May 2004 Trip Report SA & Botswana


Jun 4th, 2004, 04:56 PM
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May 2004 Trip Report SA & Botswana

I have to begin this report with a quick summary of the state-of-mind in which
we began our vacation. It was a true escape from work and a merciful reprieve
from the 24-hour flow of too much information and news.

We planned this trip when we assumed our son the US Marine would be home safe
and sound from Iraq. In December, when he found out he was going back again for a second tour of duty, we figured what the heck...we lived through the agony of
his being in a war last year -- how bad would this second trip be? There are some things in life you can not control, and obviously for us, the situation in Iraq is one of those things. As the weeks wore on, and the news was more and more frightening, our reports from Alec were also more and more disconcerting.

He is on the jump team for one of the Generals, and is his primary driver and
security guy. They had some close calls outside of Fallujah and Ramadi, two in particular that he told us about in his fairly frequent emails, but I suspect once he gets home we will hear of more. He's a good son and protects us, I believe, from worrying more about something we can't influence. Some people back home thought we were kind of strange -- planning a trip so far away at this time. But the closer it got, the more confident I became that being away from the constant news reports (of primarily the worst events) was one of the sanest decisions we'd made in a couple of years.

Decently priced RT tickets on British Airways, which flies directly from BWI to London, gave us the opportunity to break up the long flights with a stay-over in London. 15,000 frequent flier points put us up at the Renaissance Chancery Court hotel. It was a great way to start our trip! While it was only 9:30 or 10AM when we arrived, they let us in to our room. After a shower and short nap, we strolled around the area and grabbed a late lunch, then visited John Soane's Museum in the afternoon, London Walks Pub tour in the evening, yummy Turkish meal at Tas on High Street. We had a wonderful night sleep, and a nice low-key day at the Tate Modern before the slightly dreaded 12 hour flight from London to Cape Town.

At check-in we were told the flight was only half full, so we'd have some room to spread out back in the cheap seats. Things were looking up! Until we discovered that many of the passengers were members of an English rugby team (The Pirates)on their way to South Africa for some charity tournament. The cheerful, friendly guys were quite each other. They finally quieted down about half-way through the flight, but alas the rest of us didn't get much rest. Still, we were on our way to South Africa.

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Jun 4th, 2004, 05:10 PM
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The guesthouse/B&B we had arranged for our 3 night stay in Cape Town also arranged transfers for us from and to the airport. It's nice to have someone waiting to take your bags and whisk you to your lodging -- and after the cool, grey dreary weather in London, Cape Town's bright sun and clear skies were lovely. The driver pointed out some of the major sights on our way to Green Point, but honestly, we were so wiped out that ride simply did not register much
on my semi-unconscious mind. What did register was the beautiful accomodations David, owner of David's B&B, led us too. We were offered breakfast, but passed -- looking forward to a nap. And our room --- WOW! Through the breakfast room, across the deck and down through a garden to the house behind -- we had a huge room, in a 1900s restored beauty with big tall windows, high, white- painted tin ceilings and a very big bath with a shower big enough for two as well as an old cast iron tub. I think it took us all of 10 minutes though, to climb into that big bed and fall asleep for a good 2 hour nap. (I NEVER have been able to nap, probably not since I was 2, but that day hah! I was gone like a newborn babe.)

We woke up, unpacked, showered and changed clothes and after consulting with Liszel, the helpful desk assistant across the hall in the charming den/study (perfectly Victorian with the zebra skin rug on the floor in front of the fireplace) headed out to lunch. We walked about 3 blocks to sort of a "restaurant row" and chose to have lunch outdoor at a nice little Belgian place.

I had mussels and Steve broiled kingklip. It's a wonderful South African fish, dense white and meaty -- sort of like Caribbean snapper. Eating well in South Africa is easy and compared to what we're used to spending in Washington or NYC, quite reasonably priced, too!

Looking back on the whole trip, aside from the time spent on safari, all our hotel rooms cost between 440R and 500R per night,(about $65-70 US) and we found we could eat a full 3-course dinner with wine, coffee, etc for less than $80 US if we were "splurging".

Totally on our own, we walked to the V&A Waterfront and enjoyed just checking out the place...found an electrical adaptor in one shop there. We caught a taxi to Green Market Square to walk around a bit down town, and found ourselves soon walking through the Company Gardens (That's the Dutch East India Company, which you might remember from history class.) Since the afternoon was so clear, we decided we'd do the cable car to the top of Table Mountain, so we grabbed another cab (they are inexpensive) to the cable car station, and found ourselves just in time for the last trip up (5PM). We really enjoyed the views and I took tons of pictures. The last trip down was timed so that we saw the sunset. Just
extraordinary! We grabbed a mini-bus with three other tourists, and headed back to the waterfront where we had a lovely seafood dinner, at Quay Four, then cabbed it back to David's as we were to be picked up the next morning at 8AM by Selwyn (!), along with our friends from London, Kavey and Pete, and a family from Canada, Allison, Larry, Andrew and Rachael.

Our second day in Cape Town was another stunner! Both in terms of the weather and our terrific tour with such fun people! (All the details are available WITH pictures on ) We saw wine country (and tasted great wines)
the language monument at Paarl, picniced on local specialties (Snook, fish cakes, and some really yummy sweets!) visited a township, Kayamandi, where we met several dynamic people and lots of charming children. We finished that visit with a mini-concert by the youth choral group, and I still get goose bumps
remembering how cool it was to be in their midst while they entertained us.

And yet, our grand tour still wasn't over -- we finished up with a wonderful dinner at Moyo, where we sat at a table in a tree! What an amazing place that was! The food was wonderful, the ambiance completely unique and exotic, and the live entertainment excellent. We fell into bed about 1:30AM and slept like the often referred to logs.

The next day was a Sunday, and we had only minimal plans. I needed to check in with our kids via email and an internet cafe (easily one of the best bargains I've ever found in our travels. It worked out to about $2 for 30 minutes!) So we walked toward Sea Point, where Steve bought a paper to read as I emailed. Then we walked down to the waterfront and walked along the shoreline, eventually finding our way to the weekly market held outside the stadium at Green Point. I bartered a bit for three belts (I usually try to buy more than one item of a kind at markets, it's more fun to bargain that way). Then the sky began to get very dark and the rain that had been forecast finally began. Ever-prepared, we had an umbrella so we made our way up to the main street and found a little Italian restaurant for lunch. The rain had stopped, so we ate outside, and found Kavey and Pete walking along having just finished their lunch! They too had been at
the market for a while. We chatted until our food was served and they took off on their own adventures.

The rest of the afternoon, we repacked and organized our gear as we were leaving the next morning for Botswana and our long anticipated safari. We had arranged with the folks at ccafrica to leave a suitcase at their office in Maun, so that we wouldn't have to worry about carrying around our non-safari clothing and shoes in our limited weight duffle bags. After packing, we pulled out books to read in the pretty study at David's, but soon found ourselves in a fascinating
conversation with Brian, one of their staffers, who also works as a cultural guide. We had a fairly early dinner at the Thai restaurant a couple blocks
away, and settled our bill with Brian (I still find it hard to believe we stayed at that lovely place for only 220R per person per night.) David had arranged for a driver to pick us up at 4:30am so that we could make our early EARLY flight to J'burg and then on to Maun.
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Jun 4th, 2004, 05:21 PM
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The flight to Maun on Botswana Airlines was delightful. Did you ever see that movie with Gwyneth Paltrow about being a flight attendant for a little airline? Air Botswana is sort of an international version of that airline. Lots of spirit. It's a little jet and all the seats are gray leather. It was about a two hour flight from J-burg, and they even feed you! But we had a near disaster...chewing on a Werther's caramel, Steve "lost" a crown to the sticky candy. I popped it into medicine vial in my purse (I had two, one for malarone and one for xanax.) We decided to get some oil of clove at a pharmacy in Maun as there was supposed to be about 2 hours before our little flight to Sandibe.

When we landed at Maun, Janice from ccafrica met us as we waited for our
luggage. We explained our predicament, and she took us out to her truck (along with the suitcase she was to watch for us) and a couple blocks away to a pharmacy. Eventually we found something that appeared would work -- if indeed it was needed (and fortunately no problem ever developed) over the course of the next week.

I sort of wish we'd purchased one of the interesting products in the case at the pharmacy check out -- "Love Drops." Not for us, naturally, but as a little gift for someone back at home who might get a kick out of it. Ah, once again I break the tourist shopping rule -- if you see something you think you should buy GET it because you won't see it again.

When we got back to the airport, our pilot, Tammy, was ready to go early! So we thanked Janice for her assistance, and off we went, to be packed into the little plane along with a fellow headed to work at another camp, and a bag of some food supplies for Sandibe's cook.

I really enjoy little planes. I've a friend who is getting her pilot's license, and I can see the attraction. I'm not at all afraid, I tell people -- I taught two teenagers how to drive! Now THAT's fear for you -- watching those mailboxes in your periferal vison whizzing past along the roadside way too close for comfort. But these little bush The scenery is can even see elephants and hippos from the air! And landing on those little landing strips -- We saw our first giraffes as we touched down!

The ride to the camp is exhilerating. The sights -- flora, fauna and all that fa la la! We were on a high! We were on safari! We were far away from cities and traffic and CNN and just maybe we'd just become intruders in a landscape and lifescape that modern man doesn't really control.

We bounced along under a clear bright sky, with the driver pointing out plants, birds and animals we've
only seen before at the zoo. We pulled up at the entrance to Sandibe to be met by smiling people with warm wet towels to wipe off the dust from the ride, but certainly not the grins on our faces!
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Jun 4th, 2004, 05:44 PM
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We meet Maurice and Nikola, the camp managers. Boyce, who would be "our" safari guide, several other staffers, and are asked do we want to eat or to see our accomodations for the next 2 nights. A quick tour of the main lodge area -- to which we will shortly return for a lunch -- then down a pretty path, which we are told we will NOT negotiate on our own after dark because, you know, there are no fences and we're truly only guests in this beautiful, exotic place. We are led to our, what is it exactly, a hut? It's sort of round, with a high thatched roof from which is suspended a ceiling fan and an incredible mosquito proof fabric canopy over the beds (not unlike many European hotels -- two twins together and dressed with fresh inviting bedding and LOTS of pillows. The walls are sort of an adobe with large screened areas looking out on the natural wild palms, grasses and providing total privacy and the feeling that you're tucked
away safely in this beautiful natural setting. It's stunning. Outside the screened front doorway is a two level, rustically constructed deck for looking out over the channel -- which is lush with high grasses and full of interesting sounds. The sounds which we learn come from frogs and birds and hippos and elephants!

OH! Goodness! Somehow one of our two duffle bags is missing? We saw it go from the plane to the heavy duty SUV, but what happened? Frankly, I'm not terribly concerned...where could it have gone? There's only one way from the airstrip to the lodge. While we eat lunch the guys head back over that route and find that it must have bumped out along the way, as it is easily found and returned.

There's about an hour and a half for us to settle into our romantic little
abode, and the baboons have come out to welcome us! I try to sit on the upper deck to write in my journal, but it is too much fun watching this troupe chase each other through the treetops, across our roof -- almost like they are engaging me in some sort of game.

Apparently they were also causing a disturbance in the kitchen area and outside the main dining area, so the kitchen staff drove them off by pounding lids of pots and pans together.

When we meet for tea (what? feeding us again?) we also meet some new arrivals, Gill and Brian from the UK, who will join us for our first FULL game drive. Boyce, whom we later learn is one of very very few guides/rangers who are authorized to carry a firearm, explains patiently the appropriate behaviour for game drives at Sandibe. We will go off-road when tracking lions or leopards,
but not for elephants, impala, or giraffe. We are to be quiet as we get near to the animals, and to stay seated -- as they only "see" the vehicle as a large element, like an elephant, unless people standup or make sudden noises. Then, off we go!

We're wearing our specially bought earth toned safari wear, hats, sunscreen, and insect repellant. We carry jackets and hats in our daypacks, along with cameras, extra film and binoculars. We don't stay on the road for long, as the guides (who obviously work well together) stay in touch when they are on the trail of something their guests might want to see. With the tracker, James seated on the little jump seat off the left front bumper, we go crashing through brush and puddles in search of a herd of water buffalo -- with good meal potential for a small resident pride of lion.

You can see the clouds of dust they kick up as they move along from far off. When we find them, though,they are grazing in a marsh area with lots of melons on the ground among tall grasses and short scrubby palms. There's hundreds of them, but our cameras strain to "autofocus" through the foliage. And among the sounds of them crunching melons and grasses, we hear the frogs and birds calling
to each other. We drive around the herd, looking for the predators, and of course seeing much other game -- impala, tsessebe, wildebeest the impala in groups, the others mostly as lone males. We see all kinds of birds. My memory is a bit clouded here...I believe we drove off to a lovely spot for sundowners, and as we got back into the vehicle, we hear not too far off, the roars of lions. And so off we go again -- it appears as if they are stalking the buffalo.

But then the CB radio cackles out and the other guide, Sage, (whose guests are back at camp, suffering from air-sickness and not able to go out on a drive), and his tracker are out there checking on where the animals are. He tells Boyce that he's found a leopard. Do we want to see a leopard? Hell yes! So off we go. No roads, we go as the crow (or maybe in this case the bateleur) flies. Steve squeezes my hand "Isn't this fun?" he whispers in my ear.

We DO find the leopard! We watch him lapping up water in a marshy area for about 15 minutes. It's hard to get a good shot with the cameras through the grasses, then he moves away to drier land and sits and seems to pose for us! He yawns, peers out this way and then that. No one in the vehicle says a word. Finally he finds a spot deep in the grass and lays down. We've been VERY lucky. Apparently leopards don't stick around very long for photo ops like we've had.

So off we go again, with the light dimming quickly, to find to those lions we heard earlier. It's not too long and there they are! It turns out that these are not "locals" -- there are four males with black manes. One is very old. Just "passing through" I guess.

They are indeed keeping watch over the water buffalo. When we find them, it has gotten so dark that James has gotten out the spot light. They use a red filter so as not to hurt the animals eyes, and we watch all four lions, they travel in pairs about 10 yards apart, as they move into position to keep watch over those buffalo through the night.

It had gotten quite dark by now, and the stars are out bright. There is no moon in the sky (I hadn't thought to check that) but the stars and Milky Way are glorious. We head back to camp for dinner. Wow. This is what "hooks" people on safaris. um. I think we're hooked.

Back at the camp, we all are led to our rooms to freshen up before dinner...I'm so excited I rush through washing hands and face and freshening my makeup (there's not much to freshen) and change into clean shirt and trousers. Someone comes with a flashlight to take us back to dinner. The boma is lit with an open
fire and lanterns, with candelabras lighting the big communal table. WOWIE WOW!

Boyce, our guide, sat next to me at dinner, and I loved hearing about how he came to this job, his family, and what he hoped his siblings would be able to do with their lives, as he had brought them to live with him in the "big city" of Maun for their schooling.

The food and wine were wonderful. We were happily filled and ready for bed.
We giggled as they handed out "babies" -- hot water bottles in clever little knitted covers -- to keep us warm in our beds. With flashlights in hand, we guests were again safely led to our doors.

Outside the sounds weren't nearly as loud as we thought they might be...and our beds had been turned down, the canopy unfurled to protect us from any flying insects (of which we'd seen/heard none) and after turning out the bedside lamps, we snuggled down, eventually falling fast asleep.

I promise, this won't be a minute by minute replay -- but the very first day and

night on safari -- well, they are truly special. Wow.
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Jun 5th, 2004, 06:25 AM
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Thanks for the fantastic start to your trip report - minute-by-minute re-play is just fine by me .
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Jun 5th, 2004, 09:43 PM
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uhoh busted, don't you dare leave out anything! This is a fantastic report. Your writing style is lively and makes me feel like I am there (again). It's just wonderful... more...
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Jun 12th, 2004, 04:32 PM
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Diane - this is great.

We've independently been thinking about our next big adventure (aren't they all?) taking us to southern Africa, and your itinerary sounds pretty darn good.

You posted a nice response to my "three lenses" thread on the Europe board and you promised to write a review of your experience with people and (non-people) encounters in Africa. This is very good and I am waiting for the encore.

In your researching Botswana and SA, how did you arrive at time of year? We're wondering if mid-summer (there, say Jan/Feb) is too hot/etc. Rainy/dry seasons? Wildlife more/less visible? Do tell.
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Jun 14th, 2004, 11:38 AM
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It's not terribly romantic, but we picked Botswana because of a chart at the back of a Bradt guide that showed which country has the best game viewing in each month of the year. My job has only a couple of times a year when I can take off for at least two weeks and May has always been ideal for us to travel. First there's Mothers' Day, our wedding anniversary is the 17th and my birthday is the 24th -- so a trip is a perfect present.

Because airfare is so hefty (our "bargain" fares were still nearly $1000RT) we wanted to spend at least 2 weeks in Africa. Safaris are not inexpensive, so I searched a lot of web to find a 6-night deal that worked out for us, and the more we read about South Africa, the more I wanted to see and experience that country. It didn't even dawn on me until we were in Botswana that English is used so extensively in both countries, we were missing out on very little, considering how truly foreign and exotic a trip this was!

On the flight between London and Cape Town, I gave up my aisle seat so that an Afrikans couple could have all three seats in the row. The flight was barely half-full, so I moved to a center row with Steve, where we had three seats as well, but I figured it didn't hurt my "travel karma." It seemed to have worked. (Although none of us could have quieted those rugby guys.) We never found ourselves lost or uncomfortable at any time from then on.

We met many delightful people on this trip, and enjoyed sharing meals, drinks, conversations and silent wonder with so many different people from different countries and cultures.

Visiting Cape Town first for several days, and especially spending that wonderful day with Selwyn (a "homie" from Cape Town), Kavey and Pete (UK), Allison and her family (Canadian), gave us an opportunity to understand why South Africa is being so successful at this "democracy" thing. I don't mean to be glib, but it is a different country than it was ten years ago, and the sense of inclusiveness and a real dedication to make it work is undeniable. I found everyone we met to be welcoming and completely open in expressing their opinions!

The only slightly racist comment we heard was on the cab ride from the airport (and as noted, I may have only been semi-conscious) as the highway passed a township and our Cape Malay driver said something about the Blacks liked to live in those shacks because that's what they're used to. hmmm. As I said, no hesitation to share his opinion.

When we visited Kayamandi the next day, we saw how the townships are set up, how there are programs that are working to replace shacks with permanent houses, and that within the townships there are many quite normal suburban homes these days. Even the "shack" that we visited -- and any open doorway we passed -- revealed a neat-as-a-pin household with family gathered about. In meeting the people we also felt how close a community could be and the love and support that was available from some very impressive community leaders. (Again, I've got to thank Selwyn for that fabulous opportunity.)

How did the acappella group do at their competition? There were some terrific singers in that group. When I was a teenager I sang in a wonderful choral group similar to that one. You have to listen very carefully to each other to make the harmonies work out just right...and the result is as exciting and rewarding to the participants as to the audience. That's one of those opportunities you always look to find again in life. Maybe there's a metaphore in there? I think South Africa is a real symphonic experience. It's exciting because of the people. And then, of course, there's that knock-your-socks off geographic splendor thrown in as a "bonus."

OK enough lecture for the day. I really do have work to do. Thank you for indulging me. The next report will take us to the Savute, and those incredible elephant-hunting lions!

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Jun 18th, 2004, 04:06 AM
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OK, I promise I'll get to this over the weekend, but I'm adding in the photo links so I can find it (comes in useful to send them to people in an email when I can just copy and paste them from here!)
Sandibe safari:
Savute safari:
Nxabega safari:
Wine Country:
Constantia etc:
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Jun 18th, 2004, 04:09 AM
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OK, I promise I'll get to this over the weekend, but I'm adding in the photo links so you can get there from here, too (Also comes in handy to send them to people in an email when I can just copy and paste them from here!)
Sandibe safari:
Savute safari:
Nxabega safari:
Wine Country:
Constantia etc:
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Jun 23rd, 2004, 09:50 AM
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Many thanks for the great trip report. We are scheduled to go to Botswana in September, staying among other places at Sandibe Camp. Your report has us chomping at the bit to go.
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Jun 27th, 2004, 07:18 PM
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OK -- I pulled my journal out and will copy it straight away here so I can complete this report!

We packed before we went to bed, our last night at Sandibe. At 6am we woke up, had a big breakfast and checked out, as we'd be taken to the airstrip at the end of our morning drive. We saw more lions -- this time the local pride, got some great pics.

It was a nice little plane ride to Savute Safari Camp. You could see hippos and elephants from the air. Savute is drier -- more open plains. It is famous for its very accomplished pride of lions, and also elephants. The Savute Safari Lodge is more permanent than the other camps we visited. There are a couple of common buildings, glassed in and very lovely, and the paths and walkways are all beautifully laid out, edged and gravelled. Down in front, among some trees, stretchs the outdoor dining pavillian, a nice boma and viewing area, and a pretty pool. All overlook the water holes, necessary in this more arid area, and ensuring guests 24/7 "Bush TV." We were taken to our big A-frame cabin, which also overlooked a water hole. The managers, Lissette and Mark were another friendly and helpful couple from South Africa. After dropping off our bags and washing up, we joined the rest of the guests for lunch.

On our drive in from the airstrip, our guide Eddie told us he was really excited to have us in his vehicle. We'd be with another couple, (Swiss) but the rest of the guests were a very large party of Japanese (there were 12) who spoke very little English. It was driving their guides crazy, as there were only two who could speak much English. As Eddie was clearly a very talkative and humorous guy, he was happy to have someone who would understand his jokes, I think!

Savute is a different experience from Sandibe. Operated by Desert & Delta, it is situated on the edge of the big National Park. Because our game drives would be in the park, we had to stay on-road, and night drives were not permitted. On the plus side, there was time to take a shower and change clothes before dinner in the evenings.

Lions, lions, and more lions! And lots of elephants as well. We felt like we were in one of the Animal Planet specials. This year there are about 47 lions in the Savute pride, so they have split up into four groups to make it easier to hunt and keep everyone well fed. We really enjoyed watching one large group of 12 or 14 young lions and cubs. There was one very young group of cubs, one of whom appeared to be leaving the close proximity of his mother for the first time one afternoon. (There were about four vehicles watching and a collective "Awwwww" was spontaneously released as he tentatively crept out of the shady spot where the rest stayed pretty close to mom.) And then there was the scuffling and chasing of the older "cubs." We saw them take off after a Spring hare, but without success and as they came back to the main group they seemed to be jostling and giving each other a hard time. I don't know if it was because of this rough play, but one of them had a bad eye injury. Pretty rough play. Reminds you they aren't cuddly little stuffed animals! We even saw them climbing trees on one of our drives.

There was a campground near by, and on our second afternoon out, we pulled over to look down as someone had left there tent unwatched. The baboons had taken the tent down and were dumping the coolers out and making a huge mess of the whole campsite. Wonder what those folks thought when they got back from their gamedrive! Eddie told us that the Rangers' Office had been telling people they really did need to dismantle their tents and take everything with them, the baboons have gotten so "bad."

Food at Savute, served buffet style was fine, fresh and filling, but no where near as good or as professionally prepared and served as the other two camps. And of course there was that never empty wine glass at dinner It was cool to look out over those water holes. We saw a huge white owl, and it seemed there was always some type of game drinking, no matter what time of day or night you looked.

The room was quite comfortable, with a wall of closets behind the bed, and at the front of the room, acomfortable sofa and chairs on one side, and a nice desk and chair on the other. You could make your own coffee or tea, and a cannister of cookies was refreshed daily. And of course there was that lovely big balcony with a table and two chairs, looking out at the water hole.

We enjoyed our time at Savute. The second day, Eddie took us on a short hike to see some San rock paintings...and since we'd seen the baby lion cubs, we asked if we couldn't also see baby elephants. So off we went to find the breeding herd, and we did.

After the morning drive on our 3rd day we went back to our cabin to pack up (our flight wasn't until about 1PM). We had a light lunch, and Eddie took us off to catch the plane to Nxabega.

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Jun 28th, 2004, 01:56 PM
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You asked "How did the acappella group do at their competition?". I can report that "Children of Peace" as they are known are going to the competition being held in Kimberley this coming weekend (July 3). I dont know who is more nervous about the event when it comes to me or the choral group themselves. Will keep you posted.


Greetings from Cape Town.

Very proudly part of the wonderful nation of South Africa
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Jun 29th, 2004, 03:58 AM
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How exciting for that nice group of kids. I'll be thinking of them this weekend!
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Jun 30th, 2004, 11:23 AM
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uhoh_busted, what a great trip report. I like the amount of detail you included and fully enjoyed reading about all your trip. Thanks.
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Jul 2nd, 2004, 02:58 AM
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Hey Friend
So glad you went on to have a marvellous trip, as we did.
Selwyn, if it's not too late, please send our wishes of luck to the singing team and let us know how they enjoy the whole experience.
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Jul 5th, 2004, 08:16 PM
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Ah, I've been lax about completing this report. RuthieC did such a good report on Nxabega I won't get in to too much detail, but we loved that camp too! The tents looked more primative than at the previous camps, but once inside...well they were lovely. I loved the big deck at the lodge, with all the comfy places to sit. We again met up with Gill and Brian, and also a Brazilian couple, Estella and Raoul whom we'd met at Sandibe. Being a water camp, there were water activities both in the morning and afternoon on our second day. However on the way back to the lodge for dinner after a motor boat ride, we "found" a bush baby in a tree, a hyeana on the prowl and also a beautiful cheetah. The food at Nxabega was probably the best of all three. The first night we ate at a secluded table, the second we sat with our "partners" for activities a young Dutch couple, an older German couple, and our guide Rams. Great conversation, and a lovely way to spend our last night on safari. After being escorted back to our tent, we packed up everything so that we didn't need to worry about it the next morning and went to sleep listening to the pretty sounds of those little frogs -- they sound like those wooden wind chimes, sort of melodic clockking song. Toward morning (it was pitch dark outside) we were awakened by a troup of vervet monkeys chasing around on our roof. I kept thinking they were getting in to our bathroom (just outside the zipped-closed rear flaps of the tent) but the next morning it was clear they hadn't. At Nxabega in the mornings, you are awakened with a lovely basked with carafes of coffee (and hot water for tea) and sweet rolls. Sure beats my bowl of SpecialK now that I'm home.

After the morning drive we came back, showered and changed clothes, had a nice brunch and lounged around chatting with other guests until it was time to head off for the airstrip.

We shared the little plane to Maun with five Italians, who really didn't seem to enjoy the little flight. Back at Maun International Airport Janice met us with our big bag, and we tipped her for keeping it for us. The Air Botswana flight to J-burg was filled! We shared our row of 3 with a guy from North Carolina who was just completing a Smithsonian tour with 20 or so others. They were the first big American group we'd seen in weeks.

The lines at J-burg to check in for our SAA flight to Cape Town were frighteningly long...bu
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Jul 5th, 2004, 08:39 PM
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hmmm. didn't mean to hit post...

but those lines moved fairly efficiently. The flight to Cape Town was uneventful, but when we landed -- there were people cheering and chanting. Turns out we shared the flight with the Cape Town Stormers -- a rugby team that had, sadly, just lost in the semi-finals of a tournament in Australia. Still their fans were out in force to greet them. It was refreshing to see professional athletes fetching their own bags from the carosel and pushing it out to the parking lot just like the rest of us.

Neville, our host at the Avenues Guesthouse in Stellenbosch, was there to meet us and take us "home." Glad we'd thought to make those arrangements as it was 10PM by the time we got out to the parking lot.
We stayed in Stellenbosch for two nights, and really enjoyed that pretty town. It was autumn there! and being in a university town always puts me back in that whole state-of-mind. We had a rental car delivered first thing in the morning, but spent most of the day walking around Stellenbosch and shopping for souvenirs.

Normally I don't "shop" on vacation...but there were so many things that we could never find at home. I bought myself a gorgeous mohair scarf/shawl, a couple of those cool ostrich feather dusters, a silk woven scarf for my sister, a springbok pelt for our son, we had a lot of fun. We had lunch at a beer garden -- really nice Italian food. Then we took off to re-visit the Mooiberg shop Selwyn had taken us to, as we wanted to pick up a variety of biltong and dried fruit and nuts to send off to Alec in Iraq. (He loves jerky so we knew he'd love biltong, and we got him quite an assortment.)

We also visited Clos Malvern, a nice vineyard recommended by our host, who said the woman who did wine tastings there was entertaining and the wine was great,too. It was a good tip and we enjoyed it (and bought a couple bottles of nice red stuff!). Our last stop that afternoon was a repeat visit to Rust en Vrede to buy a couple of bottles we'd tasted with the gang (not wanting to leave it sitting in a hot office in Maun when we knew we'd be back).

Dinner that night -- actually it was our wedding anniversary -- was at the Fishmonger's. Quite delightful sitting outside, and the place was packed. Back to the Avenues to fall into bed. It was nice to have more vacation to look forward to, and while it was not quite the same level of exotica, it was all new and different and beautiful to us.
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Jul 6th, 2004, 12:02 AM
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Lovely report - I'm re-living it all over again through your report.

You were much luckier than us with the cats, we didn't see the cheetah even though we were in the same camps just a week or so later.

Never mind, there's always next year!
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Jul 7th, 2004, 03:45 PM
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I really have to note how much we enjoyed staying in B&Bs in the Cape. Neville and Wilma's personal attentions in Stellenbosch were not unusual. They were wonderfully helpful in pointing out wineries to visit, and restaurant choices, and just talking with them about life in South Africa was delightful. At the start of the trip, at David's, David came to our room as we were getting ready to head out for dinner our last night in Cape Town, to make sure we had THREE different phone numbers to back up our arrangements for transport to the airport at 4:30AM, the cell phone of the driver, the phone number of his dispatcher, and David's own cell phone number in the event that the cab didn't show up on time!

But on with the trip report -- This was our first experience driving on the opposite side of the road. Plus in Stellenbosch, there are some rather steep ditches along the side of the roads, for drainage. Also, sitting on the left side as a passenger took some getting used to. I kept thinking and gritting my teeth trying not to scream out...but occasionally I just had to let Steve know he was getting too close to the edge. I finally suggested that as most of the time, there were few cars on the road, it might be a good idea just to drive right down the middle unless we saw someone coming towards us in the other lane. He didn't take kindly to my suggestion, so the next day I just decided to take the Xanax I had brought along to aid my sleep on the long flights between London and Cape Town and London and Baltimore. It worked like a charm and his driving also improved substantially.

We totally enjoyed the drive from Stellenbosch to Hermanus. We stopped in Franschhoek, poked around the shops and picked up a couple souvenirs, and also stopped at the deli/cafe Wilma suggested, Delicious. (That's the name and it is perfectly descriptive.) We bought a chicken and mushroom pie, as well as a sausage in pastry for our picnic lunch. Then we headed out to visit Neville's recommended winery, L'Ormarins.

L'Ormarins, like Rust en Vrede, is a gorgeous wine "estate." There was so much activity going on in the fields the road led us along (we kept stopping to take pictures, it was so pretty), we figured it had to be owned by some big conglomerate. But no, as we talked with the staff during the tasting, it is a family held concern. Wow. Wonder if they have any marriageable sons for my daughter!

Their wines were delicious, and we bought a bottle of their 2000 Optima (I think it's a red doesn't say on the label), along with a very yummy Port, and a bottle of Sangiovese to go along with our lunch. We ate at tables on a lovely deck, overlooking a pool with a fountain. Sigh. Had the place all to ourselves.

Our lunch, along with strawberries we'd picked up the day before, was divine. We corked the Sangiovese, saving the second half of the bottle for later that evening. I don't think the meal cost us more than $15 including the wonderful bottle of wine!
(We also carried home a bottle of Rust en Vrede's Estate blend and their Cab Sauvignon). South Africa's wine country left a VERY fine impression on us!

We hit the road, deciding to head for Hermanus to spend the night along the coast. What a gorgeous drive it was. As I mentioned in the "monkeys and baboon" thread, the closer we got to the coast, the more the expansive country started to look like the American West...until the baboons We stopped for gas and a soft drink along the road, and simply followed the signs into Hermanus. There we stopped at the Tourist Info center to ask about someplace to spend the night, for about R500. There were several places in their book, and the staff told us which was walking distance to town (for dinner) so we decided on "Avalon on the Sea."

Another great choice! Our room was up a little winding staircase, on the second floor, with its own balconey overlooking the Ocean and parkland across the street. In whale watching season, this would be a tremendous spot to stay. The big four poster bed was comfy, the bath small but clean with plenty of hot water and good pressure in the shower. The owner/hostess Sue is a tiny little blonde lady with a giant smile and simply fantastic hospitality.

We walked to town, which really is a "beach town" and, being off-season, not exactly bustling! We picked out a restaurant that looked good, and made a reservation for later that night, then walked back to clean up.

oops, time for dinner here...I must close for the evening. My brother in law brought us fresh rockfish and THAT is a meal one can't ignore!

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