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All Aboard! Southern Cross Journey on the Shongololo Express.

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Nov 24th, 2009, 06:36 PM
  #41
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Oops, forgot to include the link:
http://picasaweb.google.com/mmjjans2
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Nov 24th, 2009, 08:15 PM
  #42
 
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Wow Femi the pictures were just great - thanks for posting them! It does look like a "trip of a lifetime".

Were the final pictures your room on the train? They were not labeled.

Love your tips:

On tip #1 - ATM -- were you able to find ATM's on your travels or does one need to make a "guesstimate" of funds required when you initially board? Is there an ATM in Victoria Falls? Was there any opportunity to "prepay" a certain amount prior to arrive. i.e. on a cruise you can purchase "on board credits" which are applied to your charges and then at the end you only have to pay the amount outstanding.

Totally agree with you on tip #2 -- makes all the difference to having a memorable trip or "enduring" until it ends.

#3 - Toiletries - we usually bring our own - including own face cloth -- I was debating bringing along my own towel. Any advice?

Question: When you sign up for "optional" tours on these added to your "on board account" or does one need to provide payment as you go...recognizing you are in a variety of countries?

Please keep the daily reviews coming - they are great!
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Nov 24th, 2009, 10:21 PM
  #43
 
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All I have done so far is paid the $500 deposit. We will probably book my air as soon as we can. I will fly into Johanesburg and then go on to V. Falls. But I am going in one day early so depending on times I may or may not spend a nite in Jbrg.

My local travel agent booked it all thru Goway vacations so although she is not knowledgable about things, hopefully Goway is!!

Good to know about the weather in Oct....I like it warm but not too hot. Was in Kenya, Tanzi and zanzibar last Feb and it was perfect.....although very hot in Zanzi.

All the other info is just tooo fabulous!!!! Now do we need diff $$ for each country or does the rand get us thru? I'm confused on that. I think its about 7 or 8 rands per $1. I think!!...and at this moment!!
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Nov 25th, 2009, 04:38 AM
  #44
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ATMs were only widely available for use in South Africa. We were advised against using ATMs in Zim, and I never saw them anywhere else (Swaziland, Zambia, Bots). Acceptable funds varied by region, but for the most part ZAR and USD are king. Take lots of different denominations, change is very difficult to come by, and you may receive it in local currency (Metical, etc) that you won't be able to use again.

It was very convenient to be able to put laundry, trips, drinks,visas, staff tips etc on the 'tab' and then pay for it all at the end in one lump sum.

Rand is about 7.5 to one right now, it was 7.2 while I was over there.

They provided washcloths/facecloths and towels that were changed every two days (my bathmat was probably changed 3 times the whole trip). Bed linens were changed every three days. Towels were a little worn/frayed.

Yes beeechnut at the very end are pictures of the cabin, I had initially forgotten to include them.
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Nov 25th, 2009, 09:26 AM
  #45
 
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Leanna - nice you are using Goway - that is who we are considering using as well. We used them in Egypt last September and then did a great job, very reliable on transfers and all hotel recommendations etc. turned out to be very good. Would be interested in any comments you can share on your dealings with them. What level of accommodation have you booked - Ivory like Femi or something with AC?

Femi - agree with you on the need to get small demoninations of US dollars - we usually order in some small demoninations from a local vendor which makes life much easier and a "token" amount ($100 or less) of the local currency. Have to really watch how much you are carrying - particularly coins.I also like to pay off my bill at the end of each week -just to keep better track of my budget. Would this be possible on the train?

Sounds like the train changes bedding/towels on the same timing as a cruise ship. Will bring my own towel.

Femi -- one of the tours is visiting a local school where one can make a "donation" did you do this? Some have mentioned bringing along crayons, pencils and other items for the local children...any thoughts on this?
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Nov 25th, 2009, 09:27 AM
  #46
 
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Femi -- what was the age of the group that your travelled with?
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Nov 25th, 2009, 04:07 PM
  #47
 
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Fascinating! I'm marking to read later.
Samcat
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Nov 25th, 2009, 05:04 PM
  #48
 
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Thanks for the photos. Very close to the rhino with the egret. Nice posing kingfisher. Hyena-impala stare down is unique. You spent a lot of time off the train by the variety of your photos. Some great Hwange shots!
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Nov 27th, 2009, 07:22 AM
  #49
 
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Femi -- waiting with great anticipation for your next post on your trip. Hope to see it soon. You are gaining a following.
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Nov 28th, 2009, 04:15 PM
  #50
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Thanks guys

To answer the questions,
1) There should be no problem paying off the bill in installments. As for the 'token' local currency, I don't think you will need to take more than Rand and US Dollars, but you will need more than a token amount of Rand. It really is king in that part of the world, or at least co-regent with the dollar!

2) It is better to approach the school visit in a much more organized fashion. I was told there were about 75 children there, and I tried to look for appropriate items along the way but was unsuccessful. Turns out there were probably more than double the number of children, and I could have done better organizing donations from the US, as I would know exactly where to go shopping. In the end I donated cash, which I was not my first choice. I think pencils and crayons would be a great choice. I would advise you wait till the official school visit to dispense them, as a lot of the children have learned to beg the passengers for gifts ahead of time. When begging proves successful, a lot of children who did not beg end up being dissappointed.

3) As with most of my group trips, the average age of the passengers was about early 60s. Ages ranged from 30s-80s. Most were retired as those are the people who have both the time and money for such trips. Fitness levels varied quite widely, from those who sat out the most active excursions (and these were not the oldest people in the group) to those who were remarkably agile.
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Nov 28th, 2009, 04:20 PM
  #51
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Oh and I forgot, I also wanted to pay my bill as we went along, but then was worried about running out of cash as the trip progressed. There is very little opportunity to get more cash along the way, and you have the option of paying the final train bill by credit card. I paid my bill at the end using a combination of leftover Rand and credit card.
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Nov 28th, 2009, 04:39 PM
  #52
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Day Five. Swaziland.
For me Swaziland seemed a little sterile after Maputo, but otherwise it was a winner for just about every other passenger with whom I spoke. The landscape is very bucolic with plump cows in fields surrounded by rolling green fields.

We started of with a visit to the ‘Swazi Secrets’ factory which was somewhat interesting but a bit of a let down after the build up about our ‘Secret’ visit.

We stopped at a Swazi cultural village, but as we were such a big group it was very hard to hear what the single guide was saying, and I lost interest rather quickly. We did get to go into one of the grass huts that was surprisingly spacious on the inside. A few of us were reluctant to enter for fear of feeling claustrophobic, but the outside appearance of the hut was very deceptive as it held about 30 of us with room for more. Then it was time for the dance display which turned out to be quite a surprise and one of the highlights of the day because the participants were so enthusiastic and didn’t seem to be jaded at all which is so often the case. As with most traditional displays, the participants had to be very limber and athletic, so this was something best left to the youngsters.

We stopped by the crafts market which was a bit of a disappointment because there was not much that I saw there that was very different from other African crafts markets. Also less than half the stalls were open, I don‘t remember if that was because we were too early, because it was the weekend or both.

A visit to the glass factory was interesting. They had a nice variety, and a few glass objects that I liked but which I could only have transported home with difficulty because of the weight and fragility of the sculptures. Of special note, there is a chocolate shop just up the hill, with the chocolate made on site.
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Nov 28th, 2009, 04:42 PM
  #53
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I meant to write "...rolling green hills." Very scenic countryside around Swaziland. A big contrast in comparison to Maputo. Passengers also liked how clean Swaziland is.
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Nov 28th, 2009, 05:39 PM
  #54
 
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Great Write up Femi. Next stop would be Kruger Park - correct? Did you take the Day tour or choose to overnight at the lodge? You had some great pictures -- are they from this portion of the trip? Overall did you feel you saw a sufficient number of animals or wanted more "safari" experiences?
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Nov 29th, 2009, 12:52 PM
  #55
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Hi Beachnut. I did enjoy the safari experience, but I want more (of course!) and I want a better quality experience. So to fix this, I am returning to South Africa for another safari next year

Day six. Kruger.
Finally! Back on safari! We passengers kept reminding one another that it was very important to focus on cultural activities, but secretly the safari is what we had been waiting for.

You could either go on safari in the van with the guides from the train, or you could sign up for the option of going in a 4x4 with a ranger. I chose the 4x4 option (R750).

The last time I was on Safari was 6 months prior with &beyond, and with this as my reference I was in for a rude awakening. First, the 4x4s on all the game drives we took were filled to capacity, so there is the chance you will have to sit in the middle. Second, the commentary from the guides ranged from excellent (in Hwange), to barely mumbled monosyallables (also Hwange). Third, the condition of the vehicles was alarming, especially in Zim. Before this trip I had never been on a safari as a daytripper. It seems the guides feel a lot of pressure to produce the Big 5 for clients to keep them happy, and having less than a day to produce the sightings increases the pressure exponentially. Also most of our game drives started in the late morning when it was already quite hot, but we had some good sightings in spite of this.

Back to Kruger. I chose not to spend the optional night at Lion Sands. Those that did had a fantastic time. They didn’t see much more wildlife than we did, but raved about the guides, the rooms and the hospitality. I didn’t want the hassle of packing an overnight bag which seems a sorry excuse, but I generally avoid spending single nights in any location if I can help it. We essentially spent the day zipping from site to site, ticking the members of the Big Five off the list. I had been on safari vacations twice and had not seen the Big Five, and here we managed to see them in less than 6 hours. However, I did not find the experience to be particularly enjoyable. I don’t feel like we spent enough time with other non-Big Five animals, and we seemed to spend a lot of time speeding around to cover the large distances to the next sighting that was announced over the radio. The traffic jams were tremendous, and created a rather hectic atmosphere. So now I can say I’ve seen leopard (the reality was that I could only barely make it out over the distance) but it was not accompanied by the high I had hoped for.

My notes show this list of sightings:
Burchells zebras
White Rhino
Buffalo
Elephants
Leopard
Hippos
Giraffe
Hyenas (spotted)
Kudu
Nyamera (?)
Tons of impala
Vervet monkeys and baboons
A tiny leopard tortoise
And for birds- Hornbills, starlings, and Marshall and Fish eagles.
Our lunch stop had a few exciting finds including squirrels, mongoose, hornbills, weaver birds and a spotted antelope (a bush buck?).
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Nov 29th, 2009, 08:02 PM
  #56
 
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Thanks Femi - We are interested in doing the "walk with the lions" in Antelope Park - which I belive would be the following day. Did you do this? If yes, any view. Also wondering if the folks who choose to do the overnight lodge stay were able to still do the Antelope Park or was this replaced by a morning game viewing. Also this is where the Elephant ride is offered...did you partake? I believe there are four "optional" activities offered - anyone provide views on any tours they took that you can share?
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Nov 30th, 2009, 05:03 PM
  #57
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Day Seven. Return to Kruger.
Those who had had enough of safari had the option of doing a city tour of Nelspruit, and a fair number chose to do so. About a third of us returned to the park in the vans. Amazingly, this was much more relaxing and enjoyable than the 4x4 had been, and I really wished I had chosen to stay with the van the previous day. It was rather hit or miss, but when we did come upon something interesting we could sit and watch for a bit (like the hyena that hogged the waterhole and wouldn’t let any of the other animals have a drink). The guides were just as excited as we were whenever we found something. People who had chosen to stay with the van the previous day reported much more variety in what they had seen from the van, versus what we had seen from the 4x4s. There was also much more room in the van and on both days everyone had a window seat.

From the van we saw:
Ellies
Spring hare (unfortunately it was road kill)
10 individual white rhino
Ground hornbill
Black backed jackal
Gnu
Bushbuck, kudu and impala
Vervets and Baboons.

I actually took more pictures from the van than the 4x4. After the morning game drive, we collected those who had stayed the night at Lion Sands and returned to the train for an afternoon departure.

Day Eight. On the train.
It was actually nice to have a break and spend the day on the train. We were able to relax and just hang-out. The talk given by the guides was mostly about our upcoming entry into Zimbabwe. They discussed the geography, a bit of the culture and some of the sights. It wasn’t riveting information by any means, but it helped pass the time.

We move on to Zim next, and I'll dscribe Antelope Park. Definitely a highlight.
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Nov 30th, 2009, 05:16 PM
  #58
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Day Nine. Zimbabwe!
I love Zimbabwe! This was completely unexpected and a wonderful surprise. I love how friendly the people are, almost always people would wave as we drove past. I love their relaxed, easy-going manner, and was very surprised to find that in spite of the economy, a fair number of the people we came in contact with were highly educated and very eloquent.

First stop was Great Zimbabwe. Another perfect day with fantastic weather. There wasn’t much shade (take water!) and there was a bit of climbing up paths with lots of loose rock but it was nice to be able to move about freely after being cooped up the day before. The site itself was ok, but the views from the top were breathtaking. Once again we were short of time and did not get to visit the museum, but I was quite happy with what we had been able to squeeze in. The local guide that took us around was ok. All in all a very satisfying day.
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Dec 1st, 2009, 04:28 PM
  #59
 
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Thanks Femi - looking forward to your next installment. Overall sounds like it was a very worthwhile "adventure".
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Dec 1st, 2009, 04:51 PM
  #60
 
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Not many people get to Great Zimbabwe. How nice you had a chance to visit.
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