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Trip Report Dennis's Kruger/Mala Mala/Dubai/Hong Kong Trip Report sept. 2007

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What was I thinking?
This has to be the worst way of getting to Africa from Hawaii! Hilo-Honolulu-Taipei-Hong Kong-Dubai-Johannesburg. It was 60 hours of pure HELL! My reasoning when booking was we could do layovers in Dubai and Hong Kong on the way back and see more of the world. That sounded good on paper, but didn’t really put much thought into how long it would take to get to Africa.

Tom and I left Hilo on September 19th for an overnight in Honolulu. Took an afternoon flight, had a good prime rib dinner at the hotel, had a few g & t’s and off to bed. Woke up early the next morning, took the shuttle to China Airlines, checked in (10 minutes) and waited for Burger King to open. We tried to get China Airlines to check our bags all the way through to Johannesburg, but since the flight to Dubai was after 12:00 midnight, they couldn’t do it.

The first flight wasn’t too bad on an A300 with a pretty good VOD system. The plane was full and the 2-4-2 configuration was nice, and we left Honolulu on time. I watched 3-4 movies, slept a little, played some video games and 9 hours and 40 minutes later we landed in Taipei for a two hour layover. Not much to see in the Taipei unless you like Asian porno magazines, as these were available at most of the shops. There is a museum like thing there with reproductions of the real art you would see if you went to the Taipei Museum.

The next flight was on a 747, again a full flight, this one with no VOD or game system. The food smelled gross, some kind of sushi roll type thing but steamed. I think that was the first meal I ever turned down. Short flight of only 1 hour and 45 minutes to Hong Kong.

Since our bags weren’t checked through, we had to collect our duffels and go through immigration and wait 8 hours for our next flight. The immigration process was quick and we went to the Emirates check-in area but they wouldn’t be open for another 5 and a half hours. If you are a shopper, the Hong Kong airport is for you, I‘m not so didn‘t bother with the shops. Found a Burger King and had dinner and walked circles in the airport. If I had known at the time how easy Hong Kong is to get around, we would have left the airport and went into town, but I didn’t want to take any chances of missing our flight to Dubai.

Finally Emirates check-in opened and we were able to go into the secure area where there is even more shops, a lounge, restaurants etc. Our flight was called and we were again on our way. Another 2-4-2 configuration, another full flight, good VOD system and pretty good food. Took an Ambien and got some sleep and before I knew it, 9 hours later, we were in Dubai.

For anyone with a layover of more than 2 hours, Emirates gives you a free meal in one of the restaurants in the airport. Not bad, nothing to write home about but it did kill some of our 5 and a half hour layover. Then off to the Duty Free where we stocked up on gin. The Dubai airport is big, modern and crowded but there is NOWHERE to sit while waiting for your flight.

Off we go, finally on the last leg of this journey and felt we would be in Africa soon. This flight was full, best VOD system, ICE, but the seats were 3-4-3. I can’t sit still for too long, so the poor guy next to me didn’t get much sleep as I was up and down quite often. 9 and a half hours later, WE MADE IT! 60 hours after leaving home, we were in Africa again! It never felt so good to be somewhere as it felt to be here. Got our bags (30 minutes), went through immigration (15 minutes) grabbed a luggage cart and made our way to the hotel shuttle area over by the Domestic Terminal. They have really cleaned up the JNB/ORT airport, banning all unlicensed porters and taxis and it was a nice, unharassed walk, unlike the other times we went through JNB.

We stayed at the Southern Sun Airport Hotel, a five minute ride from the airport. Very nice hotel, comfortable rooms and a good restaurant. It’s about 1/3 the price of the Airport Sun and I thought it was just as nice. Cracked open the first bottle of gin and toasted to a successful trip. Had dinner in the restaurant and went to bed.

Left the hotel for the Domestic terminal and waited for our flight to be put on the screen. Rented a cell-phone from Vodafone, went to check in, showed my original credit card used to buy the ticket (they did ask for it) and we were on our way to Kruger (KMIA) airport. Nice flight with a chicken salad sandwich and Coke Light (too early for g & t’s) and 1 hour and a half later we landed at KMIA, a really beautiful airport, looked kind of like a big mountain lodge. You could smell Africa in the air and feel it on your skin.

Let The Adventure Begin!

I had been having nightmares for months about this “self-drive” trip we were doing. Elephant trampling the car, trying to change a flat tire surrounded by lions, etc. etc. but when we got there most of the fears vanished and I felt confident that we could do this and enjoy it. Went to the Avis counter, got our car (a Hyundai Tucson SUV-comfortable and roomy) and we were on our way. Anyone considering a self-drive, I highly recommend renting an SUV for the height and suspension. The unpaved roads in Kruger can be pretty bumpy and I am glad we didn’t rent a sedan.

Left Will Always Be Left!

The lady at the Avis counter told me directions to the town to buy supplies. Go left here and in 10km you will see White River. O.K. I chalk this up to jet-lag but my figuring was this: Since I’m driving on the opposite side of the road than in America, the directions must be opposite also. So, we go right and am driving over these hills with a beautiful village and all the villagers in their blue and white church clothes heading back from church. After 25km, Tom said, “how much farther?” I said “I don’t know, it was only supposed to be 10km, but we’ve gone 25km so maybe we should turn around.” He said, “How’d ya f--k this up?” I said “The lady said turn left at the road and I did.” He said “You turned right” I said “Yeah, but since I’m on the other side of the road than at home, the directions are opposite than what she told me.” He said “Left will always be left, no matter what side you drive on.” (and I heard the word moron somewhere in this conversation.)

We turned around and again passed through this beautiful village and all the villagers in their blue and white church clothes, over these hills thinking “I’d like to live in this village.” Some of the houses were brick huts, others had very ornate gates and windows and there were goats all around. Very scenic village, but we were on a mission to get to Kruger.

Found White River and stopped at two supermarkets to stock up on supplies. Coke Light, tonic, and some food. Since it was a Sunday, the shops closed at 3 so we had about an hour to get all we needed. The first store was pretty much wiped out so asked a woman where the other shop was. She said “Turn left at Kentucky” it’s on the right. Here we go again! Kentucky turned out to be Kentucky Fried Chicken, I of course turned right but managed a quick U-turn and found the Super-Spar Market and finished our shopping and followed the signs to Kruger Numbi gate.

Checked in at the park gate and drove a short distance to Pretoriuskop, our home for 1 night. Saw some zebra, giraffe and impala on the way in. Bought our Wild-Card, got our key and drove to our bungalow. There are park fees for every day you are in the park or you can buy a Wild-Card which is cheaper if you are spending more than 6 nights in the park. The cost of the Wild-Card is a bit over $100 U.S. per person and is good for 1 year. The daily park fee without a Wild-Card is around $18.00 per person.

Pretoriuskop Camp

The bungalow here was in the rondaval design. Two beds, shower, toilet, sink, refrigerator, hot plate, air conditioner and that’s about all, not as well equipped as the other camps we stayed at. There was clean linen on the very comfortable beds, great pillows, towels and a bar of soap. I went to check out the restaurants and found a “take-away” restaurant and a buffet style restaurant and decided we would eat at the “take-away” restaurant after our first game drive. Loaded up the g & t and headed out. The way Kruger is set up is the main roads are paved and in very good condition and off of the main roads there are “loops”. The “loops” are mostly gravel, again in good condition but in the corrugated type road and very bumpy. Speed limits on the paved roads is 50kmh and on the gravel roads 40kmh. Rarely do you go that fast as there is almost always something to stop and see.

We took the first loop out of camp and came across a rhino! Of all the animals we hadn’t yet seen on our trips, rhino was the one I most wanted to see. He/she was incredible in size and we spent some time watching it eat grass a bit off the road. Continued on the drive and came across a tssebe, some elephants, more zebra and giraffes, water buck and birds. Pulled off the road for a g & t and watched some zebra eating and baboons playing.

Got back to our bungalow and found out the “take-away” closed at 6, and the menu at the buffet didn’t sound so good, so we had salami and cheese sandwiches, a few more g & t’s and in bed by 8. The rules at Kruger are that you have to be in the camp gate by 6, and must follow the speed limit. Oh yeah, and Do Not Feed The Animals! Not much to do after 6 except eat and sleep. All of the bungalows have braais (bar-b-q’s) for cooking but we didn’t have any food to bar-b-q this night. Another thing to know is that Kruger is very popular, especially on school holidays and you need to book the camps you want early. It was school holidays while we were there and I booked the camps about 6 months out and availability was limited for the first couple of nights. That is the reason we had to spend 1 night here, 1 night there. Two or three nights at each camp would be enough, 1 night is not long enough.

Off to Orpen Camp
Got up early the next morning, had some cereal and headed off to Orpen Camp, our next stop. 182 km from Pretoriuskop to Orpen, and of course I had to stop and see all of the animals along the side of the road. Took most of the day to get there, stopped at Satara Camp for lunch and stock up on tonic. Beautiful scenery on the way up, the usual cast of characters along the side of the road-zebra, giraffe, impala and elephants. Made it to Orpen by mid afternoon.

Orpen Camp
Orpen is one of the smaller camps and there is no restaurant here, but they do have a nice shop and swimming pool. The bungalow was more square in design with a bigger (huge) bathroom and shower, two comfortable beds, even better pillows, a refrigerator, hot plate, air conditioner, toaster, all utensils and large deck. We had squirrels and yellow billed hornbills to keep us company.

I saw a group of black “little ladies” looking into the pool area so I went over to them and asked if I could take their picture, they were so cute. Showed them what they looked like on the screen and they all laughed like crazy! They wanted so badly to go into the pool area, so I told them “Go ahead, put your feet in the water.” They had a ball and giggled at the rather large lady in her bikini and a rather large man in a speedo. I admit I laughed along with them. There is a web-cam at the waterhole outside of the camp, but I never saw a single animal using it.

Loaded up the g & t and went on a game drive. Found a hyena family on the side of the road, and this is where I fell in love with hyenas. They are so fascinating to watch. The mom was nursing her cub, dad (or surrogate dad) was fast asleep. Finally baby woke up and was quite a character! Came across a huge herd of buffalo, at least 200 who surrounded the car. The cutest little buffalo thought he was so tough staring in our window and making all sorts of funny faces. When they finally crossed the road it was time to head back. Stopped to say good-night to the hyenas and were back at camp by gate closing. Tom spotted a snake on a dirt mound, so I took a picture and when back at camp, asked an “independent” guide what kind of snake it was. He said that it’s not supposed to be out this time of year, probably one of the refugees from Mozambique brought it in. I’m thinking “yeah, you leave your country and pack up a spitting cobra?”
Glad we didn’t book him for our night drive!

Since there was no restaurant here (we knew that when we booked) we had salami and cheese sandwiches again and a few g & t’s to ward off the malaria.

We booked a night drive at this camp. It had started raining and had gotten cold but went ahead with the drive. Probably one of the worst drives I’ve ever been on (the worst is coming up). Due to the rain, we didn’t see much of anything, and honestly, I didn’t care if we did I was so cold. Met a nice man manning the gate at the camp. When he found out we were from the U.S. he asked if we had ever met Oral Roberts. I said, “no, we hadn’t” He said “I LOVE that man, I have read his book, I LOVE that man, I saw him on T.V. I LOVE that man.” “When I quit this stupid gate job, I am going to save and someday I will go to America and meet Mr. Oral Roberts”. “I LOVE that man!” O.K.

Got up early again. Tom wasn’t feeling too good. Had cereal and headed off to Shingwedzi Camp, our next stop where we’d be staying 2 nights. Stopped to visit with the hyena family, the baby was quite inquisitive, he went up to another car and sniffed the tires, then mom came and brought him back to the den. The ride was beautiful, big boulders coming out of nowhere, passed the Tropic of Capricorn, which I think is significant since they had a sign stating that was where we were. Not a lot of animals due to last nights rain, (but I did stop at every giraffe and zebra we came across) and I actually set the cruise control for 60kmh. We had 225 km to cover today and Tom slept most of the way. Made it to Shingwedzi in mid afternoon.

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    60 hours after leaving home, we were in Africa again!

    That must be a Fodors record! :))

    We rented a sedan in Namibia and wished we'd rented an SUV.

    Thanks for your very entertaining report so far. Looking forward to more!

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    Your driving mishap is the exact type of thing I would do...I can get lost in my own back yard!
    I'm glad you found your way.I'm enjoying your report immensely (as usual) and you've actually got me considering a self drive trip might be do able one day.
    I'm looking forward to hearing more!

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    Dennis - I hadn't noticed the change at JNB/ORT but on reflection, it was much better on arrival.
    The rules for checking bags all the way through vary from check in agent to check in agent. At Maun we had our bags checked to SFO via JNB and LHR, even though we had three separate itineraries and the VS flight to SFO left the next day.
    Couldn't agree more on Hyena's - did you visit the den at Mala Mala?

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    So the round the world route to Africa in order to expand your horizons is not a good plan.

    I actually think mixing up left and right is a worse offense than confusing a wooden pool ornament croc with a real one. I can only wonder what will happen next trip--hoping there is one for you.

    How funny that the snakes are blamed on the Mozambique refugees. In reality, it probably slithered over from Angola.

    A rhino on Loop #1! Great start!

    Your medicinal use of G&Ts to ward off malaria is impressive.

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    Dennis, I was so afraid to drive on the left that we spent a month and pots of money hiring drivers. But if you can do this without knowing left from right and still come out alive, so can I!
    As usual, an entertaining and laugh inducing report.

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    Shingwedzi Camp
    This was my favorite camp. The bungalow was like a condo. Huge bathroom, comfortable beds, big porch, refrigerator, air conditioner, stove top, all utensils, braai, elephants at the fence and a Laundromat! Definitely time to wash some underwear! One thing I really liked about all the camps in Kruger was the water pressure and hot water. The showers were like heaven! Again, clean towels, linens and a bar of soap.

    Again loaded up the car with g & t’s, SaltiCrax and bacon flavored crackers and off we went on a game drive. I found third gear on the car today and I tell you, it made for a much smoother ride. No more sore necks or almost whiplashes! On one of the loops near camp, we came across a herd of around 40 elephants. Turned off the motor and sat with them for awhile at the water hole. Two youngsters started fighting and were backing up into where we were parked. I started the car, put it in gear and floored it out of there! My first almost elephant meets car experience. Scary! Found a river with hippos so poured a g & t and decided that the best place for sundowners are near water. Enjoyed watching the sleeping hippos and birds.
    The area around Shingwedzi has a lot of loops, you could spend days without doing the same loop twice. Lots of elephant around too, which is always a plus and saw one crossing the river. When he got to our side, he gave all the cars a “look” so we all backed out and went on our way. Beautiful scenery here and lots of game.

    Tonight we were going to try and braai some chicken. At home I have a bar-b-q where you push a button and the thing lights. Here we would be using wood and starter sticks. I tried to watch the neighbor in the next bungalow how to do it properly, but ended up with burnt chicken and raw potatoes. Much better than another salami and cheese sandwich though!

    It was raining when we woke up and it rained all night, so decided to sleep in and take a later game drive. Tom was feeling and sounding worse so he was happy to stay in bed. I wasn’t and got up about 10 minutes later and said “Let’s go” Off we went on a drive and found some more hyenas and elephants. Went back to camp, did some laundry and took a nap. Today would be a lazy day. Went on a short game drive, still raining and decided to eat in the camp restaurant. I had lamb chops, Tom had a steak. Best meal of the whole trip! The lamb was so good! Had two or three g & t’s and the bill came to $24.00 U.S.

    Letaba Camp
    Left Shingwedzi early and headed for Letaba Camp, only 108 km to drive today and since the weather was nicer, we took some of the longer loops off the main road. Stopped at Mopani Camp for breakfast and it is probably the nicest of the camps in Kruger. The breakfast was bacon, eggs and toast with fresh juice for around $3.00U.S. each. Pretty good! They even have “luxury bungalows” here and are building a conference/business center here. The usual cast was on the road, buffalo, zebra, giraffe but nothing really was on the loops. The approach to Letaba is beautiful along the river. Hippos, crocs and birds. Met one of the forumites from the SANPARKS forum who was watching one of the named Giant Tuskers.

    The SANPARKS forum members tie a yellow ribbon on their rear-view mirror and when you see another yellow ribbon, you stop, introduce yourself and get some info on current sightings. I met two members and they were very nice people, and the yellow ribbon is a good idea to meet people with the same interests.

    Got to Letaba too early for check in, so went to the Elephant Museum they have there. Very interesting, and can learn everything you wanted to learn about elephants! Finally got our bungalow, again in the rondaval design with three beds, large shower, air conditioner, patio with refrigerator, cook top, braai, and most utensils. The camp had many bush bucks in residence, very well fed and two kept guard outside our rondaval each night. Every one feeds them bread, and of course I had to do it too. I even got them to take a piece out of my mouth, though Tom said I probably will contract hoof and mouth disease, but so far no symptoms…

    Of the five camps we stayed at in Kruger, Letaba probably has the best surroundings. There’s a river in back of the campground and we saw giraffe, hippo and elephants coming down to drink. There is also a resident troop of vervet monkeys which people were feeding, but they didn’t come to our rondaval.

    We headed off to the dam with our g & t, but the river and dam was dry. Someone stopped us and said there was a lion kill on the next loop, so we headed for that. The problem with seeing a kill at a public park is that EVERYONE in the area has to go and check it out. It was the only time we encountered traffic and everyone was jockeying their cars to try and see the lions. They were WAY off the road, you’d need binoculars to see them. The only thing worth seeing was the trees above the kill were loaded down with vultures. When talking to our bungalow neighbor later that night, he said he had stayed and watched for four hours! Four hours looking through binoculars? No thanks! We decided not to waste time here and continued on our way, and found a nice hippo pool to have g & t’s, SaltiCrax and pork sparerib flavored potato chips. Amazing! These chips actually tasted like spareribs, not like bar-b-q- chips, but actual spareribs. How they do it, I don’t know, and don’t think I want to find out. After watching the hippos and g & t’s we headed back to camp in time for gate closing.

    DISCLAIMER:
    I don’t want you to think I was driving intoxicated all through Kruger. Not at all, we had it all worked out. Sundowners and g & t’s are an integral part of safari and I had devised a perfect solution to be able to partake in a g & t and still be sober enough to drive back to camp. We’d leave camp between 2 and 3 in the afternoon and at exactly 4 o’clock, no matter where we were, we’d stop, have a g & t (Tom had 2 as he wasn’t driving) and at 5 we’d head back to camp. I tried to time the 4:00 cocktail hour to be by a river, water hole or pool, but it didn’t always work that way. Once we were surrounded by elephants at a water hole, once by buffalo, once at a hippo pool and once on a bridge. A few times we were just in the middle of nothing with only impala or kudu to entertain us. That was sundowners, no drunk driving, around the park!

    We decided to have dinner at the restaurant here tonight. Good food, fixed price, buffet style. This was the most expensive meal we had, with a few g & t’s each and dinner, the bill was around $45.00 U.S. Very nice waiter though, and the surroundings were enjoyable with bushbuck waiting for their handout.

    We booked a night drive, but I read the pick-up time wrong (different than all the other camps) so missed out. They have an outdoor theater here (and at some of the other camps) and watched a movie about leopards, back to the bungalow and off to bed after a g & t nightcap.

    The next day we went back to the lion kill to see what was up, but the lions and vultures had cleaned up and were gone. All that was left was a single hyena. He just ambled along in front of our car, checked us out then walked across the road and stayed long enough for some pics, very cool animal! Then we headed for Phalaborwa, a town just outside the Phalaborwa gate to do some shopping and check out the town. I had done some research on buying property in South Africa, and this was one of the towns I am interested in. Very nice town, lots of b& b’s, shopping centers, restaurants and anything you could think of or need. (other than Burger King or McDonald’s, but there was a KFC.) The Super-Spar market had everything we needed-American style bacon, croissants, muffins, lunch meat, tonic and cream puffs. We were set for the next couple of days.

    There wasn’t much game on this drive, even on the rather long and boring loops. There are some kopjes where I tried to find some klipspringer, but none were to be seen. Stopped off at Masorini Hill, a reconstructed archarological site wehre you can see signs of previous human habitation, but noone was here to guide and there was a sign saying “Enter at your own risk” Didn’t want to find out what that meant, so used the loo and continued on to Phalaborwa. Did some souvenir shopping at a local craft shop just outside the gate, all items are handmade by the locals and the money goes to them. Wish I had more room in my duffel as they had some beautiful things there.

    We booked a sunset drive at this camp so came back to camp around 3:00, had some ham, turkey and cheese sandwiches on croissants and a few g & t’s surrounded by bush buck off our patio. Tom’s cold was getting worse, none of the OTC medicines at the shops seemed to be working, but he did go on this drive. We decided that when we got to Skukuza Camp, he would visit the doctor there. (It’s the only camp with a doctor and clinic in Kruger.) The drive wasn’t too bad, the best of the organized drives that we went on. Only 2 other people on a huge safari wagon. We came across a giraffe mom with twins. Very cool! Also elephant, zebra and some of the antelopes. Coming back at night we came across some bush babies (too hard to photograph) and a glimpse of a serval, and also another hyena, which I spotted with the spotlights provided to the guests on the safari wagon. (more on this later). The sunset drives organized by Kruger leave camp at 4:30 and return at 7:30, giving you a bit of time outside the gates after closing and they go on some of the loops that aren’t available for tourists. The night drives leave at 8:00 and last until 10:00.

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    Dennis, this is great -- I haven't been to Kruger since 2000, but I still have nice memories of self-driving in that park.

    Thanks for the info on the yellow ribbons -- I saw some in Kgalagadi in July 2006. While I had spent time on the sanparks forum, I must have missed the post re the yellow ribbons.

    The trick to starting the braai, and I learned this the hard way, is to purchase a firestarter (sort of like wax soaked in kerosene, and in the shape of a large bar of soap).

    Michael

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    Satara Camp
    The drive from Letaba to Satara is only 70 km, so we stayed in camp a bit, had a real breakfast and set off around 10:00. Came across some wildebeest, giraffe, zebra and elephants. Tom slept most of the way, said to wake him when I saw something interesting. I passed up some giraffe and zebra, and when looking in my rear view mirror, they seemed to be saying “Hey, you passed us by and didn’t take a picture, what’s up with that?” So I’d back up take their picture and continue on. Tom would wake up and say “please, no more giraffes!, I’m sick!” We did see some ostrich finally. Tom wanted to see those ever since Hwange last year, and we saw half a dozen a bit off the road.

    We got to Satara, got our bungalow, another rondaval but this one was very cramped. I think it’s one of the oldest camps, and they have since improved the design. The room was the same, but the sink was right off the beds. Again, clean linens, towels, a bar of soap, air conditioner, braai, cook top, refrigerator and utensils. The patio area was crowded and no bush bucks.

    Satara probably has the best shop in all of Kruger. You could get feta cheese with kalamata olives in olive oil, pesto, raspberry vinegar, macadamia oil, sea salt, cheese cake and most any gourmet “foodie” item you would want. All of the shops sell the basics, everything you’d need including meats, vegetables, ice cream, large wine/liquor selection, laundry soap, batteries, dishes, glasses, pots and pans, and wood for the braai. Anyone thinking of going, you really do not need to bring anything with you. If it’s not provided in your bungalow, you can buy it at the shops and the prices are reasonable.

    We had the same bungalow neighbors here as we had in Shingwedzi, nice family from Capetown here for school holidays. Had a good talk with them. There was also a group of ‘birders” with their “bazooka” cameras and tripods running all over camp looking for birds. I had thrown some bread to some lorries and some crested barbets came over for a hand out. The birders saw the barbets and ran over, set up their cameras and the birds flew off. I made a game out of it. Everytime they would be across the lawn, I’d throw some bread to the birds and the barbets would come, the “birders” would come, the birds would fly away. Something to do to pass the time.

    The World’s Worst Game Drive

    Booked a night drive at this camp, and after dinner and a few g & t’s, we boarded the 22 passenger safari wagon with the 20 other safari goers and off we went….almost. The safari wagons have 2 spotlights mounted on the roof, and several spotlights for passengers to use while out in the bush. BAD IDEA! The protocol for the people holding the spotlights was to search for game and when you saw eyes or movement, you’d yell “STOP” Sounds good in practice, but between the blue-haired lady and the “cute little kiddies” holding the spotlights, I swear we didn’t make it 10km from camp. Every flash of eye would bring a “STOP” and the driver would stop and back up, shine his light and say “Impala.” This went on for the whole 2 hours, and we saw nothing but impala…NOTHING! You’d think they would realize that blue eyes reflected are some sort of antelope….NO! They never got it and if I had a few more g & t’s I would have ripped the spotlight out of the blue haired ladies hands and knocked her on the head! This was really my only complaint about Kruger, how they do the game drives. With 22 people paying $18 dollars each, they can afford a real spotter and give us a real game drive. We had booked another night drive for the next night, but didn’t bother, and since the guide let this go on without educating the people in the wagon, or changing the spotlights, it was the only time I did not tip a guide.

    It rained most of the night, and the roof leaked over Tom’s bed. Satara camp definitely needs an update, it was the oldest, dingiest of the five camps we stayed at, but still better than being at home! All the camps are laid out the same. Bungalows are in a circle, around 20 bungalows in each circle. Then a separate area for hut rental and a separate area for campers with their trailers. A very well thought out plan.

    Started off from camp and came across a monitor lizard chilling out on a bridge railing, and a small herd of buffalo. Took the paved loop this time and noticed a big herd of wildebeest all looking in the same direction, calling out their alarms. Knew there had to be lions in the area, so drove a bit up the road and parked. Within a few minutes Tom said “Lion” and out of the grass came a lioness and her three cubs. So cool! We were the only ones on the road, they stopped and looked at us, the cubs rolling around, mom trying to get them to get a move on. We were a few meters from a turnoff to a water hole, so after the lions crossed the road, we went to the waterhole and waited, but they never did show up.

    Continued on and the usual were out, despite the rain. Buffalo, giraffe, zebra, wildebeest. Went back to where we saw the lions yesterday, and they were there, but heading off into the bush, all we saw were their tails in the grass. Waited again at the waterhole, but they never came. Since this was our last full day in Kruger, we stayed out most of the day, packing the g & t in the morning. Went on a loop road, but at one point the water came up to the door of the car and we turned around and spent time on the bridge watching the buffalo come to drink. There were crocs in the water, the buffalo were spooked but still continued across. One buffalo got stuck in the mud and was hoping the crocs would come and get him and get a “You Tube” video, but he managed to get out and the crocs didn’t move.

    Bought some really good filets at the shop, and lit the braai and had a great bar-b q dinner. Packed up our stuff as tomorrow we’d be on our way to Mala Mala. Sorry to leave Kruger, as other than Tom being sick, we had a great time!

    I’d recommend Kruger to anyone, but if it’s your first safari, I’d spend some time in a lodge/camp to get some knowledge of the animals, birds, and the bush. It was different not having a guide, but since it was our fourth trip, we already knew the basics. I would do this kind of trip again, it was much easier and less stressful than I thought it would be.
    The game is there, easy to see and mostly was not far from the road, if not on the road.

    The accommodations are comfortable, the roads are well maintained and well-marked. Impossible to get lost. The camps are clean, rooms are clean and as said earlier, you can find everything you need in the shops. The camps were quiet even though full. Gas is available at all the camps. Traffic was never a problem other than at the lion kill, we’d drive for hours with only passing a handful of cars. The staff were very nice, though no interaction like you get when staying at a lodge/camp. A few of the camps have ATM’s and all camp shops and restaurants take credit cards. There is a full service bank in Skukuza Camp.

    Pros:
    Cost-much cheaper than a lodge or camp
    Time out in the bush-we probably averaged 8-10 hours a day away from camp and contrary to popular belief, not all animals go into hiding at exactly 10:00 a.m.
    Eat when and what you want
    No schedule-do what you want, when you want and for as long as you want, stay at a sighting for as long (or short) a time as you want

    Cons:
    No night noises in the camps-one of the things I missed the most
    Hardtops-no convertibles allowed in Kruger. Hard to take pictures at times
    Night drives-can’t do it on your own and the ones they offered weren’t worth it
    No guide-a lot of the fun on a game drive is talking to and learning from a guide. It’s just not the same looking up the birds/animals in a book as it is hearing it from an expert. Missed the interaction that we had from previous guides, James and Victor from LRL, Foster from Somalisa and even Beaven from Susuwe.

    Cost of the Kruger Portion of the Trip
    $574.00-8 nights in Bungalows at 5 different camps
    $730.00-Car Rental 9 days (incl. drop off at different location than pick-up)
    $240.00-Car Insurance through Travelex
    $100.00-3 Organized Drives for 2 people
    $150.00-Gas
    $210.00-WildCard Park Pass for 2 people
    $300.00+/- -Food
    Comes to $2304.00
    Divided by 8 nights = $288.00 for 2 people per night
    Or in Lodge Terms: $144 pp/pn
    *Doesn’t include gin, souvenirs, tips or airfare to/from Kruger

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    LAleslie

    Which US national parks have you been to recently that you found unclean, not well maintained and unreasonably priced?

    In the last few years, I have visited Everglades, Acadia, Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Badlands, Katmai, Kenai Fjords and Denali National Parks, and they were all sparkling, very well maintained, with excellent services and very fairly priced.

    Now, I haven't been to all of the parks in recent years, but my experience has been favorable.

    Are you referring to the California and Utah parks, which may get more traffic, such as Yosemite, which I understand can get very crowded.

    Based at least on my experience, the US national park system is one of the world's best.

    Michael

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    Your G&T plan is brilliant and deserves a chapter in Fodor's Africa book. Thanks for the details on accommodations and costs and the pros/cons. Very helpful for anyone considering a self drive.

    Lion cubs to yourself in your own vehicle is definitely a pro for a self drive.

    Your experience on the night drive in Kruger may save others the hassle or at least put expectations in perspective. I'm glad you did not attack any blue haired ladies as a result.

    I am worried about Tom's enjoyment of the trip with his illness. Did you see a doctor or did he improve?

    Between driving yourself and using the starter sticks to grill your food, I bet you felt like a real ranger by the time your trip ended.

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    I made a game out of it. Everytime they would be across the lawn, I’d throw some bread to the birds and the barbets would come, the “birders” would come, the birds would fly away

    Dennis, you >:)

    You reminded me I had my own left/right #o moment. We'd just arrived from CPT in the JNB domestic terminal and needed to go up to the departures level. We walked over to the escalators and I said to Mark "we have to take the elevator upstairs" to which he replied "why can't we just take the escalator" to which I said "because they're both down escalators" to which he said "the left one goes up". That's when it hit me, I'm so used to looking right that I'd only scanned the right escalator before quickly coming to the conclusion that they must both be down escalators! This whole conversation went on while we were still standing in front of the escalators and I can't even blame it on jet lag because we were already 5 days into the trip :">

    Michael,
    In CA and UT, I've been to Yosemite, Joshua Tree, Death Valley, Zion and Bryce and thought they were clean, well maintained and except for rooms at the Ahwahnee in Yosemite, reasonably priced.

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    Yes, how about poor Tom? Have you forgotten about him already - we need an update on his health :)

    Dennis,
    Your report, as usual, was entertaining and extremely informative.

    Please don't stop traveling and giving us these book worthy reports.

    Now you've got me thinking that DH wouldn't flip out so much $$$ with a trip like that. We'd both love the freedom of it, without too much discomfort with a trip like this.
    DH would love the whole BBQ with a cocktail thing.
    Hmmm. Of course, I'd have to figure out a way to see gorillas, Malawi and Namimbia at the same time.

    Anyhow, thank you so much for posting.
    Enjoyed!

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    Dennis,

    Very interesting and enjoyable report! I've skimmed through it, and now printed out to read more carefully. Your account of Kruger is especially interesting, since we have not had many in depth reports. Looking forward to your time and thoughts on Mala Mala also.

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    cybor,

    My traveling companion mentioned that since Kruger is so inexpensive maybe our next trip should be Kruger and then fly up to Rwanda to see the gorillas. The $ we save in Kruger can be spent getting to Rwanda!

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    Great trip report, matnik. You did a good job of showing how easy and fun it is to do the self-drive thing.

    One question, matnik: your dinner at Shingwedzi--there wasn't a buffet? It sounds like you ordered the steaks, etc.It seemed like all of the camps I went to were either take-out or buffet.

    Sounds like you came close to having the 50-or-so daily G &T's that one needs to be truly protected from malaria! (insert winking, joking smiley face here.)

    BTW--those "enter at your own risk" signs are posted at the places where you're actually allowed to get out of your car.

    LAlesie--I also thought our US parks could learn a few things from South Africa's facilities management. I found the Kruger communal restrooms to be much cleaner and more modern than most of the restrooms at the popular US national parks. And, the Kruger parks offer free showers in every restroom building that I was in--this is very rare in the US national parks I've visited. While I don't think the US needs to put showers in EVERY park restroom (due to water use concerns), it would be nice to have more, especially as most accomodations at the popular US parks are camping-based.

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    Michael,
    Forgive me, I was being unfair painting all the national parks with the same brush. I was recently in Yosemite and found the facilities in great need of updating and the stores for provisions overpriced. With the exception of the park rangers, the service was bad too, as it was in the Grand Canyon and Volcanoes. In Yosemite I stayed at the Ahwahnee and, while it's certainly unique and beautiful, it was wildly overpriced. The food, touted as high-end, was lousy (canned asparagus in spring?) and very, very expensive. The alternative housing looked funky, though I'll admit I didn't stay elsewhere. It just seems from my experience and that of friends, that there aren't enough clean, inviting, middle-brow--between luxury and camping--accommodations in the western parks I've been to. Compared to how Kruger sounds from Dennis' report, but I haven't been there either! So what do I know?
    Leslie

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    Tom is fine, his visit to the doctor will be in the next chapter.
    Patty~well it WAS fun! (the big camera people gag) turned out they were our bungalow neighbors, quite a nice, fun group, had a g&t with them one night
    cybor~yes, nothing like grilling a hunk of meat with a g & t! your husband would love it!
    Lili~YES you can do it! The only driving problem I had (besides left or right) was when we went into the town of Phalaborwa and they had a round-about and I couldn't figure out what to do. reverse came in handy!
    Gritty~yes, Shingwedzi had an actual restaurant where you can order from a menu, the rest had buffets or take-aways. All the food we ate in the park was very good whether from the buffets or take-aways...and not quite 50 g &t's a day, close though ;)
    Leslie~I was warned by the folks on the SANParks forums that food in the camp shops was expensive, but found it wasn't really much more than the shops in towns, and some of it was even cheaper than in Hawaii (meat, gin, bread, milk etc.)

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    Off to Mala Mala
    Today would be our last day in Kruger, sorry to be leaving but Mala Mala was the next stop. Tom was miserably sick and just wanted to get to the Doctor. His coughing was out of control (though I did ask him to please not cough when we were at a bird sighting or I was taking pictures of yet another giraffe or zebra)

    We had 92 km to travel today so weren’t in too much hurry to leave camp. I promised Tom that I wouldn’t stop at any more giraffes, zebra or buffalo-hard not to stop, but we did need to get him to a Doctor. About halfway to Skukuza we came across 5 lioness laying in the grass just off the side of the road with only 1 other car watching them, so we stopped and spent some time with them. The road to Skukuza is one of the more scenic routes and wish we had more time to explore the gravel roads around this area.

    Got to Skukuza and found the clinic. Asked for an appointment, the receptionist said please come back in 30 minutes and the Doctor will see you. Tom filled out a few forms, I followed a herd of banded mongoose around camp and in 45 minutes, Tom was out with three kinds of medicines. He has a bad case of pneumonia and was told if he didn’t feel better in two days, he was to go to another doctor or hospital for treatment. The Doctor visit cost $20 U.S., the meds $60.00 U.S. (covered by trip insurance)-and no waiting for hours to see the Doctor. Very nice, too bad it’s not like that in Hawaii!

    Tom was a trooper! Even with his cough, fever, chills and aches and pains, he went on every game drive in Kruger. I told him he could stay in the room and I’d go out alone, but he said with my sense of direction (or lack-of) I’d never find my way back. He rode with his window up and the heater on, but since the weather wasn’t the best, I didn’t mind and if a sighting was on his side, he’d roll down the window with no complaints. Good traveling companion, I think if it was me I’d have whined the whole trip.

    We had an hour to kill before having to turn in the car and drive to Mala Mala, so went to the shop and bought three cans of Peaceful Sleep to bring home. There’s something soothing about the smell of Peaceful Sleep, a definite reminder of Africa and when Ispray it on, it brings back one of the smells that is associated with Africa. (and it does work on Hawaiian mosquitos too!) Bought some gin too, just in case Mala Mala had run out…have to ward off the malaria you know!

    Went to the Avis counter to return the car and get a lift to Mala Mala. The driver took the back way in (glad he was driving) and dropped us off at the front door of camp. Asked him how much, he said it was part of the rental, so tipped him well and off he drove.

    We were greeted by Graham, our guide for the next three days, given a glass of lemon water and asked for a credit card for incidentals-just like a hotel. Our room wasn’t ready yet, so we went to the lounge for a soda and lunch (too early for a g & t) Met our safari mates for the next three days, two very nice couples from California, one from the next town over from where I grew up. One couple were safari virgins, the other had been to Kenya a few years back. Great people and it’s always fun to be with virgins. Lunch was the best meal we had there with an excellent lamb dish, kudu (not bad) and ostrich (even better).

    Got our room, actually a suite with three bathrooms (we had the disabled suite), a nice sitting area, deck overlooking an artificial waterfall with nyala all around. Nothing was said about our cooler with Coke Lights, or the bottle of gin clinking around in the Kruger bag. The room was nice, very nice! Very beautifully decorated, comfortable beds, very funny zebra material robes, (NO, you will not see that picture!) Tom’s meds kicked in, so he decided to sleep instead of going on a game drive…BAD move!

    On a Dog Hunt, and Oh, Rhinos!
    Met Graham and our safari mates for our first game drive at Mala Mala. Right after leaving the gate, Graham got a call on his radio that the dogs were seen. We sped to the area and there were 22 African Painted Dogs! 11 adults and 11 pups! They were so beautiful, playing in a puddle of water, jumping all around, watching us in the cruiser. Then all of a sudden they took off and we followed them. I’ve never been in such an off road adventure before and it was great! There were some steenbok in the area and Graham said one would probably be lunch for the dogs. Sure enough, soon a dog came back with what looked like ribs and then one came running by with a steenbok head in its mouth (still smiling). We stopped to watch them eat, and just to the right (or was it left?) of us there were two rhinos. How in the hell did we miss them? Incredible beasts they are and so much bigger than I thought. I took a few pics then we sped off following the dogs, probably spending at least an hour with them. The lady next to me said it was the animal she most wanted to see, and she could die now and be happy. It was my third time seeing wild dogs and I had to agree with her! It was later the next day that we heard the dogs had crossed into Kruger, so we were very lucky to see them when we did.

    The dogs took off and we did some more driving around. I kept waiting for sundowners, I could use a g & t but Graham said they only do that in Botswana. Oh well, glad I had one in the room before we left. After dark we came across a beautiful leopard. WOW! Those things are gorgeous! I had only seen 1 glimpse of a leopard in Lower Zambezi and 1 at South Luangwa, and this one actually stood still for awhile. Dogs, leopard and rhino all in one drive! Tom would wish he went on this drive, as it was the best drive of all. We later came across the Roller Coaster Male lion, another first for me, a lion with a mane! He was beautiful also, though rather old and beat up with a very bad sore on his leg. Went back to camp, had dinner in the lounge, (nothing memorable) a few g & t’s and off to bed. The highlight was the Mala Mala Woman’s Chorus singing to us while we ate. The lead singer has such a beautiful voice, she should go to Hollywood (or wherever you go to become a famous singer.) She was amazing, as they all were!

    Buffalo, Sleeping Lions, Leopard
    After a wake up call from Graham, we met in the lounge for juice and off on our game drive. Tom was starting to feel a little better, and didn’t want to miss out on anything like he did the day before. Started off with sitting for a half hour with a large herd of buffalo, then sitting for a half hour with the sleeping lion, then found another leopard and followed her around for awhile. Found the three lionesses with their 9 cubs and they were so fun to watch. There is nothing cuter than lion cubs and these did not disappoint. Rolling over each other for a teat, playing with sticks, looking at us and just being cats…amazing how much house cats are like lions.

    Got back to camp after 3 hours, had a made to order breakfast and then down time until lunch at 1:30 then more down time until 3:30 when we met for our evening drive. Knowing that there would be no sundowner g & t’s on the drive, I pushed up the cocktail hour to 3:00 so sat on the deck, had a g & t or two and enjoyed watching the nyala.

    The evening game drive started off with sitting for a half hour with a large herd of buffalo, then sitting for a half hour with the sleeping lion, then found another leopard and another rhino. Got another call on the radio that the RollerCoaster Male was mating with a lioness from another pride. We sped to that area and watched them do the deed, sat for half an hour while they went back to sleep. All of us in the cruiser were quite tired of seeing buffalo and sleeping lions, and the “act” is over so quickly that we all were bored at the amount of time we spent there. The others wanted to see elephants. We did pass some along the way, but our guide got a call about a leopard and the elephants were put on the back burner. The safari virgin woman was very disappointed, though they were headed to Botswana tomorrow, I’m sure she got her elephant fix there. We couldn’t find the leopard, so back to the sleeping lions, waiting for them to “do it” again. Captain and Tennille’s “Do That To Me One More Time” kept playing in my head, but they slept, so after another half hour waiting (who could do it surrounded by 4 cruisers all jockeying for the best position) I’m sure once we all left, they f***ed their brains out! We actually stopped for a “sundowner” tonight, though no g & t’s, we did have leftover chicken curry, popcorn and peanuts.

    Back to camp by 7:30 and tonight’s dinner would be in the boma. The smoke bothered Tom’s cough so he went back to the room and went to sleep. Dinner was stuffed chicken and a pretty good mushroom soup, a few g & t’s, more singing from the Mala Mala women and off to bed.

    The morning game drive was the same, getting quite tiring by now. Half hour spent with buffalo, half hour with a sleeping lion, looking for a leopard, found some rhino. The people going to Botswana in the afternoon actually said they hope it was better there. Found the lion cubs and moms, and watched them for awhile, then back to camp for breakfast, downtime, lunch, downtime and the game drive.

    There was a large group checking in (35 guests) so we would be having our meals at Sable Camp from now on. The only difference I could see was less guests (though they have the same rooms as in Main Camp, and the internet connection is faster. Other than that, I don’t see why anyone would pay more to stay in Sable.

    We were down to 4 in our cruiser now, but again started off with a half hour with the herd of buffalo, half hour with sleeping lions, a leopard, a rhino. We specifically (as a group of 4) asked our guide to forego the buffalo, lions, leopard and rhino after dark and please concentrate on the nocturnal animals. Marka got out his spotlight, we cruised along slowly for about 10 minutes looking for the night creatures when Graham got a call on his radio headset saying a leopard was in a tree. So instead of looking for the night animals, off we went. Spent probably an hour looking, came across 3 hyena and a leopard (not in a tree) and nothing else. By the time we found our way out of the off-road track, it was time to head back for dinner and didn’t have time to look for anything else. I was pissed as were the others in the vehicle.

    Dinner was in Sable Camp boma, again too much smoke that bothered Tom’s pneumonia, so he went back to the room and slept. We had roast beef tonight, again nothing to remember but the women sang again. Nils, the manager from Rattray’s was opposite me and I did ask him about the charging for drinks and sodas. He said it was Mr. Rattray’s decision due to pilots getting sloshed, the staff stealing the liquor and showing up to work with a hang-over and some guests saying they didn’t come to Mala Mala to see a bunch of drunks carrying on til the wee hours of the morning. (had nothing to do with religious beliefs at all)

    Next day, more of the same, though Thank God the buffalo had moved on and we didn’t see any on this, our last drive. We went to a very beautiful part of Mala Mala’s property, where there was a lake and a nice grassy plain that contained 1 wildebeest. We came across a lioness sleeping on a huge rock and then came across rock climbing elephants. There were about 10 of them up on this outcropping. We saw them climbing up the rocks to get to 1 or 2 trees that were growing there. When a very young elephant climbed up, he looked over the edge and screamed for his mom. It was so cute and the sound he made was incredible. His mom and older sister came over and helped him down the rock. One of the highlights of the trip was seeing this, so much care elephants have towards one another. We were all happy that we finally got to spend time with elephants. Took a scenic tour back to camp, saw some cool birds and crocodile, said good-bye to the lions and back to camp for breakfast at Sable and check-out.

    Check-out was at 11, our flight wasn’t until 12:15 so there really wasn’t anything to do. Had a Coke Light in the lounge, but since we had already closed out account we paid cash. Driven to the airstrip, the “airport security” did their wand over us, asked us if we packed our own bags etc., the plane landed, we boarded and took off for Johannesburg.

    Mala Mala has it’s pros and cons. Yes, it’s expensive, but I knew that before booking. Yes, you have to pay for your g & t’s and sodas, but I knew that before booking. Yes, the game is incredible, but nothing I hadn’t seen before. Other than rhino (which we saw in Kruger) and so many leopards, I thought the variety of game was not as good as last years trip to Somalisa, or even what we saw in Kruger or South Luangwa. Though most people don’t go to Africa for the food, I find it to be a highlight of my trips. I don’t have 5 course meals at home and look forward to excellent food while on vacation. None of the food at Mala Mala was outstanding, though not bad, and I didn’t get my pumpkin soup this trip…very disappointing! Also was disappointed not having sundowners-even if we had to pay, it is a big part of safariing and if it wasn’t, most every other camp/lodge in Africa wouldn’t offer it on their night drives. If this was my first safari, I probably would have been happier than I was as we did see the Big 5 (and got a certificate to prove it…NOT hanging on my wall) but after 4 trips to Africa, I know there are many more rewarding sightings than just the Big 5, which Mala Mala seemed to focus on. Mala Mala has more of a hotel or resort feeling, I prefer the more intimate camps with 6-10 tents or chalets. I had an issue with our guide, not even trying to deliver what we asked for, again focus on the Big 5, instead of what we, the guests want to see. The off roading was exciting, something I’ve never really experienced and that was a lot of fun! The camp and concession is beautiful, the singers and staff were great but its somewhere I wouldn’t return to.

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    That Is Not Your Name
    This is the most bizarre story of the whole trip, and if I hadn’t experienced it, I wouldn’t believe it, but it’s true.
    We had scheduled a car and driver to take us to the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg after landing from our Mala Mala flight. We were told there would be a man in the lobby after baggage claim with my name on a sign. My last name isn’t very common, the only time I’ve seen it is when my relatives use it. So we get our luggage and see this man with a sign that says “Welcome” and almost my name on it, they left out a “T”, but close enough. I said to the man, “I think that is me, but you spelled my name wrong.” He said “Where are you going?” I said “To drop off our luggage at the luggage hold facility and then to the Apartheid Museum, which closes at 5” He said, “O.K.” and took us to he luggage hold, called the van driver who picked us up in front of the terminal. I said to Vin, the driver (a man of NO words) were going to the Apartheid Museum”. The man who met us, said “Hurry up, it closes at 5” So off we went…out of Johannesburg. I had looked up the directions to the Apartheid Museum before leaving home and knew it should take around 15 minutes. Kept seeing these signs for Pretoria. After a half hour, the man who met us got a phone call and yelled at me “Who are you?” I said, “I told you who I was and where we were going, and why are we heading to Pretoria?” He said, “That is not you on my card, see, there is no “T” “The people without the “T“ are going to Pretoria. That is not your name.” I said, “I told you that you spelled it wrong.” He said, “No you spelled it wrong and we are Welcome Tours and you did not book with Welcome Tours.” I said “No, I thought you were welcoming me to Johannesburg and spelled my name wrong, your sign says “Welcome.” He said “You have made the other people wait and they are not happy.” “I said, I told you we were going to the Apartheid Museum, not Pretoria, so why is Vin driving to Pretoria, even if my name is wrong?” It got kind of heated, Tom told me to just shut up or we’d be out on the freeway, 18km from Pretoria, 20km from Johannesburg. So Vin took the next off ramp and drove back to the airport, the whole time the man was saying “How did this happen, it is not your name, why did you come with me?” I ended with “If you had taken us to the museum like we wanted, this would not have happened.”

    Back to the airport and went in the lobby and there is another man with a sign with almost my name and I say, “is this Vhupo-Tours?” He said “Yes, Thank God you are o.k, I was worried and my boss told me to wait, that from the emails he knew you would be here” Well my name was still wrong, but at least we found who we needed and happy that he waited. We got to the museum with an hour to see it before closing. It really needs more time, very interesting, sad, and well set up. I’ll definitely want to spend more time here next trip. Chris, the driver gave us David, the owner of Vhupo-Tours phone number and told me to call David when we were done, and he’d come and get us. We got out of the museum and called the number. Tom said “I think it’s that man there, next to you as his phone just rang” Sure enough David was there to take us back to the airport. What a wonderful man he was! He reminded me a lot of Foster, our guide last year at Somalisa. Jolly man with a hearty laugh and full of information. Talked about the rugby match, life in the U.S. and life in Johannesburg. I’d definitely recommend Vhupo-Tours for anyone needing transportation around Johannesburg.

    David dropped us off at the airport, I returned the phone and had a nice dinner at Spur Steak House in the Domestic Terminal. Got our boarding passes and killed the time at the Out of Africa store and at the bar having our last g & t’s on African soil. Again, sad to leave Africa, but know it will be not be my last trip there. Next stop Dubai!

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    Dennis, thanks for this beautifully entertaining report. My only complaint is that there’re too many g & t’s and only one tssessebe. I’ll have to post something about the teetotaller style safari. Kruger sounds fun and the park fees sound more reasonable than at other places, but I wouldn’t want A/C and raspberry vinegar (???) on safari. I’m so jealous of the sighting of 20 dogs. From here on I’ll start calling them painted dogs. I’m glad to hear Tom is fine. When are you returning to Africa?

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    Dennis,
    "Only sundowners in Botswana"? I don't think so. We had them at Londolozi (right next door) and at Phinda, and everywhere else in S.A. I've read about. Mala Mala might be being conservative about drinking in the vehicle (perhaps their insurance is cheaper this way?), or too much trouble keeping tabs on what people drink. Waht a shame. Glad to hear the real reason they charge extra for drinks (but that doesn't explain the cokes, etc.), which makes much more sense than religious reasons.
    Interesting to have another viewpoint about Mala Male. To me, the guiding is the most damning, and will be interested to see how other MM habitues react.
    Leslie

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    Not too many g&ts! Nyamera, a woman who spent a quarter of her last report detailing what might or might not happen to her cheese is in no position to judge. :D

    Dennis, I really appreciate all the detail you've gone into, especially about the various camps in Kruger. I would consider doing a self-drive; it sounds fun.

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    I was at MM in September, my trip report is up on forum. Sundowners, we did have them about half of the time. The other half we decided to stay active following hunting lions or such.

    LAleslie - Good point, about soft drinks don't make you drunk. So let's hear Mala's song and dance on that one. But again, we (myself and vehicle companions) at the dinner table were told by management that the reason the mini bar was not stocked was because some people objected to being in the same room with such. The word "religion" was not used. I added that word because usually religious beliefs are usually the best explanation for such behavior. I would be interested to know if there is in fact any religion that prohibits a believer from being in the same room with alcohol. Anyone know? Anyway, suppose it's time I "get a life" and stop fretting about this topic :-)

    regards - tom

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    I was at MM just after Tom. We had sundowners every night...the ranger would specifically ask what drink you wanted for the sundowner at lunchtime.

    There's only one reason to charge extra for drinks and that's to make a profit...it just makes your daily rates seem lower. It added $50 a night to my bill.

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    Always good to come back to a trip report...

    So pleased to hear you had such a good time in Kruger - excepting Tom's pneumonia and the poor night drives - glad to hear he's better now.

    We really loved self-driving in SA in 2004 - we visited Imfolozi, Hluhluwe, Ithala and Kruger.

    We also had a really disappointing night drive - there were only a handful of us on the drive and our "driver/guide" had clearly decided he couldn't be ****ed to do the guide part. It was clear he didn't want to do anything at all. So out we went with one of us manning the spotlight, or was it two, I forget. The trouble was when we yelled out to stop he'd ignore it at first. I think he hoped we'd figure we'd gone too far past but we cottoned on quick and began to insist he reversed to our sighting. So we did manage some close-up eles but not much else. Appalling.

    We also did a guided walking tour which had the same guide but only as the second person. The lead guide was someone else and this excursion was excellent. Even our crappy guide from the night before seemed inspired by the better one to be a little sunnier and more helpful, though perhaps he was being assessed?

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    I also did one night drive at Kruger, and it was also unmemorable, for largely the same reasons. So, I resigned myself to my very excellent daily self-drives, and did not go on any more night drives.

    However, I contrast those night drives to those offered in Kgalagadi, another SA national park. Maybe because that park is much less visited, the guides are very enthusiastic and we had some excellent (albeit freezing) night drives, with lots of owls and small predators (mostly cape fox and bat eared foxes).

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    Don’t Go To Dubai On A Friday
    The flight to Dubai was uneventful, took an Ambien and slept most of the flight. Went through immigration, took a bit of time as I couldn’t understand what the guy was asking me. I was digging out money, passport, air tickets etc. but all he wanted to know was what hotel we were staying at. Exchanged some money and were met at baggage claim by our driver from the hotel, SAS Radisson, Deira Creek. Taken to the hotel in a Lexus SUV and allowed to check in early (it was only 9:30 in the morning)

    The room and hotel were fantastic. Large sitting area, two balconies, wet bar, comfortable beds and even a bidet. How cool was that? Never used a bidet before but I tell you, I had the cleanest feet in all of Dubai! The reason I chose this hotel was because of the balconies. I don’t like stuffy hotel rooms, and even though it was over 100 degrees out on the balcony, it was nice to sit out there and watch the dhows, people and buildings.

    Since we were only here for a little over 24 hours, we had a lot to see and do. Took a taxi to the mall where we met “The Big Bus” for a tour around Dubai. This is a cool way to “see it all”, unfortunately it was Friday and Friday is like our Sunday where everything was closed-all museums, shops, etc. The only thing not closed were a few restaurants and the malls. So the two hour “Big Bus” tour was over in about 45 minutes. Also it was Ramadan, so no drinking or eating in public until 6:00 a night. I don’t know how they do it-it was 110 degrees and you couldn’t even drink water.

    The “Big Bus” tour also included a free dhow (boat) ride down the creek, so I decided to do that, Tom went to take a nap. He was still a little under the weather, but almost back to normal. The dhow ride was nice and you were allowed to drink water on the boat. We could have also taken the “Big Bus” Blue Route and gone down to see the fancy hotels on the water, but I really wanted to explore the Old Town so saved that for the next trip.

    After the dhow cruise, went back to the hotel for some water (too early for g & t’s) and then went off exploring. Took some of the side streets to the Souks (shops) and found it very interesting. The streets were packed with people waiting for 4:30 when the shops opened and at a certain time, the prayers from the mosques would be broadcast all over the area. Didn’t understand a word of what was being said, but it was a very surreal moment. The people were very friendly and after getting lost on one of the side streets (I tried to keep the creek in sight, but wasn’t always possible) a couple of very nice men took me to the gold souks. I felt very safe walking amongst all these people and there were thousands of people on the streets.

    The spice souk was closed but the gold souks were going in full force. Amazing the amount of gold there! There were an incredible amount of people selling knock-off watches, think it’s the highest selling item after gold. Since my Timex is still ticking, I didn’t need a fake Rolex so after awhile pretended I was deaf and couldn’t understand them.

    Went into this shop that was packed with people. I’d say it’s similar to Long’s or Walgreen’s, sells a bit of everything. One thing that caught my eye, and to this day I can’t figure out why they’d sell this item since the women are dressed in the long covered up dresses-a fake butt! Yep, right in the middle of Dubai you could by a polyester butt! Very strange! Spent a few hours just walking around, soaking up the sights and enjoying the different culture. Came out on a side street to the main road and forgot what the hotel looked like and which direction it was. Happened to look up at one building and saw a bunch of underwear hanging off the balcony. That has to be Tom. Yep, only in a 5 star hotel in Dubai would he hang his undies up on the balcony for the world to see.

    Back to the hotel for a g & t before dinner. Glad we bought a bottle of gin in Johannesburg as the bottle in the hotel room bar was $75.00 U.S. Called down for some tonic ($3.00 a can) and had a drink or two. Then I remembered we had signed up for the free cocktail and hors d’oeuvres in the lounge, so we went to the top floor, had a few g & t’s then off to dinner. Ate dinner in the hotel, very good rack of lamb and even got a complimentary goose liver pate and cracker dish. Bought a dessert at the pastry shop and back to the room, soaked my feet in the bidet and off to bed. Dubai and the Middle East is somewhere I definitely want to return to, very fascinating!

    Hong Kong
    Driven back to the airport in another Lexus SUV, checked in, did some shopping and off to Hong Kong. Flight was o.k. good VOD system on Emirates and 2-4-2- seating. Got to Hong Kong in the evening, spent an hour looking for our hotel transport-noone was there with my name on it waiting, not even a misspelled name. Finally found it, took a Mercedes to the hotel, the Langham Place in Kowloon.

    The room was small, as are most hotel rooms in Hong Kong, but beautiful! Big screen plasma T.V, wet bar, and a glass bathroom. The sink was glass as was the wall by the sink and it lit up. A window separated the bathroom from the bedrooms and there was a curtain you could pull down for privacy, but sadly no bidet. We were told by the driver not to go out in the area at night-“too many hookers-unless of course you want a hooker, you’ve come to the right place.” Too tired for hookers tonight, so we stayed in the room, ordered up some tonic ($4.00 a can), had a few drinks, caught up on the World News and went to bed.

    The hotel has these ladies dressed in pink and wore black hats and their job was to push the elevator button for guests. I thought my job was boring, but can you imagine pushing elevator buttons all day long? Even if you walked fast to push the button, they were faster, beat you to the button and always smiled. We only had one full day in Hong Kong so took a taxi to the port and did the Harbour Cruise. I usually get seasick on boats, but the water was pretty calm. Hong Kong is very smoggy and it was hard to see all of the beautiful buildings, so the cruise was sort of a waste of time. Took a taxi to the Bird Market. I’ve never seen so many incredible birds, not even in Africa! Amazingly beautiful! Took another taxi to the Jade Market, interesting but very pushy people trying to sell their jade trinkets. I know I got taken, but oh, well it wasn’t for much.

    Back to the hotel, walked over to McDonalds for lunch. Tom took a nap, I went walking around. It is a beautiful city, but very dirty. It was a Sunday and everyone was out in the streets. I’ve never seen so many people! The most interesting thing I saw was a sign offering women. Chinese and Hong Kong women were $250HKD, Malay and Filipino women were $200HKD, and the Russian woman was a whopping $550HKD. Wondered what she did to deserve so much…..never did find out.

    Took the subway to the Peak Tram ride. It’s a tram that goes to the top of a mountain and you can see all the buildings lit up at night. It was a beautiful sight, but after a few minutes, that was enough. Been there-done that. Back to the Mall next to the hotel and found an excellent Chinese Restaurant. The Kung Pao chicken was the best I’ve ever had, and the sweet and sour was good too. Only drawback, they didn’t serve g & t’s. so back to the hotel, finished off the bottle and went to bed.

    The flight home was uneventful, but long. First we went to Taipei for a two hour layover and plane switch. The flight wasn’t very full so we each got an aisle to ourselves. The food was another one of those smelly steamed sushi type things, no thanks! Next stop Narita, Japan where we had another two hour layover and had to deplane, and another quite smelly meal. I was so hungry, I shut my eyes and ate whatever it was.

    I didn’t know that there was a time difference between Hong Kong and Japan so kept looking at my watch thinking I had an extra hour. I noticed the clocks in the airport, but figured they were all wrong, my watch was right. Tom had gone to the gate, I was shopping (no, not for gin) and I heard last call for China Air Flight 18 to Honolulu. What? I still had an hour. Nope, the flight was boarding, I ran to the gate, found Tom and boarded the plane. Another 747 without any VOD but we had split up our seats so I had an aisle seat towards the back, Tom was in the middle with a window seat.

    Landed in Honolulu, went through customs, went to Pizza Hut in the airport and had pizza for breakfast and soon on our way to Hilo. The house/dog sitter picked us up, dropped us off and the dog and cats were so happy to see me, Stymie, my tabby still won’t let me out of his sight.

    We had a great time, enjoyed our time at Kruger the most. The game at Mala Mala was incredible, Dubai was so cool, Hong Kong was nice. Now the hard part…where to go next year?

    Aloha,
    Dennis

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    Thanks for the very thorough, highly entertaining trip report. I learned a lot and you've inspired me to seriously consider a self drive in Kruger. Thanks for the inspiration!

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    dennis--loved your africa trip report...it answers many quesions i have had, but i may send you a request or two directly for more info..

    you should join us at the HI GTG in september (20th) in honolulu....we will travel there from boston...look at the asia board for more info

    after that we will be on the big island at hilo, so maybe we can catch up and get a first had report from you

    bob

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    Bob, not sorry to say but I'll be unable to attend the HNL GTG as I'll be in a tent camp in Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park...hopefully watching hyenas, lions and wildcat off my lanai.

    From what I've heard the Bay House is a very nice B & B.

    Feel free to email me with any questions

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    Leely~booked through sanparks.org for 11 nights at Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in South Africa.
    7 of the 11 nights in wilderness camps-no fences with only 4 tents per camp! Lions, hyenas and wildcat are seen regularly outside the tents...also many snakes (my biggest fear) but hopefully the genets will eat the snakes. No elephants which is a drawback, but there are cheetah, honey badger, wildcat and meerkats which I've not seen yet and a large variety of birds of prey.
    1 night in JNB and 1 night in Upington then back to California for a few days. Everything booked but the air, waiting for a deal but thinking of going East through New York or D.C. and skipping Europe/Asia this time.

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