:30pm if Connect Hemisphere were properly organized. As a result, we didn't arrive at the lodge until 9pm, so I had to have an rushed late dinner and get to bed for my early wake up call the next morning. I expressed my dissatisfaction to Lucky about having to wait 2 hours, and he blamed the "Ugandan bureaucracy" and couldn't adequately explain to me why he didn't do the paperwork in advance.

- Robert almost caused me to miss my Chimp Habituation Experience (CHEX) activity at Kibale Forest because he didn't know what CHEX was and confused it with Chimp tracking (a different activity). I was scheduled for CHEX on Feb 15th, and the Robert and I discussed our plans the night before; he told me that it stated at 8am, so I placed my breakfast order and wake-up call accordingly. One of the lodge employees happened to overhear us, and realized that I was doing CHEX and told Robert that it starts not at 8am but much earlier than the Chimp tracking. She thought it started at 6am, so I adjusted my wake-up call time accordingly. The following morning, we arrived at the ranger station for CHEX and were advised that doesn't start until 6:30am so we had to sit in the car and wait. Because of Robert's cluelessness, he caused me to first almost miss the CHEX activity and then to lose 30 minutes of precious sleep. Before setting out on my journey, Robert should have familiarized himself with all my activities and their start times. If he didn't know what CHEX was, he should have inquired instead of (incorrectly) assuming it started at the same time as Chimp tracking.

- Robert kept me waiting in the car on the side of the road in Kisoro for an hour because he supposedly didn't have enough gas money for the remainder of the trip. After doing gorilla tracking in Nkuringo on Feb 17th, we had a 3 hour drive across the Uganda-Rwanda border to my accommodations in Ruhengeri. Robert parked the car on the side of the road in Kisoro, and said "we need to wait a few minutes for something." I inquired, and he said he didn't have enough gas money and was waiting for Lucky to send him money so that he could go to a "mobile money" station and collect it. It turned into an hour that I had to spend sitting in the car while Robert made various phone calls and ran in and our of the mobile money station. Sweaty and hungry after gorilla tracking, the last thing I wanted to do was waste an extra hour sitting in the car instead of proceeding to my hotel. I confronted Robert as to why he wasn't prepared and didn't set out on the trip with sufficient gas money, and he made some excuse about "the network." (N.B., I discussed this matter with Lucky at the end of the trip, and he told me that Robert lied to me about the gas money and that he was actually trying to send money to his wife. I'm not sure which version to believe, but the hour wait was unacceptable in either case.)

- Robert ruined my dinner that same evening by repeatedly begging and harassing me to loan him US $30 because he didn't have money to pay for my hotel room. When I was eating dinner at the Ruhengeri (Rwanda) hotel, Robert came over and informed me that he didn't have any Rwandan Francs or US Dollars to pay for the hotel room (he only had Ugandan Schillings) and said he would pay me back later if I gave him the money. I told him no because I was skeptical that I'd get paid back and also felt that he should figure it out on his own. I repeatedly told him no, but he wouldn't stop harassing me and wouldn't leave me alone and allow me to eat my dinner in peace. I asked him why he once again wasn't prepared and didn't have money, and he said "I have money, but they won't take the money I have." I told him that this was Rwanda, and he needs to have the proper currency if taking a client to Rwanda. I suppose he eventually found some other way to get the money after I steadfastly refused to give him the money.

- Robert attempted to leave me in a dangerous situation sitting alone in a parked car at night on a crowded street in the big city of Kigali. The following night, we were driving into Kigali when Robert pulled over on a crowded street and said he needed to "take care of something." Our car was full of luggage, and random strangers were coming up to our window and looking into our car and looking at us. I asked Robert what he needed to do, and he said he wanted to try to get more airtime for his phone. I told him that I didn't feel comfortable sitting alone in the car in the dark in what seemed like a dangerous spot, and asked him to take me to my hotel and do his errands after he dropped me off. Robert refused to honor my request, and kept repeating that it would only be a few minutes. I told him to take me to the hotel, and he then proceeded to open the car door and tried to get out. Because reasoning with Robert was futile and I genuinely feared for my safety, I physically grabbed him by his jacket and loudly screamed out "take me to the hotel now" before he eventually agreed to drive me to the hotel.

- Lucky happened to be in Kigali when I was there (the last evening of my trip), and I spoke to him at length both in the evening and the following morning. I explained all the problems I had, and Lucky's attitude was simply to place the blame everyone else and exonerate himself, complaining about the "bureaucracy" for the initial delay and Robert "not using his brain" for all the other problems. I told Lucky that he is ultimately responsible for ensuring that everything on my trip went smoothly, and he didn't seem to understand this concept. I then told him I thought the right thing for him to do considering the problems would be for him to give me a partial refund, such as a refund of his profit margin. Lucky steadfastly refused and and said, "Why should you get any money back. Did you miss any activities? Did the car break down?" Based on Lucky's reply, Connect Hemisphere believes that its only obligation to its clients is that they don't miss activities and that the car doesn't break down. Anything else is apparently okay in Connect Hemisphere's book -- being kept waiting for hours due to incompetence, drivers harassing you trying to get money, etc.

- Lucky refused to pay for my lunch at Kigali airport before my departure, until the Rwandan police at the airport ordered him to do so. Lucky and Robert dropped me off at the airport at 1pm on Feb 20th, and I asked him if he would be paying for my lunch since all meals were included in the cost of my trip. Lucky said he wouldn't be paying because my "program ended on the 19th." I told him this made no sense because my program included an overnight on the 19th and airport drop-off on the 20th, and in any event arguing with me about lunch is ridiculous given all the problems he caused me. Because he was refusing to pay for my lunch and attempting to leave the airport, I decided to call over the police and get them involved. The police took us all into a room, reviewed the documentation and itineraries, determined that I was indeed entitled to lunch, and ordered Lucky to pay for my lunch. What a way to end the trip.

* * *

My horrible experience with Connect Hemisphere came as complete shock. I was very happy with the company during the booking process (their email communication was prompt, well written and helpful) and I heard nothing but positive things about them (online reviews and references they provided). I consider myself to be a savvy traveler, and I saw absolutely no warning signs that I would have any sort of problems with Connect Hemisphere. So, I hope this post helps other travelers make a better decision than I did.

To conclude, the words of Lucky -- the owner of Connect Hemisphere -- tell you everything you need to know about this company. As mentioned above, Lucky's response to my grievances was, "Did you miss any activities? Did the car break down?" If you book with Connect Hemisphere, that's how Lucky will decide if his company performed adequately. If you want to travel thru Uganda and Rwanda with company that is fraudulent and incompetent in every other possible way, Connect Hemisphere will be happy to take your money. Beware!

***

N.B. Connect Hemisphere Safaris appears to be the company associated with each of these websites:

http://www.gorillatoursafrica.com

http://www.toursrwanda.com

http://www.ugandaadventuresafaris.com
LAX_Esq is offline  
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Apr 12th, 2012, 05:20 PM
  #2
 
Join Date: Apr 2005
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How did you come to choose Connect Hemisphere Safaris to begin with??
Maybe there is a larger lesson here?

regards - tom
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Apr 12th, 2012, 09:13 PM
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Tom, thanks for the question. I briefly discussed this in the second-to-last paragraph, but I'll elaborate.

I spent a great deal of time doing my own research, and came up with an itinerary that I wanted to use for my trip. I "spammed" the itinerary to a bunch of different Rwanda/Uganda tour operators that people had favorably mentioned on the various message boards, and asked the companies for a price quote and their thoughts on the feasibility of the itinerary.

My itinerary was very simple, and included just 3 activities: chimp habituation in Kibale Forest, gorilla tracking in Bwindi, and gorilla tracking at PnV. So I sought to find a company that was safe, honest and reliable, yet on the cheaper end of the spectrum. There was no need for an elite guide who was extremely knowledgeable and/or an expert game driver because the national parks would run all my activities. Rather, I just needed a company to provide me with an honest guide who would show up on time and drive me from Point A to Point B hassle-free.

I emailed back and forth with about 6-8 companies that seemed professional (e.g., quick responses, good English skills, answered my many questions thoroughly). Connect Hemisphere's representative, Imelda (who I understand no longer works there), was particularly helpful, and their prices were very competitive. They weren't the cheapest (I know to beware of operators who offer "too good to be true" prices and are probably cutting corners to save costs), but their price was towards the low end of the spectrum.

Since I was leaning toward using Connect Hemisphere, I asked for references in the U.S. I ended up talking on the phone with 4 of their references. By all indications, these were legitimate, credible Americans who are seasoned travelers (including one travel writer), not some "fake" references. Everyone was very happy with the company and found them to be safe, honest, reliable and professional. I asked detailed questions to all of these people and probed for any negative signs, and the "worst" thing one person said was that her driver's English wasn't that good (but he was overall nice and professional). Nobody gave me any indication that Connect Hemisphere was some low-budget operation that cut corners.

Impressed with Connect Hemisphere's email correspondence, price and references, I decided to book with them. I sent them the money to buy my gorilla and chimp permits, and they promptly purchased those permits and sent me the receipts indicating the correct dates and times. On this basis, I felt very confident going into my trip that Connect Hemisphere would be 100% reliable.

(Unfortunately, as I learned beginning from the minute I stepped off the plane in Entebbe, it turned out that I was 100% wrong.)
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Apr 14th, 2012, 05:00 PM
  #4
 
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LAX, thanks for spreading the word, albeit a bad one. If you have caused even one person to avoid having a disappointing trip, your time has been well and generously spent. Thank you.

I know that feeling of excitedly anticipating a trip, then having a person who is highly recommended turn into just the opposite: you have disbelief at first, but then...it's all too nightmarishly real, and you realize with a sickening feeling that it isnt gonna get better.
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Apr 14th, 2012, 05:27 PM
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Thanks for your reply. Well, seems to me like you did more than enough research and investigation. Guess it was a bit (or bunch) of bad luck. Thanks again for your warning report and reply.

regards - tom
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May 11th, 2012, 06:54 AM
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Probably you sent them a copy that they may reform. It appears they were less prepared/organised and used a driver that they did themselves not know that well.
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Oct 7th, 2012, 09:11 PM
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Join Date: Oct 2012
Posts: 2
I really wish I would have seen this before I booked our safari with them! I did a ton of research aswell before booking but I use mostly lonleyplanet. I had a terrible experience with Lucky and he really did ruin our Ugandan experience. I want everyone to know so they book with him! I don't want others to have to deal with all the headache he caused us!
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Oct 8th, 2012, 08:28 AM
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Join Date: May 2004
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Adriana, when did you book your trip If you had "googled" the company, you woudl hav seen both this review, adn others on tripadvisor.
I'm not excusing the company, or blaming you--rather, pointing out that there is another easy way , available to check companies. If research turns up bad reviews, you can follow up on those (eg if there is one bad reviews but several good ones) or you can decide it's not worth the risk.
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Oct 8th, 2012, 08:51 PM
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Join Date: Nov 2004
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So sorry for your bad experience. "Did you miss any activities?" No, but only by the skin of your teeth when an employee overheard your Chimp Habituation discussion.

Phone charging while the client waits. Who is this guy?

Many unacceptable incidents. Thank you for sharing this.

Did you ask Lucky for money back? Does Lucky know you'll be posting this?

I hope the CHEX was thrilling for you. Especially after all you went through, you deserve a good outing.

I'm sure you'll prevent a few disappointments. Thanks for your effort in posting this.
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