I recently returned from a two week trip to Africa, my first trip to this beautiful land. The first part of the trip was supposed to be a “joy-building, adventure” retreat run by someone that I had come to know well, at least I thought, over the last couple of years. The second part of the trip was an extended vacation, which ended up being much needed after the first half. The retreat was far from “joy-building,” but it was an adventure with a lot of learning moments. In this post, I share the truth of the trip as we experienced it, the good, the bad, and the ugly.
To summarize the bad and ugly experience, our retreat leader, spent all of the money we had paid her for the trip (which was to cover all expenses of safari, lodging, and some food) before she booked the safari portion. She asked to borrow $5,000 from one of the women going on the trip three weeks before we were to leave, as she was supposed to pay for the safari that day and she didn’t have the money. The money was not loaned, so she had to figure something else out. The rest of us on the trip were unaware of this issue until we experienced the consequences of her actions.
Because there was no money, the retreat leader had worked out a deal with the safari company that she would wire them money. She did not want to carry the amount in cash on her, which was the other option. I found out that she did not start wiring the money until after the guides picked us up for the safari, and she did not wire the money in full, rather doing small increments each day. This resulted in us losing out on a full 12 hours of safari/animal time over a four day period. She also asked some of us on the trip to borrow money to pay for the safari (to the tune of $2,700). All of us but one said no.
In addition to the loss of time sitting around at banks, gas stations, and lodges, the retreat leader switched and downgraded the lodging she had promoted to get us to sign up for the trip. In her original marketing material, she named specific lodges we would stay in, which were 3-4* quality. Three weeks before the trip she changed safari companies, which was most likely due to her stealing our money and not having any left. We were also promised transportation to and from the airport in Africa, which was not covered by her as said.
When we arrived in Zanzibar, we stayed at an Airbnb that ended up being in the middle of nowhere. The house was beautiful, but there was nowhere for us to go and explore without taking a long, expensive taxi ride. Our retreat time in Zanzibar had its own problems.
Each day of the trip was getting more and more tense, as we discovered more pieces to the story and had unpleasant experiences happen to us along the way. There was a power outage before the arrival at our safari lodge in the Serengeti as we were surrounded by hyenas. We then drove to a public camp in the dark and the truck broke down. A different truck came to get us to take us to a new lodge, but our luggage came later, and my carry-on was lost (it was in the far back with luggage so I couldn’t bring it with me – and it had my passport in it). Fortunately the bag showed up the next morning. The list goes on with the things that went wrong and the poor planning and lack of organization and forethought to details.
Finally on Day 6 of the retreat, I told the retreat leader my true thoughts on the trip and how angry and disappointed I was with how everything had gone down. She apologized, but didn’t fess up to the money situation. She put blame on everyone but herself. She made it seem like – “This is Africa,” a phrase she said several times and is often said by locals and tourists alike. She put us in several unsafe situations due to her mismanagement of funds and lack of organization and leadership. She treated the trip like a vacation with girlfriends instead of as a retreat, leaving us to fend for ourselves in some situations. She has yet to take responsibility for the major stress and loss of safari time she created by her money problems.
When she returned from Africa, she blocked at least four of the six of us on social media. The four of us have now requested her to refund a portion of the money we paid her to account for the loss of safari time and downgraded accommodations. This has yet to be done and she is avoiding us.
We found out there was another woman that had originally signed up for the trip that backed out months before going. She has yet to be refunded her money that she is owed and was promised. We also realized after the fact that the retreat leader is not running a legitimate business with a business license. The money is paid to her directly or through her husband’s PayPal account. It is likely she is not reporting income on this money. She and her husband run another company where the business license is expired.
The retreat leader continues to promote other retreats in foreign locations including Greece, Costa Rica, New Zealand, and Australia. Three women that signed up for Greece that learned about our experience have backed out, and two are still owed a refund.
The good part of the trip was seeing the amazing animals and the stunning Tanzania parks. I was able to be in the present moment when we were with the animals, so I could fully appreciate their beauty. I experienced the rich culture of Tanzania and Zanzibar.
As a retreat leader myself, I got to experience WHAT NOT TO DO when leading a group of women to a foreign land. It makes me truly appreciate the retreats I have been on that were beautifully led by the retreat leader, including my recent Bali retreat with my coach, Morgana Rae.
My recommendation is to fully know who you are paying a large sum of money to if traveling to a foreign location. Is it a legitimate business where there can be some recourse if things turn south? Have they been to the location before? Are they organized and detail oriented? What is their refund policy? Do your research. Be safe and make sure you have extra money in case you need to get yourself out of a bad situation.