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Rocco & Alexsandra's 19 Night Zambian / South African Excellent Adventure!!!

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Sep 20th, 2005, 04:45 AM
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Rocco & Alexsandra's 19 Night Zambian / South African Excellent Adventure!!!

Well, it is finally over! I leave with mixed emotions, as I really enjoyed this holiday and don't want it to end, yet at the same time I really miss my dogs and I am starting to miss my favorite foods from back home.

Anyway...here I sit at the Joburg Airport with about 7 hours to go before my 9PM flight...just a case of bad planning on my part, thinking that I would actually want to go into Sandton. However, the Joburg Airport is very comfortable and I purchased a four hour block of internet time and I am typing directly on my laptop. I may even be able to get some of my favorite photos up by the time some of you read this.

So, moving right along...

This trip started with the usual stressed out last second packing, that as always, leads to overpacking. We arrived at the airport only 1 hour before our international flight and we were lucky that we were even allowed to check in. However, one good thing that came out of it was that there was no long line, as the rest of the passengers (and it was an absolutely 100% full flight) had already checked in, so we were able to go straight to the check-in counter, that is after I slapped on my photo vest and put a big lens in my pocket and had another camera and lens around my neck (and was carrying a couple books). Silly, because right after they weigh the carry on at Virgin Atlantic, and it weighs in okay, one is then able to repack all the stuff that was just taken out.

It was a very uncomfortable flight, but I have such happy feet for travel, that no flight is a bad flight, even one that I was packed in tight for 11 hours.

London was a shorter than expected layover, but since I already had hired a private car and driver, and had wanted to meet up with Kavey and Julian (JAsher), it was a pleasure to get away from London Heathrow for a few hours and enjoy a casual lunch in Chinatown, although to an unsophisticated American, Panda Express serves better food!

London - Joburg - Lusaka was all in Bsiness Class, and although the meals or service was not as good as last year, it was still heaven compared to economy class.

Our flight into Lusaka was delayed about 90 minutes, but thankfully we had a chartered flight from Lusaka to Lower Zambezi. We were flown on a 12 seat Grand Caravan that we had to ourselves, and from Royal Zambezi airstrip, Kasaka was a short 10 minute drive away.

KASAKA RIVER LODGE

We arrived at Kasaka around 3:45 PM on September 01st and were pleased to learn that we had the entire camp to ourselves for the next two nights.

The managing couple of the camp, Hugo and Esther, were there to greet us, and really clicked with these two, as I knew we would from meeting them last year on a transfer from Kulefu, also in Lower Zambezi. Also there to greet us was Vodka, their Jack Russell / Dachsund mix, who spends his days chasing lizards and barking at the vervet monkeys that dare approach the camp!

One other wonderful surprise was that at the airstrip we were met by our guide, Morat, who is the same guide I had last year at Kulefu. I was very pleased to see that he had joined Kasaka and would be our guide, and I really had no idea that he had left Kulefu at the beginning of this season.

We were put up, at my prior request, in the Wild Mango suite (honeymoon suite). Although not huge, it was a nicely appointed luxury tent with a nice bathroom with an oversized tub for two with a nice view of the Zambezi River.

The interior of the Lower Zambezi was very, very dry and dusty. However, there were hundreds of elephants, especially within the national park.

I split my activities pretty evenly between river activities and game drives. One of the real highlights of the Lower Zambezi is the wildife that is seen from the river cruises, as well as while out fishing for Tiger Fish. There were plenty of buffalo and waterbucks on the river islands between Mana Pools (Zimbabwe) and Lower Zambezi (Zambia) and this made for some nice photos.

Fortunately, Hugo (the manager at Kasaka) was able to give me a couple excellent photo tips that I was able to apply during the entire holiday.

The gameviewing highlights at Kasaka were definitely the animals that stuck closer to water (elepahnts, buffalo, waterbucks, fish eagles, hippos and crocodiles), although we did have one brief leopard spotting and did find a pride of three lions.

The food at Kasaka was pretty good, probably about an 8/10, and I did find the wine to be excellent, actually spending one night with Hugo drinking four bottles of some wonderful South African Cabernet Sauvignon wine, up until about 1AM!

On the final day, a flood of other guests poured in, filling up the camp, but each of them were nice, including an American foursome of middle aged women whom were in Zambia working on some AIDS treatment project.

I did learn how to fish at Kasaka from their wonderful boat operator, Louis, and this would come in very handy at my next stop, Chongwe River Camp. Also, Louis was able to get me within about 10 feet of a very large croc who was resting on a tiny river island. I could not believe how close this croc was allowing us to get and I was basically on my stomach and leaning out over the boat to get some really close up shots...I would not at all be surprised if that croc was wanting me to get just a littttle bit closer! However, a hippo spooked him and he jumped into the water on the opposite end of the island...that was probably a good thing!

CHONGWE RIVER CAMP

Chongwe River Camp, although only 15 minutes by road away from Kasaka offers a totally different experience. While Kasaka was intimately enclosed in the common areas, Chongwe was nice and wide open to the elements. This made it possible for elephants to basically walk right through camp all day long. Also, since the camp is at the confluence of the Zambezi and Chongwe Rivers, this means that it enjoyed about 270 degrees of river frontage!

The staff at Chongwe was excellent, with various managers, including three women, and each of them were very down to Earth and Alexsandra and I really liked all of them.

One really good thing that the staff at Chongwe was able to accomplish was that despite a near full camp, they were able to really make the dinners at the huge dining table under the stars very enjoyable. This despite the fact that there were each Americans, South Africans, British and Dutch in camp during the stay.

The gameviewing highlight at Chongwe was easily a lion kill that one of the managers (and part time guide) Jody came across. While out canoeing with guests, he actually heard the kill, and armed only with his paddle and walkie talkie, he ventured into the bush and found three grown lionesses and a two year old male cub on a large impala kill. Although Alexsandra and I were with our assigned guide, George, at the time, we were quickly radioed by Jody and within minutes we were on the kill.

Naturally, at first Alexsandra was scared to death and insisted on leaving, but after a couple minutes she settled down, and since we were the only ones in the vehicle, we chose to sit with the lions for at least an hour. It was AWESOME to watch the lions eat the impala and take turns eating, often having minor scuffles while they changed places.

The other highlights of Chongwe included seeing a herd of elephants from 15 feet below as they were on top of the embankment and I was on a boat. During this spotting, a baby elephant was nursing from its mother, and nearly directly overhead. Also, Tiger Fishing was a lot of fun, and I went out twice with a nice British couple that was also in their mid 30's (as am I at 34). I was able to land, without any assistance, a Tiger Fish that weighed in at over 11 pounds! I also caught a smaller one that was about four pounds. It is strictly catch and release so no fishes were injured in the photographing of my Tiger Fishing!

I had the most imaginable peaceful sleep at Chongwe, despite the fact that we heard hippos, baboons and lions right from our tent each night. I mean you are nearly level with the river at Chongwe and there is wildlife all around, yet this made for incredibly peaceful sleep, being serenaded to sleep each night by the various wildlife within earshot from our tent.

It was with a heavy heart that I left Chongwe River Camp, as I really feel that we made friends with the managing staff and absolutely loved the location, despite the fact that it was outside the national park. (For the very best location and the most luxurious camp in the area, I would strongly endorse Chiawa Camp, which is still a bargain when compared to many South African and Botswanan camps).

ON DECK...LUANGWA RIVER LODGE & PUKU RIDGE & A FEW PHOTOS!!!
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Sep 20th, 2005, 04:57 AM
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I haven't read this yet because I must get to work - but - welcome back!!!!!! (And sorry this year's adventure has come to an end....)

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Sep 20th, 2005, 05:00 AM
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Hi Rocco,

Keep it coming!

I'm curious as to why you'd endorse Chiawa over Kasaka and Chongwe when you had such great experiences at the latter camps -- what did you see there that makes you recommend it? I don't know about you, but I'd choose great camp atmosphere over luxury any day, and it sounds like the camp atmosphere at the two camps you visited would be hard to beat.

Cheers,
Julian
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Sep 20th, 2005, 05:03 AM
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Sounds like an amazing trip and all of your planning paid off. Welcome home -- the boards haven't been the same without you!
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Sep 20th, 2005, 05:29 AM
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Welcome Home.

More, more.
 
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Sep 20th, 2005, 05:31 AM
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Welcome back Roccco. I have a full schedule at work today so probably can't read until tonight. Looking forward to it!

Cindy
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Sep 20th, 2005, 06:27 AM
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Julian,

To answer your question about my choice of Lower Zambezi lodges...

While I really enjoyed Kasaka and Chongwe, the bottom line is that it is quite a distance from Kasaka to the entrance of the national park, and the game does not really start happening until the Chongwe River, which is about 15 minutes from the park. This does make Chongwe Camp about twice as close to the entrance.

It seemed like most of the game drives at each Kasaka and Chongwe seemed to favor the area nearer to Chiawa Camp, a good 1 hour 15 minutes from Kasaka, and a good 1 hour from Chongwe. So, if one is staying at Chiawa, they are already right in this prime area to start their game drives.

It is up to the individual traveler to decide whether or not a bit more luxury and being in a prime part of the park justify the extra money. However, considering that I just stayed at an awesome lodge, Simbambili, for about $750 per person per night less than it would cost for Singita or Londolozi Tree, the extra $175 per person per night that it would cost to upgrade from Kasaka or Chongwe to Chiawa seems insignificant. This is 1/4 as expensive as the upgrade from Simbambili to Singita / Londo Tree would cost a traveler.

Plus, it is worth noting that there is very high turnover at some of the camps. Just because the camps have a certain staff this year, is no guarantee that the same staff will be around next year. Trust me, I think for a person who loves canoeing through interesting narrow channels, that the guide, Morat, would have been worth justifying a visit to Kulefu. Yet, had a traveler booked Kulefu in hopes of canoeing with Morat, they would have been very disappointed to learn that he has since moved to Kasaka. Trust me, these are dangerous narrow waterways full of hippos and crocs, and one better have an experienced canoe guide such as Morat, who spent EIGHT years at Kulefu if they hope to make it through those waterways in one piece.

So, the things that may be counted on are the ownership of the camp, the location of the camp and the camp facilities. In Chiawa's case, the owner, Grant Cumings, is the ORIGINAL operator in the Lower Zambezi, located in the spot of his own picking before a dozen or more others moved in later.

I do think a combo of Kasaka / Chiawa or Chongwe / Chiawa would be excellent, but if there is only time to visit one camp, and the traveler may afford to spend a little extra, then Chiawa is the way to go, in my honest opinion.
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Sep 20th, 2005, 07:32 AM
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Welcome back. I know what you mean about the paradox of such a peaceful sleep in nature-noisy surroundings.

I bet you were indeed stressed arriving with only an hour for an international flight.
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Sep 20th, 2005, 08:13 AM
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Thanks for the quick posting--looking forward to more.
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Sep 20th, 2005, 08:42 AM
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Hi Rocco,

Thanks for the clarification. I thought Chiawa was a lot more than Chongwe (about $330 more per night in July) but those numbers are from e-gnu and probably don't represent the best rates.

Looking forward to the rest of your report!

Cheers,
Julian
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Sep 20th, 2005, 09:19 AM
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Rocco - thanks for the e-mail. I'll get back to you shortly!

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Sep 20th, 2005, 09:26 AM
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Julian,

Overall Chiawa may be $330 per night for a COUPLE sharing, but even so, this is minor compared to, for example, the difference between Simbambili, which I thought was fantastic, and Singita. Yes, Singita is awesome, but it is not within grasp for most people, including myself at its current tariff and the current exchange rate.

Okay, here come 75 photos to start out. These are completely unedited and I don't think I will take the time to edit any of my photos that I post online. It will take me many weeks to learn Photoshop ELements sufficiently to improve my photos instead of screwing them up.
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Sep 20th, 2005, 09:27 AM
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I too am busy at work today (finally!), and can't wait to get home to really pore over this.

But for now, I'm still reeling over four bottles of wine in one evening. Good lord, man, you could handle a game drive the next day?!

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Sep 20th, 2005, 09:34 AM
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Great to read the beginning of your report. I CAN'T BELIEVE 19 days have already passed!
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Sep 20th, 2005, 10:01 AM
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Thank you for the quick start to the report. Can't wait to hear more!

Sounds like a great start to the trip...
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Sep 20th, 2005, 02:19 PM
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Rocco:

So very glad you had a fantastic trip. Can't wait to read more and see your pictures.

Welcome home. You were missed!

Jan

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Sep 20th, 2005, 03:34 PM
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Welcome back, Rocco!
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Sep 20th, 2005, 11:43 PM
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Thanks for the warm homecoming.

About those four bottles of wine...well, you see how PETITE I am in my photos, right? Well, Hugo at Kasaka is even slightly more petite than I am!

So, between our quarter ton, it wasn't as bad as it sounds. Each year I overindulge once, and this was my time. I don't think I had more than two drinks at one sitting for the rest of the holiday.

Just one clarification, from this or another post...I slept heavenly at Chongwe but actually had difficulty at Kasaka, my first stop, probably due to jet lag.
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Sep 21st, 2005, 02:22 AM
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Welcome back Rocco! We leave tomorrow.
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Sep 21st, 2005, 02:45 AM
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Welcome home Rocco (and Alexsandra) - sounds like a good trip.
Looking forward to reading more and seeing the pics!
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