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Turtle Tours, Niger October 2000 

comments by Brooks Goddard

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His e-mail letter to me

Dear Galen,

I, too, had a mishap with Turtle Tours. I appreciate your website work and feel that you were very generous in your criticism of Irma Turtle. I don't think she has
any idea of how poorly she has served her clients in Niger.

Most sincerely,
Brooks Goddard

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 Letter to Irma Turtle from the October group members

Dear Irma,

We are the folks of the October 2 departure for the Niger Festivals
Expedition who had a good time together for 15 days even though there
were several disappointments at not seeing any festivals that were
impromptu. We understand that all anticipations cannot be fulfilled. At
the same time, we embarked on this trip with some expectations that
should have been fulfilled but were not. As a group we have had a great
deal of travel experience and feel that our comments have justifiable

The overriding concern was loss of agency: the trip we had paid for was
not the trip that we experienced. It became too easy to ask "why isn't
[x] happening?" Part of the problem as we saw it was lack of leadership
and organization. Seeing a gerewol was the primary purpose of the tour,
and yet we didn't spend a lot of time looking for one. When the
centerpiece fails, extra effort and service is called for. Another part
of the problem was a lack of comfort much out of proportion to what was
possible and what was supplied. This statement is made fully
understanding the difficulty of terrain and timing. Smaller issues can
be subsumed under these two major points. Co-existing with these
concerns is our hope that people will not lose employment necessarily
because of our comments and that training will result in happier campers
next year (in all honesty, though, we wonder why this training has not
occurred already since this itinerary has been run for many years). Our
comments can perhaps be summarized in the following way: the trip was
not client-driven, much discomfort was unnecessary, we felt like
unwitting members of some philanthropic venture, and the trip did not
have the value of its cost.

We assume that the leadership hierarchy is a function of your direction
and Dunes-Voyages' expertise. Leslie is more of a study leader. Wherever
the responsibility, what came down to us was flawed. More specifically,
we felt that there should have been someone acting as camp manager who
would have seen to such issues as the following. We had a shower rigged
up only on 2 occasions although there seemed to be plenty of water
available. The latrine was set up only for 4 days and was not kept clean
and tidy. There did not appear to be particular reasons why these
amenities were not maintained. The food was repetitive and sub par. We
realize that virtually anything in the bush can taste good and be
consumed, but there seemed to be little effort to provide the variety
that local markets and creative cooking could have provided. The
beverage situation was equally monotonous, especially for non-drinkers
(juices seemed to be available). We also think that beverages "on the
road" should have been included rather than each person paying. There
were not that many occasions and certainly no variety in options (Coke,
Fanta, beer) for this nicety to have been abused. This cumbersome aspect
was much more disconcerting than it need to have been. There was not a
great sense of a daily agenda or of maintaining a camp that provided
appropriate service.

There did not appear to be a design to the itinerary, especially after
Agadez. The gerewol is the keystone of this trip, and not seeing one was
a major disappointment. We understand the qualification that we might
not see one, but we thought that the crew meeting us in Tahoua might
have arrived better informed than they were. There seemed to be a quick
decision not to look for a gerewol and go to Perogee/Tamboure's camp
straight away. After Agadez, we kidded at first about the drives being
"death marches," but although hyperbolic that phrase captures the sense
that we spent an inordinate number of days driving between 8 a.m. and 6
p.m. with occasional breaks. The delivering of blankets to a school, for
example, seemed more important and time-consuming than viewing the
rituals we had paid to see.

While there was some attention to interpersonal matters, many others
were left to develop unnecessarily. The extent to which "gender games"
intruded into the life of the tour was inappropriate. Beyond that
general statement it becomes, we feel, difficult to make comments; but
clearly to most of us, something was "off" in this area, and some of us
were genuinely offended. In a different arena, we ultimately felt that
Abuli's, a charming man, selling trinkets seemed a conflict of interest
since he took full advantage of exploiting our individual gullibility
selectively throughout the trip.

The comfort issue is highlighted by the clear insufficiency of number
of vehicles and uncomfortable seating. We were constantly cramped, and
the seats themselves, especially the rear seats, were in poor repair. We
should have been 4 people per vehicle; we were often 6. At various
points one or more of us were riding in uncomfortable circumstances for
several hours on end. We were transporting several people who were
"extra." Gas fumes nauseated some people. Also there was minimal space
on the vans leaving Niamey and only 1 van returning had good space and
that because one of our number left the group in Agadez. We think there
should have been 5 or 6 vehicles and either more staff or more efficient
staff. The mattress covers were never changed or cleaned despite being
used for a variety of daily purposes, and we think that the campsites
could have had much better general lighting, especially since so many of
our days ended with impending darkness. The campsite could have used a
few chairs as well, especially for those clients who were not comfortable squatting on the mats
Probably the most difficult aspect to articulate-although elements
appear above-was the very distinct feeling which developed over time
that we as clients were not the priority of our own trip. It seemed that
caterings to the local people and not holding the staff to a high
standard outweighed client considerations. We are impressed by the way
that you and the Nomad Foundation have assisted local needs in Niger,
but we felt much like the oysters in Alice and Wonderland where the
Walrus and the Carpenter are leading the plump oysters off down the
beach only to eat them. Now, obviously, we did not feel that we were
being led to slaughter, but we did have the clear impression that our
wallets were being primed for depletion and that we bought artifacts at
inflated prices. We do not mean to be picayune here; we fully understand
that people like us who take these trips have financial resources that
the people we visit do not have. But the issue, we feel, is one of
perspective. We all want to do good in the world, but we signed up for a
trip, not unwitting philanthropy. We felt our good will and gullibility
were exploited to some extent.

In general as a group we felt that we were unnecessarily compromised by
an apparent attempt to run the trip at minimal cost. Only our collective
good will and good spirits prevented a major disaffection. These
complaints could have easily been improved or completely rectified. This
trip is your signature trip, and we were very disappointed: we really
did expect more.

Because we feel that complaints of this nature do indeed have monetary
equivalents, we are asking for a refund of 20% or $765 each.
Additionally, those who paid single supplement should be refunded half
of what they paid (some paid $175 and others paid $250) since the Grand
Hotel was substituted on the one hand and real costs were inflated on
the other hand.

We understand the awkwardness of this commentary; we know that several
of us have taken other trips of yours without the distress that this
trip had. We do not want to create animosity, but we do seek amends.

Respectfully yours,

Marie Blanchard
Susan Burns
David Farr 
Brooks Goddard
Bobbie Goodrich 
Jan Lammers
Christina Schmigel 
Jean Tudor

November 5, 2000

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 International Travel News
 review of tours

Niger, West Africa, October, 2-17, 2000

Because my wife encouraged me to take a trip in my first autumn of
retirement, I selected an adventurous trip that I thought would be
unique but one she herself would not want to go on. A delightful week in
Paris preceded the Turtle Tours Nomadic Festivals of Niger tour of
northern Niger in October of 2000. I was enticed by visions of a Wodaabe
gerewol and proud Tauregs racing camels as tonics to the100 degree heat
and basic camping conditions. Regrettably our group of 12 saw neither
although we fully understood that not seeing festivals was a
possibility. It was a little like going on a whale-watch and not seeing
whales. We did see staged reenactments of festivals and were able to
mingle freely and delightedly with people in Wodaabe and Tuareg camps.
We even danced the tarantella under a full moon with Tuareg partners. We
also drove hours on end for many days in crowded Toyota Land Cruisers,
ate filling if unimaginative meals, and tried to make sense of our
exotic surroundings.

Our trip began with casual meetings in the GDG airport in Paris as tour
leader Leslie Clark made her way through the crowd ready to board an Air
France flight to Niamey. It was reasonably easy to pick us out of the
other passengers. After a night at the grandless Grand Hotel on the
shores of the Niger River, we drove in vans to meet our four 4-wheel
drive Toyotas in Tahoua. We then proceeded to camp for the night.
Camping was whatever sleeping bag we had brought on a 3-inch mattress on
a matt with mosquito netting draped over 4 poles. All perfectly
adequate. A crew of 7 (4 drivers, 2 cooks, and 1 translator/cultural
consultant) tended to our Spartan needs. The next five days were spent
in Wodaabe and Tuareg camps trying to find festivals. While disappointed
we realized that festivals themselves are elusive, and portions of the
festivals were reenacted by our hosts. After a hectic evening in Agadez
(one is tempted to say that Agadez embodies hectic ness for tourists), we
proceeded to drive on a series of death march-like full day drives to
various points as we circumnavigated the Air Mountains. Moon-drenched
nights were spent at a mountain water hole in which we swam and glorious
sand dunes. Back to Agadez and then two long days of driving back to
Niamey. We had an afternoon and evening in Niamey before our midnight
flight back to Paris and home.

The safari conditions on this trip were much more primitive than those
found in east and southern Africa. There was also endless driving in
cramped conditions; two of the vehicles carried fume-producing, 55
gallon drums of gasoline. Even though we were guided through generally
inaccessible lands and reclusive nomadic peoples, many of us felt that
the tour was overpriced at $3825 land portion with $175 single
supplement. Comfort would have been enhanced by flying the
Niamey-Agadez-Niamey legs of the trip, providing more vehicles so that
there would be 4 people in each vehicle, adding a few days to the
itinerary (especially north of Agadez) to avoid long days of driving,
and organizing camp routine better.

Turtle Tours; POB 1147; Carefree, AZ 85377
review by Brooks Goddard

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 Phuqued in Niger

 (a review of the tour by the group)

Sun, Sand, and Togetherness

Day 1, Monday, October 2  We slowly gathered at the CDG airport meeting a
few of the group and trying to get names straight. Even at this point it
appears that the group will be well provisioned. Bobbie refuses to allow
her 200 rolls of film to be X-rayed, and security finally relents. At
the Niamey airport it is apparent that we're not in Kansas any more. We
don't even notice the heat and quickly recover from the disorganization
at the Grand Hotel front desk flummoxed by room assignments (like,
didn't they know we were coming?). Dinner by the Niger River and a
moneychanger who tries to charge a commission on converting French
francs to CFAs when Leslie turns her back. It is HOT! The Grand Hotel
is hardly grand, but on the banks of the murky Niger River we gather for
cocktails....and dine on tasty Niger River fish, El Capitan. General
feelings of anticipation and excitement rule, and off we go to our last
hot shower for a long while (though we don't know it yet) and bed.

Day 2, Tuesday, October 3  Wake-up calls at 4:30 a.m.--was that an omen?
Gear packed onto and us into 2 vans to head out for the territory and
rendezvous with the 4-wheel drive vehicles. And who is this Allison
babe? We get to rendezvous point, and Leslie greets all her friends
including one Perogee, Wodaabe hunk. Off we go to just south of Abalak
for our first camp and our first experience with mosquito netted
mattresses padded mat rooms. OK, so there's no privacy, but we gotta
squat at 400 yards?! Salad Nicoise, Tuareg Style, follows (and follows,
and follows), and a long rest period waiting on vehicles that need to be
fixed... we never know the real story. Moussa, self-appointed hunk and
futureTuareg rock star, is introduced. We sit and listen to the TAPE,
nap, walk-around and finally, we are off to find our first campsite. The
novelty of camping with our cute and still clean mosquito nets is still
refreshing, and we are getting to know one another.

Day 3, Wednesday, October 4  We wake up thrilled at surviving and eager
in anticipation of a gerewol heard to be not far away. Truck up to
Perogee's camp off the Girka road and meet da chief, Tamboure. We meet
the Wodaabe and set up camp. But the gerewol ain't here. Buying Frenzy
(BF) #1, highlighted by Gary buying a camel saddle and Keely to do
likewise. We start off looking for the gerewol said to be happening
somewhere in the area. But sometime during this morning (somebody might
remember better) we learn that there is no gerewol. Susan, Bobbie, and
Dave are in Moussa's vehicle, which gets stuck in the sand and needs to
be pushed out, the first indication of our driver's skill or lack of
it, and it is during this time that Dave utters the first of those
prophetic words, "We are Fucked!" We manage to convince him not to
defect, and after lunch and expressions of disappointment by some, drive
on to find Perogee's camp. Bobbie asks, after driving around for hours,
"Don't they know where they live? " Duhhhhh.... they're "nomadic"
remember? We finally get to camp. Cold shower but not for all because
water runs out. Boxed red wine... our salvation. Sleep. With the promise
of a staged gerewol make-up session the next day.

Day 4, Thursday, October 5  Day 2 in Camp Perogee. Something will be put
on for us to simulate aspects of the gerewol. We notice that Leslie has
yet another clean and glamorous outfit with appropriate jewelry; how
does she do it? Repeat after me, " we are not envious." We enjoy the
"simulated" gerewol, with lots of camera clicking and then face another
day of BF's until later in the afternoon, when more "simulated" gerewol
contenders arrive for a larger "simulated" gerewol, at which time the
"best of the lot" is chosen by various members of the audience.

Day 5, Friday, October 6 Buying frenzies continue right up to
departure, and we head on to a Tuareg camp connected to the families of
Moussa and Mohammed but stop just off the Agadez road at an interim
camp. This is where the first of the series of Desert Disco Nights
happens, with Brooks suddenly appears in the first of his repertoire of
Tonga Nights outfits, and the rest are starting to become more careless
about their dress and appearance, exception being Leslie, who has the
"In's" of desert dressing. Thanks to Cherri of the Fartini Sisters
Group, we dance to Euro Trash music on Keely's boombox, and even Doctor
Dave gets into the act by unbuttoning his shirt. More sleep and escape,
hoping tomorrow will being something really exciting.

Day 6, Saturday, October 7  We arrive at Camp One Tree and wonder if
there is not some mistake: heat, wind, dust. We can do it! Even though
we hope and pray this is just a courtesy stop along the way to the
Tuareg Camp. There is one lone tree where a camel sits under its shade.
The camel is hustled away, and we park. There is a desert dust devil
blowing through this desolate place. As we huddle under the tree for
shade and protection from the dust, our public house is erected by the
Tuareg women in the camp. We sit and lunch while the "boutique" is set
up for our shopping needs. We set up our "rooms" on moonscape-type
rocks, and that night we are invited to Tuareg-style Saturday Night
Disco in the camp, which consists of a stomping-like dance technique
that leaves us all aching and craving Advil.

Day 7, Sunday, October 8  Day 2 in Camp One Tree, and the latrine site
is moved 50 yards. The latrine facility is looking and smelling pretty
revolting and our spirits are low from the relentless heat, lack of
shade, lack showers, lack of gerewol, etc. Leslie perceives this and
packs us all into the vehicles and promises us a bath in flowing, spring
water. We become inspired, drunk on the thoughts of a real bath, and
sing our way to the troughs. Keelie, Terry, Bobbie, Brooks, and Susan
practice their rendition of "Heaven" over and over again, and later
wonder if all this promise of paradise is nothing but a cruel joke. We
finally arrive at what is a camel and donkey drinking trough, but we
don't care. Brooks is given a bath by all the ladies and we feel clean
for the first time in days. Afternoon, the camel dance thing, as the
ladies sit and beat their drums and chant. That night, the second in the
series of Desert Disco, more Euro Trash and Susan operating the disco
strobe lights for more authencity. Bobbie and Susan fall in love with a
particularly fetching young Tuareg named Ibrahim, wonder how they could
take him to Paris and make him a superstar model. Later that evening, he
comes to their tent, his handsome face glowing in the dark, those white
teeth and mysterious black eyes communicating in no-known language.
While we are still appreciating the magic of his presence in the
moonlight, his uncle comes and drags him home by the ear. Opportunities

Day 8, Monday, October 9  On to Agadez, like Lawrence leading the Arabs
into Aqaba. We meet Aboubacar and the aggressive trinket floggers,
including Gucci Cool One. We traipse about the town with Aboubacar, and
the deals are being made second by second. Cherri has gone off to do her
own thing and has already emerged as the best bargainer and best eye for
"good stuff." Dinner at a forgeron's followed by the inevitable soft
sell. There is a scramble for rooms at the "good" hotel in Agadez: some
are reassigned to the hotel across the street, and the rest are promised
rooms in the better hotel the next time around. Cold cokes resuscitate
us, like blood infused with Vitamin B 12. And we need this for the
Mother of all Buying Frenzies, led by the clever Aboubacar, who makes
sure we don't loiter at the Baker's House and spend more time at his
shop. Dinner is the best, roasted-on-the-spit lamb, the Tuareg soul
food. More shopping continues.

Day 9, Tuesday, October 10  Moussa's car is replaced but not Moussa, he
of the wry smile. Moussa needs driving-in-sand lessons with a special
seminar on down shifting. The BF continues right up until we hit 2nd
gear. We are off on "death drive" #1 to deliver blankets to a
Turtle-supported school. Fatigue and disappointment are setting in,
discussions of unnecessary arduousness.

Day 10, Wednesday, October 11  "Death drive" #2 ends up at Timia with its
own swimming hole. Another long and arduous driving day with
relentlessly similar scenery. Lunch is the same, dinner is the same. A
particularly satisfying after-lunch nap enjoyed by both Brooks and Susan
but not the rest of the group; this is the day when David reveals to
Susan that she snores (Brooks had already been found out). We are led to
believe that today we will cavort and cool off under a desert
waterfall. We smirk and smile and wonder if we look that stupid. And
just as we are about to lose it, we come upon that waterfall, a mere
trickle, but real water and a real swimming hole. Paradise for a night.
The magical boutique appears out of nowhere. More shopping, though by
this time, items look the same, only cheaper and cheaper as we get wiser
and wiser.

Day 11, Thursday, October 12  DD #3 to sand dunes made all the more
glamorous by an approaching full moon. Bobbie collects 10 pounds of sand
to bring home. The ceaseless driving is fast becoming an issue. After
awaking to our usual breakfast of cereal and cookies, we walk to an
oasis of citrus fruits, pomegranate, oranges, fresh, juicy vitamin C.
We suck on fruits to our stomach's content, and carry on to the dunes
which are reached sometime just before the sun goes down.

Day 12, Friday, October 13  What else to do but drive. We reach
Iferouane and stop to see Agoc's conservation project. Cokes at the
small and charming Tellit Hotel. Onto another campsite reached at
sundown. Surely, we must be on an unannounced rally. By now, things are
beyond grungy. We are all slightly delirious with our daily death
drives and our conversations are becoming increasingly irrational.
Cherri, Bobbie and Susan discover they are long lost sisters, the
esteemed Fartini Sisters, but Bobbie is devastated to learn that their
Mother was a Persian hooker and her Dad, a Mexican used-car salesman in
Las Vegas. David is becoming increasingly morose. Christina looks at us
with bemusement, Keely continues to appear in her coordinated Tuareg
outfits, Terri never loses her niceness... and Gary continues to disgust
with his continuing good cheer (but then he knows something that only
one other person knows). And Leslie continues to huddle with her Tuareg
friends, humming, singing and dancing to the beat, beat, beat of the
Tuareg drum.

Day 13, Saturday, October 14  Finally pull into Agadez and find our
rooms and complete business begun on our first stay and then a lovely
dinner at a lovely restaurant run by lovely people. Christina meets up
with her friends from the US embassy in Abuja, Nigeria, and we all dine
together. Three of us contemplate alternative plans at the trip's end.
Those who missed out on the "good" hotel on our first stay in Agadez
pull straws to see who gets the better rooms. Bobbie, Doctor David,
Cherri get lucky. There is a scandalous report later that Bobbie,
"allegedly" looking for her luggage, has walked into David's room
completely unannounced with only a towel wrapped around her to find the
doctor sitting stark naked on the bed. Perhaps this is why he does not
appear for dinner this night. Gary is now actively flogging his camel
saddle, but no takers. And we are all weary for home.

Day 14, Sunday, October 15  We head out for Birnin-Konni and our last
night of camping. Arrive after dark amidst a kind of rock pile but
smooth enough for our purposes. Last minute money deals prior to tipping
the crew. Our last camp is the hardest. Somewhere next to the main
highway, it is nothing but a rocky clearing with animal droppings,
crawling insects, and mosquitoes everywhere. A driver comes across a
snake and chops its head off. Everyone is tired and relieved that we are
almost to Niamey. We don't bother setting up a dining table, but sit on
the dirty mats for dinner and some bone-throwing fortune-telling by
Leslie. Our Advil supply is drying up. Our wits are at an end. We sleep
and wake for breakfast of cookies and cereal and tip-ceremony.

Day 15, Monday, October 16  We say good-bye to our road crew and jump
into the 2 vans for a 5-6 hour drive to Niamey. Discussion about how it
all might have been better. Didja see the giraffes at Dosso? Chaos
creeping in, but we get rooms, take showers, pack and repack, off to
town to see the National Museum which is yet again closed but the
artisans are working and selling. Into the city. Brooks finds the
philatelic window and buys a Niger stamp depicting who else but Lou
Gehrig. Go figure. Final purchases are made and dash back to hotel to
pack and repack and shower and shower. Final dinner and avoiding the
last supper connection. We say goodbye to Leslie who must be relieved.
Now she contemplates camel trek with Keely and.... Ahi takes us to the
airport where Cherri is faced with large additional luggage charges. She
reduces the bill by 100% by charm and guile. We board the aircraft and
are gone on time. We are with the stars but cannot see them. Some great
stories will come out of this, and nobody will believe them. There this
great mental picture of us at the Desert Disco, complete with improvised
strobe lights and Euro Trash music, a few shirtless a-la-night-in-Bora-Bora, most drunk with desperation and cheap wine, and all happy under the great Saharan Moon.

Day 16, Tuesday, October 17 We slip away from each other and begin the
journey home. Has it been all a dream?

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Brooks' second letter to Irma

( Irma had responded but gave us nothing. )

Dear Irma,

While I am grateful that you responded to our letter, I am surprised
that our criticisms didn't carry more weight. Those of us who signed the
letter felt very strongly that the trip was overpriced, that the driving
was unnecessarily uncomfortable and discomforting, and that organization
and leadership were lax. The views of clients differ from the views of
promoters. The letter was not meant to review all aspects of the trip;
there were delights; we did have access to people that we ordinarily
would not have had; we got along amazingly well as a group-we were,
indeed, a good group.

I thought your reference in the general letter to my loss of money
issue was impolitic. I wrote you a separate letter because I wanted to
isolate the loss from the trip. For the record, I called Western Union
on October 17, 2000 per Leslie's request, and WU took $172.00 from my
VISA account on the same day. I confirmed by telephone that the money
has not yet been collected in Niger and have called further to allow
Leslie to get the money in Ojai.



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