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TRIP REPORT April/May 2007 South Africa, Botswana, Zambia

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We just returned to Amsterdam yesterday from a 17 day safari that began in the South Africa, passed through Botswana and ended at Victoria Falls. Originally the trip was planned for four people but it soon became six. Since I did not begin planning the trip until late February of this year (so six weeks prior to leaving), I considered myself very lucky to find three rooms available anywhere. In the end I made a few concessions, but all in all, we managed to get most of the camps we wanted.

Two people flew from Amsterdam to Joburg on the daytime KLM flight and the other four flew from Chicago to Joburg via Atlanta and Dakar. All four complained about the flight and wished they had flown through Europe and stayed with us in Amsterdam for a few days on either side. We are in our mid- to late 30s and this was our second safari in southern Africa. Three years ago at exactly this time we used the Orient Express lodges in Botswana. It was the first safari for the other four people---all in their early sixties---my parents and their friends.

Our itinerary:

Southern Sun (one night)

Camp Jabulani (2)

Djuma Bush Lodge (one night—we could not get Vuyatela for two nights and all other options we explored were booked—I had wanted Simbambili)

Vuyatela (1)

Mala Mala Main Camp (2)

Westcliff (1)

Deception Valley (3)

Duba Plains (two nights for two of the six people---my partner and I)

Xakanaxa (two nights for the remaining four people so they could experience the water-based activities)

Duma Tau (2)

Royal Livingstone (2)

As you will read, the trip went very smoothly although most of us dreaded the light aircraft flights. The situation was made worse when while at Deception Valley a Sesofane plane crashed at the Chobe airstrip with tourists going to Savuti Camp. All passengers were luckily unhurt but covered in fuel as was their luggage. When we landed at Chobe on our way to Duma Tau a few days later, the plane was still in the trees and both wings had been ripped off. Evidently the pilot attempted to land four times and on the fifth try, ran off the runway into the trees, spun around and lost its wings. Some friends we met at Duba had gone with one of the couples from the crashed plane at Savuti on the afternoon drive the day of the crash and said they were shaken and looking forward to sundowners. From what the staff said, this was the first crash either in the history of the company or in seven years. No doubt someone will post more on this incident in the coming days.

Next: Elephant-back safaris at Camp Jabulani

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    Looking forward to your report. When appropriate could you make comparisons with your experiences at the Orient Express lodges in Botswana. Questions come up about these lodges now and then. And one other thing, did you find the 1 or 2 night stays long enough?
    regards - tom

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    If four landing attempts are not successful, I wouldn't think the fifth would be a charm. And it wasn't. I'd like to learn more about that whole incident. Glad no one was hurt.

    I'd like quick compare/contrast report of Orient Express vs. this last trip too. I looked for a previous trip report but didn't see one. If there is one hiding someplace, just stick in a link.

    Looking forward to your report, especially Duba Plains.

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    Four, FOUR, landing ATTEMPTS !!!!! Can you imagine ????? I don't mind flying those little "lodge hopper" planes, but man, I'm not sure what I would be doing (or have done) on that FIFTH attempt.
    regards - tom

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    So let's say we are a passenger in a small plane and we abort landings #1 and #2. What should we do? Demand to go to a different airstrip, if that would even do any good. State, if we don't make it on #3 and survive, I want to go back and get a new pilot? Do passengers have any authority? I wouldn't know how to handle a situation like this.

    I wonder if the pilot was in some way impaired. Maybe ill, even.

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    Lynn and Tom,

    Enjoy the journey, since would both be in window seats, :S- pull out your cameras, and photograph the adventure!

    Perhaps before boarding a ‘Lodge Hopper’ one signs a liability release or suchlike where in the fine print there is a clause like this…

    Just as we cannot guarantee animal sightings on your ground safari, we cannot guarantee the high adventure safari add on option of our “Tree Tipper” or as some guest refer to as the “Wing Clipper” feature. C:-)

    Small aircraft mechanical issues, pilot illness and the weather are as unpredictable as the movement of the animals. We never know when making a FIFTH landing attempt will necessitate. In the event this up-close panoramic photographic opportunity arises, an additional fee will be charged to your credit card.

    Den

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    I would not know what to do but we would probably have passed out on the third try. Can you imagine crashing into a tree and having fuel all over you? There is nothing on the Sefofane site. Fodors is like the traveler's campfire sometimes, where information is passed on to the next traveler. Looking forward to your next installment, Marseus.

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    ELEPAHNT BACK SAFARI AT CAMP JABULANI

    After room service and an uneventful night at the Southern Sun we boarded a 10:40 flight to Hoedspruit arriving around noon. At the airport we met by our guide who drove us to Camp Jabulani in a covered land cruiser. Surprisingly, the airstrip is located directly adjacent to one of the gates for the Kapama reserve where Jabulani is located.

    The drive to the camp was a nice way to begin the trip for we immediately encountered an abundance of zebra, kudu and impala. Once at camp, we were greeted by the manager Carl who, along with our guide, showed us around and answered all of our questions—there were a lot since this was my parent’s first safari. Following this, we were told that our first elephant ride was scheduled at 4:00 pm and that it would last about two hours followed by a night game drive. Then we were escorted to our rooms. The main buildings are separated from the six chalets (apparently isolated on an island) by a long suspension bridge—the camp was recently featured in Architectural Digest and is lavishly appointed throughout including an indoor/outdoor gym and outdoor spa treatment area. Those in our party who used the spa were happy with the treatments. All of the rooms have air conditioning, plunge pools, freestanding cast-iron bathtubs, fireplaces, and a shower with glass walls over looking the bush. The walls in the front are wood but canvas at the back and we were told that the fireplaces would be lit at night on request. The only other guests during our stay were a well-traveled Swiss couple in their early 60s who had just returned from a month in Kamchatka.

    After settling in and a bottle of sparkling wine, we returned to the main buildings for lunch. There were two tables set. One for our party of six and the Swiss couple at the other. The food throughout our stay was fantastic and the service attentive. I much prefer to sit with other guests but perhaps the camp felt it best to keep us part (or else the Swiss couple asked to dine alone.)

    After lunch we returned to our rooms to unpack and then gathered at 3:30 for tea. Following tea, we left the main building and walked up a path at the back of the lodge passed what seemed to be the camp’s version of a Boma. We had no idea what to expect but as we turned the corner it was an impressive sight. There were seven elephants lined up in a row with the guides on top. We were immediately introduced to the man responsible for the elephants who then proceeded to explain this history of the camp, why it was founded, and what they hoped to accomplish. This was followed by a brief introduction to the elephants by name and each responded to various commands rewarded by food. The camp also films your first ride and will sell you a DVD for $30. All three couples in our party bought one. I just watched it though and thought it was a bit short.

    Many in our group were concerned about the ethics of riding elephants and it was explained in detail that the elephant Jabulani was rescued from the wild where he was abandoned and dying and the remaining twelve came from a reclaimed Zimbabwean farm where they were going to be shot for meat. Many efforts were made over the years to reintroduce Jabulani into the wild, but no herd would accept him. This seemed to please most of us as did the fact that the elephants are allowed to wander freely during the day followed by guides. Camp staff is also very cautious in the words employed to describe the elephants, they are not “tame” but “trained wild elephants.” When the Jabulani elephants encounter the wild herd, the wild elephants smell the human presence and leave them alone. As we later learned though, there is a problem with reproduction. While the camp does no want any more elephants to be born due to the great expense, there is little that can be done to prevent pregnancies.

    I was looking at http://safaritalk.net this morning and saw the following post about a permit being denied for elephant back safaris in SA. Very interesting summary of this industry in Southern Africa. We are thinking about booking the Four Seasons Golden Triangle elephant camp in Thailand next Christmas but I will do some research about how the elephants are treated before moving forward. Throughout our trip we continually heard stories from others about the improper treatment of Asian elephants (but nothing negative about the Four Seasons camp.)

    http://safaritalk.net/index.php?showtopic=322">http://safaritalk.net/index.php?showtopic=322

    Here is the link to the full story:

    http://www.dispatch.co.za/2007/05/01/Easterncape/afuture.html">http://www.dispatch.co.za/2007/05/01/Easterncape/afuture.html

    The debate it seems will go on.

    To mount the elephants you use a mobile ramp with a staircase and you sit as you do on a horse. No one found this uncomfortable in the least. There was one elephant who would not pass next to the ramp so one guest had to mount the elephant as it bent over onto the ground. Normally each person has his or her own elephant but in this instance, they were one elephant short, so my partner and I rode together. The camp also allows people staying at nearby lodges to ride the elephants but these guests are kept separate from those staying at Jabulani and we never saw anyone from another camp. I drilled one of the guides and they have had a lot of celebrity guests including the newly married Mission Impossible guy. I won’t say anymore. One of the other guides also related his experiences guiding Laura Bush and her two daughters at one of the Madikwe lodges and how the secret service completely took over another nearby lodge.

    Once everyone was mounted, the elephants left in single file and began to go up the hill. Riding the elephant through the bush was quite exhilarating and quiet and we encountered zebra, giraffe, wildebeest and warthogs along the way. My only real complaint about Camp Jabulani is the electricity towers that run through the property. It does not seem to be a minor point but it seemed to bother no one except for me but….. In any event, the backdrop of the Drakenburg mountains is spectacular especially at sunset. You do take elephant rides in areas where the towers are not visible and the towers are of course not visible from camp.

    The game drive was fine and we encountered countless spotted owls on the road, African wild cats, impala, kudu and antelope. Although many people come to Kapama for the game drives (there are several comparatively inexpensive lodges on the property), we only went for the elephants as we knew that there would be much better game viewing possibilities in the Sabi Sands and Botswana. The morning game drive was much of the same.

    Following lunch we visited the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Center. Next to the elephant safaris, this was a highpoint of our stay. I won’t go into the details of what they are trying to accomplish as their website is coming online this month.

    http://www.wildlifecentre.co.za/

    The highlights here were the vulture restaurant and wild dogs. Food no longer fit for consumption by the cheetahs etc… is fed to the vultures and storks on a daily basis. An amazing sight as the sky literally darkens overhead as a thousand plus birds (I don’t think I am exaggerating) descend en masse. The most interesting part of the visit though concerned the rescued wild dogs. They are kept in a very large fenced in area and fed daily. We were lucky enough to observe the feeding. So too were the vultures. I asked the guide whether the dogs ever capture the birds and he said no. But only a minute later, the dogs began to grab hold of them. No birds were killed but there were several instances when I thought a vulture had seen its last breath. Even more interesting however are the reserve’s wild dogs that sit outside the fence observing their captive counterparts.

    Later that afternoon all of the guests met up at a pond where the elephants go for their daily swim.

    The elephant ride later that day was going to be at night so we took a short game drive beginning at 4:00, stopped for sundowners, and as we were finishing, the elephants arrived. The night ride was very nice, even more quiet than the day before. They give each person their own torch as well. After 90 minutes or so, we dismounted near the stables where the elephants are kept at night. All of the guests were given a tour of the stables, offered the opportunity to feed their elephant and then directed to the gift shop.

    Dinner that night was behind the lodge in a pseudo-Boma. It was quite impressive as the camp lit the long path to the site with candles in paper bags. Dinner was very good---basically a BBQ with ostrich, kudu, chicken and pork (and maybe some fish---can’t remember.)

    That night there was a small incident in our room. We had requested that our fireplace be lit on the first night—why not we thought??---very romantic. Unfortunately the room got rather smoky so we did not ask again. When we got back to the room though on the second night, someone had lit the fireplace again and the room was now full of smoke. We opened all the windows and telephoned the front desk. Within minutes there were five people in our room including the manager Carl---presumably because they were worried about a fire although we said the only fire was in the fireplace. At first no one knew what to do, but then it was pointed out that our air conditioner was on and that was the reason the smoke stayed in the room. We were never informed about this nor did we notice that the air conditioning was actually turned on. It took a few hours for the smoke to really clear out but we were not so bothered. Just another excuse to open a bottle of wine and sit outside.

    While we had all thought that two elephant rides would be enough, the Swiss couple were taking none of the drives and only riding elephants. My partner and I quickly saw the logic in their decision and chose to do a morning elephant ride. It was great. They drove us ten minutes from camp to a different more wooded hilly area where the elephants were waiting. During the ride we encountered only birds including a fabulous marshall eagle and ascending and descending the hills made for a great adventure. And since the elephants had just woken up, they were hungry and ripped apart trees along the way and carried massive branches that I thought for a moment might swing around and hit me. All very exciting. My advice for anyone who goes to Jabulani is to do only the elephants rides since they are a unique experience that can only be done in a few other places. Jabulani is also about $750 pppn as opposed to Abu in Botswana at $2300 pppn. We ran into a travel agent at another lodge who told me that the elephants at Abu were tethered unlike Jabulani. Not sure if this is true. We have had friends go to Abu, and their only complaint is the awkward seating. I found sitting on elephants to be no less and no more comfortable than a horse. Although on the morning drive I suggest you stretch before getting on. I had some trouble.

    On the last morning, the four other members of our party took a game drive. The guide worked very hard to find the first of the many lions to be encountered on our trip. They were quite lucky as the lions were hunting giraffe and attempted unsuccessfully to take one down. After lunch, we were met by a driver who would transfer us to Djuma. We were sad to leave Jabulani but very much looking forward to our upcoming five days in the Sabi Sands.

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    Thanks for your report Marseus. There has not been a lot on this board about Jubalani. I almost bid on a well priced luxurylink.com package for Jubalani last week, but the dates did not work for me.

    Regarding Asian elephants....several posters on the Asia board have been to the 4Seasons and the Ananatara resort in northern Thailand. Both places feature elephant experiences with elephants that have been rescued from the cities or logging camps. For more info on the program at the very lovely Anantara resort, check out www.helpingelephants.org.

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    Marsues: your report is off to a great start and I'm really looking forward to your Botswana travels. I had seen some great promotional materials for Camp Jabulani so it was great to read a first hand account. Also, commendable that you researched the elephants situation and posted the latest on the industry. Educated consumers in this area is important so thank you for contributing that. Look forward to the next stop!

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    DJUMA RESERVE AND MALA MALA

    My apologies for not getting back to my trip report earlier. I’ve been too busy working as well as arranging a trip to East Africa next February. That trip even ten months in advance is proving very difficult as many places such as Mahale Greystoke are almost booked solid. It seems though we have found a space. Anyway, back to my report….

    The car transfer from Jabulani to Djuma was a great choice as it allowed us to see some of South Africa outside the game reserves and the guide/driver was very well informed about the area (my TA had given us the choice to fly). His name was Andrew and he runs private guided trips into Botswana using his own vehicles—he worked for Wilderness at Xigera for a few years. I sat in the front seat and we launched into a discussion about the positive and negative aspects of driving or flying to/between camps in southern Africa and what nationalities he prefers to guide and those he simply refuses outright. Typically he picks his clients up at JNB (he prefers Americans, Canadians, Brazilians, Argentineans and the British—won’t mention those he refuses) and they make their way to Maun stopping at for instance at Parfuri and Mashatu. I had almost booked Mashatu for six nights and he was very convincing in his praise for the Mashatu camps. According to him, one can drive to most of the camps in Northern Botswana with the exception of those in the Delta---and he made the drive sound really interesting and worthwhile, describing the small towns on the way to the various Wilderness lodges and small restaurants here and there filled only with locals. Its sounds like a great option if one has the time.

    After maybe 2 hours we arrived at Djuma Bush Lodge. Originally we had asked for two nights at Vuyatela but the camp was booked as was Simbambili. So our agent arranged for us to pay Djuma Bush rates for two nights but spend the second night at Vuyatela. Djuma Bush was a major step down in lodging quality and food from Jabulani but we expected that—you get what you pay for ($750+pppn vs. $250 pppn). But I have to say the game drives and guide were great. The rooms though were a bit worn and the pool needed to be cleaned---desperately. The first afternoon was hot and everyone wanted to get in the water. But when we saw the pool, we left and went back to the room. Some even decided to start reading the 1st Ladies Detective Agency series that I had bought in hopes that someone would read one or two prior to going to Botswana. To be honest, Djuma Bush needs to be renovated from top to bottom but the air conditioning worked well and the beds were very comfortable. If you book this camp, be sure to ask for the rooms with outdoor showers---I hear they are much better. In any event, the staff was very friendly and our guide Chris who has been there for many years was excellent.

    On the first afternoon/night drive, we followed a leopard as it slowly approached a herd of impala. However, just as we began to think something might happen, a hyena showed up and got into the middle of everything. The leopard took this as her cue to leave, and our rover followed her through the bush for an hour or so. This was my parent’s first time off road and they loved it. On our way back to camp and next to Vuyatela, we encountered a solitary male lion, about four years old, who looked as if he had not eaten for days. And as we were approaching the lodge, we encountered an elephant in musthh in the middle of the road and had to make a quick retreat. He charged the car a few times but our guide kept us at a safe distance.

    The drive the next morning resulted in several leopards lounging in trees or on termite mounds along with two herds of elephants. Following the morning drive, we were transferred to Vuyatela for lunch. The drive from Djuma to Vuyatela was about 25 minutes and all of us were looking forward to the private plunge pools. The rooms at Vuyatela were very nice and large—not over the top like Jabulani but very comfortable. Given the amount of food my partner and I had already consumed over the past four days, we skipped the buffet lunch and had champagne and small sandwiches sent to the room. This may have been a mistake because the owner was at lunch and it would have been nice to meet her—especially since she selected the contemporary art for which the camp is known. I am an art consultant so this was my loss.

    Our guide here was also very good and the drive productive. We found three rhinos very quickly and after observing them for 30 minutes or so headed down the road through countless zebra, kudu, another herd of elephant and finally arrived for drinks near a pool where a solitary buffalo was standing in the water. The guests we met at Vuyatela were great including several travel agents in the country for a TA convention in Joburg and doing site inspections. The presence of TAs conducting site inspections was to continue throughout our trip and they were fonts of knowledge, full of recommendations for camps, room numbers, guides etc… Hearing about their itineraries made me reconsider my own profession. They were also pretty persistent in getting our reactions of Jabulani, why we had chosen certain camps over others in Botswana, and what other trips we had recently taken and why. We said that Patagonia had been our most recent and favorite trip, so for about an hour or so, our minds were in South America, climbing glaciers, horseback riding….and not Africa.

    The next morning we found a pride of lions, watched them lounging around—they had just eaten the night before, and then ran into a herd of buffalo crossing the border from Mala Mala. No sooner than we had set up for tea however, the two hundred or so buffalo turned around and went back across the road to Mala Mala. Everyone was a little disappointed but then we were leaving to go to Mala Mala in a two hours so no big loss. We all thought Vuyatela was great and the food was good. Most preferred Jabulani though because lunch and dinner were not buffet style.

    After packing up at Vuyatela, we were taken to the airfield for our very short flight to Mala Mala---less than five minutes I think. Although the flight was short, it was nice to gain an aerial perspective on Djuma and Mala Mala.

    Once at Mala Mala we were met by our guide for the next three days and escorted back to Main Camp. It turned out that our guide had been chief ranger at MM for three years and had chosen to leave the desk and get back into the Bush. We felt very lucky and in capable hands as he explained the “Gentlemen’s Operation” of Mala Mala. We all snickered at that phrase but he was very very serious as we would discover.

    I have to say that I was on the fence about whether to stay at Rattrays as Main Camp only had luxury suites available when I booked a month prior. In the end, I opted for Main Camp because of the many positive comments on this forum and I wanted to experience a more established environment. We certainly made the right choice and would advise others to do the same on their first trip to MM. When we go back next time (and I imagine it will be next year), we will certainly split our time between the two camps---3 nights at Main Camp and 2 at Rattrays I think, if not longer. When we were at Jabulani, the Swiss couple had just come from Rattrays. They were very critical of Rattrays but some of it was unfair. Evidently MM had had some serious rains before their arrival, and during their four-night stay, they saw very little game. No leopards, lions, rhino or hyena. They also complained about the food at Rattrays saying that they had expected it would be different than what was served at Main Camp. It is the same and many of the TAs we met said that the food service at Rattrays needs to change. Despite the negative comments on this forum about the food at MM, I liked it and the informality of the guests and staff was appreciated. I have only one complaint about Mala Mala. I had read that the rangers stay with you and was expecting this. I had also read on this forum that you can inform your guide that you wish to have dinner without him. I even read that in the inroom guide to the camp. Despite all of that and my “letting him go,” he insisted on dining with us at every meal. We came to the conclusion that he liked to talk----a lot. Needless to say, we learned a great deal about cricket and rugby in South Africa.

    Our suites were down the hill to the left of the main lodge building and very isolated from the rest of the camp. That said, the rooms, although very well maintained, were very hotel-like, especially the bathrooms that reminded me more of a Marriot or Hilton hotel than a game lodge. The large terrace however was nice and we immediately had our mini-bar stocked with sparkling wine. I don’t know why the mini bars are not stocked beforehand. We also had the opportunity to have drinks with the owners Michael and Norma Rattray and spoke to them on many occasions over several days.

    The drives at MM were fabulous. After six days on Safari, every member of our party was tired of sundowners so we all agreed to skip them. Our first drive was very productive. The highlight of the evening was a nocturnal leopard kill. Over the radio our guide received a report of a leopard stalking a group of impala. By the time we arrived, it was dark and there were two other cars present (the maximum allowed at a sighting at MM). We approached with the lights off and found a vantage point. While one of the other drivers had a torch focused on the leopard, once our car stopped, all lights were extinguished. After about 20 minutes or so of slowly moving around in the car we suddenly stopped and it was very quiet. Then we heard a rustling and the yelp (not sure if that’s the proper description of an impala cry) and the guides immediately illuminated the scene. It was an adult female leopard that had captured and was killing the baby impala. After a few minutes of dragging it around and trying to escape our view, a cub appeared. The mother then departed leaving the cub to deal with the logistics of getting the carcass up into the tree. We watched for ten minutes or so as the cub continually tried but failed. After leaving the scene we encountered several hippos foraging in the bush as well as two rhino and another herd of elephants.

    While at MM, the America television network ABC was also staying at Main Camp preparing for a live-broadcast on Earth Day (our second day there). Elizabeth Vargas was the correspondent—I did not know who she was but I’ve lived in Europe for nine years. Throughout our stay they were continually filming—supposedly at a hippo pool, but also the camp. And during dinner one night in the BOMA Michael Rattray went around from table to table asking if anyone objected to being filmed. I never saw the broadcast, but they did film us one day getting into the car and talking to our guide.

    On our second day in the morning we headed south and came across a hyena den. We were the only vehicle and stayed there for two hours watching the six or so adults and three cubs lying about the road and playing. All were incredibly habituated coming very close to the car, looking at us, sniffing the wheels and the pups even tried several times to mount the front of the rover. We felt very lucky and the guide said over and over that he had never seen such a display.

    Our evening drive was enjoyable but uneventful so we chose to return a bit earlier for showers and to enjoy the bar.

    The next morning was to prove the highlight or our stay in South Africa. Again we headed south. After inspecting the remains of a kudu killed by lions the previous day, we went in search of the pride for an hour or so along with another vehicle that was moving down another road just south of us. Just as we were about to give up and head back to camp, the guide received notification that a pack of wild dogs had appeared about two kilometers away. We immediately took off at high speed and were there within minutes. The guide who had initially spotted the dogs was from Kirkmans camp and this is where we encountered more of the protocol that rules the MM. Kirkmans can traverse part of MM and MM can then traverse Kirkmans area (From what I understand, Kirkmans used to be owned by MM but was sold). Well, the Kirkmans guide attempted to take control of the sighting but our guide was immediately angered and informed the Kirkmans guide that he was on MM property and that MM rangers would now be in charge. There were a few heated exchanges over the radio about this—I thought the politics of this situation and all of the other situations like this were quite interesting. Anyway, the dogs were playing and we watched for about twenty minutes taking as many photographs as possible. Then suddenly all of the dogs took off in an easterly direction. While not knowing what was happening, our guide followed racing through the bush—I really thought we were going to be thrown out as the terrain was very hilly and we were moving very fast but even my mother held on tight. It was not a pursuit conducted I vain for when we caught up to the dogs, we watched them chase two leopards up two separate trees and then steal the leopards’ prey, an impala that was still alive but immobilized on the ground. I think our car was parked three meters away as the dogs ripped the animal apart. Extremely gruesome yes and they took little notice of our presence. All the while, the leopards just sat in the trees watching approximately five meters from our vehicle. While I think we were there only ten minutes, it seemed liked hours as we watched the dogs run off with pieces of meat, drop them, come back for more, tug on pieces in the mouths of others etc… Finally our guide asked if we could leave in order to allow another car to enter and we agreed that we had seen enough. As we were departing another car passed by and everyone thanked us for giving up our prime spot.

    We then returned to camp discussing all along the way what we had just witnessed. Once there, we packed, ate lunch and then left to the airstrip for our flight to Joburg. I should say that some members of our group were disappointed that I did not choose Singita for our stay over MM, but after researching on this forum, I was persuaded to do MM. In the end, everyone agreed that Mala Mala was a fantastic choice and definitely worth a return trip.

    Next installment:

    The Westcliff and off to Botswana and Deception Valley Lodge

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    So glad we are booked for MM for three days in December. I hope we see half of your sightings. Is there anything I should bring with us to MM besides the obvious...Deet, sunhat, sunblock, camera, extra camera stuff???

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    JP

    I normally have a fantastic memory for information like this but I can't remember. He certainly is not one of the people you mention. I think his name was Mark and his parents owned a game reserve adjacent to Phinda. He was a very nice guy and I hope I wasn't unfair to him above.

    Elainee:

    You seem to have covered it all. All of the lodges supply bug spray--in the car and in your room, so there is really no need to bring your own.

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    cruisinred:

    Thanks for reading it!! I saw the luxurylink package and have bought many other packages before. When we booked Jabulani, we only paid the full board price 3500pppn and then paid for each elephant ride separately. The all-inclusive rate I thought was much too high.

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    Hi Marseus

    Reading your report with interest, thank-you. I am a regular to MalaMala, and I must say, the ranger you refer to has made me think of who it could be! I cannot think of a head ranger of three years in recent years besides Chris Daphne, even Leon I do not think would have been there as head ranger for 3 years as Chris left, I believe in June 2004. And to my memory, the head ranger is a ranger on a daily basis, not a desk job - so I am wondering if this fellow was not a head ranger at another camp.

    I am also surprised at your comment that you asked to eat without him and he insisted on eating with you! Usually, I would have thought eating alone meant eating in your room, as eating alone in the Boma, I would have thought would not be eating alone! The ranger would have needed to be near you at any rate, as it is part of his job to see to drink orders or anything else that you or your other guests require.

    I also spend a few nights at Rattray's each visit, because I find the rooms so luxurious and that, for me, is the only difference between the two camps, besides the obvious one of less guests at Rattray's.

    I have been to Singita, and other luxury camps, and to me, a gameviewing addict, MalaMala is my only choice at the moment.

    I nearly always like heading south, and I read with interest your comments regarding the conflict between the Kirkman's ranger and your MM ranger. It stands to reason that each property owner has guidelines for animal viewing and that is the way it should be! I like the rules that guide MM rangers, and never having stayed at Kirkmans I can't really comment except to say that on one occasion a few years ago, I was not happy that a Kirkman's vehicle went so close to where very young leopards cubs were hidden in amoung rocks. But having come into contact with many Kirkman rangers over the years, I have never heard a cross word spoken either to the Kirkman rangers or to us after we had left a sighting. Usually, the rangers know each other by name, unless one of them is fairly new.

    I am pleased that you had great gameviewing experience, I always do have the same at MM, but sometimes it isn't until I return home and look at my photos, that I realise how incredibly lucky I am at MM!

    Kind regards

    Kaye

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    Hi Kaye,

    I still can't remember his name---I know he was behind the desk on the radio at MM and had been at MM for 3 yrs or more. He had short dark hair and wore a gold chain if that helps. Anyway we were talking about the importance of the fodors africa forum and he asked if I knew you! He said that you had recently been there for a long stay and then I remembered having read your report or having seen photos you posted.

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    Hi Marseus

    I obviously don't look closely enough - as I can't recall any gold chains, so that has not helped me. Short dark hair and a good talker maybe Devon, and I have not had the pleasure of Devon as my ranger, but he is very keen, which is a must in a ranger! But I am not aware of him being behind a desk,to my knowledge he has always been a ranger, and he was for a short while, the head ranger.

    Shall be one of life's mysteries I guess! I was there for a relatively long stay in January then again in March/April, as I did mention, I am addicted to the gameviewing. Unfortunately, I have to wait now until December, which is proving fairly difficult, as the gameviewing on the cyberdiary is fantastic and makes me absolutely green with envy!

    Kind regards

    Kaye

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    Hi Kaye,

    Thanks. It was Devon!

    Yes i am addicted too. Just watched the youtube buffalo/lion/croc and then felt compelled to send an e-mail to my TA about a trip to E Africa next February.

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    Marseus,

    Yes, Devon does have a golden chain around his neck. It is the star of david. He is Jewish. Very, very cool guy. Excellent ranger and he just loves the bush! Always full of energy!

    Cheers,

    JP

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    This is such a fascinating report on some excellent destinations--once you finally landed, that is.

    You had a great description of the Jabulani Elephant riding experience. I'll take it from the Swiss and from you to focus on the elephant part if I ever go there, and I'd love to. The cost comparison with Abus is a big plus for Jabulani, espeically if it is eles and not extreme luxury you are seeking.

    You are so right about stretching before the a.m. ele ride. I pulled a back muscle once when doing some elephant riding (as a passenger) in Matoba Hills, Zimbabwe, and I am not at all prone to back problems. Thank goodness I had some muscle relaxers with me for the next two days of rhino tracking.

    You certainly had the morning breakfast run, at least from the ele's standpoint. Like so many of us do, it was eating on the run in the morning too.

    Interesting aside on the Bushes in South Africa.

    So many people go back to Africa with the hopes of seeing a leopard that was missed on the first trip. You, on the other hand, saw lots of leopards but might be enticed back to Vuyatela for on account of the contemporary art!

    It is too bad for anyone spending time at Mala Mala to miss some of the sought-after species they are famous for. But I'm glad you mentioned that it is possible to spend 4 nights and not see rhino, leopard, lion, or even a hyena. It emphasizes the luck of the bush and that even Mala Mala is not a zoo that produces photographic prizes on demand. Similarly, a guide at Mombo told me he recalled a 2-week period with zero cats.

    Going back to Mala Mala next year, eh? Are you trying to catch up with NapaMatt and Kaye?

    I'll consider myself forewarned of the talking ranger. I hope you enjoyed learning about cricket and rugby. Since I'm not a sports fan, I'm already thinking of ways to redirect the conversation (if I end up with this gentleman).

    Your Mala Mala sightings were pretty fantastic even by Mala Mala standards with a mother/cub leopard kill, wild dogs vs. leopards, and Elizabeth Vargas!

    A hyena den is one of my favorites and if the guide said it was the best display he had seen, you must have had a wonderful experience.

    I liked your account of the contrast between humans bickering over property boundaries and the wild dogs and leopards battling for prey to keep them alive for another few days.

    Anticipating the rest of your trip report!

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    Hi atravelyn,

    You would be very lucky to get Devon for your ranger. You talk to him of wildlife and I doubt the conversation would be steered to sport! I have had quite a few conversations with him, and his zest for wildlife would be hard to match - and his energy is amazing, and I think, though I have never had him as a ranger, that he is a ranger who will go out of his way to deliver what his guests would like. He also has a great sense of humour and always seems to be happy. Certainly from Marseus' description I would not have guessed it was Devon - even with the short dark hair! So it shows us I guess, that people see the same person quite differently!


    Kind regards

    Kaye

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    Thanks Atravelynn,

    Don't get me wrong, Devon was an excellent ranger with a lot of enthusiasm. My complaint was only that it was difficult to talk to my parents about more private issues since he was always there--that would have been an issue with any ranger I think. And my parents are not people who can talk about game viewing all the time hence his attempt to move the conversation to sports. I hope he's not following this thread.....

    And I do think its important that people realize that even at MM its not guaranteed that you will have tremendous game viewing even though the probability is quite high. We were quite fortunate. Thats why I think its great to go to a place like MM where you will see loads of game and then go to Botswana where you experience something more "natural," whatever that means. I remember my first time in a Botswana camp---Eagle Island(happened also to be my first safari experience) and we saw very little large game except for various antelopes (but countless numbers of birds and fabulous landscapes) for three days and no elephants until we were about to board the plane. We were disppointed and I think even complained---I am embarrassed we did that. In retrospect those three days at Eagle island were a wonderful experience and I would recommend everyone go there. As a water based camp, it was excellent. Very luxurious, i.e. one person per makoro, walks on islands, and the service and guides were top notch. And the first day and night we had the entire camp to ourselves. Eagle Island also has what I think now is an unbelievable in-ground pool not surrounded by decking but well-manicured grass. Not everyone cares about a pool, but it was really hot and we enjoyed it a great deal. You can unfortunately only make these kinds of positive observations after having experienced different camps and with realistic expectations. I wasn't using this forum at the time so that certainly would have helped.

    By the way, from what I have gathered talking to others, Jabulani is probably just as "luxurious" as Abu but just not as isolated.

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    Marseus,

    Good skills and enthusiasm while in the bush are what’s really important to me in any ranger or guide. And I am someone who can talk about game viewing all the time. So then, no worries there.

    Since you mentioned your parents, how did they react to the 5 attempted landings? I’m still thinking about that. I know I would be really upset and shaken.

    Thanks for the correction on the luxury level of Jabualni. I wasn’t trying to downgrade it at all. One more question about it—did you ever walk with the elephants or watch them bathe in a river or pond?

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    Devon replaced Leon as head ranger, we have not had him guide us. In fact after years of Leon, my new request is to have Phillemon as my tracker, brilliant at understanding animal behaviour, good english, a great sense of humor and really good at birding.

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    We are a family of four, with two teenagers, going to SA over Christmas break. I need to decide today if we are spending 3 nights at mala mala sable, or 3 nights at vuyatela. I am leaning towards vuyatela- I like the simpleness of the property, and it seems like the game viewing is very good. I am conflicted, as mala mala has a "legendary" reputation. It sounds like we'd see more wildlife at mala mala, but since I have nothing to compare to, do you think I will be satisfied with what we see at vuyatela. I really like that they take you to a local village- I think that would be so interesting for me and my kids. Thnaks. Joy

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