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Gina's safari report. Kenya safari February/March 2002

Gina's safari report. Kenya safari February/March 2002

Oct 31st, 2002, 02:17 AM
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Gina's safari report. Kenya safari February/March 2002

From Amsterdam we flew to Nairobi, Kenya and stayed overnight at the Norfolk Hotel which is an old English hotel with a lot of charm. We stayed there both going to and coming from our safaris. The Norfolk’s hallway was lined with old pictures of safaris when they shot game and the tents were too small to stand in. The hotel’s courtyard was filled with large trees, palms, flowering plants and birds, a few examples of older wagons and tools testified to the Norfolk’s past. A new annex has been added including additional hotel rooms, a heated swimming pool with dressing room, gym and conference rooms. The breakfast buffet was excellent with waiters who really waited and plates glazed exclusively for the Norfolk.

Nairobi as a city displays quite a contrast: very modern buildings and shacks nearby; many new automobiles on crowded, paved highways and hundreds of people walking on dirt side paths. The sun shines very brightly but air is filled with exhaust fumes. Walking alone on the streets is evidently not safe for tourists, we were warned.

As this was our second trip to Kenya we thought it would be a good idea if we wrote about some of the things that were similar in the camps in general like our transportion, the people, the roads, the animals we saw and then more specific things that were unique about the camps where we stayed.

From Nairobi to Amboseli we flew from its domestic airport on Air Kenya in a twin motored, 20 passenger plane at 11,000 ft. above the clouds to a paved landing strip. Between camps we flew in Tropic Air’s one prop, four seater at a few hundred feet well below the clouds to grassy and gravel strips. We got a closer view of the countryside with Jamie, the owner, who was our pilot again on two of our trips between camps. We were limited to 15 kg. of luggage on the small planes.

In three of the four camps we were in open Land Rovers which are very capable on Kenya’s demanding roads. Many times to get closer to animals we were driven off the roads over large rocks and through muddy wetlands.

Oct 31st, 2002, 02:21 AM
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The Masai native men are generally tall, slim and smiling. They have a mouthful of large white teeth which one told us was because they brush their teeth with the chewed end of a stick.

All of the Masai staff has English given-names like Peter, Janet and James for the benefit of the guests in remembering their names but they have unpronounceable surnames. The staff members were trying hard to please because the tourist trade is way down which is blamed on September 11th.

The waiters and guides were all males. A few of the desk clerks in Governors and some of the housekeepers in Lewa Safari Camp were women .

The guests at the various camps were mainly couples or small groups of French, German, and English with a few Japanese couples and one American from Syracuse. They would stay one or two nights, none stayed three nights in each camp as we did. However, we feel that to get the benefit of our guides expertise we needed to stay with them for at least three days.

Many of the roads that we were on were horrible. There had been several rains and there was a lot of standing water left. Most of the roads had been made just by bulldozing a path in the fields. Deep ruts, wide puddles, and some wash outs were the rule wherever we were driven. Four wheel drive vehicles plowed through the mud making the ruts deeper. As the animals tend to be around water, we were constantly near water and crossing ditches that drained into streams and the Mara river. We got our exercise holding onto the iron bars that were strategically placed.

Some roads to the more frequently used airports had been raised for better drainage by laying a volcanic rock base, covering over with mud and topping with some kind of gravel. Other stretches of road were made passable by turning onto the adjacent field and avoiding the road altogether.

We were only stuck once and our own manpower pushed us out. Of course, mud was all over the land rovers by the end of each trip but it was always washed off for the next game drive.

Oct 31st, 2002, 02:30 AM
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The guides are trained and have books to show pictures of birds and animals that we had sighted. We saw way over one hundred birds new to us on this trip. Our guides were very knowledgeable about the birds and animals and were willing to share what they knew with us with one exception. The exception was replaced after a discussion with the manager of the camp.

Each of our guides gave us unique photo-ops that will stay in our memory. James from Governor’s Camp took us to see the female leopard and her cub. While we were at Lewa Downs Peter showed us his favorite view from the top of a hill overlooking the Rift Valley. He also spotted three young male cheetahs while he was driving. We still can’t figure out how he did it. They were well fed each with a full belly, lying far away on a hill and resting in the shade of a tree. From Peter we learned that cheetahs are solitary animals. However, young males often stay together until they are 3 years old to increase their chances of successful hunting. We also learned that the mother of these beautiful males is somewhere around with four cubs.

We got excited about the possibility of seeing them and said we would like to see her with them, and Peter responded “I would, too!” Then he smiled. All our guides had a gentle sense of humor and we had a lot of laughs.

The Amboseli is noted for its elephants and our guide, Sam at Tortilis, showed us a large number as they walked down from the high ground at the foot of famous Mt. Kilimanjaro to the watering area in the morning and again at evening when they filed back up to spend the night.

Our guide at Sangare, Paul, is called ‘doctor’ because he has a Ph.D. in botany from Edinburgh. He knew all the Latin names of the endemic plants and how the natives used them in the treatment of the common illnesses, but we didn’t even try to learn the names or the uses. The three of us ate together. Although we invited James in Governor’s camp to eat with us, he begged off.

Oct 31st, 2002, 02:34 AM
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By going to four different camps we were able to see all of the Big Five: the cape buffalo, the elephant, the leopard, the lion, and the rhinoceros. In addition, we saw many other species.

This is the season in which the babies are born and we saw many. We noticed that some of the wildebeest babies had umbilical cords still attached. Babies were often still nursing and many of the females were in the last weeks or days of their pregnancy.

The babies of animals are just like the kids of humans. They have definite personalities and we found it very enjoyable to watch two year old elephants at play by wrestling each other with their trunks, two different lion cubs seeking attention by crawling on their well fed, sleeping mothers, and a cub hippo did the same thing to its sleeping mother in a bog with just her back exposed. A mother hyena was nursing her cub outside her den.

We saw a female leopard hide her cub in the tall grass and later we saw her in a tall tree which she had used to store her kill, a large gazelle. She lay on a leafy limb which made her difficult to see guarding her family’s next meal, keeping it from the hyenas which were hopefully waiting below. A large group of people came to watch her from Land Rovers. So we left.

One afternoon in Amboseli Park a scattered herd of elephants grazing on grass must have heard one of its babies make a distress call. Suddenly all of the adult elephants hurried over and gathered around the baby. According to our guides at Tortilis Camp, Sam and Ali, elephants have a sound system that can’t be heard by humans with which they communicate. We figured this was a demonstration of the system.

It was amazing to see these great big elephants crowding around the baby to protect it but avoiding any harm or even rough contact with it.
Oct 31st, 2002, 02:37 AM
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In Lewa Downs we had seen a baby rhino, Omni, on our first trip in June 2000 when he was the size of a pig. Now we saw him again as a two year old not ful grown but as big as cow. He along with a warthog named Digby, had been raised under the care and protection of rangers. Their caretakers were changed frequently to avoid the animal from bonding with the men who were guarding them until they could fend for themselves. The warthog is now roaming wild but comes ‘home’ in the evening for its bottle of milk. Omni, on the other hand, follows the ranger around like a puppy and is spoiled. He walked around our Land Rover trying to push it and, when the ranger pushed him away, Omni laid down on the ground and snorted like a spoiled child.

On the way to see us Omni visited his caretaker’s house and broke out the windows. It had happened many times before and this is why he is not allowed to sleep any longer in the house. It is laughable to see a rhino and a warthog playing together, each one trying to push the other one around.

The differences between similar kinds of species that look alike may be subtle but easy to spot if you know these differences. For example, the common impala has three black stripes on its white rump while the Grant’s gazelle does not. Moreover, the white on the latter’s rump extends above his tale while it does not on both the impala and Thompson’s gazelle. The common zebra has black stripes that extend around his belly whereas the Grevy’s zebra has a white belly and narrower black stripes that form a chevron over each leg. The cheetah has a black streak running down from its eye like a tear while the leopard does not.

There are three kinds of giraffes in Kenya. One, the reticulated, has very well defined spots but no spots on its legs. The Masai giraffe has spots down its legs but its spots are not as well defined. The Rothschild giraffe we had seen only on our first trip to Kenya at Delmare’s’s camp.

Oct 31st, 2002, 02:40 AM
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None of the camps were full. Several nights we were the only guests and it was very beneficial to be the only ones with the guides.

All the camps are ‘tented’ which means that a permanent canvas tent with a flush toilet, shower and sink with hot water is pitched on a smooth level area. Over the tent is constructed a thatched roof on a wooden frame to keep the tent cooler in the sun and warmer in the night. In each camp we had en-suit facilities with plenty of hot water and flush toilets. We also had big comfortable double beds with plenty of warm blankets.

Our usual drill was to be wakened at 6:00 am by the tent steward who delivered hot coffee and hot chocolate for us. We would leave on a game drive at 6:30, come back for breakfast at around 9:30, go on a second drive before lunch, and go on a third drive at 4:00. In Lewa we also went on a night drive and in Sangare we took a night walk. In Governors Camp James suggested that we take our breakfast with us and eat it in the field so we wouldn’t have to come back until lunch at 12:30. We happily agreed to such an arrangement. Dinner was usually at 8:00 which we found to be too late to be fully enjoyed.

Electricity is generated at convenient hours and some battery power is generally available. It was too dark to read or to write our journal in the evening but we didn’t mind because we knew that we had to get up early each morning. Propane gas, candles and kerosene lanterns are used to light paths and the tents at night.

Also we should add that in each camp we were escorted to our tents at night and in Governor’s Camp during the day as well because this camp is on the Mara River and hippos decide once in a while to visit the camp during the day although they generally stay in the river during the day because they don’t like to get sunburned. Really!

One afternoon we walked toward our tent and there were a mother and her cub and so we went back and got a Masai native with a stick to escort me. Incidentally, Masai warriors always carry a stick; a long slender one for tending cattle or a short thick one for a weapon and they carry a sword (a machete).

Oct 31st, 2002, 02:43 AM
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Tortilis Camp

Our first camp consists of 16 comfortable tents with a large deck from which we could see Mount Kilimanjaro beyond the big beautiful tortilis acacia tree shading our tent. The camp is just outside of Amboseli National Park on a sloping hillside that looks at snow capped Kilimanjaro. Although it is usually covered with clouds, we saw most of it several times and have some animal shots with this mountain in the background. To our regret we missed a visit to a Masai school during our walk around the property. The manager, Hans, ran a good ship, the food was varied and tasty. The waiters were well trained. Only about half of the tents were occupied. The pool was delightful and the days were warm and nights cool. The entire area was enclosed by an electric fence and we walked around the perimeter just to get some exercise after the sumptuous lunches. Several gardens furnished vegetables and greens for salads.

The area was dusty during the day and numerous ‘dust devils’ rose up. These are swirls of dust ten about twenty feet in diameter that rise up 50 to 100 feet in the air before then breaking up. We saw many herds of elephants, wildebeests, zebras, buffalo and mixed herds. A large lake had a flock of lesser pink flamingos that flew up, circled around in the bright sun and settled at a new shore.

We had two different guides, Sam and Ali. Both were very good. Sam gave us short lectures on elephants. It is estimated that there are over 1,200 elephants in Amboseli Park and we think we saw them all. A baby elephant can walk under his or her mother’s belly until she or he is 1 year old. The elephant’s breasts are between her front legs, the baby nurses until it is four years old and its tusks get too long.

The elephants development is similar to human. The females start menses around 12 years old and undergo menopause around 50. One exception are males who don’t become potent until about 30 years old. During their life elephants have four sets of teeth and when they lose the fourth set they die of starvation.

It is a myth that they go to an elephant graveyard to die.

Oct 31st, 2002, 02:47 AM
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Lewa Safari Camp

This camp consists of twelve double tents placed inside the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy which covers some 40,000 acres of thorn bush acacia tree plains north of Mount Kenya. It is managed by an English couple who are in their first year there.

We were here two years ago and noticed some changes in the camp. There is a new swimming pool, the dining room is painted outside, new gravel paths leading to each tent, a privacy fence build between the outside dining area and two of the tents. Recently a huge water hole was dug near the blind to attract more game. The wild life population is growing and, in fact, some are outgrowing their food supply, so the Conservancy is relocating some of the animals such as giraffes.

Our guide for our first drive was Alexander, who was the desk clerk during our last visit. We like Alexander but concluded that, although he is very friendly, he is not a good guide. We explained this observation to the manager and before dinner we found out that we would have a more experienced guide, Peter, for the rest of our stay in Lewa.

We came upon a rhino which turned out to be Omni’s mother who is blind but can hear very well. She was about 5 feet off the road and didn’t seem to notice us until we came closer. She wheeled around and confronted us. Although we took some pictures, we were not very comfortable with this rhino who was pregnant snorting at us just a few feet away. So we left. Omni’s mother is pregnant again and the Conservancy plans to raise her baby again.

We went on a night drive and while Peter drove, Joseph handled a powerful light hooked to the Rover’s battery. He would move it quickly back and forth through the trees and along the ground. It seemed too fast to see anything but the eyes of any animals would stand out like lights and were very easy to spot. We saw the three cheetahs, the same brothers we had seen earlier in the day.

In another sighting we followed several baby zorillas down the road until the mother came out and grabbed one by the nape of the neck and hauled it back into the grass and the others followed mama. Zorillas are small animals with black and white markings similar to a skunk but without the ability to spray any disgusting odor.

The next day we saw where a rhino had rolled in the mud and further on we saw a rhino scratch his sides and back on a tree. This is the rhino’s way of getting rid of tics. Elephants use the same technique.

Oct 31st, 2002, 02:51 AM
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Sangare Lake

The owner of Sangare camp, Mike Pettyjohn, is English but lived most of his 70 years of life in Kenya. He met our plane in his Mercedes SUV and drove us to his house, a sprawling one story wooden house, surrounded by well manicured lawn that was edged with beautiful flowers, shrubs and old trees. We had coffee which was served by his wife, Diana, from a sterling silver service with hot milk. We sat on the enclosed porch and made small talk. They raise cattle on 6,500 acres and Mike flies his own airplane. It is much quicker to get around any distance in a plane than on those rotten Kenyan roads.

The couple drove us to the Camp by way of a small lake he had just had made. This camp is the smallest with only six tents located on a five acres lake with lots of birds and ducks in and around it. There were about 50 black-headed herons building nests and conversing noisily all day long and at least part of the night in a large yellow-fever acacia tree next to our tent.

Sammy, the delightful manager during our first visit, was now employed elsewhere and Peter, one of the caretakers, seemed to be running things. Only one other guest was at the camp and stayed only one night.

Paul, our guide, drove us to Aberdare National Park and we had a great sighting day. We saw about 20 colobus monkeys and two unique birds, a trogan and a turocco, along with about 70 other species of birds new to us. On the way home we stopped at the Aberdare Golf Club which has a beautiful view and lovely grounds complete with many warthogs on the tees and greens.

In the evening as we were the only guests, we set some new rules and arranged with the chef to serve an early dinner.

We went on a night walk and saw three hyrax in a tree, disturbed a herd of impalas and watched a number of bats catching insects. It rained heavily later that night and, although the next day we were scheduled to go to Solio Farm which is a rhinoceros refuge, the farm was flooded. We went back to Aberdare National Park. As we drove around, we didn’t see very much that was worthwhile which was quite a contrast with the day before. We got our best photo-ops of animals that day back at Sangare property.

Last morning we got up to gorgeous sunlight and blue sky with a few slowly moving white clouds. We went to the airport and after chasing the impala off the landing strip we flew to Nanyuki and then on to our next camp.

Oct 31st, 2002, 02:54 AM
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Governor’s Camp

This was the largest camp with thirty two tents on the Mara River and in the Masai Mara. The roads near the camp were the wettest with ruts, detours and deep puddles. James, our guide, was the best one for identifying birds while driving and for positioning the rover for the best light and background to take pictures.

Three outstanding, unique sightings were made with James. In the first one he was flashed by another Governor’s Camp rover signaling a good sighting. We drove to the site where the killer lion was sprawled across a baby hippo that he had killed by sinking his teeth in the back of its neck. Another lion was chewing on the part of the hippo sticking out from under the body of the killer lion. Evidently the killer was saving the best parts, the vital organs, for himself.

During the another game drive WE had spotted two male cheetahs relaxing under a tree. James drove around getting just the right light and background while the cheetahs just sat there and we shot most of one roll of film. We were mesmerized by the beauty of these animals. After about 30 minutes James flashed another Rover and, when that one drove up, the cheetahs took a look at it and slowly got up, walked away and lay down in the grass under another tree about 50 yards away.

In the third sighting it was raining and we went to a steeply banked bog filled with green plants that ibis were walking on. We must have seen more than a dozen hippos. Our objective was to get pictures of the hippos yawning after waking up from their afternoon naps and getting ready to get out of the bogs and graze. The hippos would submerge for about 5 minutes and then come up for air and spout like a whale. Several baby hippos were playing around when the yawning started. We spent about an hour watching the babies and waiting for just the right angle and lighting to take pictures of the yawning.

Oct 31st, 2002, 02:58 AM
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The breakfasts and lunches were served buffet style while the dinners at candle lighted tables outside unless it rained. The serving were generous, quite varied with multiple selections of hot and cold meat and fish, fresh salads and a whole gamut of breads and desserts from fresh fruits, cakes, cookies to ice cream.
Below are samples of the lunch and dinner menus in Governor’s Camp which had, in our opinion, the best food.

Lunch buffet on Sunday, March 10, 2002
Punchnep soup
Tuna and tomato vinaigrette
Chicken masala served with saffron rice
Lentil and vegetable curry
Homemade chapati, papadum condiments
Cold meats and assorted salads
Selection of desserts
Kenyan cheese board and crakers
Tea or coffee

Dinner menu on Sunday, March 10, 2002
Smoked salmon
Cream of pumpkin and coriander soup
Roast legof Molo lamb, mint gravy sauce
Rosemary potatoes
Fresh seasonal vegetables
Vegeterian dish
Vegetable lasagna
Fresh rhubarb pie, custard sauce
Kenyan cheese board and crackers
Tea or coffee

Oct 31st, 2002, 03:03 AM
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Health concerns
The camps had wells and filtered the water but we didn’t drink it or brush our teeth with it. We drank carbonated beverages and bottled water with our meals and on game drives.

Although we ate fresh green salads, neither one of us had any problem and we did not meet or hear of any other people that got sick due to food or water. We did not see any mosquitos but tiny flies became nuisance on our last game drive. We learned that they are problem during rainy season which was coming any day. We took antimalaria pills and we got in 2000 yellow fever shots which supposed to last for 10 years

Are we glad we went a second time?
Yes, yes, yes.

We knew what we wanted to see and what to demand from our guides. Moreover, the feeling is very pleasant to return a place where you are remembered and know your way around. This time we concentrated more on learning about different animals behavior. The biggest thrill was to see such amazing plethora of babies. The pictures serve to remind us of very precious moments.

Would we do it again?
Yes, yes, yes.
We considered visiting South Africa and Botswana but they are so much farther than Kenya that we hesitate. About eight to ten hours on a plane is as much as we care to spend in economy class seats. We may try first class but then we will not travel that often without breaking the bank.

Oct 31st, 2002, 05:35 AM
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Thank-you for posting such an amazing trip report. In one of your first posts, you mention that you were in open Land Rover vehicles. Does this mean completely open (like the vehicles used in Botswana and South Africa), or was it just the top that was open to allow you to stand and take pictures?
Oct 31st, 2002, 07:07 AM
Liz Frazier
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Bravo! Bravo! The best trip report I had read to date. Wonderful, food for the soul! I could feel the gentle winds on the savannah, see the small puffy clouds overhead, smell the wonderful smells and see the colors of Africa once again.
I shall print this one out and read it many times. Thank you. Liz
Oct 31st, 2002, 10:32 AM
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Oh fantastic!
I spotted that you posted this morning (UK time) when I got into work but didn't want to push my luck by reading it there so I had to wait until I'd got home and had dinner.
What a treat!
Your descriptions are just wonderful and it sounds a marvellous trip.
I understand your hesitation to suffer those long long flights to Southern Africa but urge you to think again about Botswana and Namibia, from your writing I am so sure you'd love them both.
I don't know about other airlines but British Airways now has four classes in the planes that go between London and Jo'burg - cattle class, business and first as before and then a newer class, I think it's called World Traveller Plus - the seats are significantly larger than cattle class, and the legroom superb, but the food and service are the same. We were lucky enough to be upgraded to this on our way home in 2001 and found it a definite improvement.
I don't know the cost differentials though.
Anyway thanks again for sharing your report, so very informative and evocative.
Oct 31st, 2002, 01:07 PM
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Thanks for all details. Now I want to go Kenya too.
Oct 31st, 2002, 03:59 PM
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Wonderful report!! Love reading the details of your fantastic trip. Thanks for sharing.
Nov 1st, 2002, 02:41 AM
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Thank you LT, Liz, Kavey, Teena and SG for your kind words.

LT- Unfortunately I am not able to compare the vehicles on our safari to those in South Africa and Botswana. But, yes, our vehicles were totally open-sided allowing all around game viewing and the best opportunity to take photos. And I took many. They had room for maximum 6 persons. We were so lucky because on all games (except two games from Tortilis camp where we had two other very nice people with us) we were only two people and had a driver/guide to ourselves. Governor’s Camp had the vehicles with the tops that were open but it was just fine because we were only two people in that vehicle.

Liz- in another post you asked about the Migration. We witnessed it on our first safari in June (27 or 28 I would need to check our previous report for an exact date) 2000 in Masai Mara when thousands of wildebeests were crossing the river and zebras followed them. It was incredible and unforgettable experience. I can get you more detailed description if you are interested .

Kavey- You helped us to decide that we should start thinking and planning our next safari to South Africa and Botswana regardless of a long flight. We are trying to use KLM to collect more miles.
But why Namibia? I need to find out more. Where to start? I guess I need your help here. Please
Nov 1st, 2002, 07:19 AM
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You won't regret it!
I am planning our return safari but as it's quite expensive we're waiting till 2004!
Namibia is a wonderful contrast to Botswana. We concentrated on the lush green wetness of the Delta and saw all the animals really close up as well as numerous birds. Environment was also beautiful, especially at the water camp, Little Vumbura, but the big draw was the game.
In Namibia, though we also saw game and bird life the draw was the scenery. I have never seen anything like it.
The Namib Desert is simply stunning.
We also spent 2 nights in Damaraland area and saw 17 rare desert elephants, these are african elephants that have adapted to life in desert environment, and I think when we went there were estimated to be only 400 remaining, a number which was vastly better than the figures from a few years previously.
I do want to also visit South Africa, and include Cape Town as well as safari parks, but have decided that I want to give at least 3 weeks to SA alone and will save that for yet another trip.
I have only been to Botswana/ Namibia once, and to Kenya/ Tanzania once, many years previously, and though I enjoyed both, I can honestly say that I left a bigger piece of my heart in Botswana and Namibia than anywhere else on earth.
Nov 1st, 2002, 08:43 AM
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Hi Kavey
Can you recommend some web sites or guidebooks to start thinking about South Africa, Namibia and Botswana? It has to be 2004 for us as we are planning a few trips next year and I don't think we want to give up any of them.

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