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A First Journey to Southern Africa: Cape, Falls, and Animal Safaris

A First Journey to Southern Africa: Cape, Falls, and Animal Safaris

Apr 22nd, 2016, 12:20 PM
  #61  
 
Join Date: Oct 2010
Posts: 155
Thanks again, tripplanner001... looking forward to the next one. DebitNM, did you post a SA TR? I would love to read it, too as I am in the midst of planning our 2017 trip. I thought sometime in 2014 we were communicating regarding a Barcelona apartment?
nina88 is offline  
Apr 22nd, 2016, 12:46 PM
  #62  
 
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What impressed me the most was how narrow the gorge is. Kind of mind-blowing! We visited in October 2012. The water wasn't at it's lowest levels, but still gave us a good impression, and we were able to see it without getting wet.
I did get some excellent shots of people in Devils' Pool across the gorge from the Zim side.
uhoh_busted is offline  
Apr 22nd, 2016, 01:42 PM
  #63  
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You're all very welcome. And now for the next leg of our trip, which we anticipate will be very different from the others:

We left Victoria Falls this morning for Chobe National Park, our home for the next three nights. The journey from Victoria Falls to the western reaches of Chobe took about three hours over three vehicles: one that drove us to the Zimbabwean border with Botswana, another from the border to Kasane Airport, and finally from Kasane Airport via safari jeep to our tent accommodations.

Tent? Yes, we will be sleeping in tents for the first time our lives, and in the heart of Africa no less!! When I worked with our travel agent, Dave Patterson of The Africa Safari, on our trip, we wanted to experience at least two different and geographically distinct areas of Southern Africa and we did not want the same routine in both locations. Originally we looked at visiting the Okavango Delta for the Botswana portion of our trip, but the costs proved to be too much compared to what we could afford. What attracted me about the Okavango Delta was the unique ecosystem of the floodplains that we knew we would not get at Sabi Sand and the ability to sleep in a camp rather than a lodge. Even though it cannot be compared with the Delta, I was thrilled when we determined that we could still experience aspects of what we were looking for at Chobe and went for it.

As a result, for the next three nights, we will be staying in two tents (there are five in total) through Chobe Under Canvas, a camp run by &Beyond. I hope to share with you in real time my impressions, experiences, thrills, and fears of sleeping outdoors with the animals over the course of the next three days.

My first impression of the tents came as our safari vehicle pulled into the camp site. From the outside I thought the tents looked just as they are pictured in marketing materials and rather cool. It was only when the manager of the camp, Blue, gave us a tour that reality set in. What? I will be sleeping in a space where the only thing between me and the animals were a piece of cloth. And...there is no running water? No shower with bathtub? What about electricity? No wifi? This cannot be right. And get this, we would be the only ones staying at camp tonight (other guests will be arriving tomorrow night). What did I get myself into.

My travel companions and I were immensely nervous about what was in store for us over the next three nights. Will we get attacked by a large elephant or lion? To our relief - only somewhat - Blue confirmed that no guest has been injured by an animal at this camp.

In spite of the lingering worries we got back with the program. Lunch, cooked outdoors, was served, followed by some time to get our belongings sorted. At 4, we set out for our first afternoon game drive at Chobe (more on the drive in the next installment of my report). The drive lasted two and a half hours, as the park closes at 6:30 and vehicles were not allowed past that time. After returning from our drive, we freshened up. We enjoyed a nice campfire with some snacks and drinks underneath the brilliant African sky before a delicious dinner under the main tent.

Once dinner was over we headed back to our tent for our first bucket showers (indoor). Even though I was unsure, the shower worked just fine and did the job. The indoor toilet worked just fine. And the camp staff provided us with plenty of water for us to wash, brush our teeth, etc. Maybe this will work out after all...assuming we will be able to receive a good night's rest tonight! I guess we'll find out together in the morning.

Stayed tuned as our first experience at tent lodging unfolds...
tripplanner001 is offline  
Apr 22nd, 2016, 02:06 PM
  #64  
 
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oh, camping in the bush. Terrific!

Hope you have a most wonderful time.
annhig is offline  
Apr 23rd, 2016, 04:14 AM
  #65  
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Ann, thank you.

We Did It!! We Made It Through the Night!!

Laying in bed with my eyes partially opened, I looked above, blinked, and thought to myself: "I'm not dreaming. I'm really in a tent. I slept in a tent. I made it through my first night." And guess what? It was a very pleasant first night for us sleeping outdoors. We were worried about the lack of fans let alone air conditioning, but the night cooled off quickly. We were able to sleep through the night I disturbed.

The staff brought hot water to our tent at 5:30 to freshen up before a light breakfast of fruit, cereals, yogurt, and toast. By 6:30 we were off for a 4.5-hour morning game drive.

Instead of giving a traditional report of our drives this morning and yesterday afternoon as I have with our experiences at Sabi Sand, I am going to take the liberty to compare the two destinations in the event that it is useful to those who are planning for a trip to this part of the world. I know as I was planning this trip that this was the type of information I was very interested in.

Let's start with the landscape. Sabi Sand is located in bush territory, with two rivers flowing through it: the Sabi River and the Sand River. Kirkman's Kamp is situated in the southeastern part of the private reserve, near the confluence of the two rivers. The terrain is flat to hilly, with trees large and small dotting the landscape. The rivers were near dry as a result of the recent drought, which meant that safari vehicles could easily navigate back and forth. Located on the northern edge of Chobe National Park, the Chobe River forms its heart. As we are here right after the end of the wet season the river has overflown its banks, creating a large floodplain. The park is also largely flat, with denser vegetation in some areas and not others, creating the opportunity for more open views across the landscape.

While Sabi Sand was about closeup views of animals, especially big game, Chobe seems to be about panorama views of animals in abundance. Between the two drives in which we've participated so far, we've seen elephants and impalas in numbers we couldn't have imagined. And we've seen dozens of giraffes, guinea fowls, mongeese, and birds of all sizes and shapes. Speaking of birds, we've seen more species here than at Sabi Sand including hornbills, kingfishers, and different types of eagles. What Chobe does not have that Sabi Sand does is rhino, as they've been poached by human traffickers to extinction in this part of Botswana as well as neighboring Zambia and Zimbabwe. Leopards are supposedly found in Chobe as well, although we've not come across them yet.

What impressed us about Chobe were the seas of elephants and impalas that were visible throughout our drives. I don't know what it is but I can stare at impalas for a long time running. We were fortunate enough to see several pairs of young males playfighting on the plains during our drive yesterday afternoon. As for the elephants, we mostly saw them on land at Sabi Sand but now experience them in the water on Chobe. The sea of animals extended to insects as well; there are more bugs around at Chobe than we've seen in our four nights at Sabi Sand combined.

Unlike at Sabi Sand, we are not able to go off-road at Chobe given that we are on national park land. What this means is that we require animals to come to us rather than we going to them. At times this could feel frustrating, especially coming from Sabi Sand, as the ranger would spot tracks going off the road and we knew that we couldn't follow. And it means lesser quality photos in general.

Being on national park land also means that there are no limits to the number of vehicles that could be at any animal viewing at any given time. While we were mostly to ourselves at sightings and sometimes with one other vehicle, we experienced six vehicles at a sighting of three lions this morning. And from what I understand there could be larger number of vehicles when big cats are spotted. The park opens at 6:30 and closes at 6:30 each day, which means that all vehicles, including ours, have to be off the roads by then.

One distinct advantage of staying inside the park is the lower number of vehicles in the early morning and during the late afternoon as the majority of visitors only come to Chobe on day trips from Victoria Falls, which is at least two hours away. And day trippers stay closer to the eastern side of the park while we've mostly concentrated our time in the west so far.

More soon...
tripplanner001 is offline  
Apr 23rd, 2016, 09:35 AM
  #66  
 
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Wow, really very helpful to us, thanks again, tripplanner001. We are on the same boat... don't know if we are going back to this part of the world (too many places on our bucket list) so we wanted to see/experience two different safari. As far as comfort, price, accommodation,food and service are concerned, are they similar or opposite? If one has just one choice, which one will you pick? Why? We originally thought we will do a private reserve in Sabi Sand and KNP self drive; now we are thinking of Sabi Sand private reserve + Chobe. Waiting for the next posting!
nina88 is offline  
Apr 23rd, 2016, 10:06 AM
  #67  
 
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We Did It!! We Made It Through the Night!!>>

I was sure that you would. The closest we came to camping in the bush was sleeping in a hut without any electricity for a night at a safari park near Addo - the kids thought it was great!

thanks for the detailed comparison of Chhobe and Sabi Sands - very useful for people trying to decide what type of safari to book.
annhig is offline  
Apr 23rd, 2016, 08:48 PM
  #68  
 
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I've slept in lots of tents in Southern Africa - I love it as you can hear the wildlife all night without the walls and air conditioning. I never felt like I was sleeping outside - they are fully enclosed and most were raised off the ground. Some had doors, others had zippers (inconvenient), all had real beds. Some had indoor plumbing, others were outdoors. My favorite mornings are the ones while still dark outside getting ready for the morning game drive listening to lions roaring in the distance! Then exit the tent with a torch (flashlight) and see the footprints of the creatures that visited during the night. It's great.

There are private reserves near Chobe. They don't have to follow the national park rules like Sabi Sand. Those rules are important to prevent destruction of the ecosystem. Unfortunately Botswana (high quality, low density tourism) is very expensive and unless you win Lotto or can afford it, it really is out of reach for most of us. I went a few years back (10 years ago, it's more now), staying in three high end lodges and was over $2000 per person per night. There are ways to do it much less expensively and still have a great experience.

To me, just visiting Victoria Falls is too far and expensive. Adding a few days in Chobe is a good way to make the expense make sense. Plus the elephants are incredible. Only go during the dry season, though. Otherwise wildlife is spread through the region as water is everywhere. (I know, then the Falls aren't at full flow and aren't as impressive....).

Rhinos were poached to extinction in Botswana in the '80's, not in the current poaching cycle. They are now importing a few rhinos from S Africa to try to save the species as Botswana has basically eliminated hunting and poaching is prevented by the military. It still exists - poverty is still a major problem - but much less than S Africa, Zimbabwe and Zambia. It's wildlife poachers, not human trafficking. Rhinos are incredible - my current passion. If you visit Botswana, add the Kruger area so you get to see them! There are only a few in Botswana but they will do well there and in the future will be common if we don't mess up again.

Reading your tr is making me so anxious for our trip next month! I'm so glad you are having such a great time. It's my happy place. Dave Patterson is a good agent. He did a nice job for this trip for you.
christabir is offline  
Apr 23rd, 2016, 09:00 PM
  #69  
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Nina88, you're welcome. If you are looking for two opposite ecosystems, I would go for Sabi Sand and Chobe rather than Kruger. Kruger is right next to Sabi Sand and animals roam freely from one to the other, so I would expect both to be quite some similar. I suppose you may see different terrain in the northern parts of Kruger as it is a distance from Sabi Sand. At Chobe you can go on water-based safaris, which, from what I hear, is quite a different experience. We will go on one tomorrow so I will share my experiences then. In terms of service, it is more attentive at the lodge than at camp but it is far more intimate at the tented camp with a limit of just ten guests. You also have more food options at a land-based lodge than at tent facilities as there is no access to electricity nor equipment, but the food has been very good (we had sweet potato soup followed by steak with potatoes and vegetables and chocolate brownie for dessert tonight). Camp is simplistic - no wifi, television, phone, etc. - but very comfortable nonetheless. The costs are similar but we booked our stay at Sabi Sand and at Chobe using the same operator - &Beyond - so we were able to receive a discount based upon the number of nights. If I had to choose one, I would choose to go with Sabi Sand as you are able to go off-road and thus get closer to the animals. Although, I must say, our seeing probably 500 impalas in one area on our drive this afternoon would not be common at Sabi Sand. Hope this is helpful. Please feel free to keep asking questions.

Ann, you're welcome. The comparison was something I found lacking in my research so I hope to pass along our first-hand experience to others planning.

Elephants, Giraffes, Lions, Antelopes, and Impalas, Oh My!

The highlight of our morning game drive was a group of a dozen or so giraffes. It was fun to watch them interact with one another and do what giraffes do. We have not seen such a large concentration of giraffes during our time at Sabi Sand.

Along with giraffes we continue to see many, many elephants, most on the afternoon drive. According to Max, our ranger, elephants typically remain in the southern part of the park during the mornings and only come up to the river when it gets hot in the afternoon for drinking and bathing, so we did not see any elephants in the morning.

During our afternoon game drive, we also saw a pride of seven lions. We initially spotted a young male lion feasting on a warthog and followed it to the rest of his group, and came upon the seven sleeping on the grass right beside the river. Even though we saw lions sleeping at Sabi Sand, this is one thing that does not get old.

We also saw our first Sable antelopes during our afternoon drive, and there were quite a few of them. The antelopes look very much like impalas. In fact we did not know that there was a difference until the ranger pointed it out to us.

Speaking of impalas, as we were coming back from our afternoon drive, we came across a herd of about 500, standing by, playfighting, and feasting on grass. What an awesome sight!! I really wanted to go out to join them on the grass.

On the agenda tomorrow is a shorter morning game driver followed by a river safari as well as any afternoon game drive. Until then...
tripplanner001 is offline  
Apr 24th, 2016, 06:11 AM
  #70  
 
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Chobe is where we had our elephant encounter, with 70+ crossing the river. I wish I could post the video!

Again, a pleasure to read your TR and still smiling.
DebitNM is offline  
Apr 24th, 2016, 06:56 AM
  #71  
 
Join Date: Oct 2010
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Thank you christabir and tripplanner001 for the very detailed and informative description of your safari experiences; they are truly very helpful though I am still undecisive. This must be the toughest trip I've ever planned. It could be the most expensive and longest research/planning I've ever done, too. We also considering Mashatu and Sabi Sand as well as Sabi Sand and self-drive KNP (we've been travelling independently for the last 20+ years and this will only be the 2nd time that we will have a TA handling most or partial part of our trip; 1st one was the sand dunes of Morocco). Still trying to imagine sleeping while being very near lions, elephants, etc. with just a fabric separating us. I think my heart will be pounding the whole night and ultimately not get a night sleep, hahaha... I am too much of a city girl!
nina88 is offline  
Apr 25th, 2016, 01:14 AM
  #72  
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DebitNM, the elephants are quite a sight, aren't they? I'm glad you're finding enjoyment in my report.

Nina88, I hear you completely. Having only lived in big cities my entire life, this is the first time I lived outdoors. Not only did I made it, it was thrilling!! And like you, this trip was one of the hardest ever to plan as we wanted to get what may be our only trip of this type planned perfectly. The idea of a once-in-a-lifetime trip quickly went out the window by my second day on safari; now we're thinking about doing it all over again late next year.

Christabir, we must have missed each other as we were writing as I didn't see your post until now. Regarding our tent accommodations, it is of canvas material with a zipper, no door. The tent has a real bed, a wash basin, a bucket shower, and a flushing toilet. Given that this is the first time we're sleeping outdoors in any way, we felt that way. By last night, our second, we began to feel more comfortable in it...until around 4am last night. I was awoken to a noise from a distance. The noise grew louder
and louder until, before we knew it, it reached our tent. What is it? The roar of a lion? It sounded like a lion. Or it is an elephant? We peeked out and, yes, it was indeed a lion. The call sounded unfamiliar to us as it was different to what we heard on television nature documentaries. The lion was there for quite a long time as we reluctantly teared our eyes away from the lion and began to get ready for our morning. I was in the middle of brushing my teeth when all of a sudden the lantern by the wash basin turned off. I tried to turn it back on but couldn't. I reached for the other lanterns in my tent but none was functioning. What's going on? Without much time to fuss around my travel companion and I took turns as one would hold the flashlight while the other got ready. By about a quarter to five, one of the staff members came by with warm water and put the plug back in the right place. Apparently the lion knocked it out of its place during the night as it was shuffling around behind our tent. What an incredible way to start off the morning!

The facilities we are staying at, Chobe Under Canvas, is within the park. As a result we are required to follow park rules. And we don't have traversing rights with the nearby private reserves. We chose to stay within the park because, as you mentioned, Botswana is an incredibly expensive destination. By staying inside the park and under tents, albeit luxury ones, we were able to pay a fraction of what it would cost if we stayed at a lodge or one of the nearby private reserves. And given that we were already in Sabi Sand, we were willing to make the trade off.

You're right that the correct term is wildlife poaching, not human trafficking. The sentence is inartfully worded. I wanted to say that the rhinos were poached by human beings to be trafficked out of Africa for hefty sums.

Glad your anticipation of your trip is growing. Those are some of the best feelings.
tripplanner001 is offline  
Apr 25th, 2016, 01:15 AM
  #73  
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By Land and By Water

The program today is a bit different from the other safari days. Included as part of a visit to Chobe Under Canvas is a safari boat cruise and our cruise is scheduled for today.

After an early wake-up call from the lion, we went to the main tent for breakfast at 6 and were on the road by 6:30 for an abbreviated morning game drive. Not long into our drive we spotted a lion, then two, then three... In all we saw about twelve to fourteen lions including four cubs. They were so small and just so adorable. After fawning over the lion cubs we drove around the park and saw some impalas, elephants, buffalos, and other creatures before heading to the nearby town of Kasane from where we would board our boat.

Operated by Pangolin Photo Safaris, the cruise was three hours long and was photography themed. There were six of us and each was fitted with a Nikon 7000 series camera with a high quality telephoto lens. We received basic tips on how to use the equipment before sailing out on the Chobe River. The first half hour or so of the cruise was rather boring as we focused heavily on birds, but it was good practice on how to operate the cameras. Soon after we saw kudus followed by elephants then hippos. We saw kudus drinking along the edge of the river. The elephants and hippos were just keeping cool and enjoying themselves. The cruise was a great complement to the game drives on land as we were able to view animals from a different vantage point. And we were able to get much closer to the animals in the water than we do on land. The time simply passes too quickly.

Back at our camp at 2, it was lunch followed by a little bit of down time before tea, coffee, and cake and our afternoon game drive. We also used the opportunity of available daylight to pack as we would be leaving camp tomorrow.

We began our afternoon game drive witnessing a herd of about one hundred elephants cross a river from an island to the mainland. We saw elephants large and small, some playing along the way and mothers leading their young along the way. What a spectacle that was!

Not long after we saw another pride of lions, possibly stalking a nearby giraffe. I don't know what it is but I simply don't get tired of watching lions. We also saw some jackals, warthogs, pukus, and antelopes.
tripplanner001 is offline  
Apr 25th, 2016, 03:17 AM
  #74  
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An Animal Farewell...

This is a morning that we had hoped to delay as long as possible, but all good things must come to an end. And this morning marked our final game drive on our trip across Southern Africa.

Having packed our belongings yesterday we awoke a bit later to a fully cooked English breakfast before our departure. We also said goodbye to the very good company we had at camp over the past two days.

At 7:30 we were off for a short morning game drive on the way to Kasane Airport. This game drive was the best we've had throughout our time at Chobe. About five minutes out of camp we came upon several beautiful lions that we had seen on a previous drive. We saw the some of the adults but their cubs were not visible this time.

From this point we continued west, where we saw a leopard tortoise and not very far ahead, an actual leopard. Given the difficulty of seeing the elusive animal we had no expectation of coming across one during our time here. We were wrong. A beautiful leopard was waiting for us just off the side of the road in full view. It looked like it recently hunted and was finishing off its meal.

Continuing west we saw several dozen buffaloes. We've seen more Buffaloes this morning than we had on this entire trip. We also saw more impalas than ever in one place. Wow! I don't know about others on safari but my eyes light up every time I see them. They just look so happy and playful each time. I so want to reach out of the vehicle to pet them. Giraffes were not too far from where the impalas were; they numbered about 20. And last but not least, zebras; we saw a herd of them as we were exiting the park.

I don't want to convey any air of self-importance but I truly felt like all the animals came out this morning to send us on our way. The visit has been splendid, spectacular, absolutely stunning. I'm beyond words.

Another Word on Chobe Under Canvas

Operated by andBeyond, a company with safari lodges and camps all over southern and eastern Africa, Chobe Under Canvas is a collection of five tents that move campsites every five days. Along with the sleeping tents are a dining tent, and a full operation including cooking facilities and sleeping quarters for about ten staff. As part of conservation efforts instituted by Botswana, no operator is allowed to set up camp for more than five days. They are required to rotate from site to site in designated areas of the park, which takes about a day and a half. As a result there are days that the camp does not welcome visitors. Chobe Under Canvas is what you would call glamping, as you are given all the basic luxuries such as bed, toilet, and supply of water, but do not expect what you would find in a 4- or 5-star hotel. This is an opportunity for those who prefer not to "rough it" to still experience living with the animals. For us, it was an experience we will always remember. It also made an expensive destination possible for us.

Now we're sitting at the airport on our way to Johannesburg. See you there.
tripplanner001 is offline  
Apr 25th, 2016, 06:40 AM
  #75  
 
Join Date: Dec 2005
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Thank you for that! I have been to the Okavango Delta, also staying in an And Beyond lodge, but never to Chobe. You have made me add it to my list. Your descriptions have been magnificent your entire trip but really jumped off the screen as you described your time at Chobe Under Canvas. I had an opportunity to stay in a tented mobile camp to see the migration in the Serengti, Tanzania, so I know the feeling of sleeping in a tent surrounded by wildlife. It is an out of this world feeling. Now you are on your way to Joberg. I adore Capetown and it remains one of my favorite cities in the world, but I also deeply love Joberg. Enjoy!
Lolazahra is offline  
Apr 25th, 2016, 06:50 AM
  #76  
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An Animal Farewell...

This is a morning that we had hoped to delay as long as possible, but all good things must come to an end. And this morning marked our final game drive on our trip across Southern Africa.

Having packed our belongings yesterday we awoke a bit later to a fully cooked English breakfast before our departure. We also said goodbye to the very good company we had at camp over the past two days.

At 7:30 we were off for a short morning game drive on the way to Kasane Airport. This game drive was the best we've had throughout our time at Chobe. About five minutes out of camp we came upon several beautiful lions that we had seen on a previous drive. We saw the some of the adults but their cubs were not visible this time.

From this point we continued west, where we saw a leopard tortoise and not very far ahead, an actual leopard. Given the difficulty of seeing the elusive animal we had no expectation of coming across one during our time here. We were wrong. A beautiful leopard was waiting for us just off the side of the road in full view. It looked like it recently hunted and was finishing off its meal.

Continuing west we saw several dozen buffaloes. We've seen more Buffaloes this morning than we had on this entire trip. We also saw more impalas than ever in one place. Wow! I don't know about others on safari but my eyes light up every time I see them. They just look so happy and playful each time. I so want to reach out of the vehicle to pet them. Giraffes were not too far from where the impalas were; they numbered about 20. And last but not least, zebras; we saw a herd of them as we were exiting the park.

I don't want to convey any air of self-importance but I truly felt like all the animals came out this morning to send us on our way. The visit has been splendid, spectacular, absolutely stunning. I'm beyond words.

Another Word on Chobe Under Canvas

Operated by andBeyond, a company with safari lodges and camps all over southern and eastern Africa, Chobe Under Canvas is a collection of five tents that move campsites every five days. Along with the sleeping tents are a dining tent, and a full operation including cooking facilities and sleeping quarters for about ten staff. As part of conservation efforts instituted by Botswana, no operator is allowed to set up camp for more than five days. They are required to rotate from site to site in designated areas of the park, which takes about a day and a half. As a result there are days that the camp does not welcome visitors. Chobe Under Canvas is what you would call glamping, as you are given all the basic luxuries such as bed, toilet, and supply of water, but do not expect what you would find in a 4- or 5-star hotel. This is an opportunity for those who prefer not to "rough it" to still experience living with the animals. For us, it was an experience we will always remember. It also made an expensive destination possible for us.

Now we're sitting at the airport on our way to Johannesburg. See you there.
tripplanner001 is offline  
Apr 25th, 2016, 10:18 AM
  #77  
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Lolazahra, you're welcome and thank you. Glad you enjoyed my reporting. Cape Town goes on my list as one of my top three favorite cities. Looking forward to my time in Johannesburg too.

Everyone, apologies for the duplicate post. I just realized that I accidentally hit submit twice even though it didn't come across at the same time.
tripplanner001 is offline  
Apr 27th, 2016, 07:11 AM
  #78  
 
Join Date: Oct 2010
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tripplanner001, missing you and your postings!
nina88 is offline  
Apr 27th, 2016, 09:31 PM
  #79  
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Nina88, thank you for your kind words. We're enjoying our final day in Johannesburg today. I will get up the final installment of my report before we leave Africa today.
tripplanner001 is offline  
Apr 28th, 2016, 05:58 AM
  #80  
 
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tripplanner001, am glad you are enjoying Johannesburg... I was beginning to think otherwise. Enjoy the rest of your wonderful, unforgettable trip!
nina88 is offline  

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