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Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa AKA Durbs, Joburg, Ellies and The Nellie: A Trip Report

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It seems so long yet so short a time ago that we first decided to 'go on safari' and I searched the Fodor's Africa board.
In August 2006 I gleaned so much information that I was totally flummoxed!! I contacted a few companies, and booked with Julian of Timeless Africa. Dear, dear Julian. If he had only known what he was taking on I'm sure he would referred me elsewhere!!
First of all we wanted to go in August as we had heard the weather would be great and the sightings wonderful, didn't know quite which camps to go to, didn't want to spend a fortune on what I came to know as 'premier camps' yet wanted basic luxury (!!) and needed dates when we could upgrade on BA with miles. Thus started my several times a week for 52 weeks email contacts with Julian. He is totally responsible for a fabulous vacation and I don't know what we would have done without his guidance and expert planning.
Julian made some suggestions, most of which I agreed with. We definitely wanted to go to Botswana and see the Falls and Zimbabwe was suggested as a way to keep the price down. We travel all over the world, so I figured I could manage South Africa myself. I would probably have tried to arrange the camps too, but Wilderness Safaris, who seemed to have beautiful camps from the photographs plus great locations with small numbers of tents, demands bookings through an agent. Actually, just as well, as in hindsight I did not have the knowledge to determine exactly where to go and would not have benefitted from the vast amount of advice on all aspects of visiting Southern Africa which I received from Julian. Our safari itinerary:
3 nights Little Vumbura
3 nights Chitabe Trails
3 nights Selinda
1 night Victoria Falls
2 nights Somalisa
3 nights Makalolo Plains
We were a little nervous as we don't like 'tour groups' and being 'herded around', but our fears were allayed and the experience was nothing of the sort. We studied the BA web site, kept extending our return date and we were away for 5 1/2 weeks including a few days in England, and visiting Durban, Johannesburg and driving the Garden Route ending with a few days in Cape Town.

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    We flew to London and after a few days in the north of England flew back to London and then on to Johannesburg. Our plane was an hour late, and delayed even further when we had to return to the gate after departing for take-off. A passenger was sick and had to deplane. We arrived in Johannesburg only 2 hours late as we had made up about an hour, but I had only allowed a two hour connection time for our flight to Durban. What a nightmare; a two hour wait for passport control and then another hour for the luggage. Helpful hint: keep a keen eye on the 'South African States Passports' line; they open that up to the fastest runners from the 'Other Passports' line when those passengers have been processed. Heathrow is a dream compared to Joburg!!!! Obviously we missed the connection and were told that we would be put on the 4pm plane to Durban. We had a booking on ComAir through BA. I let them know (nicely) that this was unacceptable and with no problem we were put on an SAA flight at 1pm. What a surprise when we were upgraded to Business Class. Oh but what an experience. The food on SAA was basically inedible but we did arrive safely and no car was waiting. We had tried to get a message to the hotel but not to worry, Avis transports for 'Quarters' hotel so we talked to a rep. and all was well. Our plans for UShaka were shelved because of our late arrival. The room was lovely and we went onto Florida Road to eat. It was said to be safe and we felt mostly okay, except that I had read that gangs of teens were potential trouble and we did see a couple of groupings of teenagers along with occasional beggars which was a little disconcerting when the light was fading.
    The following day I had booked a private tour for the two of us and we went out to Valley of a Thousand Hills after a fabulous breakfast. I don't know why but breakfast is possibly my favourite meal of the day when we are on vacation! We learned a lot about life in South Africa from the viewpoint of our white tour guide and there is still a lot of tradition in the Zulu culture. We had tea and cake before the obligatory tour of the crocs, but skipped the shop! We went on to tour the city sights and stopped at Victoria Market where the Zulu bead collection was quite vast. I bought several strands of traditional beadwork from a vendor who supplies the beads and the women bring the necklaces back to her. Our guide said she paid a fair wage and the quality was excellent. There is much building along the seafront and we were told that the cost of housing is up 1000% over the past few years. A very pleasant walk ensued before we went off to the Botanical Garden. It was only then that I really realized that this was the reason we had flown to Durban for two nights! My husband had known Earnest Thorp after whom the Orchid House is named. The gardens were beautiful and we had curried mince sandwiches and 'crumpets with the works' in the tea room. We ate at the hotel that night and the following day guess what--back to the Botanical Garden for another hour and then on to UShaka (sea world and aquarium). This was very interesting but once is enough. We had had the gardens call a taxi for us to take us to UShaka, and we arranged for the same taxi to pick us up, drive to the hotel to get our luggage and take us on to the airport. We were picked up at 2pm and in the airport lounge before 3pm having checked in and gone through security. How fortunate I had been to make the 'Silver' level on BA before leaving the USA, so we could use the business class check-in and the lounges even though I had booked economy for our internal flights. Onto the computer to check email and a glass of fabulous SA pinotage and off to the gate to find we were upgraded. What a difference between ComAir and SAA!! Sparkling wine was served before take-off, our drinks orders taken for after we had taken off and sandwiches and cheeseplates were served. Also, a huge carrot cake with cream cheese frosting was perched in the middle of the trolley and the flight attendants served slices of it for dessert! After being warned by my husband to avoid the biltong as he had dislodged a filling once when eating jerky, I took the package with me to try later! Another safe arrival and we were met by a staff member from the guest house where we were staying for two nights. This was a great place to stay; it was near the airport and trasfers were included. More later.

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    hi, philbill,

    I'm struggling with my trip-report, so pleased to find yours to read instead. I so agree with you about breakfast, especially in SA - we were never let down and some were just spectacular.

    looking forward to the rest,

    regards, ann

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    Thanks Ann! I am doing this so I don't forget (a little selfish I think!) and also hoping that someone may pick up a helpful detail or two as I have done through reading many Fodor's trip reports.

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    HI Phil! Great start. I got an email this morning from Sophia (African Bushcamps, Somalisa) saying they now have a rhino on their concession, pops around in front of camp in the morning while guests are having coffee. Did you see any rhinos while there?

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    Next installment soon...but yes, we did see a rhino whilst at Makalolo Plains (next to somalisa). Somalisa is absolutely great by the way, and I will go into some detail later.
    I was surrounded by elephants who came to drink from the pool while I was aiming at taking a siesta on the lounge under the umbrella. Needless to say being able to count an elephant's eyelashes was an experience never to be forgotten!

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    We were nervous about Joburg but wanted to get a cursory feel for the city with only one full day for touring. As we had heard from being in Durban the 2010 World cup is a BIG deal, and stadiums are being built and renovated in Cape Town, Durban and Joburg. No offence to Johannesburg, but how the city will manage to house spectators is a question to us. In fact, we were told by another tourist that Sydney has been put on standby for the World Cup. No South African we talked to had heard this, and to give South Africa credit the building of the stadiums and the expansion of infrastructure we saw in all 3 cities was impressive. The country appears to be doing its best to prepare and is very proud.
    As I said, we stayed at a guest house close to the airport which was inexpensive and very welcoming. We were somewhat aghast to note that all other guests were hunters. Apparently the place is well advertised amongst the hunting population in the USA. Anyway, the staff were there to drive us to one of three recommended restaurants for dinner. We chose Italian and had some of the best Italian food ever and SO inexpensive. There was so much that we took the leftovers back with us. At the end of the meal we had the restaurant call the guest house and we were picked up. We were a little surprised to see that the door had to be buzzed open and that there was indeed a second security door. The guest house was surrounded by a wall and locked gates also. The owner had called Lords and as I had read about the quality of their tours on Fodor's that seemed great. We were picked up for our day tour at 8am the following morning after a lovely breakfast. The morning tour to Pretoria was wonderful and we learned 'African Time' meant that you make time for everything! However, about 1pm, after literally stopping at a gas station for us to buy a sandwich, we were transferred to a mini van which seated 14 people. As we were two of the last four on board the four of us got to crawl to the back 5 seats. It was claustrophobic and not pleasant at all. We went on a city tour of Jozi. We did not get out and saw what must have been the worst part of the city. Hotels and office buildings were deserted and we were told that squatters were living there. Afterwards we went out to Soweto which was interesting as far as the huge size (we were told 4 milloin people lived there) and seeing the mansions surrounded by the shacks. I had visited Kayamandi outside of Cape Town a couple of years' ago and was truly moved by meeting the people and being invited into homes. This was a tourist visit in Soweto and we just drove through some of the streets, but we did visit Mandela's previous home and the Hector Pieterson Museum. We hit rush hour...oh the traffic! On arrival back at the guest house about 6pm we were exhausted and the wonderful owner showed us the fridge which stocked soft drinks and wine at rock bottom cost (just tell me what you take) and we heated up leftovers in the kitchen after which we packed and went to bed! Another lovely breakfast and off to the airport. The owners will store luggage and deliver it to the airport (two weeks' later for us) for a minimal charge and so we left a large suitcase, taking our safari duffles with us. We had bought LLBean duffles (large size,) but as we had a 12kg limit for Zimbabwe we packed light. Off to the airport and to the lounge, slooooow internet connection and off to Maun. About half an hour before landing I took half a Valium. I had requested these from my doctor as I was panicked about the light aircraft. Consequently I fell fast asleep about 10 minutes before landing! At Maun the bags were weighed and an English couple were given duffles from Sefofane and asked to transfer their luggage from their large wheeled suitcases. Obviously their agent had not quite explained about the size of the baggage hold! We were surprised to be taken out to a 12 seater and we carefully squirmed towards the steps to the aircraft of the so that we could get seats at the front (as I had been told that these were less bumpy). The flight went surprisingly well except that we had a stop before ours and that was disconcerting as everyone knows that taking off and landing are the most dangerous parts of flying!!!!!! Still, I managed I am proud to say! We landed at the Little Vumbura airstrip (complete with toilet!) and were met by M.D.. (Note to Precious Ramwotse fans..you know who you are...apparently they were filming in Maun as it resembles Gabarone as it used to be. I assume the movie will be based on 'Number One Ladies' Detective Agency' as I believe that was the first book, but I am not sure.)

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    You and Julian came up with an outstanding itinerary.

    Good thing you heeded the biltong warning and avoided a dental disaster.

    Counting an elephant's eyelashes is a privileged safari pastime indeed.

    Thanks for the tip on the #1 Ladies' Detective Agency!

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    3 nights at Little Vumbura
    What a fabulous location and the staff are so wonderful. The camp was reopened at the end of April after complete rebuilding from what I gather. After the vehicles, one has to board a motor boat to get to camp which is on an island. In my husband's words; 'Paradise 2'. Paradise 1 was when we stayed in the Amazon jungle outside of Manaus, Brazil, a year and a half ago. The tents are beautiful with linens and accessories rivalling a top hotel! The loo with a view is wonderful and the shower has a view too. From our deck we could sit and soak up the Delta landscape. The public areas were lush and I believe the pool was the largest in the camps which we visited. The food was the only drawback as that was not top-notch at all. Dinners were acceptable and the rest of the meals/snacks were barely passable. The South African wines were excellent! The location of this camp offered a wide variety of activities. We went on vehicle safaris, a walking safari, a boat safari and of course the fabulous mokoro ride...unbelievable.
    Well, I had re-written my notes on the first few days and decided to write some quick notations in the back of my notebook on our first safari drive (intending to transfer them to my actual journal at the end of the day). I have to humbly admit that I wrote backwards in my rough notebook for the rest of the trip. Who would know there was so little time for reflection and the writing of 'journal standard' prose??!!!! We were caught in a whirlwind. I had checked with Julian whether there were paperback book exchanges at the camps as I read a lot and because of weight could only take three paperbacks. I need not have bothered. I didn't even finish two books in the two weeks of safari and the only time I had to read was a few minutes before I fell into a deep, exhausted sleep. Who could have thought that just sitting in the back of a jeep could be that exhausting??
    We were awoken at 6am each day and were picked up to be escorted to breakfast at 6:30am.. This was the only camp where we were not allowed to walk to breakfast after the staff had checked the status during wake-up. A quick breakfast and off on the vehicle..or rather the boat to the jeep. We had 2 to 4 people with us during this 3 night stay, and we were informed that no Wilderness vehicle takes more than six passengers so that no client has to sit in the 'middle'. I took the best piece of equipment I can possibly recommend, a $3 inflatable 'camping pillow' from REI. This was the one thing I could not do without. It cushioned my back and it was malleable so I rode with the flow so to speak. I HIGHLY recommend it if you have back problems (or even if not). It was FREEZING cold in the mornings (mid August) and we had a couple of very cold nights in the tent. No bush babies here (hot water bottles). I certainly needed my gloves, earwarmers and hood together with five layers of clothing! I did not take a scarf but would do next time. My hooded fleece was great and I would definitely recommend a fleece with a hood attached. I also had a thin nylon windbreaker with a hood (so lightweight it could fit in a pocket) which worn over the fleece was perfect. We had a fabulous guide who gave us non-stop information and whom I couldn't say enough great things about, but the downside was that our drives were too long. I can just hear some of you voicing, 'is she nuts or what...too long..there can never be too long of a drive in Africa'. Our drives amounted to 9 1/2 hours a day, with 1 1/2 hours between the end of brunch and tea followed by the next drive which arrived back at 8pm. I just needed a little more down time. At night we froze even with the wonderful blanket lined ponchos, and getting back to camp at 8pm was just too late for me. We did get back earlier after the boat ride! This, I hasten to add, was just the pattern of our guide who was there on relief. By night two I was dreading the rest of the 12 nights and trying not to let my husband know!!!!!!! When our jeep companions told us they were skipping the afternoon/night drive one day I was so green with envy!!!!! Oh to have an afternoon in that beautiful camp!! But, I was too afraid of missing some wonderful sight that I never did miss a drive...and even though we obviously saw many of the same animals throughout the trip; each sighting was so different and so unique. Each day was a gift. I was nervous about having to go to the bathroom in the bush so monitored my intake of liquids at LV!! By the end of the two weeks I had a real problem along the Garden Route as I was so used to popping behind a bush that I had a hard time adapting to civilisation.
    There was so much bird life and driving with water coming up to the hood/bonnet of the jeep was a kick. We had many great sightings: lions (two different prides), wildebeest, elephant, zebra, giraffe, impala, red lechwe, waterbuck, warthog, mongoose, sable antelope and tsessebe. The highlights were observing 4 hyenas and 8 pups and tracking the position of the lions from observing their markings in the sand. On the way to the airport the last day we saw a cheetah! We also went over a hippo on the river safari so we are lucky to be here to tell the tale! The mokoros were certainly unbelievable and we had no idea that we would be going right through the reeds and all the beautiful birds and plant life, not to mention the elephants, which we would see. We went on walks in every camp and loved the different perspective of the bush. I was aiming, as our guide so aptly put it, to become a certified crapologist! Dung tells a whole lot about animal life (civot middens, content of droppings etc. etc.!!!!!!!!). Sausage trees and the baobab were just two of our favourite trees in the delta, and my husband was absolutely fascinated with termite mounds!!!!! Wilderness has a wonderful booklet listing all the animals, birds, trees etc. etc. and our guide was wonderful about reviewing this with me so that I could record most of what we saw.

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    Reading your trip report is such a pleasure! Thanks for posting. 5+ weeks - lucky you! It sounds like you had a great trip.

    I love game drives but have to agree that 1.5 hours per day of down time is definitely not enough. And I completely identify with jotting notes in the back of your journal and then keeping up with the trip backwards!

    Was the guest house you stayed in the Afton? We stayed there before and after our trip to Botswana and it was very nice. Nice breakfast. (There weren't any hunters while we were there.) We chose steaks for dinner both nights and the restaurant was excellent (and cheap!).

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    Yes, it was the Afton and I have nothing but good things to report. I think it was $100 a night including a continental and cooked to order breakfast and also included were round trip transfers to the airport. Not to mention being taken to a restaurant and picked up at night. The Italian was fabulous and I heard the steak place was too. We paid 100 Rand (7 to the dollar) for two huge meals which were wonderful plus the bread they bring (yummy) and wine!!
    For Fodorites like us who are passing through and don't want to explore alone in Joburg, this is perfect. Lords (the tour company) came to the guest house to pick us up and dropped us off there. I know a lot of people literally pass through Joburg and have to spend a night because of connections. This place is perfect. www.aftonguesthouse.com
    You may see it referred to as Aftonio also, not sure why!! Annelise is the owner. Highly recommended.

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    Phil, are you kidding? I haven't been back to Africa since the looong trip in 2004 (though I'm working on a trip for next year) so I live vicariously through everyone else's wonderful trip reports!

    :D :D :D

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    BTW I'm surprised they didn't provide hotwater bottles in the beds as this is a WS staple at all camps, so i thought, during winter months...

    Did they provide the thick, waterproofed blanket ponchos during the game drives?

    Also, I usually find myself wanting longer game drives as the standard hours (in June) at WS camps I've been to are about 4 hours in the morning and 4 max in the afternoon. 9.5 is a lot of hours to do everyday, and although I'd love it some days, I don't know about every single day!!!

    MORE MORE MORE!

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    No hottie bs at all in LV. In fact the night I had the stiff neck and could not move it they said they would try to find one for me but never did.
    The thick ponchos which were blanket-lined were great.
    In CT we took the hot water bottles on our game drive (good old Newman suggested it!).
    A note which I was going to mention later: We saw such prolific game going from the airstrip to the camp at Selinda around 2 or 2:30pm that we all wondered why at least sometimes they did not plan an earlier afternoon game drive and have sundowners at the camp.

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    hi again, Philbill,

    I do so agree with you about the time between game drives. I soon found that 2-2/1 hours was my limit that I wanted to spend jumping around in our landy. Perhaps if it had been warmer /less windy I'd have been keener. also if there had been more cats around, but they didn't like the weather either.

    we came across a family of hunters, who were teamed with us in our landy at schotia. I hope that we didn't show our shock too much on learning what they'd been doing for the rest of thier holiday. the impression we had was that their teenage daughters aged 16 & 13 had not really enjoyed themselves.

    As for hot water bottles, I heard a story about people [Virginia Wolf from memory] who went to stay in a stately home. When bed-time arrived, they were told that there weren't enough hot water bottles to go round, so they could choose - a bottle or a cat!

    looking forward to reading more,

    regards, ann

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    Great trip report! And thanks for the tip about the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency movie, which I was able to find on imdb: http://imdb.com/title/tt0874957/ - looks like most of the cast is local, but Precious Ramotswe is being played by Jill Scott (the singer) and Grace Makutsi by Anika Noni Rose (from Dreamgirls). It's also being directed by Anthony Minghella, which I think bodes very well!

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    Can't wait to see the movie! Thanks for the link hlg22. I must say that at LV we wore socks to bed and my husband even wore a beanie!! It was sooo romantic! In the morning we rolled out of bed and straight into our clothes. No showers for us! Just bundle up and prepare the backpack for the day. One thing I hadn't thought of Day 1 was to warm up my camera as it was stone cold, so I put it in the bed until after breakfast!
    Welucked out, Ann, as the weather was actually quite nice in the afternoons, and as the days went by the mornings even got warmer. Wind was not an issue at all.[BTW Between a cat and nothing I would take nothing!!!!!]
    As for children we came across a couple of families and most of the kids were bored and one or two a problem but they didn't affect our enjoyment. I wanted to shake them and let them know how fortunate they were to be on safari in Africa!

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    Philbill, great trip report so far. Sorry to see the food wasn't up to snuff at Little Vumbura as we're heading there in November (also Chitabe Trails). Perhaps the regular cook was on leave? Oh well, maybe I won't come home 5 pounds heavier this time. Can't wait to get there. And 9 1/2 hours safari does seem awfully longo for most.
    Leslie

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    Leslie:
    Don't be concerned...that was just our guide and he won't be there! Note that he was a great guide! I GAINED ..oops caps lock... 10lbs in 5+ weeks but some of that was South Africa ...more to come later...and it was worth it!!!!!!!

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    Loved your LV account. That's good you bring up the long outings vs. shorter ones and how you handled it. Baby hyenas! And 8 of them!

    The minimal progress on books has been mentioned several times now. I pack very light for reading material now too.

    Great tip on that cushion and only $3!? I didn't think there was anything at REI for $3.

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    I am so excited about this pillow that I looked it up on line to give you a reference.
    Go to the main REI website and it is Item 610507 (just put the number in the search box). The 'chambers' (just found the word in the description) make all the difference in the world to comfort and adaptability as you roll sideways and bump up and down. I did spend most of my trip in the front set of passenger seats or beside the driver.
    If you have items sent to your local REI store and pick them up at the store there is not shipping. Our store had them in stock and I am embarrassed to say I bought 4 of them. I was so sure one would burst but it lasted the whole trip and is still great. I gave one to one of the camp managers who admired it. And of course, you let the air out and they pack down.
    Am I thrilled with this pillow or what?? I guess it doesn't take much.........

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    More: LV, by the way, does wash underwear!! I took inexpensive 't' shirts and it seemed like they did shrink but may have done at home anyway. I had melted a pair of zip-off pants last year when ironing them at home (in a fit of domesticity!) so I did mention this when the manager reviewed the laundry procedure. I was advised that most of the staff at the camps knew about this fabric but it would be wise to provide a reminder. The zip-offs worked extremely well on both drives as we often unzipped when the morning weather got warmer and zipped up at sundowner time. Most of the camps were not full and some nights we were the only two people in camp, which I thought strange for mid to late August. I had expected 'sold-out' camps. LV told us that their camp's reservations have really increased for next year as word gets out about the rebuilding . At this camp (and no other) everyone was separated for lunch with individual tables set up for each couple or family group.
    On the final morning at LV we had the mokoro ride and it was, as I have written, a wonderful experience. We had told our guide we had to pack so after landing on an island for morning tea and snacks we returned to camp around 10:00am. At last a chance to relax in the sun and admire the beautiful scenery. After a shower we wandered down to the bar where Jacks was holding down the fort. Jacks told us about his childhood and his experiences with mokoros and started my Bush and Tswana (Setswana) language lessons. Joy of joy, I can now ask for mofini o mohibidu (red wine) and we invited the cook and her assistant who were waiting to serve brunch to join us at the bar, as the other couple remaining at LV had not returned from their drive. What fun we had.. They had a drink of fruit juices and we took photoes. They laughed good-naturedly at my feeble attempts at Tswana, but delighted in teaching us how to say hello to men and to women in the singular and the plural. I had a chance to try all my phrases out on Unozeba (the shop manager) when she wandered down. It was a time I will not forget. My husband dissuaded me from the Valium for the upcoming light plane ride, so I had two glasses of red wine instead and that worked perfectly well. My fear of flying was a thing of the past!! My check-in to 'Betty Ford' might be a thing of the future!!!!! [Aside: Has anyone else drunk more wine on safari than they ever thought possible? Selwyn had introduced me to pinotage and we visited Backsburg two years ago and there it was at LV, along with a great merlot. South African wines are wonderful!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!] [Another aside: I found myself writing this section in the present tense as I was reliving the moment!! I think that is a great indicator of how meaningful the experience was.] We talked a LOT to camp employees wherever we went and learned much about their lives and the state of the country from their point of view, especially in Zimbabwe. Similarly it was interesting to get the viewpoint of our white South African guide in Durban and the black guides we had in Joburg.
    We were so sad to leave and Lawrence, Uno and Dardley all came down to the dock to see us off as did a couple of the staff. Our guide told us of a cheetah sighting so we were thrilled to drive by and see a cheetah for the first time. We were not to see another one on our trip. On to the airfield where the big news was that 136 pieces of luggage were arriving by plane as Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, had taken over Vumbura Plains for 3 days. Two employees from VP were also waiting to board, and the four of us with my husband as 'co-pilot' boarded a 5 seater. One of the girls cried softly all the way and looked scared to death. Both of them were horrified to hear that we would be landing at Chitabe Trails and then they would have to take off again for Maun. At the Chitabe airstrip we were met and told that as we had asked to go directly onto the game drive (we had??) we would be meeting up with our guide who had left the camp on the afternoon/evening drive about the time we landed.
    Sorry about the jumping around, but as I remember things I want to add them!

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    LALeslie:
    Forgot to mention but at Chitabe Trails Newman told me people do sometimes request him, and if you can do that you would be thrilled! I am just starting my CT account but trust me, and maybe others can verify, Newman is the man!!!!! He is incredible.

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    Glad you got to see a cheetah after your mekoro ride. Thanks for the reference on the cushion. If you bought four is that one for each cheek and a spare set or are you going to be giving them as gifts?

    Now that you have overcome the fear of small planes and have located a reliable source of cushions, you can plan another safari!

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    As I turn the other cheek (!!), the idea for four, atravelynn, was one for my back and possibly one to sit on and the same for my husband. As it turned out to sit on one was unrealistic and husband decided he didn't need them, so we held on to two in case one punctured.
    Funny you should mention being ready for another safari, but I have been emailing Timeless Africa (Julian) about Namibia and either Rwanda or Uganda. We met two guys who had decided on Uganda for next year after researching the two countries.
    I would go back to the Garden Route in a flash, although I have to admit that the 10lbs is coming off much more slowly than I imagined! I actually went to the gym for the first day in months as we had a dinner party, a reception, a luncheon engagement and we had people to dinner in a 48 hour period this weekend. I haven't got on the scale since Friday (at which point I was down 4 lbs.).
    We have a couple of trips planned to England and the Caribbean (I go to England a lot as I am English but live in the USA and we like to cruise). Our next 'biggie' is to Antarctica in January after which we will go to Rio for Carnival.

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    CHITABE TRAILS- 3 nights
    We hadn't seen the camp but we were whisked off to find our guide. I noticed an animal (can't remember what) and am surprised when our driver sped by and seemed intent on getting us to our transfer. We found out why: the huge news was that there was a leopard sighting and lo and behold we saw it! It was basking in the sun on a mound. A leopard and a cheetah within an hour or so was just great! It moved very soon into the bush and we transferred to Newman's jeep. Two honeymooners in their thirties who turned out to be a blast were already on the jeep, and immediately we were driving over bushes, through small trees and in shock. LV had never been like this, although we did drive through water up to the hood/bonnet of the jeep when we were there. Here in CT was a whole different experience and wildly (so to speak!) exciting! Newman was the best. So knowledgeable and what a tracker!!!!! We learned (through constant questioning) all about his life both from when he was born up to his current situation. That man has to write his autobiography and of course we encouraged him to do that. He told us other guests have said the same. He is remarkable. Apart from the tracking, sightings (more to come!!) and the conversation, I will never forget him regularly applying sun block and so carefully cleaning his glasses! No more leopard that day except for a fleeting glimpse. However, the rough terrain resulted in a flat tyre so we had yet another experience! The change went very quickly and off we went. Other animals were seen and when we stopped for sundowners there was a full bar. LV had miniature airline bottles and you requested your sundowner of choice ahead of time which worked out just fine. Most people had G and T or red wine. We did the typical night drive and I don't know how but Newman managed to conjure up several sightings and prior to nightfall many birds. Arrival at the camp was after dark, and it was so hard to acclimate as we had not seen it in the daylight at all so really had to be guided to our tent. We had an outdoor shower as well as indoor facilities and to my husband's amazement our very own termite mound as part of the shower area. We had hors' d'oeuvres by the fire and I asked in Tswana for my wine much to the shock of the camp staff. Already I knew we were in for a change as the appetizers were scrumptious. Although the dinner was buffet style, the food was fabulous and remained so the whole of the stay. As we got into bed we got a wonderful surprise as there were two bushbabies (hot water bottles). We were like children ; so excited! I might add that we always had plenty of bedding so were never cold at any of the camps once we had warmed up the bed. A great night's sleep, and we were awoken at 6am by the sound not of a knock on the door, but by Newman blowing the kudo horn and later pounding on the drums! The other new guests, a family, requested late starts and very short drives and the children often stayed in camp, but luckily as a family they had their own vehicle. We were about to leave when we realized that the other couple had their hot water bottles with them, so we ran back to the tent and had ours refilled! On to our drive and our walk. We walked at each camp and learned a lot about the flora, fauna, land development and tracking as well as the ant lion and other tiny creatures!

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    SIGHTINGS AT LITTLE VUMBURA:
    I was reading some other trip reports which list the wild life sighted. So, I rooted out my 'Species Checklist' from Wilderness and here we go.
    Little Vumbura (by no means exhaustive..I have the birds and trees but will only list the main species):
    Sable Antelope, Giraffe, Impala, Kudu, Red Lechwe, Steenbok, Tsessebe, Waterbuck, Wildebeest, Zebra, Fruit Bat, Ellies, Hippo, Slender Mongoose, Warthog, African Wild Cat, Cheetah, Hyaena, the two prides of Lions, Chacma Baboons, Bush Squirrel, Crocodile, Ostrich (if anyone is interested I will post all the birds as our poor guide was forced to review with me daily!!!!). Now I am hearing in my head: 'Work harder, Work Harder, Drink Lager,Drink Lager, In Botswana, In Botswana.........agghhhh the refrain will be repeating itself to me all day now.

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    hi, philbill,

    you'll know from my trip report that we never got to see leopard or cheetah. to see both in one hour makes me really green.

    thanks for a really informative report,

    regards, ann

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    Yes, I finally did finish your trip report Ann, and really enjoyed it.
    I was glad we went to Botswana and Zimbabwe as we certainly saw a lot of game, the only exception being wild dogs.
    The weight is coming off so slowly but I am plodding on with this report.
    I have found it better to write a little on WordPad or whatever and then cut and paste it into Fodors. That way I can write a few sentences at odd times during the day and edit typos etc. more easily. Oddball postings such as this one are done directly onto Fodors.
    I just downloaded some photoes last night (I don't know why it is so difficult to get them onto a CD in the correct order and with clarity. I must be doing something wrong!!).
    Off to make my breakfast tea!!!!

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    Chitabe Trails continued...
    The second day was a highlight (as was every day it seems!). We walked and learned so much about how trees communicate and produce tannin which makes the leaves bitter. Talk about survival! All of nature is so intricately balanced and I know so little! We saw an ostrich and close by spotted a nest in the sand which contained 14 eggs! I gather that this is a rare sighting indeed. One more scoop for Newman! He is so observant and, for example, can tell just from where an eagle sits in a tree if there is something happening in the bush. We did get stuck in the sand, but luckily another camp employee was also with us, so he could assist Newman. The jeep had to be jacked up, as placing branches in front of the wheels did not work. It was a hot and dusty job but we eventually moved on. No more flat tyres today, however! I might add to the tyre episode that Newman used the mosquito repellent as a lubricant when changing the tyre!
    For the first time I actually took a siesta and we were awakened by an almighty noise. We had baboons on the roof of our tent, and very angry ones it seemed. The cacophany was unreal and I hadn't a clue what was happening until they started to jump off the roof and I counted 12 baboons landing and scurrying off into the bushes.
    On our afternoon drive we suddenly saw a huge cloud of dust and heard the noise of what turned out to be a stampede of buffalo. Newman of course drove over to the area like a bat out of hell as he knew what had happened. A 6 to 7 month old buffalo had been taken down by two female lions and a cub. We were there to see the lions holding down the buffalo and attempting first to clamp on the windpipe and then to clench the jaws together in order to suffocate it. It was so gruesome, but with Newman's commentary elaborating on the process involved in trying to stop the buffalo from breathing in order to kill it, it was fascinating. I took so many pictures but this was partly to distance myself from watching an animal be killed. I had to remind myself that this is part of the circle of lfe. The most powerful memories are of the internal organs being pulled from the body and the awful smell of the blood. It was hard to watch, but what an experience. We also saw a huge elephant; the largest we had seen on our trip. I took more photoes of ellies than any other animal on our two week safari!! We saw some wonderful family groups and herds, and observed the babies which could still stand underneath their mothers!

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    On the third day we were greeted by elephants when we returned to camp for brunch. They were blocking our entrance across the raised walkway, shaking the fan palms and eating the nuts/fruit which fell down. We had to wait a few minutes and as they moved away from the fence we went quickly by into the camp dining room. Our meal was interrupted by the sound of more trees being shaken, and the three elephants were very happily eating! We were cautious going back to our room, and we were the only two clients left in camp. At this time Chitabe Main Camp was full, so we were very fortunate to have the camp and Newman to ourselves! [ The name Chitabe Trails has been changed this season as we were told that many people felt that the name 'Trails' meant a mobile camp.] We had problems negotiating past the elephants after our afternoon respite, but on meeting Newman again we went off to the Gomoti water area. We had very interesting sightings as usual including great views of a bushbaby and an owl on the night drive. There were great sightings of elephants taking mud baths (and later in the trip we saw wonderful displays of dust baths!). As we returned to camp, Ryan was there to meet us (all dressed up and not in his usual shorts and shirt). He proceeded to walk us back to our tent where we were flabbergasted to see our deck all lit up with lanterns and a table for two set with beautiful linens, crystal and china. A bottle of champagne was on ice together with a bottle of my favourite red wine. Ryan said that although it was not my birthday until the following month, this was a birthday celebration for me! He and Ruth, one of the assistant cooks, served us a four course meal as we toasted them. We also learned the toast "Pula!" (rain, and also the name of the currency). It was an evening we will never forget..a romantic dinner for two under the Botswanan night sky. The ellies had not left the camp, so we could see the approaching beam of the flashlight together with pauses partway up the long walkway as our servers went back and forth throughout the evening of dining! At night we heard lions' roaring and they sounded very close! The sounds of elephants splashing were also audible. We got up to the sound of the kudo horn and basically skipped breakfast as we were told the lions were still very close to camp and we might be able to locate them. We could not get to the jeep, (ellies what else!), so Newman drove around the back of the camp and we went under the fence to meet him on the 'back 40'! With Newman listening to baboons and birds and following his intuition, he eventually located tracks and soon we were face to face with two beautiful male lions. What gorgeous creatures. They decided to walk around a little and pose for us. What a treat having two private drives with Newman, but soon it was time to go for brunch and drive to meet the aircraft. for those of you following my fear of heights and concern of claustraphobia and panic attacks, it only took a glass and a half of wine at CT in order to have a very pleasant flight. Yet another young guy was the pilot, but I consoled myself by figuring that they must fly the plane about four times a day!!!!! The worst part was that Sefofane had subbed out the flight on the next leg three days later, and that company had all the biographies of the pilots and their ages together with a paragraph about each which stated in one form or other that their pilots were flying these plans to get experience in order to apply to fly commercial aircraft. So, I wondered to myself, were these pilots not good enough to make the grade to fly commercially at this point in time? Too much information can be a bad thing!!!!!

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    Sightings at Chitabe Trails
    Here goes: Giraffe, Impala, Kudu, Red Lechwe, Reedbuck, Steenbok, Tsessebe, Wildebeest, Zebra, Buffalo, Elephant, Hippopotamus, Dwarf Mongoose, Slender Mongoose, Yellow Mongoose, Warthog, African Wild Cat, Large-Spotted Genet, Hyaena, Side-striped Jackal, Leopard, Lion, Baboon, Lesser bushbaby, Vervet Monkey, Scrub Hare, Springhare, Bush Squirrel, Ostrich, Scops Owl and many other birds.
    Question: Why did everyone in Southern Africa pronounce Hyaena "High-HEE-na"? It's a little different from the, 'I say tomahto and you say tomayto'!!

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    hi, philbill,

    here's another pronounciation query - why the wierd "R" in "wildebearrrst" and "hartebearrst"?

    all the SA guides and rangers said this all the time. did you hear this too?

    your sightings were terrific - I'm green.

    regards, ann

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    The ostrich eggs were such a thrill!! We had a couple of guides who just called the wildebeest 'gnus', so I would burst into song at that point: 'I am a gnu, I live in a zoo' much to the amusement of anyone within hearing distance (especially when I don't know the rest of the song)!!!!
    I can't recall the 'rrrs', Ann.
    So glad some of you are reading this. I have to try to speed it up!!!

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    Hi Philbill,
    I am really enjoying your trip report. Sounds like you had a great time at LV, and the Chitabe report is bringing back memories for me as I was there in July. Keep it coming.

    Dana

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    SELINDA 3 nights
    We arrived at the airstrip for Selinda and waited for two passengers who flew in a few minutes later. By the way, another couple at CT had LLBean duffles on wheels and reported that there had been no problem with them on the light aircraft. I was a little green at this point as we had read definitely no wheels so had bought the LLBean without wheels. It wasn't that much of a deal as of course your luggage is carried for you everywhere in the camps! The passengers arrived from Zambia after having been at the River Club. We saw a tremendous amount of game on the drive to Selinda camp, mostly drinking at the water. We were met by the staff who sang. Has anyone experienced the same as us which was that the staff seemed to be embarrassed about singing (this was noticed at the two camps who had singing staff awaiting us!) and did not seem to want to have their photoes taken? Actually this was the only camp out of five at which we had any camp entertainment by the staff at night. It was limited (a short time after dinner one night) but very enjoyable. We had the welcome drink and met the managers. We were informed that we had to 'wash our own smalls'. The other two guys, father and son, looked so puzzled until I translated for them that smalls were underwear. The other couple whom the four of us were to join in the jeep left for their drive in another vehicle and we met up with them about 15 minutes later. Overall the guides here were not as memorable and we could often see a couple of other vehicles when we were driving which we had not seen at the last camps. That evening we were following jeeps for the first part of our drive and I commented on that. We saw the lion cubs playing and were they cute!!! Several of them playing tag and rolling over each other. Of course a couple of other jeeps were there too with a couple waiting in the distance. I inquired about this and was told that several camps were situated in the area. The couple which the four of us joined had come from Chitabe Main Camp (and they had also seen the lions that morning), and I heard the bad news that the food was not that great at Selinda as compared to Chitabe Main!! The guides here were not memorable but were not bad by any means. We did seem to traverse the same roads more than we had at the first two camps, and I was disappointed to hear that we were not likely to see wild dogs as they were denning. Then I heard later that they had been seen about three days before so go figure! We were told on our second or third day that dogs had been seen that morning, so that evening we literally just drove on towards the area where they had been sighted and just kind of drove aimlessly until our guide said that he could not see any! I felt that the guides we had (two) did not have a feel for the area nor the excitement when spotting game and just sat listlessly when we did spot something. I still talked and asked a lot about their lives and their homes etc., as if people are willing to talk I find out such a lot and our experience is enhanced. It was a job to them and not an avocation. That brings me to the point of tipping. We always tipped the amount recommended by Wilderness, and on occasion extra. However, we know that many people do not tip the camp employees, and if one had not read the literature (and obviously many people had not from their clothing, overall knowledge on how camp life/safaris worked etc.) then you were unlikely to see the staff tip box which was usually in the bar area but not very prominenet. It still irks me that we pay a small fortune to go to Botswana and they don't pay their employees and guides a living wage. I looked at threads on Fodor's and this is an explosive topic. Yes, I gave the amount even when the guide performed satisfactorily but not great, even though that is not the premise of gratuities in my opinion, but when I thought of AIDS and poverty in the towns and villages I had to. I would have felt guilty had I not. Certainly we gave people from Zimbabwe money to send home as life there is pretty terrible..more on that later. BTW I just read an article in CNN Traveller which states that, "A 2006 UNAIDS report found that 24 per cent of Botswana's adult population is HIV positive....This gives Botswana, with a population of less than two million, the second highest per-capita level of adult HIV infection in the world. Only Swaziland has a higher rate of infection.".
    To digress, in Zimbabwe we were told that the antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) enable a person who is HIV positive to recover so well (temporarily) that this is leading to an increase in the epidemic.
    PS Ann..how great to see the actual lyrics of the song..thanks for the link!!

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    Thanks for your game and guide comments regarding Selinda.

    I'll have to review the song versions.

    Are you comfortable mentioning any of the guides'names? I had BB at Zibalianja in Selinda and enjoyed him.

    I was just looking at a colleague's Botswana pictures and when she pointed to a picture of their young, vibrant guide, she mentioned, "He died of AIDs." I think Botswana has one of the worst survival rates.

    I am sure your tip was appreciated and used.

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    atravelynn: I don't like mentioning guides' names as they might just have been having an off day or two. It's also possible that some guides have the same name and I wouldn't want to say anything less than positive and have a person confused with another! In Durban our white SA guide told us that say three years' ago she would know people who knew people dying of AIDS, but now she knows people who have AIDS and in fact went to a funeral of one of her co-workers this year. She told of the three day ceremony and the vast cost involved with a funeral. The traditions are still strong, and this person had left a letter stating that his wife had not to wear black for the prescribed time (I think it was for a year??) and also that she had to return to work and not observe the traditional period of mourning. Life is celebrated, however! One of the most graphic moments to her, and also to us when she described it, was seeing the vast numbers of newly covered graves at the ceremony and the numbers being dug. this really brought home the reality of the epidemic.

    We had some great sightings at Selinda. We saw several hyaenas picking at an elephant carcass and of course the lion cubs scampering around which we could have watched for hours! We learned even more about the termites and how the queen reproduces the appropriate type of termite needed (soldier or worker) which was yet another example of awesome nature! We also had some excellent viewings of elephants taking dust baths by the water at sunset...wonderful. By now I had acclimated so well to bush breaks, picking the flowers, checking out the bush, making a technical stop, checking the tyres or whatever euphemism you would like! There were only four of us in the jeep after the first day (this was a plus; the fact that we rarely had more than four and in three camps we had days with just the two of us) and the timing of the drives was fine. I have to say the night drives (after sunset) were not my favourite. Depending on the guide and mother nature we did have some good sightings I have to say, but again I would rather have left earlier on occasion and returned earlier. Thereagain, the first time we saw the rhino in Zim was on our first night drive!!! Well, true to what we had been told the dinner that first night was pretty mediocre and I contemplated starting my diet as why eat food that is not great. We did get a choice of dinner entrees here which we selected at tea. Brunch the next day was not the best, and I really don't enjoy eating breakfast off my lap around the fire. In fact I ate very little breakfast most days, just my rooibos tea and maybe some dried fruit and nuts. However, little did I know that the diet was to be put on hold. That afternoon a CEO of Selinda arrived who was great fun and a blast! He brought 15 bottles of South African wine which he had been given as samples from which to place his next wine order. Not that the previous wine was not good, but we had some great wines in this selection, and he was anxious to get the input of clients. He asked how things were going and I told him that the food was below average and not what I had expected. After several bottles had been opened (this was the camp where we had the most people and we sat around a huge oval table) the food was served and my husband and I looked at each other and by the time the main course came I leaned across and told the CEO that I had to take back all I had said to him about the food!
    That meal was fabulous and so were all the meals to come for the remainder of our stay. He was there for two nights and we were too as we had already been there one night. The portions were small, but we could always have seconds. There was so little soup in the bowls, for example, but I was told that a consultant had recommended small servings as that was typical of gourmet restaurants!! We had seconds and my husband had both entrees both nights. Delicious! It was expected here that everyone go around the fire for after dinner drinks and that was a nice touch. We had our first 'impala' and 'steenbok' drinks (combinations of amarula and other liqueurs, and one of our jeep-mates invented 'Robin's Dirty Smalls' which if I recall correctly was cointreau with amarula. It was Robin's last night as a temporary manager and it was after midnight when we finally made it to our tent after an evening of much hilarity. Our tent...bliss. We had the honeymoon tent with a HUGE bathroom with a tub in the middle. Bath salts and a soak...delightful! There was also a foot scrubber implement which they told me was sterilized after clients departed (I am so suspicious I had to check) for use by the next clients. The tent had two cut glass decanters of sherry and port and two sherry stem glasses placed on the desk. All of the camps had beautiful ways of folding towels and decorating with local plants and berries. We had to request hot water bottles and one leaked very slightly!
    Crocodiles mating awaited us the following day and we saw a hippo on our walk. More to come....

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    And so to our last day at Selinda. I have to say that all the flights were perfectly timed so that we still got two game drives in even on flight days. We were so glad Julian had recommended three nights at each camp as there was time to get to know staff and not feel as if we were packing and unpacking all the time. I was so proud of myself in terms of packing!! It was my most successful trip as I did not pack too many clothes (well, I could have done with less for South Africa but for safari not bad at all). I would have liked a scarf. I did have gloves and wore those, but a scarf for the early morning and after sundown would have beeen great. We are Purell nuts when travelling so kept that with us all the time and used it. No need for the decongestants and Dayquil etc. which was great for over 5 weeks! We did not use any of our own insect repellent as there was a can in the jeeps (except Selinda). It worked well, and we put it on after dusk especially. We took our Malarone and did finish the cycle a little early as Hwange staff insisted there were no mosquitoes at that time of year, and that if we were careful in the airport at Vic Falls and used repellent, then we could probably finish our course of 7 days after the last possible exposure early.
    On our last morning off we went and came across 3 female lions and about 8 cubs. They were scampering around the Land Cruiser and disappeared into the long grass. We followed, driving through the grass, and saw the cubs playing around whilst their mothers went forth. The lionesses eventually came to a mound, and we have some beautiful photoes of them standing on the mound actively searching with their eyes to try to locate the cubs. We were watching all this in the jeep and spotted one cub then a couple of others, but they were playing hide and seek while the moms were trying to keep track! Oops..it was getting close to the time for getting back to camp so we returned (saw a hippo standing out of the water so stopped, came across a jeep with a flat tyre, stopped again) arriving late at the camp, but leaving after a few minutes at 10:15am, for the 10:55am plane. Packed lunches and snacks had been prepared and off we went. The plane flew in, two disembarked and two people remained together with their two large suitcases which took up one seat. I assumed they booked a seat for luggage ahead of time. We arrived at Kasane (guess I did this flight with no prescription drugs or drink!) and were met and taken to an open vehicle with a canopy. It was so amazing to be surprised at seeing paved roads again! We had only been gone 9 days but we had become accustomed to dirt and sand. I think we must adapt fairly easily!! After picking up a couple from a hotel, we drove to the border and went across with no difficulty or wait. We paid our visa fee and noted that the quite impressive embossed visas were duplicated with carbon paper! There were three receipts for the fees on a page, and when all three had been filled, the last person was responsible for handing the receipts to whomever had been in front of them! Luckily I recognized one person and the other was my husband. A mini bus took about 5 of us to Victoria Falls. It was a pleasant drive, and so to Ilala Falls Lodge.

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    Just in case anyone is reading this, I don't want you to think I've fallen off the edge of the earth.

    I leave in a few hours for the airport. Off to London (as Ann knows) and won't be back until the 23rd October. Leaving my husband here so am still in my nightgown, I've done a load of wash, put the dishwasher on (don't think he knows how) and am drinking my Airbourne (swear by it) wondering whether to have lunch at the lounge at LAX (not too great as they are still in the temporary building in the middle of the runway) or whether to eat at home. Decisions, decisions.....I have lost 6.8 of those 10 lbs, but England will probably help me gain those back. AAGGHH.

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    Wow, got back and a few days later went on a 4 night Royal Caribbean cruiseout of LA which is less than what you can live on at home!!!!! Got back yesterday so will post Sunday!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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    Liked your bush stop euphemisms. Ha Ha.

    3 days at each location is a good move. Glad the CEO arrived in time for you to enjoy the improved cuisine.

    Lions and cubs-a great finale!

    Enjoy the haitus.

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    ZIMBABWE: VICTORIA FALLS
    I'm back from England and a cruise so have to continue!!!!!
    The lodge was fine and in a great location so we could walk to the Falls. We had booked a sunset river cruise but found out it departed at 4:30pm! I assumed (didn't do my homework) that the cruise would take in views of the Falls (dear, dear, dense Philbill I can hear you all saying!!). But no! We never expected such an early departure and going on it would have meant that we would not have been able to go to the Falls due to lack of time. We cancelled and were told we would get a refund which we have yet to see. We plugged in the mosquito repellent device which we had brought along just for this hotel (and we were very glad we had as mosquitoes abound) and went off to the Falls. They were wonderful to see...quite an impressive sight. Locals said to come back when the Falls were at the fullest, but others said that this was a good time to visit, as when the Falls have an abundance of water the mist is so heavy that it is hard to appreciate their natural beauty. I think the admission was $20 per person so the government must be raking in a fortune! The rainbows were magnificent! Returning from the Falls we were harrassed continuously by hawkers with very poor merchandise. We went over to the flea market and the first thing vendors asked for were 'pens so that their little sisters could go to school'. The whole town is so depressed; no food in the shops, stifling body odour and everyone so desperate to make a buck. We did not feel in danger, however, and bought a few trinkets (which were not that great at all once we got them home!). We felt so badly for the Zimbabweans and that feeling increased as the days progressed. The dinner at the hotel was so-so but the breakfast (included) was wonderful. My husband got up early to see the Falls at sunrise (another $20!! but worth it). We bought a couple of things at the hotel shop including a lovely calendar. We had been warned never to use our credit card in Zimbabawe as the exchange rate changes by the minute but dollars were perfectly acceptable. Noone wants the local currency!! There is literally an expiration date printed on the bills!! I have a 100,000 note for a souvenir. That would maybe buy two loaves of bread in Botswana. Everyone goes to Botswana and Zambia for their groceries as there is nothing to buy in Zimbabwe. The shop owners cannot afford to stock their shelves as they would literally lose money due to government price fixing. Another walk around town, and then we were picked up at 10:00am by a taxi (whose company bought fuel from the government ) who drove us to Hwange National Park. We were a little hesitant about driving, but it turned out that it was such an interesting drive with the scenery and villages that it was preferable to flying! The car was comfortable (although it did have a cracked windscreen) and the driver opened up a little as we drove. We saw people walking home from church and the road was excellent. Our driver asked us if we wanted to stop about half way there, in order to stretch. We answered yes and he pulled into a petrol station. I then made an inane statement, 'Oh, you probably need to fill up the car with petrol', and he looked at me so oddly. Immediately I remembered that none of the gas stations have gas. There was a fairly modern '7-11' type of store next to the office of the gas station and I went inside. There was a man behind the counter. All the shelves were empty, there was nothing in the modern oven warmers and the only things available for purchase were bags of ice from the freezer. On to the park, outside of which was a police roadblock. An officer circled our car several times and then waved us through. Our driver said he was looking for anomalies with the car so that he could issue a citation and fine if he found any. I inquired (I told you I ask a lot of questions!!) why he wouldn't be cited for a large crack in the windscreen. The driver evaded giving a straightforward answer, but intimated that the police are more lenient when a local taxi is bringing foreign visitors to the park!

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    Actually it departed at 3:30pm (which was even earlier) but Atravelynn,yes, you are so right.

    SOMALISA
    We were met at the main camp by a wonderful man from Somalisa who, thankfully, had brought along food and some beer and Stoneys. Maybe I haven't mentioned that by now I am hooked on calorie ridden Stoneys! I don't drink sodas except maybe a maximum of three diet Sprites a year. I grew up with home made ginger beer, and Stoneys is the closest thing to it that I have ever tasted. I haven't found anything similar in the US, but then I haven't researched it as sugar filled drinks are all I need!!!! We stopped for lunch by a man-made water hole. Oh dear. Many questions over the next five days. Hwange National Park has several man-made water holes with pumps. I am summarizing all the information I gleaned from black and white Zimbabweans. If I am wrong please feel free to add to this, but as I said all of the following was confirmed by different people. The water holes, which have noisy pumps attached, (and to me they really negatively affect the feeling of undisturbed nature), were built in 1932 when Hwange was established. At this time there were no animals because there was no natural river bed. Thirteen dams and 52 boreholes were introduced to encourage game to settle here and to make the National Park more viable. At this point in time the water holes have led to such an increase in game, notably the elephants, that the park cannot sustain the herds. This area of the park can support 10,000 ellies and there were 40,000 at the end of August. Consequently, we were told by a guide, significant numbers of ellies would face death in the park starting around October. Not only has the whole natural sequence been knocked out of whack, but to confuse the situation the pumps often break down and sometimes are not repaired for days or even weeks. This area has some of the heaviest elephants who need enormous amounts of food and water each day. I was totally shocked, and so when an animal we spotted had been tagged (more questions) and was monitored by means of a GPS system I almost freaked out. At this point I was wondering out loud whether Hwange was so desperate for tourists that they were tagging the rhinos etc. so that they could guarantee sightings!! I was assured they were tagged for research purposes only, but I am not convinced. So many negatives to Hwange but later so many, many wonderful positives. We wouldn't have missed it (well yes we would have missed Makalolo Plains in a heartbeat but not Somalisa ......whetting your appetite for later maybe??). As we ate lunch (mmmmm) watching the croc dozing for his afternoon nap, we talked about Bulaweyo. We had read the newspaper the day before concerning the lack of water. Our driver was from Bulaweyo so he knew first hand what was happening. Yes, the government (or should I say Mugabe) has refused aid from foreign governments who have offered to run the pipes to carry water to the 'second capital', and there is only sporadic water which may not be available one day and only 4am the next day. Noone knew when water would 'appear' and the situation was appalling. We were told by another person that the government opposition party was based in Bulaweyo, so it was politically motivated. The answer to my question as to why the people tolerate such a dictator was a heartrending, 'We would rather have economic problems than war', and we were to hear this sentiment again from Zimbabweans we met in South Africa later. He told us you just learn to live with hunger. It is basically a fact of life. We had a lovely drive to Somalisa, spotting my husband's favourite Secretary Bird!!!! He was thrilled.

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    Wonderful trip report. Just a small note, the rhino's in Hwange do have GPS trackers for research though primarily it as a deterrent against poaching.

    They have the same system in place with the Mombo released Rhino too. When two rhinos were poached in the Delta following their release, the gentleman concerned was quickly located with the loot in hand.

    In Hwange, a black rhino was poached a few years back and the rhino horn tracked to a local village. It then went to the police station. The same horn kept going missing, and different police officers were found with it and arrested. It took about three times until they realised there was a tracking device somewhere.

    The thing I always find frustrating in visiting various countries is how the poaching is always leveled at the guy neighbouring country. When 9/10 times it is the guy from the local village. This is based on a number of years working in the area wildlife/human conflict.

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    Thanks Shumba, for that interesting commentary. We did see other animals tagged including lions. Oh, and we viewed a wonderful, unbelievable staging of the lions ambushing a zebra. WOW. But later..must get something constructive done this morning!! Yes, the poaching is unbelievable, and anything to prevent that is a plus.

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    Somalisa continued:
    Yet another LA Times article this week on the plight of Zimbabwe. Inflation is even higher than when we were there a few weeks' ago. We drove on to camp and oh what a wonderful experience we had at Somalisa. They are quick to point out that this is a 'bush camp'. It is the only camp we were at which had a zip -up tent flap. The interior was lovely, but all of the bathroom was outside. We were lucky that the weather was warmer as they told us that at the beginning of August it had still been extremely cold. The water had to be ladled into the copper sink, and there was a bucket shower. The toilet flushed. Personally I like running hot water so this was a great adaptation for me and I must say that the lack of running water was a drawback for me though not at all for my husband. We had a couple of thermoses of hot water placed in our tent at night. The furnishings all over the camp were beautiful, the staff was fabulous and the food was the absolute best we had on our entire trip. Dinner was gourmet, and we were by ourselves apart from that first night when two ladies were also in camp. We gathered around the camp fire for pre-dinner drinks, and food was served in the dining area of the camp with lovely table decorations and folded napkins (different for every meal). Afterwards we went back to the fire. The bathroom in the communal area of the camp was up a tiny pathway, and one had to place the dried elephant dung ball, which was on the end of a sturdy wire, in the middle of the path to signify occupancy. At this camp we had a spotter as well as our guide and both Nyeti and Terry were so enthusiastic on every drive and obviously loved the bush. We visited the tiny kitchen (how do they possibly produce such wonderful meals?). There is a small pool and a water hole so elephants visited at all times of the day and night. We found that in Zimbabwe the drivers were extremely careful with their vehicles..no raucous off-roading as in Botswana. The park is divided into areas 'belonging' to each camp plus general areas. At Somalisa we drove on their land plus the general area, but learned that the other camps tend not to want to communicate with each other and don't share information on sightings. As our Makalolo Plains guide put it, there were enough animals to view on their concession so each concession keeps to itself in the main part. We found Makalolo Plains to be very repetitive in terms of the drives and they stayed solely in their concession so we would not agree. We awoke at 6:15am and after coffee and homemade biscotti by the fire, we left to track the lions which had been in camp during the night. Later we walked back to camp with our guide whilst the tracker drove the car back. We carefully circumvented two herds of elephants when we were suddenly surprised by another herd which trumpeted loudly when we disturbed their resting in the bush about 25 feet away. Our guide hand signalled us to retreat and we walked backwards to a large bush which we stepped behind. Thankfully they walked off in a different direction and we continued on. Brunch was a delight with shepherd's pie, cooked to order full breakfast, fruits, rolls etc. etc.. I had a bucket shower and ambled down to lie by the pool. Newboy appeared to ask what I would like to drink (this is the life; pool, book, animals and my own personal butler...what could be better?). Sometime later, in a matter of moments, elephants appeared to my left. I had learned in Botswana how fast ellies can move, but suddenly I counted 15 elephants drinking from the pool barely 6 feet away from my lounge. I had been warned by our guide, Terry, that if elephants appeared I was to stay where I was and not get up and move. I took that so literally that I froze and found myself holding my breath!! A soft voice came from behind, and I heard Newboy, behind the roughly hewn small fence which was on the camp side of the pool, asking about what animals I had seen on our game drive. He used a calm, soothing tone and said to just stay there. I told him I was fine but didn't intend to move a fraction of an inch!! I asked him to stay there, which he did, as two more herds came with now 30 elephants jostling for access to the swimming pool water. I relaxed and started to enjoy counting their eyelashes and noting the different lengths and thickness of the lashes, as well as the whiskers and the wonderful view of the trunks lifting up and the water being poured down their throats. The viewpoint from lying on the lounge was unbelievable. The amazing revelation to me at this point was that ellies can extend their trunks quite significantly, which was most obvious when observing the baby ellie struggling to reach the water level as the water rapidly diminished. After quite some time I heard more voices. My husband had been woken by one of the staff as they were sure he would want to see me surrounded on three sides by ellies, and there he was taking photoes. He slid thecamera through the fence and I took some more. What an experience. It is not unusual for the ellies to drink from the pool, although there is a waterhole that is readily observable from camp. That was a definite hightlight of a trip!

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    At last I continue.. We have been on a few trips since we returned, but I will briefly conclude (eventually) this trip report!!!!
    Another wonderful highlight at Somalisa was the ambush of the zebra. We came upon 10 lions with 8 lying on lookout on a termite mound. Suddenly, one then two came down from the mound and lay camoflaged. They had sensed a large herd of zebra and were obviously hungry. One of the lions broke away and took a large circular route down towards the zebra. The lion cut off part of the herd and flushed out one of the zebras. As the other lions crept into place for the attack we were in awe observing the masterful play by play drama. Eventually the zebra escaped! The smell of the last kill will linger always, so I wasn't too unhappy!! We observed the lions eventually creep back to their original positions to lay in wait for some other unsuspecting animal!

    And so to Makalolo Plains.
    My recommendation is to avoid this camp. We had to meet the Makalolo guide at the 'park' area where we traded vehicles. We were sat in the bar when we arrived and given a lecture! Our room was just fine and we as always enjoyed the accommodations. However, the staff was not the best and we barely saw the manager. The food was terrible and the wines etc. just barely okay. Snacks on game drives, instead of wonderful home made goodies which changed daily, were low quality store bought cookies.There was no sense of joie de vivre amongst the staff. The drives were very repetitious and our guide luke-warm!! We did get a couple of walks, but he told us in no uncertain terms that if an animal came too close he would not be using his rifle as if he shot an animal he would probably lose his licence and would not be able to work again. Not too reassuring. We did, however, to give MP its due, see a rhino at night and one during the day. The day viewing was after a couple of days of aimless driving around just hoping to observe an animal or two. For some reason we actually got a radio alert (most unusual here) and arrived to hear a jeep full of the OATs group from a neighbouring camp talking in loud voices exclaiming over the rhino and very effectively scaring it back into the bush!! We surmised that the guide, not wanting to lose his tips, did not care to admonish the group for their appalling behaviour.
    Luckily our pilot back to Vic Falls was staying at the camp. We asked if he could fly us over the Falls and he enthusiastically agreed but said that he had two other passengers who would need to leave 20 minutes earlier if we did that. Of course when contacted they were thrilled. We had a fantastic flight over the Falls which was yet another highlight. We had been given the most awful packed lunch with spam-like meat and cheap cookies. I gave one to the pilot (along with a nice tip of course)and one to a girl in an airport shop and they were happy to get them.
    The plight of the people in Zimbabwe still haunts me. They are so accepting and do not complain.
    We waited for our plane which was delayed and arrived in Joburg with no traceable baggage. It was in fact there, but got lost and we received it three days later in Knysna!

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    Phil,

    I think that we were at Makalolo together in August. I went three times last year. The management team from April was amazing, and the camp had a great feel about it. We played camp fire games etc, it was the true Zimbabwean adventure. In August, despite my love for the camp, I was disappointed at the management. The camp has certainly of its feel. I think this is because a lot of the staff are new too. I certainly noticed an improvement when I went back in September.

    As for the game viewing, there are a couple things you can do to vary it. One problem was that two pumps were broken, one at Mbiza, a public area. This meant the areas were not very productive. It is also possible to go into the Linkwasha side of the concession, which is the same size a s Makalolo. It contains the huge Ngamo Plain. You do have to put in a request and it you have to time it around OAT in that area.

    I can understand how you see things as repetitive, returning to the same locations. Though I do believe game viewing makes up for it.

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    It is always good to get another point of view. Thanks for commenting! One person's perspective can be quite different from another person's!!
    A great bunch of people came the afternoon before we left the following morning. Maybe you were one of those!!
    Have you stayed at Somalisa?? That was incredible. I think that MP was so lacking compared to all the other camps we stayed at and I hate to be negative. It is nice to know you had a different experience. You certainly get around a lot being there three times in one year.

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    Phil, I think I remember you because you mentioned going to Selinda at Dinner. I was a solo traveler, the keen photographer. Maybe it was not you I was thinking of.

    Am yet to go to Somalisa, though its size automatically makes it more homely etc than MP. I am thinking of going there instead of MP for this year.

    You would be amazed the difference that a management team can make......April compared to your experience. It is sad that all those from my first trip are now else where. A massive difference I also noticed was in the food. In April, the price slashing had not yet been enforced. So although inflation was high, it was still possibly to hold of certain foods. Come August, stuff was missing from shelves in shops, as reported in the news. The lodge said they could not get hold of basic food sources.

    Though even in April, I ensured I skipped their Zimbabwean Vintage, the red was almost like paint stripper.

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    Yes, I could make allowances except that Somalisa had the absolute best food of the entire trip and that was only a few miles away from MP.
    (Selinda food and wine were great but only because the CEO was there!!)
    Somalisa's drawback to me was the outside bucket shower and lack of hot water through the faucets. The rest (food, staff, ambiance, campfire etc.)did make up for it, however.
    [I do like my luxuries!! As an explorer I would not make the grade!!]

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    lbj,

    If you get to read this, how would you compare the gameviewing experience etc etc., at Hwange compared to the Linyanti area of Botswana? Not just the viewing, but the whole experience? Thanks

    Hari

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    Vic Falls-Joburg-Pt. Elizabeth
    Not only did our luggage not show up on the carousel at Joburg, but I couldn't find the person who was to deliver the suitcase which I had left at the guest house. Our plane was late arriving but thank goodness our plane to Port Elizabeth was delayed in departing. As you may know, the terminals at Joburg require a fair amount of negotiating and are spaced a fair distance apart. Whilst my husband stayed at the carousel along with a wonderful assistant from ComAir I traversed the airport back and forth between terminals searching for my bag! I must have misunderstood the details of how it would be delivered, and eventually a BA person called the guest house from a payphone and found out that the bag either had not been brought to the airport or it had been returned. The owner of the guest house promised to have someone bring it to the BA desk right by the security screening area whilst the flight was called to board at the same time as I was on the phone!! Surprisingly (but luckily) another delay was announced several minutes later. No husband either. I was a basket case by this time but all of the people at the airport were fantastic and I cannot say enough good things about them. Husband arrived along with the ComAir representative but no bags at all. We went through security as the boarding announcement had been made (yet again). I t turned out that the plane had to be changed because of a mechanical problem and then the baggage had to be reloaded because of the weight distribution being uneven and there were not enough employees to do this quickly!! Down two escalators to the gate...another short delay..up two escalators to security where I could see the BA counter. No bright green suitcase. The secuity personnel were wondering what I was doing so I explained and they said they would watch out for the case. I described the colour and that it could not be missed and down two escalators again. There was still a line boarding a bus to go to the aircraft and husband informed me I had a few more minutes. Up two escalators, talk to security yet one more time. By this time they know me well and so back down two escalators to the gate. By this time only two people were left but they were arguing at the gate so we boarded the bus. The argument continued and I suddenly saw a man running with a bright green suitcase. I leapt off the bus (remember this was a full size 28 inch case which no way could go on the hand baggage security screening belt) threw my arms around the man and raced back onto the bus along with the two remaining passengers. I still feel badly as we were so rushed and frantic (I can't tell you how frantic after a flight from MP to Vic Falls, a flight from Vic Falls to Joburg, no bags from Vic Falls and up until then no bag from the guest house and a long delay meaning that we might not be at Port Elizabeth in time to pick up our rental car!!!!!!) that I rushed off the bus without any money for a tip and rushed back on just in time for it to speed towards the plane.
    Were we happy!! We were not due to return at all to Joburg so had to have the case. I will not say any more derogatory things at all regarding Joburg Airport!!

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    I don't know how I missed this trip report but am very happy to have found it now. This is one of the most informative I've read.

    Philbill, I appreciate your take on the situation concerning the plight of some of the people you encountered.

    I've been thinking that for our trip planned for Aug. of this year the best way to "help" individuals is to tip very well.
    I don't want to be insensitive but it seems that the one thing I have that they need is money.

    We always buy craft and handmade goods (which we don't need) as a way to help support the locals. But to read that they're appreciative of 1/2 of your sandwich...my heart breaks for them.

    This is going to be a trip of a lifetime in many regards.

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    I haven't finished this report so apologies. It won't be anytime soon as we are off to Prague.
    Jbella, are you going to Zimbabwe in August? The plight of the people in Zimbabwe still haunts me as I read the newspapers. Certainly tipping well is a great thing to do in all of Southern Africa.
    We gave one hotel employee in South Africa who had left his family in Zimbabwe money to send home. We told him that it was not a tip but for his family. As he was so honest he said he would have to share it as the staff pooled their tips and any money given to him would be considered a tip, so we took it to his landlady who worked at a shop in the town and she then gave it to him to send home.
    It is still a little annoying to me that we spend such a huge amount of money to take such a trip and the staff is so poorly paid.
    We purchased hand carved items at MP in Zimbabwe just for the employees to get the money, but after returning home the pieces weren't too great and the legs had broken off three carvings. Now I think about it the company probably took a big cut too!!

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