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EASTCO safari trip report

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Hi, I got back from my safari six weeks ago and thought I’d write about what I’ve learnt from my experiences. It’s a bit long, but if you’re going on safari with EASTCO I’d recommend reading.

Like many people on this board I came looking for info on various safari companies to help me decide who to go with, we eventually decided to go with EASTCO – East African Safari And Touring Company.
I want to preface what I’m going to write by saying that going on safari is an absolute magical experience, and like so many others on this board I saw sights that I could only dream about and animals that I only read about in books. I think a safari is something everyone should do at least once in a lifetime. And after our trip we’ve decided that this trip isn’t going to be a once in a lifetime trip, but the first of many. We hope to visit again, but this time I will be better informed from my first experience.

Firstly when choosing a safari company, I think it helps to choose a company that has a solid reputation and who have at least more than one vehicle on the field. This way if your jeep breaks down (which mostly likely it will with EASTCO – more about this later) then you will have back up, and also the vehicles of larger safari companies seem to have contact with each other through radio so if one comes across some spectacular game viewing they will contact the other cars to let them know. Sunny safaris, Roy safaris, and A&K all seemed to have many vehicles around. With EASTCO who generally only have one safari per week, could mean many hours of fruitless driving and relying on luck to get a good game view. Not to mention being stuck if your car breaks.

Secondly, and most importantly I cannot emphasise the importance of your guide. If like us you’re going on a private safari for a week, your guide will be key in determining the quality of your experience. I know there isn’t much you can do when you are lumped with a guide you don’t get on with, which is what happened to us, but if possible do as much research and get contacts beforehand. Having said that I think we got unlucky with our guide Mattyo, we came across two other EASTCO guides and they seemed to be friendly, happy guys and we desperately wished we could’ve swapped for one of them.

Before continuing I will say two things, if you decide to go with EASTCO then:
1) You should be flexible with your plans because what you’ve been promised and what will actually happen maybe two different things.
2) Simon lives in Australia and has very little to do with operations in Tanzania. His brother Hartley is the actual person who decides what happens on safari. Simon may promise you a whole lot of things but Hartley is the one who will actually be booking them. So for example if you’ve paid for a special campsite like us, and booked this six months before your trip which has then been confirmed by Simon, don’t be surprised if you turn up and find that no special campsite has been booked by Hartley and that you may have to lump it with the rest in a public campsite.

Now for our safari, I guess we knew things weren’t going to go as smooth as they should when our guide turned up at our hotel reception, said the following: “Mattyo, safari, lets go.” Before walking off with our bags. The alarm signs went up. Then on the road he casually mentioned how we won’t be staying at Naitolia camp as promised many times by Simon – instead we’ve been moved to Boundary Hill lodge. I should’ve trusted what I’d read on this board before leaving on the trip, but when we brought this up with Simon (before our trip) he sent us a lengthy explanation how there were rival safari companies on various message boards trying to bring down the reputation of EASTCO.

We then asked our guide if our special campsite had been booked - we’d been emailing Simon for 6 months before he confirmed that the campsite had indeed been booked. But instead we found ourselves on the road with our guide, casually telling us, oh they must’ve forgotten to book your campsite and that we will stay in a public campsite – when we were paying an extra $200 just for the privilege of the special campsite. In any case there wasn’t much we could do at that stage.

We left Arusha at 8am that morning and didn’t arrive at Ngorogoro crater till 3.30pm. It took 7 and a half hours because we had to buy some coal, then stop to buy bananas (which took 45 minutes for some reason) then pick up the cook, then drop off the cook in a village and unload the car. At the end of the day we got to spend an hour and a half inside the crater before we had to rush out before the gates closed. The next morning the same thing happened, we left at 7.15am, spent an hour and a half in the crater before rushing out to wait in line to get petrol, then driving for an hour and a half to the cook’s village and waiting another hour for the car to get loaded. Two days and we got a total of 3 hours game viewing. At none of the pitstops did we see other tourists sitting bored in the vehicle wondering if this is what they were paying $400 a day for and we questioned why all this hadn’t been done before. Then we drove to the Serengeti park gates where our guide told us if we wanted a special campsite we could discuss it with the park officers at the gate. And so it was up to us to hassle them and convince them to find us something. I didn’t see why we should’ve had to do this, when it really should’ve been the safari company’s job to get all this sorted Beforehand. Thankfully we managed to find something – a campsite that was rarely used and was just newly created – Turner D.

The Serengeti is a magical and amazing place, the sunny plains, the sunsets, watching the dark storm clouds coming up over the horizon, feeling the wet, muggy smell of rain in the air, and then the animals, the impala and their wagging black tails, the hippos, the gentle giraffes, and yes the lions. You will see many of them, we were lucky to find a whole pack sitting around a pool with little cubs at play. And then there are the leopards, sitting lazily on tree branches, a hanging tail the only evidence that they are there. Finally things seemed to be settling down for us and we were enjoying ourselves until…

On our second day in the Serengeti after a morning game drive our guide casually told us how we couldn’t go back out in the afternoon because he had to go and pick some guests up from the seronora airport. Apparently one of the other guide’s car had broken down and he couldn’t go get them. We thought it was unfair that we had to spend the rest of the day sitting at our campsite and that some other guests got preference over us, but Mattyo promised he’d try and hurry back. Well he didn’t arrive till well after dark, and we spent the day sitting around, unable to venture away from the campsite so having to just sit and stare at the distance. Which isn’t bad for a while, but to have to do that from midday for the rest of the day gets a bit annoying. After Mattyo got back, my husband asked to speak to Hartley who eventually promised to refund some of the money for the half day we lost where we were unable to do any game viewing. We are yet to see that money!

The next day we couldn’t do any game viewing again since we had to drive to the serenora airport to drop off the guide whose car broke down. And that was the end of our time in the Serengeti since we had to go to the olduvai gorge. Leaving the Olduvai gorge that day we drove for a bit when suddenly our vehicle broke down. Great we thought, this couldn’t be happening. Our guide jumped out of the car, looked around under the hood, then hailed another tour company’s car, told us he’s sorry and he’ll be back, and then he left. There was no explanation as to what was going on, where he was going, when he’d be back, nothing. He just left. Leaving us sitting in the car dumbfounded. Luckily the cook was with us and he explained that apparently we’d run out of petrol! And that Mattyo had to go get petrol from near Ngorogoro – which was at least 2 hours drive away. We couldn’t believe this. We’d been abandoned without so much as an explanation. Even the cook was annoyed and couldn’t believe why Mattyo hadn’t filled up on petrol in the Serengeti like everyone else – but apparently he’d forgotten.

A whopping 4 hours later we were still at the side of the road – and trust me it’s more boring than it sounds. When Mattyo finally returned my husband asked to speak to Hartley on his mobile, but Mattyo refused. Finally when he handed the phone over my husband explained everything that was happening to Hartley and that it was unacceptable. Especially since Mattyo was saying that he couldn’t get the jeep up and running and we may have to hitch a lift with a passing vehicle and be dropped off at the Ngorogoro gate – not knowing when we’ll be able to get a lift from there. We also said how mattyo hadn’t told us anything and that we were finding it hard to communicate with him. Hartley promised to sort everything out and to leave it to him. Well he didn’t so much sort it out as make everything a whole lot worse. He went on the phone and told Mattyo that we hated him and that we said he was a terrible guide. We never understood why Hartley did that. Mattyo in turn got really annoyed, by this stage a whole lot of other cars had stopped to see what was going on and he told all the other guides what Hartley had said. We were then encroached upon by a group of guides who asked us why we were saying bad things about Mattyo and to not do this. This was quickly becoming a nightmare, being stuck in the side of the road, with no communication, not knowing anyone and having an angry guide with us.

Finally they got the car up and running and we were on the road, but Mattyo was in a terrible mood. He started screaming at us and said that he was going to abandon us at the side of the road as soon as we left the Ngorogoro gates – he was deadly serious. My head was spinning and I couldn’t believe that this trip we’d planned for almost a year was turning out to be like this. In my head I honestly didn’t know what I’d do if I was left at the side of the road in the middle of nowhere – especially since it was getting dark. By this stage we hadn’t eaten for 9 hours and I was starting to become a bit of an emotional wreck. My husband though, always the diplomat managed to sort things out. At the Ngorogoro gates he approached Mattyo and asked him if we could patch things up. Mattyo admitted he’d lost his head for a bit and that he was happy to start again and that he wouldn’t be abandoning us. Thank the lord! We drove in silence to Boundary Hill from there, arriving late at night ravenous and wanting desperately to put that awful day behind us.

From then on Mattyo acted fine, it was as if a storm had passed and cleared everything in its path. We wished he’d been like this from day one. He was patient and explained everything and it was all as it should’ve been from the first day. At the end of our trip, at Arusha, when we were saying goodbye to Mattyo he admitted he didn’t know what came over him and he gave a sort of half apology. We were both so overjoyed to see the back of him and to not be in his grip that we almost gushed with freedom. From there we spent another week in Zanzibar, relishing every moment not having a guide to scare and bully us.

Like I said before, it may have been hard going for a while but the Serengeti and ngorogoro all made up for it, not to mention the generally very friendly and helpful locals who emphasised how much of an anomaly Mattyo was. We’ve decided to only concentrate on all the happy memories of the place and not let our experience with him taint our trip. We emailed Simon with the incidents that I described before and there has been not so much as an apology from him. His handling of our case shows that as soon as they get your money EASTCO don’t really care what happens to you. So if you’re going to go on safari with them I’d say beware. But hopefully if you do go with them, you’ll have none of what we experienced on our trip. There’ve been a few others on this board who seemed to have a fine experience with them, I just wish ours had been like that too. In any case, hope this has helped some of you when deciding on your safari trip. Happy journeys to you all! Sam

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