Driving around a couple of developing African countries. How hard can it be??
We had a good look at different options to get us around Rwanda and Uganda. Initially we had engaged a travel agent to sort it all out for us but he had irritated J and IAS not only was He expensive he was also rather inflexible. I think he had a off the shelf plan and didn’t want to deviate from it. Also some of the hotels we would be put in didn’t get great reviews and if you end up paying a lot of money for a crap hotel it can be a tadge annoying.
The decision to go ‘self-drive’ made us immediately excited about the trip in a way that we hadn’t been. It would be more of an adventure. A bit more challenging, it an adventure.
We then looked at different hire car companies and car alternatives. Plan A; a land cruiser with a roof top tent seemed to be illogical as we were not going to use the tent every night so the cost of the tent when we did use it was about $250 a night, which we could get a pretty good hotel for.
We decided to go for a RAV 4 and shopped around to find a company with genuine good reviews. This is harder than it sounds and many companies have fake reviews (watch out for a heap of reviews by people who have only done one or two reviews). I had thought I’d done my due-diligence and found one. Paul, from Rent-a-car Kigali was super responsive and the company had a couple of good genuine reviews on trip advisor.
They use two names in Rwanda - Rent a car Rwanda and Kigali 4x4. In Uganda they trade under Go Gorilla Trekking LTD. All I can say is that I made a mistake…….. At best they are incompetent, at worst they are scam artists.
One employee - Paul - tried his hardest to help, but he was always on the road and often out of contact. Other members of staff, particularly a lady named Mickie, lied, was consistently difficult and in the end deliberately took financial advantage of us.
The story is below. In hindsight we can almost laugh but dealing with this company was more than a little frustrating at the time.
We booked the car for 12 days in Rwanda and Uganda and on every single day, the car and the company had a significant negative effect on our holiday and cost us a lot more money than we had budgeted for.
Day 1: The car (a 2000 RAV 4 with 160,000 km on the clock) arrived on time but without the full set of camping equipment we hired and other important items. Once most of it was provided (including a full set of wheel nuts) we left 2.5 hours late.
Before we left the representative from the company looked me in the eye and confirmed the car could go to Uganda. This was the first porky.
The car was in poor condition; it made noise when we went round left hand corners, had a broken door mirror and was missing an indicator, but hey, this is Africa: we can manage.
When we arrived at our first campsite, in the dark after a rushed 5 hour drive south, we found we had two x old one person tents, none of which were waterproof and lacked enough poles, pegs etc. They were unusable. They were the kind of things you take to the beach for the kids. We paid for a room that night, in a place with no electricity or hot water and cooked scoff on the step of the pace.
Day 2: The messages I sent to the company about the tent were ignored. Bastards.
Day 3: The company told us that they were sending a new tent and a new car that day. I asked why we needed a new car: ‘This one is better’. I asked them to confirm that the one we had could go to Uganda. They said yes..... again. The car did not turn up that day and we had changed plans to be available to receive it. The company eventually contacted us to say it would arrive the next day at our next destination.
Day 4: New car and new tent arrived, much later than they said told us it would, again effecting our plans. New tent was still not waterproof, so from that point forward, we could not camp. The car was a Prado with 360,000 km on the clock and was so empty of fuel, it was running off fumes. I handed over the RAV that I recently filled up.
Day 5: On way back from gorilla trek the car engine got very noisy, warning lights came on and it lost power. I Whatsapp’d the company and they said a new vehicle would be delivered that night between 6-7. This was the night of our 15th wedding anniversary. Despite many reinsurances that the car would be there soon, it never arrived. We spent the night of our 15th wedding anniversary sitting in a small room of a B&B. It turns out no car was never coming as they couldn’t get the authority to get it over the border. The plan had been to return us the RAV4.......
Day 6. After we left the B&B, the owner of the Prado we had arrived so we met him where we were having breakfast. He had been told by the company we had hired his car through that we were getting a new car so he could take his away. Obviously that couldn’t happen so he ‘fixed’ the car and kindly helped us across the Ugandan border before having to make his own way home. He was unhappy with the company too.
Day 7. Leaving our lodge in the early hours, high in the Ugandan mountains, the car had no power and lots of noise from the engine. We limped to park hq, found a mechanic who knew the owner, paid $40 for oil, then left on our trek. On our return we were delighted that the car had been ‘fixed’.
Day 8. In remote jungle, car lost power. We got to a lodge. The owner sent a mechanic. It took 2 hours for him to get to us. At this stage I was happy to write the car off and pay for another. The owner then assured me it was fixed and the mechanic would go with us to next destination. The mechanic got us lost in the jungle then, near the town he lived, the problem started again. We took the mechanic to our lodge (some interesting persuasion tactics were used, best described over a beer), via a shortcut he knew and got bogged in for a while. The last hour was driving in the dark and in Uganda, that’s a challenge.
Once at our lodge, the mechanic took the car for repair in his garage.
Day 9. Car returned to us ‘fixed’. I argued that it probably wasn’t and we needed a new car but eventually, knowing my argument was getting nowhere, decided to set off and if at any stage there was a problem, abandon the car in a town and hire a taxi. Mechanic wanted me to drive him home: a 90 min round trip, so I hired a boda boda for him. We didn’t drive the car that day. The novelty bit was that the mechanic was wearing a Balmain Tigers football shirt, the team from our home suburb in Sydney. He had no idea what he was wearing!
Day 10. We had power problems all day but got to our next lodge, a tense 5 hour journey away. I insisted that I would not drive any further and the company should pay for transfer to Kigali airport. They said they would do. They also promised to refund the money I had paid to hire the camping equipment which proved useless without a tent.
Day 11. Driver for the broken car arrived unannounced to pick up car. Company at this stage were cagey about paying for transfer. After heated whatsapp discussion I gave up and handed keys to driver. I needed to enjoy my last night of our stay in Uganda.
Day 12. Met their representative at their office in Kigali (Mickie). She paid the driver of our transfer, but with a smirk, told me she would give me less than half of the money for the camping equipment. She offered me ‘some Rwandan francs’ too, showing me a very small amount and knowing I was about to leave the country.
At this point it became clear it wasn’t incompetence and the challenges of Africa that were the problem, rather that the companies employees are dishonest. Bastards.
The upside is that we had a bit more of an adventure than we planned and met some lovely people who helped us at various stages. The downside is we didn’t do everything we had planned spent more than we had planned and got a bit pisad off.
But, as I said before, we would opt to self drive again, we would just avoid this bunch of muppets!