Botswana Trip Report

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Jun 24th, 2004, 01:25 PM
  #1
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Botswana Trip Report

Sorry for the duplication on the photo's thread - I meant to post this as a new thread so have copied in here.

Hubby's head is getting bigger! Thanks for the kind words again.

I have a short break so will start my trip report. However I cannot possibly live up to the excellent literary and descriptive style of Uhoh_busted's recent report so will just stick to some observations about the camps & the game viewing.

We started with 3 nights at Nxabega. This is billed as a water camp, however most of our time was actually spent on drives, although we did drive through deep water fairly regularly - no problems. Nxabega is a tented camp - tents on platforms around the water's edge. We enjoyed this camp very much. The tents are nicely furnished and well-spaced so you have a great feeling of being in the wilderness. Elephant and Hippo wandered through and splashed around in the water near the tents most nights and the ele's often blocked the path to the lodge in the day.

The highlights are the staff there - they work so hard to learn everyone's name and then remember who we all are. They were very friendly and we had lots of laughs and jokes with them, while receiving some of the best service we've ever had. Food was very good - probably the best of the three camps.

All drives were with guide and tracker and, to add to the debate a few months ago, I think this makes a huge difference. Between them the guide and tracker seem to spot so much more than if there's only a guide who also has to concentrate on driving.

Game viewing was good - regular sightings of lion, elephants, zebra and giraffe. Also saw 2 honey-badgers and 3 bushbabies.

Night drives were exciting - particularly when 5 lionesses walked around the jeep - somehow they are so much more threatening in the dark. They were on the hunt and we followed them for a while but eventually left them to it. Next day we discovered them half way through a giraffe carcass - often climbing inside it to get to the best bits.

Birding was very good and always made the drives interesting, even in the patches where there wasn't much game around. I would encourage anyone going on safari to take some interest in this aspect - that way there's always something new to see and to watch out for.
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Jun 24th, 2004, 01:29 PM
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I forgot to mention the real highlight of Nxabega ? my favourite breakfast at 6.30am ? hot porridge with cream, honey and a splash of Famous Grouse Whisky ? wonderful internal central heating for the cold morning drives.

Next 3 nights was at Savute camp - this is a Desert and Delta not a CCAfrica lodge. The couple managing the lodge, Tammy and Rob, were delightful and very attentive. The rooms are very spacious and well fitted, much more like hotel rooms than the usual safari accomodation. All have large balconies and, thanks to the advice from recent visitors, we secured room 3 which overlooked the waterholes.

Drives were with 1 guide only, no tracker. My opinion - the guiding was of a poorer standard than either of the CCAfrica camps - partly I think because they didn't have the personality and perhaps not as much experience either.

Nevertheless we saw a lot of game. Definately a lodge for Ele's - they come to the waterholes in a continuous stream throughout the day. Also saw a few wildebeest, giraffe, very few zebras, flock of 25 - 30 ostrich, many jackals, a Klipspringer - one of only 2 known to be in the region so very exciting.

The high-spot has to be the large pride of lions - a mean looking male, 5 females and 12 cubs of varying ages from 3 - 8 months. We saw them 2 days running, one day sauntering along the road in front of us - we followed them for about an hour and were the only jeep in the vicinity. One very excited cub had caught a mouse all by himself and was proudly showing it off for everyone to see. The next day the cubs had been left sleeping and playing under a bush. unfortunately this showed the difference between being at Savute, which is inside the park boundary, vs the other two camps which are on private concessions. We shared this particular viewing with 5 or 6 other vehicles so didn't stay long.

Overall we enjoyed Savute, but it was the larger of the three camps, a bit more impersonal than the others with slightly less experienced guiding and slightly busier with several vehicles being sited each drive.
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Jun 24th, 2004, 01:42 PM
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Last camp was Sandibe ? our favourite of the three, but only just better than Nxabega, mainly because of the fun we had with our driver and guide.

Accomodation is in Rondavels ? well fitted and with a great out-door shower. The private platform in front of each rondavel was a real plus ? secluded, peaceful and with wonderful views across vast expanses of reeds and water.

The staff were as lovely as the ones at Nxabega and, a great idea, your ?butler? (the individual who is always on hand whatever you want, serves you at each meal, gets your drinks etc etc) will accompany you on at least one game drive ? a great way of allowing the camp staff to mix more freely with the guests.

Food was excellent again and the evening meal is around 1 large table outside with lots of fires etc to keep us warm. Also every guest is given a ?Sandibe baby? to take to bed. This worried us when first mentioned, but turned out to be a hot-water bottle with thick white quilt cover that was handed to you as you made your way to bed each evening ?very welcome.

Game was very exciting . We saw a large (300+) herd of buffalo, and many lion again ? including being taken by surprise by a very large and very aggressive male lion as we started our night drive. We came across him about 100yds from where we had just stopped for our sun-downers and it?s the only time I?ve seen a lion actually snarl, growl and make out to have a go at the vehicle ? certainly made the heart race a lot faster than normal. We left him to it as our tracker was sat on the front of the jeep ? too exposed to taken any risk. The lion sat down as we drove off and roared and roared at us. Retreat was definitely the right strategy.

Also saw a large male hippo that seemed to have been ?expelled? by the other?s in his pool. Mid morning he was 100 yds away from the water and seemed to be off on a hike of his own looking for a new home. Our guide was very excited as it was the first time he had seen a hippo out of the water for so long in broad daylight ? very unusual.
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Jun 24th, 2004, 01:48 PM
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Sadly, we didn?t see leopard, cheetah or wild dog. We came very close to each. Every other guest we met at each camp seemed to have seen leopard just before or just after we were somewhere. Cheetah were elusive in Savute. We came close at Sandibe picking up very fresh tracks, with the vervet monkeys continually sounding the alarm, but we couldn?t find it in the long grass. Also a very close encounter with wild dog at Savute. A pack came through the camp at about 4 in the morning and killed a Kudu just outside the manager?s house. Everyone heard them, but by daylight they were long gone and although we picked up their trail we couldn?t find them.

But the high spots of the wonderful lion viewings in particular more than made up for these disappointments.

Need to take a brief pause now. Will return with a few comments on the Zambezi Sun and some general observations
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Jun 24th, 2004, 02:35 PM
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Back again!

Final 2 nights were at the Zambezi Sun. The great advantage of this hotel is that it is less than a 5 minute walk to the falls so we went several times both days. And yes .... they were everything we expected and more - staggering, awesome, beautiful, the words don't really do them justice. My only regret is that, because of the high flow and the mist, we didn't get to see very much more than about 1/3rd of the full expanse. Nevertheless it was definitely one of the high spots of the whole trip.

In terms of the hotel, it was much more pleasant than we expected (not nearly as "Las Vegas" as some of the reports I had read). Rooms were very nice, with almost a mexican feel to the décor and it was great just to chill out by the pool during the day.

As an aside, we walked up to the Royal Livingstone, which is run by the same hotel group but is very different from the Sun. It was certainly more luxurious and impressive. However when we went up, we planned to stay for a couple of early sundowners. But the place seemed deserted and a little soulless so we didn't do more than have a quick snoop around and then leave. Possibly this was just because of the time we went - maybe everyone was still asleep or hiding in their rooms (5pm-ish). But on that one visit I'm glad we chose the Sun as it's nearer to the falls, has a little more atmosphere and is a lot cheaper.

Overall impressions of Botswana - staggeringly beautiful from the air and a very fascinating mix of terrain on the ground. Some great game viewing, excellent lodges and lovely people. However, I have to say that my heart is still in the Ruaha in Southern Tanzania - Botswana didn't quite manage to knock it off top spot.

My closing comments relate to CCAfrica. I cannot recommend them highly enough. The arrangements were faultless, the whole trip ran like clock-work, their two lodges were some of the nicest we have stayed at, and, overall, we were very impressed with the quality of the accommodation, staff, service, food and particularly the guiding at both their camps. In talking to one of their managers, she mentioned their recruiting policy which is clearly paying dividends for them. "We recruit all our staff almost entirely on personality - after all you can train skills but it's much harder to train personality".

(Apologies for all the ??? that appear in the above. Something strange has happened to the punctuation marks when I copy in from MSWord)

Anyway, that's it for my report - I've probably left out lots of good bits but I've just done this from memory as I've mislaid my journal (packing up to move house soon!). If I remember any really exciting or essential bits I'll add them on. In the mean time please fire away with any burning questions or comments.
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Jun 24th, 2004, 05:47 PM
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Ruthie, it was definitely the time of day you were there at RL. We stayed three nights at the Royal Livingstone, our first real stop in Africa, and it was fantastic. It's a 5 star hotel with an excellent restaurant and unlike the ZS, it is located on the river. If you have children, Zambezi Sun is the place to be, but if you enjoy gourmet cuisine, being on the river in comfort and luxury, seeing the river from your balcony, RL is the choice. We paid about the same amount for the ZS buffet dinner one night and found the food looked better than it tasted. At the RL, the cocktail deck with its comfortable cushioned chairs (they even have a romantic bed out there) right on the river was one of the loveliest spots to sip a sundowner, watch the smoke from the falls and admire the river. This deck always had people at sundown.

We could also see the smoke and the river from our room (from all the rooms) and from the restaurant. One day we lounged in a large hammock and watched the monkeys playing in the trees around us. At night we'd choose to have dinner outside, where most of the tables are, looking at the dark river and more stars than I've ever seen.

There was a large conference staying at the Zambezi Sun so we were all the happier that we were in the quiet and lovely RL.

There is a shuttle bus that takes you over to the Zambezi Sun to where the Activity Desk is. There we booked an elephant ride, a 4x4 river cruise (which I highly recommend over the Sundowner Cruise which is more about drinking and meeting people). The 4x4 holds about 10-12 people and you are able to get very close to some animals swimming in the river. We saw an elephant bathing, a small family of eles swimming, a crocodile on the side, a hippo in the water (the driver got out of there pronto when he submerged). I highly recommend these activities. We also did the falls walk and I have to say that my own personal memory of it is that it was not my favorite thing I did in Zambia. I would place it 3rd. Maybe I've seen too many smaller falls, who knows. It's just when I saw a leopard or cheetah or an elephant bathing my jaw drops and time stands still. I didn't get that feeling from the falls. The walk was soakingly wet and my shoes shrunk from the dryer afterwards.

Anyway we also visited a living Royal village, something I also recommend if you have three days. I originally thought three days was too much but it allowed us to get over jet lag and also do these wonderful things. I would probably pick a camp instead next time but for two first-timers, this was the perfect introduction to Africa.
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Jun 24th, 2004, 05:56 PM
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Thanks for the report Ruthie!

I must agree with you about having a tracker-- at least for night drives. On my recent trip, the night drives (only 1 WS camp actually did night drives) were a real bust, and I do believe that the lack of trackers/spotters was a major reason (exacerbated by the season-- with high vegetation). How can a guide be expected to drive safely, talk/ answer questions/ operate a light and search for the subtle signs of elusive animals? Short answer: they can't.

Now I really, really want to hear about your experiences in Ruaha...are there any posts on this?
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Jun 24th, 2004, 06:06 PM
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Tashak- I just topped off the trip report. It is incredible! I know you too will enjoy it. ila
 
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Jun 24th, 2004, 07:30 PM
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Great report -- and I too thought there was a big difference between the staff at Savute and at the ccafrica camps. We had "Eddie" as a guide at Savute, and he had a lot of personality, but not as much expertise as either Boyce at Sandibe, or Rams at Nxabega. I was a bit startled to hear of the managers at Savute -- when we were there it was a different couple, and the second night he wasn't around as he had been stricken with a repeat visit of malaria. The doctor came in on the plane we left on. Gosh, I hope he's on the mend. It sure made us aware of the importance of those malaria meds!
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Jun 24th, 2004, 07:55 PM
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Ruthie, better buy hubby a bigger hat. I just saw his photos. Outstanding. Great report btw - nice to hear honest comparisons like this.
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Jun 24th, 2004, 11:18 PM
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Tashak,

Link to Tanzania report below. It's our full journal for the whole trip so sorry it's so long. Also fire away with any questions.

http://www.fodors.com/forums/threadselect.jsp?fid=4

Clematis - I thought there must be more to the RL Hotel - so many other people have raved about it. Thanks for the info & maybe if we go back we'll try there instead.
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Jul 2nd, 2004, 03:33 PM
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Ruthie
Thanks SO much for the report...
Re the tracker/ night guides comment - I'd say a really good guide can deliver driving, spotting and talking without a tracker - in one night with Grant at Tubu we saw bushbaby, greater spotted genet, spring hare (or was it scrub, must check diary), an acacia tree mouse up in a tree and more.
I do agree however that some guides just don't manage to multitask in this way quite as well as Grant.

Great report Ruthie, thanks again!
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Jul 2nd, 2004, 10:37 PM
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Welcome home, Kavey!!! Bushbaby! You are so lucky.
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