Sunday August 23, 2015 (Africa)
DISCLAIMER: This is not a fun travel story. There’s little redeeming value in it other than a piece of therapy to allow me to feel vindicated by publicly proclaiming just how terrible and frustrating this ordeal was. Despite all of this, we loved Uganda and think you should visit. Seriously. It’s awesome. Here’s the “Too Long, Didn’t Read” version of the complaints we have about our trusty guide Yampa:
- Confused us with a torrent of constantly changing and cryptic itineraries
- Made us pay above the cost of the trip with Western Union transfer fees
- Made us cover all of his losses on the exchange rate spread between our currencies
- Tried to change the itinerary after payment to one without some food and accommodation
- Started the trip on the wrong date despite a written agreement to the contrary
- Littered despite calling himself a “naturalist"
- Missed several pickups causing us to be stranded
- Had at least a half dozen vehicle stops and breakdowns wasting many hours of our time
- Used five vehicles in four days to deal with the aforementioned breakdowns
- Had no idea how to properly service the vehicles he was driving
- Lied almost constantly about several aspects of the trip
- Drove like a demon and hit a motorcyclist on the road while driving us
- Made us pay for some food and accommodation despite agreements otherwise
- Didn’t know directions to sites we’d agreed to visit and didn’t bother looking them up
- Twice demanded more money to cover vehicle breakdowns while the trip was underway in the form of a “loan” required to finish the trip
- Agreed to pay back said loan, then tried several times to change the agreed-upon amount, and finally ended up paying us nothing whatsoever
And now for the full story. Where do I even begin?
Maybe at the end. This morning was the end. This morning I decided I wasn’t going to sit around and be manipulated anymore. This morning I decided to take advantage of the only power I have in my situation: the awesome power of the terrible review written on a blog that only my family really reads.
I’m owed 180 bucks. United States Dollars. And I’m not too happy about it.
Who owes me this money, you ask? Well, here’s a small selection of the names this clown goes by:
- Yampa Abraham
- Baliija Balyampa Robinson D D Abraham
- Balya Baliija Abraham Yampa .D .D.R
- Yampa Drbb Abraham
- Balya DA Baliija Yampa
I’ve actually cleaned up some of the double-spaces and stuff that he uses in email signatures, but have kept the bizarrely placed periods and spaces in things like “.D .D.R” for the sheer hilarity of it. Maybe this set of multiple monikers is part of a scheme to retain anonymity by sheer power of name obfuscation. But he generally just goes by “Yampa”. So we’ll stick with that. You may know him as "Y" from when we wrote about him anonymously after the trip was over. We didn't want to hurt his reputation if he was genuinely going to return our money. But he didn't pay us back, so goodbye anonymity. I have a whole lot of shockingly bad stuff to share about this oaf, but I’m going to do my utmost to keep it as brief as possible while making sure not to leave out any critical tidbits. I could write a novel about just how crappy Yampa is. Oh, and I’ll try to keep it lighthearted despite the fact that I teem with quiet rage every time I speak his name. We were headed to east Africa and wanted to go on safari. We had met a couple of lovely people in Ushuaia who had been on a tour with Yampa sometime in the past. They recommended him. And we love recommendations, because they’re usually more reliable than reading online reviews. As I later discovered, this couple had spent only a day with him on a game drive and had no issues. I can see how that would perhaps be possible. We weren’t so lucky.
I got in touch with Yampa via Facebook and asked if he could send us some itineraries. We were looking for something in the range of ten to fifteen days on a private tour. Almost immediately, Yampa’s Reality Distortion Field goes into full effect. He starts copy-pasting full itineraries into Facebook messages and blasting them at me. These aren’t simple line-item itineraries. They’re 2-3 pages of single-spaced text brutally crushed into Facebook message form, full of marketing copy and seemingly endless lists. For example, on one excursion within one day of one possible tour we could see:
“… 606 bird species that include the Shoebill Stork, Black Bee-Eater, Chapin’s’ Flycatcher, Bustards, and craters full of Lesser Flamingos, Black Chested Eagle, the Swallow Tailed Bee Eaters, to mention but a few. “
To mention but a few? Stick to the basics, buddy! I’m a bit overwhelmed, so he resorts to emailing me Google Docs links to the same itineraries. Except this time, instead of showing me only the relevant itineraries he decides to show me every possible tour he offers in one gigantic tome. And the itinerary he’s suggesting for us is somewhere hidden in this giant mess of text. But hey, he’s done us the service of highlighting the text so just go ahead and scroll around endlessly to find it!
We choose a set of dates: the trip would start May 7th. We were taking a bus from Nairobi to Kampala on the 6th, and that was going to take all day. So we agreed to start the next day in the morning. A 10 day trip would end on the 16th of May. Yampa confirms this.
And of course, weeks later Yampa tries to tell us that we’re supposed to start on the 6th, despite having a written agreement that we start on the 7th. He also sends an itinerary wherein the meals are now only half-covered. We now have days where he pays only for dinner but not breakfast or lunch. I’m pretty livid at this point, and respond saying that he’s changing the deal. I say that we’ll pay for our accommodation on the 6th, and we’ll start the trip on the 7th as agreed. He also says that the trip will end on the 17th, now. Extending by a day? OK, works for us. Obviously this extra day never actually happened, he just couldn’t be bothered to double-check his math. We start negotiating a price and Yampa tells us that he can do a 10 day trip for 1697 USD per person. This is a TON of money for us. But it includes things like gorilla tracking that we’re super-excited about, so the price isn’t too bad. Shortly after giving us the quote he sends us a document to confirm the itinerary, saying he screwed up the price in the Facebook message and that the final price is, and I quote, "$ 1,7695". Go ahead and try to figure out what number that is. I write him back to say that we had agreed on 1697 USD and he eventually relents. This is an “all-in” price, which he says will cover everything on the trip: food, accommodation, tours. The whole lot. Great – that’s what we want.
Now it’s time for payment. According to Yampa: "What you do send me the money, so that I book Authoritatively on that, with my experience and contacts may be.” You can see why our messages back and forth could get a bit confusing for me. It’s like firing meaningless text through a series of ten languages on Google Translate and then trying to interpret the result.
So how are we going to pay? I’d like to send money via PayPal, but it seems you can’t send it to Uganda. Yampa keeps demanding a “bank transfer”, even after I repeatedly inform him that I’m not anywhere near my local bank branch in Canada. I can’t send you money from my bank while I’m in Africa! He suggests I try Western Union. I’m not too pleased because Western Union has a maximum of 999.99 CAD per transfer, and each transfer costs 18.95 CAD. Obviously I’ll be spending a lot of money on these transfers. I ask him if he’d be willing to split the transfer costs down the middle and we’ll each pay half. His response: "I will lose 6% from the total which I can not transfer to you Ian. Kindly bare it.” I'm not sure where this supposed 6% is going, but I don't want to cause a fuss so I decide to “bare it”.
I start sending transfers to him. I’ve sent three transfers of 999.99 CAD when he writes to say that he’s received 2148 USD. At the time, the exchange rate was such that I’d actually sent the equivalent of just under 2493 USD. So already 345 USD has gone mysteriously missing. Great. Instead of arguing about it, I think it'll be easier once I've sent everything I think I owe. So I send another payment, for a total of 4000 CAD sent. At the time, that was equal to 3290 USD. The whole trip was quoted at 3394 USD, so by my math (also known as just “math”) I owed another 104 USD.
He doesn’t agree. Logic and math don’t operate as expected in Yampa’s universe. I understand that Western Union doesn’t give the best exchange rate, but he says he’s receiving way less than he should be. However, once he shows me the numbers of Ugandan Shillings he’s actually receiving, the math shows that he’s only losing about 2.5% on the transfer. Earlier, he claimed he was losing 6% on the transfer and that’s why I should pay the Western Union transfer fees. And he agreed to our initial price under the assumption that he would be losing that 6%. But he’s only losing 2.5%. After literally hours of writing messages back and forth trying to come to a resolution, I ask him how much HE thinks I owe him. He responds with a bunch of non-math and produces the figure: 1090 CAD. WHAT?! In other words, he’s claiming that I should pay him approximately 5090 CAD to get him the 3394 USD that we had agreed to for the two of us. Uhh, nope. Even at today’s horrific exchange rates that doesn’t work out.
We have lengthy discussions where I try to determine what’s going wrong with the payment and why he seems to think he’s getting so little. Here’s Yampa’s crystal-clear explanation of the process:
"I will tell you this keep that transfer, do it while here see if what you send is what I get. These guy get your money convert it to USD, which is 1000 CAD by 1.21600 then to tax it , your bank has taken 0.01; the actual value transferred is 908.35 which reflects as final pay out in CAD then the currency pundits start again to convert that value that date the value of cad to shillings was 21600.71 to the dollars US was 1.21600 which was 3163; kindly harmonize those rates excluding any transport and service charges and how many CAD You need to make 3394”
You got all that? I’m eventually so tired of arguing about it that I just decide to ALSO cover the losses he’s taking on Western Union (keep in mind, this is the form of payment he SUGGESTED we use). So now I’m just converting the number of Ugandan Shillings he’s receiving on his end into USD at the exchange rate he’s telling me he gets. Everything is taking place in his magical number space. I square everything up with a 315 CAD payment and put the money argument to bed. It’s about 150 CAD more than I think I should be paying, plus about 100 CAD in transfer fees for all of the Western Union transfers. I’m not very pleased about having to take all of the hits on the payment side, but at least we won’t have to argue with Yampa about money anymore, right? If only… Yampa picks us up at the bus station after our long ride to Kampala. We get into his 4x4 Land Cruiser. It’s a pretty old model vehicle, but it seems to be in reasonably good condition. There’s a half-empty water bottle on the passenger seat floor when I enter the vehicle. I ask him where he’d like to put the bottle and hand it to him. He opens his window and throws it on the ground. Yes, this is a guy who calls himself a “Naturalist” on LinkedIn. Actually, on both of the LinkedIn accounts that this international man of mystery has.
Our first morning involves a breakfast at a local coffee place. Yampa and I get into a discussion about money again, and he tries to tell me that credit cards are very new to Uganda and are not really accepted anywhere. That’s why I couldn’t just pay for our tour with a credit card as I would have liked. I ask our server if I can pay for the bill with credit card. “Yes, of course,” she says. Yampa then tells me that if I pay with a credit card, there will be a 25% surcharge added on top. The waitress comes back and hands me my credit card and receipt. Yampa grabs the receipt to check. He asks the server why there’s no surcharge. She has no idea what he’s talking about. Neither does he, apparently. It’s always awkward when you have to confront somebody’s dishonesty directly like that, but I started to realize it might be necessary.
Later in the day, I notice a strange sound that starts getting louder as we drive. It seems related to the front passenger wheel. Yampa tries to convince me that it has something to do with the transmission or driveshaft not being matched to this upgraded model or some other piece of nonsense. I have no idea what he’s talking about. Sandra chimes in that she can hear the noise as well. Yampa pulls over to take a look and we see that the bolts holding the wheel on are almost entirely unthreaded. We turn the car around to fix the issue at a nearby service station, and by the time we get there one of the bolts has sheared off completely. I’m sure glad we spoke up about it before our wheel fell off the vehicle while driving…
Now we wait around for a couple of hours while the service station people replace the tire with our first spare. But it’s more complicated than a simple tire change because we need a new set of bolts as well. Yampa doesn’t apologize at all. Not once. It all gets fixed up and we continue on our way. We were supposed to have a game drive in the afternoon, but by the time we arrive at our accommodation it’s night time so we miss the game drive. Oh well – this is the adventure of travel, right?
We’re supposed to wake up early the next morning for another game drive. As we’re headed to breakfast, Sandra notices that our new tire is completely flat. She informs Yampa of this fact. But wait, isn’t that something that the guide should be taking care of? Shouldn’t he have checked out the car when he woke up? Apparently not. No apologies from Yampa, though! He retrieves the jack from the car, but he can’t get it to work. Other tour guides come to our rescue (how come they’re so prepared?!) to help put on our second spare tire, leaving us with zero remaining.
With our new spare on the vehicle, we make it to the ferry to start our game drive. It goes well, but on the way back to the ferry (surprise, surprise!) the vehicle broke down completely in the middle of the park. Yampa stared around in the hood compartment but had no idea what was wrong. He kept saying, “There’s a broken wire here. I just don’t know what it should connect to.” He tried holding the bare wire to random parts of the internal wiring and asking me to start it. It’s dead. Eventually we were rescued by another safari vehicle passing by. No apologies are forthcoming from Yampa. We’ve wasted multiple hours once again.
That day, we were supposed to take a boat to the bottom Murchison Falls in the afternoon. Then we were to hike to the top and be picked up by Yampa who would bring us back to camp. But now our vehicle doesn’t work, so we miss out on the hike. No worries, he assures us: we can visit the top of the falls the next day on our way to the next destination in the morning.
The next morning, we head out on our way. The plan is to switch vehicles at the entrance to Murchison Falls park. I mention that we’d like to see Murchison Falls on the way out as promised the day before. Yampa tells me that the trail has been washed out. And that elephants have damaged the trail by felling trees. And that once we go down the trail we could get in trouble since we don’t have a spare tire anymore and it would be difficult to get rescued. I’m getting the feeling it’s bullshit, so I demand that we go anyway. Of course, as we approach the trailhead a minivan is comfortably returning from the drive to the top of the falls. Washed out trail? Damage from elephants? Nope, none of that. He’s just making shit up as he goes along.
Now it’s time to switch to our new, improved vehicle. Given all the trouble we’ve had with the first, we’re happy to switch to another. Who cares if my window in the “new” vehicle will lower but not raise again? The engine works at least. So we’re told. Of course, somehow the switching process takes about an hour and a half. Both vehicles are there… and yet we can’t just do the swap and continue on our way. Yampa doesn’t tell us what’s going on, he just lets us sit while he wanders to and fro. No apologies, of course.
We finally head out on our way. At this point, Yampa’s plan was that the first vehicle would be repaired and returned to us within the next day or so.
It’s probably about time to mention Yampa’s ridiculous driving technique. Or lack thereof. Sandra refused to sit in the front of the vehicle because she didn’t think her heart could handle it. We were both constantly cringing and swearing under our breath at narrow misses of local cyclists, animals, and motorcyclists. Well, the misses were narrow until the time we actually hit somebody. A motorcyclist was carrying a sack of potatoes and was headed towards us. Yampa was driving far too quickly on a muddy, rain-soaked road. He slammed on the brakes as we neared this motorcyclist since Yampa wasn’t happy with the degree to which he'd forced the other driver off the road. We hit the sack hanging off the back of the motorcycle, almost completely dismounting the motorcyclist. In fine form, Yampa continued driving without saying a word. He stopped about 200m down the road to check that his front grill wasn’t damaged, and continued on without remarking on the accident. Our second vehicle broke down. Yes, the one that replaced the first. Let’s not even really go into it. Suffice it to say that good ol' Yamps forgot to put the radiator cap on, which led to cascade of leaks, overheats, the vehicle cabin filling with blue smoke while driving, and eventual complete engine death. We switched into a four-door sedan that belonged to one of Yampa’s friends. All while waiting around for many more hours trying to troubleshoot why the front cabin was trying to kill us with noxious fumes. And stopping to refill the radiator. And stopping to do this again. Endlessly refilling the radiator and watching it leak. Trust me, refilling a radiator over and over again doesn’t fix a leak. The sedan that replaced the second broken 4x4 had tinted windows that didn’t open in the rear. This was our “safari” vehicle. Can’t look out above the roof. Windows that you can’t see out of because they’re tinted so darkly… it’s perfect!
To avoid using this sedan on one of our safaris, Yampa asked us if we’d be happy if he rented something akin to a Subaru Forrester. From some random person parked in the same lodge as us. In order to get a view from atop the vehicle, you could open the sunroof and the front passenger could stand on his or her seat and snake through it. The rear passenger didn’t have this luxury. We said this wasn’t really an acceptable replacement, and that we didn’t want this vehicle for the safari the next morning. The next morning, Yampa turns up with (you guessed it!) the shitty SUV we explicitly said we didn’t want! Thanks, Yampa!
After questioning him about whether our first vehicle (the 4x4) would ever be fixed and returned to us, Yampa told us that the vehicle had indeed been fixed up. But that the driver who was bringing it back to us had gotten into an accident and totalled the vehicle. Of course. “It’s true!”, he says. “I have pictures on WhatsApp.” I ask him to show them to me. He pauses, then says “I don’t have access to the Internet right now so I can’t show them to you.” You can see that the bullshit train is running full steam ahead. We never see the images of the totalled 4x4 that was to be returned to us.
Within four days, we’ve switched into our fifth vehicle. A van that Yampa decides to rent. The seats are reinforced with wooden planks, so they’re incredibly uncomfortable to sit in. Oh, and obviously there’s about a three hour process to switch into this final vehicle from our sedan. No apologies on tap – just abject disaster. We’d agreed ahead of time that Yampa would cover all of the food for the trip. Of course, once we start the trip he clarifies that he won’t be paying for drinks. Ugh, well, fine. I expected it would be something like we had in Bolivia where the tour organizer buys food and prepares it for appropriate meals. Instead, Yampa is just bringing us to local restaurants. Crappy ones. This is an awkward arrangement, because he hasn’t given us any kind of food budget. We’re conscious of the fact that he probably wants us to choose cheap food, and we do so without saying a word.
After eating our first lunch (where Sandra and I both chose some of the cheapest items on the menu), Yampa gets the bill and immediately demands a discount from the staff. He starts saying that he’s going to bring a lot of business to this hotel restaurant, but that he won’t return if he doesn’t get a discount. The management politely ask him to simply pay the bill and not try to change the price after the completion of the meal. But Yampa continues to press for a discount. It’s really awkward, but he won’t stop. This is just one example of him generally treating his fellow Ugandans like garbage. Regardless, he doesn’t receive a discount. Now Sandra and I have to focus even more on trying to eat cheap food to avoid scenes like this in the future. A week before the trip started, we asked if it might be possible to have a stop in Rwanda because we noticed the itinerary brought us very close to the border – about 35km away. The idea was that after the gorilla tracking was done, we could head into Rwanda and replace the last couple of days of the itinerary with some time in Rwanda. Yampa said that would be fine, we just had to let him know five days in advance if we wanted to go. So as soon as the trip started, we told him we definitely wanted to go to Rwanda. No problem. Plenty of time in advance.
The night before we’re about to head to Rwanda, Yampa tells us that he needs more money. I’m confused. Why does he need more money? He says, “Because I’ve had so many breakdowns, it’s cost me everything I was going to make on the trip. I can’t afford to finish the trip without more money.” Whaaa? He says that we need to pay him another 55 CAD. At this point, I pretty much lose it on him. I say that after all of the time we’ve lost and wasted on the side of the road, how is it that you think it’s fair to ask us for more money to finish the trip? I say that he should be thinking seriously about giving us a refund for all of the trouble we’ve been through. But this logic doesn’t compute with Yampa. When I start talking about some kind of refund, Yampa declares that it’s the “African way” to send a "gift" after the trip has been completed. At some random date in the future, he’s nebulously promising to send us “some gift”. I keep trying to clarify how much this gift will be, but he refuses to put a number on it. He wants to make us happy, he says. What would make me happy is to not be loaning you money in the middle of our trip.
I just want our itinerary to finish and to visit the stuff we were expecting to visit. We had told him at the beginning of the journey that we wanted to head into Rwanda for the last couple of days on the itinerary. We told him this more than the “five days before” that he said he needed. So we came to an agreement: we would loan him 55 CAD to cover his cash expenses going forward. He said that if we lent him this money, he would, and I quote “finish the trip in a 4x4, including Rwanda.” Fine. I send him the money via Western Union. Oh, and that also means we get to spend an hour or so the next day searching around for a bank so he can retrieve the cash from Western Union. Fantastic.
We think we’re about to go to Rwanda now. Everything should be sorted. We’d discussed all of the remaining days in the trip and how we would depart for Rwanda the next day. But the next morning, Yampa tells us he has a “surprise” for us. We’re going to Lake Bunyonyi. We’re confused about this – didn’t we just figure out the entire itinerary until the trip is over? Apparently not. He didn't mention this. We’re dropped off at the lake and taken to our island accommodation. And now Yampa is leaving us. Yes, he’s leaving us here overnight. After he walks away, we’re told that we have to pay for breakfast and meals at this place. But that’s not what we agreed to. Sandra runs after Yampa before his boat departs so we can determine how we’re supposed to deal with this – we don’t have enough cash to pay for these meals! Sandra manages to catch up with Yampa and he returns to figure out a plan. He makes an agreement with the manager that he’ll pay the boatman who takes us back to the mainland the next day for any food we’ve eaten. This is probably something you should have figured out before leaving us on the island, Yampa!
The lake was nice enough, but we basically just spent the day hanging out in our room by ourselves. There weren’t many guests staying there and the activity options were centred around walking the perimeter of the island or doing some multi-day trips (for which we didn’t have any time). Relaxing enough, sure, but not a “surprise” we would have chosen on a day we were supposed to go to Rwanda.
Upon departure the next day, we were a little nervous that Yampa wouldn’t be there to pick us up. Back in Queen Elizabeth National Park, he’d missed our pickup and we’d walked about 15 minutes back to our accommodation. In a park with no fences where we saw a lion the same morning a few minutes away. True to form, Yampa was nowhere to be seen once we were returned back to shore. Fifteen minutes later he rocks up (sans apology, of course) to help us continue on our way. Thanks. Oh, and he did this again to us in the pouring rain after gorilla tracking. Just didn’t show up. Thankfully another guide was kind enough to return us back to our hotel. Ugh.
So now we’re on the road to Rwanda. We’re about five minutes out of town, and I start asking some questions to clarify the situation. “You have a hotel that we’re staying at in Kigali, right?” “Yes”, he answers. “But you are paying for the accommodation in Rwanda.” “… What? Since when did we agree that we were paying for accommodation in Rwanda?” “It’s extra. It’s not in the original itinerary, so you pay for those nights.” “What are you talking about?! We told you a week ago that we wanted to go to Rwanda and this trip covers accommodation!” “I have extra expenses to go to Rwanda. Insurance and fees for crossing the border. You have to pay those.” “… WHAT?! When were you going to tell us this? You think it’s appropriate to mention all of this as we’re headed toward the border?” “I have bad news. I can’t afford to finish the trip without more money.”
I’m just furious at this point. Seething. We just paid him more money with the promise that he would “finish the trip in a 4x4, including Rwanda.” And now we apparently owe him yet more money for these shiny new imaginary expenses. In terms of a 4x4, we’re in a four-wheel drive van at this point. So hey, it kind of counts? The roof opens up so you can stand and look out, so it’s fairly close to the real Land Cruisers we started with. Now he’s told us that he needs more money and we’re about ten minutes out of town. So we have to drive back into town because I need to visit a cash machine to get him his extra money. He didn’t think of raising this point while we were near an ATM. He waited until we left town. Brilliant.
This time around, he generates a figure of 400,000 UGX or about 150 CAD. He doesn’t show any documentation for why this number is the correct magical figure. Just invents it off the top of his head and says that’s how much he needs now to finish the trip. After we already paid him to, and I quote, “finish the trip in a 4x4, including Rwanda.” I feel like I can’t be more clear and direct with this guy, and yet somehow new expenses are appearing before our eyes. And he can’t afford to finish the trip without being paid.
So we pay him. After which he tells us that he won’t be paying for food in Rwanda, either. We have to cover that, because Rwanda wasn’t in the original itinerary. In our minds, this is still supposed to be a ten day itinerary. We’re just asking to spend time in Rwanda instead of Uganda for the last couple of days. It’s not a longer trip, it’s just a slightly modified trip that he agreed we could do. He never said anything about not covering costs for that portion. For Yampa, the appropriate time to start talking about this is when you’re twenty minutes away from the border crossing.
We’re so fed up at this point, we agree to pay for food. And we’ll pay for our accommodation. Whatever. Just for the love of all that is holy please stop saying you can’t finish the trip without more money.
We cross into Rwanda and head to our hotel. He pulls up to a hotel and drops us off at the hotel restaurant. Then he just walks away. We order some food and wait around. After fifteen minutes or so, I decide I should see what he’s up to. I head over to the hotel reception where Yampa is trying to negotiate some special rate at the hotel. He tells me he’s trying to get us hooked up with a cheap price for the hotel plus breakfast. And I’m just left wondering why he’s trying to book this hotel on the day we’re supposed to be staying there. You didn't call ahead to make sure this place had availability? He tells us he’s secured the place for 50 USD a night, and that it will include breakfast. I guess it’s good news that we have a place to stay, but given the fact that he hadn’t actually booked anything in advance I would rather have just picked out a place ourselves. Maybe we could have gotten something of higher quality for less money, right? But instead we just wait and wonder while Yampa tries to work his terrible magic.
On our first full day in Rwanda we want to go to the Genocide Museum. Yampa agrees to take us there. He starts driving… then stops. Turns the car around. Drives a different direction. Pulls over. He doesn’t know where he’s going. “I think the museum is over this way…”, he mutters. I start up my phone and decide to try to navigate to this place myself. I find it and have to bring him there. We knew we were visiting the Genocide Museum today, Yampa. You knew this. Maybe it would have been prudent to have figured out where it was before randomly driving around?
Next up was a genocide memorial outside of town. I check the location on my phone, and Yampa says it’s just ten minutes away. My phone is estimating about 45 minutes to get there. I tell him that I think the memorial is a lot farther than he thinks. He says my phone is wrong. Definitely wrong. But sure enough, we arrive at the memorial almost exactly 45 minutes later. This is one of countless time and distance estimations that Yampa has completely mangled. Our disdain grows stronger.
After an insightful tour of the Genocide Memorial, Yampa asks our tour guide: “Now you’ve given us a tour that you give everybody. Why don’t you tell us something special that guests don’t normally hear? What is your personal connection with the genocide?” Sandra and I visibly cringe. This is not something you should really ask people in Rwanda, as far as we’re concerned. We try to apologize and tell her she doesn't have to answer, but Yampa persists. The woman tells us that her father was killed in the genocide – buried alive by her neighbours. She was ten years old. Although this incredible story was fascinating to hear, I think I’d rather turn back time and not have Yampa ask her that question at all. If she wants to include that information in the tour, then be my guest. Otherwise: don’t ask!
UNow it’s time to head home. According to the itinerary we’d worked out with Yampa (which we’ve now paid 180 USD extra for, plus transfer fees, an exchange rate spread, accommodation, food, and drinks in Rwanda) we were supposed to drive all the way back to Entebbe from Rwanda on the last day. But he tells us that we’re already booked at a hotel halfway between. What? He tells us this the day before we’re about to stay there. He says we have to stay there because he’s already booked it and they won’t refund his money. I ask him for the phone number for this place so I can call and ask if we’re actually booked there and why they won’t give us a refund. He won’t give me the hotel information. We ask him why it is that he didn’t mention this hotel stay that he can’t get refunded when we had agreed on how to finish the trip. He mumbles something about how normally he can switch the hotel stays between various locations without incurring costs, but that this case is different for some unknown reason. I’m actually finding this entire subject very difficult to write about because his answers to these questions were constantly changing. Yampa's imperviousness to logic meant that you never really got a straight answer to anything. In trying to recount his side of things, it’s really difficult because we never completely understood his reasoning. And once we got close, the reasoning would just change entirely.
We’re at our last evening meal together and we’re trying to nail down how this trip will complete. He says he’s already booked all of this accommodation that he can’t refund. I say fine: just let us stay there. We’ve already paid for accommodation here in Rwanda, so these hotels that we’re already booked at have been paid for previously. I’m trying to get to some kind of agreement about what’s going to happen going forward because Sandra and I are obviously very upset with how he’s dealt with this tour. We’ve spent countless hours just sitting around and arguing with him, not to mention the hours waiting at the side of the road. I’m explaining to him that for the pleasure of all of this, we’ve currently overpaid on the trip by well over 180 USD. So I want my extra payments returned to me in addition to a half-day refund for all of the breakdowns and missed activities.
Yampa says he wants more money for an “extra day”. In fact, he wants 200 USD for his fuel and time. And yet… our trip is ending on the night we’d always agreed to. It’s still the 10 day trip that we booked initially. By Yampa’s logic, it’s 11 days because of the very first night when we arrived at 10pm and he picked us up and brought us to our accommodation. That’s right: the night that I explicitly told him we didn’t want. Weeks before the trip. Because we wanted to start the next day. The day I have a written agreement from him as the day we would start on.
After arguing through our entire dinner (and trying to stop Sandra from strangling him), I basically give up. I’m not going to ask for a refund at all. We’ll give him a pass on the swaths of time broken down in villages, repairing the car, missing sections of the trip, missed pickups, and so on. All I want back is the extra 180 USD we gave him. We’ll still pay for our accommodation in Rwanda, even though he should cover it. Same goes for food and drink. Same goes for transfer fees and exchange rate spreads. I just want the 180 USD. By the time we receive the bill at dinner, wonder of wonders, he has agreed. He will send us 180 USD within thirty days. The next day we drive all the way back to Entebbe. Yampa drops us off at our hotel, and I reiterate our agreement that he will send us this money within thirty days. He confirms it. I put it in my calendar.
Fast forward to just before June 14th, three days before the date that Yampa has agreed to pay us by. I write him in advance to remind him that his payment date is coming up. I ask him to confirm that he will be sending us the money. He responds only with, “Let me try.”
Then no response for a week. On June 21st I write again asking for a date by which he’ll pay us by. Just a concrete date, please, instead of a “Let me try.” His verbatim response is:
"I have been on the road and Im still, the places luck internet of western union, sometimes even the time. I thought it was 140 not 180”
He’s basically telling me that he has no access to the Internet. While writing me on the Internet. And he’s simultaneously now changing the amount owed to 140 USD instead of 180 USD. Even though in our last messages he had no problem with the amount. I respond and tell him it’s definitely 180 USD, and that that number is exactly what he agreed to. No more, no less. I ask for a date by which he’ll pay us.
Again a week goes by with no response. I write him again and ask that he please just help sort this out so we can both move on. He responds:
"I'm sorry Ian we are holed up in Bwindi, the weather and roads are bad, same to net work hold on a bit”
So again, he’s telling me that he can’t send me money over the Internet because the Internet doesn’t work. While writing me on the Internet. I respond and say to please just give us a date by which he’ll pay us back. Here’s the remainder of our conversation:
"Yampa, please tell me exactly when you will send us this money. It's been almost a week and we haven't heard anything from you.” "We are camped high in the virungas conducting gorillas census, usually get out late at around now and leave early before and after the banks are closed. I know its bad but I'll it as soon as we break.” "When are you done with this census? I really need you to specify the date on which you will send the refund. Please tell me when it will arrive.” "Census ends on Sept 20 and by the way I will deduct the accommodation of the first night, at Uwec [our hotel on the first night] because Im being taxed for it.”
Huzzah! New reasons to try to take money out from what he owes us! All the while pushing back the payment date back to late September – another two months into the future. After already being more than a month late. I’m so fed up that I actually agree. He says he just needs to finish a gorilla census and then he can pay us back. Utterly ridiculous. But fine. He's got all the power since he already has our money. As the Eurythmics so famously stated: "Who am I to disagree?"
Fast forward again to August 13th. Yampa drops a post on Facebook about how hot it is in Fort Portal. That’s a major tourist city in Uganda. It’s also about 400km away from where the gorillas are located in the Virungas. He is obviously lying about this census he's supposed to be performing. I write him and tell him it’s time to pay us. He obviously has Internet access. He’s in a city with many major bank branches (which, if he paid us online via PayPal as he'd agreed to he wouldn’t even need!). I write him the following: "Hi Yampa. I see that you're in Fort Portal. You have access to a bank now. Please send our 180 USD within 72 hours. We've waited long enough.”
And now a drumroll for the last straw: "I went to Fort Portal to deliver our payment vouchers. Be sure of receiving 120 dollars”
Let’s deconstruct this statement. He went to “deliver our payment vouchers”. Why do I care what you were doing there? How is that relevant? If you’re "delivering payments", wouldn’t you have visited a bank? Wouldn’t that mean you’re flush with cash so you can send us a transfer? And are you seriously changing the amount to 120 USD now? It’s at this point that I lost it and decided to write this (hopefully) damning “review”. This entire thing is a farce. Baliija Balyampa “Yampa” Robinson D D Abraham is full of crap. He’s not going to pay us. He has no intention of ever doing so. Why he keeps stringing us along I have no idea. Maybe he thinks it’s fun? But regardless, I’m out.
We had an incredible time in Uganda. It was a lovely country and we saw lots of incredible stuff. I can only imagine how much fun we would have had if we didn’t have Yampa undermining the trip on a daily basis! After all of the crappy stuff that happened: the breakdowns, the five separate vehicles in four days, the countless partial truths and outright lies and the interminable delays, all we wanted was the extra money we’d paid for the trip returned to us. We need it for the rest of our trip. We weren’t asking for a refund on the trip at all. Just give us back the money that was explicitly requested as a “loan”. Nope. He couldn’t make it happen. Over three months after the trip ended and nothing but more deception.
So I told Yampa to keep it. Keep the money. We don’t even want it back anymore. It’s not worth the aggravation trying to retrieve it. All we can do is to write about this experience and hope that some other wandering soul reads it before embarking on a trip with the dread pirate Yampa.
Say it with me, now! I Hate Yampa Africa Tours!
And let us never speak of it again.
Phew… that feels better. UPDATE: I Still Hate Yampa Africa Tours: The Aftermath