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Trip Report Green Botswana - Mrs Kimburu vs the Kalahari!

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I'm not often "seen" around here now - or anywhere else for that matter - but I've always posted my trip reports here, and I have a fondness for tradition.

I recently returned from a very interesting and unpredictable three-week trip to Botswana, which was our first there, but certainly not our first to Africa. Apologies in advance for inevitable inaccuracies and mis-remembered events or sequences, not to mention spelling mistakes – please put the record straight on these as I know myself and I won’t be offended - unless you are being offensive of course! ;-) Those who don’t already know better than me should remember to consider the source.

Our itinerary (so we thought!) was like this, beginning December 17. The first four days were added after my Mum decided to join my wife and me – the rest, but with an extra day at Mapula (or Kwara instead of Mapula) was our original itinerary.

Days 1-2 Royal Tree Lodge, Maun (formerly Montsasela) …. To “acclimatize” my Mum, who was visiting Africa for the first time at the still-young age of 72, and also just to catch up with her on the preceding year, as we live in different continents.
Days 3-4 Deception Valley Lodge …. For Mum to have her own Kalahari experience and walk with the San
Days 5-9 Mobile safari in Central Kalahari Game Reserve
Days 10-12 Meno-a-Kwena
Days 13-18 Mobile safari in Khwai and Moremi
Days 19-21 Mapula Lodge
Day 22 Island Safari Lodge
Day 23 Travel home

Mum went to Victoria Falls and then had four nights at Ichingo and on the Ichobezi boat on the Chobe from Days 5-9, spent two nights at Island Safari Lodge outside Maun Days 17-18 and left Day 19.

However our 23-day itinerary was kindly extended to 26 days by Air Botswana, whose flight from Maun to Johannesburg was craftily converted to a flight from Maun to Gabarone in mid-air. “This is your captain speaking and I have a really nice surprise. Instead of taking you to Johannesburg and risk getting this rust bucket stranded there again, why don’t we land in Gabarone so you can see our fabulous, shiny international airport. We are sorry if you have a connecting flight, but …. well, actually we are not really sorry but I will personally be slightly embarrassed when I see you hopping up and down on the runway, beetroot-faced in front of a junior member of staff who has no more idea than you why we are doing this. I hope you enjoyed your flight up until this point and do want to thank you for your slightly ballsy decision to fly Air Botswana.” What a surprise! And then two days extra holiday in Johannesburg at their expense. This must be what they call “secret season” - I remember reading about that somewhere. In fact, it was all so secret that Air Botswana decided it would be better not to tell Thai Airways or to rebook us – better we have another lovely surprise at the airport (after telling us it was “taken care of” and giving us some paper to support that, just to make sure we didn’t spoil the surprise by contacting Thai Airways ourselves). Anyway, it was all good in the end – we’re back home and my wife unexpectedly got to visit the deWildt cheetahs on her birthday (that part was not paid by Air Botswana). And would I fly with Air Botswana again? Absolutely! For the record the official reason for the landing was technical problems and we will never, ever know the whole story.


A Visa Warning

After meeting my Mum at JNB, the three of us reached Maun on schedule and got our first surprise. Sally Masson, who booked/arranged our trip, had obtained a letter for my wife from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs saying she was to be granted a visa on arrival. Sally had sent us a copy of this and kept the original, as another signed original was supposedly on file at the Maun Immigration office. However, the immigration officers weren’t happy with a copy and could apparently find no record of the letter that was supposed to be with them. Sally had tried to give the officers the original but was unable to do so as she was not allowed in and they weren’t coming out. My Mum resolved the stand-off by just walking back through the plastic curtains that separate the high security immigration area from the Arrivals (and Departures) hall. End of problem – always take your Mum to Africa! We’d do things the same way again next time, but would plan a way of getting the letter to my wife inside Immigration in advance. If my wife had been a single traveler, she might have had considerable difficulty, although I am sure it would have been worked out eventually.


Maun

Mum was always booked two nights at Royal Tree Lodge so she could get acclimatized to Africa in a fenced and safe environment – the fence being to keep her in one place so we could still find her when we arrived of course. ;-) However, when we decided to arrive a day earlier too, almost last minute, it seemed too much trouble to change her schedule around and so we ended up two nights there too. We were the only guests there both nights.

Royal Tree Lodge is just a name change really and nobody even seems to call it that yet. Same owners, luxurious tents and everything as far as I know. You can follow marked trails around the property and see giraffe, oryx, ostrich, impala, kudu, zebra, Blesbok, Vervet Monkeys and hares on foot, alone and with no guide (I think there were Springbok too). There is decent birdlife too, but not to the extent that I would put this on a birding itinerary should a group of overly-trusting and simple-minded birders ever decide that they wanted me to arrange their trip-of-lifetime to Botswana. Having said that, this is the only place I saw a Hoopoe. The Lodge is nicely managed and the staff, the place, the accommodations and the food and all more than fine. It is what it says it is.

Mum and my wife started on the wine (not included in cost unless you expressly book on that basis) and a long catch up chat and I went for a walk that was not particularly successful, seeing only a distant Blesbok and a hare.

I went for another walk the next morning and saw much more. Seeing a journey of giraffe quite close on foot is cool and a little disconcerting since you do realise how big they are and how easily they could take you out if one of them was a psycho type with people issues (these things and worse go through my mind when I’m out walking in the bush alone – just as well I don’t live there or I’d be mad as a hatter). Although this is certainly not a wilderness, the walks are very pleasant and a decent length, and (most of?) the animals are skittish enough that you have to be quiet and downwind to get near them on foot. You can even play at following spoor, although it is quicker and more effective just to cheat and hang out near the salt lick where most of the spoor are heading.

I would say you can’t get lost on the walks because any of the coloured marked paths lead back to the road, and anyway, it’s not really big enough to get lost in. However, on the last morning my Mum managed to get lost and only just made it back in time to have breakfast before we had to go for the flight (See why we needed a fenced property to start her off? She was more reticent after this.)

On the second afternoon Mum and I went on a mokoro trip from Okavango River Lodge (arranged through Royal Tree Lodge) and I can highly recommend it. You may imagine that it will be much better deep in the Okavango Delta, but I suggest you try it here first. No hippos and some people and other boats around but lots of birds and good views as the papyrus is not too thick here. I would do one trip here and one deeper in the Delta if I had the choice, and wanted to see as much as possible. My Mum also recommends the Island Safari Lodge sunset cruise into the Delta, but I cannot back that up.

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    Deception Valley Lodge

    We were the only three passengers to DVL and so Mum’s first bush flight was in a 4-seater… at midday. She was so petrified that my wife forgot she was petrified too. The flight was dull, over the cattle farming land protected by the veterinary fence. As DVL airstrip is right next to the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) we banked for landing next to the veterinary fence itself, so I can show you the reserve, and the two fences with their “cut lines” which are the quickest route from DVL to CKGR.

    Deception Valley Lodge is as just like the brochure and the reviews you can read online. The chalets are amazing (I would say incongruous, but they are too nice for that word and it’s not as if I didn’t look at the pictures on the web site). The weirdest thing (for me) was reading my email in 40 C heat in the Kalahari sands . If you want to be very comfortable in the rather uncomfortable environment of the Kalahari then this is the place. The owner-managers run things exceedingly well and are excellent hosts. Their son has picked up their charm too (he helped host the activity I requested as Mum’s Christmas present). Braam is, in accordance with general reputation, a very good guide, especially when accompanying the San guides. I have to say I really learned quite a bit from him in a short time. No thoughts of psycho giraffes stomping people for no apparent reason when walking with Braam.

    DVL have a new activity, which is to spend a night out in the bush with Braam and the San. Basically, a one day/night fly-camping and walking safari. There is a small extra cost for this and so I decided it would be Mum’s Christmas present and a surprise. Actually, that didn’t go as well as expected since she didn’t want to do it when she found out about and after she had seen the beautiful cottages. Oops! But I persuaded her and she thanked me for that later. We were the first people to do this activity, so it is certainly going to be refined and improved, but here is what happened to us.

    We left on the normal walking with the San activity, but a bit later than usual. This activity is the kind of thing everyone should do once, and before you get too cynical and start asking questions about “authenticity”. It’s quite touchy-feely and hands-on, and you are encouraged to drink and eat the things they find to survive on in the Kalahari, which we all did enthusiastically – they don’t invite you to try the ones that taste like bodily fluids or that might cause death . Of course it’s very interesting just being with the San men and listening to their language, even if they were just to stand around and discuss how Arsenal absolutely hammered Chelsea last night (just for example...of course they did not discuss that!). Braam didn’t interpret too much and always let them finish explaining something before doing so, and in many cases much of what they were saying was apparent from their body language. Then he’d just give a quick summary unless we had specific questions. We generally only saw birds and reptiles (including a snake in a tree – I cannot remember what it was now, but will eventually) but the bush was thick and we were not quiet as it was not that kind of walk, so there is no surprise there. Unfortunately, 30 minutes into the walk the sole of my boot decided to detach itself from the rest of the boot for the first time in 12 years. The San fitted me up with a temporary fix made from Springbok skin strips knotted together, and refined the fix when that failed to hold 30 minutes or so later, as although the walk is very gentle-paced with lots of talking and stops for demonstrations and explanations, the terrain is sandy and very rough - it doesn’t follow paths, but rather you just walk in “generally the right direction” with little detours when the San see something interesting that they’d like to show or explain. While I was one-shoed the second time, we saw the snake and in trying to get a picture of it (it was moving all the time) I got a thorn in my foot. I thought I pulled it out, but that was my mistake!

    There were beautiful blue skies when we set out, but by about ninety minutes into our walk the clouds were really building, and although quite far away it suddenly started to look like it might rain a bit. Twenty minutes later we were huddled in a line on the lee side of a small acacia with our backs to the wind and horizontal rain, like a tiny herd of Springbok. Braam had brought ponchos for us all, but the rain seemed to be coming from underneath at times and we basically all just got soaked. Somehow I managed to keep my cameras ( I was rather recklessly wearing two to avoid lens changes) reasonably dry, together with a little spot about three inches south-west of my navel – the rest was soaked. The rain stopped after a while and we carried on with the walk, but with the ground wet and the quite heavy vegetation even wetter, Braam walked us toward a road, which ran quite close to our camp site. We were still entusiastic but a bit tired, cold and hungry as we approached camp.

    Our walk ended at four San huts set up in what to us was the middle of nowhere (and without WiFi). These had a small, single person tent inside each - I would think a mosquito net will be enough if it is not rainy season - with a bedroll. There was also a long drop toilet set up a little way from the camp. Sundowner drinks were waiting for us with some snacks, served with a smile by Braam’s son. I didn’t ask Braam whether the G&Ts were part of the Bushman Experience as he was possibly already a bit concerned that the activity wasn’t quite going to plan first time around. Also, it was getting cold for wet people, and there was no fire since the San had to start that in the traditional way. It is not easy starting a fire with sticks after rain, but between the three of them (Braam got involved to as there was an awful lot of stick-rubbing needed) they eventually got it done. Food was more or less pre-cooked (mealie pap and a kudu stew) and just needed heating, and we were all so hungry that the Oryx Dance and other pre-dinner activities didn’t get the attention they deserved (even the San may have been more interested in the lovely smell coming off the fire). After a G&T Mum declared herself delighted with her accommodations - she’s not a big drinker. ;-) The stew was very nice (and all the food at DVL is excellent– yum!) and afterwards we had another drink and chatted until Tati, the - by now former - guide came to pick up my wife, who wasn’t staying out in the bush with us due to an attack by phases of the moon and such – there is no shower or private washing facilities - hot water in a bowl outside - as it is intended for a single overnight only. Since the next morning starts with a 3-4 hour walk, it makes sense that most people will prefer to shower afterwards anyway. The stars were beautiful in the end as the storm disappeared as fast as it had come, and a leopard was sawing nearby. Best of all, Braam identified each of the night sounds for me – I was surprised by some of them and wondered why I had never known that was a bird, or this was a frog. We slept like little babies in our little tents inside our little huts under the very big night sky.

    In the morning my wife dropped by with a pair of moccasins for me (the quick fix on the boots was not going to last a 4-hour walk) and told us she was not coming on the walk with us because she was going with Tati to look for the leopard we had heard. They track the animals at DVL, with a San tracker on the front of the Landcruiser, but the bush is thick and the grass quite long during the rains and it makes it quite difficult to track anything. Since they do not get a large influx of animals with the rains like the pans of the CKGR, DVL would definitely be much, much better for wildlife during the dry season when their waterholes will attract game and they can track offroad effectively (but the place is about nature and wilderness in a broader sense, anyway). They didn’t find the leopard but they had a good time.

    Our walk in the morning started off as really nice – lovely weather and some more demonstrations, and the ground was alive after the rain. We saw snakes, those little red velvet mites that look like spiders, spiders themselves with their webs shiny in the sun, a Leopard Tortoise, birds, lizards, millipedes, some of the strange crawling and jumping creatures you find in places like this (even Braam didn’t know what some of them were) and ants busy everywhere. After a couple of hours though, that thorn was really bothering me and it got gradually worse and I walked the last two hours in a bit of pain. So I was very glad to eventually see the waterhole and the lodge.

    We went on straight game drives that evening (having a sundowner at a waterhole, where we were watched by a jackal and a small group of wildebeest, who had both presumably come to drink) and the next morning, but did not see that much (in addition to those already mentioned, Bat-eared Fox, oyx, Steenbok, more jackal and ostrich). I thought the bird life was very good at the time too, but compared with that around Deception Valley and Deception Pan, it was quite ordinary, if a little more varied. This was all expected and not a disappointment, although we were secretly hoping for something exciting to jump out of the bushes on the night drive.

    Deception Valley Lodge has a lot to recommend it. I guess for the time-pressed visitor (like my Mum) it offers a taste of the Central Kalahari and an introduction to the San in an easy and comfortable package, but it is actually better than that and I can easily understand why they have a lot of guests who come back year after year. I doubt we will be among them, but that is not because we didn't like it.

    Mum flew back “alone” with two pilots and we waited with Braam and Susan for our guide Nick to pick us up for our mobile safari in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve.

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    Here's a link to the first part of the illustrated travelogue version of this... text is still being added but with the above, it should make sense without it - will be complete soon.

    http://tinyurl.com/6be4abo

    There's a button top-right if you prefer to watch as a slideshow rather than clicking through (Esc. to get out if you change your mind!).

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    Your writing has me laughing. My husband keeps asking me what is so funny, but he doesn't get it when I explain:) we just got back from Namibia so he can't understand why I am reading a trip report from Botswana right now!

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    Your description of the "secret season" and commentary to announce it, compliments of Air Botswana, is hilarious. But I bet most of the passengers were not laughing.

    You are correct in recognizing the potential danger of the journey of giraffes. I read a while back where a volunteer member of the clergy was tragically killed by a kick from a giraffe.

    Very wise of the Bushmen to spare guests from sampling natural edibles "that taste like bodily fluids or that might cause death." Ha ha. Know what you mean about the sounds of the language even though Arsenal hammering Chelsea is totally foreign to me.

    Your Mum is a pioneer of the San Sleepout! What an honor! This seems like a great activity!

    Sorry about your boot. Wouldn't you know, it happens at the most inopportune time. But kind of cool that you had a local San fix for it from a Kalahari Cobbler.

    They do not get a large influx of animals with the rains like the pans of the CKGR, DVL would definitely be much, much better for wildlife during the dry season when their waterholes will attract game and they can track offroad effectively (but the place is about nature and wilderness in a broader sense, anyway).

    Very helpful for comparison purposes and expectations.

    I can completely sympathize with your Mum getting lost on the walk. Had it been me, I still be wandering in the desert.

    Great idea on the mekoro, especially for anyone who wished to avoid a body of water shared by hippos.

    In the battle of Mrs. Kimburu vs. Kalahari, I think they both won. Mum was the clear victor at the visa counter.

    Very funny and informative. Thanks Kimburu!

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    Hi Paul,

    A very well written report - a lovely read! Can't wait for the rest of it and trust you had some lovely adventures on your safari.

    The Visa thing - it really was difficult for us back in the day prior to the Botswana consulate's presence in India. We had to get this letter thing and seemed like every second person had a different interpretation of visa procedures etc etc., Adventurous no doubt!

    Regards,
    Hari

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    'This activity is the kind of thing everyone should do once, and before you get too cynical and start asking questions about “authenticity”. '

    Hi Kimburu

    You put this very well, I felt the same about our walks with the San in the Kalahari, you can think about it too much.

    Enjoying your report, an interesting story and great detail for anyone planning something similar.

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    Please keep this report coming! I'm enjoying it immensely. My husband and I are (finally!) scheduled for a return visit to Africa in 2 weeks' time and will be staying at Mapula Lodge as well. Can't wait to read the rest of your report!

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    Sundowner, thank you - you get an honorable mention (along with treepol) in the next section so I am glad you are reading!

    BahamaBreeze... I hope I get to Mapula within the next two weeks, It was fairly wet while we were there nearly three weeks ago and was getting wetter - that is not really a good thing, and night drives were not the best ... for the same reasons as mentioned with DVL. However, I am sure you will enjoy it and hopefully see something special.

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    Central Kalahari Game Reserve

    First, my personal answer to the question of why a mobile safari, and a slightly amusing bit of synchronicity (in the psychological sense) – then on to the interesting part.

    We decided to go for a mobile safari for three reasons. First, we wanted to try it – we have never been mobile and it sounded like a fun adventure. Second, we could go where we wanted to our own schedule (e.g. Deception Valley and much of Moremi, which can only be effectively visited self-drive or with a mobile). And third, there was no other way that we could afford to spend three weeks in Botswana without choosing places because they were less expensive rather than because we really wanted to stay there. These still seem like good reasons, but make sure you can truly tick off the first reason or be aware that you are actually falling prey to the pitfall mentioned in the third reason! I am sure I read somewhere the slightly snobby-sounding “A mobile safari isn’t for everyone” and smiled. But I think, given the alternatives available, that statement is correct - at least as far as CKGR goes. Equally, I think if you really love being in the African bush – as opposed to just the animals, the photo ops, luxury, the food, or the conversation (not that there is anything wrong with them, and of course you get all these on a mobile too) you should try it. You are just so much more exposed, in many senses of the word, than in even the more simple of permanent camps with maybe 20-30 staff permanently housed there.

    We booked our mobile safari with Masson Safaris (and once we booked the mobile portion with them it seemed sensible to book the whole lot through them). Their name had been in my head from a few years ago – I think (but can’t be sure) that it was the first mobile safari company that I had heard of that offered private bathroom attachments to each tent (an explicitly stated and non-negotiable basic requirement of my wife) but didn’t seem to have other stuff that we don’t need and I don’t feel inclined to pay for. Maybe it was just that Ewan Masson is such a Scottish name and for me it just stuck . Or maybe I am a victim of subliminal advertising! Anyway, recent successful trips reported by Hari and others certainly didn’t put me off. :-)

    Of course, since the first time that little “Masson for mobile. Masson for mobile” mantra was subliminally implanted in my brain, I have learned that there are all kinds of mobile safari operators with all kinds of choices, so I did contact a couple of operators. But basically Masson (it really is just Ewan and his wife Sally) was sentimental/ subliminally implanted favorite and/or came back with an itinerary that sounded right at the right price. Anyway, that was that and no regrets.

    The first trip report I remember reading about a mobile safari was Sundowner’s ordeal by burning sun and long drive, and I thought this was with Masson Safaris, but later looked again and it wasn’t. The company was Gametrails and the guide was called Nick. I did a search last night and realized that it was actually Treepol who had (much more recently) been on a mobile with Masson with a guide called Nick Langton, and my mind had obviously combined the stories into a composite memory. Anyway, when Sally told me that Ewan was no longer available for part of our trip (we were originally four and then two and then three people, with the itinerary changing each time, so I certainly wasn’t really upset by that, especially since I had not specifically requested Ewan as our guide) she asked me if I wanted to have Ewan for part of the trip or a single guide throughout. I responded “one guide” more or less immediately, and asked who that might be. And of course it was Nick Langton, who is Sally’s father. Small world.

    Nick drove down from Maun to pick us up at DVL, and after checking with Braam, decided to take the cut line down to CKGR (I hope all these initials aren’t confusing!). He told us the very interesting and sometimes tragic (tens of thousands of wildebeest dying of starvation) history of the fence and a bit of the history of the park, and none of us could work out how the two oryx we saw in the space between the two fences, designed to stop any contact between cattle and wild animals through the fence, were ever going to get out – or how they had got in. Are there a herd of oryx that have been living permanently between the fences for decades? Did someone let them in? Are there holes in the fence? Can oryx actually jump higher than anyone ever imagined? It took us ( from memory)about ninety minutes to the park gate on an up-and –down and occasionally corrugated road that was not too bad - it had been two days since the rain and so while the sand was compacted the ground was not usually underwater in the dips.

    The Central Kalahari Game Reserve is one of those places that I seem to have always wanted to visit, although before I became more informed it used to be just “The Kalahari” and my mental picture was more the Kgalakgadi Transfrontier Park part than the much flatter CKGR. From the park gate to Deception Valley, where our campsite was, took an hour and a bit and it was a rather desolate and uninteresting drive, despite the excitement of actually being in CKGR at last. Large portions of this area were burned in the recent fires and have not had time to recover. Those parts untouched by fire are what I would call (probably ignorantly) thick acacia scrub, and were not much more interesting; frequented by the odd Steenbok and little else. We saw another, lone oryx, but it looked lost. As soon as we entered the area known as Deception Valley, we started to see the herds of springbok and oryx, out on open, quite green plains, broken up by an “island” of trees. Nick told us he knew what we were thinking, but he wasn’t stopping as he wanted to get us to camp and we could come back out here in a couple of hours anyway. Fair enough.

    Sally and Ewan Masson were both at camp, with three staff and two guests (Nick prefers this to clients and I’m with him) of Ewan’s. So it was Masson’s mobile village for the first two days. We put our bags in the tents, took out a couple of items and had a chat and a coffee or juice, before heading out to see what we could see. The first evening we were only out an hour or two, and just saw some springbok, oryx, a wildebeest and a jackal in lovely light. There was a very impressive collection of birds too, and if you want to photograph or study raptors and other big birds, CKGR is a great, great place – there is a predominance of Black Kites (perhaps boosted by migrants?) but many others, and with the general absence of tall trees they are perched on the ground, signs and generally anything that is strong enough to hold them. I counted 20 Black Kites in a single tree at sunset one day (no, I didn’t have anything better to do ;-))…. and there were plenty more in the trees around that one. Korhaans and bustards are common (the Black Korhaans were displaying big-time and we saw a number of times why they are called “suicide birds”), and of course Secretary Birds and Ostriches. It could be that the birds were partially there waiting for the frog bonanza that comes with the rain, but Nick did not seem to think there was anything particularly notable about their numbers. The drongos and other more aggressive smaller birds were frequently mobbing all these raptors and the big Pied Crows. It really added to the experience for me, and of course it helped that Nick had a good enthusiast’s knowledge of them and was able to help put things in context or draw our attention to bird behaviour that was potentially interesting.

    Wake up was 5 am for a 5.30 departure in the morning (sunrise and thus park opening time) but it was usually 5.45 or later by the time we got going. We were often not back until around 12 and that is quite a long morning, so coffee and some cereals were kind of necessary. My wife doesn’t usually eat cereal (and I don’t generally enjoy Thai curry for breakfast) and so she was a bit upset to find that all we had at 9 was coffee and cookies. She started eating cereals after that, unwillingly, but of course all we had to do was ask for a sandwich for her and after that the camp staff made them for her each morning. I guess most guests just like and are happy with cereals as this was the case at the camps too, although sometimes with an alternative. Next time we visit Botswana we’ll have something to put in the list of “allergies” for my wife.

    Generally I’d hope to see something interesting by 8 when the light was still good, but there was life until after 10 usually, and then it really started to heat up and become a bit less enjoyable as we headed slowly back to camp, seeing what we could see on the way (and sometimes we saw some fascinating stuff at that “dead” time). After brunch, which was actually lunch most days, we had from about 1 to 4 free, and usually headed out at 4 or 4.30 depending on our mood and the weather. Then we’d drive until around 6.30 or 7 and stop for a sundowner at that time (sunset was around 7.30 or so, this being midsummer) – three times at Owens’ Island, which Mrs K loved as a place, once out in the middle of the valley waiting for some lions 100+ meters off the road to wake up – they finally did just after the sun had set – and once somewhere else. Since game was not always around in great numbers and action was relatively limited there, I think it is often better to enjoy the sunset than to keep on looking for something that very likely isn’t there. I’d love to have always had something striking to shoot in the beautiful light after 6.30, but I just tried to make the most I could of what was there around where we had the sundowner, and for once did some shots of people and even a couple of landscapes.

    Of course 8-9 hour days are pretty substantial in this environment, and with the heat making it a little difficult to sleep in the afternoons we got a bit tired the second day, and me especially since I still had the thorn in my foot and it was quite painful now and a constant ache. Fortunately, Nick managed to pop it out using a needle and the tweezers from our Swiss Army knife … relief. And then the next day I slipped a little in the shower and my foot came off the mat… and landed right on another thorn! No! The day after Nick again went at the thorn, but they are difficult to get out until they start to fester a bit and they can slide out in the pus (sorry for the unwelcome image, but it is useful information). Nick was determined that I should be miserable no more and used needle and tweezers, and then razor blade, bigger needle and tweezers, and it just didn’t work. I was banging the mat and biting down on my t-shirt but my stoicism (my wife says I’m a big baby but she didn’t have someone digging a hole in her foot) wasn’t going to do any good – the thorn was too big and too deep. Back to the limp! :-(

    I am not going to go blow-by-blow on our drives as they just covered too many hours and miles. There were smallish herds of springbok throughout Deception Valley, and some (but more scattered) in Leopard Pan and Sunday Pan. Same with small herds of oryx and individual or very small groups of wildebeest. These were what we commonly saw on the plains, both quite close and far away (of course there is no offroad driving). We also saw a number of hartebeest and occasional groups of Tsessebe (Topi in all but name), both more often on the dunes, and of course there were Steenbok wherever there were plenty of bushes, and Greater Kudu in good numbers as well. Last but not least are the ground squirrels, who are abundant and entertaining. Herbivore wise, that is pretty much all you are going to get in CKGR, as most other herbivores need water. It is something of a mystery to me why there are no Dik-dik, as the environment seems good for them – perhaps they don’t get on with the bigger Steenbok? On the predator side we saw lions on three days and they were from at least two different prides. We also saw a cheetah, many jackals, two family groups of Bat-eared Foxes with 8 pups between them (yes, they are cute) and an Aardwolf in daylight. Incredibly, and disappointingly, we did not see any Honey Badgers (which Nick ‘consoled’ us about by recounting how he had once seen 16 different individuals in one day in the CKGR– thanks for pointing that out, man). We also didn’t see any Meerkats.

    Sometimes we saw a lot and sometimes we didn't see anything at all for an hour or more. I remember once we drove down to Leopard Pan and saw nothing - and I mean nothing - except for the ubiquitous Black Korhaan and a roller or two. Not a particularly pretty drive either. When we eventually saw a lone oryx, we got all excited... then almost all at once realised that there was nothing to get excited about. We drove in the area of the pan for about 15 minutes then had a coffee and decided to cut our losses and head back. Later that day we met another mobile gang on the road and got chatting and found out they had seen both cheetah and lion that morning. Where? About 5 minutes further drive from the point where we had turned around! That's how it is - you can't drive for ever and you won't see everything, but you can never say there is nothing there. I really liked the place a lot and would love to visit again and spend more time. Mrs K says she is glad she did it and survived but no way is she going back to CKGR (in our language that does not mean it is hopeless, as she also said that if she went back she would have to set up some shade over the toilet as she could not and would not get used to getting sunburn while 'using the facilities'). :-)

    I am not sure if I am finished yet (feel free to remind me what I missed out) but here is a link to the CKGR gallery, to which I am still adding explanatory text. The photos aren’t really finished (you may note more than the odd dust spot and dodgy crop as evidence of that) but I think they’ll do for their purpose of “taking you there”. If you wait a day the text should be complete and the pictures may make more sense.

    http://tinyurl.com/6ac6krv

    Viewing tip: As some of the captions are quite wordy this time, it may be slightly annoying to view it as a slideshow. You can just view as-is, or click on the photo to view a larger size and then click through to the next one using the arrow above the photo at the top of the page.

    Again... apologies for typos, spelling mistakes or errors. Please correct errors you note.

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    Hi Kimburu,

    great to hear that you enjoyed the CKGR. I'm reliving as few memories through your Botswana reports, what a great chance for your Mum to experience an African safari. I think you were very brave allowing Nick to 'operate' on your foot - bad luck with the thorns and the honey badgers. I'm with Nick on this one as one morning we saw so many, including females with young that I asked Ewan if he thought we had seen a dozen and he said he'd stopped counting at 20. He also concluded that the Black Khorhaan is definitely not endahgered.

    Nick was our transfer driver in 2008 collecting us from Makadagi and driving us to Nxai Pan where Sallie and Ewan were both in camp after which Ewan was our guide for 2 days in Nxai Pan and 3 in CKGR. I liked Nick tremendously, what a genial and fun guide he is, his banter and stories made the long road trip less exhausting than it could have been.

    We are returning to Bots in July for a 3 week mobile with Ewan - 10 days in Kgalagadi and 10 in Moremi and the Delta. Before Mrs K faints at the thought of so many days without shade over the loo I can say that we are staying at the wilderness camps and Nossob Rest Camp in KTP!

    I am a little nervous about our chances of making ther SAA flight back to Perth given your experience with Air Bots! Now I'm away to your photos.

    Regards,


    Pol

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    Pol, you are game! Sounds great and wish it was me. Temperatures should be better then anyway.

    Yes, Nick is very good company, and so much enthusiasm for things in the bush too.

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    Your account will be very helpful for anyone contemplating a mobile.

    The # of participants was 4 originally? Then you mentioned 2--was Mum not going? Then 3--you and the 2 Mrs's?

    Just wondering on the max and min #s for the mobile to go.

    Bat earred fox pups--wow!


    Lovely photos. The one with the caption about needing to find something else to photograph if the lions weren't moving looks like you had searched all day for it. The other captions are helpful in narrating the trip.

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    Thank you all.

    Hari...I guess the spellings are correct and I hope they like their pictures too.

    Lynn... there is no min or max as we went "private" as I think most of Masson clients do. Price basically comes down a notch with each additional person - the four was us and two friends, and the three is of course Mum, who was not originally going at all and then was going to take a trip on the Zambezi Queen or something and join us for a few days after that. Quite a saga, and I forgot to go into that (probably just as well). Anyway, I think they do a few "group" trips a year but the vehicle only seats four (I guess five if someone sits in the front but I really doubt that would be normal) so unless they take a second vehicle and Nick along, they will be very small parties. I am pretty sure they would guarantee to go if they took your booking - and the same with the other reputable mobile operators.

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    Hi Lynn,

    one of my colleagues did a Massons safari group departure last August. I believe she paid $2,500-$3,000 for a single tent for 10 nights. There were 2 vehicles, and a second local guide she referred to as Mr Fish.

    In 2008, in the CKGR we used a bigger (open) vehicle with seating for 6 in the back and one in the front with the driver. Here is a photo, http://picasaweb.google.com/Treepol/Botswana2008#5245069335231865778

    Happy to answer further questions.

    Pol

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    Let's raise this trip report from the dead! :-)


    Meno-a-Kwena

    Meno-a-Kwena is on the Boteti River, roughly half way between the CKGR entrance gate and Maun, and about 40 minutes drive from the entrance to the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park, so it was a perfect location to meet Mum coming back from her solo adventure to Victoria Falls and the Chobe River, and for us to take a little break before the next part of the mobile trip in Moremi. We’d also have the chance to tick off Makgadikgadi Pans National Park if we wanted, and to make our own judgment as to whether the place was refreshing and relaxing or sloppy and stupid, as online comments over the years certainly vary. Something about a polecat (odorous type) had raised my eyebrows in the past too. Mum had thought it might be posh because William and Harry had stayed there, but I’d explained that it didn’t quite work like that (as everyone in Botswana seemed to know, it had been their stopover on a mobile safari too) and she would definitely not need to dress for dinner – although she was welcome to do so if she wanted. She was actually relieved to hear that as she had been concerned how her four anti-mosquito bands and thick, DEET-impregnated socks would go with one of her smarter outfits.

    I won’t keep you in suspense – all three judges found it “refreshing and relaxing”. Both Mrs Ks loved it and they really enjoyed the company of the team there, with Mum definitely being spoiled. We got the tent used for honeymooners or whatever and so were ultra-impressed with the décor and very cool shower and toilet, not to mention the massive amount of space and sense of privacy – we only realized on the last day that not all the tents were like that. However, Mum’s “normal” tent was very nice too and I can unreservedly recommend the accommodations for “tent-fanciers”. You may say we were easily pleased after our sometimes too-cosy mobile home, and you would be right (the tear Mrs K Jr brushed from her eye when she saw the bathroom was perhaps a little over the top) but I am speaking with the wisdom of hindsight now, and Mum had just come from a very, very comfortable camp on the Chobe.

    Did I say the place was laid back? It is. Instead of “Here’s the schedule for this afternoon”, it was “Why don’t you get a glass of wine and go and sit in the plunge pool over there – that’s what we’re going to do.”

    The camp is on the top of small cliffs that line one side of the Boteti River at this point. On the opposite side of the river is the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park and there are no cliffs on that side, only steep banks, of which the least steep parts have become paths used by animals to come down to the water. This water was formerly only isolated, pumped waterholes (really mudholes during the dry season – check out Dave Lawrence’s brilliant image of a single bony, mud-covered zebra foal at his web site for an instant and visceral understanding of what it used to be like…. Insert link, ask Dave’s permission?) but is now a broad, flowing river complete with hippos. There is a hide built half-way down the cliff face, in what is not really deep enough to be called a cave and it has chairs, a hammock and even a bed for the really keen wildlife observer/photographer . A cool spot although a little difficult to get down to with a long lens, beanbag and one functioning foot. There were only male elephants coming down to the river but they were having a ball and there were some big boys’ reunions going on. On the first afternoon down there I reckon about 50 male elephants came and went, coming down to drink first and then shower, before getting right on in up to their eyes, using their trunks as snorkels. At around 5 pm there was a slow but steady stream up and down the bank. Then after a while they’d head back up the bank to feed or to take a dust or mud bath and by 6.30 everbody was gone – me too.

    Next morning we went out to the national park, which involves a drive of somewhere over half an hour and a canoe trip across the river, since the road into the park has been deep underwater since the Boteti River returned. There is another, dry entrance but really quite a distance away and it is quicker for Meno to park their vehicle in the park and ferry guests across in a canoe. So if you want to see the park using Meno a Kwena as your base you have to accept that you are not going to be there at first light. My impression is that regular guests would not even go each day, and prefer to stay in camp, and I did too by the third day.

    With the rains much of the wildlife can move away from the river and does, so although we saw Steenbok and Greater Kudu in the park, mostly we were there for the elephants and the lions. Both are quite plentiful. Contrary to its name, the park in this area is something close to riverine woodland (is that even correct?) but with many and large clearings made by elephants coming down to drink over the years. It’s a park worth exploring I think, but somewhere where you have no certainties except for the above-mentioned (and of course lions are never a certainty unless you have the time to find them or they are mating and so active and easier to spot, as was the case with us). We saw one other vehicle there both days – a self-driver (same person). The other place to stay at this point, Leroo la Tau (sp?) is significantly closer to the entrance to the park, although I am not sure if they have the elephants coming down so close – quite possibly. I am also not sure how they arrange drives into the park – same way, I would guess. In any case, their chalets have windows, and other “amenities” I prefer to do without if I can afford it, so I didn’t ask too much about this quite different fish! Nice views though – similar to Meno-a-Kwena.

    On the second afternoon a group of 12 arrived to fill up the camp. Large groups always seem a bit of a pain at a small camp (unless you are part of them I suppose) and this group had been booked somewhere else that could not take them for some reason and they had been diverted as Meno-a-Kwena had only us three booked for the two nights they were scheduled to stay. Anyway, they had quite a bit of difficulty getting to grips with Meno-a-Kwena ways (not all of course – they were 12 individuals after all) and it all culminated in them going off on an all-day game drive into the park that sounded like a recipe for dissatisfaction to me. They wanted a full schedule and I kind of understand that, but they just weren’t at the right place for it. I could see them thinking the staff at the camp were disorganized, but that just wasn’t how it was. It was just a bad match and probably nobody’s fault. Actually, the Mrs Ks did not help much by gossiping mercilessly about certain members of the group with the staff at every opportunity. Naughty girls!

    Having been very fair to both sides my mouth is itching to tell you the story that gave rise to a catch phrase (“Shrike!”) for the rest of the trip, especially when we saw something really interesting. This doesn’t really have any relevance to the trip report, so skip to the next paragraph if you are short of time. We were on a drive in the national park on the second day (the good day for game viewing) and as some of the group were birders they were calling out the birds and writing them down madly – definitely worthy of the name “twitchers”. “Weaver!”….. “Pipit!”… “Little Beeater”. “Stop, I think I just saw a Bloody Babbler… and then waiting five minutes while they discussed whether the not-really-visible bird deep inside a bush was a Shocking Bloody Babbler or an Exceedingly Dull Brown Babbler. Another world, and quite interesting in its way. This was in a full vehicle (10 people – definitely a downside to Botswana is the number of camps that seem to think 9-10 in a vehicle is okay) and we were not doing a birding-focused drive because we three (and some of them too, actually) didn’t want to do that . In any case the birding is just “good” here and I think a lot of the interesting ones are in the “little brown job” category… sorry, but no. Anyway, Kudus and Springbok just weren’t filling the gap between the interests on board, although a very calm pair of Pearl-spotted Owlets did for a while. I am quite sure our guide Max was resigned to nobody ending up happy on this drive. But fortunately we found lion tracks and this time managed to find the lions. They were already “semi-flat” to “flat” but a pair of them seemed to be interested in each other so this was pretty good news and definitely something to watch, especially as Mum had never seen lions in the wild before. We waited a while and sure enough one of the females got the male up and he started doing his thing. Mum was in shock and minor ecstasy and I could feel the wave of relief coming out of the cab from Max, that he’d found something to break up the awkwardness and keep everybody interested and happy. But about 30 seconds into the second mating there was the call “Shrike!” and we looked around and the birders were all staring over at a tree 10 meters away on the left, while five meters away on the right the lions did their thing…. I mean, okay if it had been something rare but a shrike versus mating lions for someone on their first trip to Africa?!? Even for a twitcher….? Maybe I just don’t understand.  Max kept his poker face on which was very professional of him… but even he didn’t deign to point out the little black and white bird to the rest of us.

    The food and chat and general ambience at Meno-a-Kwena are great and we had a really nice time every evening, one way or the other – wine assisted or not, I mean. I enjoyed the hide and Mum and my wife enjoyed lounging about and talking to the staff. We were fully relaxed and caught up on the news by the time we had to set off for Maun, where we would reconnect with Nick and travel up to Moremi to continue to mobile safari.

    I don’t have very many pictures of Meno-a-Kwena ready yet, but will add a small gallery very soon.

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    Here are a few photos from Meno-a-Kwena
    http://tinyurl.com/5s3lb7h

    And a few from Moremi
    http://tinyurl.com/4ksg2z4

    Pretty much a random mess of photos and far from a travelogue- but better than nothing!

    Moremi

    Moremi is Botswana’s second most-visited park I guess, after Chobe, and has a reputation of being a bit busy. However, it was quiet while we were there. We saw more other vehicles here than anywhere else, but generally we had sightings to ourselves. Because of the location of certain bridges at key points everyone has to use the same couple of stretches of road travelling from A to B and so around those areas you will definitely see a number of other vehicles – once at A and B there were few if any other people around.

    The campsites we had in Moremi (one at Bodumatau and one at Xakanaxa) were shady and beautiful, almost magical when the light was right, and first impressions are that the park is definitely up there as one of the greats. There was always something to see and you could rarely predict what it would be. An exception to this might be Xakanaxa where there is so little accessible land left due to the high water that you pretty much know what is where and the only jokers in the pack are the wild dogs, who come and go frequently but as they please, and the leopards, who seem to be harder and harder to find (no sightings by any of the lodges or anyone else we met in the three nights we were in the area). Of course there are the lodge vehicles too here, and if it sounds a bit unattractive, in some ways it is. But it is beautiful in a very special way and will remain memorable for the wild dogs that we found (found us?) twice on the last evening that we were there and the hippo that came charging past us while we were having a sundowner one evening. Nick’s view appeared to be that while Xakanaxa is a special place it has lost too much land to the floods and it has more or less had its day until the next dry cycle. My heart isn’t convinced but my head is. (Keep in mind that although this is the rainy season it is the time of the lowest levels of the Okavango flood, so what we saw of Xakanaxa is probably the most anyone is going to see of it until this November at the earliest and perhaps much longer as big floods are expected for this year).

    Moremi certainly had more wildlife than anywhere else we visited, and the birdlife was spectacular with water, 2-3 different types of forest, open grassland and more all in a relatively small area. A bit of a paradise really; although a full-service paradise would have cheetahs. Actual game viewing was variable drive to drive but something inevitably saved the day and there were always animals around (wildebeest, zebra, lechwe and tsessebe in the open and elephants, impalas, vervets, baboons, waterbuck, steenbok and kudu in and around the woods). In six nights we saw lions four times (mostly different members of the same large pride I think) wild dogs twice (two separate and big packs, and very active) and a single hyena, but no more of the big predators. I have to say this was a little less than I expected, but you get lucky or you don’t. It’s not that others were seeing much more than us, and it’s not a bad haul in a place where there is zero radio guidance, few tip-offs and no off-road driving. It’s also a very two dimensional way to look at things since we had fantastic hippo viewing (fights and fights and more fights and a lot of activity out of the water) watched mongooses playing, saw the huge bullfrogs mating and then getting caught and eaten by Bataleurs and Sacred Ibises, all at close quarters, and there were cute little ones of every species, with the little waterbuck and tsessebe in particular sending Mrs K’s cuteness meter into the red. And everywhere was alive with squirrels, birds and frogs. There were also the most spectacular skies and to top it, excellent company in Nick, Sally and the camp staff. I would gladly have spent longer here and unreservedly recommend it in the off season (can’t comment on the high season as I am sure the “vibe” is quite different.)

    Note on the lodges in Xakanaxa – they were driving all the way down to and over the bridges on their game drives most mornings, rather than hanging around in the areas they apparently used to drive in. My feeling (and remember I am speaking as a casual first-time visitor) is that they are no longer in the right location for what their (mostly first-time) guests want to see.

    Mum stayed with us the first four nights here, and then Sally took her back to Maun, where she spent her last two nights at Island Safari Lodge. We celebrated New Year at our beautiful campsite at Bodumatau, and the camp staff excelled themselves preparing an even better meal than usual. We didn’t stay up to greet the new year but had a couple more glasses of wine than usual and a bigger chat. It’s when you’re going to bed at 9.30 pm on New Year’s Eve because you are getting up at 5.30 am next day that you realise how serious this can all get! On reflection we should probably have taken half a morning off – no-one actually got up at 5.30 except for the camp staff anyway!

    Mum left at just the right time as the weather took a turn for the worse the night before she went. It had already been wet, but the day she left the rain got heavy and we had to wear our waterproofs for dinner (amazingly the guys made a three course dinner on the campfire in the rain and so we ate it of course – even when the rain turned horizontal and started sweeping through the mess tent (which is only a canvas top on poles –no sides). The remaining Mrs. K insisted on serving wine too, although I think we drank as much rainwater as wine. That night the frogs were loud like you have never heard but it was a beautiful sound alongside the falling rain. At the same time I think this was the night where the tent became a little claustrophobic for the first time, and it was a real effort to get it open to go out to use the toilet without getting water inside. By the morning, though, the rain had more or less stopped and it cleared gradually through that day and the next… very welcome and just in time as things could have stopped being fun with another day of rain in Xakanaxa. There is not a lot of wildlife here at the moment anyway and in the rain there is even less and at the same time it gets more difficult to drive the distance to drier and more open areas, and there is always the risk that the water has risen more than expected and a previously passable road will be impassable (and even worse, that you will be the ones who prove it is impassable!).

    We were lucky that the rain brought the vervet monkeys and baboons and their young out of the long grass, and of course the impalas with them, as it gave us something reliable to watch and with so many little ones there was genuinely quite a bit to see. And in reality it was a case of the darkest hour being just before the dawn. Sally returned having overnighted at home in Maun and that evening – our last - we saw almost nothing until 40 minutes before sundown a pack of wild dogs came running down the road towards us, and then past us.... and then 20 minutes later they ran past us again. Nick had kind of followed them but with so few roads, many trees and bushes and very long grass, we were not optimistic and it seemed that they had already passed us by, but they must have come back for us because there they were again! And next morning, on our way out of the reserve, we ran into another pack on and next to the road about 7 or so km from the South Gate. I’ve only seen wild dogs once in the wild before -in Tsavo West in Kenya - so twice in 18 hours is a big deal and meant I left Moremi with very happy memories.

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    Mum’s solo travels
    I thought about asking Mum to write up her solo travels but it never really got anywhere. She never turns on her mobile phone and only ever checks her email at home and she rarely seems to be home. She’s visiting my sister (or rather some of her grandchildren) in Spain at the moment and won’t be back for a while it seems. So I’ll do my best based on what she told me.

    She flew back solo from Deception Valley Lodge to Maun ($300 one way so not a cheap couple of days but she needed to see the Kalahari) and then on to Kasane where she stayed at Chobe Safari Lodge for one night. This she found impersonal and uninteresting after Deception Valley Lodge and I am paraphrasing her very politely. Surprisingly she had nothing good to say about it at all. However, she was only there overnight as next morning she traveled to Victoria Falls and that went reasonable smoothly through the Zimbabwe border post and to the falls themselves. She had booked a private tour and done some research so she knew where she wanted to be dropped off and where she wanted to go from there, which she thought was important . The falls were impressive and she got no hassle that was worth mentioning , ending up at Victoria Falls Hotel for lunch (which she liked very much – the hotel I mean, as lunch was just a sandwich). She had told her driver that she wanted to leave at 1, although he had suggested 2 pm, since she had to be at the Kasane immigration by 4 (I think it was 4) to be picked up by Ichingo Safari Lodge in Namibia. However, he didn’t show up and she had to get someone to call him (as is clear from the first day Mum doesn’t just let things be and I suspect she waited for him until about 1.07 before deciding she’d “had enough of this”). He showed up soon after sleepy-eyed and then complained about how tired he was all the way to the border . Mum reckons he was doing too much driving and not getting enough sleep and of course wasn’t very happy about the safety aspect, which added to her negative feeling about Chobe Safari Lodge since they seemed to have booked the tour – even if it was an independent agent it is their responsibility was her opinion. To be fair, Sally seemed a little surprised about Mum’s complaints about Chobe Safari Lodge and had apparently booked guests there, including tours, before without any negative feedback.

    In the end she was on time for her pickup to Ichingo and while she was very glad for CanadianRobin’s trip report to prepare herself for the Namibian border post, in fact she didn’t need to visit there. They took her straight to the camp (it’s tented, although it is called a lodge) and the owner/Manager Ralph drove her down to the border post, which was very nice. I suspect this is what they do if they can although Mum didn’t confirm. She loved the ambience and staff at Ichingo. She had her own private guide (one guide for each group is apparently standard) and Ralph and Dawn (?) were quote “fantastic”. Of course I had heard this before or I wouldn’t have sent here there on her own – just like Braam and Susan they have a serious reputation as hosts, which makes sense with the “owner run”, or at least “partner run”, operations of which there unfortunately seem to be fewer and fewer nowadays - due to the “marketing” thing and rising price of entry I guess. She went birdwatching with her guide, visited the village and school that the Lodge supports and gets most of its staff from and went fishing for the first time in her life and caught a Tigerfish! Little wildlife was visible on the island (there is some there but this was the rains) except for Vervet Monkeys and squirrels, but fabulous birds (well Mum thought so and Giant Kingfisher sounds promising) and lots of hippos and crocs – neither of which she had seen before. She was very happy on land there and was the only guest apart from an American couple who, despite him having (I am assuming she was only told this although I didn’t dare to ask) a tattoo that appeared to read MIM but became MUM when he bent over and touched his toes (eeeh! Are we imagining this?) were fun company . Come on own up – who has the ‘tat’ (or wound up my Mum)?

    Tents were very, very comfortable but gave her full access to the special nighttime noises – sounded good.

    After two nights on land she spent two nights on the Ichobezi Safari Boat. Again there was just one (tattoo-less) couple – South African this time. And again they were ‘lovely’ as was the staff. Again she had her private boat and guide for trips. She spent a bit of time just sunbathing on the upper deck until the rain came, but on the tender boat trips they saw a bit more game including quite a lot of elephants, kudu and “other things”…. sorry, Mum could not remember but it was “great” (I’d warned her she might not see a lot so her expectations were exceeded but I am sure she did see a decent amount as I noticed she was a lot more casual about seeing game when she was at Meno-a-Kwena than she had been at Deception Valley Lodge and she couldn’t have picked up the ‘casual’ behavior from other guests as she was on her own for activities). The boat was more spacious and comfortable than she imagined and she was happy she had agreed with my suggestion to go for two nights and not one ….I had thought she would have a better chance of seeing something exciting from the river than on land and that the boat would be comfortable (thanks due to you know who you are for encouragement with this). She’d also been worried that being on a boat with one other couple or even alone could be a bit of a sad experience but she now has an understanding of how a good safari camp is run, with hosts who make you feel at home and go out of their way to make sure their single guests don’t feel left out. And in any case it is highly likely that anyone who shows up at a place like Ichingo is going to be like-minded in at least some way…and that’s how it turned out – despite the alleged tattoo. An advantage of Ichobezi Safari Boat is that as a Namibian vessel it is not bound by park rules and can moor on the Namibian side opposite Chobe National Park to be right there for the first of the animals in the morning, as well as staying out later with them in the evening.

    Not a bad report on a trip for which I wasn’t even there! Back to the first-hand stuff.

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    Mapula

    We were originally booked into Mapula for the last four nights but Air Botswana (yes, them again!) had dropped direct Maun-Johannesburg flights and so with a 9 am departure from Maun we had to switch one of the nights to Maun. Air Botswana later reverted to the original 10 am departure and direct flights to Johannesburg, but I couldn’t be bothered changing back again. This was fortunate in the end as both Maun and Mapula were under a thick blanket of rain filled cloud that last day and so we were just as well off paying $500 less to watch the rain at Island Safari Lodge as we would have been at Mapula.

    The drive from Xakanaxa to Maun took well over three hours, as the road through the park is full of troughs, which were of course full of rain, and so we had to drive quick-slow-quick-quick-slow-slow for the first two hours. Plus of course we met the wild dogs and we stopped at a basket shop to buy some baskets to take home (Mrs K was having serious shopping withdrawal issues as Masson’s inexplicably do not have a “mobile souvenir shop” to go with the “mobile camp” – there weren’t even any village visits on offer in Moremi!). The road was okay though- quite passable in any vehicle with clearance; a couple of days earlier Mum and Sally had been snorkeling in some of the troughs and it had taken them most of the day to get to Maun.

    The flight was uneventful and quite scenic, as with the heavy cloud we had to fly quite low. Again in a four seater, with the fifth person (a teenage boy) in the back with the luggage. Saw a few elephants and a couple of giraffes but not much else…. not that I would necessarily expect to see anything from that height. Got there, got ready and then headed out for the afternoon game drive, sharing with only the American woman and her grandson who had flown up with us and the pilot, who was staying overnight (of the other nine guests, seven were all one group and so in the same vehicle and two were honeymooners who were staying behind to hold hands and watch the sunset from their room as it was the last night of the safari).

    The rooms at Mapula are beautiful. You can see them in glorious soft-focus HDR on the website now. Best of course is the big veranda looking out across the water, from which you can watch the hippos and birds and hear water monitors, lizards and possibly snakes, crawling and scurrying around under neath you. If you were to be there at the right time in the evening you would also see the hippos walking up out of the water and under the chalets on their way to graze. Really everything is fine there – Dudu manages with her own style, giving the place a bit of character. I have nothing at all against white male managers, but a change (and although Meno-a-Kwena is managed by Ursula when David Dugmore is not in residence, which isn’t quite the same) is refreshing. Dicks the head guide is also essentially assistant or even co manager, but he’s quite a unique character too (and I don’t mean ‘character’ as in mad as a hatter). So whatever, comes after, please see most of it as being about concessions and the atate of the Okavango Delta, and vehicles and the way things are done in general in Botswana, and not as being aimed at Mapula, which is a beautiful lodge in a beautiful location, surrounded by a concession that still delivers great wildlife.

    Of course you can read about the bridge elsewhere and I kind of liked it because of the kingfishers that fish off it, but it seemed nearly everyone else was less than keen after the first two days. We didn’t see an awful lot that first evening – decent but not exciting until the end when we drove outside the veterinary fence (Mapula is one of the concessions on the edge of the protected area of the Okavango Delta and so it has a veterinary fence which elephants have torn holes in, but which still restricts movement of game and Mapula vehicles to some extent). There were two beautiful big make lions at a waterhole there, enjoying the last of the sun and calling out their warnings. They were full and lazy but the light was very pretty. On the way back to the lodge, in the dark, we got stuck in a waterlogged area. In the dark, in the rain, an hour’s drive from the lodge. Didn’t seem that deep at all, but it wouldn’t let go. Very fortunately, the other vehicle was nearby and came to try to pull us out. Did not work, and after 15 minutes of trying we were instructed by Dicks (who is the senior guide and was driving the other vehicle) to get into his vehicle with the group of seven, leaving our guide (Mario) and spotter to get themselves out. I guess it was pretty unsettling for some people and quite unpleasant as it got wetter and colder and the number of insects attracted by the lights doubled by the minute. Was okay in the end but the game drive had taken about 5 hours by the time we got back, with no sundowner break (canceled so we could get out to the lions) and no toilet breaks for the ladies…. once it got dark nobody dared to ask, but I reckon Mario (our guide) should have planned a bit for that as he was the one who knew what we were planning and where we were. Not a big thing (he obviously couldn’t have known we were going to get stuck) – just to give the idea that the women were a bit grumpy by the time we got back. … cold, wet, very hungry, thirsty, bursting bladders, dirty, insect bitten. Me and the teenage boy thought the lions had made it all worthwhile. As the pilot was staying for free he had no complaints either.

    As an aside, we had Landcruisers at both Mapula and Meno-a-Kwena that had been modified to seat nine, with seats well off the floor (basically just a stretched pick up with three benches of staggered heights bolted on to the sides of the … bed?... and a canvas roof over that. Not uncommon in Southern Africa in my limited experience so I am not complaining about the particular camps (in fact Mapula’s other vehicle was a much better adapted Landrover). I found these uncomfortable, especially at the back, where the seats are much too high and you have to hold on tight at times, and you need to keep a close eye/hand on camera equipment even if there is space to put it down (which there is not if the vehicle is full). It’s ‘adventurous’ but that kind of gets old pretty quickly and I am thinking “why?”

    Another item about Mapula’s vehicles – the new Landcruiser does not have a little seat out front for the tracker so he has to sit in the back, while the guide drives, tracks and attempts to guide through the little window that is behind his head in the fully enclosed cab. We had a similar set up at Mdonya Old River Camp in Tanzania, but there the guide sat in the back and the tracker did the driving. Also the cab was open so the driver and guide could communicate easily.

    I struggle to understand. The guides at Mapula agreed with many of my thoughts – they don’t do the purchases and they don’t set the norms for Botswana, although they do work hard to make the best of what they have, and so make the thing workable. Both guides at Mapula are talented and able (although they are very different people).

    Photos from Mapula and the end of the report to follow over the weekend.

  • Report Abuse

    Hi Kimburu,

    thanks for continuing with your very entertaining report. Loved the paragraph on the 'shrike!' and I have learnt a new word - tent-fancier.

    Gosh, I hope Xakanaxa has dried out considerably by August as I remember it a scenic and game rich area. I'm away to reminisce (and anticipate)with the photos.

    Cheers,


    Pol

  • Report Abuse

    So glad you resuscitated the report as I missed it the first time around. Nice job with the pictures! The captions were very helpful, thanks for taking the time to add them.

    "Shrike!"- LOL!

  • Report Abuse

    Thanks... thought I should finish it!

    I just noticed I left in some of my "notes to self". :-) One of them referred to a photograph I saw at Meno-a-Kwena taken by a photographer I know of.... here is a link to the page of his web site featuring that photo in case anyone is interested. If you have only seen Meno-a-Kwena with the river flowing this is an eye-opener.

    http://www.wisemonkeys.com/botswana2007/meno02.html#

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