Namibia/Botswana Trip Report

Old Dec 26th, 2006, 08:54 PM
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Lin
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Namibia/Botswana Trip Report

Dear Fodorites,
My trip last summer included Namibia and Botswana. This was my 3rd trip to Africa in so many years. Time slipped away but I have always meant to try to repay in some part for all the advice I obtained on this forum, by posting my experiences. So I’m going to start now – better late than never! I will also post my photos soon. I’ve been learning Photoshop and getting better but it took me FOREVER to do my editing. Still, for a long time it was a fun respite whenever I needed a break from my routine, to sit at my computer and play.

Since it’s been 5 months I probably already have memory gaps. Please feel free to ask questions either here or by email at [email protected].

Itinerary:
Little Kulala Camp, Namibia
Palmwag Rhino Camp, Namibia
Ongava Tented Camp, Namibia
Savuti Camp, Botswana (2nd visit)
Stanley’s Camp, Bots
Kwetsani Camp, Bots

Little Kulala - 3 nights. First I have to say that this was the first time I did not do a sleepover in Jo’burg (We travel from Chicago). We connected with a flight to WDK and then a hopper to Little Kulala. The journey was QUITE long, but really it was do-able and we were SO glad to be sleeping in a camp rather than in a Jo’burg business hotel. We didn’t have to face returning to the airport the next morning to keep traveling. Instead we were completely pampered. Because we had 3 days in LK, and because there is a limited amount to do and see, there was no rush. Our guide arranged for us to sleep late, be given a late and lovely breakfast, and then we took the rest of the day for a game drive. I would skip the night in Jo’burg again, no question. As I’ve said before on this forum, I do get jet lagged but that just means that for a day or two I’m sleepy during the first few game drives (until there’s a sighting and the adrenaline flows!).

LK is a VERY luxurious camp with the most incredible units I’ve ever stayed in. Huge bedrooms with glass for walls, thatch for roof, king size beds with down comforters and a ton of pillows, shag throw rugs. Open your doors to a private patio overlooking the desert and the red dunes in the distance. There was a plunge pool and a thatch-covered seating area, and steps up to a flat roof where one can either spend the night or simply enjoy the sunset – all private. We planned to spend the night on the roof, but the moon was full and I can’t tell you how bright that was above the desert, as if a spotlight were shining right into the eyelids. Also, the corn crickets were hopping all over the place. We lasted 45 minutes……Camp is still being revamped to make it ever more luxurious. As much as I loved it, I do not think I’d return. Plans were being made for a gym and an internet room. I had cell phone service. The food was quite gourmet. These are not negatives – it’s only that I prefer a simpler luxury camp - ha ha! That’s crazy but I think many of you will know what I mean.

Normally people stay here for two nights. One day is reserved for exploring the Sossusvlei, one of five regions of the Namib-Naukluft Park. This area has the highest sand dunes in the WORLD. The geology alone is fascinating. We drove through miles of gorgous dunes to the Dead Vlei, with black camelthorn trees standing in stark contrast to the surrounding dunes. We were able to walk up Big Daddy, which for me was not easy. The sand slips and slides and it’s a real effort to keep going for someone like me, who can walk and do most things but isn’t in the best cardio condition. The view was awesome though. A slight negative is that there were groups from all of the other Sossusvlei camps also present and walking about. I’d have preferred more solitude.

Later in the day we visited the Sessriem Canyon. That was cool but nothing that spectacular. It’s about a mile long and one walks along the bottom looking at the formations. We did see some cool puff adders down there though.

Game viewing was quite different from the Bots/Zambia/SA experience. We drove around the Kulala Wilderness Reserve and saw Gemsbok/Oryx, very starkly viewed against the red hills, springbok, jackal, snakes, ostrich, and Hartmann’s Mountain Zebra. This zebra species is different from that usually seen in other parts of Africa; it is endangered. Stripes do not meet across the belly, and they extend down to the hooves. The body also has a very noticeable reddish cast due to the red dust. I was really excited to see and observe them! I also loved the ‘pronking’, or jumping, of the springbok – these little antelope can leap up to 12 feet into the air! When a herd is excited, suddenly they explode into the pronking action and that’s a sight to see. Except for the springbok, animal sightings were few and far between. One can drive for a very long time without seeing animals. The scenery and atmosphere make up for it. Just don’t expect prolific wildlife. Our sundowners were so much fun and so absolutely beautiful. There are many favorite stopping places and the guides vie to get there first. I can’t say enough about the physical beauty of this place. We were told that it had been an extremely unusual wet season and that as a consequence, the grasses were much longer than usual at that time of year, giving a lush and exotic appearance to the land. It was the same in Palmwag.

Highlights included the red sand dunes. We walked into them, ballooned above them, and generally were impressed by them in all ways including the fantastic photographic opps, the contrast to the deep blue sky, changing colors of the sand at sunset/sunrise, and so on. Another highlight was our flyover above the Skeleton Coast on our way to Palmwag. This was one of the most fantastic scenic areas I’ve seen in all my travels. The brilliant red sand dunes, fading to a golden color – sand in all directions – rather biblical – then suddenly the shoreline of the Atlantic! Deep blue, white foam, and the desert as far as the eye can see. I will post photos soon. We were able to see several seal colonies, the ruins of some ships and an old diamond mine camp from our plane.
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Old Dec 26th, 2006, 09:13 PM
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Palmwag Rhino Camp. A very rustic place with bucket showers. Only 8 tents. This is described as a mobile camp which I guess means that it can be moved if necessary – it seemed permanent to me.
The existing population of black rhino (which is what one absolutely comes to see) is the largest in the world and the remnants of the original prehistoric population, never having been increased by having animals transferred in. Therefore, the airport is located three long rough hours away from camp, in order not to disturb the rhino population. Hence our only real error in planning – we only booked here for two nights. STAY AT LEAST FOR THREE NIGHTS. The transfer from the airstrip takes up too much time, otherwise, and one feels very pressured to track the rhino in too little time. The tracking takes all day, and if you only have two nights in camp, you only have one chance at a sighting. You will have a good chance of seeing rhino, but a better and less stressed chance if you have three nights here. And it’s worth it, being so incredibly remote and beautiful.

Camp was very cool – literally in the middle of nowhere. The Damaraland terrain is unusual and hard to take your eyes off of. The soil and the rocks all over it are dark red. Rocks also include gorgeous raw gemstones such as chalcedony and quartz crystals which can just be picked up. For those of us into energy, you can imagine how this place felt. Beige grasses cover the land (July) and it’s spotted with milkweed bushes (dark green). There are rolling hills. Hartmann's Mountain Zebra and springbok cover the plains. There were also plenty of ostrich and oryx. Lions, cheetah and leopard live on the concession but we didn’t see any predators, or elephants. I think this was due to lack of time and the priority of seeing the rhino.

Incredible managers were Chris and his then newly-wed wife whose name I can’t recall. Chris is the perennial bushman, with an undying passion for the black rhino, who guided us on two tracking sessions. By tracking it is meant that the ‘real’ native trackers leave camp in the wee hours, find and follow the rhino until we get started in the vehicle, and get in touch with us by radio. We drive to the vicinity, exit the vehicle and follow the tracks on foot. The rule is that no vehicle will pull up anywhere near a rhino in order not to upset them. The black rhino are not cow-like, like the white rhino. They’re aggressive and very unhabituated to vehicles.

On the first morning we drove for a long time and Chris was quite angry because he found the tracks of a trespassing vehicle. Apparently this vehicle had upset the rhino that we were tracking thus making it extremely difficult to find them – they were ‘on the run’. We had a marathon day of over 10 hours in very hot and dusty conditions. (Also, Chris had not brought along enough water, and no food, and then the radio broke! Quite dangerous really.) We finally saw a mother and baby rhino (pause to feel the awe!) running in the near distance. Chris kept muttering ‘poor rhino, poor poor rhino’. This was because the mother had been upset by the trespassers, and further bothered by the trackers and our vehicle even though we were not very near, and she should have been resting and nursing the new calf. We got a few photos but Chris refused to follow them. That night, all of us weary, we got as drunk as possible while Chris entertained us with frightening bush stories.

The next day, I think in payment for our endurance of the day before, Chris was determined to find us a rhino to track even though we had a plane to catch that afternoon. Again we had a marathon, hot, dusty and bumpy drive but finally there was success and we stopped. We walked for about an hour, and I can tell you, it was not an easy walk. In Damaraland the ground is littered with fist sized chunks of red rock, thus one is at risk of turning one’s ankle every step of the way. We were shushed and told to be quiet constantly, but it was nearly impossible as rocks were rolling from under our feet. It was also very hot and I guess I must admit that the walk, after the long ride, was rather nasty. Our reward? A gorgeous lone black rhino male at the end of the trail. We crouched down and Chris tested the wind and kept us there for awhile. He then allowed us to stand and said ‘You have ONE MINUTE to take your photos before we leave.’ We snapped away and he had us backing off very quickly, as the wind had changed and the rhino was scenting us. We then faced another sweltering hour’s walk back to the car. Heads hanging, we trudged along, until finally Chris jogged ahead and cut our walk shorter by driving the car up closer. I didn’t understand why all the effort for such a short sighting, until we were told later that a mere three months earlier, Chris had had to stand between a rhino and his guests for the same reason (wind changing). The guests backed away while Chris was trampled and mauled (not for the first time). OK, I get it now! My photo was AWESOME and it graces my desk. Usually, the guests are allowed to watch the rhino that they track for quite a long time. We were driven at breakneck speed to the airstrip and arrived late for our flight, but of course since we were the only passengers, the pilot waited! Whew, a tiring but fantastic experience. And yes, I HAVE TRACKED BLACK RHINO….


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Old Dec 26th, 2006, 09:29 PM
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Hi Lin:

Amazing adventure...I was trying to get sleepy but your story woke me up!

Den
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Old Dec 26th, 2006, 10:12 PM
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Lin,

The name of Chris his wife is Emsie.

Greetz,

Johan
 
Old Dec 26th, 2006, 10:12 PM
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Ongava Tented Camp, Namibia. This camp, owned by Wilderness Safaris, is located in the Etosha National Park, Namibia’s prime wildlife sanctuary. This is a small tented camp with a very nice feel to it, probably also due to the kind manager who acted as our private guide. I feel horrible that as I write this, I can’t recall his name! Should have taken notes. I had heard a lot about Etosha and of course a trip to Namibia would not be complete without it. Although the camp has its own concession, usually visitors take several game drives into Etosha. While we were there, the weather conditions were extremely windy. Even seasoned safari-ists (new word?) were huddled into their blankets for most of the ride. The dust was horrific. The drives were difficult for all of us due to the wind.

OK. Please consider the following remarks with the understanding that I have stayed in premier safari camps in Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe and SA. If you’re thinking of visiting Etosha as well as one of these other southern Africa countries, visit Etosha first, or you’ll be disappointed. Yes, there are many animals in Etosha. But I was turned off right at the beginning, when our car drove up to the gate to pay the entrance fee and became part of a procession of cars heading into the park. We drove along a paved road, with several cars right in front and in back of us. The park has constructed water holes along the road. Since the cars aren’t allowed to leave the road, they drive along, pausing at these fake water holes with cement rims, hoping to catch sight of wildlife. There is no tracking, no excitement of the chase. And, there are many cars at each water hole. Yuck!! Exciting only if you’ve never seen wild animals before. Like Busch Gardens with predators.

We saw the Etosha Pan which is an amazing sight – a foreverness of nothing but white. We also stopped at a camp which has been talked about a lot on this forum due to its water hole which is lit up at night, Okaukuejo Rest Camp. We parked in the paved PARKING LOT, for God’s sake, and walked over to the water hole. There was a mass of zebra and impala, some large spotlights, and a concrete wall along one side of the waterhole for tourists to stand along and watch. I’m sure it’s pretty interesting at night, but due to my previous experiences in the wilderness camps (meaning the company AND the adjective), I was spoiled.

Anyway, we had some nice lion sightings and got some good shots of a pride, and saw many black-faced impala which I hadn’t seen before (black patch on face), and we saw some white rhino on a night drive, and an elk which was an amazing sighting. Also elephant and kudu. I just wasn’t keen on the conditions.
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Old Dec 26th, 2006, 10:16 PM
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Hi Johan, Yes thank you! and a great match they are! It was lovely to see them together.
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Old Dec 26th, 2006, 11:02 PM
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Savuti Camp
We had hired a private plane and therefore were able to skip the portion of the flight from Ongava, back to Windhoek, and on to Maun. We flew to the border, a nameless (well, an unremembered name) town in Namibia. We waited around since no one was there – our driver phoned whomever was supposed to be manning the border. A procession of local men in gorgeous black business suits finally appeared (I think straight from church since it was Sunday). Each of the four of us had to shake hands with each of the eight of them. One then proceeded to the desk and checked our passports. There was only one immigration form, so they all discussed among them what they should do, and finally they just let us go without paperwork, I’m thinking because we were four innocent looking women (2 moms and 2 teenagers).

We arrived in Savuti Camp just in time for the evening game drive. Ah Savuti! A lovely, perfect camp with a view over the water hole (I promise photos!). Was I also feeling that indescribable sense of well-being that comes from the heartland of Botswana? At any rate, I had been to Savuti Camp also in August of 2005, and the elephant experience was so awe-inspiring, so scary, so intense, and so beautiful, that I had to return. As luck would have it, it was too early for the elephants, and there was little activity at the waterhole. This was disappointing but then we met our guide, Kane (Kah-nay). He is a young local guide, very quiet when you first meet him. However, he knew the land like a lover. I was unsurprised when I later found out that Kane was of the San people. I have found them to be the most wonderful guides of all (with Nelson at Chitabe at the top of the list). We had such a fabulous time with him! I knew I had come to my heart’s home (Bots) when we got into the vehicle, and Kane immediately drove us toward a few zebra, and we got closer, closer, and suddenly there we were, right on top of them – yay Botswana! Now we’re on a real game drive...

We saw most every possible animal – except the dogs, darn it, who had passed through recently but weren’t around at the time. We drove the entire concession, driving along the Savuti channel and around the Selinda Spillway, taking one all day drive with a siesta on a blind on stilts above the Linyanti river, from where we could watch hippo frolicking?? or whatever they do for fun when they’re not fighting. We saw giraffe, a herd of buffalo, wildebeest, kudu, warthog, hippo, crocs, baboon, monitor lizard, and a python - spotted by one of the teenagers, which made Kane all excited. We also were treated to the sight of the graceful red lechwe in the classic scene of leaping gracefully through the water, which sprayed up all around their hooves. We saw elephants spraying water over their backs, followed by trunksful of dust –again, one of the better photo opps.

One of the best sightings of our trip was when we came upon a huge porcupine and two young, all rolled up into a ball of quills, with a pride of lions lazing around them, waiting for them to uncurl so that they could have some dinner! This resulted in some of my best photos. We waited for awhile until the lions got bored and moved off. The porcupine had saved her babies, this time! Then suddenly, it began to rain! Hey, it’s June and it’s the dry season! It poured for about 10 minutes and cleared up, and suddenly there was a fabulous rainbow with a lone zebra standing beneath it. Photo opp!! Next, we found the two cheetah brothers (last time there were three, but one is dead now) and they were hunting, and we crashed through the bush following them, so exciting, crash crash and the scream of an impala – but no kill that time. So much fun though!

One night, we were following some lions that were hunting. Although again we did not see a kill, this was one of those rare ‘moments’ where one is transported to primeval times and experiences the fear and raw adrenaline of the hunted. It was completely dark. The lions were tracking a herd of zebra. The pride went off to the left. Kane stopped the vehicle and turned off the lights. We sat there beneath the Milky Way, silent. Suddenly we heard the alarm calls of the zebra, screams really. Then the herd stampeded right towards our car! In the dark, they pounding around us, screaming and plunging, and we were certain that our car would be trampled somehow. We also heard the lions roaring from different locations, as they communicated. Our hearts nearly pounded out of our chests. Then, just as suddenly, it was all over. We were absolutely ready to get back to camp for a nice Amarula!

The night wasn’t over, however. The staff at Savuti were putting on their own show. They had made us a feast of local dishes, and they sat us on the ground with no utensils for a ‘real’ Tswana experience. This was followed by dancing and singing.

I have a special love for Savuti Camp and I hope to return again and again!!

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Old Dec 27th, 2006, 12:29 AM
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Lin, thanks, this is a great report, and I'm especially intrigued now with Palmwag.

One thing about Etosha, though. I also stayed at Ongava, and we visited Etosha in a very large vehicle that stayed on the main road. After Ongava, I stayed in Etosha with my own vehicle, and I was able to access much smaller roads to reach much quieter areas of the park, where I was the only vehicle for long periods of time, and was able to sit at waterholes visited by dozens of species during the course of an hour or two -- and during these times, there were very few vehicles.

The incursions by Ongava into Etosha are not the best way to appreciate one of Africa's largest parks.

Also, the waterhole at Okakuejo is great at night -- its by far the most active waterhole I have ever seen in Africa -- and is not really meant for a brief daylight visit, such as permitted during a brief stop at Okakuejo.

Looking forward to the rest of your report.

Happy holidays (from Crete, tomorrow to Cyprus).

Michael
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Old Dec 27th, 2006, 03:08 AM
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Lin,

Those cheetah boys are AMAZING in making an appearance for every fodorite visit across the three concessions......they are AWESOME!!!

Hari
 
Old Dec 27th, 2006, 08:37 AM
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Michael, I didn't know that one can hire a car and drive off of the main road in Etosha. Absolutely, that would be much better than what I experienced! Thanks for the correction. Also, everyone agrees that the Okakuejo waterhole yields great viewing, esp at night! Obviously I wasn't there at a time when I could comment on that. I mainly didn't care for the cement surroundings, and I know I wouldn't like to watch with a lot of other people. That's just me. Hope you enjoyed Crete and have fun in Cypress..
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Old Dec 27th, 2006, 08:56 AM
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(thought I already posted this but since it didn't appear I'm doing it again.)
Stanley’s Camp, Bots
Onward to the Okavango Delta. This is a gorgeous flight above the delta, with the brilliant blue waters dotted by the bright green of islands, and the duller green of the grasses within the waters, criss-crossed by a multitude of hippo trails. Everything’s pristine, glinting, wild – not a road or a village in sight.

Stanley’s is owned by Sanctuary Lodges & Camps, which was a departure for me since I usually stay at Wilderness Camps when in Bots. I had chosen it specifically to try out another way of operating a safari camp. And it was different. Not quite as smoothly run, slightly different schedule, different vehicle (had a roof). Stanley’s is located on tribal land and is operated with the permission of the chief, so we were welcomed there in his name. The staff are all from the surrounding villages, and speak very little English. Staff are not allowed to be fired, part of the agreement with the chief. Also, at will, the chief can replace a staff member with someone else. This made for a rather sweet lack of efficiency in the serving of food and the cleaning of the tents. The chief also requires that one of his people ride along on all the safaris to watch out for the land.

The tent was lovely - lots of space and with a large wooden deck out front with a hammock. The main lounge area is gorgeous.

Our guide here was not up to the task. He was there temporarily, on loan for some reason. He really did not know anything about the concession, so we were glad to have the local ‘watcher’ who was riding along next to him and telling him where the roads are. But neither of them seemed to be able to do much in the way of tracking. We really saw very little during our two night stay. Of course, this is mere luck, I’m sure that the area is teeming with game, bordering the Moremi Game Reserve as it does. The highlight was a den of baby hyenas (found by another vehicle), who were so cute and curious. One of them made off with a lug nut cover from our tire; they were sniffing all around the car. The parents were out hunting. We also saw sitatunga, and lots of tsessebee which I know isn’t unusual, but we hadn’t seen them so far.

We signed up for the highly expensive Elephant Activity. A (too large IMO) group of visitors is allowed to approach three semi-habituated elephants and to observe them extremely up-close, including touching the hide, ears and other parts. We walked along with them, and took turns being the ‘leader’, which meant that the lead elephant rested his or her trunk on your shoulder and let you lead him/her along the trail. The elephants even did a few tricks. The three each have a distinct personality which was amazing to see. At the end, there was a picnic and we ate while the elies munched around us. It was a very enjoyable experience even though staged. The owners, Doug and Sandi Groves, are extremely knowledgeable about elephants and gave us all sorts of information. Even in a zoo or circus, you wouldn’t be able to get this close, and it was nice that the encounter took place in the beautiful delta with palm trees and a natural surrounding. The fee goes to taking care of the elephants, plus to the Living With Elephants Foundation, which aims to address conflict between the elephants and humans in Botswana (www.livingwithelephants.org).
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Old Dec 27th, 2006, 09:47 AM
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Kwetsani Camp.
We had now been 12 nights on safari, and after the rather disappointing viewing at Stanley’s, we were all a little discouraged and starting to think of home. After another lovely flight over the delta, we arrived at the lush, glorious, stunning Kwestsani Camp and all of our negativity dissipated…everyone was so friendly and our ‘tree house chalets’ were unbelievably perfect. They’re set high up so that there is a sweeping view of the plains before you. At the time we were in camp, we overlooked a trickling of flood waters with herds of red lechwe in residence. Kwetsani is on an island in the Jao Reserve. The water levels around camp were extremely high; in fact, most of the reserve was under water.

Enchanted, we set out on a short drive to the place where we would begin our sunset mokoro ride. The water was up to the tops of the car doors. We got into our mokoro and drifted off into a wonderland of sparkling water. We were surprised by the staff on a small island, where they had boated out themselves to set up a sundowner station with champagne, full bar, chairs and snacks. After downing our drinks and food, we set off for the end of this magical ride. Peace spread across the land as the sun slid down, changing everything to gold, then to pink and finally, a glowing red. Our polers were silent black silhouettes against this background…

The next morning, bright and early, off we went on a very wet game drive. Right out of camp, we came upon a lioness and two cubs! Our luck continued for the rest of our stay. We observed lions swimming across the concession to fight an interloper. We had two fantastic leopard sightings, watched a herd of elephants crossing the waters in front of our vehicle, and saw many gorgeous birds including the malachite kingfisher. Keep in mind that each sighting was a new experience, even if we had seen the same animals before in other camps, because they were living in the water. Just driving around on the game drive was so gorgeous; every way you turned your head was lovelier than the last. The sound of the water splashing beneath our wheels was very soothing. No one wanted to leave this camp!

But our safari was finally at an end. We flew back to Jo’burg and at the end of our trip, we stayed there overnight. It was the first time I had done things this way, and I preferred it to coming off one’s last game drive, taking the short flight to Maun, the scheduled flight to Jo’burg, and then connecting with the hideous flight back to the USA. We were able to shower, rest, and shop in the mall adjoining our hotel (the Grace in Rosebank). The mall contains a very nice market for African goods and souvenirs. And we also had time to shop in the Jo’burg airport – love those shops, especially ‘Out of Africa’.
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Old Dec 27th, 2006, 09:52 AM
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Now I need to upload my photos. Can anyone recommend a good photo website that makes this easy, and easy for others to view?
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Old Dec 27th, 2006, 12:39 PM
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kodakgallery is the easiest and the most widely used on these boards....very easy to use.

Hari
 
Old Dec 27th, 2006, 01:39 PM
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Lin: thanks for the fantastic report, very well written and enjoyable. It brought back lots of memories, especially the climb of Big Daddy -- that is definitely lose half a step for every step taken. We must have been very fortunate being in a shoulder season of November because we were the only party on the dune and for much of our time in Etosha we avoided other vehicles. Of course I always love to read about camps in the Linyanti and Delta, my favorite places.

Looking forward to the photos!
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Old Dec 27th, 2006, 08:01 PM
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Lin wonderful trip report! I also stayed at Kwetsani this past June and loved everything about it.
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Old Dec 27th, 2006, 10:26 PM
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Hari, Sorry to bother you with this. I started to upload my photos to Kodak Gallery. I'm usually good at figuring out these things, but there doesn't appear to be any info on how to put a link here so that people can get to my photos. Instead they go on about sending invitations to specific emails. Do you happen to know how to do it? Thanks.
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Old Dec 27th, 2006, 10:30 PM
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Hari, never mind, I found the info on another posting. Thanks!
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Old Dec 27th, 2006, 10:36 PM
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OK here goes. These are the photos from Little Kulala, Palmwag Rhino Camp, and Ongava Tented Camp. I arranged each camp into two albums, one with pictures of the camp itself, and one with pictures of the wildlife and scenery. Strangely, I have not one photo of Ongave Tented Camp though. Here's the link, someone pleae let me know if it works!

http://www.kodakgallery.com/I.jsp?c=...0&y=9jt40n
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Old Dec 27th, 2006, 10:46 PM
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These are just wonderful. I am in the process of planning a trip. What great inspiration!
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