Ethiopia tour did not go as planned

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<em>On May 6, 2013, ITN subscriber&nbsp;Gail Riba <a href="">wrote a post on the message board</a>.&nbsp;For any posting claiming fraud, dishonesty, mistreatment, incompetency, etc., by a travel firm or which simply includes criticisms of a type that the firm may wish to respond to, ITN&#39;s policy is to remove the posting while allowing the company a fair chance to address the complaint.</em> <em>Gail Riba, along with her husband and her daughter, booked a private tour of Ethiopia, Jan. 16-Feb. 1, 2013, with Daniel Damtew Aseffa of Glory Ethiopia Tour &amp; Travel. Their experience was unnecessarily very unpleasant and frightening, and not only did they not receive from Mr. Damtew all that they contracted for, they ended up having to spend thousands more to complete their tour. &mdash; Editor</em> <h3><strong>Ethiopia tour did not go as planned</strong></h3> My husband, John Doellinger, my daughter, Dorie Ritschl, and I booked a private tour of Ethiopia for Jan. 16-Feb. 1, 2013, with someone whom friends of ours had used two years before, Daniel Damtew Aseffa of Glory Ethiopia Tour &amp; Travel <em>(P.O. Box 15303, </em><em>Comoros St., </em><em>Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; phone +251 11 860 1099,</em>. After speaking to Mr. Damtew via Skype and sending emails back and forth, we paid him by means of wire transfers a total of $9,194 for the three of us. Shortly before our trip, Mr. Damtew informed us that he was reversing the order of our itinerary so that we would see the south first because the north would be very crowded due to the Timket (Timqat) festival. We met Mr. Damtew in Addis Ababa, in central Ethiopia, and traveled to and around the Omo Valley in southern Ethiopia with him, Jan. 16-26. The minivan in which we traveled was the only non-4-wheel-drive vehicle we saw in the South Omo. The &quot;Check Engine&quot; light on the dashboard was lit from day one; Mr. Damtew said he&#39;d had it checked and it was just the light that was broken. One back window did not open at all and the other opened only halfway. One back door did not open. He claimed that the brakes squeaked because of new brake pads. On the first day, we gave Mr. Damtew $200 in cash so he could negotiate our visiting villages, each of which, he told us, required a fee of $20 to enter. Also on the first day, in Addis Ababa he checked us into the <strong>Union Hotel</strong>, which was not on our itinerary. When we objected, he said that it was better than the <strong>Adot Tina</strong>. It was not, as we found out later in the trip when we stayed in the Adot Tina. The Union Hotel was located in an out-of-the-way neighborhood with noisy dogs and roosters. In our room, the floors and bathtub were filthy. We were the only guests in the hotel. When we went to its restaurant for dinner, even though they gave us a menu, only one item was available; we had no choice. When we came down to breakfast at a prearranged time, no one was there and all was dark. On day two, our minivan&#39;s air-conditioning went. The temperature outside was in the 90s and the terrain was very dusty. We arrived in southern Ethiopia on Jan. 18, and that&#39;s when our problems with the radiator started, necessitating short stops to fill it up. On that day, we did not have dinner at the <strong>Paradise Lodge</strong> as planned because the kitchen had closed before we arrived; the owner said he had expected us much sooner. I&#39;m not sure why we were late; the stops to fill the radiator didn&#39;t take that much time. We did keep stopping so Mr. Damtew could pick up things. We also did not have our scheduled dinner at the <strong>Murulle Lodge</strong>, in the Omo Valley, on Jan. 21 because we didn&#39;t get back until 8 p.m. Our minivan had gotten stuck in the sand and eventually was dug out by a group of Hamer people (for a fee). We had to fill the radiator with water constantly. On Jan. 22 the radiator began leaking so much that Mr. Damtew and the driver started gluing the crack. We stood in brutal heat with no shade by the side of the road for two hours. We then rode for 10 minutes and minivan broke down again. The driver coasted for a while, then we walked to a restaurant. Mr. Damtew left us there at 4:10, not returning until 7:30. He did not answer his cell when called. On Jan. 23, a van from another tour agency picked us up from the side of the road and drove us to our hotel so we could get out of the heat. We spent all day at <strong>Swayne&rsquo;s Hotel</strong> (not on our itinerary) while Mr. Damtew attempted to fix the vehicle. By Jan. 24 the driver was driving in neutral whenever he could to keep the engine cool. By 1:45 on that day we had broken down four times, so lunch was not until 3 p.m. We weren&#39;t picked up from the restaurant until about 5 p.m. On Jan. 25 the minivan overheated at 11 a.m., 12 p.m. and again at 12:40. At our insistence, Mr. Damtew took us to a hotel, which was the <strong>Halle Lodge</strong>. He came back at 7 p.m. and dropped us off at the <strong>Aregash Lodge</strong> in Yirgalem. So, over those several days, we missed many sights listed on the itinerary because the minivan kept breaking down. We would have breakfast, then we&#39;d get stranded &mdash; stuck standing in the heat. We wouldn&#39;t have lunch until 3 or 4 p.m. and then, because we weren&#39;t hungry two or three hours later, we would have no dinner (each of which was to be included with our stay). We often didn&#39;t arrive at our hotel until after 9 p.m. Among the stops on our itinerary that we missed were Mount Entoto, the Tiya archaeological site, the Afer Market, the Singing Wells, the House of Salt, the Borena people&#39;s weekly market in Yabello and the Awasa Fish Market. During many of our drives, Mr. Damtew slept or read, offering no information or conversation. And he kept promising we would try Ethiopian food &quot;tomorrow.&quot; Before the trip, we had researched some of our hotels and decided to upgrade two of them. We sent Mr. Damtew the extra money for the upgrades, but we ended up staying in an upgraded hotel only one night of the three nights we had booked. More than once, Mr. Damtew took us to a hotel we had not booked, telling us it was because it was better. At the Murulle Lodge, after telling us the owner had raised the rate by $100 per person, Mr. Damtew asked to borrow the money from us. When we questioned how the hotel could do that after we had reserved at a particular price, he said that it was a common practice in Ethiopia. Mr. Damtew said that when we returned to Addis Ababa, the next morning he would bring us the $300 when he brought us our vouchers for our trip in northern Ethiopia. Further, at the village of the Mursi tribe, we wanted to buy lip plates. Mr. Damtew told us it would cost us 200 birr (near $10.65) per plate. However, without negotiating, we bought them for 30 birr each from a woman who approached us. At one point while visiting the village, we went to see some totems and the people kept yelling at us in Amharic and waving us away. Daniel went into an office and we heard arguing. He came out and said they were accusing him of his tour-operator papers not being good. <div class="pik">&nbsp;</div> The evening before we were scheduled to leave the south, making a long drive back to Addis Ababa for our flight to the north, Mr. Damtew left us at the Aregash Lodge in Yirgalem and said he would return at about 10 a.m. to accompany us back to Addis Ababa. When he didn&rsquo;t show, the owners of the hotel kept calling him and he would say &ldquo;I&rsquo;m five kilometers away&quot; or &quot;I&rsquo;ll be there in 10 minutes&quot; or he didn&rsquo;t answer. The hotel&#39;s owners, Marika and Gregory, were helpful and very nice. Mr. Damtew finally showed up at 6 p.m. with the driver, but as they pulled into the parking lot the minivan died again and wouldn&rsquo;t start. He started to glue things together, but we refused to get into the van. Marika drove the three of us and Mr. Damtew into town to get a taxi van. Mr. Damtew wanted us to pay for it, but Marika went to bat for us and Mr. Damtew made some kind of arrangement and we left in the van, only to return with us a short while later because he claimed the van guys wanted more money. We left again and then, with the three of us in the taxi van along with Mr. Damtew and a friend, the driver stopped to buy some liquor and cola for them to drink and <em>ghat</em> <em>(qat)</em> to chew. They were mixing drinks and chewing ghat the entire trip. The driver drove toward Addis Ababa at speeds up to 160 kph. When we complained, Mr. Damtew said we had to accept it or they could just leave us on the side of the road with our luggage. By this time, we were truly afraid for our lives. <div class="pik">&nbsp;</div> Mr. Damtew told us from the beginning that he had booked another guide for us in the north, since he would not be with us there. The original plan was to go to his office with him when we arrived in Addis Ababa and get the vouchers for that part of the trip, then have a free afternoon and a going-away dinner. We arrived in Addis Ababa in the dark at 12:30 a.m. and he, instead, dropped us off at the hotel and said he would return at 5 a.m. with the vouchers and take us to the airport. He didn&#39;t show, and we took the hotel shuttle to the airport. Our tickets were electronic, and we flew north to Bahir Dar and were met by a driver named Thomas, who took us to a tour company representative named Tomin (sp?). Tomin expected us to arrive with several thousands of dollars that they were owed by Mr. Damtew for the previous month&rsquo;s tour group. Mr. Damtew also had not paid for us, so we would be required to pay for our transportation, hotels, tours, etc., as we went along. Starting in Bahir Dar, we were supposed to tour the north for five days, going to Gondar and Lalibela, then back to Addis Ababa to fly home. We told Thomas that we needed a hotel that took credit cards, as we did not have that much cash on us. He took us to the <strong>Blue Nile Hotel</strong>. There, a desk clerk named Simon spoke to his manager and got us a special rate. When we came down later to eat, Simon told us that he had told our story to a friend, Fitsum Gezahegne, the president of the Ethiopian Tour Operators Association, who wanted to talk to us. The hotel manager let us call Mr. Gezahegne, who also is a managing director of Paradise Ethiopia Travel <em>(P.O. Box 34520, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; phone +251 11 551 34 94, fax +251 11 550 45 56,</em>. The manager also let us use his computer and office to send paperwork to Mr. Gezahegne proving our story. Mr. Gezahegne rebooked hotels and tours for us, allowing us to pay him for everything with a credit card at the end of the trip! When a dust storm from the Sudan canceled all flights for three of our five days in the north, he got us a van with a driver to take us from Gondar to Lalibela. We lost only a day of touring. Mr. Gezahegne got us last-minute reservations at Lalibela. Mr. Damtew had never forwarded the money we paid him for our entry fees. The fees had doubled since the time we had booked our visit, so it cost us $100 each to enter the complex of churches. Regarding the fee that visitors pay tribal leaders to visit villages in Ethiopia, Mr. Gezahegne told us that the amount Mr. Damtew had told us we had to pay, $20 per village, was 10 times too much. He said the tourism ministry had negotiated a much cheaper price with the tribal leaders. (Previous to that, the tribal leaders would just ask for an arbitrary sum of money, not really knowing the value; $2 and $100 were the same to them.) (At the last village we had visited with Mr. Damtew, we actually saw him hand the leader only a 50-birr bill, which is worth about $2.65.) When we finally returned to Addis Ababa after touring the north, Mr. Gezahegne had his driver take us to his office, where we discussed what happened and what was happening with Mr. Damtew, whom we learned was not licensed to run tours. Mr. Gezahegne said that when he asked Mr. Damtew to repay us, he was told the money had been spent long ago. In Bahir Dar we had tried going to the police, but they wouldn&rsquo;t take a report from us about Mr. Damtew because he was based in Addis Ababa. Mr. Gezahegne later called the police for us. We tried to get help from the American Embassy, but they would only give us a list of lawyers to contact. Mr. Gezahegne&#39;s driver also took us to the Ministry of Culture &amp; Tourism to talk to Sisay Teklu, an assistant to the Minister of Tourism. Mr. Teklu had us write out a detailed explanation of our complaints and sign it. We wanted to have Mr. Damtew arrested, but Mr. Teklu said we would not get anything if Mr. Damtew was in jail. We signed papers, written in Amharic, supposedly saying that if Mr. Damtew didn&rsquo;t pay the agreed-upon amount, he and his wife would go to jail. We were told later in an email from Mr. Gezahegne, &quot;The next day after you left, Mr. Sisay Teklu of the Ministry of Tourism wrote a formal letter to Mr. Damtew requesting for an explanation about the whole thing and he signed a paper at the Ministry to pay all your money back before 31st of March. If he cannot pay the money by then, the government will. . . prosecute him accordingly.&quot; When the deadline passed, Mr. Teklu sent an email saying that Mr. Damtew had been given an extension until May 4. <strong>GAIL RIBA</strong> <strong>Wimauma, FL</strong> &nbsp; <strong><em>ITN</em></strong><em> mailed and emailed copies of Ms. Riba&#39;s account and emails to Daniel Damtew Aseffa and received no reply.</em> <strong><em>ITN</em></strong><em> also wrote to Sisay Teklu, Director, Tourism Stake Holders Directorate, Ministry of Culture &amp; Tourism, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and was emailed the following: &quot;I have gone through your email and attachments concerning the complaint against Glory Ethiopia Travel. As you are well aware, after we received the complaint we established contact with Mr. Daniel Damtew, who wrote to the Ministry to repay the money back as demanded by Mrs. Gail and her party.</em> <em>&quot;Now that Mr. Damtew failed to meet his obligation, our Directorate for Legal Affairs is handling the matter in accordance with institutional procedure. Hence, I will get in touch with you as soon as I get relevant feedback.&quot;</em> <em>On June 26, Ms. Riba wrote to <strong>ITN</strong>, &quot;In </em><em>my latest communication from Ethiopia, Mr. Teklu wrote, &#39;I apologize for responding so late, as we had to wait for results of actions taken by the concerned sections of our Ministry regarding Glory Ethiopia Tour and Travel P.L.C. What we have done so far is to (1) revoke the company&rsquo;s Temporary Competence Accreditation Certificate and (2) officially inform The Ministry of Trade to suspend the trade license of the company. Two offices, Addis Ababa City Culture &amp; Tourism Bureau and Addis Ababa Trade Bureau, were also notified. </em> <em>&quot;Again, I really want to express my sympathy for the unusual bad experience encountered to you and your party while visiting Ethiopia. We will continue to do everything necessary to persuade Glory Ethiopia Tour and Travel to repay back your money.&quot;</em> <em>Ms. Riba added, &quot;For the additional arrangements Mr. Gezahegne made for us through his company, Paradise Ethiopia Travel, after we arrived in northern Ethiopia, we ended up paying him, by credit card, 38,182 birrs (about $2,040). This was the bulk of the approximately $2,800 that we ended up paying out of our own pockets in the north.</em> <em>&quot;We were told that in the letter from the Ministry of Tourism that Mr. Damtew signed, he agreed to repay us $4,196. Using an invoice (in Amharic) from Mr. Damtew, Mr. Gezahegne came up with that figure. I assume it includes the additional amount we paid in the north, the $200 in bogus fees that we paid to visit villages, the $300 we paid for a supposed rate increase at the Murulle Lodge, additional monies for hotel upgrades that we did not get, and an amount for missed meals and missed touring. This is the total that we would hope to recover from Mr. Damtew, although it appears to us that there is almost no chance we will ever see our money again.&quot;</em> <em>On August 13, Mr. Teklu emailed <strong>ITN</strong>, &quot;The Ministry will do every thing possible within the right legal framework to bring (Mr. Damtew) to justice. In fact, some ten hours ago I received a call from one of the central police headquarters in Addis Ababa telling me that Mr. Damtew has been arrested. </em> <em>&quot;Again, It was unfortunate this happened to Mrs. Riba and her party. I can assure you that Ethiopia is and will be one of the best and safest holiday destinations in Africa.&quot;</em>