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Trip Report Last posting for Zimbabwe and Botswana trip September, 2010

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I wrote a report on the first half of our trip that contained packing, and other pre-trip information and the stay at our first camp in Zimbabwe-Ruckomechi. You can access that under the heading here at "Zimbabwe and Botswana Safari in September-Hooray!" It took so long to sort through 2500+ photos and myriad notes that I decided to start anew. The link to our pared-down photos is http://africaseptember2010.shutterfly.com/

So here we are arriving at Little Makalolo in Zimbabwe
We left Ruckomechi after the morning drive. Our two-hour Sefofane flight to Little Makalolo again was somewhat marred by the extensive burning, thus, smoke-filled skies. We were picked up at the airstrip in Hwange National Park by a great young guide who was to become one of our favorites- Bulisani who provided us with very welcome cold damp towels And what a welcoming committee-two secretary birds ran down the jeep trail in front of us for some time before flying off to the roadside. They are amazing, amusing raptor birds that do look like secretaries with pens tucked into their hair.
On the way to camp, Buli pointed out rhino pens where the rhinos Wilderness Safaris are relocating back into Hwange are temporarily kept before they are released. So far, four have been released as part of WS conservation efforts.
Very different environment from Ruckomechi-dry grassland punctuated with green, paperback thorn trees. At the camp, a second welcome by Shane and her staff with a cold drink and another cool towel. Off to our tent, another lovely room at the end of the group of 6 with the WS trademark of solar panels outside to provide electricity. Since we were on the end, we had animals passing close to us in the night. After a delicious tea, we joined Buli for an amazing afternoon/night drive. The passion he shows for the life around him is inspiring. He loves what he does and loves sharing his land and his knowledge.
He is also very aware of the best place to position the Rover for good photos and does so whenever it is possible.
Dinner was good, and we enjoyed meeting more of the staff and guests.
Our morning drive again consisted of only the two of us and Buli. Three Antwerp visitors and we were the only ones in camp until more guests arrived that afternoon. I won’t list all of the game and birds we saw here but they certainly were plentiful. There is an elephant hide near the water hole, but the day we were going to use it was very hot, so we did not. Always, though from our tent or elsewhere in camp, we could see multitudes of elephants, zebra and other animals gathered around it.
Our guide for the evening drive (after tea) was Lewis. What knowledge of bird and animal behavior and locations he has. We watched Mom hyena feeding her two pups, a lioness sated with a recent kill ambling to a waterhole. She was so stuffed, she had to rest her stomach on the ground in order to drink. The water holes here are created by WS pumping water to the surface for the animals. Who inhabit this very dry area (in September) We were just across the water and got some great photos. What is really special is taking time to sit for a while and just observe the animals, instead of speeding off to see if something else might be out there. We really felt part of the life of the area and it was very relaxing and rewarding. The other plus is that with small camps, not lodges, we rarely encountered another Rover at any camp we stayed in.
Charles was a consummate raconteur, welcome and ambassador for his country of Zimbabwe. Shane and Kim are superb hostesses. Siba told folk tales around the campfire one night, and life was good.
Once again, Lewis was our guide-great game day. At another WS pumped water hole, we saw giraffes, ostrich and on and on. Later, we spotted a pride of 15 lions the cubs were still feeding on the elephant carcass. They eat last-males first, adult females, then cubs. The trees around the kill were covered with vultures waiting for their turn. A great sight at sundown!
We bought our first souvenirs here. We had determined that as much as possible we would purchase at the camps and support the local staff. Besides, Charles was a great carver so we came home with some of his handiwork.
Our last drive was again guided by Buli. It is wonderful to have consistent guides when it is possible. Our most amazing experience of the trip occurred here. We came within 15 feet of a pride of four lions-2 males and two females. They just lay beside the road and watched us watching them. Their strength and majesty filled my heart and my eyes. They were truly magnificent. We sat in silence until they stood and crossed the road in front of us. Later, at our morning tea break, we stopped to watch hundreds of baboons running, drinking, climbing and playing. Then, on to the airpstrip for a sad leave- taking but another adventure.
In thinking back about why this was such a special camp for us, I believe it was more than the abundance of game and birds and the lovely tents. It really was the feeling here that you were part of an extended family who truly enjoyed your visit. The guides, hosts, wait staff and everyone we encountered there conveyed that.

Victoria Falls
We enjoyed visiting the falls even though they were relatively dry-still with lots of rainbows though. But, Vic Falls was the least favorite part of our trip. This was the one place Wilderness Safaris disappointed us with substandard service.
There was no one at the airport to meet us, but the Sefofane worker who took our bags from the plane wandered around until he found a WS bus driver who took us to our hotel. We loved the Victoria Falls Hotel. We were in one of the newly renovated rooms there. Our room was spacious, the bathroom amazing and we could sit on the balcony and watch the monkey scampering about the grounds. The “smoke that thunders” was a delightful background sound. The staff there was very friendly and helpful as well. We did have tea on the terrace and enjoyed it very much; it was felt like we were in a time warp and gracious ladies in Victorian dress would pass by momentarily. The first evening my husband was ill, and I went down to the restaurant to see if I could get some soup for him. I received very prompt and helpful service from the manager there. We did enjoy an excellent buffet (which I normally do not like) breakfast at the Jungle Junctions restaurant the morning we left.
Because we were there only 1 full day (2 nights) we had time for our trip to the falls and little else. A friend had recommended a nearby restaurant for dinner and when we went to the WS desk, the representative kept trying to sell us tours, helicopter rides, a different restaurant, etc. Very annoying. Finally, after we had asked, she failed to leave a message about our departure time and was gone when we returned to check. Fortunately, my husband emailed Craig Beal that night and he soon phoned us from the states with the information. It was an early departure, and we would have missed it if not for his help.
The other negative experience was the very aggressive pressure from men trying to sell souvenirs. We have traveled to other poor countries and never felt this uncomfortable. I understand the desperation because of the rampant poverty, but they even wanted my sneakers-my only pair. The hotel recommends not dealing with them because it only encourages further efforts. We were troubled by their aggressiveness but understand there are no easy answers. For those traveling there, I recommend finding, using, and tipping one of the Tourist Police members. They have fluorescent vests that say Tourist Police. When with them, we were not approached.

Botswana - Savuti
We boarded a small bus at the Victoria Falls Hotel for the drive to the Kasane aiport. When we crossed the border into Botswana, we had to clean our shoes to prevent carrying disease into that country. Botswana is very conscious of conservation and animal safety, probably at least in part because of Khama Ian Khama, the president’s, strong commitment to conservation in his country.
Because we were very early for our flight to Savuti, Michael, our guide from Wilderness Safaris took us to tour the small ecodiversity center in Kasane. There were a large number of Botswanean park rangers there learning about the reptiles and animals at the center. The snakes varied from tissue-destroyers, poisonous, and squashers. Some were quite beautiful. Michael told us the tour was paid for by Craig Beal of TravelBeyond because of our problems at Victoria Falls. Thanks Craig. After the tour, we stopped for guava juice at a strip mall. The economic difference between Zimbabwe and Botswana was even more apparent here. No hawkers, much more food variety and upscale merchandise available. Hopefully, Zimbabwe will soon be able to raise the standards of their country. They already match the Botswaneans in their pride and love of their land.
We flew to the airstrip near Savuiti on the largest plane yet; there were 12 of us going to various camps in Chobe National Park. We were met by the guide we would have during our stay who knew a great deal about the animals and bird life in the area. He increased our appreciation of and interest in birds.
Savuti is very well managed with only 7 tents. Precious met us at the camp and went over the rules-again, much focus on guest safety and comfort. Whenever we saw her, Precious had a beautiful warm smile and greeting. She is a manager- in-training here and hopes to manage a camp some day. She had worked in the Maun office for Wilderness Safaris and decided she wanted to learn camp management. It is great that WS provides opportunities for Botswaneans who are interested in becoming managers. Warren is the manager with Christi, his wife. The food was truly outstanding here-fresh vegetables and beautifully prepared meals.
When we arrived in camp, Warren and some helpers were repairing our solar panels. A young bull elephant had just finished smashing them. They fixed them and we were fine. Our tent was once again a treat. It was spacious, beautifully decorated and included a mosquito net. We didn’t have much trouble with mosquitoes anywhere on our trip-maybe because of the dry season? Our tent faced the Savuti Channel which used to be dry. Since the floods, the water-filled channel has seen hippos, crocs, water birds and other water lovers return to the camp area. There is much game here.
On our first drive we stopped to watch a lazy leopard in a tree, and then found a young elephant that had lost part of his trunk. It was amazing to see how he adapted to his handicap in eating and in drinking water. We sat for some time delighted at his accomplishments. As we continued, we saw more and more animals and birds. Again, I won’t list all of them, but they were plentiful. One of our favorite sightings was a mother leopard who had hauled a dead impala up a tree so her young cub could eat. We parked nearby and sat for over an hour, watching him enjoy his dinner, his mother washing him, his romping with mom and seeing them saunter off to the water to drink.
Our last night here, our guide told us we were to partake in a traditional bush ceremony. As we drove in the dark and rounded a small hill, we saw lanterns glowing and people gathered around a campfire. It was a magical scene! After stopping the Rover, we were welcomed by Christi and some of the staff who had a big iron pot of lentil soup warming over the fire. We enjoyed our first course here, then headed back to camp to finish another glorious meal.
After our last drive in the morning we went back to camp for our final brunch. We spent some good time with Warren, a birder and amazing caller of birds. He is also a photographer and another excellent manager who helps his guests feel welcome. It was interesting throughout our journey to meet people who come back many times because they love the country and the experiences. There were 6 people here who had come back for the sixth visit. Certainly a stellar testimonial to the experiences they had. After some good-byes to new friends from all over the world, we were off to Kwetsani, our last camp.

Kwetsani-the biggest surprise
When Travel Beyond booked our trip and I had done some research on the various camps recommended, I questioned Craig about Kwetsani. There weren’t many reviews and it was mostly discussed as a “birders” camp. So, since we weren’t birders, I wasn’t sure about it. But, I decided it would add some variety to the other camps we stayed in, so we booked it. Besides, I wanted to go to the Okavango Delta.
After a short drive from the landing strip with Tony, our new guide, we boarded an outboard motorboat for a magic carpet ride (a watery one) through reeds, bamboo, water lilies, and papyrus to our camp. We crossed and rode down “hippo highways” for 40 minutes as Tony pointed out the birds and ducks along the way.
We were serenaded with a welcome song from the staff and reviewed the safety briefing; we headed off to our tent raised about 15 feet off of the ground and fronting a vast expanse of grassland. The five tents are a little smaller than the other camps but were plenty large enough and, once again, were relaxing, well-decorated and most enjoyable. There was a huge deck outside the door with comfortable chairs for relaxing and watching whoever showed up in the grassland. There were also both indoor and outdoor showers. We definitely appreciated the raised platform when, one early dawn, an elephant pulled down a very large branch from the tree growing through our deck, shook the whole tent and grazed contentedly below us. Definitely a fun wake-up call.
There were usually only 4 of us on each drive, so we had good viewing, could easily take photos and enjoy Tony’s knowledge. Two of our drives included a 20-minute boat ride to another island to look for more animals with the Rover parked there. It appears that Kwetsani is not supported as well by Wilderness Safaris as are some of the other camps. We had Rover trouble one evening –the Rover is very old and it shows - and boated back near dark-not a good time to be on the water with all of the hippos there. But, Tony took good care of us and we got back safely.
On one of our Rover trips on the island we stayed on we drove through some very deep water. It was great fun. Tony took time at one of our tea breaks to tell us some of the history of Botswana. We enjoyed his explanation and better understand why Botswana seems to be economically sound.
Once back, we enjoyed celebrating a 62nd birthday of one of the guests with a special dinner.
Elephant challenges here as well. An elephant broke water pipes and smashed the laundry roof. Everything was fixed amazingly promptly considering the remoteness of the camp. The camp managers here were Reynaud and Mia. They rotate among the delta camps to allow holidays for the permanent managers. Had they not told us, we would have believed them to be the permanent managers, since they demonstrated such a very high level of service and ownership of the camp. They were great!
Again, we were happy with the camp size; the small camps we chose allow a sense of camaraderie among the guests and we never were surrounded by other Rovers when we found something fun to observe.
We enjoyed a walking safari here and stood astounded as more than 100 red lechwe ran across the grassland in front of us with the majority leaping high into the air across a sandy road. Beautiful! We also took a makoro ride through the reeds near camp and were encouraged to try to and did, man/woman the mokoro poles. Although we did pretty well, we would not match the staff from the camp who pole many, many hours to their homes when they go on holiday.
Some very good game viewing and this was the only place we saw red lechwe and tssebe. We saw lots of elephants, zebra, giraffe, cape buffalo and a few lions. And, although we were not birders when we left on our trip, we are now fascinated by this new hobby. Thanks to all of our guides and the beautiful birds who converted us.
Sad Farewell
We are home, but our hearts are in Africa, and we will return. I have tried to describe all of the wonder and our feelings about the safari, but it was too special for mere words. If you have ever even thought about traveling to Africa, I would urge you to do it. Don’t wait; we are sorry we didn’t meet these wonderful people and experience their land and their animals sooner. Thanks again to Travel Beyond, Craig Beal and Pam Buttner. Happy and safe travels.

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