Pete Frye review 20 Sep 2016
1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your vacation?
The animals. If you're doing this trip you're probably very interested in seeing lots of African animals in the wild. This trip did not disappoint. Even though we missed the migration, we still saw so much. I also did the optional gorilla trek in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, and the chimpanzee trek in Nigezi Wildlife Area, both of which I'd recommend.
The most physically challenging things were the rafting on the Nile River and the biking into Hell's Gate. I also highly recommend both. The rafting was a real thrill and the bike ride is beautiful and more intimate than game driving.
2. What tips would you give other travelers booking this vacation?
I booked early September, thinking I'd catch the great migration. But we missed it. So to be certain to catch it I would have tried to do August if I did it again.
The white water rafting is very advanced, but there are options along the way. So we had a more wild boat and a less wild one. I would highly recommend it as someone who has only rafted a couple times.
For game driving, you'll see more by hiring the smaller trucks.
Bring books to read or things to listen to on the long truck rides. I found reading things related to what we were seeing really enhanced the trip for me.
3. Did you feel that your vacation benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?
I had not planned to do the Masai Village visit, but once there I decided I might as well just do it since I was there. But it was almost worse than I'd feared. The tour of the village was not all that interesting, and it really was just the commodification of a culture that is dying out. After charging $20 for a not that interesting little tour, they really pressure you to buy trinkets from them afterward. I think there are inherent conflicts between people from rich countries going on tours in poor countries that aren't really gonna be resolved by a travel agency. But I did not feel good about the dependency of the Masai being encouraged by this visit.
I felt similarly about the orphanage visits. I did do one of them though as it included a hike and boat ride around Lake Bunyoni. It was kind of fun interacting with the kids. But it also encourages a dependency relationship.
Our main tour guide was good at discouraging people from encouraging begging (by giving out trinkets and money to kids). Even though some people on our tour did it anyway. They certainly recognize that giving money to organizations is better than to individuals, but the question is what organizations are actually going to benefit local people more?
Environmentally speaking, I feel that these trips have a positive impact overall. The gorilla trek is very expensive, but it seems that money is going to a very good cause of protecting one of the last existing habitats for wild gorillas. Our main guide was clear that we cannot drive anywhere we want in the parks to get close to animals, because of the impact on the habitat, even though people on our tour wanted to. The exception was the Masai Mara, which is a reserve and not a park so the rules are apparently not enforced. Since we rented smaller vehicles (which I highly recommend) we had Masai drivers, not our tour leaders driving us around. These drivers drove all over the grass, creating new tracks everywhere, and getting imposingly close to the animals. I would recommend people to discourage your drivers from doing this.
4. Finally, how would you rate your vacation overall?
Excellent. It delivered on my expectations and fulfilled a dream of mine.
Read the operator's response here:
21st Sept 2016.
Thank you for the feedback posted on the Responsible Travel website.
I think you have hit the nail on the head and identified the dilemmas that the safari industry faces.
• When you distil the conservation of wildlife to its most pure form, the wildlife needs to be left absolutely alone. But to engage people in the plight of wildlife they need to have a wildlife encounter and to see things for themselves.
• Vulnerable human communities need hard currency from the developed world, but how can they obtain it without creating a dependency on hand-outs? People in the West don’t know about these remote communities until their paths cross during a visit to Africa.
• Gorillas need hard currency for the conservation of their species. But who audits the flow of funds? How are local residents benefitted? And how does the preservation of a species on the brink impact this tricky equation?
Tough questions. And this is precisely the most important aspect of traveling: we become aware of the dilemmas, informed of the details of a situation and motivated to do something about it when returning home.
You clearly travelled with your eyes wide open. East Africa has a special quality and quite remarkable natural heritage. I’m glad you enjoyed your travel experience.