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Trip report: Cape Town, Namibia, Botswana

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After a mere 4 months planning with lots of feedback from this forum, we embarked on our first African safari in late March 2003. We flew Lufthansa from San Francisco via Munich to Cape Town where we were attending an international meeting of real estate valuers. The host member arranged our stay at the Twelve Apostles, a small, intimate and elegant hotel on the Atlantic coast between Camps Bay and Hout Bay. The day after our arrival many of our group of about 40 toured the area ? Table Mountain, a Constantia winery, Buitenverwachting Wine Estates, the jackass penguins at Boulder Beach and Cape of Good Hope. Over the next four days, while my spouse Joe attended meetings I visited other noteworthy sites ? Robben Island, the Waterfront, Kirstenbosch Gardens, Stellenbosch, the Bo-Kaap district, and the Footsteps to Freedom walking trail. I thought the geography and climate of the area nothing short of spectacular, but the constant warnings to beware of personal crime were disturbing, and yet we never actually experienced anything remotely threatening.

On April 1st we flew to Windhoek to begin an 8-day winged safari with 2 friends from London. We had chosen a private Wilderness Safari (arranged by Greenlife Southern Africa) because we felt that with only a week to see Namibia we didn?t want to take a chance with delayed or cancelled flights. We were met by our pilot and whisked off in a 6-seat Cessna to Sossusvlei Wilderness Camp, just over an hour away. The camp was perched on a hillside and consisted of 9 individual guestrooms, each with its own plunge pool. The rooms were attractively decorated in rattan and dark woods. Huge folding windows overlooked the vast vista of mountains and dunes in the distance. After tea at five we set out on our first game drive. The mammals were pretty much limited to springbok and oryx, but our guide was very knowledgeable about the birdlife and flora. The next day we were up before dawn to drive more than an hour to the Sossusvlei area to catch sunrise on the dunes, an inspiring scene. We drove all the way into the park and by 9:00 am we were starting our climb up Big Daddy, the tallest of the dunes. We hiked to the top barefoot in about an hour and a half and ran down into Dead Vlei in five minutes. Great vistas along the way and a worthwhile experience, plus great exercise. We returned to camp via Sesriem Canyon, a narrow half-mile walk with some interesting rock windows, but otherwise not particularly special. I was impressed with the quality of the food at the camp.

We left the area the next morning and headed to Damaraland. Our pilot flew us over the dunes and we got to circle Big Daddy on our way to Swakopmund. There we were met and driven to Walvis Bay where we were taken by boat out onto Sandwich Harbour. The ride was too Disney-esque, with a trained cape seal jumping aboard and performing tricks, an unsuccessful attempt to entice some dolphins into following us, and the toss of bait into the air to attract the pelicans. I had been keen to see flamingoes but these were in short supply on this day. On our way back to Swakopmund our driver had a ?surprise? for us- ATV rides over the dunes. This would never be on my list of things to do but we gave it a shot and actually had fun. Before returning to our plane, we were delivered to a tent set up on the beach where we were wined and dined for lunch. We continued on to the Damaraland Wilderness Camp, about 2 hours away. The landscape here was dry and the temperatures were hot. The facilities at this camp were much simpler but still comfortable. We slept in canvas tents with a nice ensuite bathroom. The dining room, bar and lounge were attractive and an outdoor patio with a fire pit was the scene of music and dancing that evening. The food at this camp was not as good but the staff was fantastic. Management was friendly and warm and our guide, Michael, a Brit, was incredibly knowledgeable. The full day we spent there, he took us out to track the desert elephants and he was successful in locating 3 herds (is that what they are called?). At our last, he was able to maneuver our vehicle fairly close to them.

Our last destination in Namibia was Ongava Tented Camp just south of Etosha National Park where we spent three nights. The camp was under a canopy of trees and as soon as we walked into the main lodge we had a view of a water hole surrounded by eland, waterbuck and kudu. We could sit in the outdoor lounge or swim in the pool with this constant parade of animals only 20 yards away. The tents here were identical to Damaraland?s but our ensuite bath was very attractive and our shower was open to the sky. Some of the tents had a view of the waterhole. The staff here was welcoming, the food was varied, plentiful and tasty. Our guide worked hard to make our wildlife experience the best he could. The next two days we went into the park and within a mile the show began ? wildebeest, zebra, kudu, giraffe, ostrich, elephant, springbok, hartebeest and more. It was quite spectacular after the limited activity of our first four days. During our evening game drives on the Ongava Reserve we got up close and personal with numerous white rhino, giraffe, zebra and antelope. On the way to the airport on our last morning we made one final attempt to spot lion. After 2 hours we met with success ? a mother and 3 teenagers. They were resting after a hartebeest meal and were content to let us observe them from only a few yards for 30 minutes. It was the culmination of our week in Namibia. We flew back to Windhoek where we spent the rest of the day wandering through town. We ate dinner at the delightful Joe?s Beerhouse with its fantastic décor and large selection of game on the menu. Our hotel was the Villa Verdi, a guest house that was modest but acceptable accommodation.

Our London friends left us to return home the next day and we flew Air Namibia to Maun, Botswana, albeit 3 hours delayed. Our charter in Maun waited for us, however, and we flew over the Okavango Delta to Little Vumbura Wilderness camp just as the sun set. Two giraffe greeted us upon landing and 2 elephant roamed the road as we drove toward camp. Just before dark we arrived at the jetty where we boarded a motorized skiff to cruise the last mile through the narrow reed channels to Little Vumbura. The camp is situated on a wooded island and a long jetty leads to the lounge, bar and dining room. They are built around a huge tree and the décor exudes comfort and chic elegance. An observation deck and fire pit are perched in the reeds and we could hear hippos below us during cocktail hour. Our tent was down a long winding path and looked out on a marshy meadow. The tent was again canvas but the windows were adorned with printed roman shades and the furnishings were of a better quality than those in Namibia. The bathroom was enclosed in the tent but we had a separate outdoor shower 20 feet from the tent as well. We enjoyed the meals here with lots of salads and plenty of variety. This was my favorite camp of all. The setting was delightful and having the water feature was fantastic. We went out for a mokoro ride one morning and our guides knew so much about the fascinating aquatic life and prolific birdlife. We were paddled through the reed channels to another island where we took a hike, spotting vervet monkeys, two bull elephant, red lechwe and waterbuck. When we came suddenly upon a mama elephant and her young our guides instructed us to follow them at a run. We were upwind of them and they weren?t comfortable with this so we serpentined through the bush until they felt we were safe. Our evening game drive was pretty exciting, too. We had a bull elephant trumpet us, saw warthogs, zebra, giraffe, four kinds of antelope, a large herd of cape buffalo, lion, crocodile, hippo, and finally wild dogs. The dogs were such a rare sighting that the recently arrived guests from Little Vumbura and the guests from Vumbura were hailed to come to view this spectacle. The morning of day 2 we took a hike and that evening we took a sunset cruise on the waterway. On our last morning our game drive produced a cheetah and several full grown male lions. The one cat we did not see was a leopard. Perhaps on our next safari.

We flew without incident to Johannesburg, where we had a 24-hour layover before our flight back to the USA. We stayed at the Grace in Rosebank, lovely, comfortable and a nice close to a wonderful and memorable trip. We did all our shopping the final day at the Rosebank market, a cornucopia of great artifacts, and souvenirs. I bought a 15? doll for my niece for US$20. I saw the same doll in a store here last month for US$290! Why didn?t I buy a dozen?!?!

If you have any questions about any place we went, I will try to answer them. If you?d like to see some photos of this safari, click on or copy http://www.shutterfly.com/osi.jsp?i=67b0de21b32648216576 In the slide show mode you can see the 60+ pictures in less than 5 minutes. Or browse the thumbnails for those that might interest you. The purpose of these is to give you an idea of what you might see while in Cape Town, Namibia and Botswana and what the accommodations are like.

Thanks to everyone who contributed to my thread when I had so many questions about Botswana. We had a wonderful time and I will no doubt return some day but for the next 6 years we will travel wherever our committee decides to meet twice a year.

Mary

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