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Trip Report Kaye's Trip Report - Part 1 Botswana & Zimbabwe 1.7.06 to 14.7.06

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I think I shall do this in two parts, Botswana and Zimbabwe and then South Africa.

Left home, Brisbane Australia, 30 June to fly to Hong Kong then onto Johannesburg. Way too many hours in the air! Fortunately no funny stories to tell! Arrived in Johannesburg about 7am to be met by a CCA rep. (as this was all booked through CCA) who handed me a lot of paperwork and took a bag off me that was to be returned for the South African portion of the trip. Then was off to Maun, so plenty of time for a flight that left about 10.30am. The Maun arrival area was a bit of a shock, I was first in line for customs, but the customs lady was at morning tea I think and we all waited about 10 minutes, then I went to collect my luggage which was carried by trolley and put on a rack for collection. People were getting really cranky as it took the men three trips to empty the plane, needless to say mine was on the 3rd trip. Walked to the greeting area and we had to wait for one family to arrive before the short plane trip to Nxageba! It was an American group, grandparents and two kids aged 10 and 15. My travelling companions for the next 4 nights and I should have seen what was to come as when we arrived after the short flight to Nxageba, which I thought was a good smooth flight, the 15 year old boy fell on the tarmac and lay down groaning and ended up being carried to his room! I will say that they were one of the worst guests I have ever had in a vehicle, consistently late and loud and never quite for a minute, but fortunately not a feature of my trip.

My tent was nice, even though I am not a big tent fan. The staff at Nxageba were wonderful. The ranger and tracker were also good, but I found both the rangers in Botswana a bit overpowering with their imparting of knowledge, I often felt as if I would be examined at the end of each gamedrive. The gameviewing here was really quite disappointing! The no driving off road did not help, the exception being cat sightings. Most general gameviewing was viewed at a huge distance, as no off road or the water stopped us. I had imagined that peak season rates meant peak gameviewing, for me, that was not true at all. That is not to say I didn't see anything, because I did see one of the Pom Pom males, one of two territorial males and also some of the lionesses of the Pom Pom Pride, one of whom wears a tracking collar. I also saw 2 leopard cubs aged about 10 months, but they were fairly nervous and the photos I took were less than impressive. Saw quite a few ele and a lot of birds around the camp, that let me get quite close. Also they have a sweet little tree squirrel named Pocket, that was hand raised and lives around the camp, who ran up my leg one day and investigated my camera, looking for nuts I was told. I really liked the speed boat ride in the Delta, even though we saw next to no wildlife. The water was so pristine and if I had the boat to myself, I would have loved the peace and quite and really enjoyed the beauty of the Delta. The tracker did the boat trip and I really liked that aspect, as sometimes the trackers can be very quite and in the background, while I like to see both of them work as a team. Also did the mokoro which was enjoyable, though not a highlight as a gameviewing activity, it was a highlight that I was by myself and had a nice conversation with someone else's tracker and how he was looking for a wife and to have children! I love staying at one camp for longer periods of time, but for the lack of gameviewing 4 nights was too long for this camp.
Then I moved onto to Sandibe, which was a short flight, but made slightly longer by flying a group to another camp then going onto Sandibe. Driving into camp, we drove past a couple who had been at Nxageba, they had room 8 which they said I would have, and it was on hippo highway. But as it turned out, I never heard them past my room so that was good. Sandibe was a nice camp and I quite liked my room except I am not a fan for the outdoor shower! I shower when I wake up which was before sunrise and when I return from evening gamedrive which was after sunset, so I found it slightly scary. Everyone else said they showered in the middle of the day, but I like my shower routine and didn't want to change it, so I was not unhappy to see the end of that shower!

The gameviewing here was also very disappointing though a few highlights. Got a distant photo, of a black-backed jackal chasing a secretary bird, saw briefly another two leopards, a young female and a male. The rangers do not refer to the leopards by any name, other than a young female, which if I was to revisit, I would find annoying, as I like a bit of history not just a female leopard, and I would like to know if she was a leopard I had seen on previous visits. The male was a very brief sighting and a visual of 1 out of 5. I really wish I had seen this, but everyone was keen to return for dinner, as if they could not eat at anytime, so I had little choice but to return. A guest was telling me about this enormous snake that the male had killed and she was describing how big it was, and I thought she was exaggerating big time, but I am still amazed at how big the python must have been and really what a shame for the poor thing to have its life end that way. We only saw part of its body that must have been 25cm diameter, and the ranger estimated 6m long and about 150 kgs in weight, would have loved to see it alive. But the snake had itself around the leopard, then somehow the leopard got himself free and made short work of killing the poor python. There was some of the snake remaining the next day, but on the part eaten only the skin that touched the ground remained. Also saw some mating lions of the resident pride, with one male keeping her away from the second male who was lying in scrub a short distance away. Also enjoyed the boat ride here but little wild life seen, but again the beauty and pristine water of the delta was amazing.

The grasses in both of these camps were high which again did not help gameviewing, and I am still amazed that July is considered peak season. I am pleased that I have seen Botswana again, but would not be rushing back. The staff at both camps were lovely and nothing was too much trouble, but I was expecting a lot more of the gameviewing!

Next is Matetsi Water Lodge in Zimbabwe for 6 nights and I am going there specifically to see Sable. A small plane takes me to Kasane and I am met here by a CCA rep who is waiting for me. The drive must have been just on an hour with a border crossing as well, though I did not even get out of the vehicle, so that was easy. I am dropped off at a meeting point about 15 minutes from the lodge and here my ranger is waiting for me and when I tell him my wish list is sable, he assures me that sable are like impala, just everywhere! That should have been a clue right there and then.

The ranger and tracker here were fabulous, Kheto and Kenias(who is actually a ranger, but works as a tracker since Safari camp closed down). I had mostly private game drives as most of the other guests only stayed 1 night and always seemed to skip gamedrives. I didn't get it, but it suited me as we were always in pursuit of those elusive sable! Again, and I had been warned, the gameviewing was not great! Not helped by no off road and the hunting reserve next to Matetsi. I heard rifle shots a few times and once was watching a herd of ele drinking, the females and babies all fled while the ele bulls showed no reaction. Also, for the first time I was aware of, I had hunters as fellow guests. Even though they were there for 2 nights, I only had 1 waterdrive with them - it was more than enough!

The rooms were nice, but in need of small repairs. The bedroom was separated from the bathroom which was lovely and spacious, but being on my own I did not feel as secure here as I did in the tent in Botswana which had a door but no lock! I asked the security guards if they walk around the rooms during the night and they told me they didn't, and that made me feel quite isolated as I was the last room #18 and no-one was in 17 for 4 out of 6 nights. One thing that I had never heard at a game reserve was the cows and chickens that I regularly heard from Zambia villages across the Zambezi.

Saw fresh tracks of both wild dog and a lioness with cubs but never found either group. Had some great ele sightings from the river cruise, which I did 3 afternoons. Also saw a pair of fish eagles on a water monitor kill, which was an awesome sighting! The Zambezi is a beautiful river and having breakfast and lunch each day on the riverbank was the most picturesque setting I have ever had!

I decided to go to Victoria Falls one day but was a little concerned being by myself, so Kenias ended up coming with me as he hadn't seen the falls since last October and said he would like to see them at their best. The falls fall about 100m and water came up about 150m. We both had raincoats on and we both looked like drowned rats at the end of our falls walk. I had been once before in Sept 2001, and while it was good and still worthwhile, the volume was nothing like it was this time. I actually wondered if the view from the helicopter ride was as good, with all of that spray about, maybe blocking the view. It was a great display and I am pleased that I went and delighted that Kenias joined me on the trip as I felt safer being with another person.

On the fourth morning, I got my sable. Unfortunately not a breeding herd, but 3 single bulls within an hour and a half, not that close and they were on the run as soon as we stopped the vehicle. The luck of the draw I guess, but at least I saw those 3! They are such magnificent antelope! Surprisingly saw very few hippo, and those seen at a distance, as the water is so high around the camp, they were only just returning to the area.

One night I came back to a lovely surprise. A bath with flowers and candles had been set up for my return, it was so sweet of them and the first time that has ever happened! Again I was pleased I went, though the gameviewing was average at best. The staff are thrilled to have you there, and that shows. The night drives were odd in that they used no spotlight, so that may well be a condition of the park.

This trip was planned last Oct/Nov 2005 and was changed in February this year through incorrect information given to me. I do not like jumping from camp to camp to camp, but I did it this time and when the gameviewing is unsatisfactory, then it's OK but I spent way too much time packing and unpacking and travelling from camp to camp, but I live and learn! I also found the english spoken by the Botswana people harder to understand, while the Zimbabwe people gave me no problem.

So I left Matetsi feeling a bit sad as I had to wait until the following afternoon before I was gameviewing again - missing 2 gamedrives! The Victoria Falls airport was also in another world, all the xray machines were not working so people went through all your hand luggage, which was no big deal, god knows I had time to kill! But I was amazed at how annoyed people got with the time taken, and it was ridiculous, because they had to wait over an hour for the plane to leave, just as annoying as people standing behind you at the supermarket glaring at you to unload your basket, when someone in front has a trolley full so again, you are going nowhere, so what is the rush? Good, needed to get that off my chest as well!

So I am hoping that I have left the best till last - with a night in Johannesburg(unavoidable), then onto Londolozi for 10 nights, 5 at Founders then 5 at Pioneer and best of all, I will be by myself as CCA have kindly offered me a private vehicle after the last trip! I was a bit worried because I had 5 nights at Bateleur last December and was less than pleased with gameviewing and the camp!

to be continued!

do I start a new thread for South Africa for the index purpose?

Kind regards,
Kaye

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