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Trip Report Trip Report - An Adventure in Botswana & Zimbabwe, Aug/Sept 2010

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PART ONE - Introduction, Itinerary, Planning and Packing

The following is a trip report of my August/September adventure in Botswana and Zimbabwe. I apologize for the delay (4 months since my return), but I’m doing much better than on my first trip (1 year from the return). I hope this report is helpful to future travelers, or brings wonderful memories to mind of past trips.

I have to offer a warning – this trip report is very long. My friends have never accused me of being at a loss for words. I apologize for the length, but felt it would be helpful to include some general information related to the trip and then I get excited, reliving my experiences. I will break the report into sections, providing general information in the first posting, and then a posting per camp with a link to my pictures from that location.
If anyone has any questions, please feel free to contact me via the email address in my profile.

General Information and Itinerary

Itinerary
August 23 – 24, Sun Intercontinental, Johannesburg Airport
August 24 – 28, Chitable Lediba Camp, Okavango Delta, Botswana
August 28 – 30, Little Vumbura Camp, Okavango Delta, Botswana
August 30 – September 2 , Savuti Camp, Linyanti Reserve, Botswana
August 2 – 4, Ilala Lodge, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
August 4 – 7, Little Makalolo Camp, Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe
August 7 – 11, Ruckomechi Camp, Mana Pools National Park, Zimbabwe

Flights

US to Botswana
United Airline Fl 64, Orlando to Washington Dulles – 11:05AM to 1:17PM
South African Airways Fl 208 – Washington Dulles to Johannesburg (1 stop, no plane change in Dakar) 5:40PM to 5:10PM
Air Botswana FL 212 - Johannesburg to Maun, Botswana – 10:10AM to 11:50AM

Zimbabwe to US
South African Airways Fl 23 – Harare, Zimbabwe to Johannesburg - 12:50PM to 2:40PM
South African Airways Fl 207 – Johannesburg to Washington Dulles – 6:00PM to 6:00 AM (1 stop, no plane change in Dakar)
United Fl 379, Washington Dulles to Orlando – 8:32AM to 10:50AM

Introduction

I like to provide a little background information to form a point of reference for my trip reports. I know that some readers have asked for this to gauge personal preferences, experience on safari, and other general information. I’ll start out by saying that this trip report contains my personal opinions, my perceptions of the experiences, and is not intended to be a promotional testimony for any of the providers of service on this trip. That said, I will indicate where I thought the service was excellent and beyond my expectations. I’m a middle aged single male (hate to admit the middle age part, but unless I live beyond 102, I have to own that), 51 years old and slightly out of shape. I would say that I enjoy a moderate activity level, unfortunately tied to a desk job for most of the daylight hours. When on safari, I prefer smaller and more intimate camps, with some level of comfort and authenticity. This is my second trip to Africa, the first being to East Africa, Kenya and Tanzania, in 2008. Here is the link to the trip report (never quite completed) and the photos for that trip.

Trip Report - http://www.fodors.com/community/africa-the-middle-east/a-long-long-overdue-trip-report-east-africa-august-and-september-2008.cfm

Photos – Warning – as this was my first trip, almost every pictures was special to me. I tried to cull through them and weed out some of the repetitive, but was never able to slim it down to what I would have liked to. http://eastafricaaugustandseptember2008.shutterfly.com

I began planning my second trip on the flight home from the first, and am currently looking at options in Namibia for my third trip. I caught the bug big time on that first trip, falling in love with the sights, sounds, smells and people of Africa. My safari philosophy is to not set strict expectations for a game drive. On my first trip I encountered a woman who spent 4 days sitting in one location hoping to see the migration crossing the river to no avail. Each evening she would become frustrated as everyone else recounted what they had seen that day. On the fifth day, she opted to do something different, and my driver suggested we drive by one of the crossing sites to check things out. We happened to hit it right and saw a crossing of hundreds of wildebeests and zebra, complete with a crocodile taking a small wildebeest. My experience has been that you are always going to see something wonderful – it may be a close encounter with a lion pride or other predator, a fascinating or humorous story told by your guide, a beautiful landscape or a stunning sunrise or sunset – but for me, if I look for it I will gain a new memory and experience of something. My favorite wildlife viewing is the one that I’m seeing now – I’ve never been disappointed.

Planning

I prefer to do a lot of initial research and planning for my trips. Several reference items that I’ve found extremely useful are Mark Nolting’s book – “Africa’s Top Wildlife Countries”, reviewing trip reports and discussion threads by searching for specific areas or camps on both Fodor’s and TripAdvisor’s websites, and information on TA’s websites. From this I’m able to form a preliminary itinerary of areas I’d like to visit and possible camps within those areas. I then solicit feedback and information from the Fodor’s forum. Fodor’s members have never failed to provide great information and opinions on proposed itineraries, and specific opinions on most aspects. After settling on a preliminary itinerary, I then contact around three T.A.’s for pricing and fine-tuning. For this trip I chose to use Classic Africa. My decision was based on their quick responses to my questions, comparable pricing, and the fact that they only focus on Southern Africa. I was extremely happy with their services – they were responsive, answering all my questions within 24 hours, continued communications for the almost year from initial planning to departure, and the attentiveness to details which made the experience enjoyable. I would be glad to provide more information on this T.A., but to avoid promotion I would prefer that any questions be submitted via email. My email address is included on my profile. I used Vayama to make my airline reservations (I was able to secure a better price than the T.A. could get). I experienced a little frustration with them, as one of my flights was cancelled and I was unhappy with their rebooking, but they eventually made things right and everything went as planned.

Packing

I relied heavily on LyndaS’s packing list and the additional feedback offered in that thread. I’ve included the link to this wonderful guide to packing.
http://www.fodors.com/community/africa-the-middle-east/very-comprehensive-packing-list---almost-ready-to-go.cfm
I was very worried about the Zimbabwe weight restrictions (26 lbs) as my camera equipment alone weighted a little over 12 lbs. While I was able to get it to an acceptable level for Botswana (allowance 40 lbs), I was over the limit for Zimbabwe. In Botswana, only my “checked” luggage was weighed and in Zimbabwe, the luggage was never weighed, but I was over the limit by about 6 lbs.

Here’s what I ended up with:

Camera equipment
Canon 40D as primary with a Canon Rebel as a backup camera.
3 lenses - 10-22mm, 17-85mm, and 100-400mm. I used the 100-400 almost exclusively with the exception of some landscape shots and at Victoria Falls.
Battery chargers for each camera, extra battery for each camera, 6 8GB compact flash cards (way too many), cleaning kit, cleaning clothes and brushes.

Toiletries and medications
I took multiple travel size containers where possible – shaving cream, toothpaste, and shampoo; suntan lotion, insect repellant, aloe lotion, toothbrush, razor, dental floss, antiseptic cream, aspirin, Tums, and prescription medications, cold tablets, Visine, Chapstick and malaria meds.

Clothing
As most of the camps did laundry, I tried to minimize my clothing however I still packed too much.
3 pairs shorts
2 pairs long pants (khakis)
1 pair Dockers (for dinners)
3 t-shirts
2 short sleeve shirts
3 long sleeve shirts
1 sweat shirt
Safari jacket
5 pairs underwear
5 pairs socks
Hiking boots
Walking shoes
Sandals
Bathing Suit
Baseball cap
Belt

Miscellaneous
Hard candy
2 Hardback Books (had to ditch these for Zimbabwe)
Spiral notebook and journal
Wildlife guide
Pens and permanent markers
Travel documents
Passport
Vaccination Records
Kleenex
Travel Alarm Clock
Binoculars
Ziplock bags
Sewing Kit
Duct Tape
2 pairs sunglasses
Reading glasses

Other Information

I did not apply for visa’s prior to the trip, opting instead to purchase them at the border where needed. This was expedited by my guides and drivers, and I had no problems or delays with this approach. Visa’s fees were as advertised, although I have heard stories of people being charged more. I checked luggage for flights from Johannesburg and Harare with no issues or evidence my luggage had been ransacked. Again, I’ve heard stories of travelers having problems with this, but I experienced no issues.

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