For crying out loud.. Cooncat's conundrum

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Jul 20th, 2005, 10:50 AM
  #1
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For crying out loud.. Cooncat's conundrum

Hello everyone. I've posted a bit here and there, so many of you regulars will remember me - planning my first trip to Africa for next year, dates are open. I am in a pickle. My head is spinning, and I cannot focus on work. (I wish I could say I can't eat, either, but unfortunately that is not yet an issue.) ;-)

Here is my problem: I still cannot decide where to go. BUT PLEASE WAIT! I'll begin by saying that I understand how subjective this is and that no one can possibly make this decision for me. Let me tell you my thoughts on this whole thing, and then if any of you care to share some inner wisdom, deep thoughts, profound proclamations...I am very interested. Bear with me, here. I've been wanting to see Africa since the 1970s when I first read Jane Goodall's books. I am sure I will return after my first trip but I could never dream of going every year. I simply do not have that kind of money. I am stuck between the lesser-visited areas of Zambia, Botswana, Namibia, and the beautiful landscapes of East Africa - the Seregenti, the Ngorogoro Crater, the Mara, Mt. Kili...I'd also like the option to see some chimps or gorillas. My problem with E. Africa is from what I've read on this forum -that it can be overrun with tourists and other vehicles. This is not the kind of experience I really relish. My primary objective is wildlife viewing, and the camp surrounds should be nice, too. Simple, tho, not Mombo nice. Well, if I could afford that I'd go - only because of what appears to be a wildlife spectacle there! This is getting to be long and I do apologize. Maybe if some of you could just tell me a bit about why you love East Africa and why you love the south. I cannot tell you how torn I am about this. If I don't decide soon, it may be 2007 before I can get it together. ONe other question: How doable would it be to plan some chimp time in Tanz, then head to Zambia for the rest of the safari? I know, I know....you can't do it all. Thanks in advance, I have learned so much from you all and I'm truly appreciative of your generous nature in sharing info and experiences!
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Jul 20th, 2005, 11:27 AM
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Can't say I've had too much first hand experience, but here's at least a partial listing from my research of parks in Kenya/Tanzania which are not overrun with tourists (doesn't mean you'll never see another vehicle).

In Tanzania - Mahale, Katavi, Ruaha, Selous, certain parts of the Serengeti,
West Kilimajaro region

In Kenya - Tsavo, Chyulu Hills, Meru, Shaba, Lewa and the greater Laikipia region, also scattered throughout Kenya are small private conservation areas where the only tourists around are the guests of a single property on site

I know this doesn't really address your question and I don't know Uganda/Rwanda, but I didn't want you to think that ALL of East Africa was filled with hordes of minibuses Of course, that does happen in some of the parks that we tend to hear about frequently.
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Jul 20th, 2005, 11:37 AM
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Of the parks I've been in Kenya and Tanzania, Amboseli (Kenya) and Ngorongoro (Tanz) attract large numbers of vehicles, but even in the Masai Mara and Serengeti, we didn't see many other vehicles. Samburu was also lightly visited.
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Jul 20th, 2005, 11:37 AM
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Thanks Patty! I understand, too, that I am one of these tourists, and so it is a little awkward to want to go there, and then appear to complain because there are too many people! More fuel for the conundrum!
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Jul 20th, 2005, 12:00 PM
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Cooncat,

Why not go someplace that is more forgiving on the pricing, so that you may possibly be able to return within a year or two?

An Emerald Season / Wild Dog Season safari to Zambia would fit the bill perfectly. That would be in April - May. However, pricing after October 31st is also very good.

You would be able to stay in just about any camp for about $200 pppns anytime between November 01st all the way up until about April 30th at most South Luangwa camps.

South Luangwa would combine nicely with Victoria Falls and Hwange (Zimbabwe, home of Makalolo Plains, a very highly regarded Wilderness Safaris camp).

I am six weeks away from making my 4th visit to Africa in as many years, yet it has taken me THIS long to finally go on my first high season safari. Although I have only the Sabi Sand to compare it to, I must say that I have not been one bit disappointed in the gameviewing in South Luangwa, even though I have only visited in shoulder season.

Although I am eagerly planning a February visit to Tanzania, my first visit to Eastern Africa, considering the pricing I am receiving for not even the very best camps, I must say that Zambia is an incredible value.

If you have not yet seen it, have some fun exploring this website:

www.zambiatourism.com

Trust me, your anxiety will not stop until you pick a place and book yourself an African safari!

If you end up choosing Zambia, feel free to e-mail me and I will give you some further pointers to make your trip as enjoyable (and economical) as possibe.
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Jul 20th, 2005, 12:07 PM
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Cooncat:
Chill out!
Cool down!

You still have time to plan your dream 2006 holiday (now that we've established that you do NOT need to worry about Mombo reservations--nor should you with your interests!)

I think you MUST follow your dream and see the chimps of east Africa. Don't replace your dream just because we talk about the stuff we've done here. (And as Kavey says, it's amazing how our recommendations follow our own experiences.

I think East Africa attract many people for all the right reasons: scenic beauty, lots of wildlife, colorful culture. (In fact, I've had this argument with people who want to go on a first trip to see Italy, but say Florence is just too crowded. Of course it is crowded! THAT IS WHERE ALL THE REALLY GOOD STUFF IS!!)

Personally, I'll take a crowd of other people to see something wonderful...as long as the whole trip isn't that way. So I'm quite certain that you can plan a fabulous, reasonable itinerary that gives you some time at less frequented reserves. In Kenya I've only been to Samburu, and that only very briefly. But I saw herds (hordes!) of elephants there in the most beautiful landscape imaginable...an not one other tourist vehicle. i'm quite sure if I'd been there longer (as I hope to do soon) I would have seen cats and other wildlife too.

I think you should take a break from Fodors Forum style planning, and spend some time in the library with back issues of National Geographic and lots of great books about Africa, Wildlife and Conservation. (Check out Peter Matthiessen's The Tree Where Man Was Born...Sand Rivers...and other books just about East Africa. Tell yourself you won't even THINK about itinerary for your trip for a couple months, and that you are just going to read/explore in your mind different areas of east Africa. Believe me, your dream trip will start to form in your mind, and then your decisions may still not be easy, but you will have some guidelines for making them.

Oh yeah, and tell us what you are reading and watching along the way...
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Jul 20th, 2005, 12:13 PM
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Thanks again, everyone. Rocco, you were on my list of folks to contact regarding Zambia.

I think I told you in another thread that I hadn't really thought of Zambia until I read some of your posts. I watched a nature show on PBS the other night called Hippo BEach - filmed in the South Luanga River. What fun to watch! I am truly torn. Part of the reason I want to see the chimps or gorillas is because who knows how much longer they will survive in the wild? It is such a sorry circumstance - the bushmeat trade, deforestation. But I do like what I see and read about the south. A friend who may be going with me would like to go south. SHe is a professor of ornithology so the birdlife is of great interest to her, obviously. It is an enviable predicament but a predicament, just the same. I may very well be in touch soon.
Thanks again,
Sharon
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Jul 20th, 2005, 12:17 PM
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Tasha - LOL!!!!!!!!!! I am trying to chill, cupcake! Thanks for some very level-headed advice. It's funny - I grew up on National Geographic. That's why I want to go everywhere. This is bad for a person who has trouble making decisions in general. ;-)
Thanks!
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Jul 20th, 2005, 12:30 PM
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cooncat -

Sure there are places that are crowded in Kenya and Tanzania at certain times of the year... at others, you may rarely see another vehicle. If you're thinking Ngorongoro Crater - it's always crowded, though on our visit in November, there were but 20-vehicles total the entire day... that means the Crater was empty.

We've not been in the Mara during Migration, but if this is the time you choose, it will be crowded, that's why people visit at that time.

There are so many places in both countries where you're not likely to come across another vehicle for hours, if that - again depends on time of year. There are plenty of private conservation lands that have few accommodations and those that are will be small with maybe 4 to 8 camps/cabins, so not many people or vehicles.

North in Kenya is great; south in Tanzania is great as are the Western parks... but these add to your
budget. The transport getting to and from and high daily rates.

As to the gorillas and chimps... I'm sure they'll be there for quite a number of years to come. These are protected areas where the locals have come to realize that keeping these animals alive, keeps their economies active, provides jobs and money in their pockets. That's not to say that some of these animals won't be lost, but less from "game meat" then just from plain old age or sickness.

You've got to cool it and focus. It's got to be your trip and if the time you travel and the places you visit have people... so be it. If traveling independently, you'll set your own schedule and can stay as long or short a time wherever. You can also schedule your games drives for your hours. On our recent trip, one of the camp guests chose to go out very very early at 4:30am versus doing night game drives. It worked for this family.

You too can arrange an itinerary that will work for you.
 
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Jul 20th, 2005, 12:33 PM
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Cooncat,

As you may have seen me mention previously, the Lower Zambezi is AWESOME for birdwatching. Hippos, crocodiles, 400 varieties of birds, leopards, lions, elephants, smaller cats (cirvals, etc.), mongoose and so many more things to see. South Luangwa and Lower Zambezi would be a great introduction at the best pricing, no less!

Take Tashak's advice and start doing some reading, starting with some of Norman Carr's books! (The founding father of the walking safari)

You should have a number of trip reports upcoming in the next couple months, as we are entering into high season in Southern Africa!
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Jul 20th, 2005, 12:33 PM
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Cooncat, you should see the knots in which I tie myself when planning a trip - and the more important the trip is to me the more I tie myself in knots wanting to plan the perfect trip!

Of course, as we usually all find out, we can seldom predict the things that will have the greatest impact on our overall experiences - the weather, the game itself, the staff and our fellow guests at each camp!

So it's definitely worth relaxing and accepting the fact that you'll have a wonderful trip whichever region you end up choosing.

Anything we all recommend is greatly coloured by our own experiences and most of us here have limited experience really. I've been to Namibia and Botswana twice, South Africa once and East Africa only twice (once two decades ago and once last year on an all-too-brief trip to the Mara). Likewise most of us providing our two pence have only been a handful of times to a handful of places when considering the wider picture.

Look into your dreams and pull out those visions that sum those dreams up most for you - that's what you must follow.

Is it the open savannahs of East Africa, is it the remote tracking of one or other animal on foot through mopane bushes of Botswana, is it the beautiful hilly scenes of Kwa Zulu Natal?

Follow your heart, follow your dreams. Once you have narrowed down the destination we can all pipe in and help you firm up your plans!

Good luck!

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Jul 20th, 2005, 12:35 PM
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Find another friend and go see the chimps and gorillas The permit fees will only go up.
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Jul 20th, 2005, 12:53 PM
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Patty - You make a good point. I just don't want to get in a situation like someone here described, where there were several trucks surrounding a pride of lions. I mean, I really don't like this intrusion on the critters. (Yes, I would like peace on earth, too. Well, someone has to be an idealist, right?!) ;-)
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Jul 20th, 2005, 12:59 PM
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That seemed like a non-sequiter. I was addressing two issues there, the fees going up, and then the other part of a safari.

Thanks again everyone!
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Jul 20th, 2005, 01:07 PM
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Cooncat, when I went on safari to kenya and tanzania in the late 1980s that situation where several vehicles (sometimes more than 10) surrounding a sighting was something we encountered quite often.

It's one of the things (though certainly not the main issue) that put me off returning to East Africa for such a very long time.

However, on the brief trip to Kenya last year I found that this did not happen at all. The most vehicles would be 4 or 5 though this was rare and it was most often 3 or less. That said, it's important to mention that this trip was during the first week of April which I understand is considered to be a low season time because it's the start of one of the rainy seasons.

I don't know whether that tendency for vehicles to cluster at sightings has abated over the years or whether it's just a feature of what season and which exact area you're in?

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Jul 20th, 2005, 01:17 PM
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cooncat -

I don't know whether you saw my photo album recently posted. But if you did (or choose to locate it), you'll see that we were fortunate enough to have a cheetah decide that the bonnet of our vehicle was an ideal place to scan the horizon.

Wow, totally unexpected and a thrill. There were about three other vehicles in the vicinity but all kept their distance, though we couldn't as we were right in the middle of this happening.

Take my word - the cheetah couldn't give a hoot that we were there - inside the vehicles, taking photos of her from the open top and sides. She had one thing on her mind - dinner.

Most of these animals have become acclimated to vehicles and know that the vehicles mean them no harm. And as long as the humans are inside, they have little to concern themselves.

What we did notice, however, was that at a distance, there was a Masai leisurely walking home from the Friday market, right across the open plains. The cheetah had her eye on him every moment (yet, still scanning the horizon), but never left her spot on our vehicle. He was in no danger, nor was our spotted friend.

As long as vehicles keep their distance, tourists aren't making loud noises or trying to get the animal's attention - they're just fine.
 
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Jul 20th, 2005, 01:30 PM
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Kavey,

What you said about the number of vehicles during your last Kenya tour...
I made similar experiences in February 2004. Maybe in the green season vehicles act like the animals - more scattered.

Mitch
 
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Jul 20th, 2005, 01:36 PM
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Bwana - Do you have any thoughts regarding my original questions? I've been reading other posts of yours and I think we may have similar tastes in experiences. Thanks!
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Jul 20th, 2005, 01:42 PM
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cooncat I totally empathise with you. I totally tie myself up in trying to get it right. What I now try to do is sit and think what would I really like to do in this region figure out if I would be "sad" if I did not do this and then make that the focus of my trip and plan things around that. Mind you that is not to say that my focus does not change!!!! The trip we are looking at next year started out being to southern Tanz with maybe some other stops but know our main focus has become gorillas and we are trying to fit southern Tanz around that! Have fun planning! As you intimated I really am very lucky that this is a worry for me points out how lucky I am.
J
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Jul 21st, 2005, 05:22 AM
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I think I'm just going to forget Africa althogether and go to Paris again.

HAHAHA! Just kidding!

Sandi - I did see your photos and they were wonderful. I've looked at pretty much all the photo links on here. Hence my utter and complete confusion. ;-)

Thank you so much for the words of wisdom, everyone. I think I will contact some outfitters, tell them what I'm looking for in each area and see if they're willing to help me put together some itineraries. That will help me weigh the decision - what I can get for the money and time I have to spend. Hmmm. Maybe I should have done this before posting this desperate thread?! ;-) Cheers everyone, and keep the thoughts coming, if you'd like.
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