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

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

Sep 24th, 2005, 07:11 PM
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Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 5,553

So we are dropped off by our Puku RIdge guide. Unfortunately, I don't even remember his name, and I think this is because he wsa probably the least personal of the guides I had on this trip and after spending my first day with him, they then had him guide some guests from Chichele and then returned him to my for the final day...not the best way to make a guest feel as if they are being well looked after.

So, there we are waiting for the flight. Alexsandra by now has already been in contact with the jeweler in Lusaka to make arrangements for a quick meeting at his factory.


However, after our flight is more than one hour delayed, although there is never any explanation from Airwaves on what is happening--their people at the counter said they had no idea why or flight wasn't present--we start growing frantic. After a few more minutes, with regret and anger for Airwaves, we call our jeweler in Lusaka to cancel our proposed meeting.

This especially makes me angry, because, really, Alexsandra does not come to Africa because she loves Africa, but rather she does it to help me fulfill my passion. Now, I was not even able to repay the favor by getting her something nice from Zambia?
Not too cool.

The departure gate at Mfuwe fills with people, empties with people, fills with people, empties with people, yet there are Alexsandra, I, and four others, who were all scheduled for the 9:30AM Airwaves flight.

Forget about the jeweler, we are now growing perilously close to missing our 2:40PM flight to Joburg. What was supposed to have been a four hour layover is now turning into a layover of less than an hour.

Finally we are told that we are now going to be on a Star Of Africa charter. However, SOA had only planned on six guests on their 12 seat caravan, but now there were 12 of us. So? Well, their plane was FULL of fuel and now with the extra weight of six more guests, they had to SIPHON hundreds of gallons of gasoline from the plane and this took about 90 minutes!

So, here it is now, 1:45PM, and we are just boarding our flight. There is no possible way that we are going to make our 2:40PM flight to Joburg. As a result, we are going to miss our first night in Cape Town and be limited to a very brief 3 night visit. Furthermore, we are out our first night at the Twelve Apostles Hotel, sacrificing a $600 per night hotel room, to instead stay in Lusaka. I guess that is the equivalent of someone who is supposed to be staying at the Four Seasons in Hawaii instead getting stuck in Salt Lake City or somewhere for their first night.

Trying to make the most out of a bad situation, we put in a quick call to the jeweler to let him know what happen and try to laugh along as he says that it was fate and we were meant to visit his factory.

We arrive in Lusaka at about 3:10PM, about 30 minutes after our flight, the last flight of the day, to Joburg departed.

After getting our luggage, a Star Of Africa rep takes us and the other four passengers to their office. Although Airwaves is in the very next office over, there is nobody other than a couple baggage handler types in Airwaves office.

Star Of Africa, in trying to get us sorted out, makes all kinds of phone calls, some to Airwaves, I suppose. We are then instructed to visit South African Airways office to let them know we missed our flight and to get reticketed for a flight the following day.

Thankfully when I purchased my tickets from Joburg to Cape Town and from Cape Town to KMIA (Nelspruit), I purchase them on SAA, despite the fact that they were nearly double the price as flying on Kulula would have been. As a result, we have no problems changing my ticket and we are put on the first flight, at 8AM, to Joburg.

After returning to Star Of Africa's office, I am told that they are putting me up at the Crestview Hotel or Crest Villa Hotel or something to that effect. I respond by letting them know that I am NOT staying at any such hotel. I tell them that as a result of Airwaves and Star Of Africa that I am sacrificing my 5* hotel in Cape Town and will accept nothing less than the Taj Pamodzi Hotel.

After a brief phone call, SOA agrees to put me up at the Inter-Continental Hotel, and I quickly accept this option. I am told that Airwaves will be paying for the hotel, but the problem is this is coming straight from the mouth of SOA's person. I ask him to provide me with a voucher or something, but instead he tells me not to worry and gives me his business card and reassures me that it has all been "sorted." By the way, start to worry when an African starts "sorting."

We are finally able to leave the airport at about 4PM for our 25 minute drive to the Lusaka I/C Hotel. On the way, we pass the Crest Villa Hotel, and while not bad, it is like a Ramada Inn, halfway between downtown and the airport.

We arrive to the I/C Hotel, a very nice business hotel, and they have NO record of a reservation for us. Eventually, after about five attempts, and 20 minutes, they are able to get in touch with the SOA representive and we are then provided with a room.

Meanwhile, while I am trying to sort out this mess, Alexsandra has been scoping out the jewelry shop (owned by the jeweler who we have been talking to all along) and she has already made arrangements for the jeweler's private car and driver to come fetch us.

We quickly take our bags upstairs to our room, Room 666, I kid you not, and we meet the driver downstairs. We are whisked away in a luxury SUV and after a short 1 mile drive, we are already at the factory.

We briefly meet with the jeweler, Raj, who is no older than I am, and then we are turned over to his sister, Rashmi, who, at 32, is Alexsandra's age. Both Raj and Rashmi are both attractive and very pleasant. If that is not enough, they own their own mine!

Alexsandra has brought a couple pieces from the jewelry store that caught her eye and Rashmi shows us quite a few more pieces.

The concentration seems to be on Tanzanites and Emeralds. Thank God they take American Express!

Rashmi gives us quite an education--she has an MBA in gemmology from the UK--and I ask her the magic question.

Which gem will I be able to get the best deal on in Zambia compared to elsewhere?

The answer?

EMERALDS. Zambian Emeralds are very highly esteemed and some even hold them in higher regard than Colombian Emeralds. We are told that she even sells emeralds to Colombian jewelers who then turn around and sell them as Colombian Emeralds.

Alexsandra picks out a 1.66 ct. Emerald, surrounded by 1.0 cts. of diamonds (ten small 0.10 diamonds, but of excellent quality, I think VS1 and E color).

We get the price on the ring and Alexsandra pulls me aside to assure me that the same ring would be more than double back home--This is confirmed this morning at Alexsandra's local jeweler who said that her ballpark estimate was TRIPLE what we had paid for the ring.

I too easily part ways with my American Express, as is usually the case, and they ring it up. While Rashmi has her assistant ring it up, Alexsandra and Rashmi start making plans to bankrupt me by planning matching earrings, a matching necklace and a matching broch (sp.?).

Just as I am thinking, great, now Alexsandra will HAVE to come back to Zambia with me next year, Rashmi tells us that she will be on the west coast (USA) later this year for some big jewelery shows.

We ask Rashmi for a good restaurant recommendation and she gives us her pick, Marlin's, and calls in reservations for us. As if that is not enough, she gives us a ride in her Bimmer to the restaurant.

We thank Rashmi, get a few of her business cards and part ways once she drops us off at Marlin's.

Marlin's does not look spectacular by any means, but the food proves to be wonderful. Very nice steaks, great wine and good service. By the time we are done with our dinner, the restaurant is FULL, probably close to 100 people consisting of Americans, Europeans, white Zambians, black Zambians and Zambians of Indian descent.

Just as we are starting to feel good about things, we return to the hotel and we are informed by the front desk that the Financial Controller of Airwaves has been desperately trying to get in touch with us, and that he was actually at the hotel. It turns out that Airwaves has REFUSED to pay for our room and that we are on our own!

He has left his business card and I have the hotel connect me to his cell phone, no matter that it is already 10PM at night by now. I scream at him for as long as I possibly can, but then it dawns on me that I may as well be screaming at my dog. Sure, my dog will know that I am screaming at him/her, but he/she does not know why. It obviously was not sinking in to this person and he continued to insist that Airwaves had no record of my existence and as a result could be of no assistance.

I yell at him for his company's safety record, for their poor reputation and for his ignorance of his stranded passenger's existence, but nothing is getting through, so I finally just hang up on him.

The next morning I am forced to pay my own bill but fortunately hotels in Lusaka are pretty cheap. My bill, including room service for dessert and making a few telephone calls, is only $132 USD. Still, the money is not the point, it is the whole principle of the matter and the lack of concern on the part of Airwaves (I never received an apology).

We take the 6AM hotel shuttle to the airport and arrive at 6:30AM for our 8AM flight. Fortunately, a SAA Business Class lounge has been added recently. While very basic, lacking bathrooms and internet access, it was still nice to enjoy free beverages and snacks in an exclusive area, although the airport was pretty empty so early in the morning.

We dispose of our remaining Zambian Kwacha by buying a couple bottles of Amarula...just more s*** to carry around!

We board our SAA flight to Joburg and we are off, on schedule, to Joburg and Cape Town.

Oh well, at least Alexsandra got her jewelery, after all!
Roccco is offline  
Sep 25th, 2005, 04:26 AM
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... and so the adventure continues. The highs and lows of travel.

At least Alexsandra got her sparklies!
Sep 25th, 2005, 07:08 AM
Join Date: Nov 2004
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a gem of a tale (sorry)

Hope South Africa goes better.

I'll check out some of the links relating to Airways that you included.
atravelynn is offline  
Sep 25th, 2005, 07:33 AM
Join Date: May 2004
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Rocco--great stories.

I have a logistical question--how were you making the phone calls to the jeweler (from the airport) were you using a U.S. based cell phone? How did that work exactly?
bat is offline  
Sep 25th, 2005, 07:59 AM
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I guess i wasnt a regular cell phone, must have been sattelite phone, but i am only guessing
Alejandra is offline  
Sep 25th, 2005, 10:59 AM
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It was a satellite phone. My wife and I own three homes for the elderly with Alzheimer's (and other dementias). So, only because there are human lives that she is in charge of do we bring a satellite phone.

It cost about $250 to rent a satellite phone for a month and the rate per minute was very reasonable, something like $1.60 per minute.
Roccco is offline  
Sep 25th, 2005, 11:01 AM
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Yes, please do check out those links. I did not want to put some things in my own words but would rather let others do the talking out of fear that I would be slapped with a lawsuit.

Zambia is a beautiful country that I will return to again and again, but one should know their options and the companies they are dealing with.
Roccco is offline  
Sep 25th, 2005, 11:03 AM
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Thanks for the info--that makes sense. Just curious, did you have to get a permit for it? My friend is thinking about bringing one to Tanzania and his wife found some info on the embassy web site that he will have to get a permit to bring it in.
bat is offline  
Sep 25th, 2005, 11:26 AM
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Rocco, i'd love to see some lodge pictures!! Chiawa, Luangwa river lodge and Puku. Barry has managed to change our 2 nights at Kasaka into Chiawa. Making the trip in this order : 1 night Sausage tree, 2 nights Chiawa, 2 nights Royal Livingstone, 2 nights Puku and 3 nights Luangwa river lodge.

Has someone taken the elephant ride at Zimbabwe side as an activity in Livingstone??
Alejandra is offline  
Sep 25th, 2005, 12:13 PM
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Room 666, huh? This is all beginning to make sense.

Out of curiosity: if I remember correctly, Alexsandra used to "not like" safari that much, or at least wasn't as much of an enthusiast as you. Has that changed?
Leely is offline  
Sep 25th, 2005, 12:14 PM
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Okay, check back in 1 hour and I will have photos of Luangwa River Lodge and Chiawa posted in my photo album.
Roccco is offline  
Sep 25th, 2005, 12:35 PM
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Hi Rocco,

Sounds like you really had some interesting adventures this time -- was Room 666 on the 13th floor by any chance?

jasher is offline  
Sep 25th, 2005, 12:48 PM
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Loved the first round of pictures. It looks as if all of the last minute camera equipment shopping (including the vest)paid off. BTW, you mentioned in an earlier post that Hugo gave you some photography tips that were usful for your entire trip. What were they?

Looking forward to the next round of photos.
bat is offline  
Sep 25th, 2005, 01:18 PM
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Room 666 was not on the 13th floor, but it was one of the last remaining available rooms in the hotel, so perhaps even in Zambia "666" has known meaning.

I just posted about 50 more photos, including:

1. My bike ride through Mfuwe
2. Photos of the accomodations at Luangwa River Lodge
3. Photos of the accomodations at Chiawa Camp
4. Fish Eagle
5. Elephant Shrew
6. Mud Caked Elephants
7. Zebra
8. Warthog
9. Rescue By South Luangwa Conservations Society Of Buffalo Stuck In Mud (I assisted)
10. Other miscellaneous photos
Roccco is offline  
Sep 25th, 2005, 01:44 PM
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Great pictures. I like the 2 picture sequence where you pass a pedestrian on the bike and in the second photo he has turned around to marvel at the sight.
bat is offline  
Sep 25th, 2005, 11:59 PM
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You are correct about Alexsandra not exactly being thrilled about going on safari. She loves Cape Town and really enjoys getting to know the staff and managers of the camp, but as far as the game activities goes, she is satisfied with doing one every other day.

I do think that we will probably go to India next and that I will need to postpone Tanzania by a year. Instead of February 2006, it would be February 2007. That is not so bad...17 month break from Africa in order to take Alexsandra someplace she would love to visit. Plus, India, even with a private car and driver and at the best 5* hotels/resorts, will be less than 1/2 the price as Tanzania.

For sure we are going to Hong Kong next September (free trip from one of my company's material suppliers). That will be a one week all inclusive trip, and Hong Kong is a shoppers paradise. This will be our second visit.

So, if we did India in February and Hong Kong in September, that would really go a long way in helping Alexsandra recharge her batteries and hopefully would make her ready to try Tanzania/Zanzibar in early 2007.
Roccco is offline  
Sep 26th, 2005, 12:47 AM
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A day later than expected, we departed Lusaka at 8AM, arriving in Joburg at 10AM. It would be a 2 hour layover before our Noon flight.

After a quick visit to the checked luggage facility in the basement to switch around our clothes, we were then off on a Noon flight to Cape Town.

Arrival in Cape Town was at 2PM and we arrived to a cool and wet welcoming. This was perfect after having spent 13 days in Zambia in mostly hot and dusty conditions.

After retrieving our luggage we went to one of the shuttle counters and hired a private car to the Twelve Apostles for a mere 150 Rand (about $23 USD).

The Twelve Apostles was like revisiting an old friend. We each absolutely love the location of the hotel, between Camps Bay and Llandudno.

We checked in and upon check-in we were given a welcoming glass of sparkling wine.

Our room, despite being very nice with a great sea view, was not as nice as the room we had enjoyed in 2003. Even so, it was about a 700 sq. ft. room and was very luxurious. I had purchased a four night Luxury Link package (www.luxurylink.com) for about $1,100, but even that was a good deal since the room had a rack rate of $600 USD per night.

The cost of Cape Town hotels is really out of control, so I am thankful for Luxury Link. For whatever it is worth, I would later read while on my London stopover back home, in the UK edition of Conde Nast Traveler, that the Twelve Apostles was voted the top hotel in South Africa, coming in at #6 overall in the Middle East/Africa.

The day of arrival we really didn't do much. Basically we cleaned ourselves up, rested for a few hours and then had the hotel make us dinner reservations at Bukhara.

Bukhara is the best Indian restaurant that I have yet dined. The food is so amazing and we were like cavemen in there once the food arrived. It was heavenly! While some of the game lodges we visited had very good food, after awhile, most game lodge food starts to taste the same. So, to have the flavors from Bukhara exploding and having the nice ambience and great music at Bukhara was perfect.

On the second day in Cape Town (that was originally supposed to be Day #3), I had scheduled an all day tour for Hermanus Whale Watching with a private guide, Brian Aldridge.

Since we were now one day short, Alexsandra chose to go off shopping while I woke at 6AM in order to be ready for my 6:45AM pickup. Although the Azure Restaurant at the Twelve Apostles does not open for breakfast until 7AM, I was able to get in a little early and stuff some breakfast down my throat. Unfortunately, in order to get to Hermanus in time for our 9AM whale watching cruise, we absolutely had to leave at 6:45AM.

Brian Aldridge proved to be a very good guide. In his early 60's, he is a lifelong Capetonian and has been guiding for about the last five years after previously owning his own Engineering firm for many years.

So, we arrived just ontime at about 8:55AM for our boat cruise. The boat cruise was delayed by about 15 minutes, which at least allowed me to get my bearings and enjoy a cup of coffee first.

The whale watching cruise was very nice, but I was reminded quickly that whales rarely come very far above the water. We did see probably a dozen whales alongside the boat during the 2.5 hour cruise, some passing directly under the boat.

Following the boat cruise, we had lunch at some seaside restaurant. Following lunch, we stopped at a couple spots where land based whale watching took place but that was pretty quiet.

Overall, it was a nice enough day, but a bit too tranquil for my taste. Had I known that I would have been shorted a day in Cape Town, I would have instead booked a white shark cage diving expedition, but now that I only had one day remaining, I wanted to spend that day with Alexsandra.

I arrived back to the hotel just after 5PM, while Alexsandra arrived back from shopping at around 7PM. We enjoyed a very nice dinner at the Azure Restaurant in the Twelve Apostles Hotel and then called it a night.

The following day, our final day in Cape Town, we went to the Waterfront and then back to Bukhara, for lunch.

At the Waterfront, we each got massages at the Wellness Center that is right next to the Aquarium. Unbelievably, the Twelve Apostles (award winning) Spa was fully booked during our stay.

Afterward, we walked around the mall a bit and visited a couple very high end jewelers, mostly to compare the Emerald ring that I had bought for her in Zambia to the prices we would have paid in Joburg for a ring the same quality.

Finally, we made our way to Bukhara for a late lunch at just before 3PM. Again, it was perfect.

We returned to the hotel around 5:30PM and then went straight to the Leopard Lounge's deck to enjoy high tea and the magnificent sunset. The Leopard Lounge was completely packed and we amused ourselves by watching dumbfounded people whom had expected to show up 10 minutes before the sunset and then were left scratching their a$$ when they saw that there were no tables outside just waiting for them.

It was such a beautiful sunset, but I had no desire to run back to the room to fetch my camera. Unfortunately, I am completely clueless with my sunrise and sunset photography.

We stayed at the Leopard Lounge until about 8PM and then called it a night. With an early 9AM flight directly to Nelspruit (KMIA), that meant we would have to leave the hotel no later than 7:15AM to get to the Cape Town Airport by about 7:45AM. Consequently, we were in no position to hit the town.

Although it was an abbreviated visit to Cape Town, with two prior visits under our belt, three nights proved to be enough time. We checked out and bid our goodbye to the Twelve Apostles until next time. However, I no longer think that Cape Town will be a necessary stop for either of us, as this time may be better spent in Europe, South America, Australia or whatever other interesting connection we may use to get to Southern Africa in the future. Absolutely beautiful city, but three visits is quite enough, at least for now.

Roccco is offline  
Sep 26th, 2005, 02:28 PM
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Hi Rocco,

If you're planning on India, you may be interested to know that CCA are planning to open a group of eco-lodges in India in the fall of 2006. Alexsandra said she wanted to do a tiger safari -- it might be worth waiting until the CCA lodges are open, as the lodges currently operating in India are very luxurious but have mediocre to poor guiding according to friends who have gone on tiger safaris there.

jasher is offline  
Sep 26th, 2005, 02:51 PM
Join Date: Apr 2004
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OMG, I can't believe I booked a TZ safari with ATR including 3 nights Nomad Serengeti b/c I thought you would have given it the Rocco stamp of approval by the time I went!

Thanks for the report. Looking forward to the next installment.
Leely is offline  
Sep 27th, 2005, 12:19 AM
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Great to catch up on the report... still can't believe the Airwaves thing - now that you're home and presumably have all the proof of booking stuff, can you do anything about compensation for the costs and all?
Kavey is offline  

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