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Southern Africa Trip Report Oct. 99

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SOUTHERN AFRICA TRIP REPORT –OCT. 6-31, 1999

Day 1-3 – After 27 hours of travelling from San Francisco (SFO-JFK-JNB-Skukuza), we finally made it to Londolozi, a private game reserve outside of Kruger National Park. Already I think 3 days here will be too short. Our suite (Granite Suite #1) is amazing. I’ve never stayed anywhere this great (or this expensive!). Our suite overlooks the river, which are we are not allowed to explore without taking a guide, because you never know who/what will be waiting for us down there. We have our own infinity pool and a large deck. The bathroom has a large glass indoor shower that looks onto the outdoor shower, has two sinks, and a claw-foot bathtub which looks through the large picture window onto the boulders and river. All the furniture is teak, and the suite is very well-appointed. the bedroom has a large canopied bed that looks through the large glass doors onto the deck, pool and river. Sorry to gush, but I love nice hotels!

Now to the wildlife. On our drive from the airstrip to the camp, we saw a warthog, and 4 lions walking across the road. Definitely a propitious start to the trip! There were a number of large and pretty lizards who made their residence under our deck, so they were fun to watch throughout our stay. After settling in, we ate lunch on the main deck, which is covered, but looks out onto the valley. We often saw water buffalo and hundreds of baboons down there. The meals were wonderful, and the service was excellent (almost too good-I don’t need someone pulling out my chair ALL the time!). After lunch, we retire to our suite and watch the animals walk by our rooms. It’s very peaceful. We slept off our journey for 2 hours, and woke up in time for tea at 4:00, followed by our first game drive.

On our first game drive, the highlight was watching four adult male lions at sunset. We stayed with them for a long time, and two of them started roaring in the evening. the sounds was so loud you could feel it in your bones. We saw hippos in the water, a crocodile, nyala, lots of impala and water bucks. It’s warm during the day –upper 70s, but can get quite cold at night, so bring a coat or fleece. There are also wool blankets in the trucks to warm you up. on the subject of trucks, Londolozi used Land Rovers with open top and sides. I don’t like the covered vehicles, because it impedes your view a lot. Our guides are really good and seem to know everything about each animal. Our spotter saw a baby chameleon in a tree at night with only a large flashlight from a moving vehicle! Dinner that night was great –a really good pork curry. They served a special cake for my husband’s birthday.

Day 4 – We were awakened at 5 a.m. when it was still dark. The sun rose while we got ready and we had breakfast on the main deck. Then we went on our game drive. I don’t know how it gets any better than this. we saw 2 giraffe, warthogs, water buffalo, wildebeests, steenbok and a black rhino family. But the best part was the leopards. there was a mom and her two 10-month old cubs, lying in the brush. We were about 15 feet away watching them nap. They occasionally got up and moved away form the sun into the shade. The nice thing about private reserves is that you can drive off the road and get really close to the animals. Londolozi doesn’t allow more than 3 vehicles in any one place, so it doesn’t get too crowded around the animals.

We came back and had brunch. Then we sat on our deck and watched the lizards and walked around on the boulders. There’s an amazing amount of wildlife that passes right by our suite. we saw impala, heard hippos down by the water, and 4 warthogs wallowed in the mud next to our pool, with a hawk in the tree next to them.

The evening’s game drive was great – we spent a long time watching the same leopards from the morning drive, one of them was eating an impala leg. That night we ate a private dinner on our own deck with candles and lanterns, which was very romantic.

Day 5 – Our guide heard that there was another leopard in the area, so we drove off in search of it. My husband was the first to spot it, in a tree eating a warthog. He was absolutely beautiful. We stayed for an hour watching him eat the warthog, and watch us. We never did figure out how he had suspended the warthog in the tree. Finally, he jumped out of the tree and we moved on. We found some lions lying in a ravine resting next to a wildebeest carcass they had killed.

Just before the afternoon game drive, our guide heard that there was a cheetah in the area. We went to the area where it had been spotted, and it was still nearby. We watched it for at least 45 minutes. It would lie down, stretch, then get up and walk 20 feet and lie down again. It was a beautiful creature, well lit by the setting sun. It began to get dark, and we drove to another spot to have our sundown drinks and cookies. As we got on our way again, we saw a lone hyena walking along. After that, we drove back to the lions and their kill that we had visited earlier in the day. This time they were very active. There were 5 female lions eating and growling. Several sub-adult males came up behind our truck (!) and one of them slowly inched towards the carcass, hoping to get a bite or two. On his way over, he came up to the truck and smelled it and checked us out. He laid down about 15 feet from the carcass. But the male head of the pride came out and started roaring, and they were gone instantly. We watched the lions eating for a long time. Occasionally they would get into fights, because there wasn’t much of the carcass left to eat. After the drive, we were taken to dinner, which had been set up in the bush. It was quite beautiful, with lots of lanterns and candles. The only criticism I have of Londolozi is that at the prices they charge, you would think most alcohol would be included, but it isn’t.

Day 6 – Our last game drive at Londolozi –very sad! We saw the same hippo family that we had seen on the first day, with a friend who had joined them, and a saw a young elephant who rubbed up against a tree for an awfully long time. We came back for brunch, packed, and left. We flew back to Johannesburg and stayed at the Michaelangelo hotel. It’s a really nice hotel, relatively reasonably priced, although it cost us $40 each way to and from the airport. It’s right next to a large mall, which gives you something to do if you’re spending a lot of time there. However, we stayed at the Holiday Inn next to the airport for our layover on the way back, and it was a lot cheaper and perfectly fine – like the quality you would expect in the U.S.

Day 7-10 – We flew from Jo’burg to Maun, Botswana. Then we took a 6-seater plane from Maun to Camp Moremi. The most alarming part of our trip was flying on those small planes! Botswana’s landscape is much different. It’s flatter, and more lush when you’re by water (Camp Moremi, Okavango), but very barren when you’re not (Savute). It’s also MUCH hotter here. October is the hottest month, and it’s at least 100 during the day. It cools down at night, but not always enough to get a comfortable sleep (if you don’t deal well with heat, like me).

On our way from the airstrip, it was clear that there is a lot more wildlife here than in SA. There were lots of animals just wandering around. Because we were in a national park, we couldn’t go off-road. Generally that didn’t matter because there were a lot of roads so you could usually get close enough to the animals. But occasionally we missed some animals because of it. Camp Moremi was nice, but I’m afraid nothing could compare to Londolozi. If I had to do it over again, I’d leave Londolozi to the last part of the trip so as not to be disappointed by the other accommodations! Our room was a tent with a queen bed and some teak furniture. The most disconcerting part was having to walk outside to get to the bathroom hut in the middle of the night! They were planning to remodel the camp this December, so maybe that will be changing. There are more insects here than in SA, due in part to the increased heat and proximity to water. The mosquitoes aren’t too bad, but I wear my long pants on the game drive because they also have biting flies, which can be annoying.

The game here is even less skittish around vehicles than the animals at Londolozi. we saw a mother and her three older cubs on two different game drives, 4 hunting lionesses followed by a male lion waiting for his dinner. We saw a pack of 28 wild dogs, which is one of the things for which Botswana is famous. We got really close to 2 male lions resting in the middle of the road (they do a lot of resting during the day). Then we saw a mother lion with 4 little cubs, and leopard sitting in a tree at sunset. There were also lots of brightly colored birds, a few elephants (there had been large herds but they had moved on), and giraffe. One of the highlights was seeing a Pel’s fishing owl up close at dusk. We had several really beautiful sunsets that we watched with drinks in hand. I went to shore to watch the hippos more closely, and they’d go under water and then appear a few feet closer to me each time they came up. I decided to hightail it back to the truck at that point, as hippos kill more people in Africa than any other animal, and they don’t even eat meat! Speaking of which, the food at Moremi was very good. I’ll have to keep saying that, because it was excellent at all the camps. We gained a lot of weight.

Day 10-12 – We took a boat from Camp Moremi to Camp Okavango in the morning. The Delta is just beautiful. It’s quite relaxing to sit back and watch the world go by for the 3-hour trip, and we saw some large birds nesting (I’m not a birder, so I’m afraid I don’t remember the names!). The tents at Okavango were the same, but the bathrooms were much nicer and the common areas of the Camp were nicer as well. The food wasn’t quite as good as Moremi. Generally, you don’t see as much game at Camp Okavango because it is a water camp. The day before we arrived they had seen lions with kill, so we set off in search of them that afternoon. Unfortunately, while we were walking an elephant came near and we had to backtrack quickly (they’re almost as dangerous as hippos, and more prevalent during the day). We saw a couple of warthogs (they’re everywhere, and very cute!), but not much else. Also, it was very hot and the flies were out. We went on another walk the next morning. It was less hot, but still not that much to see. In the evening we went fishing, and caught 3 fish between us. I found that I preferred the boat to the land in Okavango, in part because you could never get very close to the animals while on foot (for obvious reasons). The next morning befor eour flight out we went on a mokoro (canoe) ride. We saw several elephants and giraffe at a distance. Again, very relaxing and enjoyable, but 3 hours of it might have been a bit too long.

Day 12-14 - We took another little plane from Camp Okavango to Camp Savute (a Wilderness Adventure camp). This was a much smaller camp (8 people max as opposed to 24 people at Moremi and Okavango). If I went again I think I would seek out the smaller camps, although we met a number of really nice people at the large camps. Smaller is more private and personal. In deference to our honeymooner status, I think, they put us at the tent the furthest away form the camp (which wasn’t too far). The tent was very similar to those in the other camps, but had a very nicely appointed bathroom. The bathroom was open to the elements on one side, and faced the watering hole. I awoke one morning to elephants walking about 15 feet away from our bathroom, with nowhere to run! The down side to the open bathroom was the mosquitoes, which weren’t terrible, but they were there. One of the great things about Savute was that you really felt like you were in the middle of nature, a part of it, I think because it was small in size and because there was a watering hole right next to the camp to which all the wildlife came. It was the end of the dry season, so animals congregated daily at the watering hole (it was very hot and dry in Savute, as opposed to the humidity in Okavango and Moremi). There were lots of elephants at Savute and all the other animals were scared of them, so we watched the daily saga of all the other animals waiting for the elephants to finish at the watering hole, or trying to approach and getting “yelled” at by the elephants. Our last night there, my husband woke me up to tell me that two elephants were eating from the tree directly over our tent. He said he could have poked through our screen and touched them. I was too tired to care at that point, but I think he was quite scared they were going to squash our tent!

On our afternoon game drive the day we arrived we followed a lion as she hunted zebras. We hoped for a kill, but she wasn’t willing to risk going into the herd, I guess. The next morning on the drive we saw a pack of wild dogs. Savute didn’t have nearly the amount of wildlife that the other camps had, probably because there wasn’t much water nearby at that time. So, the second afternoon we stayed home and sat by the pool and watched life at the watering hole. Dinner was beautiful, candlelit on the deck right next to the watering hole. And the food was great. We were sad to leave. I thought the service and level of friendliness was a little better at the Wilderness Camp than at Moremi, and in particular Okavango, which are not Wilderness camps.

Day 14 – 17 - We flew from Savute to Victoria Falls. We stayed at the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, which is a little bit outside of the main town. It has a very “lodge” feel to it, a nice pool, and a deck that overlooks a watering hole. I really liked it, but the only negative was that in the regular rooms, the walls are very thin and you can hear your neighbors quite clearly. We got upgraded to a suite which was very nice, but then it was too big for the air conditioning to work efficiently (October is the hottest month there). We went to eat at the Vic Falls Hotel. It has a very colonial, fancy feel to it, if you like that, and is very close to everything. The Safari Lodge had an hourly shuttle into town. We went to see the falls the afternoon we arrived. It was as spectacular as we had hoped. Although, I would go in the a.m. that time of year because it gets very hot in the afternoon. It was the end of the dry season, so there was not a long sheet of waterfalls as you see in the pictures, but they were still impressive. I would still like to see it in the rainy season some time.

That night we went to dinner at the Boma, which is a famous restaurant right next to the Lodge. It is famous for serving exotic meats like warthog and many others. I generally like to try new things, but didn’t particularly want to eat the cute animals I had just been photographing 3 days before. There was a native dancing floor show and a fortune teller. So, it was pretty touristy, but could be fun for kids. I thought our dinner at the Lodge was better (be sure to reserve a window table).

The next day we went rafting on the Zambezi, with Safari Par Excellence (commonly known as “Safpar”). We had to cross into Zambia (going in and out through immigration is a bit of a pain and can take a while), and we did rapids 1-20 or so. I have rafted in New Mexico and Costa Rica, but nothing quite prepared me for this. In retrospect, I’m not sure I would do it again, because I do think it is pretty dangerous. Our boat tipped and I was unable to hang onto the boat, so I ended up going through 3 rapids without a boat. It was pretty scary, and I thought at one point I was in great danger of drowning. It was fun up until that point, but after that I really just wanted to live! Also, the climb out of the gorge is quite grueling (particularly when your Tevas got ripped off by the whitewater and you’re barefoot!). A lot of people raft the Zambezi and are fine, but I do wonder how many accidents have happened.

The next day we limped into town and explored a little bit. We went to the market and bought a couple of statues. It’s amazing how cheap stone statues are here. It got really hot in the early afternoon, so we escaped back to our hotel and the pool, and drank champagne on our deck at sunset.

The next day it was back to Johannesburg for our flight the following morning to the Seychelles (see the Seychelles message board for that trip report).

Things I’m glad I took with me: Ex Officio explorer pants (lightweight protection from sun and insects), small binoculars, Sony digital video camera, 300mm lens for still camera, Skinceuticals sunscreen








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