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Trip Report The Patient Travelers in Zimbabwe and South Africa

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The Patient Travelers in Zimbabwe and South Africa – October 2-22, 2012
While I've told some stories in another post: http://www.fodors.com/community/africa-the-middle-east/long-awaited-return-to-southern-africa.cfm This is the actual, formal trip report.

Something most travelers have in common is a desire to learn and be engaged in something, or some place, different from home. We were first drawn to Africa in 2004. Our safari experience in Botswana, flying between three different camps over a weeks’ time, charmed us from the first moment. It seemed everyone else we met was on their fourth, or tenth, or even eighteenth safari. We were blown away by the intelligent and enthusiastic guides, trackers, and camp staff we met and felt we “knew” after sharing but two days and nights. The bush and the delta landscapes were mesmerizing. The wildlife – the primary “drawing card” – did not fail to amaze us. We knew that while we may not become as experienced as most of our fellow guests, we would be back again.

Having just returned from our second set of adventures in Africa, I’m struck by how much wider my eyes were opened on this trip, how much more I’ve learned about the countries and people we visited, and how important it was to remain patient and let everything unfold at its own pace. More than being a “slow traveler” in Europe or elsewhere, Africa demands time and patience, and patience is always (eventually?) rewarded.

Wow. Impressed myself with the prosaic introduction. Now I’m going to have to pump up the journal entries I made on the little note-pad app to match that level, so here goes:

There are more flight options from the US to Africa now, and this time we flew Delta’s non-stop from Atlanta to Johannesburg, after a shorter flight from Raleigh-Durham. Delta now offers an affordable upgrade to “Economy Comfort” for those of us who don’t have the points or budget for Business or First Class. I had taken advantage of this offer for the flight over and we were pleased that I had done so. Every seat on the flight was filled, and extra legroom plus a deeper seat recline is invaluable on a 16-hour flight. So too, was the ability to arrive at our destination with fully charged electrical devices.

The safari portion of this trip was booked through Zambezi Travel’s Victoria Falls Office. Chris Worden and his staffers, Liz and Helen, took care of every detail and provided us with excellent information about what to expect from each stop, transfer, and activity we booked. When we arrived in Johannesburg, a driver was there to greet us and help me find the Voda-Com desk, where I could purchase sim cards for my phone and iPad (I knew these wouldn’t work in Zimbabwe, but I wanted to be ready for the Cape Town/Garden route portion of our trip when we returned from safari, ten days later.)

Our driver took us to Outlook Lodge, just far enough from the airport to provide peace and quiet, and an EXCELLENT bed and bathroom with a huge tub and wonderful walk-in shower. http://www.outlook-lodge.com/ And yet, it was still hard to sleep. We awoke around 4:30AM, made ourselves stay in bed until 6:30, then took advantage of the fantastic shower once again. I REALLY needed sunshine, and fortunately that morning was gorgeous. We walked the pretty grounds, played with the two dogs, and then had a wonderful breakfast before we were again picked up and taken to the airport to catch an 11:25AM BA flight to Victoria Falls.

Oops. First snag: the BA flight was delayed from 11:25 til 2:00. Meaning we lost the day to travel. But at least they gave us vouchers for a meal, and we met a charming young American couple on their first Africa trip. They were headed to one of the Botswana camps we’d visited back in ’04, so we gave them our glowing reviews and kept their spirits up. Once we arrived at Victoria Falls and gathered our two checked duffel bags, a driver from Wild Horizons was there to whisk us to Ilala Lodge. http://www.ilalalodge.com/

While we had planned to see the Falls that afternoon, it was 5:00PM by the time we checked in, and although we knew the Falls were a short walk, the helpful lady at the front desk told us the park closed at 6PM and we might prefer spending more time there the next day. Probably good advice, we decided. Our brains still felt like mashed potatoes.

The Ilala hotel is nice. We had a good room with a great bed. We enjoyed a couple of Windhoek beers at the inviting and comfortable outdoor bar. Chatted with an Aussie couple and their 20-something son, who was planning to do EVERY adventurous offering possible. Oh to be that young and athletic again!

The menu looked interesting and seemed well-priced, so we decided to eat dinner there. I’d read some mixed reviews about the hotel’s food, but we very much enjoyed a kudu steak, grilled loin of warthog, and a glass of a good South African Cabernet. Plus the waiters were charming, easy to chat with, and the night had cooled.

The next morning we’d scheduled to meet Charles Brightman, of the Victoria Falls Anti-poaching Unit at 6:15AM. Steve wakes me with a start...It's 6 AM! Woke me from sound sleep, only to discover it was merely 12:30. We finally get up at 5:30, shower and dress to be in the lobby at 6:15 for pickup. About 6:45, we have the desk clerk call, and discover they had us down for the next morning. To be honest, we really didn’t mind postponing to the next morning. This was, in all truth, the first actual day of our vacation. We have the luxury of all that time ahead of us.

Besides, the breakfast buffet they were laying out in the dining room looked scrumptious…and we very much enjoyed it. About 9AM, we take the walk to the Falls, and nearly have it to ourselves. Amazing. Yes, the water levels are “low” but this still is one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World. Mist, rainbows, DOUBLE rainbows, flowers, beautiful birds, some cute banded mongoose (mongeese?) We make our way down to the bridge overlook, and watch to see if there are any bungee jumpers. No takers, maybe it is too early? Too hot? On the way back, we have a great view of folks climbing into the Devils’ Pool on the Zambia side. The temperature has climbed to the mid 30s C. We sweat all the way home and, possibly because of the heat, are only approached by one or two fellows selling carvings, who are easily dissuaded when a couple of uniformed guys appear on bikes. While not as exotic as the Devils’ Pool, we decide to take dip in the hotel pool. WONDERFUL. We are joined at the pool by two couples from Florida. They had broken away from a tour that had been at several safari camps, and the heat had been too much for them. They decided to go to Victoria Falls to stay in air-conditioned comfort for a couple of days ahead of their group, who would be finishing up with a night across the street at The Kingdom. They had spent one night there, and decided it was too much like Las Vegas, so they were happy to get rooms at Ilala instead. It seemed they made the right decision for them.

In the meantime, the hotel’s lunch menu was quite inviting. I LOVED my grilled crocodile and potato salad. Told my husband it tastes kinda like…. alligator.

We headed back to our room to nap before walking into town to check out the market and shops. We had AC off, the fan on and the windows open. The birds were singing…there was just something about that breeze…the sunshine we’d enjoyed…that nice cold Zambezi beer with lunch…I actually fell asleep, and I’m not a napper.

It’s hard to think about buying souvenirs at the beginning of a long trip, but having seen what the JNB airport shops carried, I figured we might do a bit to contribute to the Vic Falls economy. First we walked into "town". I thought I would at least see a pharmacy, maybe a grocer...but mostly it was just tourist goods in shops. On the street, the touts try to sell you 10 billion+ Zimbabwe bills...for $1. It is sad when you think that one time – and only a few years ago -- someone worked hard for that currency, saved it, etc. Now it is virtually worthless. There are some wonderful bargains to be found. We particularly liked the “Elephant Walk Market”, simply as it was located in a grove of shade trees, and caught what breezes there were, plus manufactured them with strategically placed fans. Inviting shops, and a small cultural exhibit detailing Zimbabwean crafts. There are beautiful giant sculptures exemplary of Shona stone carving. You would need to be wealthy enough not only to buy them, but to ship them home. I limited myself to three woven flat bowls with geometric designs. I negotiated a price of $6 per piece. I know similar pieces were selling in the airport gift shops for two to three times that price.

Showered and dressed for dinner we headed to the bar for drinks. I’ve decided I like Zambezi beer, but that night, I enjoyed the Ilala 's special Pimms cocktail: ginger ale with muddled mint, garnished with Granny Smith apple sticks. Steve’s rather a devotee of IPAs, and is pretty much out of luck, so he must stick with lager. We chatted with a couple from England. She had been awakened early in the morning, and looked out their window to see a leopard! We had only seen warthogs, baboons, vervet monkeys and an elephant or two. We are a bit surprised a leopard would show up in such a populated area.

We had an excellent dinner with a bottle of Molderbosch rose wine. I had a baked brie appetizer, Steve had Kingclip fish cakes, then I had the warthog and Steve a rib-eye steak. This hotel has a very good chef. The waiters are proud of their knowledge of the menu - where the vegetables come from, etc.

Finally, both of us had a good night sleep. We woke around 5:30, dressed and were picked up by Charles Brightman at 6:15 to tag along with the Vic Falls Anti-poaching unit. Charles is an enthusiastic and dedicated professional. He gives an informative presentation of how they are working to stop poaching, not only of animals, but also of indigenous hardwoods. At one time, poachers were mostly people trying to provide for their families, but now there is a professional element that is more dangerous, and for whom the financial rewards are great. Yet the VFAPU has seen continued success over the past several years, and they need to keep their focus and continue their programs of policing, education, and community involvement.

We then piled into Charles’ vehicle and drove to a park entrance, where after coffee and a brilliant tomato-and-cheese sandwich prepared by Mrs. Brightman, we picked up a young scout and walked a trail looking for evidence of poachers’ snags. For us it was mostly a wonderful walking safari. We saw tracks of a busy previous night: giraffe, water buffalo, elephants, leopards, hyenas, various species of antelope, etc. I thought I got some good pictures of a couple of amazing maribou storks and a flock of parrots. (Later, something happened while downloading my photos, and I seemed to have lost them, along with some we’d taken at the Falls the day before). We learned so much about fauna and flora, and discussed many environmental issues that relate to the economically challenged Zimbabwe of today.

We asked if the lady’s sighting of a leopard right outside her hotel window was possible, and he confirmed that it was. Leopards are very adaptable, and he had recently lost some house cats to a leopard. We saw some impala, and a large herd of buffalo. We picked up a couple plastic bags, and plucked a large white poachers' bag from the river’s mud. It was a wonderful experience and much more worthwhile to us than any of the touristy activities on offer in Vic Falls. He offered to comp the tour, as he was truly embarrassed to have had us down for the wrong date, but we refused. The money was “spent” and we would rather have the money go as a donation to VFAPU.

Besides, our trip was unfolding at its own pace, and we were becoming adapted to a smaller world that has challenges and frustrations that are much more basic than those of a couple of retirees on vacation from North Carolina. Back at the hotel, as we readied for the road transfer to Imbabala, the TV news has reports of power and water shortages in Zimbabwe’s second largest city, Bulawayo. Obviously, it wouldn’t impact our trip. And of course, the results from a recent Cricket Test-match: Tourism and Sports are bright points in Zimbabwe daily life. People with jobs in tourism and wildlife management know they are fortunate, and are contributing to their country in a positive way. Nearly everyone we met seemed to be confident and professional, and eager to share their knowledge, carefully phrased opinions, realism, and humor.

Next: On to the Safari Camps

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    Finally “on-safari”

    Wild Horizons is again taking care of our transfer, and this time we are on a bus, with other tourists who are headed to different safari camps – most of them in neighboring Botswana or Namibia. Our destination is simply “the border.” We are picked up by Stan...our guide for our three-night stay at Imbabala Safari Lodge. http://www.imbabalazambezisafarilodge.com/

    Set overlooking the Zambezi River, this is a beautiful lodge, with eight cabins (currently). Yes, they look just like the website. While not air-conditioned, the ceiling fan does a fairly efficient job, most likely enhanced by the construction of the cabins. The thick grass thatched roof reminded one of our fellow guests of what she called: Hobbit Town. Now that is all I can think of when I see them! I’m not THAT much of a Tolkien fan, but except for the curviness of the roof and the interior beam construction, it never would have occurred to me but it does seem appropriate. It is one of those places that engages your fantasy. While not a tent, there are very large screened windows and it feels quite natural, plus a nice big front porch with a hammock. The beds and linens were superb. We slept very well here, and had no problems keeping our various devices charged at all times. The water is good, although if you are uneasy, you can fill water bottles at a filtered spigot at the main bar.

    Like most African destinations, the people in any type lodging are terribly important. Imbabala has excellent people: Young manager Bradley White and his wife Annie, guides Stan and Richard, and the soft-voiced and polite meal servers. Brad grew up here. His grandfather built and ran this concession, so when he was young, this was where they came for the Holidays. He and his wife trained in the industry, and only took over as managers just recently. Their love for Imbabala and Zimbabwe is truly apparent, as well as their enthusiasm and drive to make sure their guests are well served.

    The food was very good. I love it when the guides also join the table for meals and conversation. You can learn as much at the table as you can on a drive. There is an honor bar for outside of sundowner or meal time in the reception area.

    The game drives might probably be exceptional for birders, and being the start of Spring, and on the river, the birds were fascinating; although we did see sable, banded mongoose, lovely giraffes, buffalo, eles, hippos, crocodiles, impala, warthogs, waterbuck, bushbuck, kudu and of course, baboons and vervet monkeys. A very large number of impala would gather on the front lawns to spend the night. It felt like they felt safe there, all curled up sleeping when we would head back to our cottages at night after dinner under the stars. Of course, being so open, elephants would also sort of “wander” through.

    The most excitement comes from the sunset cruises. Plus cruising down a gentle river with the breezes keeping you cool is a great way to chill out after a day when the temps easily reached over 100F (or 40C). One of the high points of the entire trip, was our first night as we watched two large herds of elephants meet up on the bank of the river, and swim across the channel to one of two islands in the middle. They apparently had done this several days in a row, and it was thrilling to watch. From the pontoon boat we (there were eight guests that night) counted between 70 - 80. First, just to see them come down the bank one group from the left the other from the right, to meet up. Then as they drank,vocalized and seemed to get organized; and finally as one who was clearly “the leader” suddenly started wading out and they began to follow in near a single file, to where the river was deep and all you could see were the tops of heads and trunks waving about breathing and checking for the ones in front or slightly to the side. As they swam past us all madly taking photos and video and spilling our sundowners, we quietly giggled when they reached the channel island, finding the least steep spots to clamber onto land and immediately begin eating the long grasses. And of course, being such a large herd, they kept coming and coming…rather like a clown car at the circus.

    There were also numerous pods of hippo, and we got to see them yawn and bleat at each other. A troupe of baboons on the beach seemed to acting out some sort of kidnapping drama over a couple of very tiny babies. One of the members that stood out had no arms! The guide said it was either from a snare accident or a crocodile. Our second night cruise, we watched brightly colored bee-eaters, with big dragonflies or similar in their beaks, wait patiently on nearby trees before making delivery to one of dozens of holes in a steep bank where they had nested. It hardly needs to be said, but the sunsets were brilliant.

    When we received our final materials before departure, we were given the wonderful suggestion to get a dual entry visa for Zimbabwe, simply because staying so close, it is tempting make an optional daytrip to Chobe, Botswana. So we did. Another guest, a lovely young woman named Sonia, who is an Italian travel group leader who bases in Namibia for six month a year was going, so we decided why not. What a fun day. Chobe is really something to see. Thousands of elephants and hippo, water buffalo, crocodiles, antelope feeding and sunning along the banks and in the river. Sigh. Really beautiful scenery as far as the eye can see. After a buffet lunch at Chobe Marine Lodge (eh…just so so) we got into open vehicles and had an afternoon drive to Chobe National Park. Yes, we did finally see lions. There were about nine in all, in three different napping locations. OK. Napping lions are better than no lions, but c ‘est la vie. On our way back we came upon a self-driver who, as our driver noted, had not deflated their tires enough to drive easily through the sandy roads in Chobe National Park, was stuck. And not 50 yards or so from one of the lazing lion groups. The Wild Horizons drivers/guides in the three vehicles from our trip all pulled over and helped him out. Through the window, his wife and young son were quite relieved.

    Coming back to Zimbabwe across the borders was easy for us, but crazy for some others. There was a French couple who didn't seem to have any visas or stamps showing how they had gotten out of Zim to begin with. Others weren't happy they had to buy another visa. Clearly not everyone had arrangements made by someone who let them know what to expect! (Actually, that morning, a Botswana immigration lady was having a hard time with our friend Sonia...I don't know if she was having a difficult time understanding her Italian accent, or what -- she didn't seem to believe she was only going for a day trip.) In retrospect, border and immigration desk experiences do have some entertainment value of their own.

    Back to Imbabala by 5:30PM, for a good long shower (too late for that evening’s cruise L ) and our last wonderful dinner. One of the other guests had gone to Victoria Falls for the day and done the bungee jump and gone white water rafting, so we all had fun stories to tell. Frankly, while the expansive views of Chobe are spectacular, I was slightly put off by all the varied watercraft and sightseers. (We did get some fun pictures of all the traffic) Considering the privacy and peacefulness of our Imbabala sunset cruises…I know which river experience I preferred.

    Imbabala would be a terrific place for a young family to get a safari experience. (In fact, there was a young South African couple with their 5 year old son while we were there.) It is also a good spot if someone wants to see Victoria Falls, but stay more remotely – not in a “hotel” setting. (Daytrips to VF are easy enough to arrange and Wild Horizons seems to do it very well.)

    Next – Mr Toad’s Wild Ride to Hwange, and the Full-Out safari experience

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    Mr Toad’s Wild Ride to Hwange, and the Full-Out safari experience

    At dinner our last night at Imbabala, we’d been given the choice between a shortened morning drive, or a bit of a sleep-in and being able to take our time packing before our 10:30am transfer to Hwange. We chose the sleep-in option, and I was happy to do so, as it was very nice to have the camp pretty much to ourselves. I could use the wifi (there was wifi in the reception/lounge/bar) to send off some quick photos and Facebook messages. We got to have a wonderful, leisurely breakfast looking out over the river. I’d exchanged contact information with Sonia, as she wanted to know our impressions of Davisons’ Camp, our destination in Hwange, and I wanted to be sure it was correctly entered into my contacts. Brad also set up a meet for us with the Wild Horizons desk at Victoria Falls (in the Victoria Falls Hotel lobby) so that we could charge our Chobe daytrip, as they didn’t have facilities to run a charge in the office. When the time came, our luggage (the two duffels and our carry-ons) was loaded into the vehicle and Stan drove us back to the border, where we’d be picked up for the trip to Hwange. We had to wait a bit more than we’d expected, but it wasn’t bad (and it Stan is a great guy to spend time with.)

    A bus pulled up…and a bunch of people started wandering up from the border crossing …but no, that bus was not for us. Then, we saw someone we knew! It was Virginia from our first night at Imbabala. They had spent two nights on a houseboat in the Chobe River. We had expected to see her and Steve J (as opposed to my husband Steve W) at some point at Davisons, but didn’t realize we would be sharing the transfer. By the time Steve J emerged from the office, we were ensconced in our own mini-van with a Wild Horizons driver, which was to be our transport to the Victoria Falls Hotel, and in which we would then be traveling on to Hwange.

    Since we had to do our business with Wild Horizons, we decided to stop for lunch at the lovely Victoria Falls Hotel. Very posh place. Lovely view of the bridge and gorge. Sweeping green lawns. Steve W and I split a good ham and cheese open-face sandwich and had a couple of nice cold Zambezi beers. Truth be told, I preferred the menu at Ilala, (still thinking about that crocodile salad) and the prices were certainly a bit tamer. But still, it was a fine stop. Before taking off to Hwange, we asked to stop at the local liquor store for a bottle, and Steve J (who was born and raised in South Africa, but moved to the US as a college student) wanted to pick up some childhood favorite snacks for the drive.

    We knew the drive would be long, but we had stories to exchange. The scenery was more varied than I expected. Our driver, Ishmael, is a good fellow and easy to talk with. After our first stop by what appeared to be a 17-year old police man, where Ishmael was fined $20 for not having a particular piece of documentation, he joked with us that it might be the first of ten stops! (And he makes this drive fairly often.) The first guy had given him a signed receipt, so that the next guy couldn’t fine him for the same issue. Of course the next guy says “Well, that was HIS fine, you now have to pay mine.” Fortunately an older cop who knew Ishmael ambled over and smoothed things out. There was no real problem at the third stop. I can only imagine how difficult it is to travel around a country where these “police” may not be paid but what they can collect in fines. We were really only going about 120 miles, total.

    I like seeing something of the countries we visit, outside of the tourist areas. We were particularly taken by how many people walk long distances everyday. Enterprising souls set up little businesses along the road: car washes, fruit stands, tailor shops, etc. When school lets out, the side of the road is filled with children in neat red, blue or green uniforms with white collars. (Girls in dresses, boys in dark trousers and colored shirts.) We knew how hot it was out there in the bright sunshine, but they were clearly happy to be done with school for the day, chattering and dancing and chasing after each other.

    For the most part, the dusty countryside clearly looked as if it needed the Spring rains to start soon. There were lots of dried out river and creek beds.

    After Ishmael turns us over to “Livingstone” from Davison's at the main gate to Hwange, he tells us we will have a 2.5 hr drive, stopping for a snack. We opt for the snack before we leave. Once on the “road,” we nearly immediately see giraffe, elephant, common duikers, zebra and various other antelope. The terrain is again quite varied and the sandy road is bumpy. We are seated in the back seat of an open vehicle, and I am worrying a bit about the smaller bags bouncing out the back. We drive and drive, and drive, and drive.

    It gets darker and darker and we are fishtailing on sandy trails, bouncing to and fro (with me keeping half an eye on the little bags) while Livingston is getting calls from the lodge asking our whereabouts. At one point he turns around saying “this could be a short cut..." and we all just get the giggles. He keeps telling us we are nearly there, and suddenly there is an odd sound...have we lost a muffler? No. We have a tire puncture….in the middle of the deep bush….in the dark. He tells us to go stand in front of the headlights while he hauls out the spare, and discovers to his great embarrassment, he has no flashlight. Virginia has an iPhone with, yes...an app for that! (a flash light) The tire is changed quickly and we are back up and on our way.

    We see lights of the camp and say OH! Yes! But in the dark, the road starts to curve widely in the other direction and we all cry out: OH! Noooooooo! But of course, it bends back again and the staff is all out to greet us with scented, warm moist towels. Virginia and I are directed to the rest rooms where we totally crack up to discover open air windows trimmed in twinkle lights that look out to the dark (actually toward the water hole) from the toilet seats.

    Back to the big, beautiful reception tent for a safety briefing, and a well deserved welcome glass of sherry. We are escorted to our tents, to quickly freshen up and are collected again about 10 min later and taken to dinner. The food here is wonderful. The ambience is extraordinary, and the tents luxurious. They must be about 12x24 ft, with 3 large screen windows on each side starting at the front (which is also a large screened door/window.) The tent faces away from the path towards the water hole. The floor is poured concrete, textured but smooth. There is a comfy, upholstered chaise facing the view. We have two beds, bright white linens and duvets. There is an excellent ceiling fan. Plenty of water, and it is filtered so we can drink it without a thought. Plus, there are lights attached to the camp’s generator, in case the electricity goes out, AND wonderful connections for charging devices.

    At dinner there is chatter about two female lions with five babies everyone had seen the day before, we all get to know each other. While two of the group will be leaving in the morning, a young Danish couple and a single male photographer will be remaining. The staff is cheerful and interesting, and we meet Godfrey, who will be our guide, and who escorts us all back to our tents.

    Our first day, we ride in a large vehicle with three rows of seats behind the driver. There are the Danes, Virginia and Steve J, me and Steve W. It is good to see the landscape we missed the night before. We’re all hoping to see the lion cubs, but I put in my wishes for wild dogs and a rhino. There were signs all over the area past the main gates about painted dogs…but Godfrey rather pulls us back to reality, and says it isn’t impossible, but we have to see what Hwange wants us to see. We do see tons of game: hundreds of elephants, large herds of water buffalo, kudu, eland, sable, impala, zebra and giraffes. We talk a lot about how there are probably thousands too many elephant in Hwange, and the damage to the forests is clear, but at present there are no plans to do anything about it. We don’t find the cubs, but we do see two male lions feeding on a huge buffalo or possibly even an elephant carcass. They are actively feeding and the buzzards are staying away – although they fill the surrounding trees. It is quite a distance, and we are all using binoculars to watch.

    During lunch, we learn the young Danes will be heading out the next morning, so it will only be the four of us for the next two days. I ask Virginia and Steve if they would be interested in a walking safari – as I knew it was an option in Hwange. Not hard to convince them J at all. When we asked Godfrey, he clearly pleased to be able to honor that request. He told us we would do it the next morning.

    It was a REALLY hot afternoon. We showered and were hanging out under the wonderful big fan hanging from the ceiling when I noticed there were lots of elephants at the water hole in front of the camp, so I went out on the porch to take some photos. Suddenly I realized that yep, there were a couple of biggies headed my way! There were some well-placed trees between the tents, which were just right for scratching an elephant’s back, and that’s what they proceeded to do. I know Virginia was getting just as good photos because I’ve got her in a few of my shots…and I think we also decided about the same time that perhaps it was a good idea to get back inside. Yes indeed. THIS was the kind of experience I wanted from a tented camp.

    That evening, we looped around to check out the lions we’d seen earlier…but nothing much was happening at that spot. We drive into a neighboring camps’ region, looking for the cubs to no avail, we stop for sundowners at a waterhole which – though it seems too small – seems to have 3 or 4 hippo. It as kind of a disappointing night drive. Maybe after our flat tire the previous night, and our close encounter with the pachyderms that afternoon, we were getting jaded. BUT we have the walking safari to look forward to!

    Wow. The walking safari was terrific. You get to let your guide shine as he explains how to approach that giraffe that is watching us over there...the same with a herd of zebra, elephants, even some buffalo. We learned the life cycle of the termite mound, how to make a snare from a certain type of bush that pulls apart as strong fibrous material. Our guide Godfrey seemed to enjoy it as much as we did.

    Davison's Camp is really a fantastic overall safari experience. The food is wonderful – not just the meals, but the snacks served for the tea break and for sundowners. Always something creative and fresh and well seasoned or spiced. They are not stingy about serving cocktails or pouring wine pre- or during dinner. The beds are comfy, the fans silent, and the laundry is efficient. There is plenty of hot water for showers, and room in the tent to hang my clothesline for smalls.

    That night, on our evening drive, we drove round and round trying to find the two lions we’d seen feeding on an elephant carcass. After stopping for sundowners, we found them heading for the same water hole we'd just left. We were using the red light to pick them out, and we moved closer along their route several times. At one point they passed about fifteen feet behind us. It was thrilling.
    There were possibly two other vehicles to share the experience, but no more than that. Everyone was probably breathing in unison, and the radios were silent. I decided to just watch and enjoy and not worry about taking pictures. As we headed back to camp, we were all pretty pleased with our night’s adventure.

    The following morning we drove over to the Linkawasha concession to track down the resident pride of lion. First, we found a skittish giraffe at a waterhole who drank warily then danced around then finally ran off...scanning the view, we spotted the pride. There were about 8-9 females and young at a large carcass of a several day old kill, which they had brought to a spot with a nice ebony tree for shade amongst several termite mounds for cover and visability. We watched as a very large buffalo herd came to the same waterhole to drink, and the lions also watched...they arranged themselves under the shade tree and seemed content just to watch the buffalo at the waterhole. But they were probably full...so after watching them for about 40 minutes, we drove off to see what else we might find, then came back to the waterhole for our breakfast tea break. We watched the buffalo leave the waterhole from one side as the lions watched from the other. Again, while once in a bit one or two would get up and look more intently, they seemed quite comfortable to stay in their perfectly placed shade for the rest of the day. At lunch Godfrey said we would check them again this evening, when at the very least they may get thirsty.

    Virginia and Steve J left after lunch. We exchanged email addresses, and surely enjoyed having shared this adventure at Davison's. Steve and I still had one more night, and the only other guest in camp with us is the photographer (who had been there nearly 2 weeks and had been working with another guide the whole time). That means we have a private guide and vehicle for the rest of our stay!

    During naptime I downloaded photos from our cameras to my iPad, and we decided to use the pretty plunge pool. There was enough of a breeze to keep the Mopani flies from being a bother, and the water was clear and refreshing. Possibly the temps did not get up to 100F that day.

    Our last game drive was spectacular. We saw a lioness from the pride we were watching earlier in the day, down at the waterhole drinking. She then strolled back the to shady hill. Godfrey had turned off the engine and we coasted quite close. Amazing luck. Once again, it was like a predators' buffet: zebra, buffalo, eland, jackels, elephants...we saw two tiny baby eles that were no more than a couple days old very obviously protected by two huge elephants. And yet, those lions were not in the least interested. We watched a youngish elephant come up rather close to their spot. The lions growled at him, but seemed not especially exercised.

    Back to a dinner of beef filets, sweet potato (white ones) salad and beets. We learn from the photographer that most likely, the five lion cubs have been killed by the two new males. Guess that's why they were hard to find. We finished off the bottle of rose we’d brought, and set plans to sleep in until 7:30 or 8, leaving for the airstrip about 9am. One of the young staffers at dinner that night was Avias. I asked him what he liked most about his job, and he said "hearing what goes on in the rest of the world from our guests." I smiled and told him I enjoyed learning about what it is like to live in his country and how I appreciated their openness in sharing their beautiful country with us.

    When I woke around 4am, the tent was making flapping noises in the wind...no fan necessary. The sky was cleared and black, with the stars blazingly big. I actually pulled the blanket up. When I woke up for real, around 6, I discovered I hadn't a worry in the world. Four days and nights of focusing on nothing but seeing wildlife, was a true escape. I still hadn’t seen wild dogs or a rhino, but it really doesn’t make that much difference.

    We flew from Makalo Airstrip in a 4-seater Cessna. I rode in the copilot seat, with a darling young female pilot. She was terrific. Flying over Zimbabwe is not as pretty or exciting as those short hops over the Okavanga Delta of Botswana, but I enjoyed the hour-long flight to Victoria Falls Airport.

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    Photos posted thus far cover Vic Falls, Imbabala, Chobe and Hwange. I hope you enjoy it! http://patienttravelersinafrica.shutterfly.com/

    I've still got to write up the Cape Town, Garden Route (CT to Wilderness to Addo Elephant Park to Prince Albert) to Stellenbosch portion of the trip, but figured I'd get this posted.

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    I'm enjoying your report. Would you recommend the day trip to Chobe or even a longer cruise on the Chobe River? Did being on or near the water help with the heat?

    So how was the heat in "suicide month"?

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    Our friends really loved staying on the houseboat for 2 nights, because they saw so much on the banks early in the mornings and in the evenings when there was far less river traffic. The daytrip is worthwhile if you don't have much time, but it isn't really a laid back experience safaritype experience. I would enjoy being on the river on a boat for a longer time for sure.

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    Re: the heat...I guess it is like childbirth, when it is over you don't remember the pain. It was a good thing the camps did our laundry (try to stay at least 3 nights in each camp) because I had three really super light weight shirts that I wore over and over. A regular T shirt seemed too heavy. I got a lot of wear out of two pair of simple pull on drawstring waist pants....sort of a step above pajama bottoms or scrubs.

    When you are riding in open safari vehicles, there is always a breeze to help you cool off. don't forget hats. It was never uncomfortable while looking for animals.

    OH, I also packed a fan from a $1 store, which turned out to be a brillliant idea. We spent more time sitting in airports than we had hoped, and they we NOT over airconditioned. Drink lots of water.

    Mornings and Evenings were nice. The hottest part of day was noon to 4, during which time you are going to be resting anyway.

    I really didn't mind the heat as much as I thought I would, although we did meet those Floridians in Vic Falls who had decided to escape to someplace with AC.

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    I don't know what their arrangements were, or with whom, but it was supposedly big enough for 5 couples, however they had it to themselves (along with the "captajn/guide," cook and maid!

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