Private vehicles while at luxury lodges?

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Jun 22nd, 2005, 07:08 PM
  #1
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Private vehicles while at luxury lodges?

Would I be out of line to enquire from the lodges, about a week before my visit, how many others were booked in camp during my stay and their ages and nationalities?

Although I believe the odds to be pretty low in Zambia, the last thing I would want would be to end up with a couple with children, even teenage children. Also, at the risk of sounding like a xenophobe, I wouldn't care to end up with others who spoke a different language (one of them may speak English and have to translate the entire time, and that would get VERY ANNOYING!!!).

At least if I was able to foresee a problem, I may still have time at that point to request a private vehicle for my stay. However, if I saw that there were guests that seemed like they may be interesting and fun to be around (possibly Americans, Brits, or other English speaking people with prior safari experience) then I would gladly take my chances and not request a private vehicle.

Personally, I think that safari lodges should have a questionnaire for its guests to fill out upon booking so they could try to properly match its guests or even advise its guests when there was a potential problem. If one set of guests are twitchers (bird watchers) while another set of guests only want to see the Big Five, then obviously there is a conflict of interest.

I am thrilled that I will be sharing the vehicle at Simbambili with a couple fellow Fodorites, but I am concerned about my time in South Luangwa, although not 1/10th as concerned as I would be in the Sabi Sand if I did not already know the makeup of the other guests during my stay!

Has anybody here ever contacted a lodge beforehand to enquire about the makeup of the other guests???
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Jun 22nd, 2005, 10:26 PM
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Dear Rocco,

I do not think it would help, as the information that you ask doesn't really shed light on whether or not they will be good companions - that really is a hit or miss situation. If I have had less than favourable companions in the vehicles, I suffer in silence as it is only a few days, then they move on. Exclusive use does seem incredibly expensive, and god knows I can justify a lot of expense on myself, but I do not think that is one of them, though the day might come!

I also do not know if the camps should give out that information - now with all these privacy laws in place, they might be reluctant to do so.

One thing I do mention, is that I like to look at birds, but not for hours or to the exclusion of all else, as certainly on a trip to Botswana, I was in with birdwatchers for 4 gamedrives, and that is all they were interested in and I do believe that question should be asked by the camps!

Kaye
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Jun 23rd, 2005, 12:26 AM
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It may also be too late anyway. Some of the camps we stayed at explained that they have to get additional vehicles in for bookings asking for private vehicles and also swap around holiday schedules or book in an extra guide so, asking only a week beforehand may not allow them to do this.

Also, I don't think nationality would be a good basis to judge whether fellow guests would be good or bad companions. We had good companions who spoke a different language and bad ones who spoke the same one.

If you're that worried about it, drop the cash and book private game vehicles in the first place.

Alternatively, let them know in advance that you would strongly prefer not to be with children, though do remember you're just asking a favour, they will not guarantee they will be able to do this for you.

Also, whilst it would be nice, in an ideal world, to be in vehicles with people of similar interests, I don't think it['s a realistic expectation from camps small enough to only have one or two game vehicles going out on any day.
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Jun 23rd, 2005, 01:56 AM
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Sorry, but I don't see how the nationality of safari-mates is relevant. Regardless whether they're Belgian or South African or Japanese or Texan, the important issue is whether they are respectful of nature and others on the safari. And it is not at all clear to me that native Anglophones are necessarily in the top tier of those who are most skilled at following the rules of etiquette.

Of course, if you're looking to have a chat with them and they don't happen to be anglophone, I guess you're out of luck. But the job of a safari lodge is to be a hotelier and safari guide, not to be a matchmaker.
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Jun 23rd, 2005, 01:58 AM
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Well said, Rizzuto.
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Jun 23rd, 2005, 02:18 AM
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Rocco,
Sometimes I think you're a strange dude.

The nationality of your vehicle mates has little bearing on the quality of the time you spend with them.
The worst safari companions we had were a boorish family of liberals from Berkley, Ca. and an A-hole CPA from New Jersey that wouldn't stop talking about how important he was and how much money he made.

The experience you have on your trip is directly related to the attitude you exhibit to your safari companions, guides, staff, and camp management.

Mike
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Jun 23rd, 2005, 02:47 AM
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I agree with the others. Though I would mention something about not wishing to be out with children (young ones that is)... as to adults, language other than English - suck it up and go for it. If the first drive is so terrible, say something, but you can't be guaranteed there will be another vehicle available for you though the lodge may be able to move guests around from one vehicle to another.

The alternative for a private vehicle has to be booked in advance and is costly, easily in the $200/day range or more. Or for true exclusivity - book the entire camp/lodge! Ha!

Remember, there are other people out there and some of them might not be all that thrilled with you! You'll survive and so will they.
 
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Jun 23rd, 2005, 03:04 AM
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Sorry, I left out a couple of sentences.

Even with the jerks on our safari we still had a fantastic time. Other guests complained about the NJ people and the camp management put them in a Land Rover alone.

Mike
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Jun 23rd, 2005, 03:40 AM
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The worst fellow guests I have ever had were all Americans...

The uppity middle aged couple from Michigan at Singita who were perfectly presented in their trendy safari clothes each day.

The two couples with teen children at Djuma Vuyatela...having to hear the latest gossip about Britney Spears and about one of the teens grades and how many colleges she was accepted by is not my idea of enjoyable game drive conversation.

The boooring and somewhat uppity two young college professors at Kafunta.

The best experiences with fellow guests...

A really cool British couple, also in their 30's, who we spent a couple nights with at Kafunta, laughing uncontrollably at times about shared interests.

A really nice, down to Earth, Venezuelan couple in their early 40's who were billingual English/Spanish. They were excellent fellow guests and provided a buffer to the uppity Michigan couple. I don't understand what would make some guests uppity around other guests at the same establishment, especially if they are 20 years older??? I mean it's like, Okay, you are at Singita...big deal, so am I, now get over yourself. That's how I feel about it.

It is always a tossup with fellow guests, but at least when everyone speaks the same language there is a chance for a connection. Considering that one of the reasons I go on safari is to get away from everyday life, I do believe that trying to maximize my chances to be with like-minded fellow guests is not all that unusual.
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Jun 23rd, 2005, 04:19 AM
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Rocco,

If it that important to you, then I think you should just go ahead and book a private vehicle. However, then you will miss out on what could be interesting conversation with other guests. I don't really think it's necessary for camps to give out information on nationalities, ages, how many previous safaris other guests have been on, etc.

At all four of our camps, families with children were in their own vehicle. A our last camp (Kings Pool), there was a teenage girl in our vehicle (maybe 17-18) but she was well behaved and no problem. However, I can see that having a few kids in the vehicle could be annoying, but I think that most of the upsclae camps realize this.

As far as nationalities go, remember that most Europeans (at least at these upscale camps) generally speak profficient English (unlike most Americans who do not bother to learn another language including myself) so I don't think we should complain about a little imperfect English. Many of these people are interesting and have traveled more than many Americans.

Also, I'm not sure why having been on a previous safari makes one a better vehicle companion. As long as people are considerate, ask appropriate questions of the guide, don't complain, and don't constantly talk all the time, then I don't see a problem. I think that some people are just a pain, no matter how many safaris they have been on. Also, in general, I would say that most people on their first safari have traveled quite a bit before going to Africa. I don't think that most people spend their vacation year after year at the beach 300 miles away, then wake up one day and decide to go to Africa.

I agree that being in a vehicle with real birders could get a little boring, so that could possibly be an issue, although we did not run across that. (my eyesight is not perfect, so I am the worst birder, but even I have to admit that there are many beautiful birds to see there). At one of our camps, the other group of 3 wanted to see a leopard and were about obessed with that (we had good leopard sightings at two previous camps), so we sometimes passed up other sightings looking for the elusive leopard, In ohter words, having to concentrate on the big five can be a little boring also.

I guess you had a bad experience at Djuma Vuyatela, but hopefully that was a rarity, as our vehicle companions were all fine, and some really nice.
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Jun 23rd, 2005, 04:48 AM
  #11
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brandywine,

As I said, the best fellow guests that I had were non-Americans (Venezuelans and Brits).

Your obsessed leopard trio reminds me of one other set of guests that I left off the blacklist. It was while at Matetsi and here was another uppity couple, this time about the same age as my wife and I. They were absolutely obsessed with seeing a leopard (of all places at Matetsi?) while we had just seen leopards (and everything else) galore at Singita.

It gets very annoying when one set of guests attempts to dictate the game drives, so we were very pleased when THEY booked a private vehicle to take them to Chobe on their last day to find that elusive leopard. Well, despite having an all day game drive, they arrived home exhausted and disgruntled that they did not see their leopard, except for the numerous leopards that I shared on my digital camera monitor that they did not seem to appreciate!
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Jun 23rd, 2005, 06:03 AM
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Hi Roccco,

I thought I would offer some additional info with regards to the logistics of private vehicles.

First, the private concessions and Game Reserves (at least in Botswana), have restrictions in terms of the number of guest vehicles that may traverse the area at any given time. This is regardless of the number of guests in the camp.

So, as an example, Mombo Camp may have a maximum of five vehicles carrying guests driving around the concession at any time.

In the case of Mombo, this will typically mean that at an assumed guest occupancy of say 80%, there will only ever be ONE private vehicle available for booking. If someone has booked Mombo's vehicle for the dates you are visiting, then you are out of luck even if you ask for it - it's already taken.

In terms of being placed with guests with like interests together (ie, first-timers, birders, etc), you have to realize that the camp managers do their best in this regard, but it is not their primary consideration.

The managers really look at special needs in terms of health, diet, distance an older guest may have to walk to their tent, etc before considering pairing up guests on a vehicle.

Vehicle/guest configuration is driven more by a guide and his/her vehicle space. So, if guide A has 6 guests, 3 leaving today and another 3 first-timers who are staying another 2 days and you and your wife arrive in camp today, you will, in all liklihood, be on Guide A's vehicle. They won't reshuffle guests to better combine you with another experienced group of guests.
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Jun 23rd, 2005, 06:43 AM
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Jim,

The whole idea of private vehicles started in my head after reading your previous post about the vehicles at WS vs. Kwando. So, although I neglected to mention it, a good part of it would be photography related.

Honestly, do you estimate that you would have been able to capture 50% of your photographs if you had been sharing a vehicle? Although a private vehicle is expensive, if it helps get that one very special photograph, then it seems like it is all worthwhile.

Also, I don't know if the lodges have a seat rotation policy, but with my new camera equipment, I can totally see myself being a front seat hog (next to the driver, if possible). This will likely not matter when I am with other couples, especially when my wife sits out a game drive (and she sits out about half of them). However, if there does happen to be another semi-serious photographer, it may create an issue.

Jim, while next to the driver, do you find that you have enough room to conduct yourself, or is it irrelevant and once he is parked you just reach to the seat behind you for whatever you need?

Thanks.
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Jun 23rd, 2005, 07:49 AM
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Roccco,

I used to sit predominantly in the front with a modified door-mount to hold my ball-head for working with my larger lenses (300mm and 600mm). This worked well for me for many years but I now prefer to sit in the first seat behind the driver.

I use a tripod with two legs on the floor and the third positioned so that it rests in the crook of the seat - pretty much have it in the center and I try to be on the correct side of it when we stop the vehicle. If Nicky is with me and we do not have a private vehcile, she sits on one side of the seat, I'm on the other, and the tripod is in the middle with my bags on the floor at my feet. It works fine. If we have a private vehicle, we each take a seat.

I did find that sitting in the front next to the driver can limit you for two reasons. One, you are down low and miss some things which work better from a slightly higher perspective; and two, if the animal is on the driver's side (or moves to that side), you are out of luck unless you're leaning in the driver's lap (funny, but I've done it) Also, as you mention, it is far more cramped up there - maybe have your wife sit directly behind you if possible.

As for seat roation policy - no. Like everything in life, it is just a negotiation and being courteous is always my policy and it seems to come back to me. You will find that you can make a plan and get good photos from just about everywhere in a vehicle if you are prepared.

The main reason I take PV's these days is so that I can stay out all day if I choose (most guests will not choose to forego lunch and midday siesta to sit with sleeping cheetahs all afternoon for a chance at seeing a potential hunt that may not happen). I've spent so much time on safaris that today I take advantage of the freedom from a PV to shoot little things (like Red Velvet Mites or tree frogs for instance - even trees) and this also gives me a chance to do lots of work with birds.

It would be impossible and unfair to push a driver to let me photograph impalas for 2 hours while guests who have never seen a lion are with us and have only two days on safari. I would never even consider such a thing and many times I am happy to be on a full vehicle knowing that I'll keep my mouth shut (except to answer questions) and "take what I can get." Anyway, you see what I mean.

I would say that some of my best images come when I spend hours waiting for something to hunt or birds when I can sit at a fish trap maybe for 3 hours just choosing the best things to photograph. On the other hand, I also have great stuff when just driving around.
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Jun 23rd, 2005, 07:58 AM
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Hi Rocco,
I have only been on one safari and we were traveling with another couple but I would definitely book private vehicles again.
Why?
Our main reason was that we wanted to be able to dictate how long we spent at any given sightings, birds, game, tracks, whatever. We did not want to inconvenience other guests with our avid interest in birds, photography and enjoying the quiet solitude of the bush.

Having a private vehicle gave us license to do exactly what we wanted, to ask "dumb" questions or to just sit, be quite and enjoy living in the moment.
Was it worth the additional expense...ABSOLUTLEY?
Did I miss the guest interaction..not at all ...but it was fun to compare notes with the other camp guests at meals.

You are investing a huge amount of money in your African experience and only you know what will make it an outstanding experience. So by all means, book a private vehicle. Plus think of it as just more membership rewards points that you can use to book flights for your next trip!

Brenda
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Jun 23rd, 2005, 08:17 AM
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I think I've said before, if I could afford to I'd book private vehicles in a flash.

Not because of issues with fellow guests - we've certainly had our share but nothing serious enough to spoil things - if we did we'd ask the camp managers to resolve the issue.

But because of flexibility dictating the schedule - how long we're out for, how long we stay at a given sighting and so on.

However, with our finances, private vehicles are in a direct trade off with number of total nights we can afford and we're both agreed that, at the moment, having a longer trip is more valuable to us.

We still get people contact at the evening meal and if that were a worry one could always book a private vehicle for two days out of a three day stay and go in a shared vehicle for the other day, though I have to say, this would never be a consideration for me.

Worrying about social contact is not an issue - we have good social lives at home. Whilst it's pleasant to interact with others it's not a primary consideration for us on a safari holiday.

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Jun 23rd, 2005, 10:38 AM
  #17
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Well, in the end, I will probably sacrifice a private vehicle, as it will cut into my Botswana Roth Ira for next year.

Speaking of which...talk about delusional...if I attempted the Comrades Marathon...even if I was yanked from the course after about 30 miles (it is 55 miles), I would be in the position to do the following:

6/15 - 6/17 Durban 5* Hotel. There is some really nice resort near there, anybody recall the name?

6/18 - 6/20 Duma Tau (3)

6/21 - 6/23 Kwetsani (3)

6/24 - 6/26 Duba Plains (3)

6/27 - 6/29 Vumbura Plains (3)

6/30 - 7/02 Little Mombo (3) IF I AM GOING TO PAY HIGH SEASON I MAY AS WELL BE REWARDED WITH TWO NIGHTS OF HIGH SEASON, dontchyathink?

7/03 - Westcliff, Joburg

7/04 - Depart JNB-CDG

7/05 - King George V Four Seasons for Bastille Day (their independence day). Last time I was in Paris was also for Bastille day when I was 18 years old! Now I will be 35 and half dead!

Oh well, I certainly was not at the Four Seasons at 18 years old, so there are definitely tradeoffs!

7/07 - Depart CDG-LAX Same Day Arrival.

Oh, I am I going to FREEZE in late June in Botswana. Hope the improved gameviewing is worth the frostbite.
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Jun 23rd, 2005, 10:39 AM
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Just did a quick check and I am off by a week. Bastille Day is actually July 14th. Oh well, so I don't have a bunch of French people throwing cherry bombs at me...I'll survive!
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Jun 23rd, 2005, 11:04 PM
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Rocco,

Re Durban hotels. As far as I can recall (I'm not a Durban resident any longer) there haven't been any 5* hotels on the Durban beachfront for many years. (There is a Hilton that is central Durban. And my personal favourote The Royal, which is even more central, right across the road from City Hall.) But whatever their quality and grading, all the beachfront hotels are not right on the beach.

It used to be called the "Golden Mile" but became increasingly run-down. Recently this has started to turn around, but even if it gets back to the "heydays", I think you'd probably be happier looking North of Durban. Starting at Umhlanga Rocks, which is still part of the Durban Metropolitan area. The Beverly Hills there was I think the original 5* in the area, perhaps the whole of S.A. (From memory I'm thinking the 50's?) It started the hotel career of Sol Kerzner, who founded Southern Sun, developed Sun City, and is now big in gaming resorts worldwide. (http://www.southernsun.co.za/Sunrise...,1994,,00.html)

But even better is Ballito, which is further North, about 30 miles North of central Durban. And you may then be thinking of Zimbali (www.zimbali.co.za).

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Jun 24th, 2005, 03:42 AM
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Correction to my last post. In my haste I gave the lnk to the overall Zimbali property development. Info on the hotel (Zimbali Lodge and Country Club, it's a Sun International Hotel) can be found at www.suninternational.com/resorts/zimbali.

Another so-called "boutique" hotel in Ballito is Ballito Manor (www.ballitomanor.com). But I can't comment on its quality. It is owned by Louis Luyt, a well-known person in S.A. (Some would say infamous, but that's a long story. Or even stories.) I read very recently that they are planning to pull it down and use the prime beachfront site for condominiums. Being a better return on the investment.
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