Gorilla Adventures - Critique and Summary

We have achieved the objective of this trip. We saw the big apes: the chimpanzees and the gorillas. We were both very lucky and very unlucky on our gorilla trek. A team member broke her leg and had to suffer the consequences for the rest of the trip. On the other hand, we got to spend time with a gorilla family and their playful kid. Watching the family and interacting with them was simply amazing and definitely a Wow moment that we were hoping for. We were also hoping to get good photos of our distant relatives and we succeed in that as well despite very challenging photo conditions, in the dark rainforest with leaves messing with the focus. As an extra bonus, we once again had fun on our two village walks interacting with the villagers and playing with the kids. In Lake Nakuru, we got the opportunity to observe seven Rhinos grazing calmly together. We also enjoyed the company of some of the people on the trip and hope to stay in touch in the future. Other than that, the trip was about driving, driving and some more driving.

# The Truck

This was our second 14 days trip with an overland truck in Kenya so we could compare the price and quality with the last one in 2014 (then with the company Drifters). This truck was similar but way worse than on our last trip. The gAdventures truck should not be filled (22 people) since there is little leg room on some seats. Because of this problem we had to rotate seats every day. Other people's garbage, bags, clothes including underwear, water, food or gadgets were sometimes taking up room in your new seat. Mainly the limited legroom and people clothes hanging down in front of Windows (see photo) got frustrating during the 14 day trip with long drives of up to 8+ hours.

Other problems with this truck included a lot more work for the team than our previous trip. The madrases were on top of the truck and the backpacks in the back stacked on top of each other. Our previous truck was bigger, better designed and less crowded. Each person had their own locker for bags, the windows were bigger, roof taller, seats forward, large windows in front, big hole in the front to speak directly to the crew etc. As the crew said: "This truck keeps you busy". Some people were helping out a lot more than others, but the work morale was overall very good.

# The Crew

The crew was comfortable in the front driver seats and could not fix our problems during the drives. The truck was not full but overfilled. This caused a variety of problems, among other security problems. Since it was very tight and uncomfortable in some seats the seat belts were not used. The crew mentioned it once in the beginning, but never again. Therefore it seemed to be just a routine reminder and not a real safety concern. The crew also failed, all but few times, in asking and making sure that everyone was onboard after a stop. Luckily, no road incidents happened.

The communication was difficult using a button and microphone in the front. We received none to very little guidance about the area during the drive. We passed by several scenic and photogenic spots but did not stop on any, despite a request. Lunch breaks were instead next to the road. At one point we stopped for lunch 5 meters from burning garbage pile. As the smelly smoke blew over us we went back into the truck requesting another spot.

The crew was very keen on arriving to the campsite early and summarized the day as very good if we arrived early, despite only driving all day. Sometimes we arrived at 15 or earlier and had nothing to do until sunset (around 19). We organized ourselves a city walk, a forest walk, a village walk and a lake walk. In the lack of activities, other people organized party activities in the camp and in the city. The crew organized a Tea plantation walk and a dance show, but these were both focused on explaining the hard life of children and asking for money. Understandable, but not what we paid for.

We did not get the phone numbers to the guide despite it would have been necessary on all activities, like in the case of the gorilla trek and a broken leg. We had to call the main gAdventures office that would call the local subcontractor of gAdventures in Kenya, that would then call our crew members.

The crew might have been afraid of confrontation (and thereby losing some tip). They did not manage to do anything about issues that arose, even after complaints. The complaints were however polite and in good mood. Everyone tried to do the best of the situation. We knew we are in Africa and had lowered our standards significantly. Our problems were nothing compared to what poor people of these countries experienced daily. For that reason, we will leave out some of the complaints eg. not enough food.

One of the major issues was excessive drinking and a few cases of alcohol poisoning. This resulted in vomiting between the tents, drunk people getting lost in the night, trying to enter the wrong tents, drunk people sleeping outside the campsite at night, drunk people losing the passport (and finding it with engaging many people), drunk people getting high. The list goes on. During one of the occasions, the entire fridge box of water bottles was emptied by a few people (wanted to celebrate the Australia Day) and replaced by alcohol. Four liters of vodka, several wines and beers were consumed on that night.

The crew did participate in the drinking but only with a couple of beers per night or less. One of the critiques from the other team members was that the crew did not party enough with them. During these 14 days, Vedran and Dilek had shared 3 beers and 1 wine glass. On another occasion, a "Booze cruise" was organized as an optional activity including open bar. The activity is named the "Nile sunset cruise" in the gAdventures itinerary, however, it was not on the Nile river and the local cruise organizer called it the "Booze cruise" several times during the sales pitch. It was 45 USD per person and we opted out, mainly because it was not the Nile. Most others went and make sure to get their money worth in Booze. Needless to say, that was the alcohol climax of the trip. Even Mia, who participated in the previous drinking game, but not on the Booze cruise, called it a Whole new level of drunk. That is probably because some people also got High in addition to the drinking. We were very surprised to hear that and witnessed some crazy behavior during that night. The gAdventures policy is very strict on this point, not to mention the possibility of being imprisoned in Uganda. These young people were taking large risks. We didn't say anything to the crew about this since we did not witness the acts ourselves and we did not want to spoil their trips. Some of them were on their 50 days trip across Africa and gAdventures would have probably have sent them home because of this. Our own trip, however, would have been a lot better without the excessive amount of drugs (alcohol) used by more than half of the team participants.

In addition to the alcohol issues, there were some issues with hygiene. The cool box was too unhygienic to use for water storage after drinking games. This resulted in about 20 paces of large 5+ liters water containers bean places between the already full truck, rolling around and requiring constant moving. Few people insisted on grabbing the food from the buffet with their fingers despite the availability of forks. On some occasions one person was digging through the tomato slices, stirring them before settling for one of the pieces. After a while, these behaviors seemed accepted by others. The crew was told early on, acted surprised that this was happening and did nothing. Another hygiene issue was dishwashing. Everyone was supposed to wash their own after breakfast and lunch. The washing sponge was very outworn, and some people barely washed their plates, glasses, and forks in the cold water. Some mentioned stomach problems, but that could have been the alcohol as well. We did not get stomach problems since we had taken Dukural vaccine. However, we got sick on the last day with fever and throat pain and slept for most of the day and night in Nairobi.

# The Price

We got back to Nairobi hotel at 12:30. Didn't leave any tip to the crew. They did their job in feeding us and taking us there and back.

Comparing to the last 14-day trip two years previously (a much better trip) to Masai Mara, Serengeti, and Ngorongoro, this trip was 400 euros more expensive per person. 2000 euro per person for 14 days in tents and basic food is very expensive for Kanya/Uganda. However, the license for going on the Gorilla hike is very expensive and explains the steep cost.

The gAdventure brochure matched the actual tour, but not more. We had given tip to the local guides on village tours, purchased crafts from the local village, brought presents to the children and left some of our clothes. Most other people on the team gave tips to the crew. They might think they had a better time because their standards were lower, this was their first big trip or they were so very happy to drink and hang out.