Botswana/Southern Africa Trip Report

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Sep 20th, 2003, 08:24 PM
  #1
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Botswana/Southern Africa Trip Report

I just wanted to put down a few words after our trip to Botswana, South Africa and Vic Falls as a way to help readers and to thank all those who helped me in my research such as Evelyn, Kavey Liz and others.

We used Wilderness Safaris and found to be excellent. We stayed at The River Club Zambia at Vic Falls which we thoroughly enjoyed. It has a wonderfull ambience and graceful staff. The view from the chalets overlooking the Zambezi is intoxicating. Yes there are some bugs in the room at night but a net is used over the bed.
Dumau Tau in Botswana is not only excellent for game but has some truly wonderful staff including one of the best guides, Lee, that we have ever experienced.
Mombo did not dissapoint in terms of game viewing and accommodation but the staff are a little over the top and somewhat out of place.
Jao was a perfect blend of rustic luxury, quality game viewing, excellent guides and genuinely friendly and competent management and staff.
We also went to Singita in South Africa after which was excellent but also somewhat of a denouement after our Botswana exeperience.
If anyone is looking for a great hotel in J'Berg I can personnaly recommend the Grace Hotel in Rosebank. It has superb and gracious service, quality rooms and a charming small hotel hominess. The dining room serves excellent food as well.
Also we took Rovos Rail to Vic Falls which was an incredible experience on it's own.

I would be happy to provide more details( such as types of game at different lodges) to anyone interested.
Chris.
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Sep 21st, 2003, 05:18 AM
  #2
LizFrazier
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Christo-
I don't remember your posting before you went. I know how you feel when you get back and you wonder if anyone really wants to hear details. Well, take it from me, I for one, am absolutely wanting to hear every detail, however small, you are willing to share. Do you have pictures also we can view?
The lay out of the places is always interesting and the number of other guests and the game drives. Anything, please.
Because on our recent trip to Kenya, we only went to one camp, a conventional trip report wouldn't have been very interesting, so I chose to show in photos how our time was spent. On a longer and more varied trip, I would have recounted each camp and the thrills and chills of being there.
How long were you gone, and how long in each camp, etc. We like the good, but also the bad things we should avoid there. Thanks, Liz
 
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Sep 21st, 2003, 11:22 PM
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Would love to hear more about Momba. Am planning a trip next year and was planning to go to Momba as one of the camps. However in Clematis's recent report she had numerous problems with Momba and I just wonder if we should omit it.Wilderness safaris has sugested chitabe trails, savuti and little vumburu. Did you hear much said about any of those. Thanks
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Sep 22nd, 2003, 12:04 AM
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Glad your trip went so well and that we were able to help in your research.

I'd love to hear anything you're willing to share, particularly about Mombo.

I went in 2001 and had unparalleled game viewing as well as superb camp staff and guide. In the year or two following there were some great trips and then, more recently there have been at least 2 posters here who found guiding standards had dropped significantly but have received assurances from WS that they would look into this and take steps to change it. From your post it sounds as though they have.

Anything and everything please...
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Sep 22nd, 2003, 05:55 AM
  #5
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More details about Mombo - and what exactly was it about the staff or management you didn't care for? Mombo has always been first rate. Details are always preferable to cryptics.
 
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Sep 22nd, 2003, 12:07 PM
  #6
DJE
 
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christo,
I am also curious about your comments about the staff and management at Mombo. We spent 5 days there in July and fortunately our time in campt etc. was wonderful. We liked everything about Mombo including the staff and found people very accommodating, friendly and professional. Lucky to see lots of wildlife as well.

From our experience we wouldn't hesitate to return. I know that Clematis and others did not have the same type of positive experience that we did and hopefully these inconsistencies will be rectified. It's also possible that there are differences between Mombo and Little Mombo with their staff and management. Both however should provide top notch service.
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Sep 22nd, 2003, 12:21 PM
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Aah, it was DJE and KristyRyan that I was mixing up. Not sure why.

To clarify, my experiences, which were superb, were at Little Mombo.

But it seemed to me that they were run in sync. Although each camp had it's own manager, in terms of being on duty, I got the feeling that the camps were run as one operation.
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Sep 22nd, 2003, 06:43 PM
  #8
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I will try to provide a little more detail re my comments on Mombo. We were there in April for 2 days at the main camp although as Kavey says they have the same management. Firstly let me say that it is a superb place and we experienced phenomenal game viewing! The tents are incredibly luxe, the food is "lodge gourmet" and there is a good wine cellar too. What annoyed us was the perverse ambience and out of place character of some of the management staff. The expresion "dumb blond" comes to mind! Let me explain. We were coming from 2 days at Duma Tau where there was a laid back, relaxed but very competent atmosphere amongst all staff. It was very familial and you could sense the equity amongst all staff too. We were made to feel comfortable by the sincerity and genuiness from everyone. Also we were very lucky in having a superb guide, Lee, who we just really clicked with due to his good nature , sense of humour, and humility. At Mombo these qualities were noticeable by there absence and indeed some managers were just plain annoying for their pandering and patronizing attitude. There was a noticeable chill or gap between the managers and the other staff. Our guide although very competent was kind of smart alecky and just not endearing to us.
Perhaps we were being just too critical but I have heard this from others too that we met at Jao, our next camp. When we were at Mombo there were 2 senior managers from Wilderness Safaris who seemed to be checking up on things - perhaps they had concerns too.
I don't really want to make too much of this or tell others not to go to Mombo because it is still a very high quality game experience. Others may prefer this type of ambience, we just don't care for too much pandering or indulgence.

On another note, some good advice to others which we received from WS is to go to at least 2 and preferably 3 environments or eco systems. Ie. the mopane areas such as Duma Tau, mixed higher drier area such as Mombo and a wetter environment such as Jao. Each has it's own range of wildlife and types of activities offered. At Duma Tau we were able to go boating including fishing while surrounded by hippos! At Jao it was partly flooded and we enjoyed trips in the mokoros and seeing water based game such as crocodiles, Red Lechwe etc.

The one animal that we had wanted to see unfortunately eluded us, the Wild Dog. So we will just have to return to try again and yes we would go back to Mombo!

Bon Voyage. Chris.
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Sep 23rd, 2003, 10:52 AM
  #9
 
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Chris,
I haven't logged on to the SA forum for months and was pleased to see so many familiar names and read about their successful wanderings. Welcome back and it's nice to hear that you enjoyed your adventure.
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Sep 23rd, 2003, 08:58 PM
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I feel I need to explain my disappointing experience at Mombo. Unlike Christo, it had everything to do with game viewing. Because someone else had posted here in the past that they did not feel their guide was competent, we made a point of requesting a specific guide. But when we got there, although our guy was in camp, for some unexplained reason he was not assigned to us. Management never explained this. We were packed 6 to a car even though there were cars and guides were available. A return visitor to Mombo in our car expressed disappointment compared to the past. Imagine coming back from a drive and the manager asking the car - "So how was it?" At other camps, you know, everyone bubbles over with the stories. But here, we were dead silent and obviously disappointed - however management didn't pursue it.

The main camp was completely empty so there were no other cars going out - and they did not send any scout cars. We did not see wild dog because they aren't there anymore. Management told us when we asked at dinner that the wild dogs had moved on a long time ago. I believe they said they hadn't been seen since last year (can't recall for certain) and I just wished someone had told us that before we planned our trip. Fellow guests spotted wild dog at this same time period in other Botswana camps.

We also didn't see the predator cats Mombo's known for - no leopard, no cheetah, nor African wild cat, and no rhino, no kills or chases - over four game drives. Oh, once we saw sleeping lions. I saw better game at camps that cost less than half the price. This was quite a shock as I know people who had their best game experience here. The problem is that it's inconsistent due to management and at these prices and time frame you cannot afford inconsistences. Upper management at the camp was unreceptive to us but the parent company WS, to their credit, was very interested in working with us and they promised that they will make changes. So I have a good feeling about WS, they are clearly a good company. Please note this doesn't mean your Mombo experience there won't be as fantastic as many others here have enjoyed. I decided I didn't want to tell anyone not to go there because you never know. And the view from the outdoor sala was memorable and wonderful. But it isn't a camp I can personally recommend. I'm just grateful it wasn't our only camp as the other ones (Chiefs, Stanley's, Singita) were all terrific in different ways.

If you want details feel free to email me at [email protected] for the trip report. The third installment should be up in a few days (the weekend at the latest).
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Sep 24th, 2003, 04:11 AM
  #11
LizFrazier
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Clematis-
I think you hit the nail on the head with the fact that at those astronomical prices you cannot afford to have off days. I would have requested every cent back. Its strange that they don't lower their fees while they try to "get it back to how it was", only thing is, you cannot control the game. I had read that the manager of Little Mombo was moved and some guests had said the very heart and soul of Little Mombo left with her. Never been there, never will go there. Just don't believe any place is worth that much money in Botswana.
I think reports like yours are just as welcome as the good ones. At least to be forewarned is to be forearmed. For instance going in you can let them know if your experience is that bad, you will be requesting a refund. Just my opinion. Liz
 
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Sep 24th, 2003, 10:37 AM
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Hi Liz, yes, you can't control game and it's an important point that this was not just a case of poor game luck. Most of it was due to their mistake that they did not send out more than one car. With only the one, there was no one else radioing in sitings. To make it worse, our guide was not up to par and even though they had several others available, he's the one they picked to be the single guide in the single car trying to find game. Mombo doesn't have separate trackers so your driver is also your tracker. I much prefer two sets of eyes looking.
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Sep 24th, 2003, 12:39 PM
  #13
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Not to be odd man out, but seeing or not seeing game is part of the experience. If you believe rangers and trackers "owe" a certain level of game, because you paid so much, well .... what can I say. Perhaps the predators weren't given their cut, and took to the bush.

Have you noticed that looking with one's eyes is the major part of game drives. Looking and seeing what's there, not what's not there.

Birds are just as important as lions, leopards, buffs. Seeing the trees, the shrubs, the water. Learning about the ant hills. The snakes.

I've been on many drives where nothing whatsoever large and predatory made an appearance. I loved every minute.

Mombo is a special place, and next year it will be my pleasure to grace its confines once again. Whether the black tie will make an appearance concerns me more than the cats. Just my opinion. And to my fellow game viewers, good day.
 
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Sep 24th, 2003, 04:38 PM
  #14
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While game sitings can never be guaranteed, the idea that Mombo didn't send the group out with their best ranger/driver is to be questioned. And they could have used two vehicles for even that small group - I too would have questioned this.

However, as to the animals, we've been out on drives where we saw no four-leggeds, but saw loads of flying creatures and this was new and exciting. And as far as the rangers communicating, only because our ranger at Singita knew I desperately wanted to see Leopard (in Africa four times previously and hadn't) all the rangers were aware, which became a big deal and rather comical for everyone. So this was the only time there was ever communication between vehicles. Otherwise, our ranger and tracker did outstanding jobs in siting, if one of us in the vehicle hadn't spotted ourselves.

But if one has an issue, you speak up. Either it can be rectified or it can't; if you don't say something, you'll never know.
 
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Sep 24th, 2003, 07:00 PM
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I was surprised to read that Mombo has only one ranger in a car with no tracker. Every safari experience I've enjoyed in RSA (Singita, Londolozi, Phinda) has included an experienced tracker who greatly assisted the ranger. The trackers are amazingly skilled at reading the animal tracks and sighting game. I believe they grew up doing this. Also, I can't imagine the person driving a vehicle being able to do three things at once (driving, reading animal tracks and sighting game). At one point, our ranger at Phinda asked the tracker to use his "deep eyes" to find us an elusive leopard...and he did! I never thought to ask the question regarding staffing vehicles, but now know to do so in planning a Botswana trip in May 2004.
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Sep 24th, 2003, 09:49 PM
  #16
DJE
 
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In the 3 camps we stayed at in Botswana which were Chobe Chilwero, Kings Pool and Mombo, we only had a driver. Never once did we have a tracker along in the vehicle and fortunately we did well with the game viewing.

All three drivers seemed to do well tracking and spotting game but they also kept in touch frequently with other vehicles that were in the general vicinity.
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Sep 24th, 2003, 10:02 PM
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Girlpolo, yes, I too appreciated the tracker and driver combo at other camps like Singita and Stanley's. And as much as everyone hopes they don't have to use it, I appreciate having a rifle in the car for emergencies particularly if your driver isn't quite able. Mombo not only has no tracker but also no rifle.

PCHsmiles, we had other game drives at other camps where we weren't successful at seeing game. At one camp, we spent an entire drive looking for a leopard and only saw bushes and trees (and nothing else). That guide tried very hard though and we appreciated that. But being in Africa in the bush is still a beautiful experience. The acacia trees against the sunset, the sweet air in our faces. We can make do when it just isn't in the cards to see game of any kind. But as I wrote, our particular experience of Mombo was a case of poor management decisions. And yes, at these very high prices I think everyone should expect the camp to be well run. One of the first things they did at Chief's and Singita was ask us, "What have you seen and what do you most want to see?" Mombo didn't ask us, so we brought it up in gentle questions. But the camp was early in our itinerary (our second camp) so it wouldn't have taken much for us to have been happy with game viewing at Mombo. I respect that *your* Mombo experiences have been wonderful and it's probably hard to imagine what it's like when it's not. But I think readers will understand that we are not unreasonable people (nor was the woman who had been there before and was very disappointed). I can only share my own recent experience, as honestly as possible, to help people here.

Sandi, I'm surprised you didn't have a lot of radio communication between cars at Singita. The various cars were constantly radioing each other. They also sent out a scout car (with no guests in it) to look for game. It was pretty neat to see this kind of team play. We became friends with others there so it was fun to meet up with their car to watch some cheetah. Our guide and tracker also found things themselves so the rides were always full of surprise and excitement. Once the tracker used his break time to scout ahead for us and found us a wonderful treat for our game drive.
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Sep 25th, 2003, 12:13 AM
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Of course, game viewing is never guaranteed and, absolutely, there are pleasures in enjoying the chase, the search, the birds, zebras, giraffes.

But the issue here is that the reason Clematis saw such little game was down to poor decision making by Mombo management.

Given that they had so few guests but all staff were on duty at the camp during that time, it would have made sense to at least split the group and send them out in two cars. Or have a second car out there spotting and radio-ing in.

There were also a number of issues about the guide himself, and having spoken to Clematis in detail, I agree 100% that Mombo really dropped the ball this time.

My experience there in 2001 was magical and that was not simply because we were lucky with game viewing but because we felt the staff and guides were absolutely the best they could be.

A number of recent visitors, not only Clematis, have reported less than stellar experiences at Mombo more recently.

However, since Clematis has invested a lot of time ensuring that WS really understand what was the problem and how it might be avoided in the future, I truly believe things will turn a corner back to how they should be.

How much one pays doesn't guarantee game sightings, of course not. But it should guarantee a certain standard of management and a certain level of guiding which was absent in this case.

I, for one, want to hear both the positive and the negative about peoples' experiences so that I can make decisions knowing as much as possible.
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Sep 25th, 2003, 03:52 AM
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Interestingly, we thought the management at Mombo (Christy & Nico) was wonderful. We were disappointed in our driver. To his credit, he did spend a good deal of time on one drive to find the cheetahs I so desperately wanted. However, we got reports from Nick, the Rhino guy, as to where we could find rhino. It was here that he made only a half hearted attempt. I realized that he was probably a little tired from cheetah-hunting, but at the prices I was paying, he should have tried harder. Besides, Mombo was the only camp of our three (Dumatau & Duba Plains were the others)where rhino even existed.
Incidently, I asked our driver at Dumatau (Peace - he was excellent) about why there were no trackers. He told me that they stopped using trackers after September 11. I got the impression is was a money thing.
Joey
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Sep 25th, 2003, 03:53 AM
  #20
sandi
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Clematis -

Maybe the reason there was no radio communications with our ranger (and others) was that there was plenty to see. So with the exception of my "Leopard" request it wasn't necessary. And when the leopard was spotted, there were probably 5 vehicles (from both Ebony & Boulders) that converged on the area - kind of reminded me of a few situations in Kenya.

Likewise when we were at Honeyguide on the adjacent Manyeletti Pvt. Reserve, we had no communications with other vehicles as there are only 3-camps at Manyeletti and we never saw another vehicle. The Ranger and Tracker did a fine job on their own.

While at Chobe, we only had a Ranger/Driver and he did an excellent job siting animals - except for Ellees (known to have 30000 here, as I've mentioned in previous posts, we only saw 3).

What we found real funny at Singita though - they require that you only walk at night with a guide, which makes sense, until I noticed that the guide had no weapon or rifle with him - so much for any protection. Unlike at Honeyguide where rifles were very evident at night returning to our tents.

I guess we all have experiences that can be better or different, but Mombo obviously slipped up in the decision making process in this case.
 
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