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

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Sep 21st, 2005, 04:40 PM
  #21
 
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Welcome home! I'm sure the dogs are thrilled to see you both. I know that when we go away we begin to miss our dog almost immediately and the longer we're gone the worse it gets! 4-5 weeks is about the max and as the pooch gets older it's only going to get worse.

Looking forward to hearing more.
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Sep 22nd, 2005, 06:03 AM
  #22
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Finally got home last night around 6:30PM...total travel time once leaving Simbambili in the Sabi Sand...about 40 hours including 8 hour layover in Joburg and 5 hour layover in London.

The business class flight from Joburg to London was not so great, just marginally better than my economy class flight from London to Los Angeles. I would say that SAA has definitely gone downhill since last year, at least in Business Class.

To make matters worse, my wife and I were not even seated together, but rather separated by a couple seats. When I politely asked a white Zimbabwean man, who was about five years my senior, if he would mind swapping seats with me (putting him directly to the left of his wife, rather than the right of his wife), he threw a little hissy fit and for a moment I thought things may get ugly. I mean what should have been a, "Sure, no problem", was a major ordeal and instead of just moving over a seat he proceeded to also move all of his overhead luggage, despite the fact that he had only moved two seats to his left. While I closely watched him putting on his little display, he then tried to save face by blaming it on the airline, as did his wife, telling me that I should insist that they move me up to First Class for such inconvenience. Whatever.

Economy class from London to L.A. was as pleasant as possible, probably only about 50% full, allowing my wife and I the four middle seats.

My dogs were thrilled to see me, as was I to see them. After calling Land Rover Roadside Assistance to get my dead battery charged, I made my way to my favorite local Mexican restaurant and picked up some long overdue Mexican food, falling asleep each on the way to the restaurant (10 minutes from home), and on the way back from the restaurant, narrowly missing from smashing into one of my neighbors parked vehicles.

Home sweet home!
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Sep 22nd, 2005, 06:44 AM
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Looking forward to full report and hundreds of photos.

I'm surprised to read your review of SAA Biz Class since that's what I'm in next year. I hope they improve.
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Sep 22nd, 2005, 07:51 AM
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Hi Rocco,

If you go business class to Africa next year, try Virgin's Upper Class -- I know the economy class was a pain in arse because of the weight restrictions, but their Upper Class is brilliant.

Cheers,
Julian
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Sep 22nd, 2005, 06:26 PM
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LUANGWA RIVER LODGE

On the morning of September 07th, Alexsandra and I caught a chartered flight that took us direct from Lower Zambezi to Mfuwe for our six night stay in South Luangwa.

Quite honestly, I had such a wonderful time in the Lower Zambezi at each Kasaka and Chongwe that I was really sad to be leaving. I mean even sleeping at Chongwe was an amazing experience...one second we were scared of all the wildlife sounds that were taking place not far from our tents, and then the next moment came the most deep and restful sleep imaginable, without ever realizing when the switch came from being scared to being sound asleep.

But, all good things must come to an end, or so it is said, and after having to literally be pushed out the door at Chongwe, we boarded a scheduled 11AM chartered flight at around 11:20AM and made our way to Mfuwe (pronounced, as I would finally learn on my 3rd visit, Em-fooey, not Ma-fooey).

It was a slighly bumpy ride on a Proflight Cessna 206 but the pilot exuded confidence and this helped Alexsandra deal with the turbulence.

We arrived at Mfuwe at about 1:15PM and were met at the airport by two Luangwa River Lodge guides, Victor and James.

Alexsandra, before I even realized what was happening, proceeded to buy about $65 USD worth of cooking oil, food and other goods from a merchant at the airport. This was to hand out to the locals in Mfuwe. Keep in mind that Zambia is one of the poorest nations in the world, although I imagine that the residents of Mfuwe are better off than in most parts of Zambia.

As we exited the airport I saw two shiny red bicycles that were purchased at my direction by Barry at Luangwa River Lodge. The reason for this was twofold.

One, so that I could ride a bicycle through the streets of Mfuwe, as the local Zambians do (when one goes from Mfuwe Airport to South Luangwa National Park, they are treated to real life Africa for about 20 miles before entering the park, rather than being insulated from real Africa as is the case in other parts of Southern Africa).

Two, I was donating the bicycles to the South Luangwa Conservation Society to use however best served them. SLCS is a privately funded organization that combats poaching and helps wildlife in other ways as well.

The reason for the two bikes was so that either one of the guides or Alexsandra would be able to ride alongside me. However, I turned out to be stuck on my own riding a bicycle, and this at the hottest part of the day. I estimate it was about 95 degrees farenheit.

Starting from the airport, I bicycled for about 75 minutes. Along the way I passed hundreds of amused looking Zambians, and learned quickly how to say hello in their local language.

"Bwanjee" (sp.?) I shouted to mostly children on the roadside who had raced out to see the fat American riding through their streets. This was responded to with "Bwen Bwanjee" in most cases, and often with "How Are You?" which must be the first (and one of the only) English phrase taught to children.

Occasionally, young Zambian men (late teens to early 20's) with too much testosterone would race by me on their bicycles and look back to see if I was racing to keep up with them. There would be no race from me, as I only wanted to go as far as I possibly could and this required a moderate pace.

Regretably, this was my first physical activity in weeks and between the afternoon heat and a very uncomfortable bicycle seat, I only made it about halfway. Once coming across a store that read in big letters "Game Over", I thought it most appropriate to end my bicycle journey through the streets of Mfuwe.

Regretably my support vehicle had been hijacked by Alexsandra and I had to wait about five minutes before it finally showed up to provide me with a well earned cold Fanta Orange soda.

From Game Over, it was only about a 20 minute ride in the Land Cruiser to Luangwa River Lodge, and we arrived just after 3PM to be greeted by Tara and Clem (a Scottish? young woman who runs the kitchen), complete with a wonderful welcoming drink.

After awhile, Barry emerged from working on one of the vehicles and after I cleaned myself up a bit in the wonderful room, Barry and I went off for an evening game drive (Alexsandra choosing to sit this one out).

Despite Luangwa River Lodge being in a somewhat congested area, the game drives all seemed to be in less congested areas, rather than competing with the masses. So, we were all by ourselves following our sundowners when we came across a leopard on the ground who was on the move.

We followed this leopard for about five minutes, yet we were not sure what it was stalking, as we saw nothing. Then, while we were not even looking, we heard a shrill cry, and then the next thing we know, the leopard has a small puku by the neck, assumedly already dead.

Not more than 30 seconds pass, when first one, then two, then three, and altogether five hyenas, within a couple minutes descend on this leopard in an attempt to steal the kill. By the time the first hyena had made it on the scene (within that first minute after the kill), the leopard was fortunate enough to drag the kill up a tree.

The hyenas all circled the tree, but after only a couple minutes they each left the scene, apparently having conceded that there was no way that they would be able to get to the kill.

Shortly after the kill, another vehicle from a competing lodge joined the scene. Because the tree was about 50 yards off the road, it was a bit difficult to see the leopard and especially the kill. South Luangwa NP has a strict policy against off-road driving, and it seems that the lodges are all to quick to report any abuses of this policy, so once the other game vehicle was on the spot, there was no chance to get a closer look, as the guide would be fined about $400 USD for a first offence (more than many Zambians earn in a year) and lose his guiding license for a second offense.

We returned to the lodge to a fantastic dinner. I cannot tell you what it was (I don't remember) but I will say that each and every meal at Luangwa River Lodge appears as if it is right out of the most expensive restaurant that you likely ever dine. Both the food and the presentation is top notch.

Yes, luxury game lodge food is mostly very good, but this was not typical game lodge food but rather it was at another level, altogether.

Luangwa River Lodge is an incredibly beautiful lodge. Everything is meticulous in each the common areas of the lodge and the individual suites (each room is a suite, but I just think they are too nice at LRL to be referred to as a room or a chalet). Rather than trying to explain the decor, I will post photos soon enough.

On my second day at Luangwa River Lodge, we made a special trip to South Luangwa Conservation Society so that I may donate the two bicycles. It was my honor to make a donation to such an excellent organization.

Afterward, we ventured down to Chipembele, another excellent private organization run by two former British police officers, Steve and Anna Dolan.

http://www.chipembele.org/

Chipembele provides Zambian children with conservation education as well as offering scholarships to Zambian students for each their primary and secondary education.

Alexsandra and I were shown all around and it really is an excellent venue.

Onsite were Chipembele's rescued warthogs, Roxy and Robert, whom serve as pets, as well as their Jack Russell, Bulu, who survived a lion attack and five days afterward in the bush with the worst imaginable wounds. Fortunately, however, Bulu was found just in the nick of time and survived each the lion attack and some intensive surgery. Now, Bulu is back at full strength and is basically the brother of the warthogs.

After making a donation to Chipembele and enjoying our sundowners with Steve and Anna on their patio, we left at around 7PM to get in a very abbreviated night game drive before making our way back to Luangwa River Lodge for dinner.

Day 3 at Luangwa River Lodge was an all day drive into the Nsefu Sector beginning at 6:30AM and returning to Luangwa River Lodge at 7PM. Alexsandra sat this one out and it was just James, Fenwill (the spotter) and I.

Although there were some long stretches where we did not see much and some upsetting stretches, such as when I saw a hunting hide not more than 2 miles away from Tena Tena, there were also rewarding stretches with plenty of birdlife, lions and even an elusive Cookson's Wildebeest.

At around 11:30AM we stopped for our picnic brunch, enjoying chicken, salad, fresh baked bread and a fresh baked cake. Afterward, James asked if it was okay if he took a 30 minute break and I agreed that was a good idea, but instead I allowed for about a 90 minute doze under a sausage tree overlooking the Luangwa River in a spot full of hippos and crocs.

I really enjoyed this all day private game drive but did arrive back to the lodge, understandably exhausted. Although another guest had checked in, a single female American traveler the same age or possibly even younger than Alexsandra and I, we chose to enjoy a private dinner in our room, on this our final night.

The next morning, I had breakfast witht he American woman before we made off on our morning game drive. We came across a kill right at the onset of our game drive, but the lions had already had their fill of the buffalo and now it was in the hands of the hyenas and the vultures. Fortunately the kill was right off the roadside, allowing for a partially obstructed view.

Shortly afterward, we were able to find an older male lion. His age was obvious from his scarred face and whittled away black mane. Still, a male lion is, for me, always an impressive sighting.

Afterward, it was one final brunch at Luangwa River Lodge before our 75 minute road transfer to Puku Ridge.

I really enjoyed Luangwa River Lodge and I think someone would be hard pressed to find better accomodations, better food and better hosting than at Luangwa River Lodge. Also, Alexsandra and I really liked their head guide, Victor, who despite having less than one year experience as a guide, does have 15 years with ZAWA (Zambian Wildlife Authority) under his belt.

Also, I thought the other guide, James, was very good. Having come over from Tena Tena, he does know the Nsefu sector like the back of his hand. The spotter, Fenwell, is also very good with a great personality. Hopefully he will earn his guiding license soon as I believe he will one day make a great guide.

On deck...PUKU RIDGE
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Sep 22nd, 2005, 06:56 PM
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Welcome Back Rocco and Alexsandra! I am so glad you convinced me to stay at Luangwa River Lodge! A million thanks! From yours and sandyca's reports, it sounds like an awesome place and I can't wait to get there!
(25 more days!!)
Dennis
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Sep 23rd, 2005, 09:29 AM
  #27
 
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Wow Roccco this is great! I can't wait to go check out those photos and read the rest of your recap.

Welcome home!
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Sep 23rd, 2005, 09:55 AM
  #28
 
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Welcome back and thanks for jumping on your trip report so quickly!
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Sep 23rd, 2005, 10:09 AM
  #29
 
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He started this report while still on safari; that's a champ!

I'm enjoying this very much. Particularly liked the biking story.

Best to you and Alexsandra.
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Sep 23rd, 2005, 10:18 AM
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Thanks for giving the details on the bike ride. What a great idea that is! Someday I'd love to try it.

That was an exciting leopard encounter.

Interesting you'd mention hunting hides near Tena. In 2003 when I was there, in the middle of one night, I heard a gunshot and someone shouting, "Freeze!" Even in my drowsy state I thought to myself, "Why are they shouting in English?"

The next day I learned that the rangers had captured a poacher and the shot was a warning shot. I was informed that freeze is what is used by law enforcement in Zambia.
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Sep 23rd, 2005, 12:01 PM
  #31
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Keep them coming. Great reading. Was Alexsandra able to get into any of the kitchens while on safari. Do tell. And what did she prepare for dinner?
 
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Sep 23rd, 2005, 04:20 PM
  #32
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Sandi,

The only lodge/camp that managed to keep Alexsandra OUT of the kitchen was Simbambili. This is both a testament to their great food and to their ready availability to some pretty amazing fresh fruit such as guava fruit, pineapples, papayas and star fruit.

Alexsandra made herself right at home in the kitchen, especially at Kasaka and Luangwa River Lodge, but this is definitely not a knock on their food, but more a compliment that they were each flexible enough to allow Alexsandra access.

The only place that she seemed to be a person non-grata (sp.?) in the kitchen was at Puku Ridge, and that is a shame because it was here that needed her the most!

And that reminds me...I really need to get to the grocery store. I haven't been to the supermarket in FOUR weeks and I actually found myself eating my housekeeper's ice cream last night!

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Sep 23rd, 2005, 04:42 PM
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Rocco, thanks for sharing the highlights from your amazing trip. Your pictures were wonderful, too. Welcome back and I look foward to reading more.
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Sep 23rd, 2005, 04:49 PM
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atravelynn,

It is unfortunate that wherever there are national parks in Africa, Kenya excepted, that there seems to always be hunting concessions bordering the national parks and all to eager to lure the animals outside of their sanctuary within the national park.

Now with the hunting hide near Tena Tena that I am talking about, it was not poaching, but this elaborate huge elevated hunting hide for trophy hunting. I will post a photo this weekend of the hunting hide.

Trust me, I wanted to take a match and some gasoline and burn it down, yet at the same time I did not want some hunter to shoot me in the back.

It is too bad that there is not more animosity between the ecotourism photosafari lodges and the safari operators. James, my guide at Luangwa River Lodge, who spent the last few years at Tena Tena basically said that they just try to avoid each other. I suppose this is why camps/lodges that are in the GMA's seem to head straight to the national park for their game drives.

One thing that saddens me is that one of my guides in the Lower Zambezi told me that his brother works as a professional hunter (which is the equivalent as a guide at a photo safari lodge since the PH's do not actually take the shot but instead accompany the paying trophy hunter). While his brother will easily net a couple hundred dollars a day in gratuities, a guide at an ecotourism lodge will be lucky to get that much in a week. For that reason I try to tip as much as I possibly can without going overboard.

Anyway, the best thing to do is to continue supporting photosafari lodges, especially in areas where hunting is not too far away. If successful enough, these photosafari lodges may then eventually take over the entire area, as has happened in Botswana with I believe Chitabe this season which formerly shared its concession with a hunting lodge up until last year. Same thing at Phinda in South Africa, which recently bought out the hunting concession known as Zuka.

But as much as I hate the practice as trophy hunting and those sick individuals who engage in it, I still believe that the areas are best served by trophy hunting until a photosafari lodge is able to take control of the area. At least the trophy hunters keep the poachers away while if the areas were totally exposed, the poachers would do far more damage to the area if it was totally unprotected.
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Sep 23rd, 2005, 05:10 PM
  #35
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Just one interesting thing I read while at the London Heathrow Airport.

In this month's UK edition of Conde Nast Traveler, the top 100 places in the world are ranked and Ngorongoro Crater Lodge was #2 hotel/lodge in the world, after only some place in Venice, Italy. Singita was rated #3.

Best Hotel in South Africa, and #6 overall in Africa/Middle East was the Twelve Apostles Hotel, which ranked a couple places higher than Ellerman House and quite a few places higher than each the Cape Grace and the Table Bay Hotel. Alexsandra and I, again, really enjoyed our stay at the Twelve Apostles and found the staff to be its usual excellent selves. The staff to guest ratio at the Twelve Apostles is better than I have seen at any other hotel, but I will save anything more for my trip report...just wanted to report about the UK Conde Nast Traveler before it forever slipped my mind.
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Sep 24th, 2005, 11:02 AM
  #36
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Thanks for all of the wonderful detail.
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Sep 24th, 2005, 03:38 PM
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PUKU RIDGE - Sept 10th to Sept 12th - 3 nights

Our transfer to Puku Ridge was at High Noon. Although it was pretty warm, it was not unbearable. It took about 90 minutes for the transfer and we were driven deep into the park, arriving at Puku Ridge at around 1:30PM.

Upon arrival at Puku Ridge, the manager of the camp, Angie, a white Zimbabwean woman in her early 30's who came over from Jao (Wilderness Safaris), welcomed us, along with other Puku Ridge staff on hand for the welcoming, with a nice cold Rock Shandy drink.

Puku Ridge, in my opinion, has the single best location of any camp I have yet seen of any camp/lodge in South Luangwa. It is halfway up Chichele Hill and overlooks a sizeable plain on one side and Chichele Hill on the other side.

On the plain, day and night, are hundreds of baboons, impala and puku, along with occasional elephants. Other visitors on the plain during our stay included lions on two occasions and a leopard.

The accomodations at Puku Ridge are huge oversized tents, measuring 800+ sq. ft. Within our tent were very nice antique furnishings, a king sized four poster bed with mosquito netting, a sunken bath with a wonderful view of the plain and electricity in the room.

Just outside the tent is an oversized balcony that extends the length of the tent and connects on the side to an outdoor shower.

Our tent was the "Leopard" tent and is considered the honeymoon suite, offering nice privacy, but also being the furthest away from the common area, making nighttime walks back to the tent a bit unnerving.

In camp during our arrival were about seven other guests, all male tobacco farmers, mostly from Malawi. This was their final night, and we would have the camp to ourselves for our final two night. However, since there were so many of them, they had their own vehicle, meaning that we had our own private vehicle for the length of our stay.

Dinner on our first night was a very nice braai that included steak, chicken, baked potatos, corn on the cob, salad and other goodies. This was a pretty good dinner, but nothing to die over. Even so, it would prove to be the best meal of the stay, as food is not a strong point of Puku Ridge.

Despite the less than stellar food, Puku Ridge proved to be the best of the four Zambian camps/lodges visited on this safari. Lions were seen on nearly every game drive and leopards were seen on a couple occasions.

I loved sleeping at Puku Ridge. It gets very windy at night and the canvas part of the tent remained open while the clearer screen part of the tent remained zipped. This allowed for the wind to gust through our tent each night, blowing around our mosquito netting and making sleeping very comfortable.

Lions were heard each night from our tent and were also spotted in the morning on a couple occasions, giving a wonderful way to start the game drives. This was the only of the four camps I visited within the national park and that does make a big difference to the game drives.

While gameviewing was great at Puku Ridge, the Tetse Flies were pretty bad. I am still recovering from all the bites I received (that then itch so bad that during the scratching more damage is then caused to the skin).

The game drive vehicles at Puku Ridge are a bit unusual. They feature bucket seats, which in themselves are not so bad, but then instead of a middle seat, there is a padded storage container. It did not make for the most comfortable seating in the back for night game drives.

However, the morning game drives were more pleasant. Alexsandra only went on a couple morning drives, but none while at Puku Ridge. Therefore, with no necessary spotter during morning drives, I sat upfront beside the guide. The vehicles featured no side doors (as was also the case at Chongwe River Camp).

The doorless vehicle made for some intense game drives with lions walking not more than six feet beside the vehicle. While we put ourselves right in the thick of the action, there was another vehicle, from Nkwali (Robin Pope Safaris), I believe, that never dared to get within 15 yards of the lions (as you will see in one of my photos).

The only other vehicles we came across at Puku Ridge were from the sister lodge, Chichele, and from Nkwali (Robin Pope Safaris) and Kafunta. However, only Chichele was also located within the national park. Since all vehicles from camps/lodges outside the GMA are required to be out of the park by 8PM, for the last 45 minutes of the drives, we were always the last ones in the park, as well as always having the beginning of our drives with no other vehicles.

I found the visitors at Chichele and Puku Ridge to be much more down to earth in their appearance than the visitors to Robin Pope Safaris. At both RPS and Norman Carr Safaris, I found that the visitors nearly always were in their smart safari clothes, were more often than not older, and they seemed to be more dry than the visitors I came across from some of the other camps.

A few more words about Puku Ridge. I consider it to be this kind of masculine chic. It has this great swimming pool overlooking the plain and an attached jacuzzi (though unheated). The camp really tries to blend in with the environment rather than trying to separate itself from the environment.

During each our stay at Kasaka and Chongwe River Camp, Alexsandra was told about this great jewelry store in Lusaka. After seeing the jewelry (Tanzanites) that the female managers at Kasaka and Chongwe were sporting on their fingers, Alexsandra REALLY wanted to get to Lusaka...so much, in fact, that on our final full day at Chongwe River Camp that she actually wanted me to fly into Lusaka with her, never mind that this would have cost $200 pp plus cab fare and would have cost us our activities for the day.

When I turned down her request and after she got done stamping her feet, we made a plan to dash into Lusaka during our 4 hour layover in Lusaka after Puku Ridge.

Although I enjoyed Puku Ridge, I was not going to miss the Tetse Flies (or the food). Our flight from Mfuwe to Lusaka was scheduled for 9:30, meaning that we had to leave the lodge by 7:30AM. We would be in Cape Town at the wonderful Twelve Apostles Hotels by 9PM that night, after a flight to Lusaka to Joburg to Cape Town.

We arrived to the airport in ample time, and waited, and waited and waited for an Airwaves flight that never came!

ON DECK - Inter-Continental Hotel, Lusaka.
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Sep 24th, 2005, 03:44 PM
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Correction...

>>>Despite the less than stellar food, Puku Ridge proved to be the best of the four Zambian camps/lodges visited on this safari. Lions were seen on nearly every game drive and leopards were seen on a couple occasions.<<<

What I meant to say that Puku Ridge was the best of the four for gameviewing since it was located within the national park.
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Sep 24th, 2005, 04:17 PM
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Did you get any Airwaves explanation about why the flight was a no-show? How annoying.

It had been my impression that Airwaves was pretty reliable. Or have I just been lucky?

I hope Airwaves does not turn into an Air Botswana where (at least when I was there in August) the mere mention of those two words would bring reactions from travelers ranging from anger to head shaking disgust. Having missed my first night on safari due to Air Botswana's delays and rerouting, I concur.

But enough about that airline, what happened to yours?
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Sep 24th, 2005, 05:38 PM
  #40
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Atravelynn,

I, too, had been under the prior assumption that Airwaves had been a reliable company. However, I was told by both people in the industry and by one of Airwaves OWN pilots that Airwaves was far from reliable.

However, when the director (and possible owner or part owner) of the company also owns the most successful operation in South Luangwa, no matter how bad it is, Airwaves is going to get its fill of passengers:

http://www.e-gnu.com/forum/messages/895.html

Also, it should be known by potential visitors that Airwaves planes are registered in South Africa. What that means is that Airwaves planes are NOT even serviced in Zambia, but rather are returned to South Africa every 1,000 hours of flying time.

In comparison, I flew on Proflight, and the pilot told me that their planes are registered in Zambia and are serviced twice as often, every 500 hours.

And, accidents will happen, and quite a tragic one did happen last year:

http://www.theage.com.au/articles/20...?from=storylhs

There are plenty of other options for flights, however, such as Zambian Airways, Proflight and Avocet, although this is NOT an endorsement of any of those companies.

I will write more about my own experience with Airwaves as my trip report continues.

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