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Trip Report Trip report Botswana and Zimbabwe

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Hello everyone,
I’m back, semi intact and slowly getting off African time.
Although there were a few glitches, delays and lost luggage, the trip was fabulous. 2 out the 3 bags were recovered in J’burg before our start to Mana Pools. The third bag somehow ended up in Houston, Tx. – go figure. It arrived yesterday with only a few things missing.

Due to our departure from Boston being cancelled due to the inability for flights landing at JFK, we spent our first night at the Logan Hilton sans everything but the clothes on our backs.

We used Bert at Fish Eagle who immediately took over and rescheduled our SAA and Air Botswana flights. This, I feel is a good sign of a decent agent.

At any rate, the only change in the below itinerary was losing a night at the falls.

I’ll post my pictures soon.

22 July 2008: JOHANNESBURG – this ended up being July 23
Southern Sun 1
1 n.

23 July: VICTORIA FALLS – cancelled
Ilala Lodge
1 n.

3-n./4 d.

3 n.

4 n.

2 n.

3 n.

08 Aug: Quad Bike activity and Overnight trip to Ntwetwe Pan with braai (barbecue) dinner.
1 n.

2 n.

This is all from memory. Facts, dates and data are subject to change. If random thoughts are not your thing you may not enjoy this report as this will most likely be word heavy. I’ll try to conserve but no promises.

July 23
Southern Sun
Decent enough hotel with a ok buffet and good shuttle transportation from the OR Tambo. However, watch the internet charges – I just got a bill with an overcharge of 24. USD

July 24 -27
Mana Pools Canoe Trip
Hectic day as we had to try for our bags again – found 2 but still needed to buy supplies that were missing from the still lost bag #3.

J’burg >VFA > Ruchomechi Airstrip 2hrs. 30 min. on a 4 seater

Unbeknownst to our SA seatmates they would be referred to as the chemical Bros. – they work on the chemical water issues at various camps and have been named after the US band. We got to know these guys intimately as by coincidence we ended up running into them on just about every later transfer.

Here’s where the trip really starts;
We were picked up by 3 people who introduce themselves and off we go. I ask who exactly they are figuring that they are transport people from the camp. They tell us that they will be our guides and hosting staff at the Mana Pools Canoe trip and that we will be the only participants. Oh my dog, another private trip.

There will be us, them and another staff of 6 who will set up, cook, move the camp and our stuff daily up river. I’ve died and gone to heaven and have already forgotten about the last couple of crappy nights. Feel kinda guilty about being catered to by so many but I’ll get over it.

So off we go until 3 of us at the same time look off to the left and see, what, could it be, a PANGOLIN. Our first sight, I kid you not.
Only one of the 3 guides has ever seen one fleetingly. We are told that this in Shona means that we will live to be very old and will remain very lucky throughout the rest of our lives. I feel lucky already. We observed from about a 3’ distance and got to touch the pangolin as it wasn’t remotely agitated. Got same great pictures for proof.

The first drive is always the best. We marveled at all the antelope, zebras and other usual suspects on our way to camp. Camp was 3 stand up in dome tents facing the water with an amazing amount of hippos that would provide endless sounds and entertainment.

The lu (sp.) had a view and was basically a real toilet placed over a sand hole. We were given a thimble to pee in evenings as we weren’t allowed to wander about after dark.
We had a canvassed in area attached to the back of our tent for that and bucket showering. We also had a canvas washing container and mirror that always seemed to be filled with hot water.
The beds were mattresses on top of cots – very warm and comfy. Much appreciated, as I was coming down with a killer cold.
I will kiss the Fodorite who recommended silk long underwear if they reveal themselves.

The Canoeing;
Because Mike and I have lots of kayaking experience we were allowed to man (or woman, if you prefer) our own canoe. Matthew (head paddler and hippo expert) and Brian (head guide) manned the other.
We’d start the day with teas, (real) coffee and a continental breakfast. Mine became the same every day for the entire trip – toast made from home made bread with African honey.
We’d generally paddle for a few hours then stop for a walk, then resume until we’d lunch on an island.
Lunches as well as all other meals and snacks were always spectacular. This, when you sadly think that people in Zimbabwe aren’t exactly eating properly.

We’d siesta after filling up after lunch, paddle, stop again for another hike and get back to camp by dark.
I make this all sound so dry because I can’t convey the shear beauty of the Zambezi River.

Although off limits to us, we had phenomenal views of the ranges in Zambia – close enough to touch. I couldn’t resist one day when we were on an island that was half owned by Zambia – I stepped on the Zambian side when the guide wasn’t looking. No alarms went off nor did any nets capture me. I can now rightly say that I’ve stepped on Zambian soil.
The wildlife, landscape and birdlife were spectacular. The fish eagles were nesting, the kingfishers were fishing, the hippos were active, the elles. were in the distance. I hope my pictures will help depict the magic of this place.

Our guides;
Matthew made us feel entirely safe. He seemed to be able to find hippos were one couldn’t imagine they’d be hiding. He could also stop an aggressive hippo with his calm tactics. Although he’s absolutely up on everything modern, he’s a traditional Shona (one of the original African tribes people.) His family chose his wife for a cattle dowry. Wives leave their families to live with and tend to the husbands entire family. Families now make offerings of cattle and other such things like cell phones. Wonder if I’d be worth the extended cell phone plan.

Our highly intelligent and ageless (he never reveals his age) gun toting guide. He could point out things that I never imagined. Our walks were fascinating.
He’s lived everywhere and experienced everything. I purchased his book about his great white hunter /conservationist step father that he wrote.
Kamchacha – Rhodesian Game Ranger by Bryan Orford email if interested.

Charmayne (sp.)
Our 21 yo smart as a whip and cheerful hostess guide trainee. She literally kept the fires going. My hope is that she makes her way in a man filled environment.

Random thoughts;
I will do this again. There are a few 10 day trips down the Zambezi that end in Mozambique that I’ll be looking into. Due to the fact that my feet literally never got wet and everything was done for us, I would do this again.
Camping, schlepping and setting things up generally are not my thing when vacationing. For anyone who enjoys being in a pristine untouched environment, this is a must do.
As for safety, from hippos a good guide is a must.
Also, another story – we had most of our valuables in the canoe one day and were hemming and hawing about leaving our bags in the canoe while we walked. Our guides assured us that no one would touch the canoes or our stuff – it’s never happened. There’s a true honor system that a skeptic such as myself must learn to accept. There is absolutely nothing bad happening to tourists in this lovely country.

My advice – GO. It’s truly far from living on the edge.

Off soon to Hwange and Somilisa – stay tuned

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