Some friends of ours had told us one of the greatest things they did while in Africa was to visit the Mountain Gorillas in Uganda. They were able to go to the National Park Office, buy a permit in cash, and then make their way to see the Gorillas. Unfortunately it wasn’t so simple for us as this was simply not an option.
Gorilla tracking in Uganda is a very delicate affair. For two full years local guides will go to see the gorillas and spend an hour with them each and every day. They do this so the gorillas come to recognize them as another, benign creature rather than a threat. Only after the group is habituated to humans are groups of no more than 8 tourists taken to visit them, and the permit to do so is only available via a handful of Kampala based travel agencies. You must select one agency from the web, send a huge ($500/person + fees) money transfer, and hope not to be scammed.
Did I mention this was Africa.
Our experience was awful. We arranged for the money to be sent and then we waited and waited. Every time we logged into the Internet we just hoped the money would have arrived in Uganda so that our permits would be purchased. With only a handful of habituated gorilla groups (at that time I believe there were three) and 8 permits available each day, we were running out of time. Nevermind that if the international money transfer didn’t make it, we might not be able to track the cash down….again, this was Africa.
In the end our wire transfer, something that should only take a couple of hours, took nearly 3 nerve-wracking weeks, not to mention the team of people working to get the money to go through. We did get to see the gorillas but the weeks leading up to it were stressful with all that money hanging in the balance. The next time we had to wire money overseas, this time for our Uzbekistan visas, we went with a different bank and although it went through OK, we paid almost as much in bank fees as we did for the actual visas.
We’ve talked a lot on this blog about managing our money and our spending on the road. We had credit cards and ATM cards and most of the time we didn’t have to worry about a thing. When we did worry about it though, it was rough and scary and really temporarily ruined our time abroad.
The moral of the story is to make sure you find a good way to transfer that money over borders because otherwise you’ll pay through the nose and maybe even lose out.