Puku Ridge-avoid

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Jun 26th, 2005, 07:15 PM
  #21
Lin
 
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uksafarigoer, What do you mean by, 'abject night drives'? Just curious. I'll be spending two nights at Puku Ridge in July (leaving home July 7 YAY) so I'll definitely report back on your issues to see whether they have been taken care of. My travel agent has told me the charges against Rogers were taken very seriously. I don't think firing him would be the only step taken towards resolving the problems. Yet I'm glad to know in what circumstances I should be cautious. I will be asking about experience and safety before taking any walks, so thank you for that heads-up. However I can't help feeling more like Rocco because the camp looks so beautiful and is situated in a wonderful location.
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Jun 27th, 2005, 05:07 AM
  #22
 
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No doubting that Puku looks excellent, but that's not the reason I went there. I went there for game viewing, including walking, conducted as safely as possible. I needed to feel that the guide knew what he was doing and had a plan, not just 'run', with him running faster than any of us. I really didn't go there for the sunken baths. SOA may be flexible and generous and Nick P may be the best guide in the universe, but the issue is far broader than that. It's about safety and about game viewing. I've already commented on the dire approach to walking - the reference to'abject night drives' was to do with the practise of using a cook/waiter, rather than a guide to point the searchlight. Therefore night viewing was poor - one leopard, only spotted because of a number of other vehicles around it, and an immobile lion!
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Jun 27th, 2005, 06:07 AM
  #23
 
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Okay, hopefully this will put anyone who has booked into Puku Ridge at ease...

This is from one of my best sources in the Luangwa Valley in response to getting the real lowdown on Puku Ridge:

This year at Puku there is new staff and management and things seem to be going smoothly again and the guides are better ...alas Botha and Nik are no longer there but Zebron is also a first class guide and he is stil there.

But last year Puku had a manager and guide by the name of Rogers Shawa who is a shocker....he passed the exams years ago when they were mucheasier and has never picked up a book since and is very poor in all parts of his job , as another Puku Ridge staff informed me while there.

Rogers is you will be pleased to know no longer working there and has moved on to run his own tin pot safari company for backpackers(who wont notice that he is incompetent!)

But going back to Rogers .......no one in the valley would dream of employing him hence his desire to go on his own....his knowledge is quite frankly lacking as well as his management skills, but unfortunately there was a gap in standards at Star of Africa and the result was Rogers getting a job......so as he is now no more dont worry yourself as my recent stay there was excellent.

---So, that is the bottom line on the current situation at Puku Ridge. Not even the best lodge is immune from having a bad guide. Look at Predator Biologist and Clematis' experience with Mombo a couple years ago. Look at WallyBrenda's recent stay at Chiefs Camp.

There are hiccups that occur, but the way I look at it is buying low and selling high. To look at it from a selfish point of view, hopefully this WILL keep the other guests away, at least during my stay. I would not complain if there was a 50% occupancy (6 out of 12 beds) during my visit to Puku Ridge, especially if the other two couples were a foursome requesting a private vehicle, leaving me with my own private vehicle! We can dream can't we???

This correspondence does remind me that it was Zebron who was the guide who I found to be very good last year but whose name escaped me in my last e-mail. I did about 2 game activities with Zebron and 4 game activities with Nic P.

So, just as I say about people who turn their nose up at Africa, stupid people who will never know that they are missing out on the most amazing destination on Earth, "More Africa for me." In this case, I hope it will be "More Puku Ridge for me."
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Jun 27th, 2005, 06:31 AM
  #24
 
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Shaytay is spot on: Phil Berry & Kuyenda is in the same area, and both Phil and his camp are absolutely superb. Phil does ALL the guiding, max 6 people in the camp, and if you ask any competent local guide, he is tops. If you haven't heard about Phil it's because he spends his time in the bush guiding, not on PR, not on websites...The place is beautiful and impeccably managed. Forget the pretty pictures on the website-- I'll go for experience and a track record of excellence every time.
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Jun 27th, 2005, 07:25 AM
  #25
 
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Tashak,

The only company in the whole of Zambia that I see overly concerned with PR is Robin Pope Safaris.
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Jun 27th, 2005, 10:11 AM
  #26
 
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And I'm not saying that doing PR for your company is bad...hey why not let people know? RPS has 3 camps, plus extensive mobile safaris, so they have a big staff, all focussed on promoting their brand. It is good business. The astute traveller just needs to remember that PR is PR and track record is track record.

I'm only saying that you may not have heard of Phil because he is not a whole company-- he has one camp, and guides every single activity there. He does absolutely no PR or self-promotion.

But websites are like PR too. Self promotion as opposed to "record". Pretty pictures and exciting text are not the same as experience and a track record proven over time.
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Jun 27th, 2005, 10:56 AM
  #27
 
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Tashak,

Okay, I catch your drift.

For the record, I was pleased to learn a couple weeks ago that the lead guide at Luangwa River Lodge comes over with experience first at Mfuwe Lodge and most recently from Tena Tena. I don't recall his name right now, but if he is good enough for Robin Pope, he is good enough for me.

Regarding the whole self promotion matter, the truth of the matter is that Zambian safari operators are hopeless in this department. They have such a good thing going for them and their prices are so competitive, yet how many people, except diehard safari enthusiasts would even consider Zambia. If not for Thit Cho (Michalel's) initial recommendation to Kafunta a couple years back, I know I would not have discovered Zambia when I did...yes, probably by now, but how many people out there are going on their first safari and are only considering Tanzania, South Africa, Botswana and possibly Kenya? And more often than not, it is at rates that are 50% higher.

I just want what is best for the Zambian wildlife and time is running out for places like Sioma Ngwezi, and Liuwa Plains, North Luangwa and Kafue will all need more support if they are to thrive and not face doom from poaching.

Anyway, I am pleased with the guiding I am set to receive at each Luangwa River Lodge and Puku Ridge, as well as the excellent guiding I am anticipating in Lower Zambezi.
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Jun 27th, 2005, 11:37 AM
  #28
 
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uksafarigoer,

Regarding the use of a cook/waiter for a spotter, I have no problem whatsoever with Star Of Africa training and promoting from within.

I experienced the same thing while at Chichele Presidential Lodge, and one night the cook/waiter/spotter succeeded in spotting THREE leopards...unfortunately I had to hear all about it from the other guests as that was the one night I was with Zebron and we only caught up to one of these leopard spottings in time before the leopards went off into the bush.

Ask yourself who is doing the spotting at other camps, if there is even a spotter available for game drives. I would much rather have a dedicated spotter than having the guide attempt to do it all...driving, talking to the guests, spotting, etc. How can the guide give you any attention at all while doing all of those things??? So, I do believe that it is unfair of you to penalize Star Of Africa for using a dedicated tracker who also happens to be a cook or waiter.
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Jun 27th, 2005, 12:34 PM
  #29
 
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I agree completely Roccco--
and believe me, I cheering on LRL, and I hope they do well this season. I'm a little more concerned about the SoA situation because (1) so far, their track record is not so good and (2)the problems seem to be management problems (don't discount what happened to you at Kulefu last year--that was from management problems at the top, but they seem more interested in blaming the people at the bottom of the pyramid than fixing the problems at the top. Finally, I have no inside knowledge, but (3)there are some signs that this group over-extended themselves when they moved to Zam from Zim. If that is the case, there could be cost-cutting to try to keep things together. Not on the accomodations (already built) but on things like staffing, backup equipment/vehicles, etc. (And I did stay at SoA's Lechwe Plains in 2003 and had a super time...so I hope I'll be wrong here.)

But like what you've done with your itinerary-- diversified your risks by staying at different camps for shorter periods. And North Luangwa will (hopefully) deliver that special NL/ Kutandala magic. It's just that you are the pioneer here! Hopefully you'll get back with only the best of reviews, and we'll all be clamoring for PR and LRL reservations next year.
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Jun 27th, 2005, 02:00 PM
  #30
 
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For what it's worth, I spent a week this March at Puku and Chichele and we had a guide named Abel who was very good. While I will admit that Nicky and I have been friends with Dave Bennett since his days in Zim, my review here is quite objective.

I believe that as Zambia continues to grow as a popular safari destination (and believe me, it IS doing so), we will see better infrastructure in terms of more qualified guides, food, etc.
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Jun 27th, 2005, 02:32 PM
  #31
 
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Jim,

Thanks for the feedback.

Tasha,

Unfortunately, Kutandala was a casualty of my sister and mom cancelling their trip. It was no longer cost-effective to charter a plane to North Luangwa, and I felt that my wife, Alexsandra, would not handle it as well without my sister and mom around. Unfortunately it will have to remain on my wish list for now.

It is the nights that were intended for Kutandala that opened up the additional nights in South Luangwa and Lower Zambezi, as I originally had SLNP, NLNP and LZNP down for four nights each. So, instead, SLNP and LZNP each got bumped up by two nights and when that occurred, I limited my time at each camp to three nights. For this year, I am just a creature of habit and will return to exactly the same parks I visited last year, but fortunately I will also be spending 3 nights at Simbambili in the Sabi Sand...my camera and lenses will be most appreciative of the opportunity to meet posing leopards!
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Jun 27th, 2005, 03:46 PM
  #32
 
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Darn those folks who just won't fall into line with our safari plans! Are you sure that you can't find a way to join up with others flying up to Kutandala? That's what I did when I visited. My trip was arranged with a travel agent, but I imagine that Rod & Guz know if anyone is flying up from South Luangwa.

Anyway, I hope you'll get lots of leopards in SL too-- I understand that LRL has some "resident" leopards, and Phil Berry found me a beautiful treed leopard one afternoon for a dreamy photofest (if I can find time to reduce the size of the file I'll email to you)...and of course Puku Ridge is in the same area. I think you will find that the dry weather this year had people seeing leopards early and often in May. Some of the drives at Flatdogs came back with three... many others (at lots of camps) came back with two per drive. I only saw one, but it was a beautiful late afternoon sighting, as she surveyed a pack of (whistling) puku from a termite mound. Unfortunately I was not camera-ready--fool!! So be camera-ready from the moment you leave camp!
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Jun 27th, 2005, 05:12 PM
  #33
 
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Tasha,

Camera ready??? I don't leave home without it anymore! My dogs are not too pleased with the fact that our morning walks have slowed to a crawl, but I have been able to take the best pictures of them, and I think slowing down our pace has led to the many coyote encounters we have had recently.

Just yesterday, my Corgi and my Sharpei mix (but she is only 40 pounds) were nose to nose with a coyote. So far, they are both curious (and fearful) of each other, but I will have to be careful. Unfortunately, it is next to impossible to shoot a photograph while controlling the fat little Corgi (who is about a foot tall and 40 pounds). The Sharpei can take care of herself, as she is fast as lightning and always retreats when she is not sure, but none of this ever occurs within more than 15 - 20 feet away from me...really quite fascinating...I will get my photo of the dog/coyote interaction soon enough.

To have the opportunity to use my new camera in Lower Zambezi, South Luangwa and the Sabi Sand will be a dream. My old point and shoot camera had a zoom of only 190mm and a megapixel of only 5.0, and I really didn't have the first clue on how to properly use it. It basically never appeared except for during the safari, meaning my photography never improved.

Now, however, I am quite confident with the Sigma 80-400mm OS lens and my other lenses for my Canon 20d. My only regret so far is buying a Sigma 70-200 f/2.8 lens. It is a GREAT lens, but if what I am reading is correct, the Optical Stabilizer feature on my 80-400mm lens is worth a couple f-stops, thus making my 80-400mm lens as good at the shorter distances as the 70-200mm lens.

The 400mm gets me to an effective 640mm with the multiplier effect and if the 1.4x teleconvertor works well with the lens, then I will be able to get 903mm...imagine the bird shots I could get with that.

I am somewhat excited about the Sigma 180mm f/3.5 lens I just bought. It hasn't arrived yet, but it does have 1:1 Macro capabilities, meaning that I should be able to get some great close-up photos. That 180mm will be an effective 288mm Macro lens with the multiplier effect and by the time the 1.4x teleconvertor goes on, it will be a 403mm Macro lens.

So, to make a long story shorter, I can hardly wait to get back to Zambia with my new toy!!!
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Jun 27th, 2005, 05:43 PM
  #34
Lin
 
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uksafarigoer,
Why the comment about you not going to Puku Ridge because of the sunken baths or how beautiful it looks? There is nothing wrong with nice add-ons like those offered by Puku Ridge, and I (along with probably every other visitor) share your main goal of seeing animals safely. Just to set the record straight, this summer will be my 7th trip to Africa and I do not choose my accommodations based upon pretty web pictures. I also agree with Rocco that many safari camps have staff who are multi-talented and work at different jobs. In Botswana I missed having a separate spotter for the very reasons Rocco mentioned - it is too much work for the guide while driving over rough terrain. The camp staff have lived in the area for their whole lives and could probably find an animal in the bush with one eye closed. Unproductive night drives are commonplace - a leopard and a lion sighting is not that bad of an evening drive. I really do sympathize with your terrible walking experience, and it should absolutely be addressed, but in my opinion that doesn't mean a death toll for the camp, especially since they have proactively changed management.
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Jun 27th, 2005, 11:41 PM
  #35
 
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Roccco,
You'll have plenty of power with that 400mm lense...but I'd be surprised if it was actually as good as the 70-200mm on the shorter side of the range. Don't know these specific lenses, but generally speaking, there are compromises made to get you those extra 200mm, and those compromises do have an effect on even the shorter ranges. On some lenses, it isn't much difference, and it is a compromise we are willing to make for the longer end and more flexibility. But my Canon 70-200 L IS is much sharper and has better color than my 70-300DO IS...and is marginally better than my friend's 100-400 L IS. There are times I wish I had his lense...and times he wishes he had mine!

But regarding the OS and extra stops: typically the choice of f-stop is determined by the depth of field you want or need, and this is not changed by an OS system. But that fstop will then dictate the shutter speed you need for correct exposure. Without a tripod or OS system the slowest shutter speed to attempt is the reciprocal of the focal length (so at 350mm...1/350 second.) Now unless you have lots of light, 1/350 of a second might be too fast to give you a good exposure (at f8 ..perhaps your camera's meter says you need 1/125, a slower (longer) time for the aperture to be open that would reveal any shake or vibration of the camera or lense) for example...and that is where the OS system comes in it would allow you to shoot at 1/125 and f8 without showing the effects of camera vibration or movement. (I've totally made up these numbers to create and example...but I hope this makes sense. ) The main point is that correct exposure requires some (fixed) combination of shutter speed and aperture (fstop), but the aperature choice drives depth of field and therefore how much of your photo is in focus. Since you don't want to compromise this, the free variable is the shutter speed, and that is where the OS system helps.

Now you are right that by slowing the shutter speed you may never need to open up to f2.8,and therefore won't need that lense. However that 70-200 lense may have other advantages that make it preferable in situations where you don't need to go above 200mm or where you can use a tripod. Just for fun, why don't you set up a little test between the lenses,and examine big images or the resulting photos very carefully. If you have a tripod you can also play with fstops and depth of field... however setup indoor shots are usually best for this unless the natural outdoor light is very consistent (eg no clouds changing things between shots). It's a long holiday weekend coming up...a good time to play with the camera and lenses!

Whew...so much to think about on safari. And so much work to be prepared. Thank goodness digital allows us to practice to our hearts content without wasting time on
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Jun 28th, 2005, 04:26 PM
  #36
 
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Tasha,

Thanks for the feedback. I do hope that my 70-200 f/2.8 lens proves useful, as I do not wish to make the effort to sell it as is common practice amongst photographers whenever they have the slightest complaint about a lens.

I did get my Sigma 180mm Macro lens in the mail today but I definitely have a lot of learning to do before I can shoot Macro effectively. I also received the 1.4x teleconvertor that I will need to learn to use effectively. It does seem that in order to use with each the 180mm Macro and the 80-400mm OS lens that I will need to manual focus, but this will be a minor inconvenience if it helps me achieve results that would otherwise be unattainable.

Last items remaining on my wish list before my trip...

-New laptop w/ 60-80 MB of memory (no bigger than a 14" screen and DVD ready)

-Canon 20d camera (body only) This will be a backup body that will be available at all times with an alternate lens. One lens will likely normally have the 80-400mm OS lens while the other body has the 17-85mm IS lens. I believe these two lenses will see 85% of the action while the 70-200mm f/2.8 and the 180mm Macro will only be used in special instances.

-A couple more batteries and a couple more MB's of memory. I am currently at about 3 batteries and 3.5 MB's of memory. Better safe than sorry...I don't trust myself to recharge batteries every day or to download photos every day. Every 3 days or so would be perfect...after all, I am on vacation!

-Tamrac 777 photography backpack. Hopefully this will hold all of my current gear. It is not in the budget to get any other lenses before the trip but of my four lenses, three of them are pretty large.

-Neutral density filters...more than likely for each the 70-200mm f/2.8 and the 17-85mm IS lens. I see no need why I would need such a filter on the other lenses.

-A good sunset filter, as I am expecting about 19 great sunsets between my time in Zambia, the Twelve Apostles Hotel in Cape Town and Simbambili in the Sabi Sand.

-A couple good ballheads for the tripod and the monopod.

-A Sigma 500 Super Flash. It is very hard to take good nocturnal photos, but with all of the nocturnal lesser seen animals in each the Lower Zambezi and South Luangwa, I do want to, at least, give myself an opportunity to do so.

I cannot think of too much more that I will need. I am just suffering daily anxiety attacks that a hippo is going to ram the canoe in the Lower Zambezi and eat my gear. TAKE ME, MR HIPPO, BUT FOR GOD'S SAKE, MAN, LEAVE MY CAMERA GEAR ALONE!

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Jun 28th, 2005, 04:51 PM
  #37
 
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Wow, you will be lugging a ton of gear!!!
I feel like my shoulders are giving out, and I only have half that stuff. One thing to think about: how will your protect all this gear in your camps? I don't care what management says: there is theft at all these places. They do their best to prevent it, but it is a fact of life.

Re the wish list:

For 1 camera, I doubt that you will need more than 3 batteries. I have always had comfortably enough power with 3, as long as you remember to recharge. But if you do get a 2nd body...are you really going to do that? I know everyone says to do it, but why not just take your old camera as the backup for wide angle stuff? Knock wood, I've tempted fate on all my trips with just one slr body and a small point-shoot. I find that carrying and juggling more equipment actually increases the probability that I drop or screw up something.
(Another important tip: you really need a good UV filter, mostly to protect your expensive lenses...and a cheap UV filter over a good lense will degrade your photos. BUT the filter is mainly there to protect the lense...A B&W filter saved my 70-200L IS when I dropped that...filter smashed, lense just fine. I regard that as my one lucky chance, and don't press luck anymore.

And I know you would be unhappy if you didn't have the long lense, but would you really really miss having the macro lense on this trip? If this is your first trip with an SLR, you might consider using one camera and the lenses you have until you are really really sure about your next wish item...it could change with a bit more experience...

Also for a person as wildlife crazy as you are, I would thing that a superb pair of binoculars might give you more pleasure than an extra 20D and macro lense. I say this assuming that because you haven't talked about binoculars, you haven't become obsessed with those yet! (And they are a whole other obsession...)
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Jun 28th, 2005, 05:11 PM
  #38
 
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Tasha,

Please...one obsession at a time!!!

My Steiner Safari binoculars will just have to suffice for one more year. I will make a better pair of binos the next goal before my Botswana safari next year, as I certainly will not be ready to upgrade to a Canon 1DS-Mark II by then, and I don't see where else to go from a Canon 20d.

If I did have to leave one lens behind, I agree that it would likely be the 180mm Macro lens. It is about the same size as the 70-200 f/2.8, but the f/2.8 would come in handy if a hippo or crocodile did eat my other lens. At least with a 1.4x conversion, I would still be at an effective 448mm maximum range.

I really do not mind carrying this heavy stuff around. I mean I am walking my dogs each morning with a leash with an often uncooperative fat little Corgi pulling an opposite direction while hand shooting with a Canon 20d w/ 80-400mm OS lens attached.

Hopefully I will be able to keep an eye on all my camera gear 95% of the time and it does not walk away during that other 5% of the time. However, I am more worried about my gear in the very limited time (about 12 hours total) that I will be in London, than I am worried about it for the 20 days that I will be in Southern Africa.
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Jun 28th, 2005, 06:41 PM
  #39
 
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Roccco, you do mean GB (Gigabytes) of memory don't you? A MB (Megabyte) is really nothing today. Also, I'd buy several more GB of camera memory, its pretty cheap right now, and you don't have to worry about your hard drive crashing and losing all your pictures. Three of the four of us kept all our pictures on memory cards last year. My son transferred a lot of his pictures to a portable hard drive, which subsequently crashed Think of losing all your pictures . . .

Also, we brought along several small pairs of 10x binoculars, but my son brought a good pair of 8x50s. The difference in quality was incredible. Even though my son's binoculars had a lower magnification, everything was enormously clearer. Good 8x50s are also a poor man's night vision device because they gather in so much light. Maybe you should add an obsession

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Jun 28th, 2005, 08:56 PM
  #40
 
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Scout,

I cannot afford another obsession right now!

Between Africa and Photography I am overobsessed and if I add another obsession, the only thing in my pocket for my 3 week vacation will be some random pieces of lint.

Fortunately, my 80-400mm OS lens with the 1.4x teleconvertor attached is probably about as good as any affordable binoculars out there. I mean I was zooming in on vehicle license plates about 100 yards away and I could read the license plates through this lens.

I don't know how practical it would be to buy too many CF cards. If I were not to download ANYTHING, I still run the risk of having my CF cards lost or stolen. What I would like to do is keep my very best photos on the CF Cards, and download just about everything else, first onto the hard drive (yes...I meant to say 60-80 GB of computer memory) but then also download them onto individual DVD's that I will store separately. Who knows, maybe I can even mail them back to myself from Cape Town?

I cannot state how excited I am to be doing my very first high season safari. While the flora may not be as spectacular as it was on my prior two Zambian safaris in June (2003 and 2004), I am counting on the wildlife sightings to be double what they have been in June. While the elephants, giraffes, zebras, pukus and baboons are strong year-round in South Luangwa, I do think the lion and leopard spottings will be much, much better in September, especially with this being a very dry year in Zambia. Really, I couldn't have picked a better time to upgrade to a better camera system.

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