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Botswana Report

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I am writing to report on one of the most amazing experiences that I have ever had. I recently took my 18 year old nephew on safari in Botswana and Zambia. I have decided to report on this trip because our experince has changed my view about the best way to go on safari. Prior to this I had been on lodge based safaris in Botswana. My nephew is very much into camping and the outdoors. Given this I decided to try a non-participatory camping safari. I spent a fair amount of time researching companies that offer these services and decided on one (Masson Safaris) after reading about them in the Bradnt Guide to Botswana and e-mailing some former clients of this company (names, e-mail addresses were provided to me by the company). I was very impressed with how enthusiastic the comments were about them -- so I decided to go with the Massons. We did a 13 night camping safari throughout Botswana staying in a number of private HATAB campsites. We camped at Baines' Baobabs, Nxai Pan, the Moremi area, the Kwara concession [so that we could do some night drives], Savuti and Chobe. I worked the schedule out well in advance with Sallie Masson (co-owner of the company and wife of Ewan Masson -- our guide). Since I had been to Botswana before I had a sense of where I wanted to visit and she made it all fit into the schedule (two nights in each place). Although I was a bit hesitant about camping in Africa -- I am so glad that I did and I can never imagine doing a safari any other way. The nicest thing about it was that it was me and my nephew with the guide and three camp attendants. We did not have to worry about other guests and there were no set schedules which I had experienced in some lodges (e.g., you must be back for brunch at a certain time). If we were having a great game drive we could stay out as long as we wanted and the guide would radio the staff 30 minutes before we returned so that they would know when to have everything ready. As it relates to creature comforts, my nephew summed it up well -- "this isn't like any camping I have ever done". We were completely taken care of and did not have to lift a finger. We stayed in comfortable dome tents that were about 9 ft x 9 ft. They had mesh windows and a mesh roof that made for wonderful views, particularly of the stars at night. They were equipped with cots that were surprisingly comfortable and fresh linen every 3-4 days. My nephew and I both had individual bathrooms (chemical flush toilets) which were absolutely fine, and we could take bucket showers whenever we liked -- the staff always kept warm water ready. Over the course of our thirteen nights we always had different meals -- the food was never repeated and I was amazed at the quality given that everything was cooked over a fire (e.g., flan for desert). As anyone who has been on safari knows the most critical element is the guide. Ewan (our guide) was AMAZING. I always felt safe with him and he was increadibly knowledgable and worked hard to see that we had a good time. As I look through the photos I took (almost 4,000 in Botswana) I am amazed at some of the things we saw. Conversing with Ewan over dinner was also a high point of the trip for both me and my nephew. A fascinating man who we learned a lot from. Ewan was recently made a volunteer national park service warden by Botswana (an honor bestowed on only a few guides) to help with issues of park management. I was impressed with how dedicated he was to these issues / duties. I was also impressed that all the guides we would run into from various lodges knew him and seemed to respect him. Sallie (Ewan's wife) met us in Maun and visited our camp to restock it with food. She is a licensed guide too and very knowledgable. She is the person I communicated with in planning the trip and she couldn't have been more helpful. When we left Botswana we went to Tongabezi in Zambia for three nights. It was definitely luxurious and beautiful, but to be completely honest we missed Ewan and our tents in Botswana. I could go on and on, but this is already sounding like an advertisement. If anyone would like more info on my experiences please feel free to e-mail me at hilljm@umdnj.edu. You can also reach the Masson's at http://www.masson-safaris.com/
Let them know that Michael and Matthew (my nephew) said hello. I would also be happy to share some of my photos (not all 4000) with anyone interested -- e-mail and I will forward digital files to you. Although most people on this message board seem to be interested in lodge based safaris, I would definitely recommend giving camping and the Massons a try. They were amazing, and actually the cost is a bit less than the usual lodge experience.
Michael

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