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CONSOLIDATED: Just back from Botswana and SA

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Thanks to Kaye,I realize its probably easier reading if I consolidate my four threads into one, So here goes.

PHINDA

Hi, All:

Arrived back yeserday after 34 straight hours of travel, and thanks to jet lag, am now wide awake at 3:00 in the morning. So, good time to start a little trip report.

With the help of many members of this forum, we planned an intinerary that include stops first at Phinda, then Madikwe, followed by three wilderness camps in Botswanna: Mombo, Jao and King's Pool.

Our trip got off to a rather difficult start, as we were flying British Airways through London to get to Joburg. Of course, our day of travel was the very day that the terror plot news broke and Heathrow was thrown into red alert havoc. This meant quickly condensing bags, shipping back home some carry on items and a LOT of delays and confusions.

It was all handled with good humor and patience by everyone, and aside fromthe fact that I accidentally shipped my toilettry bag back home (meaning no malaria meds, no sleeping pills, no contacts, no nothin'for the entire trip!, we actually arrived in Joburg just one hour late -- fairly normal!

Then it was off to the 90 minute flight to Phinda, which was on a fairly big plane (12 seats) but was extraodinarily bumpy owing to unusualy high winds. This becomes important later. Soon enough we were at Vlei Lodge, and in complete comfort.

By the way, our travelling party on the trip was comprised of three: myself, my partner (also named Michael) and Michael's nephew Matt, who we brought along with us as a college graduation gift.

Phinda has been so widely discussed on this board, that as far as the camp itself goes, I have very little to add to what's been said by others.

This was out second visit to Phinda, we absolutely love it, and this visit was no dissapointment. There are more luxurious camps, more chic camps, better game viewing camps, and certainly more authentically wild places. But what Phinda has going for it is so special...

A very real and energetic comitment to conservation is felt everywhere; the staff of mostly local zulu people are the warmest and most welcoming we've ever met in Africa, the quality of the guides/rangers is exceptional, and everyday provides an extraodinary education in the conservation success and challenges facing southern Africa.

We had wonderful sightings, including a feamle cheeta with three sub adult offspring hunting in the mid-morning. After lots of stalking, calling, regrouping, we even got to see mother run! She went from a leisurely walk, looking like she was doing nothing at all,and then suddenly she was rather near an impala (she clearly was stalking it, but we didn't see the lone impala until she was almost upon it.)

Then -- BAM!. The impala bolts, mother springs into her incredible, and instantly full speed run, and they passed not 10 yards in front of the vehicle, before leaping into deep brush. Amazing! It's almost not fair to say we saw her run, because it was so fast that one's eyes could barly adjust to grasp what was happening. She was very nearly a blur behind the impala, who made incredible leaps to stay ahead.

The bush came to the rescue of the impala, because with in about five minutes, mother returned to the offspring, unsuccesful and quite spent.

So many other marvellous sighting at Phinda, including sparing giraffe, a suni and baby (looked like a long legged chiuaua, very calm white rhino, with very curious calf, more cheeta, large pride of lion (who visited Vlei Lodge one night and parked themselves right outside of our room!) beautifuly Nyala and Duikers everywhere, and one extraordinary evening sighting of a young leopard.

A word about our exceptional ranger, Mike. He has been at Phinda for 10 years, is the the senior ranger, and no longer does game drives unless the camp it absolutely full or the guests are major VIPs (we like to think we got him because of the latter, though the former was clearly the truth!)

This marvellous man reacted immediately to Matthew's curiousity and love of the outdoors and went far above and beyond to make sure that every drive was an exceptional experience for him. He was enthusiastic, so experienced and informative, and even went so far as to dedicate one whole game drive to the leopard research project being conduct by the WCS at Phinda. His enitre point in this wasto help us understand, once we got to Botswana, what a privledge it is to see leopards, since the leopard population in and around Phinda is still quite stressed from decades of hunting,and remains on the edge of local extinction.

We did finally find one particularly shy young leopard, and latter, at Mombo and Jao when we saw how at ease and realtively easy to find the leopards were, Mike's conservation message was always in the back of our minds.

We were so enjoying Phinda and Mike that we decide to forgo Madwike altogether and stay on for two extra days. This meant some pretty complicated (for the lodge and my local travel agent!) juggling, and required us to spend one night in Johannesburg at the Saxon, before continueing our itinarary, but it was all handled with great charm, and we left Phinda after five days exhillarated, energized, educated and ready for the far more wild experince of Botswana!

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    MOMBO

    So...

    Recognizing that none of us is a fan of tiny planes, and knowing that we had a lot of them waiting for us in the Delta, we decide to skip our planned small plane flight, and drove down to Durban for a SAA flight to Joburg and spent the night at the Saxon (very nice -- a heated pool! A really real shower! CNN!!!).

    But soon enough we were off to Maun and Mombo Camp. Nothing exceptional about that trip, except the realization that I just HATE those tiny planes!

    So, Mombo Camp. I must say I was a little worried that Mombo would not live up to the high expectations it's reputation creates. Well, not to worry!

    From the moment of arrival to the moment of departure, everything exceeded every expectation. I want to get straight to the game, so as far as the camp is concerned, I'll just say that we found it utterly understated, so comfortable, truly luxiurious with not one drop of pretension (fellow guests excluded!) with a marvellous staff and the best food in the bush. A joy to return to at the end of every drive.

    But the game and predators! So many sightings, its hard to pull out just a couple to share. Our marvellous guide Matt (neck and neck with Mike for best guide we've ever had) brough us straight to the large pride with tiny cubs, who were extraordinarily active around a two day old giraffe kill. It was crazy! About 22 lion, no males present, eating, playing, then walking for drink and readying for the hunt. The one-eyed female was an exceptional creature, effortless asserting her dominance, watching us carefully, sucklings several of the cubs.

    What was so interesting to me was the close proximity to this large pride of a huge number of plains game. Just a few hundred meters away, and completely aware of each other, were hundreds of zebra, impala, tseebee and giraffe, all grazing, but being watchfull. Matt explained that when game can congregate in such numbers they adopt a "keep your enemies close" mentality, and to shamelessly anthropromorphize, it was clear that a large group of zebra were the security guards, staying closest to the lions, the big male keeping a watchful eye.

    We left the lion after an hour and half that felt like 20 minutes and headed to the other side of the flood plain for sundowners. As we stood in a perfect spot to watch the sun disapear between two tall palms, the concentration of game for the night continued, as no less than fifty giraffe silently passed around us en route to the open plain.

    That was a moment, as the endless stream of giant animals came from every direction, all congrgrating in one great heard litterally all around us. One young giraffe stopped about 30 feet from us and just stared at us as we stood quietly, sipping our drinks and watching the show. When we wondered why he was staring, Matt raised the possibility that if he had come from Angola (as many animals are these days, driven south by the land mines), it is entirely possible that we could be the first humans he's ever seen in his young life. Well, that put a lump in my throat!

    Did I mention the honey badger, bat eared fox, martial eagle, grey rumped swallow (flying into a ground nest at an amzaing speed!) endless heards of lechwe and dozens of buffalo -- all on our very first drive?!? Mombo is special indeed.

    The next three days passed similarly, with amazing sightings on each drive. Well, that's not quite true. Even at Mombo there was one day when both morning and afternoon drive produced no big game. However, these drives were wonderful opportunities to learn about the birds (we're not birders at all, so we grew quite excited as we saw and leanred more -- how about that lilac brested roller!), trees and beautiful antelope. I feel so sorry for those people who are foolish enough to return from a drive and say "we saw nothing!" or "it was a bust." One wonders if such people really deserve the privledge of visting Africa.

    Which brings me, briefly, to some of the more interesting and alarming sightings we had at Mombo. Those of homosapiens!

    Several people on this board and others have mentioned that Mombo seems to attract a large number of the Conde Nast best hotel in the world set (I call them the Singita Set.) Well, its true based on our experience. There were some pretty dreadful people there, crossing off another famous lodge on their checklist of prestige names. Mombo is expensive, and is difficult to book, and so you're bound to get these types. We simply put on our best manners, smiled politely and filed away some of the sillier antics of our fellow guests as fodder for funny stories back home. Mombo is such a marvellous place, it would be silly to let the pretensions and shallowness of others intefer with the exhiliration of the wildlife and habitat that surrounded us everywhere.

    Sadly, it came time to leave Mombo and head onto Jao camp. Remember, we were travelling with our 21 year old nephew, who had never had anything like the experiences we'd been enjoying since arriving in Africa. So we asked if it would be possible to have the helicopter transfer us to Jao, and the wonderful Mombo staff saw to it. We kept it as a suprise for Mathew.

    Boarding the helicopopter, rising gently over the air strip, looking back to see our guide Matt wave of us with an exhillirating two thumbs up from the empty land cruiser, we sped away from Mombo, out over the open, flooded Delta...


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    Its now 5 in the morning, I'm still wide awake, and so will continue. I hope these posts aren't too long!

    JAO CAMP

    We arrived at Jao by helicopter, an exceptional experience which finally gave us a true sense of place in the Delta. From mombo, the 8 minute flight showed as rapidly changing environment as we went deeper into the flood and permanent water ways. Flying very low, we got a perspective you just don't get from an airplane, and we arived exhillarated.

    When it comes to Jao Camp, what I have to report ranges from the very good to the bad to the very bad indeed.

    To start with the very good...the location of the camp on a major permanent waterway, while still adjacent to the stunning Jao Flat is suberb. So beautiful, and offering diverse experiences litterally from minute to minute. Our guide Victor, a young man from Maun, continued the high standard of guiding we'd enjoyed at Phinda and Mombo. So knowledgable, enthusiastic and competent.

    Our first activity was powerboating around the Delta, Victor at the helm leading us through the Delta with great confidence and a real sense of fun. We saw few animals (none really) but its such a marvelous expeience to be among the reeds and papyrus and to begin to understand the majesty and beauty of the Delta.

    The next mornings game drive with Victor was one of the best we enjoyed on the entire trip, starting right off with a beautiful female leopard up a tree not five minutes outside camp. There she laid in perfect morning light; we got many exceptional photos, and then she stretched, scratched and slowly (impossibly slowly!) walked down the tree. It's amazing to see these magnificent animals make a leisurely exit from a huge tree. They seem to defy gravity as they appear to walk (not climb) right down the long straight trunk.

    From there it was a matter of minutes until we encountered a a large male lion, injured around the mouth, walking purposely toward water. He took a long drink, then, as we all heard another male calling not far away, made his way to his brother, also injured, more severly. They did the whole rub-rub greeting routine, as Victo tried to deduce the source of the rather significant injuries.

    They both looked farily well fed, so Victor posited that they had fought over a kill, but seemed unsure. After a while, we moved on, only to encoutner the broken nosed lioness, blood on her paws and stuffed full of a recent kill. This beautiful animal is a solitary female (rather unusual I gather) who live and hunts on her own. Her last litter of four were all killed off in their first year. Victor wondered if the males had in fact been fighting over her, since she seemed as though she might be in estrus.

    We kept up with her for awhile, until she settled down, then went for coffee. More exploration of the beautiful Jao flat led to gorgeous sightings of birds, antelope, plains game, and we slowly made out way back to camp.

    On that evenings game drive, we got to the end of the lion mystery, as we quickly found the less injured male and the broken nosed femal mating. Ah ha! It had been a fight over her that led to the injuries, and sure enough, the other male was not too far away, sitting in the shade, litterally and metaphorically licking his wounds as the sounds of matting filled the air. Poor guy -- Vicor said his head and eye injuries would be o.k., but he didn't look so good to me.

    Our evening mekoro ride got cut short by a large pod of hippo blocking the channel, which was fine with me (I'm not cut out for mekoro!).

    The bad about Jao isn't really so bad. I was very unimpressed with the staff, who were simply not as friendly or even present as the staff and guides at the other camps. And the camp itself seems a little overdone to me, with the tent/rooms strangely uncomfortable, though lovely in design.

    The very bad was, I'm afraid, very bad indeed, and I'm still trying to process it. This post has gone on long enough, so I'll describe our unfortunate incident in my next, and hopefully last, installment.


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    Now for the one thing on this exceptional trip that was truly frightening and an experience we'll never forget.

    On our second day at Jao, as we were about to make our way up for afternoon tea, we exited our room (number 7) to begin the long walk up to the lodge. I immediately noticed a few baboons on the walkway fairly distant from us and located in the opposite firstion from the lodge.

    Now, we all see baboons around lodges all the time, and there were just a few. I figured given respectful distance and a steady gate any others would clear away as we approached, as they always do.

    As Michael and I walked toward the lodge, and before we reached the next room (number 6)we saw another baboon, with a baby on her back a good distance ahead of us. We stopped, not wanting to threaten her, and waited for her to move on. But she didn't.

    She put the baby down and came a few feet closer to us. Not so close, yet, stil a good 30 to 35 feet. We weren't moving at all.

    Then, for no reason I can think of, she barked out an alarm call. We must have done something to frighten her, or perhaps had gotten closer than we thought, or somehow cut her off from something we hadn't seen. We certainly were not being cavallier or disrepctful of the animal, as we never, ever are, and we know that baboons, though so common place, can be dangerous.

    Just how dangerous we learned immediately.

    Upon barking out her alarm call, the enitre troop appeared out of nowhere, a good fifty or more baboons suddenly racing towards us from the direction of the lodge, barking, teeth bared and in that terrible baboon frenzy.

    I calmy said to Michael "Let's walk purposefully back to our room and don't run," but it was to late. They were really upon us, and as we tried to make our way back calmly, several large baboons began to charge.

    Michael called out "he's charging me," I had reachd the ramp to our room and said come quickly, try to stay calm. Just as Michael reach the ramp, a couple of baboons dropped from tree behind him, cutting off him from me, and out room which was now just 10 or 15 feet away. Teeth bared, snapping and scremming, the biggest one charged directly at him. As I reached the door (only to see several baboons on the roof on the room) Michael swung his small back back around 360 degrees; the baboons backed of for second, the two between him and me leaping around to join the several in front of him, while the rest of the troop amassed on and around room seven.

    At this point, Michael just ran the remain 15 feet to the door, which I had my hand on, two big baboons in terrifying pursuit. As he passed me, I pushed the sand-filled fire bucket at the oncoming baboons, slowing them for a moment, and we just made it into the room as the troop decended onto the deck, still screaming, shaking the doors, peering in the upper screens, shaking the screens that make up the front of the room and ripping at the netted thatched roof.

    I have never be so terrified in my life.

    We were somewhat in shock, because, even though I was holding the air horn in my hands, I didn't use it. In retrospect, I clearly should have, but so stern was the medical emergency warning given us about it use that I hesitated.

    After what seemed like an eternity, but was probably just a minute or two, the baboons quieted, but did not leave. I stood at the screen and called out in a calm, clear and loud voice "Help! Help! Room Seven!."

    This set the baboons into a renewed frenzy, which quieted soon. The people in the next room (who shared the vehicle with us) called out "Michael, are you all right." I replied "We're been charged by a troop of baboons and they are attacking our room." The voices from room eight got the baboons attention, and the majority of the troop then swooped over their and repeated the attack on room eight!

    The lady in room eight, not realizing the size of the troop began to open the door to the outdoor showe, and was immediately set up by several baboons; we heard her scream as she quickly slammed the door (she was safe).

    And then we waited. And waited. All was quiet, and slowly the baboons began to move away. It was now about ten to four, when finally, one of the guides came to check on us. There were just a few baboons left when he arrived, and he retrieved from our rooms (six of us now, as another couple waling alone were driven into our neighbors room)without further incident.

    We arrived up at the lodge filled with nervous energy and adrenaline. Strangely, none of us seemed able to communicate how strange and extensive the attack was, and the staff very quickly began trying to dismiss it as "a few baboons." I don't think it had fully sank in, at least not for me or Michael, how threatening the situation was, especially during the charges outside of our room.

    We actually went on the afternoon game drive, and only latter, when we returned to the lodge and discussed the event between the four of us (myself and Michael and the folks on room 8) did we get perspective. The only response from the staff (the management that met us on arrival never appeared again after the first dinner) was to say we should have blown the air horn.

    No one seemed the least bit curious why baboons would engage in such unusualy agressive behavior; they are presumbably habituated if they live around an established camp. There was no attempt by the camp staff to try to understand if we had provoked the attack, if there was something else, or even to get any details of what happened.

    Later, when we arrived at King's Pool, and told the staf there what had happened, they could not hide there surprise at the behavior of the baboons or shock at the indifference of the staff at Jao to what one and all called unusual and alarming baboon behaviour.

    No one was hurt, and I believe know what I always have, that agressive behavior by animals toward humans is almost always percipitated by human actions. This episode simply goes to show that even sensitive, respectful and cautious safari-goers can unintentionlly get themselves into bad situation, and an over-abundance of caution is always required.

    The indifference of the Jao Camp staff to this event however remains shocking to me, and I will never return to that camp again.

    A last little round up of our final two days at Kings Pool will follow.


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    Before wrapping up with King's Pool and the Lynyanti, let me appologize for my confusion in posting these all under spearte message threads and even repeating postings. Hopefully, the adminstrator will delete the others. I'll put my posting clumsiness down to jet lag and ask for indulgence.

    So to continue the one true trip report out of many threads...

    KING'S POOL

    Not being in the Delta this was the one camp I researched the least. My travel agent insisted we include it and insisted we visit here last, and boy was she right.

    What a wonderful camp! It feels a little older than the others (it is) and less flashy in the nicest way. The tent/rooms however were far and away the nicest and most comfortable we stayed in, truly relaxing at the end of a long trip.

    And the panorama in front of the camp it just extraordinary. Right on the Linyanti River, with crocs and hippos all around, the vista is both serely beautiful and constantly active and interesting.

    We spent one entire afternoon, just the three of us, out on our deck with a bottle of white wine, watching endless heards of elephant emerge around the flood plains and riverside, while four hippos did their hippo thing and one big croc parked himself right at the foor of our room. Well! Who needs a game a drive?

    We did, and went on several, all of them rewarding and wonderful. Best of all was the final one.

    We knew we'd be leaving for home early the next morning, and it was time to really start absorbing what we had seen and learned over the previous two weeks. We needed no more excitement, there was no particular species we were desperate to see.

    Relaxed and nearly sated, we said to our guide:

    "Why not take it easy? Let's let everybody else go ahead, and at around five p.m. we'll set out. Let's just bumble along and see what we see, and get to a great spot for sundowners."

    That's exactly what we did. As the sun was setting, we stopped above a hippo pool. Drinks in hand, we quietly said goodbye to the bush, reflecting on how fortunate we had been in our sightings and experience over the last two weeks. How fortunate we have been in life, in fact, to be afforded the privedlges of this extraoradinary adventure.

    Quiet, content and happy to begin heading home the next day, we were about to reboard the vehicle and head back to camp.

    Then, from some distance down river, in the last of the twilight, came a great sound of splashing. We quickly changed our position, and got a clear view down river.

    And there they were. Fifty or more elephants, in the dim light, crossing the Linyanti en mass, splashing but otherwise silent, making there way from Namibia into Bottswana. They pushed along the babies and kept together, entering the forest on the Botswana side and disapering soudnlessly into the evening.

    Their journey no doubt continued throught the night; for us, it was time to go home.

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    Hi Mike14c

    Good move to consolidate, much easier to follow your story.

    I find that baboon behaviour most peculiar, as in a lot of camps, baboons and monkeys are around, but usually as you approach, they move off. But someone has mentioned to me that the baboons around the western cape (I think) have created an enormous problem, as people keep feeding them, and now they are attacking people.

    Those male baboons are very large and their teeth are huge, if leopards run from them, we need to be most careful and from your description, you did nothing to start that behaviour. I would voice a strong complaint to whoever owns that camp as the camp staff reaction was underwhelming at best. I see that Wilderness own or manage the camp, so write to them.

    How far are you from where staff would be? Baboons alarm calling etc is really loud and I am amazed that you would need to call anyone, as you would think that they would hear the racket and go towards your rooms to investigate!

    Pleased no-one was hurt and it does make you well aware of the dangers of the African bush.

    Kind regards,

    Kaye

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    Hello,

    Thanks for consolidating your threads. That story with the baboons is terrifying -- for some reason they have always struck me as one of the more dangerous animals to encounter on foot as they sometimes see us as being like them, and react to us the way they would to rival baboons. A girl I went to school with was severely mauled by baboons in Kenya while doing her undergraduate thesis research on their behaviou, and ever since them I've treated them with caution. Looking into a mirror to see a large male baboon looking over my shoulder rates as one of my most frightening moments on safari.

    I'm glad no one was hurt and that your trip ended successfully - but do write to the camp owners and WS and let them know what happened. WS is very responsive to guest concerns.

    Cheers,
    Julian

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    Yes, it was terrifying, and I'll never look at baboons the same way again. I'll never look at them at all, in fact, if I can help it.

    Kaye, your question of the distance from our rooms to the lodge where the staff is raises an interesting point about Jao. This distance is considerable. Rooms are very spread out, and it is a long walk along the riased walkways from many rooms to the lodge.

    Too long perhaps? If you are in a distant room, you've got a walk of some considerable length, unescorted, through a camp with a resident leopard and as I've learned, some pretty agressive baboons. I must say I do wonder about safety in that setting, even in the middle of the day.

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    That's a great report, and the baboon episode is chilling -- they can really be frightening. I have only encountered baboons once while I was on foot, walking from Victoria Falls Hotel to the falls, and we kept a large distance between us and the baboons -- they were the large ones that looked like medium-size dogs.

    I wonder if your nephew realizes just how great a trip he got for a graduation present!

    Thanks for the great report

    Michael

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    Mike,

    Thanks for sharing your trip report with us! It sounds like you had a wonderful trip, except that encounter with the baboons. How wonderful to take your nephew!

    That baboon incident does sound terrifying. I am glad that no one was hurt. Baboons scare me as well, especially in a large group. They just always seem like they are right on the edge of erupting into chaos.


    Jenn

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    Mike,

    What an excellent report! I never saw the bits and pieces, just this consolidated one.

    So sorry about your toiletry bag. In the confusion that I'm sure engulfed Heathrow, I understand how that can happen. Hopefully you had eyeglasses to wear. You went at low malaria season at least, since you were without medication.

    I was especially interested in your Phinda feedback. The fact that you are repeat visitors says a lot. So does the fact that you altered your itinerary to remain there two more days.

    I liked your descritpion of what makes Phinda unique and especially your account of game vieiwng. If you thought 5 days was a good amount of time at Phinda, that helps me with my decision to spend at least 4 there.

    Great account of Mombo--why it is so special and also the quiet times that exist at every camp. Interesting observations about its clientele.

    Your Jao experience was riveting. I had the pleasure of landing at their airstrip and, as you were, was taken by the absolute beauty of the environment.

    The baboon incident is frightening and could happen to anyone. I am glad no one was injured. It will be interesting to read if others who visited Jao encountered those aggressive baboons. You are right, that was really bad. As Julian mentioned, you should contact Wilderness, maybe through your agent. You'd be doing a public service.

    It's nice your safari ended on such a high note and it is obvious you appreciate how special such safari moments are.

    Your nephew is a lucky young man, and not just because he survived the baboon attack.

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    Mike:

    I can't imagine how special you must have felt with 50 giraffes around you - it must have been incredible. They are so graceful!

    That baboon story is scary - I'm glad you were able to continue with the rest of your game drives - it must have made you think twice about being so close to animals one tends to think of as being more dangerous (lions, buffalo, cheetah, leopards etc). I would have been really frightened.

    Cyn

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    Mike

    Thanks for the excellent report. Glad you liked both Mombo and KP, KP is in fact the youngest of the bunch and probably my favorite camp.

    One plea can you get into detail on the Singita set, that would surely be worth a chuckle or two.

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    Thanks for all the feedback!

    Atravelynn: you'll love Phinda, I think, especially if you expect it to be a little different than other places. Four nights will be great, and do your best to make sure you experience as many of the different eco-zones as possible, especially the sand forest, mountains and river areas. Which lodge are you staying at?

    Cyn: you're right -- the giraffes at sundowners really were a highlight. Its interesting how sometimes we get blase about some of the more common (Oh, another giraffe. Yeah, yeah, more impala) and then something happens to make you suddenly stop looking and starting seeing them again!

    Matt: Ah, the Singita Set! I'd tell all, but what if some of them read this board. But the probably don't, as that would be research and preparation, something these folks seem to avoid like synthetic fabrics.

    There was the one lady who didn't know that the vehicles were open, spent two game drives curled up in a ball in the seat next to the guide and couldn't stop crying. The other lady and husband who, whenver they come to Africa, "just pack a bunch of junk like crappy tee-shirts and old jeans" and leave them behind for the staff in lieu of a tip. "It's better than giving to goodwill, and these people have nothing."

    And, since I was in London at the start of the trip, I had a couple of nice shirts with me. They were also the only cleaned and pressed shirts I had at one point, and so wore one to dinner at Mombo one night. A man -- I am not making this up -- asked me if I would go back to my room and change into a khaki shirt, since my Etro shirt was making his wife feel under-dressed.

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    Mike

    Thanks, thats perfect. I love the picture of the woman curled up next to the driver, pity you didnt get a shot of that one.

    These days I figure you can be quite blatant about getting shots of all kinds of entertaining things, if anybodywonders what you're shooting, point to a tree and say that lovely candlepod, or a Burchells Starling.

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    Hi Mike,

    I hope you kept your Etro shirt - I'm amazed by the things people stress themselves out over. Like the woman who kpet the rest of us waiting for ten minutes one morning while she put the finishing touches her make-up before the boma dinner on one of my trips to Londoz -- for crying out loud, it was so dark she could have looked like a clown and no one would have noticed.

    Ironically, one place where I didn't meet any of those people was at Singita!

    Cheers,
    Julian

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    Mike,

    Thanks so much for writing this report. We are going to be at Phinda next week, so your comments were of great interest to me, and I'm looking forward to learning more about what they are doing there. That it is your second visit shows what a special place it must be for you. Do you recommend any of the optional side trips?

    The baboon encounter was eye-opening and the reaction of the staff was even more horrifying.

    I love the description of the last moments of your last game drive with the elephants crossing the river. What a wonderful trip for your nephew.

    CW

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    CW:

    You'll have a great time at Phinda. In terms of the optional trips, we've done several and they are all good. Be sure to find time for the boat ride, its a whole different point of view, and accessed by driving through a beautiful Fever Tree glade. There's no additional cost for this.

    One that we've enjoyed on both visits is a trip down to Sodwana Bay, less than an hour drive or just a 15 minute flight. Depending on how long you're entire journey is, this "day at the beach" is very refreshing, a nice break from the land rover. Of course, if time is at all limited, I wouldn't miss a game drive. THe water is qquite cold, but the beach is stunning, the sand dunes just amazing, and the truly brave can face the cold water and snorkle -- adding a few fish to your species checklist. It's good fun.

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    Mike,

    Thanks for the information--now I have to look up Fever trees to see what they look like. I definitely want to do the boat ride, and I was leaning towards the beach visit. You've reinforced my decision. I guess after going all that way, I want to stick my toes (at least) in the Indian Ocean, and I would love to see the landscapes there.

    We will be there 4 nights and are staying at Forest Lodge.

    CW

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    What a great trip! I remember you planning it and it sounds like it was excellent.

    The baboon episode is pretty scary. I've seen photos of people attacked by baboons and it's not pretty. When we were in Vic Falls, a baboon ran up to a lady and stole a hotdog out of her hands. The lady didn't notice the baboon coming but as soon as she did, she threw everything towards the baboon - the hotdog, her purse, drink etc. It grabbed it out of her hand before she could even turn loose of it. That scared me. I can't even imagine how frightened you must have been. I'm glad no one was injured. The camp staff certainly should have shown more concern than it sounds like they did.

    What does Matt think of Africa? Did he express any desire to return?

    Congrats on such a fabulous trip!

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    Sundowner:

    Actually, our newphew Matt's reaction add immeasureably to our whole experience.

    He's a very bright and curious young man, and the reason why we wanted to take him was to expose to the diversity of experiences, people and environments. He'd never travelled outside the US before,and like many recent college grads these days, his biggest priority seemed to be finding the right job on Wall Street.

    Well, Africa did the trick! He was kind of speechless at first, but after a day or two at Phinda, he sat in the back of the vehicle, absorbing every word the guide said, turned out to be quite a spotter (even the zulu tracker was impressed with some of his spots) and kept an imaculate and detailed journal (something he had never done before in his life).

    As the ranger kept identifying animals Matt kept asking for spellings. "How do you spell Nyala?" "Is lilac brested hyphenated?" Strange, I thought, until I looked back and saw that he was keeping detailed notes of every sighting as we drove away -- even bringing a little pen light on the night drives!

    Will he return? He was pumping the guides at Mombo and KP for budget recommendations in the Delta before we even left!

    Africa changes everybody who visit's life; thanks to this trip, I think our young man is realizing life offers many many more options than high paying jobs in finance, and many rewards that they don't tell you about in business school!

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    Mike,
    You had me on the edge of my seat, heart pounding! From traveling through Heathrow on "the day" ( I was stuck on NO meds and contacts!!!!)to being attacked by a troop of baboons!!! That must have been terrifying...just reading about it raised the hair on the back of my neck! I remember (while in my closed vehicle) thinking how cute the baboons were. But being on foot with them approaching would be entirely different. The only aminal we encountered on foot was a rock hyrax. Coming around a corner in the Serengeti museum, finding him just sitting on the steps, blocking our path, had us a bit unnerved. But a baboon...YIKES! As I was reading your report I found myself trying to read as fast as I could to see if all turned out well. I am so glad no one was hurt, but know it must have been very traumatic.
    When you got to the part about the woman crouched down in a ball crying in the open vehicle I laughed outloud. Not so much at her, but in knowing it could have been me! I recenly saw a photo of an open vehicle with a lion not 10 feet away and wondered how I would react to something like that. If anyone reading this knows what photo I am talking about, and knows where to find it, please let me know...I want to show it to my husband.
    What a great uncle you are for taking your nephew! What wonderful memories he will have!
    Thanks for a great report, I loved it!

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    Mike

    Having reread your story, I think the big lesson here for all safari goers, is that this would be an appropriate time to blow the air horn. Your desire to not use it except in an emergency is admirable, but this would definitely fit in that category.

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    Matt:

    I couldn't agree more! That was definately the time for the horn. I think the reason I didn't blow it was just strangely poor judgement brought on by the stress of the attack, and perhaps some wishful thinking that the worst was over.

    While we're on the air horn, I think that sometimes the lodge staffs are a little too forceful in stressing the "only for medical emergecny" bit. Granted, there are jerks who set them off because they want a gin and tonic, and that's terrible.

    But if you are really frightened, terribly uncomfortable or THINK you are in danger, blow it! Better to alert everyone to prevent a medical emergency than to deal with one.

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    Mike,

    Thanks for the great trip report. I was at Jao in May and upon arrival they spent about 20 minutes speaking to us about how to deal with the baboons around our tents and on the walkways. I was left feeling pretty scared, but luckily for us we never saw any during our two nights there. I can't imagine how terrifying your experience must have been. I am shocked that the management and staff did not have a more adequate response. I would definitely write a letter to wilderness and your travel agent, explaining your experience to them.

    The rest of your experience though sounds wonderful. Your description of KP, makes me anxious to include this camp on a future itinerary. What an amazing uncle you are and how nice it must have been to watch your nephew growing from the experience!

    Happy Travels

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    Chelsea:

    Now that's interesting! One of the questions we asked at the time was "has this happened before?" and never really got an answer. Your experience may indicate that these baboons are a problem, but we certainly received no warning -- change over in staff, perhaps?

    Anyhow, we've written to WS, and set our travel agent on them (and believe me she can be a lot scarrier than any boboon!). Will let you know if anything interesting happens in follow up.

    Overall, it was a fantastic trip, and in perspective, the unfortunate baboon incident didn't really mar it at all!

    Best,

    Mike

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    Mike,

    Those reading your account may feel better about blowing the air horn in an emergency. We all feel like we don't want to make a big deal out of something and draw attention to ourselves. Sometimes you have to.

    Back to Phinda--Four nights would be my minimum. Would I be nuts for a 3 night walking safari, on which I do not expect to see much game. Then 2 nights Forest Camp and 2 night Vlei, where I expect to do my real game viewing? I do tend to prefer longer stays at any camp, but don't usually linger a whole week. Thanks for your help.

    You may have gotten your nephew hooked on Africa at a young age!

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    Wewere in jao a few weeks prior to your trip. Spent a lot of time with Victor as well as Freddie and Mariana who are the managers along with the owners David and Kathy,I am quite shocked to read about your experiences, I suggest you take it up with the owners who actually run the place as they live in Maun and come up twice a week to supervise.
    I have been visiting Africa for the past 18 yrs and yet have to come across an experience such as yours, I am a painter of wildlife so I come in contact with these animals on walking safaris, something must have disturbed the baboons, but it does not excuse the behaviour of the staff especially Victor who went to enormous lengths to help me out whenever required. In fact I found them so good and helpful that I booked my next trip as soon as I returned. The managers had helped me in very difficult situations when I had met them in savuti as well as Kwai, so something must be amiss. I live in Asia but i will definitely phone Freddie to find out what went amiss as I generally take along some member of my family who will certainly not be as fearles as I.

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    Lynn:

    I think that sounds very nice. The walking safaris are tented, as I'm sure you know; we saw the camp and its quite nice. Forest and Vlei are defineately the right two lodges. Vlei is a little nicer, just because its smaller, but both are comfortable with lovely staffs. That length of time will give you the opportunity to take advantage of the some of the optional excursions as well, and they are all enjoyable and add dimesions to your visit you don't normally get. Just do bear in mind that game viewing at Phinda is not at the Sabi Sands/Mombo level, although you'll see plenty and have wonderful rangers.

    Ahren:

    Thanks for your reply,and we have contacted the owners by mail.

    I think one problem may be the practise of Wilderness Safaris to rotate managers around the Delta Camps. When we were there, the people you mention were not the on site managers, it was a couple named Shane and Kim. Same thing at Mombo -- two of the managers during our stay rotated over to King's Pool and met up with us there by coincidence.

    Therefore, the nature of the experience can vary based on who's running the camp which week, and that may account for both differences in ambiance...and one wonders passing along of information about resident animal behaviour? Does this weeks manager know what happened last week? Probably, but I'm sure things fall through the cracks.

    Victor was terriffic, by the way, we loved him; he was the highlight of our stay

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