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Trip Report-Botswana 2007

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THANK YOU FODORITES for all of the help you provided in planning my recent trip to Namibia and Botswana. I could not have done it without you. The knowledge on this board is amazing, and everyone has been so generous with their time.

My safari consisted of 7 nights in Namibia and 12 nights in Botswana. I will write a separate trip report for Namibia.

Botswana was amazing. I had a fantastic time. I absolutely adored Duba Plains. It is on a very short list of my all-time favorites! The highlight was the lion-buffalo activity, and having James 007 as my guide. I also had exceptional game viewing at Duma Tau. I had so much fun with a couple I met there that we are discussing a reunion safari. Our guide, Ronald, was so eager to please that we even went on a surprise game drive one night after dinner in search of aardvark. Tubu Tree was also very nice. The birding was excellent, but my favorite memory there is the leopard kill of a sitatunga. Chitabe Trails was also fantastic. Highlights there were our guide, Andreas, chasing wild dogs relentlessly, and seeing a baby leopard.

Botswana July 1-13, 2007

Camps, in order, 3 nights each camp
• Duba Plains
• Duma Tau
• Tubu Tree
• Chitabe Trails

It might take me a while to get the entire trip report written and all of the photos posted, but here’s the first installment. AGAIN, THANK YOU!

Dana

DUBA PLAINS

Photos:
http://picasaweb.google.com/Danastravelphotos/BotswanaJuly07DubaPlains

OVERVIEW

Fantastic, Amazing, Incredible! I cannot think of enough adjectives to describe my experience at Duba Plains. The game drives, accommodations, food, and staff were all top-notch. I cannot wait to return.

James 007 was my guide. He lived up to everything I read about him, and exceeded all of my expectations. James was as enthusiastic as I when it came to each and every sighting. He definitely knows his stuff, and loves every moment of it. I asked James where he got the nickname 007 and he said from a guest. But, I never did find out if that is because the fictional character James Bond was named after James Bond the American ornithologist; the guest thought James had the skills of a secret agent; or if the guest took James for a romantic womanizer. Perhaps only James knows for sure 

The game viewing at Duba Plains was excellent. Huge herds of buffalo roamed the floodplains, as if unaware they were being stalked by a pride of lion. We saw red lechwe, kudu, tsessebe, and bushbuck. Elephants and hippopotamus filled the waterways. Baboons entertained us as they played, as did vervet monkeys. We saw hyena, jackal, warthog, porcupine, and even an aardwolf, which was a first for me.

The birds were incredible. We saw many more than I can possibly remember, although I did try to write down the names of the birds each evening. We saw reed cormorants, grey herons, and several different egrets including the great white egret, little egret, yellow billed egret and slaty egret. We saw the glossy ibis and hadeda ibis, the wattled crane, Egyptian goose, and a pink backed pelican. Given the fact that we saw a buffalo kill we also got our share of vultures as well as seeing the bateleur eagle, African fish eagle and a tawny eagle. We saw wattled starling, long tailed starling, blue eared starling, and of course the burchell’s starling. We even saw an albino burchell’s starling! We saw numerous black winged plovers, long toed plovers, and a blacksmith plover protecting her eggs. Other birds included the African jacana, the lesser jacana, the pied kingfisher, the hamerkop, the African stonechat, the red billed buffalo weaver, and a few of my favorites for their magnificent coloring: the little bee eater, the lilac breasted roller and the saddle billed stork.

Duba Plains camp is beautiful. The “tents” are permanent structures, raised well off the ground with wooden doors and large decks. Interiors have hardwood floors, twin beds pulled together, a writing desk with lamp, lounge chair with ottoman, and excellent en-suite facilities. There are plugs for battery chargers in the room, plenty of hot water during the day, and hot water bottles at night. Casual luxury at its finest! My tent (#1) is at the water’s edge. At night I can hear the hippos grunt and elephants roar; in the mornings I can hear the birds chirping and rustling in the trees. The tree above my tent is also a favorite spot for the vervet monkeys, and my balcony is the perfect spot from which to watch them play.

DETAILS

I arrive at Maun airport and am immediately met by a Wilderness Safaris’ representative. I am told by Sefofane that the weight of my bag is fine, but that it is too large to fit in the hold. I point out that it is a few inches smaller all the way around than what is listed in my itinerary, confirmed by WS, and offer to show that to them. They decline, and ask me to re-pack into a small duffel bag they are going to “loan” me. Of course I agree, until they tell me they want a $10 deposit for the duffel bag. When I question the deposit, they tell me that since I’m the only person on the flight that I don’t have to re-pack into the loaner bag after all. I never did understand how the number of the people on the flight affects whether or not the bag fits into the hold 

While waiting for my flight I meet two couples from Sweden. We speak only briefly, and none of us asks where the other is headed. Little do we know that we will be vehicle mates for the next two days. I board a small Cessna, later dubbed “the mosquito” by the Duba staff. I am the only passenger on board, so I sit up front with the pilot and get my first view of the Delta from the jump seat. This is my first trip to Botswana, and my anticipation mounts at seeing the water-filled floodplains. As we fly over the Delta the mosquito is quickly passed by another (larger) plane carrying, as I later find out, the Swedes. They were supposed to be on a later flight, but their excitement got the better of them and they could not wait for their scheduled flight. They either chartered a flight or convinced a pilot to leave earlier than planned. I know immediately we will get along well. At the airstrip the Swedes are picked up by James 007 who, unbeknownst to me, was there to pick me up. I guess nobody told him how fast (not) the mosquito could fly. Francois picks me up, whisks me to camp, and on the way we have a good laugh about the size and speed (or lack thereof) of the mosquito. Even before arriving at camp, I can tell from Francois’ affable manner that I am going to like it here. In the end I don’t just like it, I love it!

Upon arrival I am introduced to the staff, and to my vehicle mates. The Swedes are absolutely lovely. I enjoy all of them, but particularly one of the women, an avid birder with an enthusiasm level that rivals James’. I never quite catch her name. She repeats it for me several times, and I try to duplicate what she is saying, but I can tell from the grins of her fellow travelers that I am not even close. All I can hear are a bunch of guttural “rrrrrr”s all rolled together. Neither James nor Francois ever gets it either. Eventually we stop trying and just refer to her as The Swede.

I arrive at camp around 2:30 and after being shown to my tent the Swedes and I are offered a proper sit down lunch. We all decline in favor of a quick snack and head out almost immediately on a game drive. James smiles, knowing he has guests who’ve come here for one reason only: to see the wildlife. I’ve come to Duba with the hope, but not expectation, of seeing the buffalo-lion interaction, the Tsaro Pride, and the Duba Boys in particular. I left the expectations at home, determined not to be disappointed if I see little or no lion-buffalo interaction at all. It’s apparently very possible for the entire buffalo herd to be on the other side of the channel On Paradise Island which, during my stay at least, is unreachable by vehicle due to water levels. In fact, as luck would have it (yes, I was a very lucky woman on this trip), the herd didn’t cross the channel until the day before my departure.

We are five in the jeep, six with James, and no one specifies what he/she would like to see. James says “I think tonight we’ll see if we can find the buffalo” and we all nod in agreement. I am sitting in front with James, and as we pass through the deeper area of the floodplains I pick my feet up every time I think the water will come into the vehicle because my backpack is on the floor. Each time James touches my hand and says “I’ll let you know when you need to pick up your feet.” Of course, he is right. Very rarely do we get wet.

In search of the buffalo herd we see red lechwe, tsessebe, elephant, baboon, numerous beautiful birds, and an aardwolf. I haven’t previously seen an aardwolf, and before James told me what it was I thought it was a striped hyena. Not long into our game drive we spot the buffalo herd. It is a large herd, and sensing the pride is near, they stay close to one another. We watch the herd for quite some time, and while most of the buffalo ignore us, a few are watching us with the same intensity as we are watching them. After a while James asks if we are ready to go, and when we say yes we travel only a short distance and come upon the Tsaro Pride, half relaxing, half sleeping. They appear to be paying little or no attention to the herd. But of course, they are actually paying very close attention. After spending quite a long time with the pride we return to the buffalo herd to see if there are any stragglers that would present the Tsaro Pride an opportunity. The herd has a young calf, and while I know it’s a fact of nature, I am secretly praying that the young calf isn’t the Tsaro pride’s evening meal. We drive around for a little while, never straying too far from the herd or the pride. Eventually the herd begins to move and it is at this moment I realize just how alert the pride is. They patiently watch from a distance, eyes focused intently on the herd. The stalking has begun! James tells us that the pride does not hunt at night, and since it is getting dark we head back to camp, stopping for sundowners along the way.

At dinner I meet two couples from JoBurg, who are leaving the next morning. I also meet Tara and Chris, managers at Jao who are at Duba Plains on holiday. All are very nice, and we have great dinner conversation, but I particularly enjoy talking about our afternoon game drive with the Swedes. I can’t tell who is more excited, the Swedes, me, or James. Dinner is excellent. I have to admit I’m a bit of a food snob, and with the exception of Damaraland Camp, the food was not very good in Namibia. While I would never choose a safari camp for quality of food, I do appreciate a great meal. After dinner I am walked to my tent, given a torch and hot water bottle, and told not to leave my tent until dawn. As I start to fall asleep I hear the sounds of the bush come alive. Elephants and hippos are in the water right outside my tent roaring up a storm. The next morning when I learn they came into camp, I am only half glad I listened to the instructions not to go outside until dawn. The other half of me wishes I had been sitting on my porch, camera in hand.

The next morning’s drive is even more exciting than the previous evening. We head out, and almost immediately find the Tsaro Pride feasting on an unfortunate buffalo. To my satisfaction, it is not the young calf. We spend a long time watching the pride gorge themselves and we joke about how they are all so full that even the males look pregnant. They eat, they rest, they eat, they rest. All except for one, who never rests, and whose head is inside the buffalo carcass nearly the entire time we are there. I am surprised there aren’t any vultures around, but I guess it’s still a little early. Also noticeably absent are the hyenas. When the pride has more than enough to eat, each member finds a comfortable spot for a post over-eating siesta. This reminds me of Thanksgiving dinner as a child. When it is clear that the lion are too full to even move, we leave in search of the buffalo herd which, predictably, is not far away.

That afternoon we search out the Tsaro Pride again, and find them right where we left them, since they have not yet finished the carcass. We also find the buffalo herd regrouping and making its way towards the channel and Paradise Island. We watch baboon playing for quite some time, particularly enjoying the interaction between a mother and her young. On the way back to camp we see what appears to be a distressed blacksmith plover, and when we stop we realize she is protecting her eggs, which she has laid on the side of the road. The afternoon ends with a beautiful African sunset. Yet another wonderful day at Duba Plains.

The following morning the pride is finally finishing off the remainder of the buffalo carcass. The vultures are in abundance and eagerly awaiting their turn. Even though I have seen these birds numerous times I am continually surprised at just how ugly they really are. Not the “so ugly they are cute ugly” like a warthog or wildebeest, but just plain ugly. We spend quite a bit of time this morning watching elephant, including a cow and her calf. The Swedes are leaving this afternoon, so we head off for one more last look for the buffalo herd. We find them, dangerously close to the channel. The channel is not, of course, dangerous for them to cross, but dangerous for another reason. We can see three lionesses from the Skimmer Pride on the other side of the water, on Paradise Island. The Skimmer Pride is eleven in total, but recently only the three lionesses have been seen. The lionesses patiently watch the herd, as if trying to decide whether or not to cross the channel. James explains that they don’t often venture into Tsaro territory, doing so only when absolutely necessary. He also explains that while they are capable of crossing the deep water, like most cats they don’t like to swim. The Skimmer lionesses are very patient, and after quite a long time it is clear they will not cross over. Why? Because the herd decides to cross the channel instead! We beg James to take us to Paradise Island, but he tells us (again) that the water level is too high, and that it is impossible for us to cross.

We watch the heard cross and we leave in search of a few more birds for The Swede to photograph before she has to leave this afternoon. Her mother was a bird enthusiast, and she has been one for as long as she can remember. She recounts a time when she finally had enough bird sightings in Sweden (over 300) to join a birding club that she had always wanted to be a member of. I enjoy listening to her discuss various birds with James, and his knowledge once again amazes me. On our way back to camp we see Silver Eye, one of the 9 lionesses of the Tsaro pride. James explains that Silver Eye is responsible for having killed a number of Tsaro Pride cubs over the years. After having lost two cubs recently, the Tsaro Pride now consists of 9 adult females, the 2 Duba Boys, 1 young male, and 1 young female, who James has nicknamed “the mean looking one” for the look in her eyes when feasting on the carcass.

After a wonderful lunch I say goodbye to the Swedes and retire to my deck to take notes of everything I saw today. As I look through yesterday’s notes I realize that my handwriting is so atrocious that I can barely read it. In fact, I can only make out about half of it. As I continue to scribble in my illegible fashion, it dawns on me that if I can’t even read yesterday’s notes today that I am going to have a hard time deciphering things when I get home. I give up on the scribbling and decide instead to look through the photos that I’d taken that morning. I realize this probably isn’t a wise decision, but I justify it by telling myself that I am on vacation. Besides, these are lifelong memories, so I should be able to remember things a month from now, right? For this reason in particular I had originally planned to take a dictaphone. However, in exchange for the combined weight of the dictaphone, batteries and all of the tapes, I could fit in another pair of shoes. Out dictaphone, in clogs. Was I glad then that I had those clogs? Of course. Do I wish now that I’d had the dictaphone? Absolutely.

When the Swedes leave I wonder how my future vehicle mate(s) could possibly be so enjoyable. Then I meet Julie. Another wonderful safari companion and all around fun person to spend time with. I’ve decided that I am one lucky person and that if the rest of Botswana is anything like these first three days, then this is going to be an awesome trip! Julie came to Duba Plains with the hope of seeing large herds of buffalo. Not the buffalo-lion interaction, not the Tsaro Pride, but the buffalo themselves. When James asks what we would like to see this evening, she sheepishly admits what seems like a simple request. And of course it would have been had the buffalo not crossed the channel only a few hours earlier. James explains that the herd is now on Paradise Island, and I can see the disappointment in Julie’s face. However, Julie and I have James all to ourselves that afternoon and the following morning, and we have a fantastic time. Well, all to ourselves with the exception of the quiet but not invisible man in the back of the jeep, who I believe is with the Okavango Community Trust. I do not recall his name, and don’t know how to address him, so I’ll just call him the ranger. His presence is important, because later it comes in quite handy.

During our afternoon drive we see one of the Tsaro Pride lionesses basking in her recent gorging. We watch her for a while, and then spend time with some ellies. We see numerous birds, and while I thought I would miss The Swede’s interaction with James about the birds I am enjoying Julie’s excitement at seeing these birds for the first time. We stop for sundowners and I take photographs of the beautiful sunset. African skies must be some of the most beautiful in the world, and I particularly enjoy the sunsets over the wide open floodplains. On the way back to camp we get stuck in the mud, and James and the ranger get out of the jeep to assess the damage. When it is clear that they have to jack up one side of the jeep pretty high, put a board under the tires, then do the same with the other side, Julie and I offer to get out. Of course it would be easier for them with less weight in the vehicle, right? Wrong. By this time the sun has gone down and we could tell by James’ stern admonishment to stay in the vehicle (and by his continuous looking around) that he does not think it is safe. Besides, he doesn’t want us to get dirty. Julie and I both laugh, thinking “we’re on safari . . . who cares?” but we obey James’ instructions nonetheless. After making a very difficult job look like child’s play, James and the ranger get us out of the mud and we head back to camp. It is quite dark by now and James is using the spotlight. On the way back to camp we see a mother and baby porcupine. This is the perfect ending to my last evening game drive at Duba Plains.

We have yet another fantastic meal. Some of the best food I’ve had on safari has been here at Duba Plains. A beautiful sky, an excellent dinner, a nice glass of wine, and wonderful dinner conversation: what more could I ask for? I’ve gotten to know Tara and Chris over the past couple of days and really enjoy their company. At dinner we had a good laugh about why I hadn’t used my outdoor shower yet. I told Tara about my experience at Londolozzi when the vervet monkeys ran away with not only my towel, but my clothes. If you want to use the outdoor shower, tent # 1 might not be right for you. There is no access into the tent from the outdoor shower without walking out onto the deck, which is easily viewed from the dining and main lobby area. So, beware of vervet monkeys and keep your towel close at all times. I have also really enjoyed getting to know the Duba staff. It must be very difficult to make guests feel at home, like one of the family and like a pampered guest all at the same time. Not only does the staff at Duba Plains manage to do this, but they do so without belying the efforts of what must be a huge endeavor. That night I stay up late recalling the prior couple of days and what a wonderful time I’ve had.

The following morning Julie and I head out on what will be my last game drive with James. We spend quite a bit of time watching elephant, particularly the interaction between a cow and her calf. I put my camera down and take in the sights that I’ve been watching through a lens for the past couple of days. I tell James how much I love it at Duba, and I can tell Julie understands why I think this is such a magical place. My last morning is actually bittersweet. I do not want to leave. In fact, I ask if I can stay. In hindsight this is quite an odd request for me, because I’m usually looking forward to the next adventure. Moreover, I came here hoping to see the buffalo-lion interaction, which thanks to good fortune I was lucky enough to see, and the buffalo are now on Paradise Island, out of sight. My request is in earnest, and while I’m trying to figure out how to re-arrange my schedule Francois says they have no space for the next few days. Thinking that I’m joking, however, in jest he says that the following week he is on leave and that I could have his house. When he realizes that I might take him up on his offer he urges me to keep my existing itinerary and assures me that I will love Duma Tau. But how could I possibly love any place as much as Duba Plains?

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    Had to interrupt reading your report to ask you a question about your duffel! I just bought two duffels for our September trip to Botswana- I haven't recieved any info from Wilderness as yet. They are large LL Bean-13"h x 30"w x 15"d. I know about the weight limit, but are these bags "within regulation" in terms of dimensions? Thanks

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    Hi Zinfanatic,
    My bag is about the same size as yours. I just re-measured and total capacity would be 30" x 15" x 15". However, if not completely full, that 15" tall really is only about 12" - 13". The information on the WS website when I was booking my trip listed 81cm x 35 cm x 31 cm, which translates to about 32" x 14" x 12". I was going to buy a new (smaller) duffel, but when I received the pre-trip information from my agent the size allowance was listed as 80cm x 40cm x 40cm, or 31.5" x 15.7" x 15.7". I asked my agent about this, and he confirmed the larger size with WS and we got it in writing. I am not sure what is listed on their website now, but you might want to check just to be safe. As I mentioned, I didn't actually end up having a problem. However, the theme of the Sefofane pilots seemed to be always questioning the size of luggage, not the weight. The cargo holds really are pretty small, and smaller on some planes than on others. If there were going to be an issue, it would likely be with height of the bag, and if it isn't full and can be easily "mushed" you should be fine.

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    Dana: Awesome start to your report with my favorite camp, it sounds like the experience is approximately the same as when I visited in January 2003 when James was actually the camp manager. He then left for Joburg for about 2 years (?) to work on a book on the Lions of Duba which I have never seen come out -- you didn't hear anything about that did you? Luckily for guests he is back to guiding.

    Great photos, it always does my heart good to see the Duba Boys still at it, especially since way back in January 2003 their end was supposed to be near.

    Looking forward to the rest of the report!

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    hi, Dana,

    I was so taken with your report about Duba, thta I googled them to get an idea of price, but all the web-sites are a bit coy. How much did that leg of your trip cost?

    I'm a bit suspicious of that business about your bag - sounds like a scam to extract a few dollars from the unsuspecting traveller. funny how they suddenly decided your bag would fit after all!

    looking forward to the rest,

    regards, ann

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    Marija,
    Great idea about taking an extra collapsible bag . Wish I'd thought of it. That way if you have to remove anything for your larger bag so that it can be mashed down, you can.

    Jackie,
    Duba Plains reminded me of Bateleur's Camp for the consistency of experience. Not only was the game viewing excellent, but so was the guiding, staff, food, accomodations, and magical overall experience. When do you leave? Not too long I hope.

    PB,
    Yes, it was an awesome start to the Botswana portion of my trip. I was VERY lucky. I know that seeing the lion-buffalo interaction can be fleeting, but so many people have had such a similar experience, that I now wonder just how unlikely it is that you would not have this incredible experience at Duba. I, too, am glad the Duba Boys are still around and that I got to see them, along with the entire Tsaro Pride, and particular with a carcass. James told me that the two cubs were definitely now dead. They saw one injured, on its last leg, and knew it died, and the other hasn't been seen since, so they know it is also dead. He, along with others of course, is concerned for the future of the Tsaro Pride. I was also fortunate to get a glimpse of the three lionesses of the Skimmer Pride, although only from across the channel with binoculars. I didn't hear anything about a book James was writing. He actually doesn't toot his own horn, so I am not surprised. In fact, I did not even know he had previously been camp manager, left for two years, and only returned to guiding a couple of years ago. Lucky for the guests (and for me). He is a fantastic guide. It is obviously his calling in life.

    Ann,
    I've been reading your trip report this morning, and your level of detail puts my trip report to shame. I'm glad you were so taken with what I've written so far that you are googling Duba. It really is a wonderful place. I absolutely loved it. Do I need to say that again? I loved it.

    You can't find prices on the WS site, but perhaps on one of the other sites mentioned on this board. I remember when I first starting researching this trip several fodorites posted links to sites for price checks. I'll look for those and get back to you on it. I used Bert with Fish Eagle Safaris, but didn't ask for the prices to be broken down by camp, just by Namibia and Botswana, so I have to admit I don't know what I paid for Duba Plains. But, in my mind whatever it was, it was worth it. Bert is very helpful. You can email or call him. I'm sure he'd give you a quick reponse.

    The bag thing was a bit odd, but I don't think they were trying to extract money from me. I do believe it was to be a deposit for the bag, and they would have returned the deposit. Plus, it was only $10 USD. It just seemed a recurrent theme (with all guests, not just me), complaining about size, not weight, which I found odd. The real issue appeared to be that it slowed things down if they had several bags and had to spend time making them all fit into the hold. I think Sefofane and WS have to decide who gets to set the rules regarding size requirements, let guests know what those actually are, and then not complain if the guests bags are within the guidelines. I would have been quite happy to take two very small dufels, which I think would have made things easier on the pilots, if that had been recommended on my pre-trip information but it wasn't.

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    Ann, here are a couple of sites where you can find the price of accommodations:

    www.go2africa.com

    www.e-gnu.com

    www.africatravelresource.com

    And here's Bert's information:
    Bert Duplessis
    Fish Eagle Safaris
    Houston TX 77042
    Tel 800 513-5222
    Tel 713 467-5222
    Fax 713 467-3208
    I have two e-mail addresses. He was having trouble with one, but I can't remember which so he gave me both.
    exafrica@aol.com
    jduplessis@houston.rr.com
    Web site: www.fisheaglesafaris.com

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    Hello Dana I also reflect the same thanks, this forum in particular would have also meant we would actually have got lost from Day 1 and probably not be here now to report back. I wrote the following trip report as thanks to Fodors contributors whose information (especially the one called "luangwablondes") was utterly invaluable to being able to see and experience one of the most precious places on Earth. The 100+ page report of self-drive camping in Botswana has been written for people who are using this site to help prepare for such a trip. http://wilddogsandenglishmen.wordpress.com/
    Your experience of Botswana sounded so lovely. We went to Namibia 3 years ago for 2 weeks, also such an amazing place.
    Best wishes
    WD

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    Love your report, Dana - and I cant wait to read your comments on Duma Tau - where we had amazing experiences last October. Your photos are excellent as well and are helping me to re-live our trip and start planning the next one! Write on!
    Cheers
    Alison

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    Dana,
    great trip report so far. Duba Plains is awesome. But i have to admit, i'm most jealous of you saying you say a leopard kill a sitatunga. that's unbelievable. i hope you have some photos.

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    Leely,
    Thanks, and I'm glad you enjoyed the photos. I saw lion every day except the last morning. I was able to spend so much time with them that I took way too many photos. Don't you love digital? I had a very hard time choosing which ones to keep and which ones to delete, so I'm glad you enjoyed those I kept.

    WildDogs,
    Yes, I had a very lovely experience at Duba Plains, and also the other Botswana camps. I'm writing the next installment of my trip report now.

    Bat,
    Wonderful start it truly was. I know you will have a fantastic time in SA. But, it's not too early to start planning the next trip even before you take this one!

    Alison,
    Glad you like the report. Well, what I've written so far anyway. I remember during my planning stages somebody mentioning your trip report. As I recall you also had a great experience at Duma Tau. That's my next installment. I took more photos here than anywhere else, due to the prolific gameviewing, and it's taking me quite a while to sort them out. Hope to get that part of the trip report and photos posted this afternoon.

    Bigcountry,
    Duba Plains IS awesome. I saw the leopard with sitatunga kill at Tubu Tree. The photos aren't great because it was at night, but I will post them anyway. You should not be jealous. I probably should have been clearer. I did not see a live sitatunga and did not witness the kill itself, only the leopard with the sitatunga after the kill. The big joke was this dead sitatunga. I have never seen one alive. Everywhere I go I casually ask "do you have sitatunga here?" and the guides either say "no" or "yes, but they are very elusive". Of course I know before I ask the question that this will be the answer because I've been asking it since my first trip to Africa in 2003. I get the latter response at Tubu Tree and of course not only do I not get my hopes up, but I put it completely out of my mind. On my second night there what do I see? I leopard with the sitatunga body in the tree and the head, surrounded by hyenas, on the ground. And of course, in unison, the guide and my vehicle mates (who have heard me ask the question) say "well Dana, there's your sitatunga."

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    I feel like booking another trip now, and we've just gotten back!! I've looked at your photos for a second time; they are just amazing. I love the 3 little birds all in a line. You certainly lucked out a bit with those lions. What kind of camera were you using, and lens length?
    Fodorites keep talking about Duba, both for the sightings and the quality of guides, it seems. Duba seems to have its own concession; is that correct?
    When did you arrive at Chitabe Trails? We were there July 6 - 9.
    Looking forward to reading more!

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    Dana, unfortunately, I had to cancel my trip to Africa for this year due to a disc surgery but I plan on re-booking as soon as I get my new FF tkts for Oct. 2008-can't believe I have to wait an extra year but it will be worthwhile-got to see those gorillas!

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    Here is the second part of the trtip report: Duma Tau. Sorry, it's so slow coming, but I'm swamped with work!

    DUMA TAU

    Photos:
    I know there are way too many photos, but I just could not decide which ones to delete.
    http://picasaweb.google.com/Danastravelphotos/BotswanaJuly07DumaTau

    OVERVIEW

    Another absolutely incredible experience. As with Duba Plains, all aspects of this camp were perfect. The game viewing was phenomenal, the accommodations exemplary, the food fantastic, and the staff superb. I¡¦m going to run out of superlatives by the time I get to the end of this trip report. ƒº

    My guide was a young man named Ronald, who had an energy level quite like none I¡¦d seen before. My vehicle mates and I told Ronald that none of us were the sort of people that liked to sit still for very long, and he kept us busy. Boy did he keep us busy. In the mornings we grabbed a cup of coffee, bowl of porridge, and headed out as soon as we were ready. Instead of taking a siesta we went on a boat ride on the Linyanti River. We got extra time on afternoon game drives by skipping tea and leaving early, and by staying out late, often until only moments before the dinner bell. Ronald even took us on a surprise game drive one evening after dinner and did not return us to camp until after midnight. It seems like we crammed a week¡¦s worth of activity into just a few days. Looking back, I wonder when Ronald found time to sleep.

    We saw so much wildlife at Duma Tau, both large and small. One highlight of the game drives here was chasing wild dogs, following them on a hunt, watching them play, and seeing them get the better of a hyena. Other highlights were seeing a honey badger, and an impromptu late evening game drive during which we found aardvark. All of these were firsts for me. While at Duma we saw numerous antelope including impala, kudu, red lechwe, reedbuck, steenbok, and waterbuck. We also saw giraffe, zebra and wildebeest. We saw prides of lion, herds of buffalo and the former feasting on the latter. We also saw an African wild cat and black-backed jackal on several occasions. We were mock-charged more than once by the many elephants that inhabit the area. We saw hippopotamus, crocodile, and a monitor lizard. Primates included baboons, vervet moneys, and a lesser bushbaby. Other small finds were the banded mongoose and slender mongoose.

    Accommodations were heavenly. With 10 rooms the camp is a little large, but somehow still managed to feel very intimate. This was partially due to the fact that it was not full during the majority of my stay, but also very much a result of the staff¡¦s efforts in making guests fee at home. The tented rooms are quite large, with en-suite facilities and an outdoor shower. Walls are canvas, but there ends the similarity with a ¡§tent.¡¨ The rooms are accessed by raised wooden walkways, the rooms have high ceilings with ceiling fan, the roofs are thatched, and sliding glass doors open to a very nice deck. Rooms have a writing desk with lamp and plenty of outlets for recharging batteries. Accommodations at Duma Tau were more spacious and a lot nicer than many hotel rooms I¡¦ve stayed in.

    DETAILS

    At the airstrip I¡¦m picked up by Rrrrrrrrrronald. Yes, that is how he pronounces his name. He has a very deep voice, and combined with the rolling ¡§rrr¡¨s, it comes out quite comical. Although he is not, at this moment making a joke, I do find out later that he has a great sense of humor. Between Ronald and The Swede I met at Duba, whose name I still cannot pronounce, I¡¦m wondering if this is going to be an ongoing occurrence. The rolling ¡§Rs¡¨ that is. Well, at least I can pronounce Ronald¡¦s name.

    I arrive at camp around 3:00 in the afternoon, drop my bag in my tent, and find out that Janet and Martin, with whom I¡¦ve ridden from the airstrip, will be my vehicle mates. It¡¦s just the three of us, four with Ronald, for the next four days. We don¡¦t want to waste any time, so we spend little or no time chatting, skip tea, and are immediately off on a game drive. Janet and Martin came directly from the U.K., via JoBurg, then Maun. They haven¡¦t even had a hotel overnight and are still ready for this game drive. Like me, they arrive ahead of schedule for the afternoon game drive. Hard core safari-goers. Yippee! I instantly know I¡¦m going to like them.

    Ronald asks what we¡¦d like to see and each of us mention, as if it is a pre-planned response, that we¡¦ve been on safari before and are interested not only in the larger game but the smaller more elusive animals as well. During my entire stay in Botswana I never encounter vehicle mates proclaiming ¡§I want to see the Big 5¡¨ or any that ask the guide to rush around to tick things off a list. I am pleasantly surprised. On the contrary, most of my vehicle mates want, like I do, to spend time watching animal behavior and interaction. I count myself extremely lucky in this regard.

    As we drive through the mopane forest that looks like something out of the twilight zone Ronald explains that the damage is from the elephants. I¡¦m glad he¡¦s explained this because my first impression is that of a forest fire. On the afternoon drive, before the sun even begins to set, we see impala, kudu, giraffe, wildebeest, and of course elephant. Elephant are so plentiful here that we see them on practically every game drive. We are mock charged twice during this one game drive, and this becomes somewhat of a game drive ritual for us. We stop for sundowners and over a glass of wine I have my first opportunity to talk with Janet and Martin. Once again I¡¦ve hit the jackpot with vehicle mates. In fact, we have such a great time together that by the end of our stay we are discussing a reunion safari. We don¡¦t dawdle during sundowners, preferring rather to be back to the reason we¡¦ve come here: seeing animals and nature at its best.

    As soon as we start out again Ronald eyes something running in the distance. This is our first wild dog sighting. We chase after them, and in the end do get a fleeting glimpse of a pack of five, but it is only for a few moments and those with a spotlight. This now becomes our mission: to find the wild dogs. We do not tell this to Ronald, lest he be disappointed if he can¡¦t deliver, but we know he herd the excitement in our voices. A few moments later we are radioed by another jeep that they have spotted a leopard cub. When we arrive, it is pitch black so the guides are using spotlights. We catch a glimpse of the cub in the spotlight, but one of the other vehicles is moving around so much that I think it is making the cub a little skittish. Both Janet and I remark that we wish the other vehicle would just stay still, and not move around so much. It is moving 100s of yards at a time, trying to get a glimpse of the cub who clearly does not want to be seen. This is quite odd. Guides don¡¦t usually drive back and forth frantically, spotlight moving spastically. At dinner this all starts to makes sense and the pieces begin to fall in place. The guests from that particular vehicle seem to be more than just a little pompous, quite authoritative and very demanding. Again I remind myself just how very lucky I am.

    We have an excellent dinner, and after dinner everyone retires early. Janet and Martin are beginning to feel the jet lag and I am eager to go back to my ¡§tent¡¨ to write in my diary. I don¡¦t end up writing, but do jot down a few notes. I spend most of the time looking at the photos I took this afternoon. I fall asleep to the sounds of the bush, with elephant roaring and hippos snorting, neither too far in the distance. At breakfast we sit around the camp fire with a bowl of porridge and cup of coffee. Of course there is a lot more to eat than that, but we are eager to get an early start. This is the beginning of a habit of eating quickly so we can leave on our game drives as soon as possible.

    When we first leave camp it seems like we aren¡¦t going to see anything at all. It is still frightfully cold, and I think the animals are probably still sleeping, bundled up with one another to keep warm. But the light is lovely, and the early start provides the time to travel to ¡§wherever¡¨ Ronald thinks we should be. Although we do not see much during the first 30 minutes to 1 hour, once the animals start coming out of their hiding places they are everywhere.

    We go looking for the leopard cub we saw last night, and on the way see a journey of giraffe, warthogs, baboons, impala, ostrich, a black-backed jackal and a large male kudo. We don¡¦t find the cub, but do find the mother and we watch her for a while. At first she looks like she is posing for us, looking very statuesque with her head held high. However, she very quickly gets bored with us, plops her head down and takes a nap. We watch her for a while, and when it is clear that she is not going to wake up we leave to find the cub. We stop to watch red lechwe playing in the water. Soon thereafter we find the leopard cub hiding in a bush. We sit patiently staring at the bush for a long time, hoping she will come out and reveal herself. As if to grant our wish, she exits the bush and, like her mother, lies down and goes to sleep.

    Later that morning we see more giraffe, hippopotamus, and of course more elephant which, true to form once again mock charge us. We also see an African Fish Eagle, perched on a tree as if asking for his photo to be taken. We oblige. We arrive back at camp to a lovely brunch and it is then that Janet and I discuss our mutual desire of staying out all day. We determine that we need about 30 minutes, one hour max, for a shower and relaxation time in our tents. We ask Ronald what we can do to fill up the rest of the day. He suggests a boat ride on the Linyanti River. We decide to take the boat ride right after brunch, and plan to return by 2:00 or 2:30 so we¡¦ll be ready to leave for the afternoon game drive at 3:00 when everyone else meets for tea.

    The boat ride is very relaxing, and by this time the temperature has warmed up nicely. As soon as we set out we can see the camp from the boat and I now know the source of the grunting hippos the night before. I recall the video I saw on National Geographic (or was it the Discovery Channel?), and silently pray the hippos keep their distance. I also see what I now believe is the elephant that damaged not only the tree by my deck, but also the walkway to Janet and Martin¡¦s tent. But I¡¦m digressing. That comes later in the trip report. The water is like glass, a good habitat for water lilies, but for some reason I¡¦m surprised we see so many of them given the fact that it is winter and the night time temperatures so cold. When we arrive back at the boat dock we are met by the angry elephant. As if on cue, he imitates a mock charge of the boat from a distance. It is quite some time before we¡¦re able to get to our vehicle and eventually get back to camp. We have about 30 minutes for a quick shower before we depart for our afternoon game drive. While in the shower I hear a very loud noise which is clearly coming from right outside my tent. An elephant is shaking a tree in what appears a serious attempt to topple it limb by limb. My first instinct is to grab my camera and go out onto the deck to see what is going on. To this day I¡¦m not sure which stopped me from going outside -- fear or the fact that I was naked. In the rush to see what was going on, I forgot to grab a towel.

    That afternoon we go in search of the wild dogs. We do not find the dogs, but to our satisfaction stumble upon a pride of lion feasting on a buffalo. There is also a large elephant herd watching from nearby. Initially Ronald thinks this is the Savuti Pride but fairly quickly determines this isn¡¦t the case because he doesn¡¦t recognize any of them. Ronald guided at Savuti for two years prior to coming to Duma Tau. In the end he says he thinks that the pride has come over from Namibia, from the Caprivi Strip. We watch the pride for a while, and I am amused by the cat-and-mouse game the vultures, one in particular, play with the lions. We pull up closer for a better look, and as we do so, one of the lionesses gets so close to the jeep that Janet could probably have reached out and touched her. We all stay very still. Not one of us moves in the slightest, not even to reach for our cameras. We spend the majority of the afternoon with the pride, watching them roll in the grass, some seeking shade under a nearby tree while others post guard lest the hyenas or vultures take their catch. It starts getting dark and eventually we leave to find a good spot from which to watch the sunset and have sundowners. Ronald chooses a lovely spot, and as I¡¦m staring at the African sky I once again remark at just how incredibly beautiful it is.

    The following morning we watch vervet monkeys playing in the trees; a black-backed jackal lounging in the sun; kudu and zebra quenching their thirst; and giraffe, with their long tongues, coaxing leaves from thorny branches. But the highlights of this morning¡¦s game drive are the cackle of hyena and the leopard with impala kill up a tree.

    Yesterday a lioness was so close to the jeep that Janet could have reached out and touched her. Well, today it¡¦s my turn only it isn¡¦t a lion but a hyena. There are four hyenas in all, and three of them are not the least bit concerned that we are there. In fact, they don¡¦t seem to even notice. The youngest one, however, is quite curious. He walks around the vehicle a couple of times, getting closer each time, and finally decides to stop circling within what seems like only inches from where I am sitting. He is so close I can see the color of his eyes (they are deep brown), and the water on his whiskers. After a few moments of playing the ¡§who¡¦s going to blink first¡¨ game I muster the courage to move (which I do very slowly) and get a good up close and personal photo of his face. His mother, who up until now has been watching from a distance, comes to fetch him; eventually they move away from the vehicle, but not before I get a good look at her as well.

    We leave the hyenas and shortly thereafter find a leopard with impala kill up in a tree. It is the mother leopard we saw yesterday, so we¡¦re hoping that the cub is nearby. The mother is quite comfortable, legs splayed across the branches, her tail off to one side being used to balance her on the tree limb. The impala kill is high up enough in the tree that she isn¡¦t worried about losing it, particularly since she appears not to realize the hyenas aren¡¦t far away. Just as we think she will never move, and plan to leave in search of something new, she descends the tree as if on command. Much to our dismay, however, she does not lead us to her cub, and eventually we go looking for the cub on our own. Which, incidentally we do not see again.

    That afternoon we see several herds of elephant, two of which are breeding herds, and we enjoy watching the interaction between cows and calves. We stop to watch a giraffe drink, which even though I¡¦ve seen it before, find comical due to the giraffe¡¦s long legs. We stop to take a photograph of one of my favorite birds, the lilac breasted roller. Although it is very common, I love it for its brilliant colors. We ride along the river watching the hippos and crocodiles. We see what I thought was a white stork but now that I look at the photos I¡¦m not sure because I thought the white stork had an all-white head and red legs. In any event, it¡¦s a beautiful bird, and I take several photos. We also see great white heron, and a ground hornbill. The ground hornbill reminds me of a turkey, and in fact Ronald calls him the ¡§turkey bird¡¨ although I never find out whether this is for my benefit or if that is really the bird¡¦s nickname.

    We leave the river and go back to see what the mother leopard is doing, but she¡¦s asleep in the tree, so we leave in search of the wild dogs. Along the way we stop to watch a couple of wildebeest, one of whom is sharpening his horns on a small tree. We resume our search for the dogs but almost immediately see a honey badger. This one seems a little skittish, and moves quite rapidly. I am not quite fast enough with my camera but I do manage to get a couple of bad shots. It¡¦s rather ironic¡Kthose bad shots often bring back more pleasant memories than the good ones. I will always remember watching the honey badger, since I had never seen one before, and only as an afterthought thinking to pick up my camera. We later joke that if we did not stop for the honey badger that we would have missed the dogs. Yes, we do eventually find them, but you¡¦ll have to read on to find out when.

    The sun has already set, so instead of finding the perfect spot for sundowners we just pick a place with a large termite mound. Just behind the termite mound are a couple of giraffe and several impala. It¡¦s already about 6:30 by now, and since we left at 3:00, it is time for a bush break. Martin first, then Janet, then me. No sooner do I have my pants around my ankles that I see the giraffe freeze and impala run. As quickly as possible I grab my pants and run back to the jeep. Ronald hands me a glass of wine, and says to all of us ¡§we can have sundowners or we can chase the dogs.¡¨ We jump in the jeep, drinks in hand, and are on our way. The chase has begun! Ronald is driving so fast that we dump our drinks over the side and hold on for the ride. We find one of the dogs, and watch it for a couple of minutes, but it gets away from us. We chase it for awhile, but it is dark by now and it eludes us when it runs into the brush. For those of you feeling sorry for me at this point (two separate dog sightings, both at night, and each only for a fleeting moment), well don¡¦t. The best is yet to come.

    We arrive at camp to find a wonderful barbeque dinner in the boma, complete with song and dance. New guests have arrived, and the timing is perfect for it is their first night and our last. The setting is beautiful, and the food smells fantastic. Janet, Martin and I don¡¦t sit together, each eager to share our experiences thus far with the new crowd. It¡¦s a little bittersweet that what I remember most from this fantastic dinner is not the wonderful food (it was excellent), the beautiful voices belting out traditional tunes (they were fantastic), or the great dinner conversation during which we could tell the newcomers everything they had to look forward to. The moment I remember most is drinking a glass of red wine while enjoying dessert when Ronald came up to us and asked ¡§are you ready?¡¨

    Earlier that day Janet, Martin and I joked with Ronald about how lucky we were. First we mentioned that if we hadn¡¦t stopped for the honey badger we would have missed the dogs. Next we said if we hadn¡¦t stopped for the ostrich we would have missed the honey badger. This went on for a while, culminating in Martin saying ¡§the only thing we haven¡¦t seen today is an aardvark.¡¨ It was meant as a joke, and I¡¦m sure Ronald knew that, but little did we know that he would take it upon himself to try to find us an aardvark.

    When Ronald asks ¡§are you ready¡¨ we of course reply ¡§ready for what?¡¨ He responds by saying ¡§to go in the green jeep¡¨. This was another joke between us. Before each game drive Ronald told us he would meet us in the green jeep. Of course all of the vehicles are green and, in fact, none of them are actually jeeps. As I mentioned, Ronald has a sense of humor ¡V and a dry, witty one at that. We loved that sense of humor and we loved having him as our guide. We also trusted him explicitly. So, as instructed, and without question, we all got in the green jeep.

    We joked the next morning that none of us thought to even go back to our tents to get warmer clothes. I didn¡¦t have either my hat or gloves, neither of which I went anywhere without. And I was only wearing one fleece, when I normally had on anywhere from two to four layers. We joked that Martin wasn¡¦t wearing socks. I don¡¦t recall if Janet was properly dressed or not. What I do know is that each and every one of us froze our butts off. What I remember most, however, is having the thrill of a lifetime.

    We depart camp around 9:30 pm, and when Ronald does not turn on the spotlight we know something is amiss. When we ask him about this he gives us his canned response ¡§there¡¦s a spot I want to check out¡¨ coupled with that grin we have come to know and love. We drive for at least an hour or so, and I must admit I doze off more than once. I try as hard as I can to stay awake, but think that if I do fall asleep that Janet or Martin will wake me. Little do I know (until the next morning when Janet tells me) that she and Martin were quietly dozing in the seat behind me. Of course it is Ronald that wakes us all when, of course, he finds the aardvark den! Actually, he wakes us prior to arriving at the den itself, and finally tells us what we are doing out in the middle of the night. He says ¡§but you told me you wanted to see an aardvark¡¨ to which we reply ¡§but Ronald that was a joke,¡¨ and he just smiles. We are all wide awake when Ronald spots the aardvark and shines his spotlight on it for us! This is another first for me, and I will never forget it. What a funny looking animal. It looks like an anteater with the coloring of a pig. Now, if only I¡¦d also asked to see a pangolin!

    We return to camp after midnight to find that the elephant that practically knocked down the tree outside my tent has destroyed the walkway to Janet and Martin¡¦s tent. We are all too tired to be the least bit concerned, and retire to our tents to get a couple of hours of shut-eye.

    True to form, Janet, Martin and I are all ready to go on the next morning¡¦s game drive before the other guests even arrive for breakfast. It is our last day and we are going to make the most of it. Not long into the drive Martin yells ¡§dogs¡¨ and Ronald take off in chase. Ronald is driving on what he calls ¡§the Ronald roads¡¨ which means if you can plow it down and continue on your way, it¡¦s a road. We chase the dogs for quite a long time before they finally settle down in one spot. We spend the entire morning watching them. We watch them divide and conquer, or at least try to conquer, while they unsuccessfully hunt impala. We watch them play. We watch them sleep. We watch them, one after the other bite a hyena on the rump to chase it from what they have now claimed as their territory. The dogs are magnificent and beautiful creatures. Each has coloring and patterns so very different from the next that I now fully understand why they are called the African painted dog. It is an incredible morning. What a wonderful end to what has been a fantastic stay at Duma Tau!


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    PS,
    I am so glad my photos make you want to book another trip. Africa is intoxicating, isn't it? You go on what you think will be the one and only trip of a lifetime, then you get hooked!

    Yes, Duba Plains is quite unique. It does occupy its own concession, and there are only six tents. It is very intimate, yet as a person traveling alone I still felt very comfortable. Just fantastic!

    My camera is a simple point and shoot Sony H9. I chose it for the 15 X zoom. I took almost all photos with one of three automatic settings. It was very easy to use, and never was I distracted from wildlife viewing to mess with camera settings.

    I was at Chitabe Trails from July 10th - 13th. Apparently we just missed one another.

    Jackie,
    I'm sorry you've had to delay your trip. I know how much you are looking forward to it. I thought I would not get to Uganda and Rwanda until 2009, but now I'm trying to fit it into 2008. Maybe I'll see you on the mountain.

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    Dana_M,

    Loved your trip report! Very refreshing....loved every word!!! Such good luck you had on your trip with gameviewing and compatible vehicle mates......

    Rgds,
    Hari

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    You had a fantastic time at Duma Tau in every way! We had also seen wild dogs humting there and more game than any other camp, however, the managers at the time did not provide as great an atomsphere as our other camps. Guiding was excellent though.

    Keep in mind Rwanda for 2008! We'll hear some reports of Silverback Lodge now before we go.

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    Dana,
    Your trip report(s) is fantastic and your photos are AWESOME! I'm just in the very beginning stages of planning a similar trip. One thing I didn't see/read in your report is how you arranged transport from Camp to Camp.

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    Hari,
    Glad you enjoyed reading the trip report. The game viewing was fantastic at both Duba and Duma Tau. I was also very lucky with vehicle mates, but not during my entire trip. Just in Botswana. In Namibia I was stuck with a horrible family. Well, at least Bots made up for it.

    Jackie,
    I had never seen the dogs before, so this particularly special for me. It was the perfect way to end this part of the trip. Who was managing when you were at Duma Tau? Re: the gorillas, I'm going to start looking into that trip as soon as I get the rest of the Namibia/Bots trip report written. Unfortunately I really only have time on the weekends, so it might take a little while. As soon as I'm ready though I am going to start picking your brain. Hope you don't mind.

    AmyC,
    Thanks for the compliments. I flew from camp to camp. This is pretty standard in Botswana, and in fact many camps are only accessible by plane. My TA included all of the flights in the cost of the itinerary, which I think is pretty standard.

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    Sorry if all of the squiggly marks made reading difficult. I cut and pasted from a Word document and I guess the apostrophes and quotation marks didn't transfer properly.

    I'll post info and on Tubu Tree and Chitabe Trails as soon as possible.

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    Dana, Dana, Dana, my personal policy is to try as best I can to keep envy to a minimum, but this report and your photos--my god, I think I'm turning into a horrible person. Wow!

    p.s. Despite my envy and resulting guilt, I am loving this report. Can't wait for the next installment.

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    I loved your Duma Tau report Dana - it made me feel "homesick" if you can use that word when you have only stayed in a place for four days! I could picture everything you talked about - and your photos are sensational. I am going to spend more time going through them slowly but I have to go out now when I would far rather be sitting and dreaming of Duma Tau, our friends there and all the animals - I am sure some of those you saw are the same as those we became so fond of!! Thank you for helping me to spend the past half an hour very happily! Cant wait to read about Namibia - that is on my "wish list" !
    Regards, Alison

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    Dana, I don't remember the names of the managers at the time and kept no day by day journal of that trip, but it was a young man and his very blond girlfriend-perfectly nice people but they just didn't provide the same atomsphere as our other camps nor seem to go the extra efforts that other managers did.

    As for Rwanda in 08, I may be doing the trekking portion alone since my spouse is again saying he's not that interested in the gorilla portion of the trip.

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    Dana,
    Well, you've managed to get me so excited about my upcoming trip.

    I've recently and quite sadly, finished my last watercolor from my previous trip pics. and am getting itchy to do some more.

    I see about 100 of your pics. that I wish were mine to reproduce. You've got some beauties. I love the way you manage to include the surrounding nature in with the wildlife.

    As for your report, it's well done enough to transport me. Your enthusiasm is contagious.
    Can't wait to hear about Chitabe trails as it's one of my upcoming destinations.
    Thanks for sharing!

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    Leely,
    You are describing my sentiments exactly. When planning my trip I was green with envy while reading other’s trip reports and looking at their photos. But, I did not feel at all guilty at all!

    Bat,
    Thanks for the compliment. With luck I’ll get the next installment, Tubu Tree, posted this weekend.

    Alison,
    I know what you mean about feeling homesick for a place you’ve only visited briefly. I remember your report, and the dogs coming into camp and killing an impala right in front of you. Like you I could not have watched during the actual kill. But having the dogs that close, and when you weren’t in a vehicle, had me picturing exactly where you might have been sitting while it all happened.

    Jackie,
    I will most likely be going to Uganda and Rwanda alone. If your husband isn’t interested, maybe we need to start a Fodors trip. It’s been mentioned on the board before. Perhaps you should start a new thread or revive the old one!

    Cybor,
    Glad you like my photos. Not only would I not mind if you reproduced some of them, but frankly I’m honored that you like them so much. I take photos for the sole purpose of remembering my trips and for sharing with others. When do you leave for your trip and when will you be at Chitabe? If you promise to share photos when you return, I could set a reminder on my calendar that pops up in the middle of a chaotic work day. The reminder would say “Cybor now at Chitabe taking photos, check back for trip report.” This would transport me back to my own wonderful trip. And, at that moment I’d be feeling like Leely…green with envy.

    WildDogs,
    I’m glad my enthusiasm came through in the trip report. The more I wrote the more I found myself smiling. The photo of the leopard pup will be near the end of the Chitabe photos. But first I have to write and post on Tubu Tree.

    Sniktawk,
    Sorry you did not have similar sightings at Selinda. It is so close to Duma Tau. I know others have had great sightings at Selinda. That just shows how truly lucky I was on this trip.

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    Hi Dana,
    I'm absolutely thrilled that you'd allow me to run amouk thru your photos.
    I'm currently on relaxing vaca. and look so forward to painting from your pics. The dilemma as I see, will be picking the first one, they're all so good.

    Disclaimer;
    I'm really not that good, but if you'd like a copy of one of my attempts at art, please let me know and I'll post my email for you.

    My upcoming trip, btw, sadly is not until next summer. I've got it all planned with deposits etc. with the exception of the desert part at the end.

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    Such an entertaining and well written report.

    You have described all the unique elements that make Duba Plains so special. That's wonderful you got to see the Duba Boys in action. I never thought they'd remain in power this long.

    Your Duma Tau stay had so many highlights. The baby leopard must have been wonderful and to be treated to a midnight aardvark run is outstanding. You seem to be trouser-less for much of the excitement.

    Next, I'll check out the photos.

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    Your pictures also capture the drama of Duba Plains. Some regal shots of those lions. The Duba boys are still looking handsome. Glad you got a good photo of the elusive aardwolf.

    The water hole shots with the hyenas and zebra are especially good at Duma Tau. Plus more lions. Great shots.

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    Thanks for the Duba Plains stories. Glad to hear James and the Duba boys are still around. Also one of my favorite camps. Grant Woodrow of WS will speak in Houston next week of the Black Rhino relocations from Zim to re-populate Botswana. WS is truly dedicated to conservation/preservation/community-a reminder of a sometimes overlooked value of booking with WS.

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    Cybor,
    Please feel free to run amouk with my photos. And yes, I'd love to see some of your paintings. Your trip is not as far away as you think. Next summer will be here before you know it.

    Lynn,
    Having never been to Duba before, I'm glad I captured it's essence in my trip report. Also, I didn't know aardwolves were elusive. In fact, I didn't even know what one was. Yes, I was lucky on this trip. Re: the trousers, at first I didn't realize what you were talking about, but I went back and read the trip report, and you are right! Funny!

    Paco and Monica,
    I am glad you are enjoying the report thus far. Next installments coming soon.


    Okapgirl,
    Yes, James and the Duba boys are still around, and going strong. Duba is magnificent.

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    Okapigirl

    If you get chance to meet Grant W, he is a great guy. We donated to the rhino introduction program a couple of years ago and you are right WS are doing a great job both with that program and the excellent Children in the Wilderness.

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    Thanks for all of your comments about my trip report thus far. I'm sorry it's taken so long to get the next installment posted, but here it is.

    TUBE TREE

    Photos:
    http://picasaweb.google.com/Danastravelphotos/BotswanaJuly07TubuTree

    OVERVIEW

    Tubu Tree is a lovely camp. I had a very nice time here. The birding was excellent, the game drives very good, and accommodations phenomenal. The large tented rooms were luxurious without being stuffy. My guide was very good, and this being the only camp on my itinerary with water activities, it rounded out my trip nicely. However, after my incredible experience at both Duba Plains and Duma Tau it would have been hard for any camp to compare. While I found the guides and staff very good, the management was not at all on par with the management at Duba Plains, Duma Tau or Chitabe Trails.

    Joe was my guide. Tubu Tree was apparently short on guides and Joe was a loaner from Jao. Joe was a very good guide and I enjoyed his company. However, he was somewhat unfamiliar with the area and was therefore at a bit of a disadvantage. However, I appreciated having Joe as my guide since were it not for him I might have only had three game drives total during my three night stay. The reason for this is that Tubu Tree offers fishing, boating and mekoro activities in addition to game drives. If your vehicle mates are interested in water activities and you are interested in game drives you could be out of luck.

    The staff at Tubu Tree was very attentive. However, I wasn¡¦t too keen on the temporary managers, Girt and Doreen. I can¡¦t quite put my finger on it, because they were certainly friendly and tried to make guests feel welcome. They just were not very professional. They talked quite a bit about themselves and about how many years experience they had managing camps. They also stressed, a little too adamantly, that the camp was not owned or managed by Wilderness Safaris, but merely marketed by them. I already knew this, did not care, and did not get their point. It seemed as if they thought Tubu Tree was better than Wilderness owned or operated camps. I did not understand why (especially since I just came from Duba Plains and Duma Tau), and in fact, the only reason I even knew about Tubu Tree at all is because it is marketed by Wilderness. They were biting the hand that fed them, and it was more than just a little odd. Anyway, these conversations made me a little uncomfortable, particularly when they gave me their business card so I could call them for my next safari. I thought this was inappropriate and left the card in the trash in my tent. They also bragged quite a bit about the chef and about the food, which in my opinion was not good at all. However, neither the management nor the food are the reasons I choose to stay at a particular camp while on safari, so lest anyone think I had a bad time here, please keep reading. I enjoyed it here very much.

    Tubu Tree is primarily a water camp, and the birding was excellent. We saw herons and egrets, including the purple heron and the black heron, the great white egret, little egret, yellow-billed egret and the slaty egret. We saw storks and ibis including the white stork, yellow-billed stork, saddle-billed stork, African sacred ibis and hadeda ibis. We also saw hamerkop. We saw the white-breasted cormorant, reed cormorant, African darter and dabchick. Geese included the Egyptian goose, African pygmy goose and spur-winged goose. We saw the African fish eagle on several occasions and a martial eagle. Other birds included the wattled crane, black crake, African jacana, blacksmith plover, lapwing plover, black-winged stilt, and tchagra. The game was not prolific here, but we saw giraffe, elephant, and leopard repeatedly. We also saw wildebeest, red hartebeest, red lechwe, impala, zebra, warthogs, and baboons. The mekoro trip was very enjoyable, and something I think everyone should do at least once. Sunsets here, particularly those over the water and the marshes, were breathtaking.

    Accommodations were absolutely lovely. The lounge area and dining room are under canvas, as are the tented rooms. The rooms are very large with all of the necessities (and more), including plenty of hot water, indoor and outdoor showers, large comfortable beds, a writing desk, and plugs for battery chargers. The tented rooms also have very large decks with a great view overlooking the marsh. I have to admit that I have enjoyed the more luxurious accommodations like those here and at Duba Plains and Duma Tau. I liked the spacious rooms with large outdoor decks with fantastic views. The weather was quite cold when I was in Botswana, and the more substantial tented rooms kept it a little warmer at night. Lastly, what seems a very minor detail but made a difference to me is the placement and orientation of the beds. With double beds pulled together and the head of the bed placed in the middle of the room instead of at the tent side meant it was a little warmer when I went to bed at night and I did not wake up with a draft on my head in the morning. This bed placement also provided a nice view past the deck and out onto the marshes. This configuration alone made the rooms here (and at Duba Plains and Duma Tau) preferable, in my opinion, to the tents at Chitabe Trails.

    DETAILS

    I arrive at camp around 3:30 and almost immediately go out on my first game drive. My vehicle mates are Emily, a young woman who is traveling with her mother, and Shaun, a Sefofane pilot who is overnighting at Tubu Tree. Emily¡¦s mother, Priscilla, does not join us on the game drive, and later I find out why. Emily, Shaun and I don¡¦t see much on the afternoon game drive. However, we do spend some time with a couple of giraffes, and I particularly enjoy watching them at dusk near a watering hole trying to decide whether or not they are going to drink. We also have an excellent view of a beautiful sunset.

    At dinner I meet Priscilla and find out that she injured her leg getting out of a plane and had to have stitches. The accident didn¡¦t happen at Tubu Tree, and in fact I do not know where it happened. But, they did not arrive until late in the day instead of in the morning as planned. I am surprised when I meet Priscilla that she is in such good spirits. Not a negative word about the accident, the stitches, or the disruption to her safari. In fact, I never even hear the details of the accident because we talk instead of our game viewing, previous camps we have each been to, and camps next up on our itineraries. I am not sure I would have been such good company had I been in the same situation.

    We have an unremarkable dinner. The food here is not really that that bad, it just isn¡¦t very good. As soon as we sit down for dinner, Doreen introduces the chef and begins what becomes an annoyingly repetitive bragging ritual about the food. I think she believes that if she says this enough that we might actually believe it. But of course nobody does. In fact, the only negative comments I hear from other guests during my stay at Tubu Tree are about the food. There is a funny story specifically about food told at dinner. Doreen and Girt were told that a family of four who arrived that day kept kosher. They obviously could not accommodate serving kosher food so they were in a panic. When the family arrived and Doreen mentioned this to them they all laughed hysterically. They had merely ordered kosher meals on the international flight because, as with vegetarian meals, often a special diet meal is better than the standard fare. At the dinner table this is a very funny story because we already know the family isn¡¦t kosher. In fact, they themselves had a pretty good chuckle over the whole situation. But what were Doreen and Girt planning to do if they were?

    After dinner I go to bed early solely because everyone else does. The family of four has young children, Emily and Priscilla have had a long day, and Shaun has an early flight. I often tend to stay up later than others while on safari. I am a bit of a night owl and don¡¦t want to spend precious vacation time sleeping. The real reason, however, is that I love the outdoors. I like to stay outside as long as possible, but assume it isn¡¦t safe to go out on my deck after dark. At the other camps I was told to stay inside the tent at night. When I mention this to Doreen the next morning she says since the decks are raised that it is perfectly safe to sit on my deck at night after dinner. In the evenings to follow I consider doing this but decide against it. I am not totally confident that she is correct, but rather get the impression she said this because she prefers that the guests go to bed early so she can do the same. I retire to my tent, read for a while, and go to bed. The fresh air and the sounds of the bush at night agree with me. I sleep like a baby.

    The next morning breakfast is an assortment of cold cereals, granolas, fruit, and juices. There is actually quite a nice assortment, but breakfast is served in the lounge area, set up on the coffee table, not in the dining room. This is a bit strange not only because there isn¡¦t anything hot to eat, but because people are standing up. This is another difference between Tubu Tree and the other camps I stayed at in Botswana. All of the others at least had a campfire in the morning and most had something hot to eat, like porridge. Tubu Tree had neither. I am here at the beginning of July and it is quite cold in the mornings. While a morning campfire is only a minor detail, it¡¦s often the small details that distinguish one camp from another. I must say, however, that the coffee here is excellent.

    When we get ready to leave, I of course think we are going on a game drive, but Joe says we are going on a boat ride. I don¡¦t know if Emily or Priscilla asked to go on the boat ride or if Joe (or Girt or Doreen) just assumed this is what we would want to do. I am a bit surprised that I was neither asked nor told ahead of time, but since I¡¦ll be here for two and a half more days I don¡¦t say anything. However, when Joe then says that we are going on the mekoros that afternoon and therefore will not have a game drive at all that day, I speak up. While I do want to go on the mekoro, I have come to Africa primarily for wildlife viewing. I tell Joe this and immediately both Emily and Priscilla offer to forego the boat trip, but I can see the disappointment in their faces. Obviously they had requested the boat trip and are just trying to be accommodating. We are all quiet for a few moments, and about the time I¡¦m starting to feel like a real heel Joe offers to take us on a game drive during siesta time. Of course I accept his offer, which is a perfect solution to our problem. This is why I really appreciated having Joe as a guide. A similar situation occurs the following day, and Joe solves the problem again. I don¡¦t know what the results would have been if I¡¦d had a different guide. I would suggest to anyone staying at Tubu Tree that if you want to go on game drives and not just participate in water activities that you make your desires known early on. You might also want to insist that prior to your departure you get confirmation that you will be able to go on at least one game drive per day. Your vehicle mates, or your guide, might not be as accommodating as mine. Of course, there is a common theme throughout this trip report. During my entire Botswana stay I have excellent vehicle mates! Not everyone is this lucky.

    So, with the game drive problem solved we head off for the boat trip. The boat trip is not something I would have chosen, nor would I necessarily recommend it. It depends on what you are here for. It is very relaxing, the scenery is pleasant, and the water lilies are absolutely gorgeous. Surprisingly, the bird life on the game drives is much better than on the boat trip. In my opinion the mekoro is a lot more enjoyable than the boat trip. I don¡¦t see the need to do both, and certainly not in the same day. Not if you¡¦ve come to Africa to go on safari.

    After brunch Joe and I set out on a game drive. We have, of course, asked Emily and Priscilla to come along, but they decline. So, it¡¦s just Joe and me. We ride along the water filled ¡§roads¡¨ and see egrets, herons, cranes and storks. We see stilts, hamerkop, and an African fish eagle. Beautiful birds are all over the place. Because we are driving in the water, they are right in front of us. In fact, they don¡¦t move until we are very close to them. The bird life here is even more concentrated than at Duba Plains, and it is beautiful. After driving around in the flooded area for a while we head for drier land and there we see red hartebeest, impala, zebra, and elephant. We watch baboons playing, fighting, and eating from a sausage tree. We spend a lot of time watching a male baboon chase a female in heat. This is one of the nice things about a private game drive. You can stay and watch whatever you want for as long as you want. It is clear by the female¡¦s behavior that she wants nothing to do with the male. Well, not yet anyway. He chases her relentlessly, and eventually she finds herself hanging by very end of a tree branch, looking down, trying to decide if it is too far too jump. She decides that she won¡¦t make it safely to the ground and while she doesn¡¦t jump, she doesn¡¦t climb back up either. She just isn¡¦t ready.

    No sooner do we leave the baboons, that we get stuck in the mud. This happens not once this afternoon, but twice. This is where Joe is at a disadvantage, not knowing the area as well as he would if he were a permanent Tubu Tree guide. The first time we get stuck Joe gets us out in less than 30 minutes. He jacks up the vehicle and after foraging around for logs and tree limbs puts them under the wheels to get some traction. It is now mid afternoon and we don¡¦t have too much time for the remainder of my game drive before we have to head back to camp to go on the mekoro trip this afternoon. We don¡¦t have to head back right away, but Joe decides to drive in that direction so we will have time to stop along the way if we see something interesting. It¡¦s a good thing he did because on the way back to camp we get stuck again. Joe tries to get us out but can¡¦t. And boy does he try. He calls for help, but when help arrives, they still can¡¦t get us out of the huge mud hole. Eventually we have to be towed out, so what is potentially several hours of private game viewing turns into an hour or so of game viewing and a couple hours of being stuck in the mud. But I still enjoy the afternoon. What I see during this drive is more than I¡¦ve seen up to this point at Tubu Tree. And I enjoy Joe¡¦s company. When he realizes that I like birds he gives me a sort of primer on how to identify them. He suggests that I buy a bird book specific to the area of the country in which I live and practice while at home. Although I have not yet taken his advice, I think this is a great idea.

    We arrive back at camp and set off for our mekoro trip. Because there are three of us we have two mekoros. Joe is the poler for Emily and Priscilla and Broken is my poler. Broken is excellent. He tells me he wants to be a guide and I can tell by his enthusiasm that he will make a great one. It is fairly late in the afternoon and we can see the water lilies closing right in front of our eyes. When Broken sees I want to take photographs of the water lilies he shoves his pole into the muddy bottom and stops the mekoro, as if on command. While taking photos I hear a sound behind me like twigs cracking. I turn around and see that Broken is making water lily necklaces for each of us. In hindsight it¡¦s funny that this is one of those small details that I remember so fondly. I love water lilies and Broken knows it. When it is clear that the sun is about to set Joe finds the perfect place to stop for sundowners: a small island with a mesmerizing sunset. Joe sees me taking photos with the sunset in the background and mekoros in the foreground. All of a sudden he gets back in the mekoro and poles out into the water so we can get photos of him in the mekoro with the sunset in the background. It is at this time I wish I took better photographs. Or at least knew what camera setting to use when looking directly into the sun. The view is spectacular. I have had sundowners in some beautiful places in Africa, but for me this setting ranks right up there with sundowners on the Oloololo Escarpment in the Mara.

    When we arrive back at camp, it is obviously too late for an afternoon game drive. In fact, it is almost pitch black. Joe and Broken pushed the envelope keeping us out as long as possible on the mekoro. And I appreciate that. It really was an incredible afternoon. I am in my tent for what seems like only a few moments when Doreen shows up and excitedly asks if I want to go for a drive. Another guide has spotted a leopard with what Doreen thinks is an impala kill. Do I want to go? Of course I do!

    Moments later we are off. Emily, Priscilla, and I are joined by another couple. This is their first camp in Botswana, and they just arrived at Tubu Tree moments earlier. What an incredible beginning to their safari. We get to the sighting and find a leopard in a tree, not with an impala kill, but with a sitatunga kill. This is perhaps one of the most ironic things that has ever happened to me on safari. I have never seen a sitatunga, but have wanted to see one since my safari to East Africa in 2003. Of course, I would have preferred a live sitatunga to a dead one. In fact, what I really want to see is a sitatunga swimming. Anyway, everywhere I go I casually ask the guides if they have sitatunga in that area. They either say they don¡¦t have sitatunga in the area, or that they have sitatunga but that sitatunga are very elusive. Earlier that day when we saw red lechwe in the water I asked Joe this same question to which he responded ¡§yes, but they are not easy to find.¡¨ Of course I knew the answer to the question before I asked it, but I asked it anyway. So this, my second night at Tubu Tree, what do we see? One leopard sleeping in a tree with a sitatunga body on a branch above it, and another leopard with the sitatunga head on the ground. In unison, Joe, Emily and Priscilla all say "well Dana, there's your sitatunga." ƒ¼

    This is a perfect early evening sighting, with two exceptions. First, my one and only sitatunga ever is a dead one, and it¡¦s not even in one piece. Second, the husband of the couple that joined us has a camera with a huge flash. Although he does ask Joe if he can use the flash, he isn¡¦t really listening to what Joe is trying to tell him. In his excitement he is so oblivious to others that he doesn¡¦t realize that his flash is preventing the rest of us not only from taking photos but from getting a good view of the sighting. Joe tells him it is alright to use his flash, if he thinks he will get better photos that way. Then Joe tells him he will get better photos without the flash when the spotlight is on the leopard. Well, the husband doesn¡¦t take Joe¡¦s advice and flashes away. The problem for me and the other guests in the vehicle is that he never stops. As soon as I get ready to take a photo his flash goes off. His flash is so bright that not only can I not take photos (obviously I can not time my pressing the shutter button with his flash), but I can hardly see. I am sitting behind him and to the right, in the direction of the sighting. The bright light practically blinds me, and as soon as my eyes start to adjust it goes off again. But it is still an exciting sighting, and even more so because I thought the game viewing for the day was over. We watch the leopard for a while, with the hyenas also watching from nearby. Apparently before we got the leopard was pulling the sitatunga up into the tree, the hyenas grabbed the head and together they tore the sitatunga in two. The hyenas had control of the head on the ground when we arrived. Shortly after we got there another leopard came out of the shrubs and took the sitatunga head from the hyenas. We missed the initial fight between the hyenas and the leopards, but I did enjoy hearing about it from other guess during dinner.

    Because I will also be with the new couple the following evening, when we arrive back at camp I ask Joe to say something to them about the flash. Joe tells me to do it. This is my only complaint of Joe. I do think he should say something. Perhaps something as simple as pointing out to the man that he should put his camera down for a few moments so others can take photos. But later on when I do say something to the husband he is very apologetic and we got along very well after that. His excitement had just gotten the better of him.

    I¡¦ve learned my lesson about activities here, so after dinner I ask what we are doing the next day. I am told we are going on one game drive and one mekoro trip. Obviously, I am not happy. I went on the mekoro this afternoon, and while I loved it, I do not want to do the same thing tomorrow. But, I also realize that the couple who has just arrived has a right to do what they want to do as well. This is, in my opinion, one of the problems with a small camp if they have multiple activities but only a limited number of vehicles and limited number of guides. I assume that the couple was asked what they wanted to do and that they had chosen the morning mekoro trip, so I think I need to be very diplomatic. Wrong. While I¡¦m trying to figure out how to convince them to forego the mekoro until after I leave, I realize that they don¡¦t know that the mekoro replaces a game drive. As soon as they hear this they tell Joe that they¡¦d rather go on a game drive instead. I encourage them to ask if they can go on the mekoro mid-day and when they do, of course it is arranged for them. In the end it all works out quite well. We all get both a morning and afternoon game drive that day, and they are still able to go out on the mekoro. But, had it not been for me mentioning this to the couple, the result would not have been the same. I think the managers need to do a better job of coordinating activities and telling people what their options are. They should not assume every guest would prefer a mekoro or a boat trip to a game drive, even if Tubu Tree is primarily a water camp at this time of year. This might have been because temporary managers were there at the time. It¡¦s the only camp I stayed at where they did not seem to communicate properly with the guests. I mean, really. No game drives on safari?

    The following morning we are five guests in the vehicle. There are three rows of seats behind the guide, but apparently they don¡¦t like anyone to sit in the last row. Why, I don¡¦t know. I mean, what¡¦s it there for if you aren¡¦t supposed to sit in it? Priscilla sat in a middle seat the night before so Joe asks me to sit in a middle seat this morning. I am not going to sit in between the husband with the huge camera and his wife. No way. And there is no reason to ask her to move over and sit in the middle, with no view. There are plenty of seats, so after everyone is seated, I climb into the back row, and that¡¦s when Joe asks me to move. With no offer to sit up front with him, I just say no, and stay where I am. I guess he agrees, because we drive off and start on what is to be a fantastic game drive.

    The morning game drive starts off with a bang. I have decided that my new vehicle mates are leopard magnets and all-around good luck. I mean, they had only been at camp for less than an hour when we had our first leopard sighting the night before. We aren¡¦t five minutes from camp when Joe spots a leopard relaxing on a fallen tree. At first she seems not to notice us, but after a few minutes she stares right at us, and as if to tell us that we are disturbing her nap, she gets up and walks away. Not long after, we spot another leopard in the bushes. She too eludes us after only a few moments and we leave that spot. But what do we see next? Another leopard, this time high up in a tree basking in the sun. While all three of these sightings might have been of the same leopard, we didn¡¦t actually follow her from place to place. So, whether it is the same one or not, either way we got lucky. Next we see a fairly large herd of impala. We watch two males fighting, butting heads for a while, listening to the sound of horns banging against one another. Later this morning we see warthogs, giraffe, more baboons, a herd of wildebeest, zebra, a black-backed jackal, and an African wild cat. This morning¡¦s game drive is very productive, and the most diverse of my game drives at Tubu Tree. And of course I have the perfect view of it all, perched high up in the last row of seats!

    After brunch I say good bye to Emily and Priscilla, and the couple leaves for their mekoro trip. I go back to my tent, and settle in on my deck with my journal. I plan to take notes of everything I saw this morning, but after sitting there for only a few moments I hear loud rustling in the bushes. It is a troupe of baboons. Well, honestly I don¡¦t know how many baboons constitute a troupe, but there are more than just a few. They run past my tent and into camp. This is another great thing about this camp and the others on my itinerary. Wildlife inside the camps gets my adrenaline pumping. At this moment, however, I¡¦m glad I didn¡¦t listen to Doreen and sit outside on my deck at night.

    Our afternoon game drive begins with a fairly large elephant in the road who apparently does not want to make way for us. We laugh while she roars, waving her trunk wildly, and kicks dirt at us. Apparently she doesn¡¦t know that we know that she isn¡¦t serious. Obviously, if she wanted to hurt us she could. But we know she doesn¡¦t really want to hurt us, so her ¡§threats¡¨ are actually quite comical. She goes on like this for a while, and we just watch her, grins on our faces. After the elephant is finished with her theatrical display we leave the area and almost immediately see another leopard. She looks at us as if to say that this time she isn¡¦t going to let us ruin her nap, plops her head down, and goes to sleep.

    Dinner tonight is preceded by traditional African song and dance around a lovely campfire. I mentioned earlier that there wasn¡¦t a campfire in the mornings. But there was a fire every night, and the setting is quite nice. The entire staff is participating in the song and dance, and even the guides join in. The music is fantastic, and one woman in particular has the most spectacular voice. This is my last night at Tubu Tree, and along with the mekoro at sunset and the leopard with sitatunga in the tree, it is one of the highlights of my stay.

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    Your account at Tubu Tree is very insightful and helpful. It drives home the point that you should politely make your preferences known, from safari activities to where to sit in the vehicle. I agree with you that at least one activity should be a game viewing drive at most safari camps. Granted, some are solely water camps or solely walking camps, but then you know that up front. Making reasonable wishes known with your agent BEFORE you even leave home seems to be more and more the way to go.

    The sitatunga event was quite ironic for you and quite unfortunate for the sitatunga. It appears the several predatators that got into the act were in luck, though. When I read your first comment about the leopard and sitatunga, I must admit wincing and wishing it had been a different, less rare prey.

    Joes seems like a great guide to accommodate everybody so well. I bet the guy with the explosive flash did not even get that good of shots. It does work better with just the spotlight. At least he was pleasant and a leopard magnet.

    Thanks for the report.

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    Dana,

    I'm just catching up with your report and enjoying it.

    You deserve your luck with vehicle mates after Namibia. I like your thoughtful evaluations of each camp and admire the way you handled issues at Tubu Tree.

    If you had to choose between Duba and Duma--where would you go?

    I was also told (at Ngala Tented) that sitting on the deck was perfectly safe. I did give in to the temptation to sit out, but not for too long. I did wonder whether a simple low deck without railings would actually discourage visitors at night.

    Thanks.

    CW

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    Finally, here is the last installment of my Botswana trip report, Chitabe Trails.

    CHITABE TRAILS

    Photos:
    http://picasaweb.google.com/Danastravelphotos/BotswanaJuly07ChitabeTrails


    OVERVIEW

    I really enjoyed Chitabe Trails. The management, guiding, and staff were absolutely wonderful. Game viewing was excellent, with wonderful sightings on each and every game drive. Accommodations weren’t as luxurious as the other camps I stayed at in Botswana, but were still extremely comfortable.

    My guide was Andrea, who was absolutely fantastic. He was very knowledgeable, enthusiastic and persistent, yet also patient. He had a friendly disposition even when reminding people to be on time for game drives, not to make noises at the animals, and in general setting down rules. He chased dogs relentlessly one morning long after others had given up; he sat patiently with us for hours waiting for a baby leopard to show her face; he spent time with guests in the afternoon and evenings talking about their game viewing experience. It was clear that Andrea loves his job, and he has an excellent way with people.

    Game viewing here was fantastic. We saw lion or leopard everyday, and on some days we saw both. We saw wild dogs, and on the morning we chased them we did so for nearly an hour, long after all of the other vehicles had given up. We saw a mother leopard with a very young cub. We watched her hide the cub in the bushes and followed the mother as she went back to an impala carcass in a tree, pulled some meat off the bones and brought the food to the cub. We followed a male lion for about thirty minutes one morning while he followed a female. Game drives here were experiential, and much more than just stopping to take photos of animals. In addition to several lion and leopard sightings, we also saw giraffe munching on acacia trees; elephants eating, drinking, playing, and of course roaring at us; and impala fighting. The highlight here, however, was definitely the leopard cub.

    Accommodations at Chitable Trails are not as luxurious as those at Duba Plains, Duma Tau, or Tubu Tree, but they are still very comfortable. The tents are a little smaller than at the other camps but still spacious, and they are not raised as high off of the ground. I realize for some that this set-up is preferable, but I have to admit I prefer the more luxurious tented rooms. But don’t get me wrong. This is by no stretch of the imagination “roughing it.” The tents here have two single beds, pulled together, with mosquito netting. There are en-suite facilities including both indoor and outdoor showers, plenty of hot water, bedside tables with lamps, and plugs for charging batteries. Each tent also has a small deck, although there is not much of a view. With only five tents, the camp is quiet and intimate. The dining room, lounge area and bar are very cozy. There was always a warm campfire where we gathered daily, discussing our game drives, and watching elephants in the nearby watering hole. And the staff, the food, and the management were excellent.

    DETAILS

    I arrive at camp late in the afternoon and Josephine makes sure to tell me to quickly return to the main area for tea before we head out on our afternoon game drive. This is common here. Both the staff and the guides continually remind guests not to be late so that they don’t hold up other guests. Although thus far none of my Botswana vehicle mates have been late, my vehicle mates on my last afternoon game drive here are. Andreas gently but firmly reminds them that they are holding up others and suggests they be on time from now on. Of course, I’m never late so as soon as I arrive I go to my tent, grab my hat, scarf and gloves, and return immediately to the lounge area. I’m early, so I have an opportunity to talk to Andrea for a few minutes before everyone else arrives. I immediately get the feeling that I’ll enjoy having Andrea as my guide, and it’s not long until I know that my feeling is accurate. In fact, all of my guides in Botswana are very good, and for this I am grateful.

    My vehicle mates are Jos and Ann, a lovely couple from Belgium. This is their first safari, and it is fun for me to watch the excitement on their faces at each new sighting. Before we start off on our afternoon game drive, rather than ask what we want to see, Andrea asks if we’ve been on safari before, how long we’ll be in Africa, where else we’ve been and where else we will be going. In this way he gets to know each of us, even if only a little. He gets a feeling for what we might each like to see without taking specific requests or setting expectations. His approach works quite well.

    Less than five minutes into our first game drive we see a lone lioness basking in the sun. This is not only Jos and Ann’s first lion sighting, but this is their first game drive at their first camp, on their first safari. Their excitement shows and it is contagious. During my entire stay with them I don’t think either one ever takes the smile off his/her face. We watch the lioness for quite some time, and then Andrea gives us the “rule” talk. No standing up, no making noises at the animals, etc. I recall this only because we had already seen the lioness before he gave this talk. That is how quickly our game drive started, and it would set the pace for nearly every game drive here. Almost immediately after leaving the lioness we see an elephant drinking at a watering hole, who we later hear has been hanging around Chitabe main camp.

    After watching the elephant for a while we leave and a few minutes later we see a giraffe eating from an acacia tree. The giraffe’s eyes are closed and I don’t know if this is because she is enjoying these thorny branches so much or if her thick eyelashes aren’t quite enough protection from the thorns of the acacia tree. We see more elephants, who, true to form for this trip mock charge us, and of course, we see impala. We often overlook the impala, don’t we? They are so prevalent that it’s almost as if we think “been there, done that…” and pass them right by. That’s one of the reasons it is so much fun to share a vehicle with Jos and Ann. I regain a new appreciation for what I was starting to take for granted. We eventually stop for sundowners, take in the beautiful African skies and talk about what a great afternoon game drive we’ve had.

    We return to camp and before dinner we have drinks around a roaring campfire. It is very cozy here. The camp is small and intimate. Even with everyone around the campfire at the same time, the group is small enough that we can all hear what one another is saying. We do this each morning and evening, someone always recollecting sightings on prior game drives. In addition to Jos and Ann, there is a family from California with a 12 year old son. He is just delightful to be around. It is clear that he is having a fantastic time and enjoys wildlife. In fact, his face lights up when describing his afternoon game drive. He is having so much fun that his eyes actually twinkle when talking about what he’s seen that afternoon. I also enjoy getting to know the parents, who give me some tips on an upcoming trip to Costa Rica next summer. The guides and management are very friendly, and they also join in the conversation around the campfire. This camp is very comfortable and the management makes everyone feel right at home. Soon dinner is served, and it is quite good. Actually, the food was good at all of the Botswana camps I stayed at, with the exception of Tubu Tree. Following after-dinner drinks and more lovely conversation around the campfire I return to my tent and once again fall asleep to the sounds of the bush.

    The following morning we are not out of camp for five minutes when Andrea spots wild dogs. As I mentioned earlier, almost every game drive here starts off right away with something exciting. Like Ronald at Duma Tua, Andrea yells “hold on” turns around and smiles at us, and immediately puts the vehicle into high gear. There is something so exciting about a chase, and my adrenaline is pumping. The dogs are running quite fast, and it seems like the only reason we are able to keep up them in sight is because they are zig zagging across the open grasslands. There are three dogs in all, and they stay together most of the time, so it isn’t too hard to follow them. As long as we keep up the speed, that is. Andrea is driving as fast as possible, and even though we’re holding on tightly, we’re all being jostled from side to side. We are having the time of our lives! Just as we think we are going to lose the dogs to the forest they cross back over the plains, practically right in front of the vehicle. Andrea is driving as if he is playing tennis, watching a ball go back and forth. He seems to anticipate the dogs’ movements before they make them, so we are always a little ahead of the game. After about thirty minutes the dogs stop for a few moments and we get our first real look at them. I again think to myself just how beautiful they are with all of their unique markings. As if they know we are watching them, as soon as we get a couple of photos they take off and the chase is on again. We chase the dogs for another thirty minutes or so, long after the other vehicles have given up. In total we spend over an hour chasing the dogs, which is obviously a very exciting start to a morning game drive. In fact, if we see nothing else this morning I will consider it a great morning. But, we do see more game, and so it isn’t just a great morning, but a phenomenal one!

    Following the incredible wild dog chase we see impala drinking, a number of giraffe, and zebra, including a youngster. We also stop to watch hippos playing in the water, and there is a young hippo too. The theme here seems to be mother and her young. In fact, we even see a giraffe with its umbilical cord still attached. But, this is nothing compared to the following morning when we see a baby leopard. But, you will have to read on to hear that part of the story. After an exciting morning we return to camp, and after lunch I hang out in my tent for awhile going through photographs from this morning. I tried to take photos during the chase, but we were going so fast that they are all of course blurry. I spend the good part of an hour deleting the bad pictures but I save a few anyway. Not necessarily to show to anyone, but as a reminder of this morning: an incredible chase that I’ll never forget.

    When we initially set out on our afternoon game drive, it seems like we aren’t going to see that much. Remember, thus far we have been spoiled, so of course we want instant gratification! We see a dwarf mongoose, several giraffe, and a lone impala. Even the herds of impala that we often take for granted aren’t around. Just as it seems we aren’t going to be too lucky this afternoon, we spot a leopard. She is walking on the road but immediately ducks behind a small shrub and leans up against a termite mound. After a few moments she starts walking again, and we follow her. She isn’t hunting, but she does appear to be on a mission. She walks a short distance, sits down, looks around, and gets back up again. She repeats these actions for several hours. We spend almost the entire afternoon following her. She sneaks into the brush every now and then, and just when we think she has eluded us Andrea manages to find her again. We don’t stop following her until dark, and don’t learn until the following day what her mission actually was. When we stop for sundowners and talk about where she might be going, little do we know that when we come looking for her the next morning she will have a surprise. On our way back to camp we see an African wild cat and a giant eagle owl. What a fantastic afternoon.

    The following morning we almost immediately stumble on a lion, looking regal as they all do. He is relaxing in the sun, but as he does so he moves this way and that, as if posing for us and trying to provide his best profile for our photos. He isn’t actually posing for us, but rather he has spotted something in the distance. As we follow his gaze, we see a lioness not too far away. We were so busy watching him, that we didn’t even see her. He gets up, and we follow him while he follows her. She doesn’t seem too interested in him; in fact, she doesn’t appear to want anything to do with him. She is actually pretty far away, but from the distance we can see that she is not alone. As we get closer we realize that this is the morning for lions. A lone lioness relaxing by a termite mound, two adults and a cub walking as if on a mission (to where, we never did find out), and males with their majestic manes looking like the king of the jungle that they are. While basking in our good fortune we receive a call from another vehicle. They have spotted the leopard we saw the day before and believe she has a young cub with her.

    No sooner do we arrive at the site of the female leopard that we get a glimpse of the cub as the mother leads it into the underbrush. I mentioned that here at Chitable Trails we see a fair amount of game with its young. But the young we saw yesterday, while not full grown, are not babies. This leopard cub is another story. The cub climbs up on a fallen tree limb and looks right at us. It could not be more than six weeks old, and is so young that it is still cute and vulnerable looking as opposed to confident and powerful like the adults. After a few moments the cub goes back into the brush and we never see it again. However, at this time we obviously don’t know it won’t come back out, so we stay at the spot and continue to watch the mother for a while. The mother goes into the brush, comes back out without the cub, and walks away from the area, obviously heading to a specific destination. We now understand that the mother told the cub to stay put. We follow the mother to a tree, quite far away, where she has stashed an impala kill. The mother climbs the tree, retrieves some impala meat, and takes it to where the cub is hiding. The mother then lies down in front of the spot, as if standing guard over her young.

    After lunch I say goodbye to Jos and Ann and go back to my tent to pack. I am leaving early the next morning for my flight back to the U.S. Therefore, this afternoon is my last game drive at my last camp, and the end of my safari. My new vehicle mates are 30 minutes late, and I am a little more than annoyed with them. They are pleasant enough, but don’t even apologize when Andrea tells them that they have kept me waiting. In fact, they would have kept me waiting even longer if Josephine hadn’t gone to get them from their tent. Their excuse was that they couldn’t remember where they’d packed things and just “weren’t ready.” Josephine must have told them they had about 5 minutes to “get ready” or we were leaving without them, because they showed up ready to go less than 10 minutes after she went to get them.

    So we start out a little late for our afternoon game drive, but we still have a good afternoon. We return to the spot where we left the mother leopard that morning, in hopes of seeing the cub. We don’t find the cub, and presume it is following mother’s instructions to stay hidden in the underbrush. The mother is napping, rolling around as if scratching her back. After a typical cat cleansing, licking her paws and wiping her face, she gets up and leaves the spot. We follow her for quite some time thinking she will eventually return to the tree with the impala kill. Instead she roams a fairly expansive area, marking her territory. She seems to be moving away from the cub, neither returning to it or to the impala kill. We continue to follow her until dark, and watch her walk off into the distance. This is my last sight: a mother leopard, after feeding and protecting her young, walking off into the sunset. What an amazing trip!

    SUMMARY

    This was a fantastic safari. The combination of locations provided for diverse and exciting game viewing. Duba Plains, with the lion-buffalo interaction, was a unique experience and the birding there was excellent. The bird life at Tubu Tree was also excellent and the water activities enjoyable. Of all the camps, Duma Tau provided the most variation of wildlife, with Chitabe Trails a close second for diversity. My favorite camps were Duba Plains and Duma Tau, with Chitabe Trails running a close third. Tubu Tree was my least favorite, but it was still very nice. I am a bit of a food snob, and I found the meals at Duba Plains and Duma Tau excellent. Food was also very good at Chitabe Trails, but was actually pretty bad at Tubu Tree. I liked the accommodations at Duba Plains, Duma Tau, and Tubu Tree the most. I found the staff at Tubu Tree lacking, especially in comparison to the other three camps where management was superb. I had excellent guides at each camp, and I credit the success of the game drives almost entirely to them. Of course, we had a little help from the wildlife. The time of year, while quite cold at night, made for comfortable afternoon temperatures. Although this was the trip of a lifetime, for me it is not a once in a lifetime trip. I will return to Africa as soon as I can, and as often as possible.

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    Lynn,
    You're right, the guy with the explosive flash didn't get great photos. The few he took without the flash (while it was warming up I guess) were the best. He said so himself the next day. Joe tried to tell him that would be the case, but in his excitement the guy just wasn't hearing it. Both he and his wife were very pleasant, and with the exception of the flash incident I enjoyed their company.

    The sitatunga situation was very ironic for me. The one and only time I've ever seen one!

    I hope my description of what/when to makes ones desires known assists others. My TA did a good job. I had my itinerary, which specifically listed game drives, just in case I needed it. But luckily, due to Joe, I didn't need to pull out that trump card and make a jerk out of myself.

    CW,
    It would be difficult to choose between Duba Plains and Duma Tau. If I return to Botswana I will return to both. I think I was incredibly lucky with only 3 nights at Duba Plains, whereas my experience at Duma Tau is probably more typical of what others would experience. At Duba one could miss the buffalo-lion interaction all together. I was of course given this same advice while planning my trip, but instead of choosing between one or the other I did both. Honestly, I could not possibly choose between the two.

    I'm glad you're enjoying my trip report. Sorry the last installment was so late.

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    First off, the leopard cub! It was right out in the open and posing for a picture! You really got some other good leopard shots too. That's good the dogs stopped and also posed for a while. That must have been a crazy wild ride chasing them. The male lion was especially cooperative. Beautiful sunsets.

    Chitabe had outstanding wildlife viewing for your final stop.

    Half an hour late is terrible. How rude can people be!? And you even mentioned how everyone was continually reminded to be on time. I'm glad you still had a good final game drive.

    Your choice of camps was excellent for a well rounded Botswana trip. You deserved a great time here after the Namibia mess.

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    Chitabe Trails certainly looks different from our stay there since they have now elevated the tents/walkways. You definitely were lucky with your game drives-we did not see nearly the diversity of animals that you did but I loved the camp-the size is a big plus IMO. 30 min late is incredibly inconsiderate for your vehicle mates though!

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    Lynn and Moremiles,
    The choice of camps ended up being perfect. Remember how late I started planning? I took what Bert recommended, and I assume that was based on availability. So I think he did a great job and I also got very lucky.

    The game viewing at Chitabe was excellent. My guide was great and seemed to have a nose for the animals. The leopard cub was definitely my favorite sighting.

    The only time anybody was late was late during my entire Bots trip was that last game drive. It is ironic that it was at the camp where they continually reminded people to be on time. But I have to credit Josephine. She just went to their tent and got them. I have no idea what she said, but it worked. Lynn -- I recall your recent trip report where you listed some acceptable reasons for tardiness and I wholeheartedly agree. But, not remembering where you packed things isn't one of those. Really, how much can you actually misplace in a small duffel bag? Moremiles -- the camp really does have an wonderful intimate cozy feeling, doesn't it? Were Josephine and Kenny managing when you were there? I think they had alot to do with the atmosphere.

    Lynn,
    I emailed you about Costa Rica.

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    Yes, Kenny was managing at the time we were there-don't remember a Josephine, just someone named Beauty and our guide, Relax. Kenny is the one who ended up giving my DH his injection in the posterior after receiving instructions from the Dr. in Maun although he gave me the choice of doing it!

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    Moremiles,
    On my last night I stayed up drinking wine with Kenny until late into the night. I didn't want my trip to end, and this was my last night, so I indulged. I felt bad the next morning that Kenny had to get up so early and I got to sleep in. Well, until about 7 a.m. anyway.

    Josephine was the other manager. She was fantastic also. I think she and Kenny set the mood for the camp, which was wonderful. I don't remember anyone named Beauty.

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