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Single travellers on safari - what have your experiences been like?

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Jul 20th, 2005, 10:38 AM
  #1
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Single travellers on safari - what have your experiences been like?

Hello,

I've read that some of you travel solo (Rocco?) and I was curious what other people's experiences (or the experiences of single travellers they have met on safari) have been like. I'm particularly interested in hearing about Mombo.

I've gone on safari twice as a single traveller (Sabi Sands August 2004, Botswana (Okavango Delta/Linyanti) and Sabi Sands June 2005), and so far I've had some pretty mixed experiences -- in some places I felt very welcome, and in others I felt like I was an afterthought, ignored in favour of larger groups.

This has (thankfully rarely) been an issue on game drives, in particular during my stay at Madikwe Safari Lodge this year, where the guide seemed to assume that the family I was with spoke for everyone -- my opinion was never solicited, and my attempts to communicate that I had different interests weren't very successful. This was a particular problem because they were birders and I'm most definitely not, and we spent way too much time looking at birds (personally, I think serious birders should never share a vehicle with non-birders to prevent aggravation on both sides). I've usually been able to cope with this by sitting in the front row so I'm close to the guide.

It's been more of an issue in camp, and particularly with dining arrangements (more at CCA camps than at Wilderness camps -- those are the only two companies I've stayed with). Camps where everyone eats at a communal table (Wilderness, Ngala Tented) are fine, and the company and conversations are often fascinating. Camps where they set separate tables for each group (Madikwe, Londoz) are a bit more dicey -- on my first trip, I was often 'added on' to a family or other group without being asked if I would prefer a private table. This was a particular problem at Londolozi last year, and was the only flaw in an otherwise thrilling stay. In the end I requested and got my own table, but it was a hassle.

I spent another 5 days at Londoz this year, and I was very pleased to note that the problem has for the most part been taken care of (after a long, detailed email to CCA which made its way pretty far up the chain of command judging from the correspondence I received). So if you have a problem with something you have experienced at a camp, write to the management -- they really do listen.

Cheers,
Julian
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Jul 20th, 2005, 11:05 AM
  #2
bwanamitch
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Hi Julian,

I'm always solo on safari, and I'm really surprised about your "hassles" at Londolozi - I would't expect this a such a renowned place. Up to now, I've never experienced such problems. If for any reason I felt in some way uncomfortable, camp management always found a solution, in a very friendly way. If you've read about my "worst disappointment" with WS in the other thread, even in this situation, Benson Siyawareva (the camp manager) tried his best to make me happy, and I really appreciated the fine solution he found for me.

Even if I havn't been at Mombo, based on this experience (and experiences at other WS camps) I wouldn't expect any problem.

Mitch
 
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Jul 20th, 2005, 12:29 PM
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With one exception all my travels in Africa have been solo, and I honestly prefer it that way. One of the reasons is that safari camps provide such excellent opportunities to get to know fellow-travellers...or not, as you wish. WS does very well in this regard, but so do all the other camps I've visited. I have never felt like a "5th wheel".

I think some of Julian's problems could have happened even if he had been travelling with another person. You can still get "overwhelmed" by a larger group or by 2 couples who prefer to do something else. It just happens...when it does, usually larger camps are better at making accomodations than smaller camps, but that is not always the case. (Some smaller camps really go out of their way to make plans for visitors with different preferences, while some larger ones are inflexible, even within the WS network.)

One thing that may help is to introduce yourself to your guide (don't wait for someone else to make the introductions, because they may somehow reinforce the idea that you are with others in the group), tell them what your interests are, and ask the guide both about what has been happening in the area, AND about the interests of the other travellers in the vehicle. That way you have reinforced the idea that (1) you don't know them and are alone (2) you have your own ideas, preferences and interests.

Also I've found that guides are more responsive to interest deeper than "I want to see a big cat".
And the more you show interest in, and respect for their experience,the more they will relate to you and your interests as an individual.

If you ask the guide about the local prides, have they been successful at raising cubs, have there been any changes in territories, etc...and then express interest in those lions, guides will tend to relate to this better than "I haven't seen a leopard yet, and I really want to photograph one".

I know this isn't really what you asked, but I have found that as an individual traveller, you may have to make an effort to stand out from the crowd, without being demanding about it. When they know you as an individual, it can avoid some of these problems.


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Jul 20th, 2005, 01:13 PM
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bwanamitch
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tashak,
You explained what I only thought. Thank you.
(I just must think about it: there's another advantage of the "large whites" - you're always in control of the game drive vehicle.)

Julian,
I think there's no difference between being on safari or daily life situations. If you take the initiative and clearly articulate your interests, you always succeed.

To add some additional info to the Mombo/Chief's discussion:

At WS camps I always had the impression that they expect that YOU take the initiative. If you do it, all works fine - if you don't they THINK all is fine (can't better describe it in English).

At Sanctuary camps there was always someone looking at you, trying to read your thoughts. I remember that I couldn't sit in the main area for five minutes without someone of management asking me whether everything is fine. (It took some time before they learned, that often I only want to relax.)

Would be interesting to know if others have similar experiences.

Mitch
 
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Jul 20th, 2005, 06:00 PM
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I think Mitch has articulated an interesting difference in camps and philosophy. I agree with his characterization of WS; I do think they try to anticipate what guests want, but primarily in the aggregate. As in the foods, drinks, amenities that their guests, in general, want. But they are not in the mind-reading type of anticipatory service business.

The one exception that comes to mind was how WS handled September 11. I was at one of their camps, and their immediate response and anticipation of guests' needs at that time was exemplary. They were quite extraordinary at a time when many guests were almost in shock. So they get major points for being able to mobilize guest services very quickly when it is urgent.
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Jul 21st, 2005, 03:21 AM
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Thanks for your feedback. I've done most of the things you suggested (e.g. introducing myself to the guide, making it clear that I have my own interests, etc), and my questions are centred on animal behaviour rather than on ticking off the Big Five.

The vast majority of the guides I've had have been great, with the exception of that experience at Madikwe (during my first year at Londoz, my guide was excellent -- it was the camp management which seemed a bit thick).

I much prefer being with a number of smaller groups (e.g. two couples) rather than a single large group. because it's more likely that they will have diverse interests. It also means that I'm not the only one who doesn't know everyone else.

If things don't work out, I have to admit that I feel very awkward about bringing it up -- it's that British stiff upper lip thing, I suppose. It's probably also true that there is some cultural cross-talk going on -- I've noticed that Americans are much more vocal when something isn't to their liking, which seems to be more effective.

I think the comments about WS are right on the money -- when I was sharing a vehicle with a particularly unpleasant woman at LV this year (a bossy know-it-all who supposedly knew everything about the bush but knew nothing, and wouldn't let the guide get a word in edgewise) it was assumed that I (and everyone else) didn't mind until I mentioned it. Once I mentioned it, we were kept in separate vehicles. I'll keep your advice about WS in mind in the future.

Cheers,
Julian
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Jul 21st, 2005, 07:58 AM
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Your right Julian, once you've done everything you can, it is luck-of-the-draw, and that can be a problem even for couples (although being with another person can perhaps take the edge off...or at least give you one sure ally.) There was a discussion about private vehicles a while back, and this was one of the primary reasons that couples--actually even small groups--were considering the cost-benefit of private vehicles.

Good luck with your choices!
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Jul 21st, 2005, 09:40 AM
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Mitch's comment about "big whites" being in control of game drives has seemed true in my limited experience. It seems the ranger/guide waits until you put down the camera to drive on. However, I've never been on a game drive with anyone who really had an agenda, like birders. As a solo traveler I do try to sit in the seat beside the driver and I wonder if that helps. I will definitely be ready to assert myself if necessary. These trips are too precious to spend any time being unhappy.

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Jul 21st, 2005, 06:25 PM
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I've been in a vehicle with serious birders. While not ideal, I still have a great deal of respect for these people. They have a genuine interest in wildlife.

The worse behavior I encountered was (unfortunately) at Mombo. We were in a truck with a family (Dad, Mom, two teenagers). The teenagers and the Mom were wonderful, very interested and engaged. The Dad, had the nerve to pull out a giant satellite phone during a game drive, while we were watching a leopard and several hyenas fighting over an impala, and call into a meeting! Luckily he didn't say much. I really had to put him in his place (nicely with humor, of course) during dinner. Everyone who was at Mombo while we were there had demanding jobs, and everyone felt he was out of line.

The next day, we were tracking the Mathatha pride in the afternoon. Clearly the light was fading. He asked the driver to stop, got his kids out of the truck, all to take a picture. All of this while the radio was going crazy as other trucks had found the pride. When we finally got there, the light was almost gone and no one was able to get good pictures. He also asked the truck to be stopped at least twice during game drives to relieve himself. On all my other drives in all other camps people waited till the break.

Even with all that, we still had an incredible experience at Mombo

Judy
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Jul 22nd, 2005, 03:58 AM
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Hi Judy,

Unfortunately, my experiences sharing vehicles with birders have been pretty awful. One group I was with wanted to stop every few feet to stare at every little brown bird they saw, and spent an eternity arguing over the identification thereof. The fact that not all of us were fascinated by birds seemed to pass them by, though they became loudly and noticeably impatient whenever we stopped to see something that wasn't a bird. If they had been interested in the behaviour of the birds it wouldn't have been so bad, but it was like riding with obsessive Big Five list-tickers...only worse, because the list was so much longer that they were constantly in search of another 'tick.'

I've also been in a vehicle stuck behind some birders -- it took fifteen minutes to get out of camp because, again, they stopped every couple of feet on a narrow track where passing was pretty impossible without doing some serious bush-bashing. When their guide politely suggested that they move on to let the rest of the vehicles behind them by, there was a loud and vociferous protest that 'We came here and are paying a lot of money to see birds, so that's what we're going to do!'

Obviously, sharing a vehicle means sharing viewing time between the various parties' different interests. That's fine -- I've spent some fascinating hours watching animals which aren't necessarily my favourites, and thoroughly enjoyed myself. What's not fine is when one group (unfortunately, the birders I've met have been particularly guilty in this regard) tries to monopolize all the viewing time for their particular interest and then sulks (with loud sighs and many glances at their watches) if time is spent watching something else. As a single traveller and the only non-birder in some of the groups, I've even encountered the argument that 'There are four of us and only one of you!' which REALLY annoys me.

I'm sure not all birders are like this. But in my opinion, if people want a safari focussed specifically on birding, they should get their own vehicle -- if they are in a shared vehicle, they should share the viewing time equitably. After my previous experiences, I've requested not to be placed with birders, and things have generally worked out much better ; )

Cheers,
Julian
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Jul 22nd, 2005, 04:34 AM
  #11
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Julian,

Yes, birders are a very special tribe.

But if you replace 'birders' with 'first-timers' and 'little brown jobs' with 'lions, elephants, hippos' in your post, it could be something what I sometimes feel. Btw, I'm no birder at all.

Experienced drivers, especially those of top operators, will try to do a game drive that satisfies the interests of all guests. If not - bad luck? Wrong operator?

Requesting a different game drive vehicle isn't always possible. If you have 12 clients, 2 vehicles and 4-5 people with special interests, how should management handle this?

The only option to be always happy is renting your own private guide and vehicle. Another option is to live with it, see the positive sides (I even find studying people during game drives very interesting) and cross fingers that the next drive or camp will be better.

Mitch
 
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Jul 22nd, 2005, 05:02 AM
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Hi Mitch,

For some reason, first-timers don't bother me much -- their enthusiasm for the bush is often refreshing and reminds me of how much I enjoyed my first safari.

I'm happy to share a vehicle with people with diverse interests, so long as everyone understands the need to share viewing time. It's the time-monopolozers (of any variety) I loathe, even if I happen to love the animals which are the focus of the monopoly -- it just happens that birders are reliably the worst offenders I've encountered in terms of monopolizing viewing time.

I'm surprised that safari operators don't ask more about the guest's game-viewing interests up front (when the reservations are made) rather than waiting until the guests arrive in camp. It seems like this could go a long way towards facilitating the formation of maximally compatible groups. I'm sure it wouldn't be perfect, as you pointed out, but it would probably be better than the current pot-luck system.

When I make my reservation, I state clearly what my main interests are, and ask if there is a guide who happens to share those interests -- if so, I ask to be placed with him or her. I had the immense pleasure of spending 5 days at Londolozi with leopard expert Maxine Scott -- heaven for someone who loves leopards! Maxine often guides guests who come to Londoz specifically for the famous leopards, and her passion for the leopards and her knowledge about their personal and family history makes the time spent with her a phenomenal experience. Sharing a common interest is also a great way of breaking the ice for the guests.

Cheers,
Julian
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Jul 22nd, 2005, 05:41 AM
  #13
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Hi Julian,

I think the best way is that you clearly articulate you interests during the briefing after arrival. Camp management knows best how to organize things at that time.

Collecting all this information already during booking time must be, in my opinion, an overkill for every booking system - I don't think it will work. But even if management knows your interests before you arrive, how should they handle these special cases I described in my last posting? Tearing other groups or families apart?

As a single traveller you have to live with this.

One other option (don't take it too seriously, but it worked for me): buy a BIG white lens.
Up to now even the most enthusiastic birders have taken me seriously, and I got my rights (and shots).

Mitch
 
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Jul 22nd, 2005, 07:49 AM
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Hi Mitch,

Yes, it's a good idea to discuss your interests on arrival, though I've often found that the head ranger or guide is the best person to talk to about game-viewing interests.

In my experience, if people are in the same family or group they are more prepared to put up with each other's peccadillos, and tend to be more considerate of one another. So a group of friends or a family with diverse interests could probably stay together with minimal friction. After all, if your family or friends are excited about a sighting, you can be happy for them even if the sighting itself isn't that exciting for you. The camps I've stayed at have always kept families and groups together as a default -- I've never seen a group split up unless it was too big to be accommodated in one vehicle.

There's no reason people with diverse special interests can't share a vehicle as long as everyone is considerate of one another. On one trip. I had a great time while sharing a vehicle with two groups, a couple who was wild about giraffe and a father and daughter pair who loved elephants. I love the predators, especially leopards. Everyone was enthusiastic about learning about other people's interests and was considerate about sharing the viewing time, and we had a wonderful safari.

I don't think collecting a bit more information on people's game viewing interests would be much of a problem -- it needn't be terribly detailed. If you wanted to keep things really simple, the options could be limited -- for instance, a primary interest in A) predators B) birds C) Big Five D) (insert name of animal here). Of course there would have to be a clause indicating that there is no guarantee people will end up with people with shared interests, but it will increase the odds of a compatible group. Companies like WS and CCA already collect a lot of information -- surely another tick-box won't make much difference from an administrative standpoint, and could potentially make a lot of difference from a guest experience standpoint.

On the other hand, maybe this is making things unneccessarily complicated...perhaps what is really needed is a gentle reminder to everyone (on arrival?) that the vehicles are shared with other people, and there is a need to be considerate of others in terms of viewing time, regardless of whether they are travelling solo or in a group. Of course, some people are bores and will be rude regardless, but fortunatley most people are not.

Cheers,
Julian
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Jul 22nd, 2005, 08:27 AM
  #15
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Julian,

Regarding the collection of special interest data for game drives: that only would work if all (or at least most) of the clients provide valid data. I doubt that this would happen.

I don't know what data WS and CCA already want to know, but in my case they get very few. If I book a safari I contact my agent telling her something like "3n Lodge A, 4n Camp B w/ sleep-out, road transfer to C, 3n Camp C", and she will make it. All she knows about me is name, address, passport # and accommodations of previous trips (and of course, that I don't like walkways). If the operators want to know more, and unless it isn't something really important, she certainly will use a default answer - I have no idea which one. That said, I don't think that they will get reliable data.

Mitch
 
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Jul 22nd, 2005, 11:56 AM
  #16
 
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Here is the question a lodge should ask:

Please characterize your interests and behavior on gamedrives (check all that apply):

(1) I am a selfish boor who wants my own way all the time, and I am only interested in (fill in blank)
(2) I am really easygoing about what we do, but I do like to hear myself talk. I will fill any silent moment with senseless chatter
(3) I've been on safari many times, and I plan to regale other guests with my stories. In fact, I am fully capable of taking over the guide's job.
(4) I've just purchased a new fabulously expensive camera and I'm sure I'm going to get these photos published. I plan to demand that the driver maneuver the vehicle to my sole demands, and I'll scream if he doesn't. I do like to talk about my camera, but only on tea-breaks.
(5) It is important that I see/photograph (insert names ) as quickly as possible. Please don't stop for anything not on my list. I won't even look at it. And I'm sure the others on the vehicle agree with me.

(6) None of the above!

I'm sure I missed some here...

The problem, I think, is that getting honest answers to the real questions is almost impossible. The only group of people who will self-identify are birders (and my experiences with birders have been very positive, so this can cut both ways...)
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Jul 22nd, 2005, 12:18 PM
  #17
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tashak, you are wonderful!
(standing ovations)

(7) I've drunk too much Castle/Mosi/Windhoek (underline brand) and you will only hear my snore.
 
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Jul 22nd, 2005, 05:31 PM
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ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha FANTASTIC, Tashak!
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Jul 22nd, 2005, 06:15 PM
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8) I am only hear for the night and I am with ________ Safaris. I am staying for free at my company's expense and I am only here for the free food & drinks. Chances are that I will hog the guide all to myself and no matter how much I dislike the camp and managing couple, I will publicly praise each of them and if the commission is right I will recommend the place to all of my clients!

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Jul 22nd, 2005, 09:16 PM
  #20
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tashak,

I will present your questionnaire to the camp owners in Zambia, maybe they can offer some useful additions...

Mitch
 
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