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Trip Report How Dental Floss Saved Bruce and Marija's trip to Namibia, Botswana, Victoria Falls and Capetown

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Since our return from our first triumphant safari to East Africa last September (see http://www.fodors.com/forums/threadselect.jsp?fid=4&tid=34864322
for details), Bruce and I constantly discussed how if we had but one more trip to take in our lifetimes it would be back to Africa. Our previously envisaged dramatic final returns to Venice and Paris for one last melancholy fling before the Grim Reaper reaped were replaced by wanting to hear one more lion roar, see one more African sunset...

It was satisfying to have agreed on a destination for our final trip. But it sure was frustrating to face the uncertainty of when that would be. What if we weren't given adequate notice to plan the trip? What if first class airline seats weren't available (might as well pull out all stops) or our desired camps were full? It would be heartbreaking not to have our very last trip together be absolutely perfect. And then there are the health issues associated with a farewell tour. Back breaking safari vehicles, early wakeups, malaria medications and long flights really aren't suitable for such a mission. As we talked it was becoming increasingly clear that we should reschedule our final trip to an earlier date. But when?

We evaluated the current situation. Our safari clothes still fit, although once we embark on our soon- to- be -lauched fitness program they will be much too loose and need replacement. Our antibiotics weren't due to expire for another year. Our stockpile of immodium, Purell, mosquito repellant and sunscreen would suffice for at least another half dozen safaris. Bruce still remembered how to use his camera, my knowledge of animals hadn't faded too badly since we constantly watched (together with captive friends) our photos and videos. The obvious finally came into focus. We should go on safari as quickly as possible.

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    Since our first trip was to Kenya and Tanzania, we selected Namibia and Botswana as the primary destinations for this trip, with Victoria Falls and Cape Town as short side trips. Unfortunately, it was mid-March when we decided to forge ahead, eager to travel this year. Meetings blocked out some good weeks in July and September further complicating planning. The first company I contacted sent back discouraging e-mail recommending that we plan for 2008 instead. If we couldn't get into first rate camps, delaying the trip was obviously the correct decision but I wondered if a more industrious travel agent might not be able to put together a good trip.

    My next e-mail went to Julian at Timeless Africa. I speculated that he was eager to expand his business and would probably research all possibilities more diligently than better fed agents. My prediction was correct. Timeless Africa cycled through various dates and lodges and came up with an itinerary that included in Namibia Kulala Wilderness Camp (2 nights) and Ongava Lodge (3 nights); in Botswana Seba Camp (3 nights), Little Mombo (3 nights) and Selinda (3 nights); in Zambia Sindabezi (2 nights) and in CapeTown Kensington Place (3 nights). I e-mailed this itinerary to safaridude, a learned fodorite we met last year at Campi ya Kanzi. He approved the trip, so we signed on with Timeless Africa. Given the circumstances, I couldn't really compare prices from different agencies so I don't know if we got a good deal. I do know that we received excellent, prompt service at every step.

    Once the trip details were in place, I was free to obsess about how much warm clothing we would need for a Botswana winter and what to pack it in. (Our first safari was in September in East Africa so warm clothing wasn't needed.) After consulting with more experienced fodorites I embraced the onion style and everyday wore a short-sleeved t-shirt, long sleeved blouse, fleece vest and fleece jacket, rolled in a final layer of a windproof jacket and hat and scarf. Our glomitts were the envy of everyone we met. So many people were poorly prepared for the cold temperatures. They had little to layer over their travel agent recommended bathing suits and shorts. For once in my life I felt like a savvy dresser!

    Since I knew we would be packing lightly, I toyed with the idea of taking everything as carry-on to eliminate the very real problem of lost and stolen luggage. (We met lots of people who were eagerly anticipating a reunion with their luggage.) The downside of carry-on is dragging the duffel bags down endless corridors after clearing security. I read and re-read all the threads about the evils of wheeled duffel bags and then went in search of two small wheeled duffels that would meet the carry-on restrictions. I just couldn't see having to carry the bags and camera equipment through O'Hare and Dulles. It's very easy to buy a large wheeled duffel and very difficult to buy a small wheeled duffel. The only 24 inch wheeled duffel I could find was a High Sierra bag (http://www.hssc.com/ItemDetail?itemNum=RSX706)and I bought two, in baby blue and bright red. We certainly wouldn't have problems picking out our bags on the landing strip and no one would be tempted to walk away with them either. Everything (including two expandable Bagallini bags but no stapler) fit into the duffels. Triumph! We were ready to go.

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    Marija - I didn't realize you guys had gone off to Africa again - how wonderful!!! Can't wait to read all about it, when did you go?

    Julian is an incredible peron, I can well imagine he took good care of all your bookings, I have had the pleasure of meeting him and having dinner with him, he really is incredible!

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    Despite all the threads that countdown the number of sleeps until Africa, it is possible for a trip to Africa to start too soon. The night before our 11:00 AM flight from ORD we went to sleep at a reasonable hour, since everything seemed to be in order. The cab was to pick us up at a respectable 7:30 AM. Close to midnight we awake to a ringing phone. It had to be either a family emergency or someone looking for Smart Cars, a business with a similarly endowed number. It was neither. A recorded message from United Airlines instructed us to call a human for an important message about our flight. The news was not good. Our flight was cancelled. The unsympathetic customer support agent told us to be grateful that they could put us on a 6:00 AM flight to Dulles. I asked for a supervisor, I complained, but they stuck to the story that the 8:00 AM flight was full and no other airlines had flights available. Our confirmed upgrade to business was also gone. The agent instructed us to get to the airport three hours before flight time, since it was to be an international flight. She finally conceded that a flight to Dulles, connecting nine hours after arrival to a South African Airways flight to JNB, was not really an international departure and a two hour advance check-in would do. Bruce called the cab company and asked for a 3:30 AM pick-up. I sent farewell e-mails to the family, in place of the morning phone calls, so they wouldn't think aliens had abducted us during the night. Bruce slept for an hour, I lay awake wondering how we would have coped if we had left some crucial errands for completion in the morning.

    Check-in at O'Hare was uneventful since we bypassed the long lines and went to the business class counter. As a deposed business ticket holder I felt entitled to complain and check-in quickly. The security lines were still closed so we listened to and contributed our own grievances to those aired by our fellow travelers. The flight was uneventful and we arrived at Dulles with nine hours to kill before our flight to JNB. Based on the agent's recommendation, we went to the customer service counter to ask for lunch vouchers. It provided us with an activity. We felt very magnanimous in the line full of people anxiously trying to reschedule flights since we let so many go before us. After all, we had a lot of time and the lunch coupons were but a diversion. We pocketed our $10 coupons and walked to the international terminal only to discover that the SAA lounge didn't open until 3 hours before flight time. We debated going to the nearby space museum but I didn't want to leave our carry-ons and cameras unattended in the airport or at the museum. We finally settled in to the United lounge until the SAA lounge opened. (The SAA lounge at Dulles was by far the best lounge we encountered. There was actually freshly cooked to order food.)

    The flight to JNB was great and we got a good night's sleep in the flat beds. Our final destination was Windhoek in Namibia so upon arrival in JNB we followed the transfer signs and checked in for our flight. At this point we had to check the carry-ons since they were too big for the small plane. I placed locks on the zippers since I had been warned about the dangers of JNB. Another uneventful flight, pick up by a Wilderness Safari rep, a quick stop at the ATM at the airport, and we were on our way to the Hotel Heinitzburg where we had a two night, one day, stay. That was our insurance to make sure that if we had flight problems we wouldn't miss any part of the safari.

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    What an ominous beginning to your trip-glad it all worked out in the long run. Lucky you in those new flat bed seats of SAA though! I can't wait to hear about your stay at the Heintzburg too.

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    Can't wait for the next addition of your trip.

    We have to stay in JNB overnite because our flight leaves only an hour between our connection to Windhoek and SAA requires 90 minutes between flights. Guess they don't want to pay for a hotel if your connection is late. Anyhow we also are leaving a day early, just so we can start our trip on time if we're delayed somewhere.

    Your report is fun reading.

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    It took about 30 minutes to get from the international airport to the Heinitzburg, a rather anemic castle by European standards, situated on a hill overlooking Windhoek. (Despite Wilderness' official notice that we needed two empty passport pages for Namibia we didn't find that to be the case. In fact, it appeared that they were very careful not to touch the four empty pages Bruce had in his passport.) At check-in I asked if there was any correspondence for us, since Julian from Timeless Africa had been there a week or so earlier and had promised to leave us a note with helpful information about what to eat and do in Windhoek. I was assured that no such note was left. Having read on trip advisor that the Heinitzburg swallows faxes and such instead of passing them on, I continued to ask whether they were really really sure there was nothing for us. After my third attempt the letter appeared, without a word of explanation or apology.

    Our room at the Heinitzburg was comfortable and similar to the one shown on their website, www.heinitzburg.com. Although the hotel is located outside the city, there was a surprising amount of traffic noise that could be heard in the room at night. On check in the room safe was locked and, despite a phone request, no one came to fix it. Basically the hotel wasn't interested in making a tourist's life easy. We had to carry our own bags, bottled water had to be purchased from the minibar at minibar prices, and, despite the easy availability of free maps of Windhoek at the tourist office, the hotel only had large maps for sale at $4 US. How much effort does it take to have a bunch of free maps on hand for guests?! The Heinitzburg does have good food and a delightful patio overlooking the city. We sampled their seasonal fish menu, a springbok preparation, vegetarian raviolis as well as some hearty lunch soups. All were excellent. (Skip the foie gras appetizer.)

    Before leaving I tried to figure out what to do in Windhoek for a day but I couldn't find much information. Wilderness Safaris offered a half day tour of the city and we decided to let them show us the town. Wilderness was supposed to contact us at the hotel to drop off the trip documents. When they hadn't called by midmorning I called them. It was good that I did. They had no plans to drop off any documents since they had no record of us. I suggested that since we were picked up at the airport the night before and were staying in a hotel that had reservations for us, someone at Wilderness Safaris must know we're here. After several more phone calls back and forth I was put in touch with the Johannesburg office of Wilderness Safaris. The rep wanted to know why we failed to pick up our documents at the airport. That was the first I'd heard about having to leave the secure area of the airport to go in search of documents. He assured us that he would call the Namibia camps and explain why we didn't have vouchers and told us that a Wilderness rep would meet us when we returned to Johannesburg to spend the night on the way to Maun. No one asked for documents so this didn't become a problem. However, by the time everything was straightened out we decided it was too late to book a tour and set out on our own to explore the city which was a quick 15 minute walk away. Getting instructions from the hotel staff wasn't easy and the directions were confused enough that we ended up taking the long way around the hill. (Turn right out of the hotel grounds and then right again at Robert Mugabe and then left at the Christuskirche onto Fidel Castro street which takes you to Independence Avenue, the main drag.)

    Windhoek is an unusual city. We walked around for half a day and were approached only once by a vendor. Even the panhandler (of whom there were very few) bypassed us when we sitting on a park bench. The Germanic influence was pronounced in both the architecture and daily life. In the grocery store we stopped at to buy bottled water, cans and displays were labeled in both English and German. And of course there's the obsession with beer which is still brewed to demanding standards.

    I don't know if there are any must see attractions in Windhoek. We went to the Namibian Crafts Center which highlights crafts from all of Namibia. It was way too early to start dragging souvenirs around so we left empty handed. There's also an impressive bigger -than- life kudu statue erected in the early 1960s. Different stories circulate as to its origin. One tourist brochure claimed the reason for its existence is unclear, another that it commemorates a period when disease struck kudu and nearly wiped them out. Regardless, it's a great statue for kudu fans. In the Post Street Mall there's a waterless fountain made of fragments from the Gibeon meteorites (http://www.namibweb.com/gibeon.htm). I'm sure we left many of Windhoek's treasures unexamined, but we did enjoy walking around this clean, tourist friendly city. (Fortunately the danger to tourists in Namibia thread started after our departure!)

    After two nights at the Heinitzburg we were anxious to begin our safari. But first I had to deal with the duffel problem. Somewhere between JNB and Windhoek International someone had pulled the lock off one of the side compartments, pulling the zipper off with it. I knew the luggage was not very durable, but I didn't think about cargo workers trying to pull it by the locks, which is what I assumed happened. In retrospect I should have used cable ties to secure the luggage when flying in and out of large cities. Safety pins seemed like the solution but my supply was limited and the small one in the sewing kit at the hotel was useless. I loaded the broken compartment with books we needed only for the return trip in the pouch and tried to sew it shut but the thread kept breaking. Then I remembered dental floss, a material that knows no equal. It was the first of numerous repairs to the flimsy duffels that couldn't bear the rigorous of African travel...

    Since Sefofane planes were said to have very small openings for luggage, my plan was to shrink our duffels by unloading some of their contents into the Bagallinis, small foldup bags. After repairs and rearrangements we waited for the pickup by Wilderness. (They had called the night before so we were confident that they would come.) After nearly an hour wait I called them. Shortly a driver arrived with apologies that our original driver had forgotten us. Well, at least they didn't make up a story. At the domestic airport we met our pilot and an officer from the British Army who was spending his month off working as a conservation volunteer for Wilderness. (The luggage hold in Sefofane planes in Namibia is vast, compared to the Botswana planes, so our duffels would have fit without decanting.) After a brief wait for fuel we were finally on our way to Kulala Wilderness Camp.

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    Kulala Wilderness Camp

    Photos:

    http://www.kodakgallery.com/Slideshow.jsp?Uc=d2wuse3.5qlrtfxb&Uy=yxnon3&Upost_signin=Slideshow.jsp%3Fmode%3Dfromshare&Ux=0&mode=fromshare&conn_speed=1


    Flying over Namibia was quite different from the flights we've taken in Kenya and Tanzania: no bomas or animals, just lifeless, endless desert formations, dried up river beds and empty roads stretching like snakes as far as you can see. (We were soon to learn that the desert isn't lifeless by any means, but many of the industrious desert creatures aren't easily seen from a plane.) Within an hour we were landing at the airstrip for Kulala Wilderness Camp, greeted by Jimmy, our guide, who was brandishing much-appreciated towels and water. Soon we were welcomed by Heidi, the manager of Wilderness Camp.

    Wilderness Safaris had three Kulala camps in this area: Kulala Wilderness Camp; Kulala Desert Lodge and Little Kulala, the luxury option. Wilderness Camp is situated about an hour's drive from the Sossusvlei dunes and doesn't have dune views but looks over dramatic desert scenery. Desert Lodge has distant dune views and is closer to the entry point for the national park. Heidi indicated that some visitors arrive at Wilderness Camp and are outraged not to have dune views, so they rebook them into Desert Lodge when possible. I must admit I was initially a little disappointed that we couldn't see the famous dunes, but soon I was contentedly marveling at the desert that engulfed us. Our kulala was comfortable, although monastic when compared to the rest of the camps we stayed in. (I did speak with someone on a self-drive who said they got a great rate on CC Africa's Mountain Lodge by calling a day in advance and negotiating with them.)

    After we legally absolved Wilderness Safaris of anything that might possibly happen by signing our names on their form, Heidi told us that there had been a robbery in a neighboring camp and we would have to keep our rooms locked. (Surrounded by miles of desert, we hardly felt imperiled.) Heidi didn't give any more details but we later met people who had been staying at Kulala Desert Lodge around that time and they reported that money had been taken from their safes. One man claimed to have lost $380 in 20s. When he reported this, a Wilderness official indicated that this was not the first occurrence in the camp and promised to reimburse the funds. The safe in our room was portable so I turned over our passports, credit cards and cash to Heidi for placement in the camp safe. The room key business was a constant nuisance, since housekeeping didn't have keys and wasn't accustomed to using them. We felt ridiculous locking our room in the middle of the desert, and returned the key. Our only intruder came late one night, giving himself away by loud crackling noises. Bruce bravely removed the little mouse from a plastic storage bag and set him free.

    Our first night there was only one other couple, Italians still awaiting their luggage which arrived at camp only minutes after they left. The second night there was a pilot/safari operator from Zimbabwe, together with his four guests. The native Zimbabwean's tales of his extraordinary life in that formerly extraordinary country astonished us, and gave meaning to all those news stories we read at home.

    Upon our arrival, after a cup of tea and some cakes we set off for sundowners on a cliff overlooking distant protrusions. On the way Jimmy pointed out sociable weaver nests in acacia trees. These are huge avian equivalents of expansive family compounds, added on to by successive generations of sociable weavers. The desert was dotted with fairy circles--small circles of land in which, for reasons still unknown, nothing grows. We saw springbok, oryx, jackals and other game that can endure the harsh desert conditions. Upon our return I had an excellent fish dinner on the patio of the lodge while Bruce unenthusiastically munched on rice to stabilize his digestive system.

    Wake up was at 4:30 the next morning for the sunrise trip to Namib-Naukluft National Park. After breakfast we sped through the world's oldest desert, fortunately in a closed car, until we reached the photogenic red sand dunes, still before sunrise .( One great benefit of a nearly empty camp was having a guide and vehicle all to ourselves.) A quick ascent to the top would give us an opportunity for photos like those we've long admired but our climb up the 560 ft tall Dune 45 fell somewhat short of the top. Sliding down was great fun even when the descent was no longer on two feet. As the sun illuminated the dunes, they constantly changed color and magnificent shadows appeared on their surfaces. I would have happily gazed at the dunes all day but the next item on the agenda was a visit to the "dead vlei," a large pan sprouting ancient gnarled trees and surrounded by those incredible dunes. We walked the vlei, trying to retain the images: Bruce with his camera and me with available personal memory storage. After a filling lunch we set out for Sesriem Canyon, named after the 6 lengths of thong required to scoop buckets of water out of it. Without much debate, and to the immense relief of Jimmy our guide, we decided against a descent into the canyon. More photos and we were headed back to the lodge unaware that we were to soon witness what was probably the most unusual sighting of our entire safari: aardwolves mating. By the time we figured out what was going on and pulled out photo gear it was too late, the amorous couple was making a quick escape.

    That evening we had sundowners at the lodge and dinner on the patio overlooking the desert. We slept in the next morning since all we had to do was hop a mid-morning flight to Ongava. A strong wind was howling, making us grateful that we had had a calm day for a visit for Sossusvlei but increasing our anxiety about the upcoming flight. Francois, Heidi's fiancé, drove us to the landing strip where we had time to debate the merits of going up in such incredible wind. There's only one conclusion: you have to assume that the Sefofane pilots know what they're doing and go with it. As the tiny plane circled the landing strip and made a smooth landing, Bruce complimented the pilot, saying "He sure knows what he's doing." Francois smiled and said "Wait till you see who gets out." Soon a tiny 16-year-old-looking girl emerged from the plane--our pilot. (Despite appearances she must have been at least 20.) On the one hand we were both duly impressed by her ability to handle the plane in difficult conditions; on the other hand we both know the role of experience in everything from surgery to home repair...

    Her name was Simone, and she turned out to be a native South African who considers herself "part of the Zim crowd." She gave us the usual briefing on safety procedures, warned that the going might be a little rough and took off. The takeoff and flight were smooth despite the strong crosswind, the pilot cool and confident. Upon landing in Windhoek for fuel, she conceded that a less experienced pilot might not have taken off in those conditions. I could no longer restrain my curiosity and asked how long this experienced pilot had been flying. Eight months for Sefofane and once a week in Zimbabwe for two years, was her reply. How our definition of experience changes with age! (There are 4 women Sefofane pilots out of 19 pilots flying in Namibia.) Soon we were airborne again, and an hour and a half later Simone brought us down in Ongava.

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    Finally got a chance to read your report. Very interesting so far, and I love your clever writing style and occasional use of unusual words (unusual in their context, anyway). Thanks for contributing, I'm glad that things worked out (ultimately, but not easily in some cases) so far, and I'm anxious to see more.

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    Ongava Lodge

    Photos: http://www.kodakgallery.com/Slideshow.jsp?Uc=d2wuse3.bf9y9gq7&Uy=mts8k1&Upost_signin=Slideshow.jsp%3Fmode%3Dfromshare&Ux=0&mode=fromshare&conn_speed=1

    Jack, our guide for the next three days, was waiting for us at the landing strip. Once again a routine check-in was accompanied by drinks and towels which I think we were supposed to approach in reverse order. Tea was being served but we couldn't dally since we had but 20 minutes to prepare for the afternoon game drive. Our brick, thatch and rock chalet was way down a very long meandering road of steps. (I think most of the chalets, except for two, are pretty much at lodge level.) Since there was much construction in progress, when we weren't climbing up the stairs we were glad to be removed from the activity and noise. The room had been recently remodeled and was very comfortable with indoor/outdoor showers and heating, an amenity that Bruce, a Southerner who still hasn't gotten used to chilly weather despite many years of self-imposed exile, really appreciated. He claims to have been cold for much of the trip. My Baltic blood is an invaluable first layer to any clothing scheme. (We had wanted to stay in Ongava Tented Camp but it wasn't available. That was just as well since we met several people who had stayed at the Tented Camp at the same time and they reported being very, very cold.)

    The afternoon game drives take place on the large Ongava private reserve where off roading is not allowed. Within the first half hour we spotted (well, saw) both white rhino and black rhino, followed by gemsbok, kudu, giraffe, wildebeest and assorted other creatures. At sundowners we heard the presumed "distant" call of a lion and quickly packed up and returned to the lodge. Dinner was a "semi-buffet" with starters and desserts served individually. We almost missed the starters since we were hard at work trying to comb our hair. We carried everything onboard as carry-on, so I didn't waste our precious liquid allotment on conditioner, a decision that caused us both to pull out our hair. The Wilderness lodges we stayed at in Namibia didn't provide conditioner but you sure do need it-- not to have model shiny hair for possible safari movie auditions but to be able to get a comb through the dried-out tangled mass on the top of your head. (The little bottle I acquired in Johannesburg while transiting to Maun was unnecessary since the camps in Botswana had plenty of conditioner.)

    The next morning , together with a charming management consultant from Germany, we set off for the Great White Place (or the Place of Dry Water, depending on what you read)-- Etosha National Park, entering at Andersson Gate. Twenty-five percent of the huge park, the size of Switzerland, is a mineral pan, most of which is off limits to tourists. This was our first experience in a park where almost all game viewing takes place at waterholes which are at some distance from each other. That means you can either position yourself at a waterhole and await interesting developments that may or may not be happen at this particular hole, or you can drive between waterholes, hoping to locate an already action-filled hole. No doubt guides know the usual schedules and casts of characters appearing at the holes and try to catch the best shows. (Ongava Lodge has two well-lit waterholes which provide easy viewing from the elevated decks and rooms. At night we saw a large pride of lions drinking as well as a white rhino with a baby.)

    On the first day we visited five or so waterholes, including the one at Okaukuejo, which is one of the three campsites in the park. It's lit at night and Jack told the sad tale of the German tourist who fell asleep on a bench and was killed by lions. There's a lot of construction going at both of the campsites that we saw. The most entertaining waterhole was the one full of elephants, including several small babies. It was great fun to watch them chase off intruders. We drove to the edge of the pan and stared at what resembled a large grey sea before us. The only predator we saw that morning was a distant lion enjoying a snooze in the sun.

    We returned to camp for a suitably Germanic buffet lunch of sausages, potatoes, sauerkraut followed by our own snooze. The rhinos didn't appear at the afternoon game drive on the property. Instead we followed three lions that walked and walked and then gave it up and slept--so much for seeing the hunt. Sundowners were drunk in the jeep, in futile hope that the action would resume and, of course, to avoid tempting the lions to turn us into hors d'oeuvres. Dinner for us was an excellent roast beef for Bruce and fish for me.

    At the end of our first game drive in Etosha, Jack indicated that there was the possibility of an all day game drive in Etosha going all the way to Halali, one of the other campsites, but he wasn't sure if it could be arranged, especially if no one else was interested. Fortunately, even though the lodge was full, the manager agreed to let Jack take the two of us for all day Etosha excursion. We started our long, dusty journey after the usual buffet breakfast of eggs, porridge and accompaniments.

    Our first sighting was a glorious male lion walking purposefully, close to the road. We drove alongside him, eager to observe his morning outing. After a long constitutional he lay down under a tree... We revisited some of the holes from the day before and then set out to a distant waterhole that is favored by lions. After a good half hour drive, we reached the spot and were treated to stories of how we just missed the large lion pride. The alternate road was under repair so we retraced our path, observing the broad empty plains, dotted with occasional giraffes, zebras, jackals, ostriches, gemsbok and the cute black faced impala seen only in Namibia. Our most interesting sighting was again elephants, this time frolicking in the dust of a dried up waterhole.

    The all day trip to Etosha seemed rushed, since we had a lot of ground to cover to reach Halali where we were going to have lunch. By the time we reached Halali at around 3 we had to hurry and get back on the road so we could leave the park before closing time. (Halali is also under major construction. ) Ongava's vehicles are open, which is great for viewing, but not so good for traveling long distances on very dusty roads. I would certainly think twice before doing the all day trip again. I'd rather spend more time at fewer holes, especially since there was little to see while traveling between the waterholes. We arrived at camp just in time to liquify the dust, pull out some more hair and gather for dinner.

    Dinner was a cookout at the camp boma, accompanied by an energetic performance by the camp staff. The most dramatic event was a screaming fit by an elderly British lady who did not want to be at the boma. She had just arrived with a CCAfrica tour, was leaving after one night (always a mistake, we think), and wanted to be at the lodge watching the waterhole. The manager quickly arranged for her return to the lodge. The tactful guide accompanying the tour hesitantly admitted that he found the group challenging.

    For our last morning at Ongava we planned a visit to the hide. We were told to go late morning so we had a leisurely breakfast and packed. This was our first (and sadly only) visit to a hide. Accompanied by bottles of mineral water and cameras we were led down to the hide where only guinea fowl were quenching their thirst. All creatures are interesting in their own way but guinea fowl fall low on the scale, unless they're marching single file in front of a jeep. We asked to be retrieved in two hours, unless something interesting was occurring since we had no intentions of leaving if rhino or lions were drinking. To set a good example, we drank our own water, but not too much for obvious reasons, and waited. Always a profound thinker, I pondered if you could bring wine and snacks to the hole to help pass the time...

    A very loud bark startled us. Through the gap in the hide door I could see a kudu emitting sounds that I would never have associated with such a dignified, graceful animal. The kudu faced the hide and continued to bark fiercely. I had no doubt that the kudu could smell or in some other way detect us. Kudu sense prevailed, correctly predicting that Bruce and I weren't a danger to anyone but ourselves, and the kudu herd finally approached the water. Soon more than a dozen kudu, including some with magnificent antlers, were posing for us. Then came the gemsbok, the zebras, and even a couple of wildebeest that were out of step with the Great Migration. Cameras clicking and video going, our two hours quickly passed. If I had it to do over again, I would have gone down to the hide several times to watch the unfolding action. At the Etosha waterholes you keep moving. Here we could finally sit and observe the animals.

    A quick lunch and we were airborne again on our way to Windhoek International and then Johannesburg. After a night at the airport Intercontinental we were headed to Maun (pronounced ma-OON) and our camps in Botswana. At JNB we were met by a Wilderness Safari rep who walked with us to the hotel. She gave us assorted vouchers and a "custom" itinerary that gave check in times for our eventual flight to Atlanta (but we weren't going there!). The itinerary also included belated detailed instructions for picking up our vouchers in Johannesburg when we arrived. Air Namibia had pulled the zipper off another duffel pouch. Dental floss again repaired the damage. The Intercontinental was comfortable; we had a reasonably good dinner; put conditioner on our hair and soundly slept. Our reservation included breakfast which had a large assortment of cold/hot dishes. The eggs benedict were terrible.

    The walk to the International Terminal from which Air Botswana flies was short but we did have some problems locating the correct floor for check-in. We had to pass through immigration again and it was with some wonder that we noted that all the custom agents avoided the four empty pages in Bruce's passport. The South African visit was tightly squeezed into half a page, among other stamps. Air Botswana screened for liquids in carry-on (which Air Namibia didn't) and also confiscated our tiny little fingernail scissors.

    Next: Seba Camp in Botswana.

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    I am up to where you leave for Kulala.

    I love your philosophy of safari clothes that fit and pills that haven't expired mean you have to go again. Good for you!

    I cannot believe the earlier departure from United. What if you had not been at home? Right when I read that the phone rang and I was scared it was United. I am leaving for Brazil on United tonight.

    Sorry about your luggage. Glad you were so pleased with Timeless Africa.

    I'll have to wait until end of August to find out how the dental floss saves the day.

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    Botswana: Seba Camp

    Photos: http://www.kodakgallery.com/Slideshow.jsp?Uc=d2wuse3.4u6e179b&Uy=-l3hidt&Upost_signin=Slideshow.jsp%3Fmode%3Dfromshare&Ux=0&mode=fromshare&conn_speed=1
    Our Air Botswana flight landed on time and we were all released into the cramped Maun terminal to line up for custom stamps from the lone agent. There was no need to rush since our bags, minus two more locks and zippers, with only the unfastened flaps precariously protecting the contents, were the last to appear at the baggage claim,. Now we were really in trouble. In their pre-trip information Wilderness Safaris described regulation size duffels which could be purchased upon arrival if the original bags were too large for the planes. None of the Wilderness employees I spoke to in Maun knew anything about the availability of such duffels. They assured me that it must be the camps that sell these duffels.

    The baggage hold on the Sefofane planes in Botswana is tiny and shaped very differently from that of the Sefofane planes that we flew on in Namibia. I threw all of the stuff from the broken top compartments into the collapsible bag, and luckily the duffels and bag easily fit into the hold. We were scheduled to make one stop to pick up a couple at Chitabe before landing at Seba. The stop was not quick since the couple in question, an octogenarian surgeon and his wife, disputed that their destination was Seba. After a round of calls the pilot assured them that they were expected at Seba and coaxed them onto the plane.

    Seba is a fairly new camp named after a beloved elephant released from Abu and under the same ownership as Abu. Wilderness Safaris, as its marketing agent, positions it as a water/land camp with special emphasis on the elephant research activities taking place. The comfortable tents are raised and spread out so you don't see or hear your neighbors. Our tent was the "family" tent, two tents with a connecting covered passage, private plunge pool and second floor sitting area. The camp is managed by Baloo, a colorful well traveled soul who left for leave after our first day there, turning responsibilities over to Graham, a Brit who was part student, part back-up manager. The camp's origin seems to be research station of sorts turned into a safari camp to turn some profit. Bedside in each tent was a copy of a dissertation written by an early researcher. Eager to learn more about elephants, and always on the look out for interesting data sets, I started to read it, but soon the urge to mark corrections overtook me and I abandoned this pursuit. I wish I could say that I learned a lot about elephant behavior at this camp, but that wasn't the case, despite my attempts to question two students who were actively studying elephant behavior while participating in the life of the camp.

    For the first game drive we were paired with the couple that we had stopped to pick up. Our first sighting was of four lionesses and their 5 cubs, lazing in the shade to make photography difficult. As we watched the cubs suckling, our vehicle mate decided to review on her point&shoot digital camera all 400 or so pictures she had taken so far and to delete the misses accompanied by that annoying double ding. Meanwhile her husband talked to the cats, as in "Here kitty, kitty..." They continued to talk without interruption during the entire drive. Since there were only two other guests in camp, upon our return I asked Baloo if we could be switched to the other vehicle. He agreed. (Such requests are apparently routine, and didn't cause any apparent awkwardness later.)

    The next morning we were awakened in darkness by an unusual sound. Could it be Herman the resident hippo, or the elephants that visit the camp? No--it was a malfunctioning pool pump on our deck and it continued to buzz and whirr until we reported it at breakfast. Meals at Seba were outstanding, the best of the entire trip. (Baloo reported that they recently hired a restaurant chef.) We were a bit concerned about having requested a vehicle change since at dinner we met the other couple at the camp and it was yet another loquacious retired surgeon and his wife. Fortunately the guides ate dinner with us and we could try to ignore the loud medical discussions taking place at the other end of the rather short table.

    I don't know whether some of the game drives at Seba should be considered water or land activities. We set off in a vehicle that seemed as much motorboat as truck as we drove over the flooded plains. We would come to a place where the road was flooded to a depth of two or three feet, and just drive right through. Nothing could be stored on the bottom of the vehicle, since water would surge over the bottom grate and quick action was required to keep our feet dry. This was a game drive like no other we had experienced. Although we saw numerous birds and a resting male lion, they were but added pleasures. Just careening across the delta was incredible.

    After a lunch (delicious pasta carbonara + pasta primavera), a nap, and then tea, we set off for the afternoon game drive. Our new vehicle mates were great and we were pleased that we had been bold enough to ask for a change. The highlight of the drive was visiting a hyena den and observing the ever so curious babies who just stared and stared at the strange creatures staring at them. Dinner was a BBQ featuring spareribs, lamb chops and chicken, as well as numerous tasty vegetable dishes, accompanied by the staff singing and dancing.

    During the night we heard gunshots---a distressing sound regardless of its origin. We learned that bull elephants had made their way into nearby Abu Camp and the guards had fired warning shots to disperse them.

    Our vehicle mates were leaving the next morning, so the plan was to go out on a motorboat ride with them, followed by a mokoro ride for just the two of us. Bruce and I agreed to ignore the possibility of encountering uncooperative hippos and crocs, and to enjoy what might be the last adventure of our lives. Lesh, our guide, calmly steered the boat across the waterways, letting it jump across clumps of vegetation, without disturbing the grazing elephants and red lechwe on the shores and the myriads of exotic birds overhead and in the trees. What a way to go! We started to understand what the flooded Okovango delta was really like that morning.

    Our next vehicle was a mokoro--basically a dugout canoe. Ours turned out to be made of fiberglass, which was somehow both disappointing and reassuring. Shadrach, the guide with the biblical name, explained to us the advantages of the synthetic mokoro as he was settling us in. We had seen the Delta from the air, from a truck, from a boat and now we were almost in the water, floating on just a thin sheet of fiberglass. I hoped we could avoid a final immersion into the waters. As he paddled from his standing position in the rear, Shadrach related stories of his life in the delta and demonstrated the crafting of necklaces from water lilies. As you sink closer to the water your perspective changes. The focus shifts from elephants on the shore to insects landing on the water. I would have happily spent the entire afternoon in the mokoro but after an hour or so we returned to a delicious leek frittata being served for lunch.

    Since our vehicle-mates had left and we were not reunited with our previous mates, we had a private vehicle for the afternoon game drive. We spent much of the drive enjoying the antics of 6 little lion cubs that were awaiting the return of their mothers. One of them climbed high into a tree (where the light was particularly good for photography), no doubt to better see the maternal arrival and warn the others. While we were enjoying sundowners we heard loud screeching and crying. It heralded not the breaking of the pool pump again but the return of the lionesses who gathered their loud mouthed cubs and set off into the deepening twilight. We followed the noisy bunch until the vegetation was too thick for us to enter and then returned to camp for butternut squash soup and ostrich fillets.

    The last morning at Seba started with a light breakfast since all three remaining couples (including us) were going to return to camp early for brunch before flying on to our various next camps. The game drive was uneventful but pleasing nonetheless. Fortified by a wonderful final brunch we set off for the airstrip. Oops! Seems that they sent the wrong couple (us) for the early plane. Our plane wasn't to leave for another 45 minutes. That means we could have had another serving of those brunch pastries... The correct couple was rushed to the plane from Seba while we patiently sat under a tree waiting for our transfer to Little Mombo.

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    Little Mombo

    Photos from the whole trip are here: http://www.kodakgallery.com/Slideshow.jsp?&mode=fromsite&collid=28474286907.847390905207.1186958179983&conn_speed=1

    Our annoyance at having been transferred much too early for our flight to Little Mombo vanished instantly when we saw the helicopter that was to whisk us to camp. The pilot didn't waste time with formalities and almost instantly we were airborne. After a quick stop to pick up another couple we landed 10 minutes later at the Mombo airstrip, still marveling at the amazing Okavango Delta views the helicopter afforded. (Sefofane is good but a helicopter is better.) We were quickly transported to Little Mombo headquarters and introduced to Ona (sp), the Motswana manager, who showed us our exceedingly deluxe quarters. We had had some concerns about going to Mombo. We didn't want to pay ridiculous prices for glamorous lodges or upgraded food but we were willing to pay more for extraordinary game viewing. (The manager told us that during high season almost all of their guests are Americans, while during off season the Europeans come. That's their marketing plan. She was amazed that we had secured a booking only a couple of months in advance since it seems that people book the property way in advance.) Little Mombo and Mombo have exactly the same accommodations and food (and price), but Little Mombo is much smaller with only three tents. We really liked the small size.

    Although Mombo has a legendary reputation for predator action, the dynamics seem to have changed in recent years. The large lion prides have taken over, to the detriment of cheetahs and leopards. Our guide Silas told us that in the past, when the "Steroid boys" cheetahs were at their prime, you were almost sure to see a kill. That's no longer the case. We only saw two hungry cheetah brothers with sunken stomachs who had difficulty making and keeping kills since one had a shoulder injury. The leopard Legadema, of National Geographic fame, still resides at Mombo but was cunning enough to evade us during our three night stay.

    On our first game drive, our request for Silas was to see a leopard since we'd only caught a glimpse last year of a distant one illuminated by a spotlight. He didn't dally--within 10 minutes we were staring at a relaxed leopard in a tree fork, munching on a day-old baboon kill. Although the light wasn't ideal we all took countless photos and videos amazed by our good fortune and Silas's skill. The search for cheetahs was unsuccessful but we did encounter the prolific Matata lion pride resting. There were so many lions in the pride it was difficult to fit them all into a single photo. Our last stop was a visit to the hyena den, but the hyenas weren't in the mood for unannounced callers and stayed inside.

    Dinner was both a tasty and toasty production since there were portable heaters and blankets on every chair. Our four campmates were a young couple from Manhattan and two women from Northern California. We were fortunate to have a congenial group with compatible approaches to game viewing and seat rotation. Any urges for prolonged conversation were overruled by the lure of warm beds.

    The next morning we were awakened by a knock and quickly proceeded to headquarters, after donning multiple layers of clothing, for coffee and a bowl of porridge. Hot water bottles were under blankets on the seat of the Land Rover, awaiting insertion into our frigid jackets. Highlights of the morning game drive were several gorged male lions, including one guarding a picked-over zebra carcass. A surprise bush brunch awaited our return to camp: champagne, an incredible Indian chickpea soup, nan, pappadams, focaccia, assorted salads, and chocolate crepes. All that food increased our need for rest before the afternoon drive.

    Our first stop after the siesta was the leopard, still hanging around the tree we saw her in yesterday, so we once again observed her, this time in better light. The hungry cheetahs we encountered were a depressing sight; Silas doubted their ability to fend for themselves, especially since hyenas had absconded with their last kill. All the cheetahs we had seen in Kenya and Tanzania were so glorious and full of life that it was a shock to consider that such magnificent animals had difficulty surviving in this hostile environment. The ubiquitous wildebeest snack freely available in the Mara was not on the menu here. The rest of the drive was uneventful, just the usual cast of grass-eating characters. Dinner was a buffet in the boma, including springbok, a hot pot, sea bream, and sticky toffee pudding, accompanied by enthusiastic staff singing.

    Next morning our group decided that we should search for the acclaimed movie star Legadema the leopard. Despite Silas' determined efforts we couldn't find her, although when we got to Selinda a couple from Mombo claimed that they had seen her that morning. Of course it's always possible that it was but a stand-in. After stopping to view a buffalo herd we encountered the newly formed West pride of lions, some 12 members strong, which includes a lioness with a mane, believed to be a descendant of another lioness with a mane that used to frequent Mombo. Silas predicted that they were going to go after a buffalo. Two large males joined the lionesses and the hunt was on. With great determination they walked, and walked and then the destiny of all lions overtook them--they lay down and slept. Hopeful that this was but a temporary pause in what might yet be an exhilarating hunt, we too dozed in the jeep, ever vigilant for the resumption. After a long wait, knowing that lions sleep 20 hours per day, we returned to camp for an uninspiring lunch of spaghetti carbonara and fried calamari. (Despite Mombo's luxury status, the food was not as good as Seba's and didn't surpass the food we had at the other Wilderness properties.) Before our afternoon nap we explored (big) Mombo camp and the "Mombo Mall", a hundred meters or so along the elevated walkway. Neither of them held our interest, although Mombo had a cute vervet monkey prowling around.

    The first order of business for the afternoon game drive was to reconnect with the West pride and either join them on a hunt or watch them sleep some more. They were awake but the buffalos were no longer in the area, necessitating a change to their dinner plans. This time they did not sleep; instead they wandered for at least an hour. Silas suggested that they were either inexperienced or were exploring a new territory. He had many suggestions for game they could chase, but they weren't receptive... When it grew too dark to see them we headed back to camp for a chicken dinner and kiwi crème caramel.

    Our last morning at Mombo a loud, persistent lion serenade reverberated throughout the camp. Obviously we had to go in search of the roar-makers, while still keeping watch for an appearance by Legadema. Two magnificent males were strutting around, roaring their hearts out and marking territory. Silas said they were new boys and he too was impressed by their display. Neighboring prides surely took note of their vocal prowess. One final visit to the hyena den where both the mother and babies were out playing and it was time to return to the lodge to depart. Our requests that we not leave so early were ignored and we were deposited at the airstrip at 11:00 for our flight to Selinda.

    The question "Is Mombo worth it?" is often raised. Obviously there is no answer. Mombo provided us the best game viewing of the trip: our only sighting of a leopard; dozens of lions; two cheetahs, and a large assortment of other game. There was always something to look at. We didn't always see what we hoped to see, but that's Africa.

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    I found where the floss saved your duffel. I missed it the first time. The boat-truck vehicle at Seba seems interesting. I agree that "Here Kitty Kitty" bit gets old real fast.

    Mombo provided some excellent game viewing. A hyena den with pups is always great. The cheetah sighting is disturbing even to read about and much more so if you were there.

    The link to all your photos states that you must have removed the album.

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    Selinda

    Since the pilot of our plane had spent the night at Little Mombo, our departure was without delay and fifteen minutes later we were landing at Selinda. It was about a half hour drive from the "airport" to the lodge where we were greeted by KT, an itinerant Aussie camp manager who was substituting for the vacationing permanent managers. Since we had skipped brunch at Little Mombo to give us more game-drive time, arrangements had been made with Selinda to feed us. The departing guests had yet to depart, so they enthusiastically showed off their photos of the previous day when they had witnessed cheetahs mating and three lionesses killing a buffalo. All we could do is hope that the cheetahs and lionesses were not easily sated...

    After enthusiastically disposing of a tasty lunch, we were taken to our recently remodeled tent. The bathroom was huge with a beautiful tub in the center. Winter weather rendered the tub unappealing; we felt lucky to dart in and out of the shower without being frostbitten. Each of the tents had a spectacular wildlife photo by Beverly Joubert over the bed, together with a "how to take wildlife photos" booklet. (Although we got some good-looking photos, in our case the instructions and example weren't enough to threaten her photographic dominance.) Our instructions were to return for tea at 3:30.

    Tea was an elaborate event with freshly prepared pizzas and cake. We met Elizabeth, a French woman who was celebrating her 60th birthday with her two sons, Boris Diaw (of the Phoenix Suns) and Martin Diaw (who plays for a French basketball team). A quick google after our return showed that she herself is considered one of the best centers in French women's basketball history. Our guide Mots introduced himself and gave us the great news that we would be alone for the afternoon game drive. In fact we had the vehicle to ourselves for all but two game drives.

    The first stop on the afternoon game drive was to view (and smell) a decaying elephant that was the loser in an elephant fight. Only the skin and tusks, which the game department would claim, were left. Next we saw six cubs and two lionesses munching on the previous day's buffalo kill. This would be a stop on all the game drives so we could witness the progress being made. It was fitting that during our last drive the lions relinquished the remaining bits to the vultures that had been hungrily watching the carcass for four days. We then drove along the Selinda Spillway, admiring the herds of elephants and assorted birds. After sundowners we returned to camp for a festive dinner that featured lamb tagine and sticky date pudding.

    The next morning we set out to look for cheetah and wild dogs but could find neither despite Mots' considerable efforts. The wild dogs were denning in the adjacent reserve and we had to try to catch them when they were trespassing on Selinda grounds. However, we did see an impressive herd of 900 or so buffalos, roaming, running, and drinking. The afternoon game drive featured more elephants and hippos, frolicking in the water in the manner of elephants and hippos. Bruce wasn't feeling well so we had chicken curry and beef filet in our tent instead of joining the communal dinner.

    Mots was determined to find the cheetahs and wild dogs, so the next morning he and I set out in search again, leaving Bruce to rest. This time they didn't elude us. First we found the two cheetahs strolling in the mopane woods. We followed them for a while but the woods were just too dense and we couldn't proceed further. But that was OK since a call came in that the dogs had been sighted. Mots rushed to the scene and we caught a glimpse of them across the water. Well at least I could say that I had seen wild dogs. But luck was with us--they crossed onto the Selinda side and we were able to follow them until they too darted into dense woods. As Mots poured tea, we discussed our good fortune of seeing both dogs and cheetahs in one morning but we were interrupted by another call announcing that the dogs had left the woods and were in clear view. We dumped the tea and jumped into the jeep and again caught up with the dogs who paraded right in front of the vehicle. Now I had really seen the dogs.

    Our return to camp was unhurried. We stopped to observe the solo lioness--who doesn't belong to any pride and hunts for herself--and then visited the rapidly diminishing buffalo feast. Bruce had recovered and joined in devouring excellent pasta carbonara and chicken kebobs which could have well become airborne in the very strong winds (the kebobs not Bruce). We stopped at the gift store and bought several baskets, which are made by the staff.

    For the afternoon game drive we were joined by two lawyers from the South. After the requisite pass by the lion dining hall (where all three lionesses were in attendance at the buffalo carcass), we feasted on views of elephants and zebras. It was our last sunset and sundowners in Botswana, since we were flying to Victoria Falls the next day. The drive the next morning revealed a buffalo carcass that was almost meatless, and a flock of very eager and hungry vultures which had been awaiting their turn for four days. We saw an African eagle owl, a rock python in a tree, pelicans, and a strolling side striped jackal. After another excellent brunch at camp we were deposited at the air strip and quickly sucked up onto the plane to Kasane.

    Victoria falls next.

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    Marija,

    Nice report.....and lots of familiar animals! You mentioned six cubs, any idea about the other two? hope they are okay....

    Lynn,
    Those are the two famous brothers......in recent times, they have favourite transit routes through the mopane forest while going into neighboring concessions.

    Hari

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    Victoria Falls

    We were delighted to find that our companions on the flight to Victoria Falls were two Californians with whom we had shared game drives at Little Mombo. The first activity was to trade sighting stories and it was clear that they trumped us. At Duba Plains they witnessed lions taking down buffalo, while at Selinda we only saw the consequences of this legendary interaction, having missed the takedown by a day. Before we could even finish comparing our lists we were landing in Kasane to check out of Botswana. With some effort an immigration agent was located and we received the necessary departure clearance. All that was missing was a plane and pilot for the Kasane to Livingstone leg, since our Sefofane pilot was not taking us all of the way. The size of the airport made it very easy to see that no other planes were lurking on the ground. Some airport official took pity on us and determined that the pilot that was supposed to take the four of us had already left with an empty plane. Since we had left at the appointed time from Selinda, we couldn't figure out why the pilot had taken off. Fortunately, he returned. Both the plane and pilot were past prime. Instead of the modern Sefofane planes piloted by youngsters, we climbed aboard a vintage plane with seatbelts so antiquated that none of us could figure them out, and had to ask the vintage pilot how they worked. After instructions we secured ourselves and took off.

    Julian, our agent from Timeless Africa, had suggested that we ask the pilot to fly over Victoria Falls on the way to Livingstone. It sounded like a good plan to us, especially since he indicated that the Sefofane pilots are usually happy to oblige. Our non-Sefofane pilot wanted $20 per person for the fly-over and with little discussion we acquiesced. It was a good decision since an aerial view is an unmatched introduction to the Falls. It also saved us from debating whether we should take some other device for an aerial view.

    On the ground we were met by a representative from Tongabezi Lodge, which owns Sindabezi Island where we were going to stay for two nights. Since our companions were headed to River Club we said our goodbyes, unaware of how often we would still encounter them. The Tongabezi greeter was very efficient, even filling out our entry forms to Zambia. Bruce was surprised to see that his birthplace was given as Germany but agreed to just turn it in without worrying about its accuracy. After customs we were passed us on to a driver who was waiting. Livingstone was quite a bit warmer than Botswana and the last plane ride had been unpleasantly hot, so we were eager to get to our island retreat, have a late lunch and relax. After initial greetings our driver told us it would be a three hour drive to Tongabezi. I was appalled since I had no idea the lodge was so far from the airport and the Falls. I was also very unhappy that Julian had neglected to mention this. As I grilled the driver about the distance of the River Club from the falls, he grinned and admitted that this was his idea of a joke. We would be at Tongabezi in less than half an hour. This kind of joke I just didn't find very funny...

    Our arrival at Tongabezi was marked with the usual towels and drinks and an invitation to explore the grounds before taking the 15-minute boat ride to Sindabezi Island. Since tea was being served we sat down at a table and accepted the server's offer of sandwiches. After an hour we decided to give up on the sandwiches, since they were nowhere to be seen, and go to Sindabezi. As soon as we were in the boat someone ran out holding two sandwiches and insisted we take them (on a glass plate) in the boat. The tomatoes and lettuce sandwiches did not appeal, so we ended up returning them untouched to the boatman.

    Sindabezi is a tiny island in the Zambezi river (which separates Zambia from Zimbabwe) that has only five (completely open) tents or "chalets," without electricity or running water but protected by a resident hippo named Horace. Hot water for showers is supplied on demand. Our original thought was to stay at Tongabezi, but since it was unavailable, I became intrigued by the remoteness of Sindabezi, thinking it might be either a great place to end the safari, or a mosquito-inhabited dud.

    On Sindabezi, after another round of welcome fruit juices we were shown to our chalet/tent. We were not happy since it had twin beds that were immovable. Although we're easygoing travelers, we decided to challenge this assignment since we had asked for a large bed. After a 15-minute wait the manager of the island arrived to discuss the situation with us. Her first words "let me tell you the truth" offered little hope since that usually means "we messed up but you have to accept it." We were delighted when the "we messed up" was followed by "if you can wait we will prepare one of the chalets with a large bed for you." We waited for a half hour or so and were rewarded with a great chalet with the desired sleeping arrangement.

    After making good progress on the bottle of sparkling wine we found in the tent, we were summoned to the communal dinner. The dinner choices were crocodile or chicken and without hesitation we both opted for crocodile. Perhaps it was just coincidence that the crocodile tasted rather like chicken.... Our dinner companions were disappointing. The conversation was dominated by a British doctor and his wife (the nurse) who spent the entire dinner arguing loudly over everything. With a group of only eight at the table they were impossible to ignore. Among other issues, the husband was appalled that the camp didn't have electricity or running water. When we asked him whether he had looked at any descriptions of the camp, all of which highlight the rustic nature of the facilities, he admitted that he hadn't looked at anything: "I just booked it because it was available." Immediately after dinner we hastily retreated to the peace and quiet of our tent.

    Prior to leaving for Africa we had made reservations for tea on Livingstone Island. On arrival we were told that our excursion to the Falls would leave at 9:00 AM and return around noon which meant that we would either have to kill 4 hours in Livingstone before tea or make two round trips to Livingstone. Neither was appealing, since we were eager to have some down time on our island. (Upon return I learned that Tongabezi offers several different times for excursions to the Falls, but we were told 9 in the morning was our only possibility.) We enquired about the possibility of changing tea to lunch so we could do a single trip in. We were told they would find out but didn't receive an answer until dinner when the island manager said we were scheduled for lunch. She was unaware of our requested change so we weren't really confident of what our reservation was for, but decided to assume the lunch change had been made.

    Breakfast on Tongabezi was a full English breakfast with selection of a cooked-to-order course. Service was somewhat slow and we were afraid we wouldn't make it to the assigned spot on time but we managed. The British couple appeared while we were having breakfast, still arguing. We left them dallying over breakfast while we headed to the boat where we were told that we were going to the Falls with the British couple and would have to wait for them to arrive. Well at least it wasn't a game drive!

    Our first stop was the Victoria Falls Field Museum which included interesting geological and historical material about the Falls. From there we drove to the Falls entrance and walked along the "dry" side, photographing omnipresent rainbows and listening to the satisfying roar of falling water. (The Falls are a mile wide and a hundred meters tall!) Our guide had obviously done it many times before and wanted to hurry us along but we felt no compulsion to oblige. We had come to Zambia to see the Falls and we would well take our time doing so. Of course the bickering Brits took even more time than we did so even if we kept the pace we would have had to wait for them.

    The wet side of the Falls was wet indeed. Before leaving for the Falls we had been told that our guide would have ponchos for us, so there was no need to bring waterproof jackets. We brought ours anyway and that was a good move since the guide didn't have any (they "ran out" and didn't give him any). Despite donning our jackets (and putting camera gear in heavy-duty plastic bags) we were soaked but it certainly didn't matter because Victoria Falls was impressive indeed. We were very pleased with out decision to make a stop at the Falls.

    Since we still had an hour and a half before lunch on Livingstone Island we wandered the market that is set up in the parking lot. Vendors wanted to trade for dollar bills and pens but the dollar bills were in our safe back on the island, and we hadn't brought extra pens. We ended up buying hippo and giraffe soap dishes like those at Sindabezi. Despite an agreed upon meeting time we had to wait for the Brits who were truly from another planet. The woman's explanation for her tardiness was that she was encouraging the Zambian vendors to sign up for some courses on the internet so they could better themselves...

    The boat to Livingstone Island departs from the Royal Livingstone Hotel, a mighty plush establishment with its own branch of the Out of Africa store in the lobby. We were delighted to be reunited with our California buddies who unbeknownst to us had signed up for the same expedition. Our expectation was simple: we would take a boat to the island, have some lunch and return. The reality was far more exciting. Upon landing on Livingstone Island we were given a drink and taken to a covered spot where lunch was to be served overlooking the Falls, which were about 50 feet downstream. We snapped some pictures of the Falls from this different perspective and awaited food. Instead of being served appetizers we were told to remove our shoes and socks, a rather odd request. Since I was wearing my Australian reef sandals I thought I could just keep them on but was instructed to remove them and put on a rain jacket. A young man approached Bruce and me, told us to hold his hands, and proceeded to walk us through the mud, slippery stones, and rushing calf-deep water to the edge of the Falls. His instructions were "Watch my feet and step just like I do." We tried but our feet were a tad larger than his and the rocks just didn't support as well.

    After reaching the edge we breathed a sigh of relief and were ready to return. That wasn't the plan. One by one he took us to yet another viewing point at the very brink of the rushing falls. One slip and certain death loomed. He took Bruce first while I waited and snapped some farewell shots. Once he returned it was my turn. I knew the prudent action was to politely decline but the sound effects were very loud and it seemed impossible to explain that I would prefer to just pass on this particular activity. I followed him slipping and sliding all of the way, clutching his hand. At one point, directly over the Falls, I slipped but fortunately he had a good grip on me and we weren't carried over. Grateful to be alive, Bruce and I were escorted back to the luncheon tables where a foot washing ceremony was underway. Feet were washed by able assistants and shoes reaffixed. Now we really needed a drink... This episode was not without sequelae. Bruce scraped his ankle under the waters of the Zambezi and still has a small wound which, despite courses of antibiotics and visits to a wound clinic, just doesn't want to heal. The lunch was varied and good: chicken, beef kabobs, salad, and bean soup and a dessert of bread pudding. We were mighty relieved to be sitting down without any chance of falling over the Falls. Lunch on Livingstone Island was expensive but we greatly enjoyed the entire experience.

    The Tongabezi van was waiting for us in front of the Livingstone Hotel. We returned to the lodge, took our fifteen minute boat ride, and then just sat in front of our chalet gazing across at Zimbabwe which was separated from us by half of the mighty Zambezi. We could have sat there much longer but the staff came to summon us to dinner. Unfortunately, dinner was just the Brits and us. (We didn't know about the option of having a private dinner which the rest of the guests invoked.) The food was local bream and creme brulee. The peaceful atmosphere was ruined by relentless sniping across the table. As soon as we could we excused ourselves and retreated.

    One of my great concerns was what to do with our duffle bags. As long as we had been flying small Sefofane planes all was well. Safety pins were enough to secure the contents. But now we were heading back to the land of commercial aircraft. I thought about trying to buying a large suitcase in Livingstone but it seemed like a lot of bother to go in search of one. I finally settled on what I thought was a reasonable tactic: I would carefully sew the duffle bags shut with dental floss. Maybe in Cape Town we would acquire sturdier bags. I also wanted to acquire Zambian currency for my 9-year-old currency-collector niece. With some effort, upon check out the Tongabezi staff assembled a one-inch stack of Zambian currency in exchange for $2.

    Our flight from Livingstone to JNB was uneventful and once again we met our Californian friends at the airport. The immigration lines in JNB were long and slow and we barely managed to make it to our Cape Town flight, despite a two hour layover. We had to collect our bags, which added to the delay, and then walk outside to another terminal. The flight to Cape Town was routine and upon landing we were met by a transfer service. I'm sure we could have arranged our own taxi into Cape Town but I'm not sure how much cheaper it would have been.

    Next: Cape Town

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    Could you perhaps post the next installment in a new thread?
    A poster has entered some very long URLs in this one.
    This is creating (at least for me) a need to scroll across to read each line.

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    Cape Town.

    Although dinner was served on the flight from Johannesburg to Cape Town we passed, so we would be good and hungry for dinner in Cape Town. Unfortunately, by the time we made it to Kensington Place it was almost 9:00. After a quick check-in we engaged the desk clerk in a lengthy discussion about dining possibilities. She suggested we might just order in from the room service menu but we were looking for serious food and wine, not salads and cheeses. She suggested an Italian restaurant not far from the hotel but we make it a point to stick to local cuisine. We finally settled on Jimmy's Killer Prawns on Kloof St. which was either a 20 minute walk or a short cab ride. Although we're walkers we were hesitant to walk at night in an unfamiliar city and decided on a cab. The restaurant was casual, friendly and the prawns and local wine were excellent. We caught a cab back to the hotel.

    Kensington Place is a wonderful small hotel about a 15 minute cab ride from the waterfront in a residential area not far from Kloof Street. The rooms are very large with fireplaces, well equipped bathrooms and computers with internet access. Breakfasts are cooked to order and the eggs benedict were probably the best I've ever had. (After a taste Bruce joined me in making them our standard breakfast.) The manager, Sasha, is incredibly helpful and eager to advise on tours, meals, and whatever else you want. Having spent many days in safari vehicles we had no interest in joining tours. We were eager to explore Cape Town alone.

    Since it was sunny the first morning we knew we had to go up Table Mountain. We took the cable car up, walked around and then hopped a red tourist bus which does a loop around the city. For lunch we settled on Baia, a seafood restaurant on the waterfront. We had a window table with great views of the water and Table Mountain. The food was OK, probably not worth the price but it was a very pleasant place to relax. After exploring the waterfront, and getting Bruce a shoeshine which removed many traces of the bush, we took a cab back to the hotel. For dinner we had reservations at Africa Cafe which serves dishes from all over Africa. It's a set price for numerous courses; drinks are at additional cost. I know we were supposed to fall in love with the place but we were disappointed by the food. We were expecting flavorful, spicy fare but we found the dishes to be bland and not memorable. We can get better African food in Chicago. The staff performance, which I read has been discontinued, was entertaining. All in all a pleasant evening but not one we would consider repeating.

    Due to problems with airline ticket availability, we had only two full days in Cape Town, obviously not enough time to see much of the city and surroundings. Our second day was Nelson Mandela's birthday so there was no possibility of heading out to Robben Island, which was closed all week to visitors for commemorative ceremonies. We wanted to see the jackass penguins but didn't want to take a tour or rent a car. We struck a deal with a cabbie, who drove us to Boulders Beach, waited for us, and then drove us back by way of Chapman's Peak. The penguins were an amusing and photogenic lot and we're glad we didn't miss them. Lunch was Cape Malay cuisine at Bismillah, a fine, unpretentious restaurant. We put ourselves in the hands of the waitress and were not disappointed.

    Since we were leaving in the morning we took a cab back to the hotel so that we could do the final packing before dinner. Bruce slept while I stuffed all of our belongings in to the duffels and carefully sewed them shut again with my inexhaustible supply of dental floss. Since (at this point in our trip) we had no concerns about them getting lost we had decided to check them instead of carrying them on. We took one of the collapsible bags and filled it with souvenirs and items we didn't want to risk losing, and carried that on.

    Selecting a destination for a final African dinner was not easy. We discussed it with Sasha, we read recommendations and finally we settled on Panama Jack's where we had an incredible meal. I've never tasted such flavorful swordfish and Bruce was equally pleased with his tuna. Don't go here expecting elegant decor or a fancy dining experience, go for wonderfully prepared seafood. Although our waiter initially suggested some vaguely good-sounding dessert, based on our lack of enthusiasm he quickly switched gears and offered a cheese plate instead. So we finished our last African meal with excellent local cheeses and pot still South African brandy. (Note that Panama Jack's is far from the tourist waterfront and a fairly expensive cab ride from Kensington Place. It is worth the cab ride.)

    On our last morning, after our standard breakfast of eggs benedict we went for a walk down Kloof Street, knowing that we were fated to spend many hours sitting in planes. Our driver came on schedule and we were off to begin our Cape Town to JNB to JFK to ORD route. Everything went smoothly until we hit JFK in New York. (I won't mention Bruce flinging on our carryon to the floor from the overhead bin when we stopped for fuel at Dakar and all carryons had to be removed. He thought it was full of clothes. I knew it was full of beautiful dishes I had bought at Out of Africa. Fortunately for him they didn't break.)

    I had booked us on a late Delta flight in case our plane was delayed. I figured we could try to get on an earlier flight if we arrived on schedule. That's why we didn't check our luggage through but picked it up to take with us to the Delta terminal. We walked from the international terminal to the Delta terminal where we encountered a scene unlike one we had ever seen anywhere---an indecipherable mass of milling people and snaking lines. I tried to figure out where the line was for checking in. After asking a dozen people I was told it didn't exist. It was all self service at the computers, many of which were broken. I finally managed to check us in on the original flight. I was terrified to try to change the reservation since computers were seizing, leaving desperate people in their wake. We joined a hundred-yard-long line for baggage check and after an hour or so were relieved of our baggage. Then we joined the equally long security line. People were hysterical since they stood no chance of making their flights, despite being at the airport hours in advance. Since we had a five and a half hour layover we were reasonably confident that all would be well and we did manage to clear all of the hurdles a couple of hours before flight time. A quick flight and we were home again, snipping the dental floss one last time and already missing Africa....

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    hi, marija,

    I think that you were leaving CPT just as we were arriving - our cabby from the airport was full of the football game that had jsut taken place in honour of Nelson Mandela's birthday, and trying to spot if he was in any of the big stretch limos that were cruising past us.

    like you, we used taxis at night, and walked/used our hire-car during the day.

    i think we were lucky with both of our restaurant choices at the Waterfront - we never got as far as the centre of CPT as we were staying near the waterfront and our kids liked walking round the shops first.

    thanks for posting your really enjoyable report,

    regards, ann

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