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Botswana & Vic Falls - Part 1 (General) -- First Timer Reporting

Botswana & Vic Falls - Part 1 (General) -- First Timer Reporting

Aug 8th, 2004, 09:11 AM
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Join Date: Feb 2004
Posts: 818
Botswana & Vic Falls - Part 1 (General) -- First Timer Reporting

Well ... the lions did not get us ... the elephants did not trample us ... the hippos did not charge us ... the crocodiles kept their distance ... the mosquitoes were nonexistent - we're back safe and sound!

In a word, our adventure was FANTASTIC. Southern Africa is indeed a great destination - friendly people, perfect weather, spectacular scenery, and fabulous wildlife. We came away from the experience with the same thought everyone had expressed to us before our trip: you will want to go back again and again. We indeed want to go back again.

I'll warn you in advance that this is fairly lengthy. I'll be posting it in several chapters. For those who are interested in the visual rather than the written, I have a small portion of the 1600 photos I took on this trip posted in Yahoo Photos. The address is: http://photos.yahoo.com/eerkun. There are three albums - 09 Africa-1, 09 Africa-2 and 09 Africa-3. They follow the other albums on the site. Feel free to browse through any and all as I enjoy sharing travel experiences.

Our two-week trip started in New York City, the gateway for our flight to Johannesburg. We went to New York a day early: toured the United Nations; saw the fabulous Broadway musical, 42nd Street ; wandered the streets of New York City the next day until it was time to make our way to JFK International Airport.

We boarded our 15-hour non-stop flight to J'burg in the early evening hours of June 26. As anticipated, the legroom in coach on our SAA flight left a lot to be desired. It could have been worse though - on this sold-out flight we could have ended up in the middle of the four-together seats in the center. Instead we had the window and aisle seats on the left side of the aircraft, which afforded me the opportunity to experience a fabulous sunrise when we neared the continent ... my first African, and indeed my first southern hemisphere sunrise.

The Sandton Hilton was a good place for a layover - both at the beginning and end of our trip. On arrival, the nearby Village Walk Mall afforded us the means to stay awake until a decent bedtime hour, thereby eliminating any jet lag we might have suffered from the 7-hour time difference. Comfortable room amenities resulted in a good night's rest and the excellent buffet breakfast provided ample nourishment. Most importantly, when we returned to the Hilton at the end of our safari, it was such a pleasure to wake up in a warm room.

We could have stayed another night in the bush or in Zambia and taken the only flight from Livingstone to J'burg to connect directly to our overseas flight to the US. However, the less-than-four-hour connection margin was a little too close for comfort for an international flight. Our decision to return to J'burg a day in advance of our flight to the US was definitely validated by the delay we experienced at the front end of our safari (more on that later). Besides, we got a good night's rest before embarking our 19-hour flight back to the US and had a chance to do something we had been unable to do in the bush - shop! After tasting the Amarula liqueur served at the camps, we could not pass up bringing some home with us.

About the return flight. Thanks to the information we read on the boards, we were prepared for the stop that we had not been informed of by either Delta or SAA - in our case it was in Dakar, Senegal. We actually did not mind it too much. Even though we were not allowed to disembark, it helped to break the 19-hour flight into smaller segments - mentally, at least, the flight felt shorter. Since there were passengers disembarking in Dakar, there was a very extensive security search of the aircraft while we were on the ground. We were very impressed with how detailed the cabin search was - not only did they check the overhead bins after we had been asked to remove our carry-ons, but they hand searched each and every unoccupied seat.

We stayed in one "wet" camp and two "dry" camps in Botswana - Xigera, Chitabe Trails, Duma Tau. The water experience at Xigera was fantastic and we enjoyed the camp more than we thought we would. The staff managing Chitabe Trails was great - very personable and friendly. While we enjoyed every minute of our time there, in the future I think I would prefer to stick with raised camps. We have mixed feelings about Duma Tau. We had some of our best wildlife sightings at this camp. However, we did not click with the staff. Amongst the staff, there were exceptions - notably, Cilas our guide. Cilas was really fantastic. I believe the managers at this camp were temporary, and thus the feeling of camaraderie we sensed amongst the staff of the other camps was missing here. Then there were the small things: there was no in-tent coffee and tea, with hot water delivered shortly after the wake-up drums, and rather than a staff member placing hot water bottles in our beds, we were distributed bottles to take back to the tent with us after dinner. None of this really affected our overall enjoyment of the experience, I mention them only to point out some of the differences from Xigera and Chitabe Trails. (To answer questions regarding battery charging: at both Chitabe Trails and Duma Tau there was a single outlet in each tent designed for battery charging; don't attempt to plug any other appliances as you will blow the fuse [a fellow-guest did so]. At Xigera, outlets were conveniently available at the manager's office throughout the day. Make sure you have the appropriate adaptors with you. We took the C & D adaptors shown on www.magellans.com)

The food was excellent - home-style cooking, simple but tasty, served buffet-style. We were amazed to hear that none of the chefs had received any formal training. Nonetheless, they cooked up a veritable feast that was enjoyed by all. Plates were warmed to the point of being hot to help keep the food warm. The communal dinner table was set with linen or wicker placemats and fancy-folded napkins, and decorated with foliage collected from the surrounding bush, adding an unexpected touch of elegance.

Our accommodations in Livingstone, Zambia were slightly different. We were in more of a lodge environment - after a week in the bush, it felt decidedly odd to be locking our door again! I'll go into more detail about our accommodations here as there was little input on this property on the boards. Sussi & Chuma, operated by the Star of Africa, is located on the banks of the Zambezi River. Our boma-style thatch-roofed-room-on-stilts was high enough on the riverbank that it felt like it was actually in the canopy of the surrounding ebony trees. We had a very large bed/sitting area facing the Zambezi - folding glass doors, built into the front, afforded a spectacular view and some protection from the cold nighttime temperatures. In the dressing area, there was an enclosed flush toilet, a large tub with a separate shower stall, and a fridge stocked with drinks. Regular electricity meant we could charge batteries and use electrical appliances if need be. (Electric mattress pads replaced the hot water bottles used in the camps in Botswana.) Overlooking the river we also had a private veranda with two comfy chairs - a tranquil spot when the temperatures were warm enough to sit outside.

The public areas at S&C consisted of a hotel-style reception area and a two-floor dining/lounge structure. The lower level led to the swimming pool overlooking the Zambezi. On this level was also a day-bed for relaxing in the sun, a fire pit, and a dock for small motorboats. The food, I have to say, was quite bad the first day or so. Having the shareholders in camp for a board meeting took care of resolving that problem; the chef was promptly switched out and thereafter we had fairly good meals here as well. The atmosphere at the lodge was different; the intimacy of the camps was missing. A lot of that, and the few small problems we encountered, I think had to do with the fact that we were there at the end of the season. In fact, we were the only guests for the first two days, after which we were joined by a couple who had just concluded a hunting safari in Zambia. Considering the lodge could accommodate at least 20 guests, except for the baboons, hippos, and the occasional gecko, we had the place to ourselves.

The air charters from one camp to another were great. In two cases, we flew 13-seater propeller aircraft; in two others, we flew 6-seaters - small and cramped to say the least. It gets extremely warm in the cabin during the flight, so be prepared to take off any extra layers you may have put on. I will reiterate what experienced safari-goers have said - pay attention to the weight limits. They are critical. Use unstructured luggage; duffels work best. Don't overstuff your bags; they really need to squish and manipulate everything to make use of the tiniest spaces available in the incredibly small cargo space. Our luggage was weighed only once - at the airport in Maun, but I am sure the pilots are experienced enough to know when something is over the weight limits. It's a safety issue, so please do pay attention to the restrictions. (OK - I'll get off my soapbox now.)

You really can get along with a lot less clothing; especially as the camps include laundry service; at least all of ours did. As for toiletries such as shampoo and lotion, and bug repellents: we never once had to use our own small supply. I don't know, however, that I would leave them home as there is always that one time a camp might run out of something.

If you are going during the southern hemisphere winter months, be prepared for the cold. While it never got down to freezing at night while we were there, it was very cold after sunset, as well as when we left for the morning drives. The ponchos provided by the camps for the drives are great, but extra layering underneath is essential - especially if you tend to get chilled easily. I am forever grateful I spent $18 on a pair of glo-mitts (gloves with mittens covering the exposed fingers) - not only were my hands warm, but I could easily remove the mitten when I needed to use my camera. We made very good use of our wool head coverings, scarves, fleece jackets and silk long johns.

The mishap I mentioned at the beginning of this write-up happened on the Air Botswana flight from J'burg to Maun. (I can almost see the experienced safari-goers nodding their head and saying, no surprise.) First an hour's delay was announced - "we're changing aircraft," was the explanation. They actually started boarding us much sooner, but it was indeed an hour later that we were airborne on a 46-passenger ATR-42 twin-engine turboprop. The flight was uneventful, but did take longer to get to Maun because of the switch. (A word to the wise: if you are flying in from overseas and continuing directly to Maun without an overnight stay, make sure you collect your luggage at your first point of entry - probably J'burg for most. Several passengers were under the misguided impression that their luggage was checked directly to Maun and neglected to do so. And in fact, their luggage was checked through, but because they never cleared security in J'burg, the luggage remained at that airport while they flew on to Maun.)

The real problem was that although they had lined up the luggage on the tarmac and had everyone point out their bags before boarding the aircraft, they arbitrarily left some of it behind. Almost everyone on the flight had at least one piece missing; some got no luggage. The explanation was: "there wasn't enough cargo room on the smaller plane we switched to." Since we were scheduled to immediately fly out to the bush, we were a bit concerned about how we would get our missing piece. Sefofane, the charter company for our transfer flights, had good news - the luggage was on the only other flight to Maun later that afternoon.

We cannot fault Sefofane's hospitality, nor their handling of a problem that wasn't of their making. They had ice cold water waiting for us as soon as we cleared customs, which helped cool down more than just simmering tempers. After collecting our on-hand luggage, they took us to their comfortable headquarters lounge. We relaxed there for the next two hours, browsing through books about the Okavango and the indigenous wildlife. In the end, we lost most of our first day in camp, but at least we were reunited with our missing piece. The wondrous nature of the rest of the trip and the friendliness of the locals helped alleviate the frustration of this one glitch.

A short aside here. While we were waiting for our flight to Maun, we met Catherine, the wife of the owner of Abu Elephant Camp. She mentioned that they were selling the camp to return to the States (her husband is originally from Oregon). I later heard at Chitabe Trails that the sale had in fact gone through and that Wilderness was going to be managing this camp on behalf of the new owners.

Next Chapter: Xigera
eenusa is offline  
Aug 8th, 2004, 09:53 AM
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 5,553
Thanks for the report thus far. It is a shame about your experience at Sussi & Chuma. It almost sounds like my experience at Star Of Africa's camp in Lower Zambezi, Kulefu Tented Camp.

Star Of Africa definitely has a couple winners in Chichele Presidential Lodge and Puku Ridge, but apparently not so in Sussi Lodge (and Chuma House) and Kulefu Tented Camp.

Our food and gameviewing was excellent at Chichele but the food and gameviewing was inadequate at Kulefu, although I have heard from an objective and experienced person, Ian from Kaingo who formerly ran Kulefu, the gameviewing is excellent later in the year.

I love the fact that you treated yourself to New York City, even if just for a night, and took in 42nd street. Also, what discipline to write out your entire report and post them all at once, rather than piecemealing them together over a few days.

Looking forward to reading the rest of your reports.
Roccco is offline  
Aug 8th, 2004, 09:20 PM
Join Date: Jan 2004
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Thanks for the comprehensive, specific and colorful trip report.
Made me Africa-sick all over again....
tashak is offline  
Aug 9th, 2004, 07:32 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 9,220

Thanks so much for the report, I'm just about to go and read the other chapters.

May I suggest that you post each part of the report as a separate reply to this SAME thread so that all parts of the report are together in one place? It just means that it will be easier for future readers to access in the future. Just a suggestion any way!

This is WONDERFUL reading so far!
Kavey is offline  
Aug 9th, 2004, 08:17 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
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I love your photos. My favorite was actually the one of the francolin feather -- very artistic, an unusual subject, and perfectly lit. Thanks for posting all of this.
lisa is offline  
Aug 9th, 2004, 02:27 PM
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Kavey - that was my initial instinct but I thought the thread would be way too long and I wasn't sure if there was a restriction on the site as to posting length. I'll give it a shot when I get a minute and see if it works.
eenusa is offline  
Aug 9th, 2004, 11:53 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 9,220
There is often a restriction on length of each individual message but not on thread length.

It was only a suggestion, please do as you feel most comfortable with.

Kavey is offline  
Dec 14th, 2005, 05:03 AM
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Topping for Kakki
eenusa is offline  

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